By Benita M. Dodd
Ask around the Gold Dome whether Georgians can expect significant reform in education in 2018 and you’ll probably hear, “It’s an election year; nobody wants to rock the boat.”
Ask those who heard Vicki Davis and Gordon Rogers outline opportunities in Georgia education during their talks at the 2017 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum and you’ll hear optimism: Change can still happen, for students, teachers and classrooms.
Davis’ infectious enthusiasm reflects why the teacher from the tiny town of Camilla, Ga. – blogger “Cool Cat Teacher” – has 138,000 Twitter followers, hosts two iTunes chart-topping podcasts and has logged more than 200,000 views on her YouTube tutorials.
“Every single child can learn,” Davis insists; they just learn in different ways. “We have to relate before we educate.” Adults recall sitting at the back of the room and studying a book, she says, but today children’s brains are “wired differently.” They have shorter attention spans and are learning in an age of creativity as opposed to the bygone industrial age.
What concerns Davis is the oft-cited reports about American children lagging globally in math. “It’s important we need to know math, that we need to know how to read, and I’m not saying those reports are not valid. But what I am saying is you really can’t find the solution to cancer on a multiple-choice test,” Davis opines.
“The problems we have in today’s world, so many of them are how do we relate to people? How do we get along? How do we collaborate?
“While tests are part of the equation, we have made it the whole equation. And that makes me furious, because there will be children who don’t do well in math and don’t do well in reading … but they are artists.”
To Davis, advancing education is first and foremost about relationships. Students rebel without the foundation of a good relationship. “It’s nice to see technology, but you know what impresses me when I visit a school? When I see all the kids call the principal’s name as they walk down the hall.”
It’s time to reinvent education, she maintains, bemoaning the “script” many teachers must follow as innovation and technology surge ahead. Her students already invent helpful “apps” in the classroom. In fact, she argues, schools should let student movies be “the modern essay.” And, she stresses, many teachers need technology training, too, to keep up with children.
Using “formative assessment” to assess students’ progress in a subject before testing them, Davis gets children to enter answers into their cellphones. But teachers across the state aren’t trained to use this free tool.
For the technology-centric classroom of today, internet access is crucial. For children without Internet access at home, her county’s public school district partnered with area businesses to provide free wi-fi zones. Davis’ students uses drones for movie-making and advance to doing drone work for farmers. Others learn how to code programs. Her classes collaborates with other schools: “When you’re studying about Andersonville, why don’t you connect with the kid who lives there and talk about Andersonville over Skype? Then I’ll teach about some things that maybe happen in Camilla.”
Davis credits her statewide view of education to participation in the “rising tide” lessons of the prestigious Leadership Georgia program: “It’s not enough that my child is at a good school or your child is in a good school. We have to think about all schools.”
Gordon Rogers, co-founder and President of Edevate, targets opportunities for college dropouts with student loan debt. He reels off statistics: The United States leads in college enrollments but has the highest dropout rate in the world. Barely half those who start college earn their degree in six years. By the time students realize they are not college material and drop out they owe an average of $12,000.
College dropouts account for two-thirds of student loan defaults. Finding a job is tough; so is affording to repay loans. Rogers praised Governor Deal’s high-demand career initiative and notes many jobs can be qualified for with a year or two of college; thousands of Georgia jobs pay $45,000 a year and require no degree.
One solution is his Bridge Boot Camp, offering “a path forward for those with debt but no degree.” The 10-week accelerated business and job readiness program targets the “middle-skill” jobs Rogers says half of HR managers are struggling to fill.
Participation includes a hands-on, onsite business challenge at a company so students get real-world experience while managers observe their skills and interaction and, he hopes, hire them: “It’s much better than a job interview or just looking at a resume; they can detect qualities that don’t show up on paper.”
Rogers calls it a private-sector solution, supported and underwritten by partners like job placement agencies and student loan providers because, “Once somebody defaults on a student loan, they’re unlikely to qualify for a car loan or a mortgage or any other type of financial involvement.”
Advancing education and opportunity, these two presenters prove, is no longer bricks and mortar. Today’s educators must innovate, embracing partnerships that take them outside the box and students outside the classroom.
Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (November 3, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.