Georgia politicians, it seems, are always riding the education reform bandwagon. After all, who can oppose reform of a system that perpetually ranks near the bottom in national standings?
However, in recent years weve discovered not all reform is helpful. For example, the Legislature this past session - working through partisan roadblocks - managed to slow down the pace of some of the previous governors classroom-size reductions.
In a great example of a well-meaning theory causing problems in practice, the state-mandated change in student-teacher ratios worsened the states teacher shortage. Columbia Countys school system had to build dozens of new classrooms to accommodate increased numbers of teachers, even though the student population had leveled off.
Lawmakers this year gave school systems a partial reprieve, allowing some breathing room before tightened state mandates force another hiring and construction binge. (Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price says the reprieve wont be much help here; the system already is in compliance with the upper-grades ratios, and the new law excluded the lower grades.)
nother change in the law just signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue doesnt do much of substance. But it makes a significant statement about the kinds of reforms that Georgia should work toward.
Senate Bill 29 removes the states blanket prohibition on student possession of cell phones or pagers in schools. Currently, no student is allowed to carry such a device except in special circumstances; violations are supposed to land kids in an alternative education program - alternative school or in-school suspension.
Policing such a policy is difficult, at best. Youd have to scan kids every day to know if they were carrying a phone, says Price.
Locally, the only time phones have been a problem was a bomb scare a couple of years ago at Evans High. A student with a cell phone called in a threat from inside the school; after evacuation, other kids used their cell phones to call parents, who then converged on the site when emergency officials were trying to keep people away. Those things are few and far between, Price says. Obviously, to have them there in the case of an emergency is probably pretty good.
Under the new law, local school boards can allow students to have cell phones or pagers as long as the devices arent used during instructional time. School-level and central office administrators will discuss the issue this summer and decide whether to change local rules, Price says.
But the important point isnt whether the phones are allowed or prohibited. Its that in this one, tiny point, the state has rightly agreed that local school systems should be the ones to make such decisions.
If this is the direction of reform - giving more decision-making and control to the local systems that are held accountable for success or failure - then Georgia is calling the right number.
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