Does prestigious Governor’s Honors Program favor metro students over rural Georgians?

In 2013, the Governor’s Honors Program moved from the Department of Education to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Has the change in oversight also led to changes in how students are chosen and which students are selected?

Top students in multiple disciplines including the arts spend the summer on a college campus going deep in their areas through the Governor's Honors Program. (AJC File)

Top students in multiple disciplines including the arts spend the summer on a college campus going deep in their areas through the Governor’s Honors Program. (AJC File)

Students learned Friday whether they won a place in the prestigious four-week residential summer program held at Valdosta State University.

According to the state website, “The program offers instruction that is significantly different from the typical high school classroom. It is designed to provide students with academic, cultural, and social enrichment necessary to become the next generation of global critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders.”

Over the last two years, I’ve heard complaints GOSA was choosing fewer rural students, an allegation the agency refutes.

A teacher from a rural system sent me this note:

While there was always an imbalance between the north metro students (Cobb, Gwinnett, North Fulton) and the rest of the state, that distribution has become decidedly in favor of the above mentioned areas since the switch to GOSA.

In the past, each system was allotted a certain number of students and decided who would go to the state-level interviews.

This year, there was a selection process beforehand that determined who would go to the state-level interviews. Students completed an online application, applications were reviewed and students were notified if they were going to be interviewed at the state level. I assume this was to cut down on the number of in-person interviews.

One would think that with fewer students to interview, it would be easier to obtain enough interviewers in the subject area.Yet, this was not the case. One GHP candidate told me the interviewers flat out told her they knew nothing about the subject area and really didn’t seem to have any idea what that area did at GHP.

While I teach in a system that isn’t known for its academic prowess, I teach great students and I’ve worked with over a dozen students in the past eight years who have attended GHP. Under DOE, we had as many as 10 students chosen. Now, it’s two or three.

There is something going on in how the students are chosen. Please take a look at the schools and systems where the accepted students attend school.

The acceptance lists for the past 10 years or so are available on the web via simple Google searches. I am afraid the meddling of the governor and his arguments with the past state school superintendent have done a disservice to the top students in Georgia that don’t have the benefit of the Walton, North Fulton High or Brookwood zip code.

After reading the teacher’s note, I looked at the 2015 list of winners and noted:

Math: 64 out of 80 are from metro counties.

Piano: 5 out of 6 are from metro counties.

Engineer and design: 20 0ut of 22 are from metro counties.

Spanish: 14 out 17 are from metro counties.

I put the question to the Governor’s Honors Program. This is the response from GOSA Executive Director Martha Ann Todd.

(Please note Todd defines metro Atlanta as a 10-county area. The Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area as defined by the federal government encompasses 29 counties.)

Here is Todd’s response:

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement agrees participants in the Governor’s Honors Program should represent the entire state.  To that end, the 2015 program finalists include 680 students, 58.5% (398) of whom are from the 10-county Metro Atlanta area and represent the public school districts in the City of Atlanta, the City of Decatur, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale.  35.3% (240) of the finalists represent public school districts in other areas of the state.  6.2% (42) of the finalists represent Georgia’s private high schools.

This year, as in many of the past years, there is a large representation of students from the Metro Atlanta area.  This is to be expected since half of the state’s population lives in the Metro Atlanta area, and the Metro Atlanta representation reflects that.

By nature, the GHP is a selective residential summer school that offers a rigorous academic experience for talented and gifted high school students to explore their considerable potential.  GOSA takes concerns about the diversity of GHP very seriously and always look for ways to improve our process.

We know that one of the key strengths to this residential program is the opportunity it affords students to live and learn with other students who are different from themselves.

Our office uses student enrollment data to provide school districts and private schools with a nomination quota. That being said, we also have a number of school districts that choose not to nominate students. Although strongly encouraged to participate and nominate, GHP is voluntary, and the district level student nomination process is beyond GOSA’s control.

Once nominated by the district, the student is then moved into a statewide competition. Over the past five years, the number of students who have competed at this level has exceeded 3,000 each year. Our office strongly believes that 3,000 paper applications is overly burdensome on school district officials (having to collect and mail in some instances hundreds of applications with private and identifiable student data) and does not prepare these gifted high school students to apply for scholarships or colleges (most of which is done via an online application).

Additionally, it was important to our office to have an organized, secure, and systematic process in place that allowed us to communicate with students, provide coordinators with request for additional files, and allowed us to evaluate the applications for our semi-finalist round.

As with previous years, the interview process consisted of multiple components with multiple interviewers. We are proud that many former and current GHP instructors participate in the interview process and that we have a large number of qualified interviewers from around the state (high school teachers, college instructors, GaDOE staff, etc.).

This process is in place intentionally to eliminate bias against students from various geographic areas of the state. We are delighted that our 2015 cohort will have students from Gwinnett and Screven County Schools, from DeKalb and Catoosa, from Fulton and Jackson County.

Just a few points of note:

Agricultural Science has 21 (out of 31) students selected as finalist from non-metro Atlanta area schools.

Science has 38 (out of 80) students selected as finalist from non-metro Atlanta area schools.

Jazz has 3 (out of 7) students selected as finalist from non-metro Atlanta area schools.

Communicative Arts/English has 37 (out of 80) students selected as finalist from non-metro Atlanta area schools.

Another point of note is that even within the Metro Atlanta area schools, we have finalists who attend Title I/Title I eligible schools in Clayton (Lovejoy, Morrow, Jonesboro), DeKalb (Tucker), and Atlanta Public Schools (B.E.S.T. Academy and Maynard Jackson).  Additionally, we have finalist representation from every area of the state:

Northwest – Walker County Schools, Catoosa County Schools

Northeast – Fannin County Schools, Hall County Schools , Habersham County

Atlanta Metro (APS, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Rockdale, Forsyth, Fayette, Cherokee, City Schools of Decatur

Central – Bibb County, Houston County. Laurens County

West – Troup County, Harris County, Muscogee County

East – Richmond County, Screven County, Jefferson City

Southeast – Chatham County, Glynn County, Camden County

Southwest – Thomas County, Tift County, Dougherty County

We are, of course, limited in the number of students we can serve through GHP.  While we know that the results are disappointing to many students, parents, and teachers when they nominate an exceptional student to our program, there are a finite number of available slots and the number of well-qualified students in Georgia exceeds that number.

 

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
Alywishus
Alywishus

I don't know how I missed your accurate assessment article earlier. I spent about 25 hours compiling stats on population versus GHP selection. If you consider "rural" as 50,000 population or under, based on the most recent U.S. Census data, about 22% of Georgians live in those counties. Yet, only about 6.8% of the 2015 GHP selectees and alternates are from those counties. That appears to be an imbalance of at least 15%. Todd indicated that every region of the state had selectees. The population of the Southeast and Southwest areas he mentioned had ten selectees. Based on the population of those counties, the selection rate was less than 3%. Of course, there is obvious bias readily detected by an even casual observer of Georgia demographics. For very rural (25K and under) and Title I schools, the imbalance is much worse - less than 1.2%.

Alywishus
Alywishus

I don't know how I missed your accurate assessment article earlier. I spent about 25 hours compiling stats on population versus GHP selection. If you consider "rural" as 50,000 population or under, based on the most recent U.S. Census data, about 22% of Georgians live in those counties. Yet, only about 6.8% of the 2015 GHP selectees and alternates are from those counties. That appears to be an imbalance of at least 15%. Todd indicated that every region of the state had selectees. The population of the Southeast and Southwest areas he mentioned had eleven selectees. Based on the population of those counties, the selection rate was less than 3%. Of course, there is obvious bias that can be readily seen by an even casual observer of Georgia demographics.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Another good Facebook comment to share here: 

The old system did not allow smaller systems to send equal numbers to state interviews—every system received a quota based on its population of sophomores and juniors from the previous school year. The issue of metro v. rural students was always a concerning one and which admitted of no easy solution.

RealLurker
RealLurker

@MaureenDowney Why is it a concern?  Should a school with enrollment of 200 send an equal number of students to interview as Mill Creek with enrollment of 3,600?  I went to a rural high school, so I am not trying to stick up for the metro schools.  Smaller school systems have a harder time getting students in the program because they have a smaller base to draw from.  There are probably counties in Georgia with fewer students in the entire system K-12 than in Mill Creek High School.  Pure statistics and probability would lead you to believe that more students from Mill Creek would get into the program than students from a 200 student high school.  The process should be fair to all students.  The percentages of students from metro Atlanta in the GHP program is not far apart from the percentage of students in the state who go to metro Atlanta schools.  I don't understand what the issue is.(At least as related to rural vs metro)

RealLurker
RealLurker

The population of metro Atlanta is about 54% of the population of the entire state of Georgia.  According to the numbers that Maureen posted, metro students account for somewhere between 58-64% of the GHP students.  That is a slight skew towards the metro area, but not a huge one.


If you compare populations, persons selected per land area is not a fair comparison.

SGAMOD
SGAMOD

This is how everything works in our state.  Get used to it.



JYB07
JYB07

It is less about rural kids v. metro kids and more about an arbitrary selection process. The best kids should be chosen.  Who cares where they are from?  I was at one of the final interview locations and was amazed that the kids were saying that it was so disorganized.  That the interview for social studies consisted of a room full of kids shouting at each other about US Tax Law and that the interviewers were short staff and didn't know anything about the subjects the students were asked to prepare.  The rudest kids rose to the top because there was no order.   I really hope GOSA gets it together soon.  GHP is too valuable to this state to continue down this road. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@JYB07 I have heard from students the interview process was shallow -- the interviewer was not familiar with their specific discipline. 

Why would that be? And why now and not in the past under DOE? Did DOE -- with its network -- have an easier time recruiting interviewers?


JYB07
JYB07

@MaureenDowney @JYB07 Do we know that DOE didn't have the same problem?  The Governor's office would have the same network (or a larger one) as DOE.  There is no excuse for not having top subject matter experts in each interview.  Are you suggesting politics?  This Governor gets so much support from rural GA.  Could it be that metro kids are better prepared than the rural kids in many areas?  Maybe a bit.  I think the problem is the arbitrary nature of the selection process.  It will be better next year. 

OldPhysicsTeacher
OldPhysicsTeacher

@MaureenDowney @JYB07  Ya think?  When many instructors used to be interviewers and now a large portion of instructors are new due to GOSA incompetence and interference from the governor.  When previous interviewers worked for free due to their willingness to help the program and we walked away due to political influence.  I wonder how many of the kids the past two years are family of the legislature or family members of the Real Deal's donors?  Ya think GHP is in disarray?  Wow.  Is water wet?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@JYB07 @MaureenDowney DOE would have a much larger and much longer established network of educators from which to draw. It also has more staff. GOSA is a pretty small operation, so unsure whether it was staffed to take on something with this many moving parts. I would be curious if teachers feel the move to online culling of applicants -- rather than interviews -- hurts rural kids. If you look at the online app, it resembles a college application with required essays, recommendations etc. Are some schools or parents better able to navigate their kids through online applications?

Starik
Starik

Affirmative action principles in action.  Should the goodies be distributed on the basis of achievement or something else?  Geography?  Race?  The only answer is some combination of all three.  

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Rural kids already face distinct disadvantage in many competitions.  Let's add another one.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

Glad to see light shed on the system.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Several good comments on this issue at AJC Get Schooled Facebook including this one:

They changed the selection process which may favor larger school systems. The reverse could be said as well. The old selection system allowed smaller systems to send equal numbers to state for interviews which was disproportionate. I am always suspicious of any political driven program.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Sounds like Maureen would like to establish a quota system. 

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog 


Good point.  


This is just another slap at Governor Deal.


Money quote  " I am afraid the meddling of the governor and his arguments with the past state school superintendent have done a disservice to the top students in Georgia that don’t have the benefit of the Walton, North Fulton High or Brookwood zip code."


John Barge was like a political F-5 tornado-everything he came into contact with was destroyed.



OldPhysicsTeacher
OldPhysicsTeacher

@Astropig @class80olddog  Actually your comment, while accurate, had nothing to do with GHP.  GHP was run by a Director.  Yes, he was under the State Super.  No, he had no input.  No previous Governor nor state Super did.  The previous directors were men of great integrity and had direct contact with many of the legislature as a large part of the metro legislators were former GHP students.  If they, the directors, felt they were getting ANY political "push" they would have raised a huge stink and forced the individual to slink away.  That is, until THIS governor got into a very public fight with John Barge. The end of it all was the actions of the Real Deal turning GHP into a political football. 


If you think a man of dubious character, a man who not only  holds grudges but follows through with threats,has not had his fingers into every part of GHP, you are sadly mistaken.  GOSA had no clue how to run GHP - and still doesn't.  Having a political operative running an organization, like GOSA does, gives new meaning to political patronage.  Now that the politicians are in power, you'll see over the long term how GHP goes.