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The Art of Teaching: Is the Purpose of Education Economic Development? The State of Georgia Says Yes.

Which of the following is the most important purpose of education in Georgia?

  1. to prepare students to become responsible citizens
  2. to enhance personal happiness and enrich lives
  3. to support the economic development of the state
  4. to get a job
  5. to learn how to learn

According to Governor Deal’s website, the answer is either 3 or 4, since it is clearly stated on the Governor’s website that education is economic development (Figure 3).  Or another way to put this is that students are in school because they will be future workers who will develop the economy.  The purpose is to get a job.

There are five points outlined on the Governor’s website, and “education is economic development” is number 1.  The purpose of schooling, according to the Governor’s website is based on the rationale that Georgia students (as well as students in the rest of the nation) have “lost ground” to their peers around the world, and to get our students up to speed we’ll go out-of-the-way to push student’s academic achievement higher and higher so that the U.S. ranks at the top (aka Race to the Top).

Not are graduates of American quite able to compete globally, they have built the world’s largest economy.  How can the state make the claim that students are in the middle of the pack.  Oh, that’s very easy.  All they do is look at the results on one of the international achievement tests such as PISA or TIMSS, and they claim that U.S. students fall somewhere in the middle of average scores of sixty or more nations.  In math and science, American students are not falling behind, and are not in the middle of the pack.

American students are not in the middle of the pack.  In fact they are quite high in the league standings chart, and indeed, if Massachusetts was a country, it would be number one on the PISA international tests in math and science.

Furthermore, over the past 20 years, NAEP long-term test results show that American students (elementary, middle and high school, white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American) scores increasing in mathematics, reading and science.  Take a look at mathematics score from 1973 – 2008.  Where is the failure here?  Scores seem to be going up, and if you go the NAEP Long Term Trend site (not available right now because of the Government shutdown), you will find scores for African-American and Hispanic students following this pattern.

Figure 1. NAEP Mathematics Scores of American students, 1973 - 2008.
Figure 1. NAEP Mathematics Scores of American students, 1973 – 2008.

Here are two more graphs that the Governor of Georgia and his staff should study and use to rewrite their opinions of education in Georgia.

Figure 2.  Long term trend reading scores of American elementary students.
Figure 2. Long term trend reading scores of American elementary students.

Yet, even with these FACTS, the state of Georgia keeps repeating the mantra that students and schools are failing and that the solution is to hire uncertified teachers from Teach from America (my critique of TFA), turn around failing schools by firing the staff and then converting it to charter school run by management companies that probably have its corporate office in Florida.

Governor of Georgia’s Statement on Education Issues

Figures 3 and 4 show copies of the Governor’s statement on education.  Figure 3 is unmarked.  I’ve used red and blue arrows and comments to highlight some of the problems with the State of Georgia’s approach to education as shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 3. Statement on the Issues related to Education on the Governor of Georgia’s Website.

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Figure 4. Marked Up copy of the Governor of Georgia statement on education.

This is what happens when politics and corporate influence and power misinterpret the purpose of schooling in a democratic society.

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...