‘Shackled by mandates’

Gwinnett County School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks says public schools are…

“shackled by mandates that stifle creativity and flexibility,” Wilbanks said. Instead of creating laws in reaction to problems that should be handled at a local level, Wilbanks said policymakers should enact legislation that holds school systems accountable while allowing the districts flexibility in how they operate.

“I have no problem with accountability,” Wilbanks said during his “State of K-12 Education Address” at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s general membership luncheon. “(But policymakers should) allow us the flexibility to do the things and carry out the responsibilities we must carry out.”

Wilbanks is also unhappy that fewer students enrolled in Gwinnett’s schools than anticipated:

Wilbanks said many factors have likely contributed to the district’s “drop in growth,” including the general slow down in the housing market, the mortgage crisis and the social and political focus on illegal immigration.

“It’s a sign of our times that certain people get the distinct message that they’re not welcome here,” Wilbanks said. “I believe America has never been greater than when it’s been open … (to) new people, trade and … ideas that come from different cultures. … Immigration reform is clearly needed rather than a short-term solution that plays to anger and fears of citizens.”

I would agree there are too many mandates on public schools from both the State and Federal government. However, Gwinnett has not until recently, taken advantage of Charter schools. Some would debate their effectiveness, but if more flexibility and fewer mandates are what’s needed, then let’s try more Charter schools.

As for certain people being “not welcome here” Wilbanks is over simplifying the situation. If illegal immigrants are leaving Georgia (which I think some are), and thus no longer here to send their children to school (and many to ESOL classes) how does that play into the “anger and fear of citizens?” Let these folks come back here legally and America will welcome them with open arms.

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  1. Jmac says:

    If illegal immigrants are leaving Georgia (which I think some are) …

    From some buddies of mine who work in construction and contracting, they said the slowdown in the market is causing the immigrant work force to move north. It’s a natural cycle, actually, and one would expect it to ramp up again down the road.

  2. jm says:

    Vouchers are simply a coupon for rich kids. No voucher is going to give a kid enough money to go to a better school.

    Wilbanks is one of the better admins I’ve seen. The kids are being over-tested re:NCLB, giving teachers and districts less freedom to make creative choices.

    NCLB is a bad bill, no funding. And before you call me a liberal weenie for thinking so, I’ll remind you that NCLB is the brainchild of Senator Kennedy (D-Ma) and then instituted as a huge unfunded mandate. The only winners are companies that make and process tests, including a company run by Neil Bush (the last name is NOT a coincidence.)

  3. GabrielSterling says:

    The State Legislature passed the Charter School System Act which already does what they are asking for.

    From Sen. Eric Johnson’s Session Wrap Up:
    “The Charter Systems Act will allow entire school systems to apply for charter status, not just individual schools. If approved by the State Department of Education, the system will be allowed to waive many regulations and get more flexibility in exchange for performance measures. Every school within the approved charter system will be a charter school. The budget includes grants to help the first five applicants with the process. “

  4. EAVDad says:

    The key there is “in exchange for performance mesures…” That means the schools have to show how being a charter school (or system) would lead to higher achievement than other schools.

    NCLB may be a flawed bill but it passed because there were a lot of schools out there not doing what they were supposed to do. That said, Gwinnett is a pretty strong system given all its challenges.

  5. Warrior says:

    The question Willibanks needs to answer is – if he is given flexibility to achieve certain goals and then fails to deliver, what is the accountability? To return to what he is doing now? No, public schools hate vouchers. That is a reasonable exchange. You get to do what you think is needed, but if the school(s) fail, then the parents get vouchers. Fair.

  6. EAVDad says:

    But vouchers do not help ALL kids — only the ones whose parents can afford to supplement their education at a private school. High quality private schools are $15-20,000 a year. At most, a voucher would be $6-8,000.

    And you might want to talk to the private schools before thinking this is a good idea. I’m betting the vast majority of them wouldn’t want a statewide voucher program because then they’d have to deal with ALL the kids — including the ones that are poor, come from broken families, misbehave, etc.

  7. EAVDad,

    There are plenty of excellent private schools that cost much much less than $15-20k per year. I send two of my kids to a school that costs less that $4k/yr. There are several other schools nearby that cost around $5k/yr. Clearly that might not be the case in other parts of Georgia, but saying only rich kids can go to private schools in not quite accurate.

    As for private schools not wanting to deal with all kids, I think Catholic schools up north do just fine in dealing with kids from many different situations.

  8. EAVDad says:

    I would dispute that there are “plenty” of excellent private schools that cost much less. But there are some, for sure.

    I’m not necessarily against the idea of a voucher (I think SB10 was a pretty good idea, although flawed), but I just think that some people think it’s a panacea. It’s not. There aren’t enough private schools and most of them don’t want the “strings” that come with getting public money.

    So we’ll end up with a series of fly-by-night schools that will do half the job educating a kid that the public schools do. That is what’s happened in other areas that have had voucher program.

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