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Georgia editorial roundup

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 29, 2015 at 2:10 pm •  Published: April 29, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

April 26

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on exams having some feeling testy:

Schools may be nearing a tipping point over standardized tests.

This month, parents in Hall County joined others across Georgia and the nation in choosing to have their children "opt out" of exams.

Georgia classrooms are in the midst of the two-week Georgia Milestones Assessment exam for students in grades three through 12. This is the first year of the Milestones, which replaces the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and is part of the Common Core curriculum. Starting next year, it will determine 20 percent of a high school student's grade and whether students are ready for the next grade level. Third-graders will need to pass the reading portion to advance, and students in fifth and eighth grades must pass reading and math.

And as with all standardized tests, scores also will be used to evaluate teachers, administrators, schools and systems.

Local parents who spoke with The Times insist on their right to have their children skip them. So far, administrators have tried to accommodate them by giving those students reading time or other activities during tests.

This resistance has become organized and widespread. Social media pages and blogs address the evils of standardized testing, with parents and educators sharing horror stories to illustrate their opposition.

Opposition to high stakes testing seems to be based on several concerns. Many cite the pressure it puts on children, some still too young for such stress. Others object to the experimental nature of the Milestones exam.

But the main aversion appears to be the feeling the exams have overshadowed the creativity of learning by reducing education to raw numbers, judging students only in how fill in bubbles, not how they think. Hall parent Amanda Davis said she feels her son is being used "as a tool to get a statistic."

It isn't only parents. Teachers whose hands are tied by narrow curriculums feel they can no longer connect with students and teach at an individual's proper pace. They instead must rush through material in time to cover what will be on the exam. And school administrators, bound by law and policy, are caught in the middle.

These sentiments reach all the way to Washington. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last August he believed "testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools."

The push to make testing the key to student evaluation began with the passage of the No Child Left Behind law in 2001. The aim was to hold schools accountable for student progress and end the practice of shuffling them to the next grade whether they were ready or not.

That's a noble goal and needs to remain in place to avoid social promotions and "easy A's" that led to high school diplomas given to students who could barely read. But over time, the emphasis on testing took on a life of its own and became the main focus in the classroom.

And meeting those standards is even harder for lower-income school districts that lack the necessary resources and parental input. Though we can't excuse the behavior of those found guilty in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, it is clear the bottom-line culture of testing can be abused by self-serving educators and bureaucrats.

So if no one is crazy about the emphasis on testing, why has it taken over schools?

One hypothesis: Money

Anya Kamenetz, an education blogger for NPR, recently published a book that blames the business of testing. School systems spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for exams, and parents shell out billions more for workbooks, prep material and tutors. Kamenetz claims these companies pushed Common Core to standardize fragmented state curriculums, making the paid-for material more economically viable. One blogger on a popular teaching website calls it "Orwellian," saying the system treats students as "clients entering into a contract."

With big money comes political clout, which Kamenetz says has turned the U.S. educational system into "a testing arms race."

That may be an apt metaphor. Political and business leaders have long feared other nations surpassing the United States in math, engineering and science in an increasingly high tech world. But parents ask: Is preparing children to compete in the global economy the same as preparing them for life? Or is my child merely an asset trained by the state to beat China and India to the next great discovery?

It doesn't have to be that way. When 20th century American students were taught by gifted teachers and allowed to learn at their own speed, they grew up into entrepreneurs, engineers and educators who built an economy that remains the model for the world.

It's clear testing isn't going away, but it should be put in proper perspective as part of the educational process, not the end-all, be-all. Parents and teachers who resist the status quo should be heard. The more students "opt out," the less viable the exams will be as accurate measures of performance.

The answer to this quandary appears to be multiple choice:

A. Yes, tests are needed to measure learning, as they always have, but not as the lone determinant of grades and promotions.

B. Yes, teachers need more leeway to teach in a more personalized way and stress critical thinking and a joy of learning that can't be calculated by test scores.

C. Yes, society should reward the best teachers and let them do their jobs while fully funding schools of all income levels so they can succeed.

We choose D: All of the above.



April 27

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on hiking police standards and pay:

It sounds basic. If you lie or steal, you aren't police officer material.

Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case within the Metro police department. Lying and stealing weren't just tolerated. They didn't keep someone off the promotions list, which was the case with one lieutenant — a supervisor recently booted from the force for chronic untruthfulness — who had been up for a captain's post.

Good riddance. It's encouraging to see Chief Joseph Lumpkin getting rid of such dead wood.

Decay flows downhill. When things are rotten at the top, it's only a matter of time before it gets to the bottom.

Enforcing standards and dumping dead weight result in positive attrition, which creates opportunities. This house cleaning started with the forced retirement of Willie Lovett, the former chief who's now doing time in a federal prison in West Virginia. It's continuing under the leadership of Chief Lumpkin, who has been on the job six months.

Unfortunately, there's a bad kind of attrition, too. That's when experienced officers choose to leave Metro for reasons like pay and career advancement.

City leaders must stop the talent drain. It makes no sense for taxpayers to invest in the time it takes to train officers, only to have them jump ship when their experience and know-how are invaluable.

It's cheaper to keep them — to paraphrase a country song about split-ups — even if it means hiking police pay.

But it's more than a paycheck. Professional officers want to work for departments that believe in professionalism. That means investing in police training and development, which also pay long-term dividends.

Metro is currently authorized 605 officers. As of last week, fewer than 530 officers were on the force. About 35 vacancies — the good attrition and the bad attrition — occurred under the new chief's watch.

Chief Lumpkin can't boost salaries. That's up to Mayor Edna Jackson and City Council, pending a recommendation from City Manager Stephanie Cutter — who's the chief's boss — sometime before the end of the year.

That's encouraging. A new officer here starts at from $34,000 to $36,000 annually, depending on education.

Chief Lumpkin says that pay scale is too low for a city of Savannah's size. He's right, at least when compared to what they pay cops up the coast in Charleston, South Carolina A starting officer there can make $36,000 on the low end. But most get paid from $41,000 to $47,000 because they have college or post-graduate degrees.

City spokesman Bret Bell said the city manager wants to make starting salaries competitive. But the city doesn't want to create situations where new employees get paid more than the veteran employees who supervise them, which has occurred at the Savannah Fire Department. That creates serious morale problems.

Hence the city has contracted with an outside firm, Evergreen Solutions, to study pay increases in all city departments. That's smart.

A quick look at the city's list of jobs and pay grades, and questions abound.

For example, where is the logic? A senior meter maid makes $40,000 annually, not including city benefits. While these city employees often put up with considerable grief — and, in the process, help the city generate considerable revenue — it's not the same as possibly getting shot at or risking smoke inhalation.

The results of this study are expected in June. Priority is being given to police and fire safety.

That's smart, too. Public safety is the city's first line of business. That includes getting rid of the bad cops and paying the good officers what they're worth.



April 27

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on public panning the pipeline:

The massive unpopularity of a petroleum pipeline near the Savannah River and through coastal Georgia was on full display for state officials at a public hearing in Richmond Hill on April 21.

We sincerely hope those officials — namely Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry — were paying attention. Next month, he'll decide whether the Texas-based pipeline company can use the government's power to condemn private property.

The public hearing was no ordinary exhibition of public repudiation.

Nearly 600 people, some wearing anti-pipeline T-shirts and carrying signs such as "DOT asleep at the wheel," crowded into a meeting hall set up for 150. The overwhelming majority who spoke opposed Kinder Morgan's proposed Palmetto Pipeline, which would cross 210 miles of mostly private property in Georgia using eminent domain — the power to take private property at whatever price an appraiser deems "fair."

Eminent domain is one of the most intrusive powers a government has. It's a power that should be used sparingly, and only in instances where the taking of private property serves a public need and benefits the public at large.

The Palmetto Pipeline does no such thing.

The April 21 hearing gave officials with the Houston-based company yet another chance to demonstrate that the 360-mile, Belton, South Carolina-to-Jacksonville, Florida, pipeline would benefit Georgia residents. And still they couldn't.

In fact, a Kinder Morgan spokesman couldn't assure a positive consumer benefit even if half the pipeline's 167,000-barrel-per-day capacity was made available to Georgia.

"Are there any guarantees costs will go down as a result of the Palmetto Project? We can't guarantee that," company spokesman Allen Fore said. "We don't control gas prices. We're a transportation company."

We appreciate Mr. Fore's candor, but it's obvious Kinder Morgan's oil-company clientele are more interested in shipping gas, diesel and ethanol to larger, more lucrative markets in north Florida than they are to already adequately served Georgia cities. About 20,000 to 25,000 barrels of petroleum products a day — or about 15 percent of the pipeline's daily capacity — would be earmarked for the Savannah market through a terminal near Richmond Hill.

The proposed pipeline route runs through the property of nearly 400 Georgia landowners in 12 counties, entering the state near Augusta and paralleling the Savannah River before winding along the coast to Florida.

Pipeline opponents have asked, without getting a good answer, why Kinder Morgan can't simply follow existing utility rights of way through Georgia, either along public utility lines or along the natural gas pipeline the company already operates. That pipeline follows the same general direction but isn't as close to the ecologically sensitive Savannah River as the Palmetto Pipeline proposal.

An early version of the pipeline had it traversing the Brier Creek Revolutionary War Battlefield in Screven County, but the company said in a recent regulatory filing that it has since modified the route to avoid the historical area. In Effingham County, the company wouldn't even publicly release its proposed route map to the public until the media pursued legal action through the Georgia Press Association.

Such episodes may explain why so many people along the proposed pipeline's path feel like they've been treated cavalierly.

The fact that the DOT has since scheduled a second public hearing — May 7 in Waynesboro — may be an indication that state regulators are much more circumspect of the project.

Good — there still are plenty of citizens who want their voices heard, and plenty of unanswered questions.

Why must Kinder Morgan chew up so much virgin land? And if it must, what gives it the right to invoke the public power of eminent domain for something of dubious public need or value?

If this Texas company wants to proceed with its $1 billion pipeline, it should be able to do so by fairly compensating Georgia residents for their property, not using the force of government to seize it.

Written comments must be sent to the DOT by May 15, and the DOT is expected to make its decision by May 19. If it does not, Georgia law provides that the certificate is automatically issued. If the certificate is denied, the company is allowed to appeal the decision. If the company wins on appeal, the decision is final.

If the DOT cares about the property rights of Georgia residents more than the convenience of a Texas pipeline company, it should give Kinder Morgan's eminent domain request a thumbs-down.