Monthly Archives: December 2013

HOPE bill would restore funds for technical college students

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Two state lawmakers are hoping to increase the HOPE grant award for technical college students so it pays their full tuition, as it did in the past.

The bill’s sponsors, state Reps. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, and Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, say the legislation restores aid to technical college students that was cut two years ago.

About 85,000 technical college students receive the HOPE grant, which currently covers about 74 percent of students’ tuition. Increasing the grant is likely to cost $30 million a year, according to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which administers the lottery-funded HOPE program.

To pay for the increase, Evans wants the lottery to put a higher percentage of ticket sales toward education programs.

“This would require from a 1 percent to a 1.5 percent lottery contribution increase, which we don’t think would be detrimental to lottery operations,” Evans said. “Georgia’s industry needs more technical graduates. … This is a way to get them back and get them graduated and get them working.”

Lottery officials have said increasing the percentage going to education would mean less money for prizes and could stifle ticket sales.

In 2011, to prevent the HOPE program from going broke, lawmakers approved a plan pushed by Gov. Nathan Deal to restructure HOPE. The new rules raised the required grade-point average for technical college students to keep their HOPE grant and reduced award payouts that had previously paid all of a student’s tuition costs. Evans began a campaign early in 2012 to restore the lower GPA requirement for tech students, and legislation was approved during the 2013 session.

Ehrhart and Evans’ bill does not affect the HOPE scholarship, which serves students in the University System of Georgia and also fell under tighter restrictions as part of the 2011 restructuring.

Ehrhart, chairman of the House Budget subcommittee on higher education, said technical colleges lost students because they couldn’t afford to pay for school without the full HOPE grant.

“There were some unintended consequences in the original HOPE bill,” he said. “You lost a bunch of students because of some of the changes.”

Ehrhart said he doesn’t necessarily expect to get what’s called for in the bill next year — the full 100 percent tuition for HOPE recipients — because of the cost. But he thinks Deal will work with the bill’s sponsors to get some kind of increase for HOPE grant recipients. The ultimate goal is to get back to full tuition for grant recipients in the future.

“I have learned over the years that you can make incremental changes,” he said. “If you ask for less than you want to see happen, then you get half of that.”

Democrats have been critical of cutbacks in the HOPE program, but the Republican Ehrhart said it’s important to note that he and Evans, a Democrat, have been working together on the grant issue.

“If you want to make it a political issue, you are throwing these kids under the bus,” he said.

The HOPE program is likely to be a key issue in the legislative session when it begins next month. Deal, who is running for re-election, is already being criticized by Democratic challenger Jason Carter about the changes made in 2011.

Michael Light, a spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia, said many of the system’s students are “economically disadvantaged,” so not getting the full tuition from the HOPE grant is a major issue. That was particularly true during the Great Recession and its aftermath, when so many unemployed Georgians were returning to school to get more training.

“Anything that comes out of their pocket (for tuition) can be tough,” he said. “A lot of our students aren’t the ones looking for Mom and Dad to pay for their education, they are the moms and dads.”

Evans reviewed her proposal with Deal this week. At this time, the governor “is not there yet,” she said. A meeting with the Georgia Lottery Corp. is scheduled for next week.


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Why Is One of America’s Most Charter-Heavy School Districts in Suburban Georgia?

Hall County, Ga., has quietly become full of charter schools. But its model isn’t what you’d think.

Looking down the 2012-13 list of America’s most charter-school-heavy districts, the top five look familiar—high-poverty urban districts such as New Orleans, Detroit, the District of Columbia, Flint, Michigan and Kansas City, Missouri. But coming out of nowhere to claim the sixth spot in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual report is a Georgia district of 26,000 about an hour’s drive from Atlanta.

Hall County Schools, a district where 88 percent of schools met growth targets under No Child Left Behind, didn’t register in the National Alliance’s top 10 last year, when 21 percent of students attended charter schools. This year, the district catapulted to sixth. Almost a third, some 32 percent, of students, are now in charter schools.

The number isn’t as dramatic as it seems, say district officials. Hall County has been quietly transforming its schools into district-run charters, but not in the headline-catching fashion of places like New Orleans, where charters often grew atop failing public schools and came with wholesale staffing changes.

In Hall County, the term “charter” signifies more a specific focus that’s used to improve student engagement.

“We call ourselves a district of charter schools, not a charter school district,” said Will Schofield, the district’s superintendent.

Charter schools are typically those that operate under an independent board, separate from a school district’s board of education but often located within its borders. Because they operate independently, they’re free to experiment with longer school days, disciplinary policy and teaching strategies. In return for public funding, they’re typically open enrollment and have to meet accountability standards.

The process for becoming a charter school and getting authorization varies state by state. In Georgia, local boards of education can initiate charter applications, though they need the state board to sign off. A ballot measure passed last year also granted authority to a new commission to approve charter school applications that were rejected by local boards.

Hall County’s charter expansion started about six years ago as an attempt to deal with dramatic demographic changes. A district that started in the 2000s as 80.75 percent white suddenly saw an influx of Spanish speakers (by 2010, the Hispanic population was 27 percent). Today, 61 percent of students qualify for free-or-reduced lunch, a standard measure of child poverty, and nearly 20 percent of its students are English-language learners. Looking to Charlotte and Houston for inspiration, the district launched World Language Academy, an elementary school that instructs all students in English, Spanish, and now Mandarin Chinese.

“There were an awful lot of raised eyebrows,” Schofield said. “’Here you are a languishing, high-poverty district, and your focus is going to be to teach other languages?’ We said ‘yes.’”

Since then, a steady stream of parents living within different school zones has lobbied along with educators to become charter schools focusing in areas like the fine arts, technology, math and science or international studies, said Gordon Higgins, a district spokesman with decades of education experience. When a proposal is granted, staff members don’t have to reapply for jobs, but they may have to undergo professional development to get on board with new programming, Higgins said. All schools also follow the same disciplinary policies, state education standards, administrative procedures and schedules, with the exception of the language academy, which adds extra instructional time, Higgins said.

That makes them less staging grounds for radical experimentation, as many charters have sought to distinguish themselves, and more like traditional public schools with a focus that’s designed to fit the interests of students. Hall County’s McEver Arts Academy, for instance, offers specialty classes in the performing arts while integrating the arts into the state curriculum in other classes. Mount Vernon Exploratory School is heavily focused on developing projects in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

Of Hall County’s 33 schools, 12 are charters and 9 are public magnet schools. Most recent growth comes from a new charter high school and several new elementary schools. Charter schools are open enrollment but revert to a lottery system if demand exceeds capacity.

The major problem with a system that’s heavy on student choice? Transportation. Students who don’t live within the busing zones of the charter or magnet they want to attend have to find their own way to school.

That’s troublesome, but Schofield bristles at criticism of the reform. A decade ago, 40 percent of the district’s schools weren’t meeting annual improvement targets, he points out, but now it’s one of the top performing districts in the state, despite 60 percent poverty among students. The most recently available state data backs up that claim.

“There’s a group of well intentioned people who think if you can’t offer it to everybody you shouldn’t offer it to anybody,” he said. “We can’t offer door to door delivery for all of these different programs but we can offer a culture that values innovation.”

Georgia Politics

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New York Legislators Call on State to Halt Invasions of Student Privacy

Leaders of the New York State legislature called on the State Education Department to put a halt to their plan to turn over confidential student information to inBloom, the controversial program funded by the Gates and Carnegie Foundation with technology supplied by Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation.

According to Gotham Schools:

“Last week, Republican Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill to address looming concerns around the plan’s data privacy and security. He also called for the state to halt the initiative, which is scheduled to begin next month, for at least a year.

“Now, a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker Sheldon Silver and Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan, are raising their own red flags. Like Flanagan, they want the state to halt the plan, but they are also suggesting that they might not ever want to see it start up again.

“The controversy is over an initiative funded in part by federal Race to the Top grants designed to help districts use information about an individual student’s personal and academic history to create more individualized lesson plans and inform a teacher’s instruction. Some data elements being collected include test scores, report card grades, information about special needs, attendance records and disciplinary records.”

Sheldon Silver, the powerful leader of the State Assembly, wrote a letter warning:

“Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with InBloom must be put on hold,” said Silver in a statement Monday.

Legislators were reacting to widespread parent outrage over the prospect of data mining and hacking of their children’s personal information.

The parent opposition was galvanized and led by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, who has traveled the state and nation explaining what inBloom is and the danger it poses to student privacy.

InBloom would not have been possible without the decision by Secretary Duncan to weaken the protections in FERPA, the federal legislation that is supposed to protect student privacy.

Georgia Politics

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Georgia wins $51 million education grant

Georgia has won a second multimillion-dollar federal education grant — one aimed at improving learning for the state’s youngest children, it was announced early Thursday.

The state will receive $51 million over four years to expand access to high-quality child care for low-income families, to increase training for early childhood teachers and to put extra resources into areas of the state where test scores and other indicators show the greatest need.

Sixteen states were vying this year for a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant. Six were chosen — Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced.

Duncan said the winning states will be creating “high quality early learning systems” that will “provide our youngest children with the strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond.”

Georgia applied for a similar grant in 2012, but was passed over in favor of states that were publicly rating the quality of their child care centers. Such a system is now in place in Georgia.

The state was awarded another Race to the Top grant in 2010. It targeted improvements in kindergarten through 12th grade, including development of a teacher evaluation system tied to student achievement.

Georgia and the other five new grant winners join 14 other states that, since 2011, have received federal Race to the Top money to bolster early childhood education.

Sebelius said the new grant awards show the administration “is committed to ensuring all children have a chance to succeed.

“An investment in our children is an investment in our nation’s future,” she said.

Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning will administer the grant. Bobby Cagle, who runs the agency, has said some of the grant money will be used to increase access to high-quality child care for children in low-income families, especially children who may be experiencing developmental delays.

Another priority is expected to be a kindergarten entry assessment that will enable educators to better size up the developmental levels of students.

Georgia Politics

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Deal releases Digital Learning Task Force recommendations

Gov. Nathan Deal today released the final report of recommendations from his Digital Learning Task Force. Formed by Deal in April 2012, the task force developed a cohesive strategy to improve student achievement through digital learning implementation across the state.

“Georgia students need 21st century skills to succeed in our economy, and digital learning can help provide those skills,” Deal said. “The task force recommendations provide a strong framework for digital learning that will increase student achievement and broaden choices for Georgia students and parents.”

The recommendations include increasing broadband access to all Georgia schools, encouraging the transition from textbooks to digital content, aligning all course options to ensure that students and parents have clear information about what course choices are available to them, and funding pilot blended learning projects through the Innovation Fund, which is housed at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. In addition, the task force recommends that the state create a funding mechanism and assessment system that provides the flexibility required for students to progress through courses when they master standards, rather than all at the same pace.

“The Digital Learning Task Force has provided a roadmap for strengthening the educational opportunities for Georgia students,” said John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!. “The Task Force challenges the state to fully embrace competency-based education and blended learning models.”

Consisting of a broad cross-section of education stakeholders in the state, the task force met eight times over the last year to examine the current state of digital learning in Georgia and develop recommendations. The meetings included presentations from national, state and district digital learning experts as well as tours of locations in the state having success implementing digital learning.

The Governor’s Office now will review the recommendations with key stakeholders to determine next steps.

Further information on the Digital Learning Task Force is available on the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s website.

Brian Robinson

Sasha Dlugolenski

Georgia Politics

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State changes system of grading schools and districts

By Wayne Washington – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Less than a year after Georgia implemented a new system for grading its schools and districts, the state is adjusting that formula on the eve of releasing this year’s scores.

The College and Career Ready Performance Index was announced earlier this year to replace measures under the much-criticized federal No Child Left Behind Act that classified schools as either meeting, exceeding or failing to meet academic standards.

The index was designed to empower parents with an easy-to-understand snapshot of how schools in their neighborhood are performing. The index can influence whether parents elect to keep their kids in a particular school, and even whether some types of schools remain open.

But state leaders say the index needs tweaking to give more weight to students’ academic progress and less weight to standardized and end-of-course tests. The new formula also gives more weight to four-year graduation rates and lets charter schools know that they need to best the performance of traditional schools in their area with similar students.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the changes — approved Wednesday — will make the index a better, fairer assessment.

The index changes come just two weeks before the 2012-2013 scores are to be released. But while the changes will be reflected in those scores, Cardoza said the adjustments are not meant to boost them.

Critics of the index argued that too little emphasis was being placed on students’ academic progress. They complained this was a disadvantage for schools with a large percentage of poor students, who, for a variety of reasons, tend not to perform as well as their more affluent peers.

Will Schofield, superintendent in Hall County in northeast Georgia, said the changes are “a move in the right direction.”

But he said there’s still too little emphasis on academic progress.

“For any accountability measure to be meaningful, it must focus on annual individual student growth,” Schofield said. “Punishing and rewarding schools based upon average scores of tremendously different groups of children defies all that we know about statistics. As a parent, I want to have some sort of idea what the value-add of the school experience has been.”

Martha Reichrath, deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said she and her colleagues heard from many educators who share Schofield’s opinion. Still, she said schools and districts need to be accountable for making sure students can perform at high academic levels.

“We still want them to work with their students to get them up there,” Reichrath said.

College and Career Ready Performance Index scores for 2011-2012 were released earlier this year. Reichrath said then that the index would be tweaked, even though doing so would make year-to-year comparisons less valid.

A big change to the index is this: It will become the main factor in determining whether a charter school remains open.

Anything that even poses the possibility of threatening charter schools could become a political target, as charters are considered by conservatives in the Legislature to be critical alternatives to struggling traditional public schools.

Charter schools, which are public schools granted organizational and instructional flexibility in exchange for a promise to meet specific academic goals, typically operate with three- to five-year charters granted by a local school board or the state.

In the past, a variety of academic factors were used to determine whether a school’s charter would be renewed.

Now, a charter school will have to have a College and Career Ready Performance Index score that exceeds the state average and the average for the district in which the charter school is located.

Also, the charter school would have to have an index score higher than schools — both charters and traditional public schools — with a similar academic and demographic profile.

The charter school would have to outperform those schools in each of its first four years of operation.

“We don’t need charter schools just to have schools,” said Lou Erste, associate superintendent for policy and charter schools. “You’ve got to be better than what was there, or it’s a waste of time and money.”

All charter schools approved from now on will have to meet the new index standards to have their charters renewed. Existing charter schools will go under the new rules starting in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said the new standards for charter renewal are an improvement.

“The former ways of measuring a charter was so nebulous it was hard to tell whether the charter school was better than where the kids came from,” he said.

For charter schools and traditional public schools, academic progress will now account for 25 percent of a school or district’s index score. Previously, academic progress accounted for 15 percent of the score.

Academic achievement as determined by standardized and end-of-test scores will account for 60 percent of the index score. That’s down from 70 percent.

Closing gaps in performance between various groups of students will continue to account for 15 percent of the index score.

Four-year and five-year graduation rates will no longer be given equal weight in the index formula. Now, a district’s four-year graduation rate will account for two-thirds of the points awarded in the score, with the five-year rate accounting for the remaining one-third.

State Board of Education members wanted to push schools and districts to focus more on graduating students in four years and not five.

“It’s really important, and that needs to be the gold standard,” board member Mike Royal said.


The Georgia Department of Education has changed how it will grade schools and districts on its College and Career Ready Performance Index, a scholastic measurement system now in its second year. Those changes include:

  • Increasing the importance of academic progress. Schools and districts receive a CCRPI score of zero to 110 based on a variety of factors, including academic progress, academic achievement (as indicated by standardized and end-of-course test scores), graduation rates and closing the gap in performance between various groups of students. Academic progress will now account for 25 percent of a school or district’s CCRPI score. Formerly, it accounted for 15 percent. Academic achievement will now count for 60 percent of the score; it used to count for 70 percent.
  • Increasing the weight given to a school and district’s four-year graduation rate. Four- and five-year graduation rates were given equal weight before. Now, the four-year rate will account for two-thirds of the points awarded for a school or district’s graduation rate, with the five-year rate accounting for one-third of those points.

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Kyle Wingfield, John Barge, and Common Core

By: Eric The Younger

At the beginning of October, Kyle Wingfield at the AJC had a good article (MyAJC article) about the confusion around the Common Core State Standards. As a response to this article the State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge answered several of the questions that Wingfield asked.

Why bring this up almost two months later? Mostly because Sen. Fran Millar recently tweeted out the Barge response. Here’s the link. The response was very wonkish (awesome for me, not so much for non-wonks) and four pages long, so not really a quick cut and paste kinda thing. I’ll try and hit the highlights and key points.

The first question was in regards to which set of Standards ( Common Core State Standards or Georgia Performance Standards) was stronger, as well as questions about modifying the CCSS. Barge’s answer was very long and qualified, in short it depends on which standard you’re looking at. Some of the standards are the same (81% ELA and 90% Math), some CCSS standards are more rigorous and some of the GPS standards are stronger.

The cool thing about this? We can keep/add in the GPS standards that are stronger to the CCSS standards. And that’s what we did, according to John Barge.

Then there is the standard question about state sovereignty and outside groups controlling curriculum. This is probably one of the most misunderstood parts about the CCSS. Barge’s answer?

The Common Core State Standards establish general grade level academic expectations which provide a structure for teachers. Instructional strategies and practices instituted to meet those expectations continue to be the decision of local education agencies. By adopting CCSS, Georgia has established a structure that can be adjusted as needed. The state has not agreed to shift even slightly from its stance on locally controlled decision making regarding curriculum and instruction.

Can we please stop saying teachers can’t teach anymore yet?

There are a few others that I haven’t covered that are definitely worth reading but one last one that I would like to address is one about how the CCSS would affect innovation in teaching and education. Barge has another good answer.

It is important to recognize that CCSS offers a structure in establishing academic standards for each grade level, but the standard set does not direct instructional practice. Common Core would not stifle innovation, but instead could foster effective changes as teachers across state lines share successes and novel approaches to teaching and learning.

John Barge seems to be very confused on where he stands on the issue, but he does do a fairly good job of defending the CCSS when not at a Cobb County GOP breakfast.

Nancy Jester, running for Georgia Superintendent, said in her MDJ article:

Our state spends in the top 10 nationally on education, yet, most of our education metrics hover in the bottom five. We have to admit that we need a change in leadership on educational issues in Georgia. Rigorous standards need to be adopted, but they must be part of a process that continues to innovate and is not beholden to a central authority. Georgia has a long road ahead but Common Core is not a path to prosperity.

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