Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stay the Course, or Make a Change; Incumbent Kathy Cox Touts Her Success; Opponents Say Schools Need a New Approach

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stay the Course, or Make a Change; Incumbent Kathy Cox Touts Her Success; Opponents Say Schools Need a New Approach

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Even before the GOP romp that put Republicans in charge of the Governor's Mansion and both chambers of the General Assembly, the party had found success in the race for state schools superintendent.

And it is the cleanup from the unseemly legacy of her Republican predecessor that GOP incumbent Kathy Cox is touting as one reason the state's voters should re-elect her over Democratic challenger and former U.S. Rep. Denise Majette and Libertarian candidate David Chastain.

Cox notes that she came into the Department of Education facing an agency depleted from eight years of rule by Linda Schrenko, who would eventually plead guilty on charges of using federal grants to fund her failing gubernatorial campaign. She's now in a federal prison.

"We've completely rebuilt the agency," Cox said.

From there, Cox has built a new curriculum that has won national accolades and seen the state pare down the number of schools on the federal "needs improvement" list while boosting Georgia's rankings on the SAT.

And the state's graduation rate has grown to 70 percent, up from the low 60s when Cox took office.

"All indications are that we've got some good things happening," she said.

For a second term, Cox promises to continue rolling out the new curriculum and focus on hiring, keeping and training high-quality teachers.

There is another side to each of the achievements Cox touts. The state does have a higher ranking among the states on the SAT now than it did a year ago. But scores are still down.

And while there are fewer schools on the "needs improvement" list than a year ago, the number of schools failing to meet federal standards has actually nudged up slightly. (A school has to miss the standards two years in a row to be put on the improvement list.)

A NEW APPROACH

Enter Majette, a one-term congresswoman with no K-12 teaching experience who says Cox has failed at running the department.

"We just have a school superintendent who hasn't done her job," she said.

Majette proposes creating a five-year option for high school that would allow students who want more vocational and life-skills training to get it. And she would work to make sure elementary schools statewide offer foreign language, arts and music programs - a glaring omission from Cox's reworking of school standards, Majette said.

"There is no real standard for elementary schools to have arts and music and foreign language in the curriculum that currently exists," she said.

As for the question of teaching experience, Majette notes there is no teaching component to the superintendent's job. Instead, the position is about running an agency with a massive share of the state budget.

"If your only credentials are that you're a classroom teacher, that doesn't really prepare you for running" the Department of Education, she said. …

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