Georgia Should Create Ultra High Performance Schools

Mike Klein, GPPF Editor

Georgia is shopping for ideas.  In particular, ideas that will shape a competitive state, one that is fundamentally attractive to investors, corporations considering relocation and industries that might want to be created from scratch here.  In an ultra-competitive society it is not too much to suggest that the state with the best ideas will produce a post-recession dynamic economy.

On Monday, Governor Nathan Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative held a conference at Georgia Tech.  The general theme went like this:  The state must pass next year’s transportation sales tax; it is crucial to growth and jobs.  Incentives matter.  Smart regions require lots of smart people. Georgia has the political will to succeed.  As Atlanta goes, so goes Georgia.  And so on.

Then on Thursday the state Department of Education released 2011 AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – and graduation rates.  There were a couple messages.  Georgia has only a “slim” chance to meet No Child Left Behind 2014 goals, which a lot of folks consider unreasonable.  The most important message is we must do more to educate every child for lifetime success.

In the spirit of offering ideas, here are two for consideration:

Establish Ultra-High Performance Schools

Everyone agrees it’s all about education and a prepared workforce.

Georgia should create a generation of Ultra-High Performance Schools – public schools for exceptionally gifted kids.  Organize them as state special charter schools, perhaps run by the state.  The investment is worth it.  Make sure the smartest kids are identified before middle school or earlier.  Incentivize parents of the smartest kids to move them into Ultra-High Performance Schools where they will experience the highest level of education.  Encourage these kids to stay smart and not be embarrassed about being smart.

Smart kids are the state’s greatest asset.  But we do smart kids no benefit whatsoever when we leave them in local “neighborhood schools” where there may be few smart kids like themselves.  What we are talking about here is much more than just kids with good grades.  Lots of kids have good grades.  Lots of parents think their kids are smart.  But there are special kids whose super learning potentials far outstrip their usual classmates.  These kids have analytic and higher reasoning skills at early ages.  These are not regular kids.  We owe them an upgraded opportunity.

Smart kids need special cultivation.  Smart kids need to be surrounded by other smart kids so they are not ostracized for being smart.  Smart kids need to feel they are part of something that is celebrated by others who are smart like themselves.  When like-minded kids are together they will push themselves to accomplish learning that is exceptional.   Give smart kids the opportunity to participate in after school activities just like any other kids.   It should not be too hard to figure out.

The Georgia STEM project is an example of smart thinking.  It should expand.  Like STEM, Ultra-High Performance Schools could be developed within the Congressional districts.  They would become state special charter schools because they would overlap school districts.

Think about great resources that could be provided by the valuable Georgia Virtual School.

Do not become handcuffed by funding formulas.   Fix that before someone goes to court.

We cannot afford to lose even one smart kid who feels unchallenged by his or her education.

Everyone Is Not A University Candidate

The best way I can start this is by saying, whatever happened to wood shop and auto shop?

Georgia’s emphasis – yes, properly placed – on creating students who can excel in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other aggressive academics may have inadvertently sent the wrong message to students who might have neither the ability nor the interest to excel there.  High school graduation rates suggest we must improve resources to address the equally important kids who are not well matched to higher education.

Somewhere along the way it became not-cool to say that your career goal was to become the best plumber or the best electrician or the best landscaper or the best house painter or the best hair stylist or the best auto repair technician or the best name-a-hundred-careers here.

We have become too tied up trying to force feed nearly all kids into university paths.  We have thousands of kids in four-year schools that have no idea why they are there.  Not all kids should or want to be in college.  We need to make certain they have a path to become whatever they want to be.  We need to show these kids we value their goals, skills and their contributions.  We need roofers.  We need many more apprentice programs of every kind.

Technical College System of Georgia career academies and the state Department of Education career education cluster programs are extraordinary resources.  We must help them do more.  We need more emphasis on high school / technical colleges dual enrollment which serves just 5,000 students.  That is a pittance compared to the life-changing potential of dual enrollment.  Bureaucracy from wherever it originates that stands in the way of dual enrollment should be shoved aside by a higher authority.

Kids should not be embarrassed if they are not university-bound.  They should be treated just as respectfully as kids who excel academically but do not know how to connect a water line.  There are different kinds of accomplishments and kids should be celebrated for what they can do, not made to feel less equal because of what they cannot do.  Everybody will not have a career in biotechnology and life sciences.  Somebody needs to lay down asphalt.

Two HVAC professionals recently replaced my aging heating and air systems.  I cannot tell you one thing about how to replace HVAC, but I am glad they knew, and I respect them for it.

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