ATLANTA — The candidates for state superintendent of schools offered differing prescriptions for raising the high-school graduation rate during their only televised debate Sunday.

Republican Richard Woods, a veteran educator from South Georgia, said the solution is tailoring the graduation requirements to the child’s career choice. Democrat Valarie Wilson, a non-profit executive and one-time Decatur school-board chairwoman, said the answer is more social services and follow-up training for teachers.

They were responding to a question from a reporter at a debate organized by the Atlanta Press Club and aired statewide on Georgia Public Broadcasting. The club and network each will have archived versions available for viewing on their websites.
Woods argues that the state’s use of the Common Core education standards, in conjunction with other states, creates such rigid requirements that teachers don’t have the opportunity to use their creativity to adapt their instruction techniques to the needs of the children in each class. He opposes use of the Common Core and favors greater flexibility for educators and administrators.
“Instead of four years of math, which is basically the same for each child, why not let accounting count as a math?” Woods said, adding that students would be more motivated to graduate if they’re taking courses they see as having career relevance.

Wilson said that graduation is hampered by poverty and related issues which affect one-fourth of all children statewide and a majority in some districts. She wants public schools to coordinate social services to needy pupils and their families.
“Those issues have to be addressed before we can begin the job of teaching,” she said.

She also wants students to begin instruction at a younger age.

Wilson favors continued use of the Common Core standards, which has been one of the biggest differences between the two candidates.

Another point of departure all campaign is Wilson’s pledge to lobby for increased state funding.

“People say I say it a lot, but funding is critical. … The first thing I would do is fight to make sure we have the funding in place,” she said.

Woods has said he favors better management of current funding through a comprehensive audit and block grants.

“Before looking at the money itself, we need to look at how the money is spent,” he said. “We need to give our local school systems the flexibility to address individual needs of their schools within their districts.”

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