School Year Report Card: Room for Improvement

By Eric Wearne

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Reflecting on the school year as it draws to a close, it’s clear that Georgia isn’t moving from “one failure to another.” There is some success, and there certainly is no lack of enthusiasm over school issues.

While it’s impossible to capture everything that happened in Georgia over the past school year, there are some highlights.

First, the obvious: Voters approved a constitutional amendment last fall, and so Georgia (again) has a statewide commission which may approve charter schools. While it has not set up any schools yet, the commission may provide some competition within the context of what is really a highly regulated government market. Absent the commission, seven new charter schools opened this year, three of which were startups.

One of those new startup schools, Latin Academy Charter School, is a middle school chartered by Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and located in the Anderson Park neighborhood of Atlanta. State- and system-level CRCT scores are not available yet, but Latin Academy has been successful in its first year so far (Latin Academy’s year actually continues for a week past most other schools). It saw 97 percent of scholars meet or exceed standards in reading and 78 percent in math. Both are great improvements for Latin Academy’s students and above the APS average for sixth-graders in 2011-12.

The average rank of Latin Academy scholars improved by 15 percentile points on the norm-referenced NWEA MAP test over the course of the school year. On this test, Latin scholars started the year, on average, ranked at about the bottom third nationally. They have finished the year – their first and only year at Latin Academy – at nearly the national average. Given a new choice, many parents have chosen Latin Academy, and their students are already showing new levels of success.

Second: the Common Core State Standards continue their long march toward implementation. Teachers are working with the standards already. But the Common Core rollout is far from complete. Some issues that will have to be addressed in the near future include:

  • The new tests (Georgia’s versions of the new tests are scheduled to start in 2014-15). This will entail changes to Georgia’s existing testing schedules, changes to instructional calendars and other logistical issues;
  • More data. These new tests will also generate new data, and states (and parents) need to be aware of how students’ privacy will be protected;
  • New territory. The new reading lists for English include much more nonfiction; it will be interesting to see how far states and school systems are willing to deviate from the suggested reading lists. This also includes new common subject areas, like the Next Generation Science Standards.

Third and finally – lest higher education be ignored – Georgia Tech made major national news recently when it announced its partnership with the private company Udacity to offer a $7,000 online graduate degree in computer science. In a traditional setting, the degree would cost  approximately $40,000. And, considering the quality of the institution and the value this particular degree is likely to have on graduates’ future earning potential, this seems an especially good deal for motivated students.

Forbes magazine described the idea as “the kind of disruption that the higher education industry has been expecting,” and calls it “a sonic boom rattling the windows in the offices of college administrators across the country.”

Other notable events of the past school year include the ongoing indictments in the CRCT cheating scandal, DeKalb County’s new school board, and a (slowly) rising high school graduation rate.

As the school year closes, Georgia finds itself in an interesting place. Common Core is a national issue, but probably will not have a major impact on student achievement one way or the other in Georgia. The state finds itself on the cutting edge of some aspects of higher education. And while new charter schools are opening and have a new venue for approval, Georgia still trails some of our neighbors: Impressive projects like Tennessee’s Charter School Incubator are on our doorstep.

In working to improve Georgia’s educational landscape, it’s worth remembering another Churchill quote, made during a visit to his old school, Harrow: “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in.”

Eric Wearne, assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College’s School of Education, is board chairman of Latin Academy Charter School and a Senior Fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent, state-focused 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 views 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 (May 24, 2013). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.

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