Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No More Excuses for Schools Barnes' Panel to Study Why System Is Failing

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No More Excuses for Schools Barnes' Panel to Study Why System Is Failing

Article excerpt

COLLEGE PARK -- Dubbing public education Georgia's "Achilles' heel," Gov. Roy Barnes called on his new reform commission yesterday to ignore excuses for poor school performance and develop a plan that stresses safety and academic and fiscal accountability.

"It's time to stop mislabeling or denying it. It's time to face the facts: For too many children, our system is not working. It is failing them, and therefore it is failing the state of Georgia," Barnes told the 64-member panel of businessmen, educators and legislators who began work after being sworn in yesterday.

The commission will meet throughout the summer and fall to come up with a plan of action for Barnes to present to lawmakers during the 2000 General Assembly session, which starts in January.

However, it was evident yesterday that Barnes has some strong ideas, from making schools meet minimum standards to possibly paying more for teachers in areas where they are in short supply.

The governor also made it clear he believes public education in Georgia is not improving nearly enough to suit him, despite a monumental influx of tax money since the Quality Basic Education Act was approved in 1985.

"Public education is our Achilles' heel. Unless we do something about it, we will suffer economically," he said.

Despite the fact that state and local governments pump about $10 billion a year into public education, he said Georgia ranks poorly on comparative national tests. He noted that 45 percent of fourth-graders on one of last year's national assessments tested below the basic level in reading.

On top of that, Barnes added, schools continue to graduate students with college prep diplomas who need remedial help once they reach a state university.

He told commission members only six of 10 students who start eighth grade wind up graduating from high school. And only one of those, on average, graduates from a college or technical school.

"If you were a business and saw those figures, you would not come to the state of Georgia," Barnes said. "I cannot run this state and lead this state unless we make some dramatic changes in those numbers. …

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