Here we go again.  Another sparring contest over public education between politicians.

Ye who controls testing controls the data. Data equals money and resources – and in some cases – it will determine which schools will be taken over by the state.  

Politicians love to hold on to policies that will garner them additional power and further advance their agenda using the bureaucracy. Reminder, No Child Left Behind did not work – and it was an ineffective solution to some very real issues in education. There has been numerous publications documenting the failures of No Child Left Behind, and we are about to head down the same road once again.

The new Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama in December of 2015. ESSA replaces the Bush-era No Child Left Behind, which brought us test-prep instruction and further amplified under Obama’s Race to The Top policies associated with more testing and incentivized Common Core Standards adoptions.

Recently, Governor Nathan Deal and State School Superintendent Richard Woods are engaging in another contest of who has more say so over the state’s federal education plan due Monday, Sept. 18th, 2017, to the U.S. Department of Education.

This contest is very clear in the letters between Governor Deal and Superintendent Woods about accountability and testing. Deal wants continued high-stakes testing and more rigid unproductive accountability accompanied by unproven research, while Woods wants more “innovation” and well researched approach to reading and literacy. Is that because the plan was vetted by a large amount of stakeholders in the field? Let’s put it this way, the ESSA plan was more transparent than the Governor’s Education Reform Commission committees.

Superintendent Woods, who is elected, spent the better part of 2016 garnering input from a multitude of stakeholders including parents, teachers, and business leaders. The documentation of those accounts were well publicized and published for viewing. However, Governor Deal created the Education Reform Commission (a big committee with no input from the Georgia Department of Education), solely to help correct the state funding formula, which has eluded our state leadership for many years – that hot potato will be passed on to the next Governor most likely.


Having seen both of these processes up close in their infancy while I was at the Department of Education, I can tell you the turf war between both elected officials is constantly blurred by the appointed State Board members – who work for Governor Deal.  I will not forget one Board member from Troup County who told me that “whatever he [Deal] wants, he gets.”  

Okay, fine. But what about the teachers and parents of Georgia? When do we get what we want? After all, we attended the meetings and provided vast amounts of input. It is not perfect, but it is better than what an appointed council made up of politicians and out of touch bureaucrats would come up with. This back and forth between politicians is the reason why we have serious issues in public education today. Nothing is consistent and nothing stays in place long enough see real benefits. If one stays in education long enough, one will see a multitude of pendulums swing back and forth.

This pendulum has swung back and forth so many times,  the pendulum has become a wrecking ball – destroying quality instructional practices clearing the way for political ambivalence and punitive agendas. Such raw clear-cutting causes educators to build on unstable foundations furthering gaps in student achievement. Instructional programs have difficulty getting off the ground because politicians do not allow it.  Superintendent Woods is in the driver’s seat, and I hope he uses what is left of his constitutional authority.

So let’s take a look at this back and forth from parts of the letters:

Combo Photo – Left, State School Superintendent, Richard Woods. Right, Governor Nathan Deal.

Attendance counting as an accountability measure –

Deal to Woods-

“Student attendance is not a Readiness indicator…that holds schools accountable for a measure that is not a student outcome and over which they may exert influence but not control…it is not an appropriate accountability measure for the accountability index and should be removed.”

Woods to Deal –

“Employability skills are a key issue that I continue to hear when engaging with business and industry. Of those skills, attendance is regularly identified as most important. This indicator has been included in Georgia’s accountability model since the creation of CCRPI, but the new definition, focused on chronic absenteeism, is more realistic, in line with national research, and provides additional flexibility to districts. States across the nation…see the need to include an attendance indicator as evidenced by submitted state plans. Removing this indicator will place an even greater emphasis on high-stakes testing; this is a broad concern that continues to be raised by Georgians.”

Here is a prime example of politicians not listening what the research tells them. Furthermore, states are laboratories for success. As a former educator, I understand the importance of student attendance and attendance should count for something. Schools need to be allowed to come up with incentives and change their instructional program to where students value education – not hate it. I agree with Woods, not allowing attendance to count will exacerbate the pressure-measure-punish model through more testing measures.

More testing  and Competency Based Education (CBE) –

Deal to Woods –

“The first major plan that should be revised and strengthened is that of state assessments. ESSA presents an opportunity that should not be missed for the state to apply for the Innovative Assessment Demonstration pilot and implement statewide cumulative interim assessments in all tested grades and subjects. This work would support the expansion of blended, personalized learning and the effective use of flexible groupings to personalize classroom instruction as recommended by the Education Reform Commission.”

Woods to Deal –

“I wish to reaffirm both my personal commitment and that of the Georgia Department of Education to aggressively apply for the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Pilot and to develop and implement statewide cumulative interim assessments in all tested grades as an option for districts. Changes will be made to the plan to better convey that intent.”

It is clear from both politicians that common assessments will be generated by the state in the coming years. This will ultimately set up a computer generated model using algorithms to target curriculum and content delivery to students of all ages. That sounds great, right? But is competency what we should be striving for in education? I thought it was education? Will teachers even be needed to teach students or will computer based assessments drive the instructional process? This is just another form of curriculum narrowing. I would encourage parents and teachers to be aware of this “false prophet” in competency-based education (CBE) approach.

There is no research that supports these “innovative” promises. Even Bill Gates, who looks to gain a huge profit from these types of assessment technologies, states that technology of this scale will not improve student outcomes. In a study done by the American Institute of Research on CBE models, the outcomes of students were not uniform when compared to current methods of teaching, if anything, the outcomes were sporadic at best:

“One of the most striking findings of the study was that the implementation of competency-based education practices was neither comprehensive nor uniform, varying greatly across and within both groups of schools.”

A study from the RAND Corporation states the following on such “innovation” :

“This is going to be a continuous improvement process that will take decades, and I have no sense of whether or not agencies will be willing to sustain their effort for that period of time.”

We are embarking on another detrimental fad as the pendulum (wrecking ball) swings back. Building “innovative” testing on top of a weak vetted process ushered from the adoption of Common Core and its supportive framework -this the ultimate form of high treason against children and teachers.

When I taught, my colleagues and I already had this targeted instruction figured out – teachers do not need the state to tell us what to test and how to teach it. And we surely do not need a computer to tell us where students are weak. Teachers should be able to generate their own assessments based on the needs of their students. This is another form of teaching  to the test.

When I was head of the GA Virtual School,  I was asked to pilot such a model using sophisticated computer algorithm that filtered content – this is big money. The vendor stated that they wanted GA Virtual School to pay $40,000 just to pilot the algorithm to deliver content to students based on what they did not know versus what they did know. Of course, I said no to paying for a pilot.

What is more disturbing is that Deal wants to include these “innovative” tests in the primary grades. It is well known in educational research that small children do not do well testing on the computer. This does nothing more than narrow the curriculum even more – this was huge problem under No Child Left Behind’s impact on learning the arts and sciences. The very reason the law was changed, but it appears ESSA encourages more testing, just in a different format.

Deal and Woods also discuss the quality of the AP courses being delivered and used as a school accountability measure. I agree with Governor Deal that some of the AP courses qualities are not focusing on passing the AP exam, only taking it, which diminishes the courses quality. This causes the school to gain more points on the accountability measure. However, Woods makes another good point that if the state will not cover the costs of the tests, which is a money-making ploy for College Board, then why hold the schools accountable for those tests.

School Turnaround –

It is clear that Deal wants his signature policy, HB 338, known as the First Priority Act, to be the main school turnaround model for the lowest 5 percent of schools. Of course, the voters in 2016 rejected this idea and a recent polling was released stating that Georgia’s parents want a course correction on public education and would prefer to have local control instead of state control over schools. Furthermore, Deal wants his office to use their own method to determine the lowest 5 percent of schools – which will be the First Priority Schools.  Don’t we have a Department of Education that does this service already?

Woods genuflects by saying in his letter that “in response to your feedback and following consultation with the working groups, we will [a]lign with GOSA’s [Governor’s Office of Student Achievement] new criteria for turnaround-eligible schools. I have concerns that this detracts from our efforts to provide schools with clear and attainable entrance and exit criteria; however, I also do not want to subject schools to two competing measures.”

The pendulum is swinging again – this time much faster and more violently. And this is why we “can’t have nice things” in K-12 education – some would argue that it may be designed to fail.

Georgia’s largest education group is calling Superintendent Woods to reject Governor Deal’s suggestions in the plan. Superintendent Woods is an elected constitutional officer; however, much of his power has been written away before he arrived in Atlanta through legislation. Woods has two major forms of power left – defend against the federal government and the power of the bully pulpit.

The state’s ESSA plan is not perfect, but it does try to allow for local districts to further utilize flexibility and offers more local control – which is a double edge sword in today’s education climate. I would encourage Superintendent Woods to stand firm and reject the recommendations from the Governor’s Office. After all, we elected someone to oversee our educational interests, and this is one of the few powers the elected State School Superintendent has left which is to defend against federal overreach.


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Jeremy Spencer is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden  and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus will be local news, statewide education issues, and political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as a education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns.

Jeremy grew up in rural Southern Georgia and he has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, and a state education official.  Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. He and his wife have lived in Camden County for 16 years and they have two teenage children. Jeremy and his family attend Christ Church Camden in Kingsland, GA.



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