Monthly Archives: May 2015

Fulton to offer wider choice in type of school kids attend

Fulton County schools are embarking on a first-of-its-kind initiative to offer parents significantly more options for what kind of school their children could attend.

Among the proposals are Montessori schools and dual-language immersion schools, where students from kindergarten through eighth grade can learn another language. Fulton is also looking to partner with a major local university to create an early honors college program that would provide an opportunity for the brightest students to get college credit.

Fulton hopes to have the schools running by fall 2016 and is creating them now, with board members expected to iron out plans this summer. The proposed schools are in addition to the magnet, charter and other alternatives Fulton currently offers. The school district wants to keep more families from leaving the public school system, as some in Fulton have done.

“Fulton County schools are in the midst of one of the more aggressive efforts of its kind in Georgia to provide school choice options for students,” said Louis Erste, associate superintendent for charter schools with the Georgia Department of Education.

“While they do not have the largest number of magnet schools, they do appear to have the most variety in the choice options they offer for students.”

Fulton’s school choice effort is aimed at giving parents and students an alternative to the traditional public school model. State education leaders are clamoring for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional model, which they view as having failed students in some districts.

The fourth-largest school system in Georgia, with about 96,000 students in 100 schools, Fulton offers four magnet programs with another in the planning stages; it also has eight charter school programs.

Under the proposed initiative outlined at a recent school board meeting, Fulton is looking to create three dual-language immersion K-8 schools in the central, northeast and northwest areas of the district. Two Montessori schools serving K-5 students are also being proposed for the central and northeast areas.

The Early Honors College, which could be located on the college campus Fulton ends up partnering with, would offer increased academic rigor for high-performing students for entry into the University System of Georgia. Fulton leaders say a significant number of students are prepared to enter that system.

Fulton surveyed thousands of parents throughout the district to find out what school choices they’re looking for. Leaders say more options are needed in part because they are trying not to lose students to private schools and other alternatives to public school.

More than 15 percent of Fulton County school families chose private schools this school year, school leaders say. In addition, Fulton’s transition to a charter system has been popular, but more than 1,600 families are already on charter school wait lists for next fall, with most of those in south Fulton.

The district doesn’t know yet how much extra the proposed choice schools might cost, though they expect additional funding may be needed for the Montessori model development.

“It’s this idea … about empowering communities,” said Ken Zeff, Fulton’s interim superintendent beginning June 2. He’s taking over from Superintendent Robert Avossa, who was selected as the new leader for the school district of Palm Beach County in Florida.

“This is not an attempt to dismantle traditional public schools,” Zeff said. “Traditional-model schools are performing great for a lot of kids. But some parents want and some students would do better in a different environment.”

What is not envisioned in the school choice initiative: adding private school vouchers, removing attendance boundaries or creating countywide transportation to the new schools.

Education scholars say lack of transportation for students outside the immediate vicinity of the schools could be an obstacle to equity.

“If you provide busing, it becomes much more expensive,” said Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University. “If you don’t provide transportation, then they’re basically saying those who don’t have a car can’t really make these choices. You’re making it a disadvantage for those who are less affluent.”

Fulton is trying to provide school choice options to all regions of the district to avoid potential inequities, and intentionally rolling out the new options slowly to see what works and what may not, Zeff said.

“It takes time. We’re trying to be very deliberate about it,” Zeff said.

State legislation in recent years has pushed for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional public school model, but state educators and others say they have not seen enough high-qualified groups applying for charter schools to fill the demand.

Georgia has 115 charter schools, close to 4 percent of the schools in the state; nearly five years ago, the number was 110. Charter advocates and state education officials say the number of charter schools should be higher. They laud districts like Fulton that are attempting to offer more choices.

North Fulton County parent Diane Jacobi, who has two children in high school, said she’s encouraged by the district’s efforts to create more choice and believes there is a demand for it.

“Each community needs to figure out what works for them,” she said. “In some communities that may be a more traditional model, in others it might mean STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) labs or fine arts programs or dual-language immersion.

“These things take time to implement,” she added. “The largest hurdle may be getting the communities to understand that. To do things right, it can take time.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Georgia science, social studies standards up for revision

State Board of Education using teacher input, surveys

To be literate in science and social studies, students need the most accurate, updated education possible.

Thus the State Board of Education is once again beginning a process of revising the Georgia Performance Standards.

Earlier this year, the board revised English language arts and mathematics standards. Now, it is updating standards for science and social studies.

The state board is asking for teacher input into the new revisions, and a survey was posted April 16 asking for teacher evaluations. It closes June 15, at which point input will be considered and the revision process will begin.

“The survey data will be analyzed and hopefully, by early 2016, we will be able to ask the board to post revised standards for 60 days of public comment,” said Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education. “ … Teacher training and resource development will be provided prior to implementation.”

Cardoza added a date of implementation of the new standards has not yet been set.

The revisions will be determined by a working committee representing Georgia public school teachers, post-secondary staff, parents and instructional leaders.

The teacher survey questions address each current standard and ask teachers to provide specific topics that need to be added or removed from the standard.

Currently, Georgia Performance Standards for social studies ask teachers to bridge the gap between past and current events, to assist students in historical inquiry and to engage them in questions of historical motives, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Last September, a Hall County Schools committee on curriculum found social studies curriculum may be lacking in studies related to American citizenship, personal economics and community service.

“We believe there are too many social studies standards and that there is not enough focus on our own country and government,” Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said previously. “Additionally, there is little or no focus on K-12 mastery of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

The county school system used the findings to provide further focus in its local social studies standards.
Statewide science standards are currently measured by tasks students should be able to perform by the end of the course, by samples of student work and by learning goals.

Diane Acker, biology, environmental science and forensic science teacher at North Hall High School, said she does not think the current standards are adequate.

“They do not address all of the content that needs to be taught to provide an adequate coverage of the subject, especially in biology,” Acker said. “They do not allow for the way an intentional teacher teaches her class. I find myself struggling to provide content in a way that addresses the standards so that my students will do well on standardized tests and providing rich, meaningful lessons that capture my students’ imaginations.”

Acker said the balance between providing an interesting lesson and preparing students for standardized tests is “a juggling act, but worth it.”

She added revisions to standards are always an adjustment, but they too are worth it.

“It takes work to revamp curriculum and lesson plans,” she said. “In the long run, whatever is best for our students must be done.”

Jeremy Peacock, president of the Georgia Science Teachers Association, voiced his support for the revisions to the standards in a release last week.

“We are in transition as we begin a process of upgrading our science standards to make them state of the art and, as a result, better position our future workforce for the 21st century jobs that will be afforded to them,”

Peacock said in the release. “… The Georgia Science Teachers Association believes the time has come for our science teachers, business leaders, and community members to revisit our science standards in a process designed to move toward a vision for science education that best serves our students and our state.”

By Kristen Oliver

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Deal’s education commission considers pre-K teacher pay

Teachers of Georgia’s youngest students might get more money for advanced college degrees while those in regular K-12 schools might not, according to ongoing discussions in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Subcommittees studying topics from teacher pay and retention to student choice and charter schools reported their progress to the full commission on Wednesday. Many, including the crucial funding committee, have reached no conclusions, but the group studying early childhood education had solid recommendations. They recommended tying pay to the level of college attained and to the amount of job experience. Pre-K teachers with a bachelor’s degree would get a $1,200 bump under the recommendation, with their annual pay rising to $26,000, while teachers with a master’s degree would earn a base amount of $38,400.

Meanwhile, the group studying what is arguably the most important topic — state educational funding — has discussed removing the long-existing requirement that school districts pay K-12 teachers more if they hold advanced degrees. The group made no formal recommendation about that or anything else Wednesday, but commission chairman Charles Knapp said specifics should start to emerge next week. That’s when the funding subcommittee will consider new ways to channel state money to school districts.

Currently, districts earn money based on a complicated formula that requires their compliance with state-established rules for everything from salary scales to attendance calendars. Deal has said he wants to simplify the formula so that districts get a set amount of money per student, with the flexibility to spend it as they see fit, Knapp said.

The commission members have been meeting since winter with a deadline by next winter for most. But the funding subcommittee has a July deadline to give Deal time to incorporate the proposals into his next budget.

Knapp warned that the funding formula that begins to emerge next week will likely produce winners and losers, with some districts getting proportionately more, or less, money than they do today.

“We’re getting into the real important stage where we’re going to be talking about specific numbers and specific allocations,” he said.

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Closing the “Honesty Gap” in Georgia

As with most states, discrepancies have emerged between student proficiency rates as reported by Georiga’s state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” For the 2013-14 school year, Georgia showed a 60-point discrepancy between state reported proficiency scores and NAEP in fourth-grade reading, and a 53-point discrepancy in eighth-grade math. In Georgia, the standard for proficiency and minimum score is set by the State Board of Education. 1

Georgia K-12 Education at a Glance:

  • K-12 Student Population: 1,703,332 2
  • HS Graduation Rate: 72.5%  (2014) 3
  • College Enrollment: 67.7%  (2010) 4
  • College Remediation Rate: 27.5%  at Four-Year Programs; 50.0% at Two-Year Programs 5

Consequences of the Honesty Gap in Georgia: Of Georgia students that require remediation at four-year colleges, only 24.7 percent go on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. Similarly, only 7.2 percent of community college students in remediation complete a degree within three years. 6 The University System of Georgia spends about $22 million annually on remedial education. 7

How Georgia Is Working to Close the Honesty Gap: In 2010, Georgia adopted college- and career-ready standards in English language arts (ELA) and math (the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards). In the 2014-15 school year, Georgia chose to give the new Georgia Milestones test in order to have a more accurate understanding of student proficiency. With the adoption of higher standards and a new high-quality assessment, Georgia is well along on the road to becoming a top truth teller. Parents and educators will get new information this fall that will help them know the truth about how their child as well as the state is doing in preparing kids for success after high school.

States Leading the Way: More than half of all states demonstrated a 30-percentage point or more differential between their calculated proficiency rates and NAEP. Some states, such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee took early steps to correct the Honesty Gap with promising results. Kentucky previously had some of the nation’s largest gaps, but after adopting a new, high-quality assessment, became one of the “Top Truth Tellers” in eighth-grade math, narrowing a 32-percentage point discrepancy to 15 between 2011 and 2014. Additionally, between 2012 and 2014, the number of eleventh-grade students meeting college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT college entrance test increased by 15 percentage points.

Alabama also had huge discrepancies between their state tests and NAEP. In 2014, less than half of Alabama’s students were on track to be ready for college in both subjects at almost every grade level. That year students began taking a new test, which dramatically narrowed the gap by 50 points in fourth-grade reading alone. After Tennessee revised their state test in 2010, not only did their discrepancies between NAEP and the state assessment narrow, but by 2013, they were the fastest improving state in the nation. With the adoption of new, high-quality assessments, each of these states has narrowed the discrepancies between their assessments and NAEP scores and all are among the top truth-tellers in the country.

For more information read more: What is the Honesty Gap?

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What Every 2015 College Graduate Should Know

I’m four months out of college, living halfway across the country from where I grew up. I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in public relations. And sometime this summer, as I search for a full-time job to take the place of my internship, I’ll begin the daunting task of paying back my student loans.

Welcome to life as a young adult in America, a country with $1.12 trillion dollars in outstanding student loans.

In a few short weeks, a new wave of graduates will join my ranks, owing on average $33,000 each in student loans. Here’s what they should know.

  1. Most of your friends are indebted to the government. Out of the 21 million+ students enrolled in higher education in the United States, roughly 69 percent take out student loans. And of those, 93 percent are made directly by the federal government. College_Graphic-01-01
  2. It’s OK to move back home. The higher the national debt, the harder it is for the government to fund what matters (and the more it needs your paycheck to curtail rising interest). Plus, a high national debt equals fewer resources available in the economy when you want to take out a loan to start a business or buy your first home. On the plus side, more companies are looking to hire recent graduates, many of whom believe their pricey degree was worth it.College_Graphic-02
  3. Certain degrees have a little more polish than others. Graduation is about the time you may start rethinking that anthropology major. While there’s value in pursuing a passion, résumés that highlight business, engineering or computer science degrees and experience may get pulled more quickly to the top of the stack.College_Graphic-03
  4. What to do if you’re not an engineer. We can’t all be science and math gurus. If you find yourself with a fine arts major—and an inability to land a position at a gallery—focus on showing potential employers that you have some of the skills they find most desirable.College_Graphic-04
  5. There is opportunity. You can only hear about high debt and a poor economy for so long before getting depressed. But as the 9.6 percent recent graduate hiring uptick hints, there is opportunity. These are the top 10 cities for finding an entry-level opportunity.College_Graphic-05

By Leah Jessen
Leah Jessen is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.

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