Georgia: Lacking Courage for Education Reform Leadership

By Al Meyers

Al Meyers, Forum Contributor

This week, Georgia again failed to act in the best interests of its youngest citizens and you should be outraged.  Instead of seeing the “big picture” of what the Constitutional Amendment debate is all about, our legislators decided to make “charter schools” the focus.

I do not support the philosophy of every charter school in Georgia. Some are too focused on test scores, with an “ends justify the means” mentality. Education is about “learning how to learn,” not learning how to pass a test. In the real world, you are judged on your ability to critically think and problem-solve, not pass a test. However, I do support innovation in education, and this vote protected the status quo of mediocrity instead of endorsing innovative approaches to education. This is how the nation will perceive us.

My friend Michael Horn co-authored Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns. It is the blueprint that every parent, educator, public policy maker and politician should read. Markets are disruptively innovated from the “outside-in.” Incumbents never lead the way – never. Music labels, movie studios, and bookstores did not lead the way in the digital revolution. It was the newcomers like Apple, Netflix and, who disrupted the markets with true innovation. So why do we believe that incumbents will lead the way in education innovation? Contrary to popular belief, education is a market. The definition of a market is the public gathering of buyers and sellers of merchandise. For the three largest textbook publishers, this is a very profitable market, as they collectively control around 85 percent of the K-12 core textbook market, worth $3.2 billion!

Digital Learning Now is a national movement to bring digital and blended learning approaches into public education. There are some outstanding school designs that Georgia could adapt to fit its needs, schools such as the School of One (NYC), Quest to Learn (NYC) and Carpe Diem Schools (AZ). Why not allow new school designs to take root, and then adapt the best practices into our local schools?

In the status quo, the Georgia Supreme Court granted monopoly power to local school boards. They have no incentive to vote to approve or deny charter schools, and they will manage them like stepchildren. Innovation needs its own culture, its own standards and practices, not suffocation by local school boards. Competition drives innovation, and monopolies have no incentive to innovate.

I have spent the past 20 years immersed in analyzing media consumption patterns and how digital technology has transformed how we consume, create and communicate content. The digital revolution has transformed every facet of our life, except in public education. Three years ago, I produced a video for the TED Conference titled, “A Vision for 21st Century Learning.” Part of the story goes like this:

“Built as a mass-standardization response to the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the Twentieth Century, students come in as raw material, move from one grade to the next, and leave crammed full of facts. Still largely teaching students by having them sit in front of lecturers, passively memorizing facts without context, and reading textbooks, these are the same students whose average first use of a computer or game console is during or before kindergarten. And in a time when civics literacy matters, where global awareness and technology literacy is critical to ensuring our children are prepared for the 21st century environment, we need to innovate our learning methods.”

This week, Georgia took a major step backward and chose the status quo over education innovation. Georgia ranks in the bottom half or our nation in student achievement, and graduation rates are abysmal – for example, lower than 50% in many parts of Atlanta.

This constitutional amendment was NOT about charter schools. Our education system needs to innovate if our children are going to be prepared for the 21st century work environment. Worst of all, our state constitution says that “the provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.” With this week’s ruling, we will continue to be adequate at best, and not striving for excellence.

(About the Author:  Al Meyers is co-founder and chairman of the Atlanta Music Project and author of ReinventED Solutions, a nationally recognized education blog.)

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