Frequently Asked Questions
Joe has responded to surveys and questionnaires from a number of organizations including the League of Women Voters of Georgia, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), the Gwinnett Forum, the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA), the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA), and various newspapers and broadcast stations. Shown below is a sampling of Joe's answers to the questions posed by these organizations, as well as inquiries to our campaign website.
Questions about Joe Martin's Candidacy
1. Why are you running for this office?
Our children are being robbed of their future, and great harm is being done to our state. We urgently need a State School Superintendent who will stand up for our schools. That is what I will do. Because of my experience in decision-making at both the local and state levels, I also know how to work with educators, parents, and others in making the changes that are needed to improve our schools. My goal is to raise the level of achievement by all of our students.
2. What are your qualifications for this position?
In addition to being a dedicated advocate for public education over many years, I served on my local school board for twenty years, played a key role on three state commissions on education, and headed a statewide organization to improve our schools during the last six years. I understand the issues, know how to develop policies and set budgets, and have the skills and contacts that are necessary to be effective in working with others to make the needed changes for our students.
3. What do you expect to accomplish if elected?
Nothing is ever accomplished by one person alone, but I will work to improve the financing of our schools, enhance the teaching profession, and raise the academic performance of all students. I will insist on a functioning student information system, reduce the time spent on state tests, and increase the range of alternatives for our students within the public schools. I will work to improve the relationship between the State and local systems, expand the opportunities for all of our students, and involve parents and the broader community.
4. What distinguishes your candidacy?
As the only candidate for this office who has been directly involved in leading large organizations, developing policies, and setting budgets, I am ready and able to fill this role. Because of my experience in decision-making at the state and local levels for over thirty years, I have the knowledge and relationships to be an effective leader for our schools and make education a priority for our state. My skills in business and understanding of school finance can also be very helpful in stretching the limited resources to do the most good for our students.
5. What are the key issues in your race?
The key issues are the financing of Georgia's schools, the lack of support for our educators, and the over-emphasis on testing. We must involve parents as full partners in our schools and treat our educators with the respect they deserve.
6. What is the proper role for the state and the state superintendent of schools in local issues and local schools?
Under the Georgia Constitution, the "management and control" of local schools is delegated to local school boards. The State School Superintendent must respect this relationship, and I fully support the need for local discretion in meeting the needs of individual students and encouraging creativity and initiatives. It is also true that effective schools should have more freedom to excel. However, while supporting local systems, I will still push for improvement in every school.
7. Why are you more qualified for the job than the other candidates?
I am the only candidate in this race who has direct experience in policy-making at the state and local levels. This is where the decisions are made that have the greatest impact on our schools, and it is where I can do the most good. Not only will I stand up for our schools, but I also know how to be effective as an advocate for our students and educators.
8. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing education in this state?
The biggest challenge facing education in Georgia is repairing the damage from the severe cuts in funding and using the resources we have in the most effective way for our students. My knowledge of the funding formula and experience in business will be very valuable in eliminating unnecessary expenditures and targeting the funds to the maximum benefit of our students. It is tragic that we laying off and furloughing school employees and reducing the number of school days, when we ought to be moving in the other direction.
Questions about Student Achievement and Curriculum
9. Are Georgia's standards, which have been revised by the current administration of the DOE, high enough? Are they relevant to what kids need to know today?
The Georgia Performance Standards, which guide the curriculum, are a significant improvement over the Quality Core Curriculum. However, these standards must be constantly reviewed and updated. Adjustments are needed, for example, in the standards related to math. The main problem is that the State has not provided the necessary training and other support to our teachers. The funding in the QBE Formula for professional development was cut by one-third in FY 2002 and has never been restored.
10. What should be taught in our curriculum?
To avoid a tug-of-war over political ideology one way or another, I favor following the national Common Core State Standards which set forth generally accepted principles on the historical development of our nation and the world and provide reasonable guidance on the nature of scientific discovery. I support a clear and complete separation between church and state, not only because I do not want any religious group dictating its beliefs on others but also because I do not want any form of governmental interference in our religious activities and observances.
11. What do you think about the changes to how Georgia teaches math?
Integrating the key concepts in mathematics can be an effective way to improve the proficiency of our students, but unfortunately, our state jumped into the new math curriculum without adequate planning and preparation. The implementation has obviously gone off track. Most of all, we didn't give our teachers the training they need to make a smooth transition. As State School Superintendent, I will convene a panel to assist me in evaluating the math curriculum to make sure we are headed in the right direction and to identify the necessary adjustments and possible alternatives. With the benefit of this review, we may slow down the implementation until the necessary support is in place. It may be possible to restore the traditional "pathway" in some form. In any event, our curriculum should be consistent with the recently announced Core Content State Standards, which do allow alternative ways to meet the standards.
12. Georgia is graduating more students from high school, but are they college or career ready?
Although the graduation rate appears to be improving, the methodology used by the State to calculate this rate is not reliable. One of my first acts in office will be to activate the long-awaited student information system so that we will know the true rate. Sadly, many of the students who do graduate are not prepared for college. One quarter of the students from Georgia who are admitted into our University System have to take remedial courses to become ready for college-level work.
13. How will you enhance education programs and student achievement with regard to lowering maximum class size?
I will push to reduce class sizes because the interaction between student and teacher is crucial to the learning process. Unfortunately, we will have to increase the overall funding for our schools before we make headway in lowering class sizes. The most cost-effective and instructionally sound approach is to lower the overall system average and allow small variances from class to class to avoid splitting classes during the years and having some classes that are disproportionately small. As we begin to lower class sizes again, I will focus on the early grades. I also see the educational advantages of the blended class model in which the number of students is lowered to reflect the percentage of disadvantaged students. The action that the State Board of Education has taken in abandoning any limits on class sizes is a sad commentary on the lack of leadership by the State in education.
14. How would you improve Special Education?
The immediate challenge facing Special Education is protect the current limits on class sizes. Increasing the number of students per teacher and reducing the personal interaction with the students would be a serious step backward. The long-term goal is to raise the level of expectations for all of our students with special needs. Many of them can be stretched more than is now the case. However, we also have to have a realistic course in general math for the students who are not able to succeed in the new math curriculum.
15. How do you feel about school calendars?
The official school calendar should be adopted at the local level based on what is best for the students, parents, and educators in that community. I see some advantages in the year-round calendar with periodic inter-sessions because it reduces the loss in learning while school is out and provides opportunities for extra help and special opportunities during the periodic breaks while still allowing time for family activities. However, the key point is that this should be a decision for the local board of education and the affected schools.
16. Where do you stand on better health/activity programs coinciding with healthier food provided to our children in school?
Clearly, our schools should encourage better health through physical fitness and nutritional food. Childhood obesity is a serious problem in Georgia as in the rest of our nation. The separate bills recently passed by both houses of Congress (which still have to be reconciled as I understand the current situation) represent a major step in the right direction. With the aid of experts in this field, I will reassess the requirements for physical education and insist on reasonable rules about the snacks that are available in our schools with the new federal guidelines being a floor.
Questions about Testing
17. In view of the CRCT cheating scandal, are we overemphasizing standardized testing or are these tests an accurate measure of student ability?
It is clear that we are overemphasizing standardized tests. I will work to streamline the number of state tests and improve their usefulness in meeting the needs of each student. Too much instructional time is being consumed by the tests and the hours of preparation for the tests. Worst of all, our students have to endure the drudgery of rote instruction and memorization instead of experiencing the joy of learning and developing the ability to think for themselves.
18. How will you restore confidence in test results?
A good education includes much more than the skills measured by standardized tests. To restore confidence, we must first put these tests in their proper perspective by reducing the excessive amount of time now spent on testing, especially in test preparation. The next step is to follow sensible security procedures, like binding scoring sheets with labels that will be broken if they are opened.
Questions Related to School Funding
19. Are we funding an adequate education in Georgia?
The direct answer is "No," even though providing an adequate education for all of our students is a moral imperative and a constitutional obligation. I went so far as to organize a legal challenge to the State's abdication of its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education for all of our students. Despite the obstacles we encountered in this effort, I will continue as State School Superintendent to seek full funding for our schools. There are few people who can speak to this issue with as much passion and knowledge as I have.
20. How will you enhance education programs and student achievement with regard to fully funding our public schools?
Because of the State's failure to provide an adequate education for all of our students, I led a group of local school systems which filed a lawsuit to get the State to fulfill its duty under the Georgia Constitution. Our lawsuit would have succeeded if the State had not been able to overwhelm us through delaying tactics and other efforts to keep the case from being decided on its merits. There were also unexpected obstacles like the murder of the first judge in our case and the removal of the judge who presided over the proceedings for three years simply because the State ended the funding of senior judges. Even though the circumstances have changed, I will continue as State School Superintendent to seek full funding for our schools. There are few people who can speak to this issue with as much passion and knowledge as I have.
21. How will you enhance education programs and student achievement with regard to ensuring all education funding is restricted to public schools and programs?
The push to start and expand vouchers is a direct assault on the institution of public education and a dangerous challenge to the principles that underline our democracy. I have and will continue to oppose all forms of vouchers, because they are nothing more than a way to subsidize private schools, which have the right to select their students on whatever basis they want and charge whatever they want in tuition. My goal will be to strengthen our public schools, which serve 92% of Georgia children, instead of doing more for a privileged few.
22. Can we expect schools to meet the higher expectations set by the new Georgia Performance Standards given the tremendous cuts to their budgets this year and over the last six years?
It is unrealistic to expect our schools to meet the ever increasing needs of our students without adequate financial support. Everyone has to work harder and smarter, but our schools still must have the enough resources for the basic instructional program. I led an effort for several years to get the State to meet its obligation under the Georgia Constitution to all of our students. This effort, which was stalled by the State but is still in progress, would help every school in Georgia.
23. How do you plan to provide a quality education to Georgia's students in the wake of severe budget cuts?
My experience in business will be very valuable in stretching the available resources to do the most good for our students. I also understand those aspects of the funding formula that should be modified to direct funds to where they can be the most cost-effective in promoting student achievement. I will work to cut costs by expanding the use of technology for instruction, limiting the expenditures for general administration, and removing rigid rules that often lead to unnecessary costs.
24. Over the last few years, a number of traditional courses have been significantly reduced or eliminated (foreign language, music, art, recess, physical education), as a result of budget cuts and increased state core curriculum requirements. What is your view on these changes? What, if anything, would you do differently?
A good education includes much more than the basic skills measured by the CRCT. The State School Superintendent must be an effective advocate in explaining to the Governor, General Assembly, and the general public why our students need a full curriculum, with art, music, PE, and foreign language, to be productive citizens. It is tragic that we are curtailing the opportunities for our students when we ought to be doing more to help them develop their full potential.
25. How would you manage a mandated 10% cut in education spending?
Our schools are being crippled by the severe cuts in state support. My first priority will be to improve the financing of our schools, not only in the level of support but also in the most efficient use of the resources that are available. My knowledge of the funding formula and experience in business will be very valuable in eliminating unnecessary expenditures and targeting the funds to the maximum benefit of our students. I will work to reduce class sizes, especially in the early grades, and seek to restore art, music, and other essential programs, including "second-chance" schools.
The State School Superintendent does not vote on the budget, but I know how to be effective in explaining the needs of our schools to the Governor, the legislature, and the general public. It is tragic that we laying off and furloughing school employees and reducing the number of school days, when we ought to be moving in the other direction.
26. Do you support Georgia's application for Race to the Top funding?
I support the four goals in Race to the Top — high standards, data systems for instruction, great teachers and leaders, and reforming troubled schools. These are worthy and important goals, and I hope Georgia is selected as a winner.
We need all the help we can get, but we should realize this grant would only be a Band-aid for the huge cuts in state funding for our schools. It would provide about $100 million in each of the next four years. In comparison, the current austerity cuts in the support by the State to local schools exceed $1 billion per year on top of deficits in the funding formula of another $1 billion per year.
Most of all, I object to the way in which this application was prepared. It does not reflect the collaborative approach which is essential in making major changes. For example, the application sets forth a detailed and far-reaching assessment system for teachers and school leaders, which has been developed with almost no input from anyone outside a small group of state officials and places undue emphasis on standardized tests. The application contemplates a new approach to teacher compensation in which the funds that would have been used for cost-of-living salary adjustments are used instead to pay for performance bonuses.
I believe everyone in education has to be evaluated on the success of their schools in educating our students, but the assessment and compensation system for Georgia's educators should not be established without much greater input from others.
The text is also filled with inaccuracies about the true graduation rate in Georgia, the extent of dual enrollment, the presence of graduation coaches, the training needed to implement a new curriculum, and the status of a student information system.
If I have the opportunity to guide the implementation of the RT3 grant as State School Superintendent, I will seek a broadly based consensus for the type of changes that are treated as accomplished facts in the application and make sure our commitments are adjusted as necessary. I will also correct the misrepresentations in the application about the needs that still must be met and do whatever I can to prevent this grant from being used as another excuse for inadequate state funding. The purpose is to make needed improvements and not to cover past deficits.
Questions about School Choice
27. Do you support a parent's right to choose the best public school, in their judgment, for their children?
I have always supported parental choice in the education of their children, while realizing that it is necessary to ensure that parents have enough information for a wise choice. The biggest advantage is that parents and even the students feel a greater personal investment and often a greater sense of responsibility for the success of their children's schools if they have made an affirmative choice to be there. Having worked for local school systems, I know there are planning needs and facility considerations that have to be addressed at the same time. There is also a potential equity issue if certain choices are available only to some families who can meet unusual requirements or afford extra costs and not to others.
28. Do you support public charter schools?
I strongly support locally approved charter schools because they offer alternatives which are still public schools. Although they have to be properly structured and operated, they can be a very effective way to introduce new approaches and increase the involvement of parents and others. I have provided direct assistance to several successful charter schools and drafted the section in Georgia law to ensure proportional funding for locally approved charter schools.
In contrast, I am a staunch opponent of vouchers, which drain needed funds from our public schools, including charter schools. As a practical matter, vouchers are not available to the students who cannot afford the rest of the tuition at a private school or may not be admitted for any reason.
As evidence of my support of charter schools, I have provided extensive assistance to the KIPP Academies in Atlanta and South Fulton, the International Community Charter School in Clarkston, and the Imagine Wesley Charter School in Atlanta, especially in terms of financial planning, system relationships, and site selection. I was the sole member of the Atlanta Board of Education to support the creation of the Charles Drew Charter School when it was initially proposed, but eventually my colleagues on the school board and the school administration came to see the value of the position I was taking.
29. Do you support public charter school students receiving the same amount of public funding as students in other public schools?
I support full funding for charter schools, as evidenced by my actions in this regard, but should clarify the premise to this question. Except for transportation, school construction and renovation, and certain federal programs, charter schools are supposed to receive at least proportional funding as a statutory minimum. If a charter school is treated "less favorably" than other local schools in the system, the local school system is not following the provisions of the law originally set forth in HB 1200 and then amended in SB 35. Some local systems do not follow the law, in which case the affected charter schools are entitled to a correction of the problem; and in other instances, students are not properly reported by the charter school or the local system according to the QBE program in which they are being served. I've intervened on behalf of specific charter schools to ensure that they were receiving all of the funding they were supposed to receive and would not hesitate to do so as State School Superintendent.
30. Do you support charter schools being eligible to receive facilities funding from state and local capital budgets to address their critical facilities needs.
I support facilities funding for charter schools, but since the total amount of funding for the facilities for all traditional and charter schools is limited, we need to be sure the available funds are used in the most cost-effective way. The most rational and effective approach is to include charter schools in the Local Facilities Plan adopted by each local school system, which is a prerequisite for state capital outlay funding and is usually the first step in being listed as an eligible project in a local ESPLOST referendum.
31. Do you support allowing local boards of education, the State Board of Education and the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to approve and monitor charter schools?
As much as I support charter schools, I do not favor the unsettled situation that can occur if charter schools are authorized without any recognition of local needs. The ultimate problem is that we as a state have not provided enough funding for the schools we already have; so we have to be very careful in using the funds that are available in the most cost-effective way possible.
The funding formula used by the State should be sufficient to support a basic instructional program in every public school, including both charter schools and traditional public schools. If this were done, the local supplement could then be used for its intended purpose of increasing salaries and adding local programs to meet local needs instead of covering basic costs. It would then be feasible for the State to provide the extra funding that is equivalent to the local supplement for a school that is chartered by the State or the State Charter Commission without having to go through a complicated process of offsetting state funds for the instruction of some students to tap local funds for other students.
In any event, there must be a clear and simple way for a charter school applicant to appeal an adverse decision by a local board of education if that decision was made for political, institutional, or other non-justifiable reasons instead of the best interests of the affected students.
I also favor a way to extend substantive charter school status to current schools (beyond the current conversion model, which does not go far enough). The goal should be to grant more autonomy to local schools and communities in exchange for academic results. In effect, local schools that are doing well should be unleashed from unnecessary and crippling rules so that they can do even better.
32. Do you support charter schools getting and keeping the autonomy to make key decisions that affect a school's daily operations?
This question relates to the essence of charter schools. They must have the flexibility and autonomy granted by their charter so long as they achieve the agreed-upon results. In fact, the real test of the charter school movement is whether local school boards and other authorizers will have the backbone to terminate charters when the stated commitments have not been met.
Questions Related to Teachers and School Leaders
33. Should we pay teachers based on performance, and how should we judge their performance?
I favor a rigorous but fair approach for the promotion and compensation of all educators, but I do not believe teacher pay should be tied to standardized test scores and certainly not to the level of such scores without considering the degree of improvement. A better approach is to recognize a teacher's contributions to student achievement over time through a formal career path, in which promotion to the next level is based on demonstrated performance.
34. How will you support Georgia's Educators?
I will work with teachers and school leaders to establish a performance-based career path for teachers, not only to enhance the teaching profession but also to improve the evaluation process. This approach would consider a broad range of student achievement without being limited to standardized tests. As one example, a new teacher would receive mentoring and other support, move when ready to a professional status on the basis of demonstrated competence, later assume the duties of a mentor to new teachers, and ultimately become a master teacher if he or she chooses to move to the next level.
35. Many teachers appear to oppose merit pay. Do you believe that establishing similar standards of performance for school administrators and area directors would increase teacher satisfaction with the proposed the pay system?
Certainly school administrators should be responsible for the performance of the schools under their supervision. This responsibility is inherent in positions of leadership. I was directly involved in the legislative effort several years ago to define the employment status of administrators on this basis. However, holding school leaders accountable for improved student outcomes does not justify a poorly conceived form of merit pay for teachers.
36. How will you support education employees with regard to: Quality, comprehensive health care benefits and services for active and retired public education employees?
Access to comprehensive and affordable health care benefits is an essential element of just compensation and should extend to retired employees as well.
Improved salary and benefits for all public education employees?
Teacher salaries must be brought in line with the salaries in comparable occupations, especially because of the stagnation in compensation that teachers have experienced in recent years. Since personnel expenses represent over 80% of school budgets, salary levels are inevitably linked to the total amount of funding. That is why I will continue to push for adequate funding. Nevertheless, I will support efforts to improve the use of instructional technology, set limits on spending for general administration, and increase flexibility in staffing as ways to redirect expenditures so that salaries can be preserved and increased over time as the total number of employees is adjusted in relation to student enrollment through normal attrition.
37. How will you advocate for education employees with regard to enacting and enforcing fair evaluation procedures?
There should be a comprehensive, fair, and reliable evaluation procedure, coupled with peer review for teachers and a 360-degree evaluation for principals and other administrators. I will work with representatives of the employees covered by these evaluations to design the appropriate instrument for statewide application. Student achievement must of course be considered in any evaluation, but should not be tied to scores on standardized tests and certainly not to the absolute level of such scores without considering the degree of improvement.
38. How many administrators should there be in relation to the number of teachers?
I have always pushed to concentrate our resources at the school level where we can provide the most direct assistance to our students. There is no clear mathematical relationship between the number of administrators and the number of teachers, because the circumstances vary greatly from system to system. Nevertheless, I would push for clear limits on expenditures. No system should spend more than 5% of its operating budget on general administration or another 5% for instructional support without having a very clear justification.
39. What are your views on diversity?
Georgia's public schools are now majority-minority in the sense that over half of our students come from ethnic backgrounds that have historically been minorities in the United States. Making public education work for all of our students is the greatest challenge to our society in promoting diversity. My own two children, who were always in the racial minority in their schools, benefited immensely from learning about others. As a result, they are comfortable with diversity and gained a rich education. (Both of them are now working on doctoral degrees.) I want all of our children to share their experience.
40. What would you do to improve the graduation rate for minority students?
The extremely low graduation rate for African-American and Hispanic youth is the great tragedy of education in Georgia. I will work to make sure every student can read by the third grade (which is the best predictor of graduation), provide extra help to the students who need a boost to avoid falling behind (I helped to create the Early Intervention Program for this purpose), and offer more alternatives for the students who would benefit from a non-traditional setting and approach, such as the Performance Learning Centers and other "second chance" schools.
41. What would you do to lower the incarceration rate for minority groups?
The vast majority of our prisoners and inmates (over 85% according to some estimates) are high school dropouts, and most are African-American males. They often turn to crime because they see no future for themselves, and their opportunities are limited even further by the stereotypes many people have for all African-American men. Whatever we can do to empower African-American men with a good education, starting with a regular diploma from high school, is the most effective thing we can do to lower the incredibly high and morally unacceptable incarceration rate for African-American men. Education is a proven path to breaking the cycle of poverty and crime.
42. What is your position on the education of illegal immigrants?
The U. S. Supreme Court has already spoken clearly on this subject. Our elementary and secondary schools are required to accept and educate all students who are residing in our country, regardless of their immigration status. Without condoning illegal actions, the fact remains that our communities are better off if we prepare all of the children living here with a basic education so that they can support themselves, avoid crime, and contribute to our economic prosperity.
43. Why should we support you as a candidate in the election of Georgia's next State School Superintendent?
- You know the problems affecting our schools. They are causing great harm to our students, our educators, and the entire state. The State has turned its back on our schools.
- We need a State School Superintendent who will stand up for our students and educators. We need a leader in this position who will oppose the actions that are doing so much damage to our schools and knows how to make the changes that must be made.
- I have the preparation that is necessary to be effective in setting the policies that have the greatest impact on our schools. None of the other candidates has the experience I have in the rough and tumble of guiding our schools, adopting policies, and setting policies at either the local or state level. I served on my local school board for twenty years, played a key role on three state commissions on education, and headed a statewide organization to improve our schools during the last six years. I understand the issues, know how the decision-making process works, and have the skills and contacts that are necessary in working with others to get things done for our schools.
- My immediate goals are to improve the financing of our schools, enhance the teaching profession, and raise the academic performance by all of our students. I will insist on a functioning student information system, reduce the time spent on state tests, and increase the range of alternatives for our students within the public schools. Because of my skills in business and understanding of public finance, I can be effective in stretching the available resources to do the most good for our students. I will foster a partnership in making educational decisions, expanding the opportunities for our students, and involving parents and the broader community.
- Most of all, I will speak the truth, put the needs of our students ahead of politics, and stand up for our schools. If you are dissatisfied with the current situation (as I know you are), are looking for someone who knows how to bring about the needed changes (as I know you are), and want a candidate who can win in November (as I know you do), I hope you will decide to support Joe Martin for State School Superintendent.
44. What is your position on virtual schools?
I support the concept of virtual schools not only as a way to provide access to special courses where they are not available but also as a way to enable students to accelerate their progress through high school and create opportunities for other courses during the regular school day and year. I have some reservations about whether a student should be allowed to meet all of the requirements for a high school diploma in this way. If a charter school wants to operate in this way, there should be a carefully designed funding formula.
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