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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.





Georgia Takes a Bold Step in Reinventing Public Education

Hopefully, November 6, 2012 will be one of the most memorable days in the history of public education in the state of Georgia.  By an overwhelmingly favorable margin, 58 percent of voters approved the amendment to Georgia's constitution that reduces the monopoly power of local school boards, and giving local residents the opportunity to support additional public school options for their children.  Graduation rates in many parts of the state are woefully inadequate (<60% and even < 50%), and while public charter school should not be expected to be the magic bullet that will immediately transform public education, it offers a fighting chance at successfully improving student outcomes.

The public debate was misleading, divisive, and toxic.   What this amendment is really about is a lesson in how innovation happens.  Countless research studies will illustrate why monopolies fail to innovate, nor will they support innovative approaches that risk marginalizing their value proposition.  This is called competition.  Competition in the public school arena should be embraced, not suffocated.   Many public charter schools were either denied approval by their local school boards, or managed into financial distress and even extinction in some cases.  The amendment even encourages public charter schools to gain approval from their local school boards, because those that are approved by the state (and not locally) will ONLY receive state allocations of funds, not local tax dollars.   So despite the misinformation during the campaign, the playing field is level.

The debate is over, and now  the real work begins - successfully implementing the legislation and ensuring that adequate controls are installed to prevent any hint of corruption by the state-approved charter schools.  It also offers an opportunity to try and import blended learning designs and other successful public charter school models into the Georgia public education system.  And finally, the proof will come years down the road, when longitudinal research must demonstrate that tangible academic gains have occurred.   Naysayers expect success immediately, and these state-approved charter schools must stick to their knitting, and have Teflon skin, because they will undoubtedly be put under the microscope.

Nevertheless, Georgia did the right thing on November 6th.  They voted for change, and this type of change should be a very good thing for the children of Georgia.


Georgia's Charter School Amendment: Is The Status Quo Really Acceptable?

On November 6th, voters in the state of Georgia will have a very important decision to make:   whether or not to approve an amendment to its state constitution allowing the state to play a role in the approval of certain types of public charter schools.  It is a historic vote and one that will have an impact on Georgia's education reform efforts for years to come.  To the surprise of some (not me), a historic vote means toxic rhetoric and emotionally-charged outbursts that have been felt state-wide.

The misinformation and scare tactics have appalled me.    What have we seen?

  • Slanderous, mean-spirited personal attacks across education discussion boards have become the norm.
  • Dirty politics that included the spread of misinformation to inject paranoia and fear into the minds of the electorate, particularly during the primaries back in late July, when a referendum was taken on the amendment that did NOT use the approved wording that would be found on general election ballot
  • Legal threats that raised the issue of how public schools could discuss the amendment without giving the appearance of "lobbying" using taxpayer funds
  • Scare tactics that try to distort the intent of the amendment and that try to create a moral hazard, where no such hazard exists

All of these details are symptoms of  the type of adverse organizational behavior when a monopoly sees its power structure threatened at its core.  Everyone has to understand that public charter schools are public schools, and they should NOT be seen as the "magic bullet" that will fix our public education system.  However, they are a tool that MUST be used because it offers hope to many children who being left behind by a school system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.

There are many communities in our state where children have one public school option, and that option, in many cases, is not providing our children with even the prospect of an "adequate" education.   I should be using word "quality," but I remind everyone that the term used in Georgia's constitution is "adequate."   We are having this debate about pubic education because of the ongoing symptoms of a system in a state of significant dysfunction:

  • While the state high school graduation rate is in the mid 60s, there are MANY school districts, particularly in at-risk communities (e.g., Atlanta Public Schools) that are at the low 50% level.  This is morally unacceptable
  • We have seen public school boards mistreat their public charter school stepchildren, by either delaying vote on their charters, declining applications on questionable grounds, and also changing funding allocations in controversial ways that have forced certain public charter schools to close (e.g., Tech High School)
    • According to Andrew Broy, former Georgia Associate State School Superintendent, "during my five years reviewing charter applications, there was substantial evidence that some school districts were not providing charter applicants a fair hearing on the merits of their proposals. This problem varied across the state and year-to-year, but demanded a remedy. I can recall one case in which a local school board denied a 200-page charter application the week after it was received. No superintendent or staff can properly review an application and make a decision that quickly."
  • Public schools in Georgia continue to suffer from poor leadership at both the Superintendent and Board Level (e.g., Dekalb, APS)
  • Public schools continue to blame their failures on inadequate funding and budget cuts, when empirical evidence shows unequivocally that there is no correlation between additional funding and academic achievement.

There can be no greater investment by our state than in education.  The state should take a greater role in public education because we have seen the outcomes of the abuse of monopoly power at the local   Giving communities various public school options will help innovate our education system.  Remember a few basic facts about public charter schools:

  • Charter schools are public schools, and cannot select students based on athletic talent, achievement or any other qualifier
  • Under the language of the amendment, state-authorized charter schools (meaning those public charter schools rejected by their local school district but approved at the state level) only receive state funding -- no local funding whatsoever.  Protectors fo the status quo would have you believe that their funding would be cut if this amendment passed.  Remember that they have historically misappropriated funds and perpetuated a school system that was meant for the industrial age, not the digital age, and so their failures are self-imposed.
  • Charters have to meet specific academic targets and management principles that are laid out in the charter agreement. Failure to do so means revocation of the charter.  Most importantly, public charter schools are established by parents in their communities!

And Mr. Broy, in his recent comments points out a contradiction that is not getting the attention it deserves.   Protectors of the status quo will claim that this amendment is a way to shift decision-making away from local communities to unelected officials at the state level.  Mr. Broy, however, made this very interesting parallel:   

Who do you think sets state curriculum standards, provides federal funding to public schools, writes special education guidelines, implements school facilities regulations, approves transportation plans, and controls hundreds of decisions that directly impact local schools? The state Board of Education. An unelected body, appointed by the governor. No one seems to be especially worried about that unelected board, suggesting that the local control argument is a red herring cited by those who simply oppose providing autonomy to schools and holding them strictly accountable.

The real question Georgia's voters must ask themselves on November 6th is whether there is greater risk in "doing nothing" (that is, opposiing the amendment and allowing local public schools to invest in more failed initiative) than in supporting the amendment, which would allow targeted investment in potentially innovative local public options that may provide more favorable learning outcomes.   Change is never easy, but it seems abundantly clear that Georgia must do things differently for the sake of is youth, many whom are not graduating and/or left ill-prepared for the future ahead of them.   Creating the right conditions for public charter school operation is an essential ingredient in the road to reform.  This amendment does just that, and allows Georgia to join the growing number of states creating the conditions for high quality public charter schools.   Our children deserve every chance at a quality education, and supporting this amendment would be a step in the right direction.


To Reinvent Public Education, We Need To Change Our Frame Of Reference

This will be one of my shorter posts.


I had a small epiphany last week.    What do all of these headlines have in common?

 "The Charter School Threat To American Society"

"Online Learning:  Before We Rush Down That Path, Make Sure We Know Where We Are Going"

"Can Technology Replace Teachers?"


I'm sure you haven't gotten the answer.   That they all have in common is that they are looking at innovative ideas and reforms as a "threat" and not as an "opportunity."   This is a lesson in organizational behavior.   The status quo, especially local public school monopolies, will ALWAYS fear change, and they will communicate this fear to their entire community.  That is what the self interest groups such as the NEA are doing, and it is not helping the constructive dialogue around how to reinvent public education in America.

We all need to hit the "reset" button, and start embracing new ideas for the potential they offer our children, and then include policies to regulate such reforms so that their adverse effects are minimized or eliminated.

We truly need to change our frame of reference, because only then will we find the common ground to reinvent our education system.  



The Declaration of Independence As It Relates To Education Reform

I came across this incredible whitepaper from GSV Advisors titled "American Revolution 2.0" and I fell in love with it.  I hope they won't mind me redacting a page from the free whitepaper which is an education-centric Declaration.     Enjoy:


The Declaration of Independence
July 4, 2012

The unanimous Declaration of Students and Education Innovators of the United States of

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one group of people to
change the status quo, and to assume the powers of the earth, and create an innovative
approach for the education of our people, a decent respect for the opinions of society
requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to advocate for this

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all students can achieve their potential, that
they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are access to
information and technology, great teachers, cost-efficient learning, and the lifelong pursuit
of knowledge.

That to secure these rights, Education Systems are created among students, deriving their
just powers to educate from the consent of the learner – that whenever any Form of
Institution becomes unproductive to these ends, it is the right of the students and
innovators to alter it, and to institute new learning methods, laying its foundation on such
principles and organizing its capabilities in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
positively effect their knowledge and skills.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Education Systems long established should not be
changed for light and transient causes, and accordingly all experience has shown, that
students are more disposed to suffer, while incompetences are sufferable, than to right
themselves by abolishing the Systems to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of ineffectiveness and neglect exists, pursuing invariably the same
objective of reducing America’s competitiveness in the future, it is their right, it is their duty,
to throw off such Systems and to provide new solutions for their future prosperity.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these innovators; and such is now the necessity
which compels them to alter their former Education System. The history of the present
System is a history of repeated failures, all having direct effect on dimming the long-term
prosperity of this nation…

…in every stage of these failures, we have petitioned for reform in the most humble terms:
our repeated petitions have been answered only be repeated neglect. A System whose
characteristics are thus marked by every example which may be defined a failure, is unfit to
be the platform of the knowledge citizens of the future.

We, therefore, the Representatives of Education Innovators of the United States of
America, solemnly publish and declare, that our students ought to have the chance to
succeed, that they have access to the best learning technologies, and that as free and
independent learners, have the full power to choose their path to success in life.

And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our
Fortunes and our sacred Honor.