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Is There Ever Anything Good About Receiving a D+ Grade?

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Pop Quiz:  Is there ever anything good about receiving a D+ grade?

This week the public education watchdog StudentsFirst ranked Georgia 15th nationally in a report that analyzed state policies rather than student performance.  The D+ grade assigned to Georgia considered improvement in public charter school laws and a new teacher evaluations format but the report downgraded Georgia for weakness empowering parents with meaningful information and deficiencies in financial accountability policies.

The overall message to Georgia is the state has plenty of room for improvement.

Grading states in a numerical range that produced an “A-to-F” format, no state received an “A” in the StudentsFirst report card.  Louisiana (B- and 2.88) and Florida (B- and 2.73) finished one-two.  Georgia (D+ and 1.42) placed behind Tennessee (C- and 1.75) which ranked 11th.  States were evaluated in three major categories:  elevating teaching, empowering parents and spending wisely.  Thirty-eight states scored “D or F” and ten states scored “C”.

The summary stated, “Georgia recently took a bold step in elevating the teaching profession by eliminating seniority-based layoffs.  Georgia enacted legislation in 2012 that requires districts to use educator performance – significantly informed by student academic growth – as the primary factor in determining layoffs.  This legislation has the potential to inspire continued improvements in the state’s education policies.”

StudentsFirst LogoStudentsFirst was founded in 2010 by Michelle Rhee after her tenure as the Washington, D.C. public schools system chancellor ended with her resignation.  Widely known as a high profile reformer and advocate for students, Rhee was often at odds against entrenched bureaucracy.

The national education policies analysis is the first issued by StudentsFirst.  “It is real tough to use test scores as the sole metric for students living in different towns, different parts of town, different parts of the country,” said Bradford Swann, Georgia state director for StudentsFirst.  “This report solely focuses on the laws that are in place to bring about education reform.”

Swann cited the example of Louisiana which placed first in the StudentsFirst report even though its fourth and eighth grade students scored in the bottom 10 percent nationally in 2011 math and reading tests.  The state adopted policies that link personnel and salary decisions to student performance.  Louisiana also enacted stronger public charter school and voucher policies.

Swann said Louisiana is “building a foundation that will allow them to really bring about student achievement not for one or two years but for the long haul.  That is the key point.  For the next 20 years, do you have the tools in place so you can advance your students?”  Swann recently joined StudentsFirst after serving on the staff of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

A new Georgia teacher evaluation system that StudentsFirst cited as a positive step forward was criticized this week when initial results showed just 1 percent of teachers evaluated in a pilot project were determined to be ineffective.  Given that Georgia elementary students score low on national tests, and the state’s four-year high school graduation rate is among the lowest nationally, critics quickly suggested the new teacher evaluation format needs some work.

Here are more highlights from the Georgia section:

Elevate Teaching:  “Georgia does not substantively assess its educators … While the existing statewide evaluation includes classroom observations and student growth, it lacks key criteria … such as a four-tier rating of effectiveness, significant student growth and student surveys.  Similarly, principal evaluations lack all essential criteria of comprehensive evaluations.”

Empower Parents:  “Currently, Georgia parents do not have access to meaningful information that enables them to engage in their schools and to make informed decisions for their children … Georgia should require A-F letter grades for schools rather than a star rating system.  Georgia should also provide for notifying parents of teacher ineffectiveness and allow parents access to teacher quality information … Georgia should establish a parent trigger law that allows a majority of parents to band together at the grassroots level and petition to turn around low-performing schools throughout the state.”

Spend Wisely and Govern Well: “Georgia should empower data-driven decision making by improving the financial data it collects and linking spending to academic achievement.  If school districts mismanage resources, Georgia should provide for governance changes … Georgia should move to a portable employer-sponsored retirement plan and permit public charter schools to opt out of the plan.”

Click here read the complete Georgia section on the StudentsFirst website.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Charter Opponents Overplayed a Bad Hand and Lost Big

Mike Klein

Truthfully, the public charter schools constitutional amendment that Georgia voters approved Tuesday was a modest proposal that sends a message voters in the state will insist on public schools innovation, even small innovation which is where the state is with charter schools.

The big stuff like linking teacher salaries to student academic performance and eliminating teacher tenure was voted on in other states.  We are not ready for those votes in Georgia.

Perception is a significant percentage of reality.  Imagine the national perception that would have been created if Georgia became the first state to vote against a constitutional amendment that sought to expand public charter school options for parents.

The amendment prevailed with 58 percent and a margin of some 625,000 votes.  It handily won all the major population counties surrounding Atlanta and it carried Gwinnett County by 75,000 votes.  The Gwinnett school board was the leading opponent and significantly financed a costly lawsuit that overturned the previous state charter school commission.

How did this victory happen?  There is no single answer; there are many.  Proponents made their argument that parental choice for children should be paramount.  Opponents also built a case around children but in their scenario children left behind in traditional schools would see their futures compromised by for-profit education companies that were taking the money.

Both sides emphasized local control.  Proponents contended parental choice was the ultimate local control.  Opponents counter-punched that the state Supreme Court granted exclusive control to local school boards, even though that language is nowhere in the state constitution.

Opponents took aim at a state commission that would consider petitions after they were denied by local boards.  Its members were portrayed as unaccountable.  Proponents overcame the perception that the commission would become a multi-headed monster.  Proponents argued and they were right that the commission would be a legitimate appellate process.

Opponents failed to sell their financial model argument with the voters.  Last spring opponents in the General Assembly insisted no local property tax dollars should be allowed to fund new state-approved charter schools.  They insisted that local property tax dollars should not follow students to a state charter school; those dollars should remain with the traditional school district.

Legislation that created the public charters schools constitutional amendment had no chance to pass without that compromise, so it happened.  Proponents then worked out a formula in which new state-approved charters would receive slightly more per pupil state support than traditional public schools.  Slightly was the key word; it was a bit more, not a lot, just a bit and if those new charter schools were a district, they would be the third lowest funded school district in Georgia.

Opponents thought they saw the opening for a new strategy.  Now they argued it was unfair that state-approved public charter schools would receive more per pupil funding than traditional public schools.  Proponents built their position around an explanation about the relationship between local property tax dollars and per pupil state funding.  Apparently that worked.

Opponents introduced so many numbers into the conversation that it became nearly impossible for any regular person to sort them out.  They argued that new state-approved public charter schools were a threat that could cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, take your pick.  That argument also did not stick with voters.

Opponents continuously argued state budget cuts over several years forced local districts to furlough teachers and trim school days from the calendar.  State budget cuts at any dollar level do not automatically require schools to adjust their calendars.  There are some formulas in play – too complex to describe here – but suffice it to say, local boards control school calendars.

Opponents pointed to the number of school systems that converted to charter status as proof that local boards will create charters.  But they stopped short of explaining that when public school systems convert to charter status they immediately become eligible for additional state financial aid that can be millions of dollars per district.  This argument also fell short.

Opponents won the media war.  Most media bought the opposition argument that the charter schools amendment would expand state government, create a dual or second state school system and cause a very costly duplication of state services at a time when schools were being asked to suffer from reduced funding.  Most voters did not agree with most media.

Ultimately, opponents decided their best path was to portray themselves as victims.  They pushed a strategy that local public schools were being compromised but proponents prevailed with a strategy that parental choice was the ultimate local control.  At the end opponents said state-approved charters would re-segregate Georgia schools.  That was a low point in the dialogue.  Minority families have clearly benefited from charter schools.

Truthfully, there is no national debate about the future of public charter schools.  Twenty years ago there was not even one anywhere in the United States.  Today there are more than 5,600.  That conversation is over.  The President of the United States, both major political parties and many education innovators are firmly in the corner of expanded public charter school options.

Truthfully, Georgia is still in the early days of fashioning its public charter schools strategy.  Incidentally, while you are reading this another 52 students will decide to drop out of Georgia public schools, as 19,250 do each year.  There is no intent here to suggest charters could save them all, but something needs to save them and time has been running out for a very long time.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

When Economy Cracked, Many Georgians Cracked the Books

Mike Klein

Two young women in my family attend two-year colleges.  The match is perfect.  One works four days per week at a veterinary hospital and takes classes two days.  The other works three or four days per week in a restaurant and attends school days and evenings.  Not too many years ago the family might have expected these young women would be in four-year schools but two-year schools are the best match for their study needs, work schedules and finances.

My own family is an example of the emphasis on using two-year colleges for exceptional value and what they bring to the table.  Young and increasingly older adults recognize they must have a ticket to get onto the economic game playing field but that ticket does not necessarily mean four years of higher education costs and a piece of higher education parchment.

As it turns out, this is happening all over America.  A new Fact Book Bulletin from the Atlanta – based Southern Regional Education Board says two-year college enrollment grew 38.2 percent between 2005 and 2010 in SREB’s 16 southern states.  Growth was up 30.4 percent nationally.

Georgia two-year colleges achieved the second highest enrollment percentage growth in the nation during the 2010 school year when measured alongside 13 states that enrolled at least 200,000 students.   Georgia enrollment grew 23.9 percent to 221,000 students.  Washington state schools enrollment grew 33.3 percent and is comparably sized at 217,000 students.

Explosive enrollment growth was fueled by many factors.   Two-year schools are leaner, generally less elaborate, don’t occupy lots of pricey-to-maintain real estate, often are better focused on training people for local community jobs, do not have the elaborate cost structures of research universities, are easily accessible to commuter students, are a great required courses option for students who have not made career decisions and they have the capability to provide training required for professions that require certification but less than four years of college.

Technical colleges also became a buffer when the recession devastated the economy.   Adults who lost careers returned to school to upgrade skills or acquire new skills.   That changed the face of who engages inside a public two-year college classroom.  Seventeen percent of Georgia technical college students are at least 40 years old and 25 percent are 31 years or older.

SREB analyzed two-year college enrollment data for all 50 states from reports created by the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics.  Georgia’s 23.9 percent growth rate was the largest among all southern states where annual average growth was 7.6 percent.  Virginia grew 14.1 percent and was comparably sized at 231,000 students.   Kentucky grew 11.8 percent to almost 124,000 enrolled students during the same school year.

In Georgia, the Technical College System enrolled the most students in two-year schools, about 197,000, with the remainder enrolled in two-year colleges operated by the University System.  A spokesman for the technical college system said enrollment has declined since 2010 for at least three reasons; students regained employment, HOPE scholarship changes and a transition from quarters to semesters.  Anticipated total enrollment this year is slightly under 171,000.

Technical College System growth occurred during a period of fiscal challenge, especially for students.  TCSG funding from all sources increased from $436 million to $719 million between 2002 and 2011, but the state share of those dollars decreased from 61.6 percent to 43.4 percent.  Tuition increases were largely responsible for bridging the gap.  Operating funds took an $88.3 million reduction during the four fiscal years that will end next June 30.

As SREB noted in its Fact Book Bulletin, two-year public school enrollment in southern states was almost identical to four-year school enrollment with both systems serving 2.8 million students.  The trend has been moving toward nearly identical student populations for decades.   In the year 2000 four-year colleges still enrolled about 400,000 more students annually, but that gap has vanished.

Not surprisingly, the southern region’s two most populous states – Texas and Florida – had the largest systems with 800,000 and 543,000 students respectively.  Their enrollment growth rates were lower, however, at 7.1 percent for Texas and 5.9 percent for Florida.  North Carolina also has a sizable system – 263,000 students – but had a much lower 3.9 percent growth rate in 2010.

Also Worth Noting:  Georgia fourth and eighth graders continue to make better-than-average progress on national reading and math achievement tests.  Georgia was not among five states that SREB highlighted in its assessment analysis of the Nation’s Report Card but a close look at how students here performed is very encouraging.  Click here to read the SREB entire report.  Georgia reading and math improvement scores appear on pages six and seven.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Connected Learning: Big Expansion for Microsoft IT Academy

Mike Klein

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)

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay Greene: School Choice Battle Nearly Over and Choice Won

Mike Klein

There is a tendency here in Georgia to consider that school choice is an open question.  This is particularly true because of the high stakes – you might want to call it angst – on both sides of the charter schools commission constitutional amendment question that will be decided by voters in November.  Another view suggests the national battlefield has already begun to move.

“This debate has been won to a large degree,” says University of Arkansas economist and education policy analyst Jay Greene.  His school choice preference is at odds with traditionalists who would put four walls, a ceiling, a floor and locked doors around public school students.

“There are still dinosaurs walking the earth who say NO, choice is bad but politically that is becoming unacceptable,” says Greene.  “Both political parties in their national platforms embrace parental choice, embrace the idea of competition.  You hear this from (U.S. Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan and from President (Barack) Obama.  That war is over.  Now the debate is over choice under what conditions and what regulations.”

Milton Friedman 1912 – 2006

Greene brought his pro-school choice message to a Georgia Public Policy Foundation audience last week in Gainesville.  The education policy briefing honored the legacy of Milton Friedman, the earliest champion of school choice, who was born 100 years ago this month.

“Milton Friedman wasn’t just an articulate defender of the moral case for freedom.  He was a rigorous economist,” said Greene.  “The pursuit of freedom in education helps produce better outcomes just like the pursuit of freedom in our economy and in our personal lives.”

Using his trademark deep data and lots of power points, Greene relentlessly outlined why he believes the problem with public education today is not investment – he noted that per pupil spending has increased 131 percent nationally and 220 percent in Georgia during the past 40 years.  “We’ve been hiring an army of teachers,” Greene said.

Nor does Greene believe there is a significant difference in students today and decades ago.  “Kids aren’t dumber than they used to be or less capable than they used to be.  They’re just about the same and if you think 1970 skills are fine for a 21st Century economy then we’re doing just fine other than the wastefulness of spending a lot more money to get the same outcome.”

There is ample evidence to suggest public schools have failed America.  The nation has slipped way down virtually every chart that compares students from industrialized nations.  The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment of students worldwide ranked U.S. students 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.  The Obama administration described that study as “an absolute wake-up call for America.”

Jay Greene, Education Reform Policy Analyst, University of Arkansas

States including Georgia have littered the landscape with tests that attempted to show student progress.  No state test anywhere has as much credibility as NAEP – the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams that have measured reading, math and science performance since the early 1970s.  NAEP scores over four decades show virtually no educational progress.

Nationally, 17-year-old students scored 285 on the 500-point NAEP reading test in 1971.  They scored 286 in 2008, no improvement.  Mathematics scores improved just two points from 304 to 306 during the same 37-year period.  National science tests showed similar flat performance.

How did this happen?  “Spending more money didn’t give us the outcomes that we wanted,” said Greene.  “The truth is we don’t know what to do for everyone.  We have ideas about what to do for different kinds of kids in different kinds of circumstances but there is no single solution to our instructional needs.”

In The World According to Jay Greene, public education should mirror how we live, work and play.  Much of what we do in every day living is done by choice.  We can choose preschools.  We can choose universities.  But between kindergarten and through public high school most students attend schools based on where they live.  No choice.

“The idea of choice and competition is pervasive in our society,” Greene said.  “The burden really ought to be on supporters of a bizarre system that is so totally different from other aspects of our lives.  There may be historical reasons why we started that way but it’s very hard to justify why if we’re starting from scratch today we would build that public school system that we have.

“The real debate is not should we have choice or not.  We are already comfortable with the general idea of choice in education, particularly residential choice (choosing a school by purchasing a house in a new district).  Different kinds of choice schemes will produce different regulatory schemes and could produce different outcomes.

“Our public schools can rise to the occasion,” Greene said.  “They respond to competitive pressure.  Achievement rises in schools when they face competitive pressure.”  Click here to watch Jay Greene’s presentation on the Foundation’s YouTube channel.  Click here to read Jay Greene’s education blog.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medicaid Dominated when Governor’s Policy Advisors Took Questions

Mike Klein

Medicaid is a beast.  About one-in-five Georgians receives Medicaid health care.  That is 1.7 million people.  Fifty-nine percent of statewide births are Medicaid babies.  Another couple hundred thousand children are enrolled in PeachCare, the state children’s health insurance program.   Medicaid could grow by hundreds of thousands more if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal health care reform law in its decision expected next month.

Not at all surprisingly, Medicaid redesign questions were abundant when three of Governor Nathan Deal’s advisors met with Georgia Children’s Advocacy Network members at the Freight Depot in Atlanta.  The advisors made no presentations and took questions for 90 minutes.

Health policy advisor Katie Rogers named telehealth reimbursement policies, portable electronic records, better outcomes for vulnerable children, physician shortages in some specialties, how to manage health care in counties that are medically underserved and treatment options for chronic childhood illnesses as part of the wide-ranging Medicaid redesign conversation.

Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on constitutionality of the 2010 federal health care reform law.  If upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provisions often known as ObamaCare could add 620,000 new Medicaid patients to the state program.  Rogers predicted, “People who haven’t had access to services are going to seek services probably very quickly.”

Georgia Medicaid cost $7.78 billion in fiscal year 2010, according to Kaiser State Health Facts.  Federal funds pay 66% and the state is responsible for the rest, about $2.7 billion.  Georgia Medicaid program redesign is being managed by the Department of Community Health with private partner assistance from Navigant. The project is described in a comprehensive design strategy report available on the DCH Medicaid website.

This project is so important to Georgia’s health care community that it is being closely monitored by many organizations outside government.  Cindy Zeldin is executive director at Georgians for a Healthy Future which advocates for improved statewide access to quality health care.

“The three buckets when we look at improving Medicaid would be one, just coverage, getting kids who are eligible but who are not enrolled today into the program so they at least have that front door access,” Zeldin told the Public Policy Foundation this week.

“Second, improving access to care, just making sure there is a mechanism to make sure that being in Medicaid means you can see a provider if you need to,” Zeldin said.  For instance, the state has no OB-GYN practitioners in 39 counties, which is an impediment to women’s health.

“Third would be improving outcomes and accountability, what you are asking managed care companies to report on and making sure you are measuring outcomes that ensure quality care.”

The Supreme Court opinion expected next month will also decide whether Georgia must create a health insurance exchange.  Last December a state report to Governor Deal said a private or quasi-governmental exchange would be preferable to one imposed by the federal government, but Georgia would prefer that it is not required to create any exchange.  Georgia opposes the federal health care reform law and it joined the suit that challenges the constitutionality.

“If the law is upheld as it stands now we will work very quickly to implement a state exchange,” Rogers said.  “If the law is not upheld the discussion will begin again on whether or not to move forward with a state exchange.  Part of the concern is without the individual mandate would people want to buy insurance through the exchange?”

Education and Public Safety Issues

Education and several public safety issues were also discussed during the open forum.

Education policy advisor Kristin Bernhard said several early childhood education programs lead the priority list heading into next year’s General Assembly.  Do not expect support for private school vouchers or increasing the age for compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18.

“The voucher conversation isn’t on the table for us,” Bernhard said.  “We’re more interested in increasing the quality of public education for all students everywhere.”  On compulsory school attendance she said, “The evidence is not necessarily compelling that raising the age of mandatory school attendance automatically results in an increased graduation rate.”

Education headlines over the next year will include incorporating the state’s version of new national core curriculum coursework, dual enrollment for middle school students taking high school courses or high school students taking college courses, tenth grade college readiness testing, and preparation to expand career pathways education now scheduled for fall 2013.

Also, Georgia admits that it has too many high school graduates who require remedial courses when they enter college.  “We know that students are graduating from high school not ready for college,” Bernhard told 100 Georgia Child Advocacy Network members.  Part of this discussion is how these students can be assisted by resources inside the state technical college system.

This week the Illinois Senate President proposed his state enact internet gaming legislation to get in front of a potential federal law that would grandfather existing state programs but prevent other states from creating new ones.  Do not expect anything like that in Georgia.

It is well documented that the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, grant and pre-K programs can no longer afford to fully fund their commitments.  Governor Deal opposes a proposed casino-style project and Bernhard says, “What we’re looking at is what we can do to boost the existing revenue streams.”

Several folks applauded when public safety advisor Thomas Worthy said, “I have no doubt that we will probably see and definitely sign a juvenile code rewrite next year.”  HB 641 was a substantial effort to rewrite piecemeal juvenile laws that are decades old.  It passed the House but then was stopped before Senate consideration so more work could be done on cost.

“Everybody is in agreement on the policy side of things,” Worthy said.  “We are there.  The stakeholders are there.  Agencies are now there.  Now what we are tasked with doing is figuring out a way to not only pay for implementation but actually ascertain savings that will come under the bill.”  Worthy said consultation has begun with the Pew Center on the States; Pew assisted with criminal justice reform legislation that Governor Deal signed this month.

Worthy also acknowledged, “Not only do we have a horrible child trafficking problem within our state, (Interstate) 75 is used to move folks going to other states.”  This year HR 1151 in the General Assembly created a commission to study child trafficking and make recommendations.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does School Choice Financially Impact School Districts?

Mike Klein

This summer and fall you will repeatedly hear that approving a charter schools constitutional amendment would steal resources from traditional Georgia public schools.  The idea is that when any money follows a student to a charter school the students left behind somehow suffer.

This argument seems to apply only when students move to charter schools.  You never hear public school systems, their superintendents or school board members complain when students move from one public school system to another.  Apparently financial harm is a one-way street.

The premise that students moving to charter schools will cause financial quakes in traditional school systems also suggests we should accept another premise that public school systems are so inflexible they cannot adjust their fixed and variable costs and still produce quality learning.

For instance, is teacher employment a fixed or variable cost?  It is a fixed cost if you believe the school district cannot or will not adjust how many instructors it needs based on enrollment.  It is a variable cost if you believe teachers should increase or decrease based on enrollment.

A new report released nationally by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice challenges the concept that public school costs are so fixed that they cannot be adjusted up or down.  “The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts” breaks down fixed and variable costs for an average public school system in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Dr. Benjamin Scafidi

“If it is true that virtually all costs are fixed then when public schools add students they shouldn’t get extra money because their costs are fixed,” said author Benjamin Scafidi, who is director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University.

“I’ve never heard a public school leader say that their costs don’t go up when they add students so they can’t have it both ways, logically.  Before this report they did have it both ways.”

Scafidi used 2008-09 federal data from every state to analyze short-run fixed and variable costs. The report lists capital expenditures, interest, administration, operations, maintenance and transportation among short-run fixed costs.   Instruction, instructional support, other student support, enterprise operations and food service were placed in the variable cost category.

“The proper way to think about this issue is not whether public school districts have in the past reduced costs when students in large numbers left the district for any reason,” the report says.  “The issue is whether they are able to do so.”  Any reason is not limited to school choice.  It can include economic downturns, such as a major employer moving away from the region.

Scafidi concluded almost two-thirds of public school expense is variable that districts should be able to adjust based on enrollment.  In Georgia, he found $11,468 average per pupil cost is almost two-thirds variable ($7,507) and the remainder is fixed ($3,961).

The report asks, “If a significant number of students left a public school district for any reason from one year to the next, is it feasible for the district to reduce the costs of these items commensurate with the decrease in its student population?”  Scafidi concluded the answer is, yes, for large and small school districts.  He used four Georgia school systems to illustrate.

Atlanta Public Schools reduced teaching staff 6.84% between 2004 and 2010 when the student population declined a similar percentage from 51,315 to 47,944 students.  The report notes that the number of administrators increased 19.7% from 395 to 471.  This example shows that a large district over time can adjust the variable cost associated with employing teachers.

But can the same be said for a small school district?  Wheeler County experienced a 12.1% student population decline between 2004 and 2010 and was able to reduce its teacher staff by 15.6%.  Hancock County enrollment dropped 5.3% from 2009 to 2010; the district was flexible enough that it was able to reduce the number of teachers 8.8% and administrators by 18.8%.

“In the first few years of a school choice program in Georgia I think you want to keep the amount of money that follows the child below $7,507 because it is difficult for public schools to reduce their costs more than that when a student leaves,” Scafidi said.  “That is the main takeaway.”

The report focuses almost entirely on financial analysis but it does offer this teaching point:

“As public schools lose students via school choice or for any other reason, they have a tremendous opportunity to improve the quality of their schools.  When students leave, schools can lay off the least effective teachers.  The students who remain would be reallocated to more effective teachers and their academic achievement would increase significantly.”

(The author Dr. Benjamin Scafidi is also former chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and he is a Senior Fellow for Education Policy at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.) 

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Will Report 5-Year H.S. Graduation Rate for 2012 Class

Mike Klein

Georgia’s high school graduation rate could improve next year because the state will report the number of students who complete graduation requirements within five years instead of four years.  Yes, you read that right, a five-year graduation rate.

“We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes,” state schools Superintendent John Barge said Tuesday. “Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes.”

Barge is correct.  Graduation is more important than how long it takes to get there.  The state will also continue to track and be able to report a four-year graduation rate.

The five-year graduation rate announcement was sort of secondary Tuesday when state education officials revised the 2011 class graduation rate down to 67.4 percent from the previously announced 80 percent.  The rate changed because the federal government standardized how all states must calculate graduation rates.

Four districts posted better than 90 percent graduation rates – Chickamauga City, Bremen City, Oconee County and Rabun County.  Ten county or city public school systems were at 55 percent or less.  That includes Atlanta Public Schools which graduated just 51.96 percent of its students on time, meaning within four years, which was the eighth worst school system performance statewide.

Georgia School Superintendent John Barge

The new method will put all states on more even footing when analysts try to determine where learning is most and least successful.  The previous model did not fully account for dropouts and school districts also had trouble tracking transfer students.  That created the possibility that graduation results could be inflated.

The new model is considered more accurate, but education officials have warned for a couple years that it would produce a lower graduation rate.  In effect, they worked in advance to reduce the shock and awe factor.

Georgia restated graduation rates for 2009, 2010 and 2011.  That is smart strategy.  It takes the emphasis off the 12.6 percent decline for the 2011 class and it enabled the state to demonstrate there is a trend line going up.

Using the old method, Georgia reported graduation rates of 78.9 percent, 80.8 percent and 80.9 percent in 2009 – 2011.  Using the new method, the 2009 recalculation is a stark 58.6 percent but the rate improved to 64 percent in 2010 and 67.4 percent last year.

The report is packed with data; here is some that jumps out and begs to be noticed:

Districts Above 90 Percent: Chickamauga City 97.44, Bremen City 93.18, Oconee County 91.57, Rabun County 90.4.

Districts 80-to-90 Percent: Union County 88.69, Decatur City 88.40, Towns County 88.37, Wheeler County 87.5, White County 86.45, Forsyth County 86.27, Morgan County 86.09, Clinch County 85.53, Pike County 84.65, Pierce County 84.23, Commerce City 83.96, Hancock County 83.51, Miller County 83.33, Gilmer County 82.39, Fannin County 82.18, Stephens County 81.99, Screven County 81.94, Gordon County 81.76, Pickens County 80.74, Dalton City 80.57, Glascock County 80.0.

Atlanta Metro System Percentages: Forsyth County 86.27, Fayette County 78.23, Paulding County 76.0, Coweta County 74.85, Cherokee County 74.82, Cobb County 73.35, Henry County 72.35, Douglas County 70.98, Fulton County 70.05, Gwinnett County 67.56, Bartow County 66.22, Rockdale County 66.20, DeKalb County 58.65, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48.

Districts Less Than 55 Percent: Dublin City 53.38, Greene County 53.19, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48, Taylor County 51.39, Bibb County 51.34, Talbot County 44.78, Crawford County 42.25, Baker County 41.38, Taliaferro County 40.0.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Did 6,811,499 People Watch?

Mike Klein

They watched this!

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Will Parents or Politicians Decide Georgia Charter Schools Future?

Mike Klein

Last week’s State Capitol hearing about whether voters should be allowed to decide school choice in Georgia had nearly concluded when this final question was posed:  In the event that no constitutional amendment is passed, and no other action is taken by the General Assembly, would the state be unable to intervene in any local school board decisions that are deemed to be harmful to children?

The answer in a moment, but first here is some perspective.  Georgia thought it decided one aspect of school choice four years ago when the General Assembly created a charter schools commission, but last spring the state Supreme Court ruled the commission unconstitutional in a 4-to-3 opinion.  That vote has placed literally thousands of students in jeopardy; they could lose their charter schools.

Georgia Cyber Academy is the state’s largest blended learning charter; it has 10,000 students who live in all but two of the state’s 159 counties.  In theory, Georgia Cyber could be forced to apply for individual charters from every county.  Currently, the Cyber Academy is operating as a state special school.

Ivy Preparatory Academy recently had its 2012 charter request rejected by the Gwinnett County local board.  The Fulton County local school board rejected Fulton Science Academy, which received a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Department of Education.   Ivy Prep and Fulton Science would need state special school charters to open again next fall.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones

House Resolution 1162 seeks to reinstate the state’s ability to authorize charter schools, and it would also create a vehicle to direct state funds to support those students.  The chief sponsor for HR 1162 is House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, who also was chief sponsor of the charter school bill four years ago.

Last Thursday Jones told a near overflow committee hearing room that the state has 29,000 students in startup charter schools, a pittance among the 1.6 million total public school pupils statewide.  “To say we want that kind of framework is simply not to be in support of charter schools,” Jones said.  Click here to view the House TV video archive.

The proposed constitutional amendment has adamant supporters and opponents.  Supporters must gain two-thirds approval in both the Senate and House to get the amendment onto the November ballot.  Opponents can prevail if HR 1162 comes up just one vote shy in the Senate or House, meaning voters would not get to decide this school choice question in Georgia.

As to the question that began this discussion – what might happen if no action is taken – here was the powerful response from House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey who also is a co-sponsor of HR 1162:

“Quite frankly, we worked very hard with a lot of legal scholars who said (charter schools commission legislation) was constitutional.   Three justices agreed with us and one of them wrote a damn fine 75-page minority decision that I ask all of you to read,” Lindsey said.

“The fact of the matter is, what’s contained in that decision needs to make anyone who is concerned about any of the state reform packages that we’ve passed, or any of these state initiatives that we have, including teacher pay scales and everything else, it better give you pause because the language is expansive.  The language does say that basically our job is to write a check and shut up, and I’m not even sure that we should be writing a check.

“You may have some very distinguished attorneys out there who say, oh, it’s not that broad, it only applies narrowly.  Well, folks, I’m here to tell you, we had an awful lot of good legal scholars who told us four years ago that HB 881 was perfectly constitutional.

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey

“The best way not to have to deal with that issue is to pass this constitutional amendment.  I’ve had some folks tell me, well, let’s just pass legislation and try to fix what the Supreme Court says.  Well, here’s the problem.  You’re going to end up with three more years of litigation before the case gets back to the Supreme Court and then we find out again,” Lindsey said.

“And in that meantime, we’re going to spend three years with different organizations around the state, different parents around the state not certain whether the charter school they are sending their children to is constitutional in terms of the funding as opposed to clearing that up right now.

“I’ve been a litigator for 27 years.  This is a piece of advice I give to all my clients.  The best lawsuit is one that we don’t have to file because we come up with some a resolution to avoid a case.  You’re only in court because you have no other alternative,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey held up the HR 1162 resolution.  “This or some version that we come up with because we work our way through it together, is the alternative to paying a lot of lawyers on both sides a lot of money and leaving children and their parents uncertain for three years.  To do the alternative is, my opinion, irresponsible.”

Organizations that testified in favor of HR 1162 include the Council for an Educated Georgia, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, 100 Dads, Georgia Charter Schools Association, and the Georgia chapter of the Students First organization.  Organizations that opposed the bill include the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, Georgia School Superintendents Association, and the Georgia Education Coalition.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment