- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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May 5

The Macon Telegraph on death of Fort Valley State University student Donnell Phelps:

There are no answers to the question, why do bad things happen to good people? Good people such as Donnell Marcus Phelps, the Fort Valley State University freshman who was stabbed to death trying to aid fellow students near the university cafeteria. The assailant, according to the GBI, Joseph Anthony Scott, lived near campus and was a former FVSU student. Scott also, for no apparent reason, as he was fleeing campus after the initial attack, stabbed Ernest Johnson, one of the school’s public safety officers. Fortunately, Johnson is expected to recover.

No one knows what was going through the alleged killer’s mind. We can, however, decipher what Phelp’s was thinking shortly before his death. In this age where we think of youthful minds as being unconcerned and noncommittal, Phelps did not fit that stereotype. He wasn’t thinking about his upcoming finals. The thought probably didn’t occur to him that he didn’t have time to interfere with whatever this apparent stranger was trying to do on campus. He obviously wasn’t thinking about his own safety. Rather, he was trying to protect his fellow students from harm. In his sacrifice he embodied the kind of spirit all universities would like to see in their students, and the FVSU community that extends far beyond the boundaries of the campus are in mourning because of the loss of a fine young man.

Though it does nothing to salve the grief his family, friends and classmates are feeling during this time of loss, knowing that he gave his life unselfishly trying to protect others should sooth some of the pain.

Though his time at FVSU was short, Phelps will always be remembered - at the school and in the community - as someone who gave his all for the sake of others.

Online:

http://www.macon.com

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May 5

The Rome News Tribune on “The Teachers Relief Bill”:

Gov. Nathan Deal has signed what should be dubbed “The Teachers Relief Bill.” It is Senate Bill 364, urgently needed legislation reducing the burden of too many tests and evaluations that have piled on stress and threatened to drive many teachers from the profession they love.

SB 364, approved unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly, cuts the number of tests required of students from 32 to 24. It also reduces the weight given the student test results in evaluating teachers and administrators to 30 percent from 50 percent previously. And it requires a student to attend classes for 90 percent of the school year instead of only 65 percent if the student’s test scores are to count in evaluating the teacher. It also moves the test windows to the end of the school year to cut down on distractions during the year.

This bill marks the return of common sense to Georgia’s classrooms. The changes are what our teachers have been pleading for as they tried to cope with the excessive tests and evaluations - factors that have created what many teachers view as a hostile environment. This is borne out by recent surveys. Educators First, a professional educators group, in a poll of its members found that 90 percent felt their profession was under attack, 60 percent would quit teaching if they were able and 72 percent would not recommend teaching as a profession.

Teachers were especially stressed by the excessive number of “walk throughs” in the evaluations under the state TKES (Teacher Keys Effectiveness System), described as neither fair nor reasonable. That issue was one of the top three priorities of teachers in the Educators First survey. The other two priorities: mandated parental involvement and the lack of enforcement of discipline in the schools.

It all gets back to allowing teachers to do what they’re supposed to do - teach! SB 364’s sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, said he wanted to put the teaching back in teaching. The goal, he said, was “to raise the efficiency and effectiveness of education in the state of Georgia.” Without question, reducing the time taken up by excessive tests and evaluations will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Georgia’s teachers.

SB 364 was labeled “the most important and consequential bill” of the 2016 session by Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, sponsor of the 2013 legislation that created the onerous tests and evaluations. He shepherded SB 364 through the House and before the bill passed, he took to the floor to acknowledge there were “way too many tests.” He joined ranks with virtually every major Georgia education advocacy group in supporting SB 364. So did state Superintendent of Education Richard Woods, “because it reflects many of the issues I’ve felt all along are burdensome to student learning and the recruitment and retention of our best teachers.”

Over-testing was part of the big push in recent years to hold teachers accountable by evaluating them. But even as the previous law was being debated, the validity of test-based accountability was being called into question. At the time, Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, concluded: “Test-based accountability has been tried and it has failed.” He cited data from the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that “after 10 years of federal education policies based on test-based accountability, there has been no perceptible improvement in student performance among high school students as a whole, or when the data are broken down by different groupings of disadvantaged students.”

Likewise, test-based accountability “failed to improve student performance,” he found. And he said, the wrong-headed approach was “doing untold damage to the profession of teaching,” causing many teachers to give up the profession. Teachers, he found, believe that the tests “measure very little of what they think a good education is and even less of what a good teacher does for the students under he or her care.” All this has been borne out in Georgia’s experiments with tests and more tests.

But the task of reforming the test-happy system in Georgia schools is not finished. A key legislator, House Education Committee Chairman, Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, acknowledged as much before the session ended. He said he and other legislative leaders realize many educators and parents believe the new law falls short of the needed reforms. Thus, he said a series of “listening sessions” on the issue will be held around the state.

Our legislators are to be commended for enacting the “Teachers Relief Bill.” Now, we encourage them to continue the reforms to restore the focus on teaching, not testing, in our public schools.

Online:

http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com

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May 5

The Savannah Morning News on Gov. Deal’s veto of campus gun bill:

Making it legal to hide a gun and take it nearly everywhere on Georgia’s college campuses was a bad idea to begin with. Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of the so-called “campus carry” bill this week comes as a relief to those who worry about the expanding list of places where gun owners can take concealed weapons.

The General Assembly essentially asked for the veto when it refused to make the bill less dangerous by keeping concealed guns out of especially sensitive places: disciplinary hearings, on-campus day care centers and administrative offices. Deal wanted those exceptions, but lawmakers of his own Republican Party said no.

Under the bill the legislature sent to Deal’s desk, a student accused of, say, rape or assault who was not especially happy about it could have legally concealed and carried a handgun into his disciplinary hearing to give full expression to his anger. Consider the consequences of allowing hidden handguns into day care centers where parents take children to be safe, or into offices where staff decides who to admit into school and who to reject, who to hire for a job and who to fire.

Even if lawmakers had agreed to amend the bill as Deal wanted, there would have been nothing to stop a student angry over a grade or drunk from an overly enthusiastic tailgate party from sticking a gun under his jacket and taking revenge or picking an especially dangerous fight.

Gun rights proponents argued campuses would be safer, not more dangerous, if licensed gun-owners could quietly carry their weapons and be ready to intervene if a crazed gunman opens fire. They said that current limits on taking guns to college violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In his veto message, Deal answered gun rights proponents. If it’s safer campuses they want, fine. Hike criminal penalties for possessing a gun on campus, he suggested. Enact longer sentences when guns are used in other crimes.

He urged localities that host colleges and campus police departments to assess the security they offer and boost it where need be.

If the whole idea was for students to have self-protection, this bill would have granted that protection only to those over 21, leaving younger people vulnerable to armed, older adults, whether students or not. This makes no sense.

As for the constitutional right to bear arms, Deal’s veto statement quotes heavily from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the high court’s 2010 decision declaring that Second Amendment granted gun rights to individuals, not just to governments or militia. The 5-4 ruling marked a major victory for the gun-rights lobby.

And yet, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” Scalia wrote.

Throughout American history, throughout Georgia’s own history, school campuses have been considered gun-free zones, Deal said. They should remain so.

We’ve taken issue with Deal previously, as when he signed into law a bill making it easier for lawmakers to hide conflicts of interest from the public. But this time he did the right thing, and he did it against the wishes of his natural, conservative constituency. Just two years ago he approved a law allowing gun owners to take their weapons into bars, schools, restaurants, some government buildings and (up to a point) airports. Worshippers can take their guns into churches, synagogues and mosques unless specifically barred by the individual house of worship.

At last, Deal finally drew the line.

Online:

http://www.savannahnow.com

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