Category Archives: Education

The Perils of Edutourism

Edutourism is not new.  For American education professors in the 1920s, nothing certified one’s progressive credentials like a trip to the Soviet Union.  Diane Ravitch presents a vivid account in Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms.  She describes how John Dewey, the most famous progressive educator of the era, visited Soviet schools in 1928 and returned full of admiration.  He appreciated the emphasis on collectivism over individualism and the ease with which schools integrated curricula with the goals of society.  One activity that he singled out for praise was sending students into the community to educate and help “ignorant adults to understand the policies of local soviets.”  William Heard Kilpatrick, father of the project method, toured Russian schools in 1929.  He applauded the ubiquitous use of project-based learning in Soviet classrooms, noting that “down to the smallest detail in the school curriculum, every item is planned to further the Soviet plan of society.”  Educator and political activist George Counts shipped a Ford sedan to Leningrad and set out on a three-month tour, extolling the role Soviet schools played in “the greatest social experiment in history.”[i]

In hindsight these scholars seem incredibly naïve.  Soviet schools were indeed an extension of the state, but as such, they served as indoctrination centers for one of history’s most monstrous regimes.  Stalin’s plan for society was enforced by a huge secret police force and included the mass execution of political opponents, the forced starvation of millions of peasants, and a vast network of prison camps (gulags) erected to house slave labor.

To their credit, Dewey and Kilpatrick turned on Stalinism.  Counts held on longer, even praising Stalin’s Five Year Plan as a “brilliant and heroic success.”  In 1932-1933, as the first Five Year Plan transitioned into the second, an estimated 25,000 Ukrainians died daily of starvation from the forced famine that Stalin imposed on the region.  Later, Counts would recognize Stalin’s schools as tools of totalitarianism, and he became, in one biographer’s words, “a determined opponent of Soviet ideology.”[ii]

Today we have a new outbreak of edutourism.  American adventurers have fanned out across the globe to bring back to the United States the lessons of other school systems.  Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times visited Shanghai schools on a junket organized by Teach for All, an offshoot of Teach for America, and declared “I think I found The Secret”—The Secret being how Shanghai scored at the top on the 2009 PISA tests.  After declaring, “there is no secret,” Friedman fell back on some stock explanations for high achievement, focusing in particular on changing how teachers are trained and re-organizing their work day to allow for less instruction, more professional development, and ample time for peer interaction.   Elizabeth Green, author and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, toured schools in Japan, and she, too, embraced the idea that the key to better teaching could be informed by observing classrooms abroad.  For Green, lesson study and resurrecting controversial pedagogical reforms from the 1980s and 1990s would surely boost mathematics learning.  Finland has been swamped with edutourists, spurred primarily by that nation’s illustrious PISA scores.  The Education Ministry of Finland hosted at least 100 delegations from 40 to 45 countries per year from 2005 to 2011.

International tests identify the highest scoring nations of the world.  What’s wrong with visitors going to top preforming nations and seeing with their own eyes what schools are doing?  Contemporary edutourists aren’t blinded by political ideology in the same way as Dewey and his colleagues were.   So what’s the problem?  The short answer: Edutourism might produce good journalism, but it also tends to produce very bad social science.

The people named in the paragraphs above are incredibly smart.  But they succumbed to the worst folly of edutourism.  Three perils, explained below, mislead edutourists into believing that what they observe in a particular nation’s classrooms is causally related to that country’s impressive academic achievement.

Peril #1: Selecting on the dependent variable

Singling out a top achieving country—or state or district or school or teacher or some other “subject”—and then generalizing from what this top performer does is known as selecting on the dependent variable.  The dependent variable, in this case, is achievement.  To look for patterns of behavior that may explain achievement, a careful analyst examines subjects across the distribution—middling and poor performers as well as those at the top.  That way, if a particular activity—let’s call one “Teaching Strategy X”—is found a lot at the top, not as much in the middle, and rarely or not at all at the bottom, the analyst can say that Teaching Strategy X is positively correlated with performance.  That doesn’t mean it causes high achievement—even high school statistics students are taught “correlation is not causation”—only that the two variables go up and down together.

Edutourists routinely select on the dependent variable.  They go to countries at the top of international assessments, such as Finland and Japan.  They never go to countries in the middle or at the bottom of the distribution.  If they did and found Teaching Strategy X used frequently among low performers, the positive correlation would evaporate—and they would have to seriously question whether Teaching Strategy X has any relationship with achievement.

Jay P. Greene concisely describes the problem in a review of Marc Tucker’s book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.  Tucker uses a “best practices” approach in the book, an analytical strategy that marks his entire career.  Tucker describes what top performing nations do in education and builds an agenda based on the practices that he thinks made the nations successful.

Here’s Greene’s critique:

The fundamental flaw of a “best practices” approach, as any student in a half-decent research-design course would know, is that it suffers from what is called “selection on the dependent variable.” If you only look at successful organizations, then you have no variation in the dependent variable: they all have good outcomes. When you look at the things that successful organizations are doing, you have no idea whether each one of those things caused the good outcomes, had no effect on success, or was actually an impediment that held organizations back from being even more successful. An appropriate research design would have variation in the dependent variable; some have good outcomes and some have bad ones. To identify factors that contribute to good outcomes, you would, at a minimum, want to see those factors more likely to be present where there was success and less so where there was not.[iii]

Jay Greene is right.  “Best practices” is the worst practice.

Peril #2: Small, non-random samples

Typically, visitors to schools see what their hosts arrange for them to see.  If the host is a governmental agency responsible for school quality—and those range from national ministries to local school administrations—it has a considerable amount of time, effort, public funds, and political prestige wrapped up in a particular set of policies.  Policy makers are not indifferent to the impressions that visitors take away from school visits, no more so than the military is indifferent to the impressions reporters take away from visits to bases or the battlefield.  Outside observers should consider with skepticism the representativeness of the schools or classrooms they visit—or that a handful of schools can ever serve as a proxy for an entire nation.  Some might try to visit some randomly selected schools, but more than likely they will be steered to a pre-selected set.  The desire to present a rosy picture to outsiders need not be the only motive.  There is also the practical matter that schools must be prepared to receive a group of observers.  Schools have work to do and visitors can be a distraction.

One way to check for representativeness is to compare edutourists’ observations to data collected from larger samples that have been drawn scientifically so as to be representative.  In a previous chalkboard post, I critiqued Elizabeth Green’s reporting on math instruction in Japanese and American schools.  The kids she saw in Japanese classrooms were happily engaged in mathematics—boisterous, energetic, with arguments abounding about solutions to problems—whereas in the United States, she saw dull classrooms where children unhappily practiced procedures.  The stark contrast Green painted is refuted by decades of survey data from the two countries.  Instructional differences do exist, but they don’t appear to be related to achievement.  As for joy of learning, there is a mountain of evidence that American kids enjoy learning math more than Japanese kids, evidence collected from large, random samples of students of different ages and grades.  That evidence should be trusted over observations conducted in a small number of non-randomly selected settings.

Peril #3: Confirmation bias

Diane Ravitch explains how John Dewey was misled in the 1920s: “Like so many other travelers to the Soviet Union both then and later, Dewey saw what he wanted to see, particularly the things that confirmed his vision for his own society.”  This is called confirmation bias, the tendency to see what confirms an observer’s prior expectations.

Thomas Friedman is not an education expert, so he relied on experts to guide his thinking—and his visit—when he observed schools in Shanghai.  Experts such as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD and Wendy Kopp of Teach for America are quoted in his column as pointing him towards Shanghai’s teaching reforms to explain the municipality’s sky high PISA scores.  Those reforms have never been evaluated using rigorous methods of program evaluation.  It’s a shame that Friedman overlooked the role that China’s social policies have in boosting Shanghai’s PISA scores.  In particular, he overlooked the Chinese hukou, an internal passport system that culls migrant children from Shanghai’s student population as they approach the age for PISA sampling, fifteen years old.

Poor migrants from rural villages flock to China’s big cities for jobs.  The hukou system rations public services in China, including education.  Hukous were originally issued to families based on their place of residence in 1958.  Hukou privileges are inherited, creating a huge urban-rural divide.  It doesn’t matter if the child of migrants is born in Shanghai, or even if her parents were, she will still hold a rural hukou.  Recent reforms have allowed migrants greater access to primary and lower secondary schools, but high schools are still largely out of reach.  Kam Wing Chan, a Chinese demography expert at the University of Washington, has shown that as Shanghai children from migrant families approach high school age, their numbers in the school system drop precipitously.[iv] Migrants who do not hold a Shanghai hukou send their children back to ancestral regions, even if the kids have never stepped foot in a rural village.  There they join an estimated 61 million children, known as “left behinds,” who never made the journey to cities in the first place.[v]

The hukou creates an apartheid system of education.  Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the hukou system for its discriminatory treatment of migrant children.  It is shocking that OECD documents from its PISA experts hold up Shanghai as a model of equity that the rest of the world should emulate, praising policies for treating migrants as “our children.”  Reports from OECD economists have taken the opposite position, sharply criticizing Shanghai”

The Shanghai Education Committee justifies local high schools’ refusal to admit the children of migrant workers on the grounds that “if we open the door to them, it would be difficult to shut in the future; local education resources should not be freely allocated to immigrant children.”  As a result, few migrant children attend general high schools and those who do return to their registration locality find it hard to adapt and often fail to complete the course.[vi]

If Tom Friedman had talked to different experts, even different experts in the OECD, he would have left Shanghai with a very different impression of its school system.

Conclusion

The perils of edutourism discussed above—selecting on the dependent variable, relying on impressions taken from small non-random samples, and confirmation bias—corrupt key features of sound policy analysis.  Impressions from a few observations do not have the same evidentiary standing as carefully collected data from a scientifically selected sample.  And the statement, “I’ve been to high achieving countries and have seen with my own eyes what they are doing right” cannot substitute for research designs that rigorously test causal hypotheses.

Let me end on a personal note.  The critique above is not meant to discourage edutourism, but to identify its vulnerability to misuse.  I have had the good fortune to visit many schools abroad during my career.  One of the first opportunities was in 1985 when, as a classroom teacher, I chaperoned a group of California high school students on a tour of several Asian countries, including China, Korea, and Japan.  American tourism in China was a rare event in those days.  The classrooms I observed were profoundly impressive.  I visited schools in Helsinki, Finland in 2005, before the hype about Finland reached today’s ridiculous levels, and witnessed wonderful teaching and learning.

I have conducted several studies and written extensively about international education but have not mentioned my personal visits to schools abroad until the sentences that you just read.   It’s not that they weren’t important to me.  I treasure the memories, and as a former classroom teacher, hope to add to them with future visits.

But policy analysis must be built on a sturdier foundation than personal impressions.  Education policies affect the lives of hundreds, thousands, sometimes even millions of students.  Those of us in the business of informing the policy process—whether it’s talking to policy makers or the public about its schools—must gather strong evidence that can be generalized to large numbers of students. First person accounts of visiting schools abroad are entertaining to read, but a careful reader will exercise skepticism when edutourists start giving advice on how to improve education.


[i] Diane Ravitch, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (Simon & Schuster, 2000): pp. 202-218. Also see The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 3, 1925 – 1953: 1927-1928 / Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and Impressions of Soviet Russia (Southern Illinois University Press, November 1988).

[ii] Gerald Lee Gutek, George S. Counts and American Civilization: The Educator as Social Theorist (Mercer University Press, June 1984).

[iii] Jay P. Greene, “Best Practices Are the Worst,” Education Next, vol. 12, no. 3 (Summer 2012). http://educationnext.org/best-practices-are-the-worst/

[iv] Kam Wing Chan, Ming Pao Daily News, January 3, 2014, http://faculty.washington.edu/kwchan/ShanghaiPISA.jpg.

[v] Li Tao, et al. They are also parents: A Study on Migrant Workers with Left-behind Children in China (Beijing: Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, August 2013).

[vi] OECD Economic Surveys: China 2013 (OECD Publishing, March 2013): pp. 91-92.

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Top-Down Reform vs Market Reform of K-12 Education

By Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D.
Newly elected officials interested in “improving” K-12 education might sound a lot like Optimus Prime: “Reform and roll out!” But just like the Transformers, although policymakers’ reforms will differ and change, they’re all inherently the same.

America has seen “reforms” of public education since 1644, when Rev. Ralph Wheelock became the first teacher in the country’s first tax-supported school. Since then, we’ve witnessed:

– Common Schools – Federally-funded schools
– Normal Schools – Separation
– Latin Schools – Inclusion
– Vernacular Schools – Phonics
– Compulsory Education – Whole Language
– Classical Education – Balanced Literacy
– Progressive Education -Computational Math
– Consolidation – New Math
– Comprehensive Schools – Integrated Math
– Small Schools – Traditional Science
– Schools Within Schools – Doing Science
– Prayer – State-funded Schools
– Secular Humanism – Social Studies
– Effective Schools – STEM
– Comer Schools – STEAM
– Montessori Schools – Aptitude Tests
– Waldorf Schools – Basic Skills Tests
– SPONGE Schools – Norm Referenced Tests
– Locally-funded Schools – Criterion Referenced Tests
– History, Civics, Geography, Economics – Salary Schedules
– Merit Pay – De-tracking
– Computer-aided Instruction – Teacher-directed Instruction
– Virtual Learning – Student-centered Instruction
– Blended Learning – Smaller Classes
– Experiential Learning – More Taxpayer Money
– Service Learning – Even More Taxpayer Money
– Standards-based Learning – Charter Schools
– Teacher Tenure – Outcomes-based Education
– No Teacher Tenure – Performance Standards
– Tracking – Common Core

Notably, in that annotated list, many reforms were polar opposites of each other. For example, states and districts spent decades consolidating schools to give students broader opportunities, but then—in a blast back to the distant past—small schools and schools within schools became all the rage.

That is not to suggest one is wrong and the other right. Rather, why should one particular reform be granted precedence over others and subsequently be imposed on all, or a large swath of, children and teachers?

Presidents, governors, legislatures, Congresses, and heads of education come and go, with each determining the trajectory of public education. Such instability among those influencing education, however, has led to, well, instability for those doing the educating.

Reflecting on his 43 years teaching high school English, one prominent teacher wrote about the constant and ever-changing reforms placed on his school and him:

More than four decades of education reforms didn’t make me a better teacher and haven’t made T.C. Williams a better school. Rather, the quick fixes promulgated by headline-seeking politicians, school administrators and self-styled education gurus have in some cases done more harm than good. I found that the most helpful professional-development experiences involved fellow English teachers sharing what worked in their classrooms—always with the caveat: “This works for me; it may not work for you.”

In 2012, a first-grade teacher in a challenging Los Angeles urban public school wrote:

Change can be good, but constant change is not, and is often frustrating. It is easier to teach at a school where the staff is stable, procedures and policies are in place, and there’s a strong sense of community. It is more challenging to teach in a place where there are always new faces, rules change, and expectations vary.

And, earlier this year, this lament of a middle school English teacher in Connecticut went viral:

I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to “mastery,” without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children’s passions—committing “readicide”….

Those experiences, coupled with the prominence of such reforms, recently led former longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to warn about a “plot against public education.” This latest “plot”—or, reform(s)—is “market-based,” according to Herbert. And it is being led by billionaires, namely Bill Gates.

As Herbert notes, Gates spent $2 billion, between 2000 and 2009, to make 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools smaller. Although Herbert is right in his assessment of the reform’s results, he’s wrong on their origin: market-based they are not. Rather, they represent a top-down approach, which is exploitable when the system empowers only one provider of a service.

Such billionaire-backed policies as small schools, non-traditional school leaders, digital learning, Common Core, standardized testing, etc., are more representative of what Adam Smith, the father of free markets, warned about:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

What Smith was referring to was the cornering, or monopolizing, of the market—in other words, imposing one’s will on everyone else, who have little to no recourse to respond.

That is not to suggest Gates or other individuals looking to reform public education in their vision have evil intent. Nevertheless, such altruistic impositions can be harmful to families and educators.

Herbert is right: “This hit-or-miss attitude—let’s try this, let’s try that—has been a hallmark of school reform efforts in recent years.” However, trying new things and differentiating approaches are important—and needed. And there is a way to do it on a localized, personalized level in which educators and educatees work together. It is market-based. And it’s made possible through universal school choice.

Remember, even though many of the abovementioned list of reforms are at odds with one another, that doesn’t make some better or some worse. The quality of each should be determined by those it affects. After all, different strategies and approaches likely work in some situations, but not in others.

For example, different teachers have different strengths. Whereas “integrated math” might be taught well by Teacher A, perhaps Teacher B works best teaching math through more traditional methods. And then there’s the students: Maybe Jane learns best from Teacher A in a private Montessori environment, but John needs Teacher B’s structure in a public setting. The same goes for Common Core, high-stakes standardized testing, small schools, small class sizes, etc.

Students should be matched to schools, teachers, curriculum, courses, etc., and the matching should be done by their parents—through making a choice in a free education market.

Admittedly, allowing parents to choose where their children attend school will bring changes to K-12 education, some of which cannot be predicted any more than the iPhone could have been predicted in 1876. But at least such changes will be decided by those closest to education: parents and educators—not elected officials or bureaucracies, which can be heavily influenced by the top-down lobbying efforts of unions, corporations, foundations, and billionaires. Educators will be free to run schools as they deem appropriate, and parents will decide which schools have the opportunity to best educate their children.

Under a universal school choice plan, there are two ways that Bill Gates and anyone else for that matter—including public educators—can determine the course for K-12 schools:

  1. First, they could open their own schools, which could adopt any number of reform strategies, including small classrooms, Common Core, and instruction from non-traditional leaders.
  2. Second, they could finance research and development into new teaching or management methods and see if any schools—of their own volition—choose to adopt them.

In either scenario, parents would be free to send their children to schools with the reforms they think best fit for their children. Teachers, meanwhile, would be free to teach in schools that had approaches and environments they think are most suitable to their skills.

As Bob Herbert and the teachers quoted above know well, constant reform programs have led to a seemingly never-ending and often contradictory policy churn that affects their jobs, lives, and students. Those top-down reforms are the antithesis of market-based policies.

Parents and educators—through their school choice decisions—should decide what school reforms are best—one child, one classroom, and one school at a time. Now that would be transformational.

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Brookings Study on Local Superintendents

Brookings has another excellent and useful study out this week.  This one examines how much superintendents, on average, contribute to student learning.  The authors, Matt Chingos, Russ Whitehurst, and Katharine Lindqiust, analyze student level data in Florida and North Carolina between 2001 and 2010 to see how much variance in achievement can be explained by changes in superintendents.  The answer is not very much — only .3%.  Other aspects of the school system, including the student, teacher, school, and district matter much more in explaining the variance in student achievement.

The authors are careful to explain that their research does not suggest that there are no dud or superstar superintendents.  It’s just that, on average, superintendents don’t make much of a difference.  They liken this to the effect of money managers who on average add no value, although it is possible that some of them are great and some awful.  Of course, much or all of that difference between great and awful could be random chance.  So when you pick a superintendent (or a money manager) you should rationally expect that they don’t make much of a difference.  It’s a shame that they still cost so much.

This report helps illustrate how Brookings is really the model of what think tanks should be.  It is solid empirical work on a policy relevant question that is written in a way that is accessible to policymakers and other non-experts.  Other think tanks would do well to consider how they could emulate Brookings rather than produce more agenda-driven hatchet  job research.  And more foundations should think about how they could fund this type of quality, policy-relevant work and stop paying for talking points masquerading as research.

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Spurious Correlations – Stop Nicolas Cage Before He Kills Again!

Spurious Correlations

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This graph of the correlation between the number of Nicholas Cage films and the number of swimming pool drownings in each year (correlation = 0.666004) and many more await you at Spurious Correlations.

Here’s the graph of the age of Miss America and the number of murders by steam, hot vapors and hot objects (correlation = 0.870127):

Spurious Correlations 2

Perhaps you scoff at such weak correlations. It may interest you to know that the marriage rate in Kentucky and the number of people who drown after falling out of a fishing boat correlate at 0.952407! What on earth are newlyweds doing in Kentucky, and how do we put a stop to it?

HT Michael Strain
Jay P. Greene’s Blog

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Savannah-Chatham public schools system seeks to make an impact on struggling schools

Savannah-Chatham Public Schools’ new chief academic officer Ann Levett has set out to profoundly impact academically struggling schools.

She has identified 11 elementary schools that will be the focus of a local reform effort called Impact.

Beginning this year, Brock, Hodge, Windsor, East Broad, Port Wentworth, Gadsden, Shuman, Garden City, Spencer, Haven and Thunderbolt schools will receive local assistance to improve staff performance and raise student outcomes. These schools are not necessarily the

district’s most troubled, but they are performing below expectations.

Many had half or more students fail to meet grade level standards on the math, science and social studies portion of the state benchmark test on at least one grade level.

None of these schools are on the state’s list of Focus, Alert or Priority schools, which would entitle them to extra state funding for academic support and reform. So the district has come up with a plan to assess each school’s needs and develop action plans for teacher training and academic program development.

“We are seeing some growth but not what we’d like to see,” Levett told the Savannah-Chatham Public School Board Wednesday. “We want to make sure all schools get what they need to move forward.”

A team of educators from a state agency designed to provide services promoting continuous school improvement in the region — the First District Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) — will go into each Impact school and provide an objective assessment of instruction, curriculum, assessment, management, leadership, professional development, parent involvement, discipline, safety, facilities and the adequacy of district support.

School staff will review the findings with district officials and use the information to set goals and develop a corrective action plan, which will be monitored and reviewed monthly.

Their goal is to correct the specific issues that result in ongoing academic struggles in these schools. The district will provide resources for special intervention and technical assistance until the superintendent determines they are able to move forward on their own.

Professional development is expected to begin in October, and corrective action plans should be underway by November.

“I applaud this, but I’m sorry it took us so long. It’s a shame that it has taken us this long to help them,” said school board president Joe Buck. “I’m anticipating that this will do for these schools what was done through the reforms at Beach and Groves. I think we have to get beyond accepting less than the best.”

Levett said similar local reform plans for struggling middle and high schools will be forthcoming.

“We have very carefully strategically and methodically developed a plan for how best we can work with staff to make this work,” Levett said. “The principals have been on board from the very day we started, and they see it as us collaborating with them and not us doing something to them.

“We will see changes before the end of the year.”

By Jenel Few
http://savannahnow.com

THIRD-GRADE OUTCOMES AT IMPACT SCHOOLS

School Math CRCT Science CRCT Social Studies CRCT

% failed % failed % failed

Brock 48% 59% 46%

Hodge 64% 66% 57%

Windsor 19% 19% 19%

East Broad 66.2% 69% 52%

Port Wentworth 18.8% 25% 23%

Gadsden 27% 32% 17%

Shuman 45% 50% 41%

Garden City 25% 39% 35%

Spencer 56% 37% 36%

Haven 59% 53% 50%

Thunderbolt 47% 50% 43%

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Governor pushes for more emphasis on computer programming in Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal pledged a retooling of the state’s education system on Monday that would better prepare Georgia students for computer programming courses as high-paying jobs increasingly demand highly technical skills.

The governor’s policy proposal would allow students who take computer programming courses to get core credit for their high school diplomas and toward higher education applications. Most of those courses now are considered electives in Georgia high schools.

Deal, who outlined the plan in a sparkling new Georgia Tech computing center, said recruiters have heard a common refrain from firms looking to move or expand their business here: “They need more computer programmers and software developers, and they need to begin teaching students before they head to college.”

The proposal comes less than three months before voters head to the polls to decide whether Deal gets another term in office. He faces Democrat Jason Carter, an Atlanta state senator who says Deal has failed to adequately focus on education.

“It’s not a bad idea, but after years of shortchanging our schools by billions of dollars, Governor Deal will need more than small-bore election-year promises to show he’s interested in helping students,” Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas said. “This will do little to help the students in rural schools who don’t have adequate computers or Internet connections.”

A ‘carrot’ for computer courses

The governor has outlined few specifics about how he would improve education if given a second term, beyond a vow to recalculate Georgia’s decades-old school funding formula and a pledge to give top teachers a pay raise. Much of his focus has been on a program called the Complete College Georgia Initiative to boost the number of college graduates.

It’s estimated that by 2020 about 60 percent of jobs in the state will require some form of college degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma, but only about 42 percent of young Georgians currently have those credentials. Deal has pledged to increase the state’s college completion numbers and produce an additional 250,000 college graduates by 2020.

Deal said more than half of the state’s projected job growth in science, technology, engineering and math fields will require computer programming skills. In contrast, he said, less than 1 percent of all students take advanced placement computer science courses.

“While these high-paying jobs are available,” Deal said, “few Georgia students actually learn these valuable skills.”

The governor is the first to say he’s no technology savant (he often calls a certain social media platform “tweeter” and compared computer programming to a foreign language). But he points to education advisers who have helped devise the plan, including Chris Klaus, a tech entrepreneur who was tapped to serve on a state higher education commission.

Klaus, a key Georgia Tech benefactor, said the move would give students a new “carrot” to take complicated courses — and teachers an incentive to teach them.

“We are on the cutting edge of putting Georgia on the map from a technology standpoint,” said Klaus, whose name adorns the new science center where the announcement was made.

Deal’s proposal would require little money — his office said it had no estimate — and approval from the state Board of Education and the Board of Regents. The outcome is not in doubt; the governor appoints members to both those panels.

Incremental initiatives

The move comes as the governor unveils incremental initiatives targeting specific groups of students and career paths.

The governor this summer promised a more streamlined process for the estimated 1.2 million young Georgians with college credits to go back to school, and he expanded grant funding for students majoring in high-demand fields. He also trumpeted a new military academic center close to Robins Air Force Base to train and educate veterans on new skills.

Higher education officials also expect Deal to expand a program that provides grant funding for students majoring in high-demand fields to include courses in the film industry. His office recently reported that the film industry generated a $5.1 billion economic impact during the last fiscal year.

Much of the campaign rhetoric on higher education, though, has focused on changes to the HOPE scholarship that once cut HOPE awards for all but the top students. Some of the cuts were eventually restored, allowing students with lower grade-point averages to still benefit from state program.

Deal has long said those initial cuts “saved” the HOPE Scholarship, whose lottery-backed funding he feared couldn’t keep up with growing enrollment. Carter says Deal’s changes failed, and the Democrat has sponsored legislation that would restore an income cap on HOPE recipients.

The two campaigns have also clashed on how to boost funding for k-12 education.

Deal promises to redirect school funding to where it’s most needed and points to this year’s budget, which includes an increase of more than $300 million in school funding. Carter said Deal has “dismantled” the education system by not reversing austerity cuts to education dating to 2003, though he won’t say specifically how he’ll fill that gap.

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Gainesville School Superintendent – Presents Strategic Plan

  • We just want to make sure we’re communicating clearly that guns are not allowed on our school campuses.
  • English language learners from Mexico and South America are nothing new.
  • Gainesville School Board members tentatively approved a lower tax mill rate

GAINESVILLE – Gainesville School Superintendent Wanda Creel says part of her Strategic Plan presented Monday night is making sure there are no guns brought to Gainesville schools by individuals.

Creel said she wants a review of House Bill 60 and a resolution added to it that prohibits guns at school.

“When you go back and review the law and the resolution that immediately follows that, we just want to make sure we’re communicating clearly that guns are not allowed on our school campuses and individuals cannot carry weapons into our schools or onto our sports fields,” Creel said. “There was an initial law and there was a resolution that changed that law and we’re working to make sure that is posted correctly.”

Under H.B. 60, besides in bars without restrictions, guns could be brought into some government buildings that don’t have certain security measures, such as metal detectors or security guards screening visitors. Religious leaders would have the final say as to whether guns can be carried into their place of worship.

School districts would now be able, if they choose, to allow some employees to carry a firearm on school grounds under certain conditions.

Creel added that school system attorneys around the state are working to make sure that the law and its resolution is understood by everyone.

G’VILLE SCHOOLS 50 percent ‘E.L.L.’

Dr. Creel says that English language learners from Mexico and South America are nothing new. They make up 50 percent of Gainesville’s public school students according to her Strategic Plan report.

“We have students coming in from South America all the time and so it’s not necessarily quite the way it’s been portrayed,” Creel said. “That is something we do every day.”

Creel estimated only 19 refugee students have arrived from South America to attend school this year and the English Language Learner program has been in place for several years.

TAX DECREASE APPROVED

Gainesville School Board members tentatively approved a lower tax mill rate and that means a no tax increase budget for FY 2015. Chief Financial Officer Janet Allison added that it also means taxes are dropping on assessed property.

“For the average $150,000 house that’s about a $16.50 decrease,” Allison said. “For every $100,000 of assessed value it’s about an $11 decrease, so its not a lot but it is something.”

Allison said the millage rate dropped from 7.59 to 7.48 mills because of a tight budget and an improving economy that expanded the tax digest.

By Jerry Gunn
AccessNorthGa.com

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