Mike Klein Online

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

Maryland Leads 4th and 8th Grade Gains; Georgia Steadily Improves

Mike Klein

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

Click here for Georgia 4th grade math and click here for 4th grade reading.

Click here for Georgia 8th grade math and click here for 8th grade reading.

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

August 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HOPE Should Not Become Just Another Government Spending Program

Mike Klein

HOPE, Again:  About those reports that the HOPE scholarship could face a new economic tsunami because so many Georgia kids are qualifying for the full tuition Zell Miller Scholarship:  Really?  Are these kids nothing like the 50 percent who lose HOPE after one school year?  And if we suddenly have so many super smart kids, why do our national test scores still suffer?

New proposals are already being floated to address HOPE financial stability one year after the General Assembly thought it had bought the scholarship program some time.  While all those numbers are being crunched, perhaps someone should look at why more than half lose the scholarship after one year, two-thirds after two years and nearly three-fourths after three years.

HOPE matters.  But HOPE should not become just another government spending program.

Congratulations:  Georgia Virtual School science department chair Asherrie Yisrael has been selected as a finalist for National Online Teacher of the Year.  The award has two sponsoring entities: the Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Asherrie Yisrael, National Online Teacher of the Year Finalist

Yisrael was honored as the 2010 – 2011 Georgia Virtual School Teacher of the Year.  Her specialties are advanced placement physics, forensic science and physical science.  Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) is the state Department of Education online learning program resource.   It has about 10,000 students who select online courses from a broad-based curriculum.

Thirty-nine online teachers from 26 states were nominated for the SREB – iNACOL award.  The winner will be announced on March 1 during SREB’s virtual learning conference in Atlanta.  Other finalists are Leslie Fetzer from North Carolina and Tracey Seiler from South Carolina.

SREB and iNACOL established the national online teacher award two years ago.  Yisrael is the second Georgia teacher nominated.  Gabrielle Bray of Gwinnett County was nominated in 2010.

School Choice Rally: It’s looking like at least 1,500 will rally for School Choice outside the State Capitol at 10:00am Wednesday.  And perhaps the weather will cooperate — mild and partly cloudy!

Georgia legislators will address alternate authorization for charter schools during the current General Assembly.  The latest negative headlines include Gwinnett County again turning down a charter for Ivy Preparatory Academy whose students have an outstanding academic record, and Fulton County’s rejection of the Fulton Science Academy which was named a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award recipient by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Americans for Prosperity Georgia chapter will present screenings of its new film “Making The Grade in Georgia” hourly start at 2:00pm in the Georgia Room of the Twin Towers  office building directly across the street from the State Capitol.  Here is a link with more information.

Georgia Tax Climate:  Wednesday morning the conservative Tax Foundation will release its 2012 business climate index that measures how states compare in five categories: corporate tax, personal income tax, sales tax, unemployment insurance tax and property tax.  Data is based on tax policies as they existed last July 1 when most states began their new fiscal years.

The Tax Foundation ranking is not against any specific baseline.  States can move up or down even if they make no changes because revisions in other states can affect overall rankings.

The Tax Foundation ranked Georgia No. 34 nationally last year.  Foundation economists found 33 states with overall better business tax climates and 16 that were worse.  Georgia tax reform remains a work in progress this year after the 2011 Legislature was unable to enact reform.

Unemployment insurance tax gets less attention than it deserves.  Georgia began to borrow federal funds starting in December 2009 because the state could no longer afford to write unemployment benefit checks.  Georgia owes $721 million in principal plus tens of millions of dollars in annual interest.  Options to find repayment dollars include imposing higher taxes on employers and reducing benefits, which could mean fewer weeks, smaller checks or both.

The Tax Foundation business tax climate index will be released at 10:00am Wednesday.

Yellow Jackets 1, Volunteers 0:   Friday’s announcement that Georgia Tech will become a national tier one university transportation research center means the state made a better case than our nearest northern neighbor.  Tennessee would have located a national think tank at the Center for Transportation Research on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.

Governor Nathan Deal announced Georgia’s plan to pursue the transportation research center initiative last May when he addressed the state Logistics Summit in Atlanta.  Georgia Tech will coordinate research by seven state universities plus three in Alabama and Florida.  Tech was also named to participate in a regional initiative coordinated by the University of Florida.

Here’s a salute to the Woodruff Foundation that provided essential local startup seed money.  The total investment for two years will be $7 million with half from the federal government.

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

January 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Lessons Were Learned in Eighth Grade Wood Shop

Mike Klein

A grandfather whose grandson is in middle school asked the boy what he enjoyed most about his classes.  The boy said manufacturing class because he liked to create things.  In the often abstract and vague world of middle school, manufacturing class made sense.

That begs the question:  Have we become so focused on traditional subjects, test preparation and achieving wide varieties of state or federal standards that we risk losing the kids when they can no longer relate to what they are learning or apply it to their lives?

My middle school experience included building things in eighth grade wood shop.  When you measure the angles correctly and cut the wood precisely, you can build a table.  The lessons learned in math were applied in wood shop and I could relate to the table!  I also learned how to rewire old lamps so they would work like new, a valuable lesson used many times.

“We have lost the capacity to teach in ways that advance the creativity of students,” says Gene Bottoms, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board.  “That is the way we are going to make big gains in education.”  As one who researches and writes about these things, Bottoms needed to look no further than his grandson’s story about manufacturing class.

Today we should ask, are middle school students at risk to become the next lost generation?

Last week the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board said middle school students in 16 southern states are dangerously close to falling so far behind that they will find it difficult to compete in high school, higher education and the new economy that values analytical skills.

SREB’s year-long middle schools commission produced, “A New Mission for Middle Schools: Preparing Students for a Changing World,” which focuses on this challenge, as described by Bottoms:  “We begin to lose boys in the middle grades, and even some young ladies.”

It is well established that students who begin to disengage in middle school are at risk to fully disengage during high school.  Just three-fourths of incoming ninth graders graduate from high school on time.  And as SREB notes, “The chance that a ninth-grader is on the way to college by age 19 is less than 50-50.  It is time to change those numbers.”

David Spence, President, Southern Regional Education Board

Writing in the middle schools commission report prologue, SREB President David Spence said, “Middle grades are the vital center – the make-or-break point – of our K-12 public school system.”  Spence further said unless middle schools are fixed, “…our decades-long effort to improve all schools and secure our future progress and prosperity will have failed.”

One section of the report especially stands out.  SREB challenged middle schools to stop several practices that do not improve student achievement.  Four were cited:

** First:  Stop providing students with a watered-down curriculum taught at a slower pace.  Instead, accelerate learning through extended time for those students who need more attention.  “We continue to presume that remediation works,” Bottoms said.  “We continue to enroll students under the assumption that they will eventually reach grade level.  It never works.”

** Second:  Stop giving students failing grades without determining what they do not understand.  SREB argued that failing grades do not motivate students. “We are missing the point of assessment,” Bottoms said.  “Find out what they do not understand.”

** Third:  Stop micromanaging traditionally low-performing schools from the district office.  “We are never going to reach high performing schools operating under that philosophy,” Bottoms said.  Rather, give well-prepared principals the authority to implement change, including different staff.

** Fourth:  Stop accepting small, inconsequential gains in student achievement in low-performing schools.  Instead, focus on steady, significant gains for a broad cross-section of students.  The report urged more emphasis on reading as the foundation for learning all subjects.

Spence acknowledged middle school students are busy “… fitting into their peer groups, discovering their interests, and learning the latest technology and video games…”  Bottoms said that describes why middle schools must recommit to make learning relevant.  “We seem to have lost that sense.”  As an example, he cited fewer field trips.  “We have virtually wiped that out.  Many students know very little about what is going on in their world.”

Other recommendations include increased emphasis on blended learning, literacy and STEM education – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics– along with earlier and more intense intervention with students who are identified as potential drop out candidates.

Ultimately, the middle schools commission said goals need to change:  Three-fourths of eighth graders who graduate from high school on time should become 90 percent.  The number of students who pursue additional education should improve from less than two-thirds to at least 80 percent and many more students who enter college should graduate within six years.

Bottoms said there is consideration being given to a road show that would roll out  “A New Mission for the Middle Grades” at daylong conferences in some of SREB’s 16 southern states.  Click here to read the complete report.

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

December 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia High School Graduation Rate Could Take a Steep 15% Plunge

Mike Klein

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Erroll Davis recently described high school graduation rates as “great works of art.”  Next week the state Department of Education is expected to release new data that will make it seem like the rate fell off a cliff, down perhaps 15 percent.

Also next week, the Southern Regional Education Board will warn policy makers, educators, parents and anyone else who listens that the new national model for tracking students might result in significantly lower graduation rates.  The number will be more honest if not perfect.

SREB’s “Transitioning to the New High School Graduation Rate” will say “some states may see a decline, especially those that have mistakenly counted dropouts as transfers and those that have counted as a graduate a student who earned a credential other than a regular diploma.”  SREB is headquartered in Atlanta; it advocates for improvement in K-12 public schools and higher education in 16 states, including Georgia.

Nine months ago Governor Sonny Perdue’s office announced the state’s 2010 graduation rate rose to an all-time high at 80.8 percent – up 17 percentage points in seven years.  The governor credited his graduation coach program. “We did something no other state had even thought of – put a graduation coach in every middle and high school and focused their efforts on students at risk of dropping out,” Perdue said.

This was a watershed moment for the outgoing administration because Perdue had made an 80 percent graduation rate an important goal of his education initiatives.  The state reported actual graduates grew from 65,213 to some 91,561 seven years later, a real improvement.

A source who is familiar with the anticipated Department of Education report indicated the 2011 graduation rate “will likely be at least 15 percentage points lower.”  How does that happen?  Well, that takes us back to how Erroll Davis described graduation rates – “great works of art.”

Georgia and 31 other states have used what education insiders describe as the “Leaver Rate” – which is defined on the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement website as “an estimate of the percentage of students who entered ninth grade and graduated four years later.”

Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year all states must adopt exactly the same formula that tracks every high school student from ninth grade through graduation or any other result that includes dropouts and GED credentials.  It also requires a better effort documenting transfer students.  It has a name – Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.  Georgia will report it this year.

Actually, the state Department of Education will report two graduation rates next week … a “Leaver” traditional rate that will be used in the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) calculations and the “Cohort” rate that will be the new standard rate going forward for all states.

“Georgia is reporting its new graduation rate even before the federal regulations take hold requiring states to report the new rates, which reflects well on the state’s leaders,” said SREB communications director Alan Richard.

As the SREB will report next week, “Cohort” will produce more honest results because “it is not an estimate and requires states to follow students from school to school in the state – no longer mistaking students who drop out as transfers.  For years, states have over-reported transfers and under-reported dropouts, which produced inflated graduation rates.”

All students who enter ninth grade in any given year become the new freshman cohort.  Each student will have a unique identifier.  Student progress – or lack of progress – during the next four years will be tracked.  Because each student will have his or her own unique identifier it will be possible to know who graduated, who transferred and to where, and who dropped out.

Besides “Leaver” – the calculation method Georgia has traditionally used – some states have used the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate.  AFGR compares graduates to ninth graders four years earlier and it makes no attempt to account for transfers.  Using the AFGR method, next week SREB will report Georgia’s 2008-2009 graduation rate was 67.8 percent.

Remembering what Erroll Davis said about “great works of art” – there is yet another method, the Cumulative Promotion Index which simply tracks how many students advance year-to-year. Using that method, next week SREB will report Georgia’s 2006-2007 rate was 57.8 percent.

That would mean at least four methods to calculate graduation rates have been in play for several years, and no wonder it causes confusion.  “Because states were allowed to choose among these types, the results were not comparable from state to state,” SREB will report next week.  “Even states using the same type of calculation did not figure the data the same way.”

SREB communications director Richard said the new Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate “likely will be the most accurate high school graduation rate yet and is considered by all to be ‘the gold standard.’   We now have the data systems to track more accurately whether students really transfer between schools and districts and states, or whether they leave school entirely.”

SREB’s “Transitioning to the New High School Graduation Rate” will name Georgia among six southern states that use data effectively and seem well-positioned to change how they report graduation rates.  Others are Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland and Virginia.

“Some SREB states expect their graduation rates will drop when they begin reporting the four-year ACGR,” the report says. “Those states need to focus on direct communication with key constituencies and the media to ensure that messages about what has changed are timely, clear and accurate.”

Now we return you to “great works of art” – Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Lady Gaga!

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

July 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barnes, Deal Education Agendas Should Emphasize Online Learning

Education agendas proposed by Georgia’s two major candidates for Governor leave wide open a hole that any running back would appreciate.  Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes put forward plans that give only slight mention to online education.  That misses a significant education priority for Georgia children.

Georgia’s candidates have the opportunity to take a bold step.  They could declare Georgia will become a national leader in online education offered by the Department of Education.  They could say every high school student will participate in at least one online course each semester.  They could say it will happen within their first term.  Georgia is a long way from being able to provide those resources, but Georgia can get there.  One of them could make it happen. Continue reading

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SREB Analysis: “In Most States Adult Learning Is Not A Priority”

The perfect storm in Georgia education often focuses on funnel clouds we’ve all come to know that include layoffs, furloughs, classroom pupil head counts, performance pay, local control, mandates from state government, standardized test cheating, charter schools and occasionally, conversations about how to blend online learning into traditional classrooms.

In comparison, much less is said about adult learning that almost silently tries to address 1.3 million working age adult Georgians who do not have a high school diploma or GED credential.

Georgians who are not prepared to participate in new economy jobs will suffer, perform near the bottom, incur costs that become a public burden and ultimately, Georgia will decline. Continue reading

August 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment