Hit the books with Valarie Wilson!

The Democratic state school superintendent candidate gets back to basics on education but isn't stuck in the past

The powers of Georgia's school superintendent are somewhat limited. He or she can't wave a magic wand and change the state's dismal education system overnight. It has many problems: high school graduation rates reside near the bottom of national rankings; rural schools can't afford Advanced Placement courses; and some urban districts struggle with unflattering dropout rates. But the state's top school official can use the position as a bully pulpit to poke the governor and state lawmakers to loosen the purse strings, change policy, and focus more on children's futures rather than the latest conservative cause célèbre.

In the wake of a failed gubernatorial bid by John Barge, the current superintendent, the contest to replace him is between GOP candidate Richard Woods, an Irwin County school administrator, and Democratic challenger Valarie Wilson, executive director of the Atlanta Beltline Partnership and former president of the Georgia School Boards Association. Oddly enough, the two agree on some issues, such as the need to scale back excessive testing. But Wilson is a true believer in the potential of the public school system and has a comprehensive vision to boost it. She's our pick.

Woods, who narrowly defeated GOP runoff opponent Mike Buck by about 700 votes, has pledged to audit the already cut-to-the-bone education department. He's also opposed to Common Core, the federal standards program that has become politicized by the Tea Party and mislabeled as President Barack Obama's latest effort to brainwash youngsters. He also says he'll tinker with curriculum, promising that history classes will showcase the puffed-chest propaganda of "American exceptionalism."

Wilson supports Common Core. Unlike Woods, she's not opposed to the federal funding that comes with it. Wilson also understands that charter schools constitute only one solution, not a panacea, to the challenges facing education. She acknowledges that more cash isn't always the answer to the public school system's woes. But unlike Woods, she's not going into office drooling over the prospect of downsizing. She thinks the state can position itself to better compete for that cash and reduce the number of tests so that teachers can get back to teaching.

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