Friday, August 31, 2007

Porter Thinks That Perdue Doth Protest Too Much

This is the original, full version of an op-ed from Dubose Porter that ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today:

I think I may have hit a truth nerve. I think this because our Governor responded to my comments regarding his massive public relations campaign concerning SAT scores by releasing one of the finest public relations pieces to ever come out of his office. Since I also called on the people to become more engaged in deciphering the truth from this spin regarding education, I thought when I responded I would do so by highlighting a few of the tactics used in his latest press release as a primer.

1. Always, always crucify the messenger first.

The Governor's release- "For more than 130 years, Democrats like DuBose Porter and his pessimistic friends presided over an educational system..."

Only in the deepest world of "Spinning P.R." would you call someone a name that would also apply to yourself. You all did know our Governor was a part of the 130 year legacy he is bashing? Does he? Of course, but he didn't think anyone would be fed up enough to take the heat that comes from speaking truth to power.

2. Misconstrue while making it look like the messenger insulted someone (preferably a large group.)

The Governor's release- "Representative Porter's comments yesterday were disrespectful and insulting to Georgia teachers, administrators, parents, and most of all, our high school students, who have worked hard to improve their SAT scores over the last four years."

What I said had nothing to do with the ability of the teachers, administrators, parents or the students. What I said had to do with the cuts the Governor made that took away the tools to teach. The greatest lumberjack in the world can't cut down a tree with a hundred dollar bill when they need a chainsaw.

3. When facts fail call the messenger names.

The Governor's release- "…his comment 'I'm not surprised. This is exactly the result I was expecting…' is indicative of his bigotry of low expectations"

What exactly does that mean? When he cut tools to teach, learning suffered. Did he mean I am a bigot of instructional money???? Who knows, but it sure did sound bad.

4. Say something that can't be researched.

The Governor's release- "and a culture of negativity among Democrats."

Where was that poll taken and was that before or after the Governor was a Democrat?

5. Be willing to link unrelated ideas if necessary.

The Governor's release- "His reference to a 'massive public relations campaign' minimizes the hours, weeks and months of hard work and effort that Georgia teachers, students and parents have put forth to result in closing the gap with the national average."

My calling attention to the massive public relations campaign glossing over the negative results of cuts to education minimizes the work of teachers, students, and parents exactly how? I think they are doing amazingly well with 1.3 billion dollars less in the state's education budget.

6. Be willing to distort the heck out of the statistics.

The Governor's release- "Today, four and a half years after I was elected, Georgia is steadily closing the gap on the SAT national average. Since 2003 the gap between Georgia and the national average has shrunk by one-third, from a 42 point gap to only 28 points."

Overall, the nation's graduating class of 2007 averaged the lowest math and reading SAT scores since 1999 and Georgia's average dropped 5 points from last year. Everybody does worse, but the gap narrows and in the world of massive P.R. this is turned into a positive.

7. If something good does happen use it even if you worked to cripple its effects.

The Governor's release, "Georgia's minority students are even outpacing their counterparts around the nation with higher scores in most areas of the test."

That's great. But this same governor backed and implemented a criteria change for grade eligibility designed to prevent a large number of these same minority students from receiving the H.O.P.E. scholarship. It went into effect this fall and also cuts out a large number of our majority students from H.O.P.E. scholarship money. Lottery funds are at all time high.

8. Show a fact that looks good and means nothing.

The Governor's release- "In terms of participation rates, Georgia public schools beat the national average by 20 percentage points. Approximately 66 percent of public school students in Georgia take the SAT while an average of only 42 percent of public school students nationwide take the SAT."

If more people are taking it, it has just as much a possibility of going up as down. (Unless you have maybe- "bigotry of lower expectations"???) Regardless, we went down 5 points from our own score last year.

9. Half-truths are always effective.

The Governor's release- "Georgia teachers continue to be the highest paid in the Southeast."

Because of the Governor's changes to the State Health Benefit Plan, teacher's health insurance takes up a larger amount of their salary. The net effect is that in many cases the take home pay is actually less than before.

10. If need be, take credit for things that haven't even happened.

The Governor's release- "Thanks to our high school and middle school graduation coaches, our graduation rates have increased by almost eight points."

I also support graduation coaches, but it is just too soon to calculate its actual effect. If you have to be 16 to drop out and the program has only been in place for one year, how can you take credit for students not dropping out when they couldn't have dropped out yet, even if they had wanted.

11. When all else fails just say something positive and run.

The governor's release- "As I said yesterday, despite all our gains, I will not be satisfied with Georgia's SAT scores or ranking until these indicators become a true reflection of the quality of education that is being provided to students in our state every day."

… despite all our gains? Our Governor oversaw cuts in the state education budget of 1.3 billion, cuts of eligibility to H.O.P.E by almost a third, cuts to teacher's take home pay, cuts in score results… and these are gains? No, what that is, is a massive public relations campaign.

If enough light is focused on education, we can begin to see real improvement. While I would not have cut education at a time when our students have to compete in a global market, there are many positive solutions that don't require more money. However, they will only work if the public is allowed to see the truth instead of the spin. Reducing paperwork for teachers and therefore giving them more time to teach, making more effective use of our technology to speed learning, shifting the focus of learning methods to reading in the early grades and allowing stronger discipline are just a few of the changes that would move our state forward, without raising taxes- but this won't happen until we quit sugar coating reality and start dealing with it.

Tell 'em Porter.

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