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« My WIsh List For Public Education In 2013 | Main | Georgia Takes a Bold Step in Reinventing Public Education »

Georgia's Graduation Rate is a Wakeup Call for New Approaches to Public Education

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released graduation rates for all states under a common formula, which should allow more accurate comparisons on academic performance in the United States.  It was striking, and appalling, to find that Georgia's graduation rate was only 67%. near the bottom of the country.   Not only was it far less than neighbor Tennessee (86%), but even trailed Alabama and Mississippi.   What made the situation worse was that the first comments echoed from State Superintendent Barge including the following statement, "there's an assumption of consistency across the U.S. with the new figures, but states still differ in how they compile and report rates, even under the new system."   Instead of focusing on the problem, the leader of Georgia's education system not only tried to devalue the report, but also made other comments focusing on the performance factors that are far more controversial:  gains on high stakes tests.

The problem with Georgia's education system starts with the wording of its state constitution, where it explicitly states that "all citizens shall have access to an ADEQUATE education."   The word "adequate," is not made up - it's in the constitution and that is part of the problem.  Georgia should be raising the bar in its expectations for public education, and it starts with the problem of only having to offer mediocre, at best.

But that's not the point of my post today.   Georgia's graduation rates are one of the most important indicators of its education system.   While we all realize that students need to graduate with a certain base of skills and so graduation rates must be looked at "in context,"  it gets to the issues of youth crime and incarceration.  We want children to be in school, not on the streets.   And while you can certainly try and point to the impact of poverty on graduation rates, it should be noted that North Carolina and Tennessee outperformed Georgia while spending dramatically less money per student.  Below is a chart compiled by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation using the updated graduation rates:


Overall Graduation Rate

Rank out of 46 States

Graduation Rate of Low-Income Students

Rank out of 46 States

Spending per Student







North Carolina












It is time that Georgia's politicians, philanthropists, business leaders, educators and parents come together and realize that we need to come up with new ideas for education reform.   One can support public charter schools and still support traditional public schools.    We need to be more effective with how money is spent.   Some recommendations can be found here, but let me point out additional ideas:

1.  Communities should elect school board members who are "reform-minded," not wanting more funding to spend on the wrong things (e.g., central admin, textbooks, etc.)

2.  Spend some time looking at how digital learning can be integrated into every classroom.

3.  Funding should be allocated towards eliminating the "digital divide" in Georgia.  Every school should have sufficient technological infrastructure to support digital learning solutions.

4.  Look at some of the innovations happening with blended learning and other school designs that can be piloted in school districts.  While not every charter school will be successful, the track record is very promising, and passing the charter amendment will allow Georgia to attract some of the most innovative approaches to learning taking place in our country.

5. Continue to promote the benefits of new teacher evaluation systems and ensure that we are not only hiring the most highly educated graduates into the teaching profession, but also supporting them with sufficient professional development opportunities.  We need to offer incentives that incorporate project based learning and digital learning techniques in order to intrinsically motivate each and every student.

6.  Our political parties need to create bi-partisan legislation on education reform that leverages the elements above.  In Georgia today, for example, the Democratic Party has largely become the party of the "status quo," and only a few courageous politicians were willing to cross party lines to do what was best for Georgia's children.   Democrats can support education reform - look at vibrant organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, for example.  Given the near-supermajority that Republicans have in the state Capitol, Democrats need to find ways to support reform policies as opposed to fighting every reform attempt with paranoia and fear.  Georgia democrats appear willing to ignore the wave of change spreading throughout our great nation.  

At the end of the say, Georgia cannot be pleased with the fact that more than 1 out of 3 students are not graduating high school.   So instead of continuing to bash a system that hasn't been altered in more than a century, lets work together and change the way we do things.  It's time to "Rise Up."   Our children are depending on it.




Reader Comments (1)

Good article posted. Should I expect an alert email when you post? I was unaware of this article until I just happened to check.

I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas and a good year in 2013.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNeal C White

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