When he recorded a Georgia Public Broadcasting studio audience program this week Governor Nathan Deal needed just two sentences to precisely capsulize why nearly everything that we think we know about learning and education should be reconsidered and re-engineered.
“We still live in an era in which everybody seems to think that unless your child has a college degree they are not successful. We know that is not true,” Deal told a studio audience that watched the taping of Ignite, a GPB education web program.
His conversation with host Anne Ostholthoff focused on college and career initiatives, a priority under Deal whose administration has recognized states left behind in education technology will be left behind in the larger economy. Connected learning can establish a virtual learning matrix between pupils, instructors and others in any dimension, locally, regionally and globally.
That connection is what Camilla, Georgia innovator Vicki Davis calls “Flat Learning” – modeled after author Thomas Friedman’s popular concept that the world is flat. High tech that flattened the world enables us to connect learning dots in ways not earlier possible. “It means you can collaborate with anybody, anywhere at any time,” said Davis who blogs as Cool Cat Teacher.
With an eye on connected learning, there is news about other projects. Starting this year Georgia high school students will have expanded access to the Microsoft IT Academy. The Academy is a great resource for students who are moving into careers or higher education.
On another front, state education officials are not quite ready to launch an online learning clearinghouse that lawmakers created this year. The concept of digital courses being bundled into a state-administered catalogue available to everyone also needs a substantial awareness campaign; even informed school insiders don’t know much about it.
Let’s focus first on the Microsoft IT Academy. A formal announcement is expected next month but a recent letter from the state Department of Education told public school systems Georgia’s partnership with Microsoft will become available to all 464 high schools statewide. Previously the program was available in about five dozen high schools.
Microsoft IT Academy is an extensive curriculum that enables students to become proficient in all things Microsoft. Successful students earn Microsoft certifications. Microsoft’s website says IT Academy courses are taught in 160 countries. Resources will include courses, licenses for classroom or student home use, access to Microsoft certification exams and much more.
The state technical college system and Microsoft IT Academy are partners since June 2008. For a mere pittance – a $34,000 per year contract – IT Academy courses are available without limit to students on all 25 technical college system campuses. Some 13,600 students participated during the most recent school year for which data is available. Such a deal: less than $3 per student! University system schools also use Microsoft IT Academy.
About 200 students per year participate in the Microsoft IT Academy at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro where computer sciences instructor Terry Hand says, ”We are working hard to produce quality IT graduates that will be productive employees.” Hand is the technical college system’s lead coordinator with Microsoft and he serves on its national advisory committee. Hand estimated about 1,000 Ogeechee students have participated since the program was begun in 2009.
Less certain is when state education officials will launch Georgia Virtual School’s catalogue of digital learning courses from public school systems and charter schools. Literally hundreds of elementary, middle school and high school courses could be co-mingled from public systems like Gwinnett, Cobb and Forsyth counties and the state’s growing number of online schools.
Governor Deal signed the “Online Clearinghouse Act” on May 1. State education officials are determining how to screen a list of courses from across the state that might qualify. “However, none of these plans are final,” said Bob Swiggum, chief information officer for DOE technology.
Legislation (House Bill 175) provides that public school systems or charter schools “shall apply” to the state Department of Education to include their courses. But when we checked, the project seems to have a very low profile and to this point, some even question why they would.
“On first blush I’m not sure what we would have to gain from it,” said Gale Hey, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for the Gwinnett County Public Schools. “I can see where the smaller districts would really benefit from this opportunity.”
Gwinnett has a rich online catalogue and has offered supplemental online learning options since 1999. Today some 5,000 students expand past traditional classroom work with selections from 160 high school classes, 28 credit recovery classes and 35 middle school classes.
Gwinnett started an entirely online high school for district resident students last year, a middle school opened this year and an online elementary school is scheduled to open in fall 2013. Gwinnett’s considerable resources could be valuable to small districts that do not have the capability to produce online courses or the finances to purchase them.
Georgia Cyber Academy is the state’s largest online learning school with 12,000 pupils. GCA head of school Matt Arkin said including its courses in a state library is a low current priority. “Our focus right now is some of the larger issues around charter schools before we could look into that as an option,” said Arkin. “One day I see it being a good thing.” GCA enrollment increased by 2,000 students this fall and it has 1,000 more on waiting lists for K-11 courses.
Georgia online learning remains a series of tentative steps forward. Senate Bill 289 that also passed the Legislature this year instructs state education officials to maximize the number of high school students who complete one online learning course before spring 2019 graduation. That extremely modest goal – one course – will apply to the fall 2014 incoming freshman class.
Online clearinghouse legislation established no timetables; perhaps that is part of its challenge. Senate Bill 289 stipulated several deadlines. The first is December 1 this year when education officials must tell the Governor’s Office and General Assembly how they will help local school systems acquire digital learning at reasonable prices.
Connected learning technology will no doubt have a large footprint going forward. Governor Deal offered a salient thought during this week’s education show taping at GPB. Quoting a friend, the Governor said, “If you can find what a child is passionate about, build on that. That child will be successful and the educational process will have achieved its goal.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Are you frustrated with state taxation policies and absolutely convinced you’ve got better ideas? Step right up, folks, and take a gander coming soon at Tax Reform: The Game, a new interactive web-based game that uses real-world Georgia data as its backdrop. Plug in the numbers, change them around however you like and you will be able to design your own Georgia tax reform plan.
Tax Reform: The Game is the brainchild of Georgia Tech economics professor Christine Ries who says her internet game will make possible “tax reform of the people, by the people and for the people.” Ries began to think about how to make real taxation data more accessible to the public after her service on the state’s 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform. All too often, she said, it was simply too hard to obtain real data that was necessary for tax policy calculations.
“People who have never before been involved in political issues are intensely interested in becoming more involved and informed,” said Ries, who is a Georgia Public Policy Foundation senior fellow. “When I was on the Tax Reform Council surprising numbers of Georgians from all walks of life were asking me if they could run their own calculations. When we were able to get tax information that preserves everyone’s privacy we were able to make a game that would be available and useful for those engaged citizens.”
Ries will unveil Tax Reform: The Game during an Americans for Prosperity Foundation Georgia conference on Saturday August 25 in Kennesaw. “Taxpayers deserve as much information as possible about how government collects and uses their money,” Ries said. “This game will put some really important tools at their fingertips. Now we can really have ‘no tax reform without representation.’” The game will be available to anyone on a website that will be announced.
Players will be able to create plans that raise taxes, lower taxes or keep tax revenues the same. The game will determine how the player’s changes would affect overall state revenue. Call that phase one which is what Ries plans to unveil at the conference. Phase two will allow the player to demonstrate the impact of those proposed tax rates on the various income groups in the state – lower income, middle income, and higher income. Phase three will allow the ‘tax reformer’ to look specifically at a single family or taxpayer.
Ries explained, “For instance, how would a particular reform affect the taxes paid by a family earning $75,000 per year, filing jointly with two children, itemized deductions of $30,000 per year and they live in DeKalb County? The game will tell them how their state income and sales taxes would change.”
Bringing this level of Georgia taxation data forward into a game environment is unprecedented. Ries said she is in discussions about how to implement Tax Reform: The Game in other states. “Most of my fellow policy wonks that I hang around with worry about the right economic plan and they just assume that if you have the right economic plan it will get adopted,” Ries said. “We’re learning a lot more about how you need to factor in the right political and community concerns.”
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation Georgia conference will be held in the Murray Arts Center at Mt. Paran Christian School. Scheduled speakers include Wall Street Journal editorial board columnist Stephen Moore and several Georgia-based speakers who will discuss economics, education and energy policies. Click here for additional information and to register.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
What’s in the Maryland water? A student performance analysis that contains encouraging news about Georgia also leads to the inescapable conclusion that Maryland has really gotten its act together during the past decade. In a comparison of 2003 and 2011 students, Maryland led the nation in fourth and eighth grade reading improvement and it also led in eighth grade math.
Comprehensive data from the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) also shows Georgia fourth and eighth graders made great strides during the same eight-year span. Georgia students did not lead the region or nation in any category but cumulatively, Georgia students posted some of the best overall gains achieved in any of SREB’s 16-member states.
SREB used data from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement tests to report state results in math and reading, and some other categories including high school graduation and college enrollment rates. SREB did not create a side-by-side comparison for its 16-member states but a Georgia Public Policy Foundation analysis shows that Maryland clearly led the field and Georgia should take heart that its students are moving in the right direction.
Extensive data is available in 16 individual state reports posted on the SREB website. NAEP achievement tests show Maryland students improved by 13 percentage points in fourth grade math, 13 points in fourth grade reading, and 9 points in eighth grade reading. Those were the best results nationwide, although in some cases the results tied other states. Maryland ranked fifth in the SREB region with a 7 percentage points improvement in eighth grade math.
There likely are reasons other than water for Maryland’s performance. SREB notes Maryland has a statistically lower percentage of students approved for free or reduced price meals, 42 percent in the state vs. 58 percent in the SREB region and 52 percent nationally. The childrens’ poverty rate is 9 percent lower than the U.S. rate and 13 percent lower than the SREB region. Poverty itself is not an indicator for academic performance but it can be a contributing factor.
Maryland – like Georgia, a national leader – had publicly funded preschool program enrollment that was 400 percent greater than the number of 4-year-olds living in poverty in 2008. However, that declined to 274 percent by 2010, which could show up in later school readiness analysis.
Here is another potential reason Maryland students perform well: parents emphasize education. SREB noted, “The percent of working-age adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Maryland topped the region and nation.” Maryland’s average beginning teacher salary is also higher than salaries in neighboring states, the SREB region overall and the nation.
If you’re looking for another SREB region sleeper state in this report, consider Kentucky. Blue Grass state fourth graders improved NAEP math achievement scores by 13 percent, which equaled Maryland’s performance. Compared against other SREB region states, Kentucky fourth graders had the third best improvement rate in fourth grade reading, fifth best in eighth grade math and ninth best in eighth grade reading.
Overall, most SREB region states performed better than national averages in fourth and eighth grade testing, and as we wrote above, there is good news for Georgia which has been much maligned in recent years for sometimes real and sometimes perceived poor academics.
Mathematics has long been one of education’s greatest classroom challenges. States including Georgia have tried several teaching methods as they realigned curriculum. For instance, should algebra and geometry and other math disciplines be taught simultaneously or consecutively?
Georgia students transitioned through at least two different methods of learning math within the past decade. Performance suggests they transitioned well. Fourth graders improved their NAEP test scores by 8 percent and eighth graders boosted their scores by 9 percent between 2003 and 2011. Fourth graders nationally improved 6 percent and eighth graders by 5 percent.
Georgia eighth grade students posted a 59 percent achievement score on 2003 NAEP math tests. That improved to 68 percent in 2011, a 9 percent gain that is well above the 5 percent improvement for eight graders nationally and better than 6 percent achieved in SREB states.
Georgia’s high school graduation rate was 68 percent last year, lower than the average of all 16 SREB states (75 percent) and lower than the national rate (76 percent). It is, however, up from eight years earlier when just 57 percent of Georgia students graduated. The state has a distinct focus on how to increase graduation rates from both high school and higher education.
The bottom of this post contains links to NAEP 2011 state snapshot reports on Georgia. These sites have deep level data about how Georgia is positioned against other states nationally. For instance, Georgia eighth graders achieved the second best reading improvement rate in the 16 SREB states. But where does that place them nationally? The answer is middle of the pack: equal to one dozen states, higher than ten states and lower than the others.
This SREB biennial report was the fifth released over ten years. It comes at a unique moment because nearly every state – not Texas, not Virginia – will launch common core standards this fall. In simplest terms, common core is an attempt to standardize what Jack and Jill are taught so if they move between school districts or between states what they learn in their new school will have some common threads with their previous learning.
At surface level this idea sounds terrific but as with most new ideas, it comes with its share of controversy. Some contend that common core is the start of a nationally mandated curriculum. Others are not pleased the Obama administration made some federal education grants to states dependent on teaching to common core standards. Bill Gates is heavily invested in common core, pushing its creation and investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.
Georgia adopted common core. We will be writing more about that soon.
Additional NAEP Resources
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
- Why School Teachers Are No Longer “Sage on the Stage”
- ALEC: Here’s How Georgia Could Improve Competitiveness
- “Data Is An Onion … You Have to Begin to Peel Back the Onion”
- Big Brother Knows Best Mentality Works Against School Choice
- Georgia’s Intense Focus on Children Sold for Sexual Services
- This Should be Obvious: Fix Families First to Fix Kids
- Broken Families … Parents Without Skills … Kids in Juvenile Justice
- Digital Learning, Re-Entry Lead List of Criminal Justice Priorities
- Second Adult Criminal Justice Reform Bill Becomes Law
- Pew Poll: Solid Real World Support for Juvenile Justice Reform
- Georgia Public Schools Employ More Staff Than Teachers
- Georgia House Passes Juvenile Justice Bill 173-0