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Thoughts on Education Reform Commission
Dick Yarbrough color
Dick Yarbrough

Dear Georgia public schoolteachers:

You have read and heard a lot of scuttlebutt about the recommendations recently sent to Gov. Nathan Deal by the Education Reform Commission. I thought you might like some thoughts from one of the commission members — me.

As you may know, I had the privilege of serving as a member of commission this past year. Our work is done and is now in the hands of Gov. Deal.

I am not going to get into all the particulars of the ERC’s final recommendations. The report we turned in to the governor can be found here. I would urge you to read the recommendations.

What will happen to these recommendations remains to be seen. Suffice it to say, it is now in the political process, and that means what goes into that process and what comes out the other end could be as different as butter and butterflies.

One of the complaints I heard during our deliberations was that your interests were not represented on the commission. I respectfully disagree. Nobody could be a stronger advocate for you than I am. I have three public schoolteachers in my family, and their well-being — and yours — is up close and personal with me. Having a statewide bully pulpit doesn’t hurt, either.

Also, Pam Williams, an educator from Appling County and Georgia’s Teacher of the Year in 2011, headed the Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Compensation Committee and did an outstanding job in gathering, reporting and advocating the concerns of teachers from around the state.

The Education Reform Commission was chaired by Dr. Charles B. Knapp, president emeritus of the University of Georgia. There could not have been a better choice. I have known Chuck Knapp since his arrival at UGA in 1987. He is a man of impeccable reputation and affability and imbued with the patience of Job in herding the 34 cats that made up the commission as well as staff members and all the special-interest groups looking over our shoulders. Thanks to Dr. Knapp’s efforts, our meetings started and ended on time, and all had their say.

If there was a hidden agenda within the commission, I never saw it. Had there been one, I would not have been a part of it, and I doubt seriously that the other commission members would have either. We were an independent bunch with diverse opinions and not afraid to express them. There was nothing preordained about our conclusions, like them or not.

No doubt the highest profile and most controversial issue to come from the commission’s recommendations concerns teacher compensation. The idea is to give local school systems more say in how to reward teachers based on their performance and not solely on years on the job or advanced degrees. Not a bad concept. It is one that I lived with in the corporate world for four decades. The question for you is: What will be the criteria for determining what is good performance? In my opinion, more testing is not the answer.

How do you measure your performance when you are dealing with the same issues as our society — drugs, poverty, hunger, one-parent or no-parent homes? One of my favorite quotes on that subject came from former BellSouth CEO John Clendenin, a strong public-school advocate: “How do you teach geography to a hungry child?”

One easy answer is to ignore the deep-pocketed, out-of-state special-interest groups like Sacramento-based Students First and their legislative acolytes who think you should be measured by testing and damn the real world in which you live and work. Maybe we should put their lobbyist in the classroom and see how well he does.

My service on the commission did not change my views on the expansion of tax credits for private-school scholarships as well as efforts to expand Education Savings Accounts.

I cannot support any scheme that makes it easier to turn our backs on the problems within our public-education system with the support of state tax dollars. Setting aside public money that could go to public education makes me wonder if the intent of the ideologues is to purposely weaken public schools rather than fix the problems and to make them the education outlet of last resort.

In the meantime, I will watch with you to see what happens with the commission’s recommendations. It was a long year and a lot of hard work. We may soon know if it was worth the effort.

Contact Yarbrough at; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; and online at or

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