Another new corporate and civic initiative to improve schools: Will this one stick?

How do we get all students going in the right direction?
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The well-intentioned civic and corporate leaders behind the metro region’s new Learn4Life initiative are self-aware enough to know there’s going to skepticism about another master plan to improve education outcomes for the 600,000 students in eight metro school systems. They were quick to talk about their approach as a movement rather than a reform and to say Georgia can no longer treat activity as progress.

But as I listened to the speakers and the superintendents’ panel this morning at the Metro Atlanta Chamber in downtown Atlanta, I didn’t hear anything I haven’t heard many times, going back to the political reigns of Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue. We are still talking about the same stuff.

In fact, I reread an AJC editorial I wrote in 2003 in response to Perdue’s education initiatives in which I wrote: “Now, for the first time in Georgia’s history, poor kids are expected to achieve at the same levels as their middle-class peers. They will need help. They will need extra resources. They will need an expanded pre-k program that will enroll children as young as 2 to even the playing field and ready them for kindergarten.”

We haven’t pulled that off yet, as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen noted. “We need to make a commitment to help our families from zero to age 3,”  she told the crowd. “Now, there is tremendous lift that has to happen when our kids come into pre-K.”

A collaboration of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Learn4Life represents a coalition of metro school systems, communities, business and nonprofits that plan to use a data-driven, collective-impact approach to improve workforce readiness and student achievement. Learn4Life cites the success of the model in Cincinnati, Dallas and Minneapolis.

At the program today, Learn4Life took stock of six major benchmarks in education: kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, postsecondary education and getting a job. The findings in what Learn4Life called its inaugural “State of Education in Metro Atlanta Baseline Report” were disappointing.

Only one in five children in the region has access to high quality childcare; only 40 percent of third graders read on grade level. When you look at low-income students, the percentage plummets to 25.3 percent. Thirty-eight percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

A bright spot was Georgia’s high school graduation rate of 79 percent. Of those grads, 75 percent pursue some postsecondary education, but the completion rates falter. Less than a third get a credential or degree.

The wise sage on the stage was Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who earns the title based on both longevity and success. Wilbanks has led Gwinnett since 1996, collecting dozens of national awards along the way. Indeed, he was asked this morning what his “secret sauce” was in Gwinnett.

Wilbanks cited Gwinnett’s commitment to strong principals and quality teachers. “You need a good teacher in every classroom and you need  a good principal in every school. I have never seen a poor school with a great principal and I have never seen a good school with a poor principal.”

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the meeting room and a lot of expertise, including former Fulton deputy superintendent Ken Zeff, who is executive director of Learn4Life. I’m not sure there’s as much enthusiasm outside the room for a collective approach to solutions that raise all boats.

An obstacle to meaningful education change is often a lack of public will. It’s hard to get people to think beyond the needs of their own children and their own schools. That’s natural; parents focus on their children.

The problem is our political leaders have sidestepped the issue by talking about giving parents more choices for their kids rather than creating quality choices for all kids. As long as we cast education as an individual endeavor rather than a community good, we aren’t going to get where we need to be.

 

Reader Comments 0

15 comments
Serene Alami Varghese
Serene Alami Varghese

"An obstacle to meaningful education change is often a lack of public will. It’s hard to get people to think beyond the needs of their own children and their own schools. That’s natural; parents focus on their children. The problem is our political leaders have sidestepped the issue by talking about giving parents more choices for their kids rather than creating quality choices for all kids. As long as we cast education as an individual endeavor rather than a community good, we aren’t going to get where we need to be." ^^^Yes!!!! All of this!!!!!

Starik
Starik

Kids may have a high graduation rate, but a diploma is just a credential.  It will get them into the military, but doesn't seem to be sufficient real education to let them succeed at the next level. We'll never do better without fixing the school systems. A significant upgrade it the teachers and eliminating as many racially segregated schools as possible would help.

Libertylover
Libertylover

If we've been trying the same progressive-ed tactics for decades without success, maybe we should try a different approach: return to classical education, with an emphasis on great books and genuine academic content, not "training" for "skills." Read Seven Myths about Education by Daisy Christodoulou.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“The well-intentioned civic and corporate leaders behind the metro region’s new Learn4Life initiative are self-aware enough to know there’s going to skepticism about another master plan to improve education outcomes for the 600,000 students in eight metro school systems.”

Actually, the well-intentioned civic and corporate leaders have a proof-in-the-pudding track record of keeping public education stuck in a vicious status quo cycle.  First, there was their Apple Corps, then their Adopt-A-School, then their Great Schools Atlanta, then their Atlanta Education Fund, then their Achieve Atlanta, and now their Learn4Life.  They just keep on pressing for public education to be run like a business, and with “fidelity.”  Unfortunately, the more they press, the more stuck in status quo public education gets.

Yet, although counterintuitive to them, the well-intentioned civic and corporate leaders will continue to keep public education stuck in status quo as long as their “approach” is to “improve workforce readiness and student achievement.”  And so they will continually get what they do not want.

jgcair
jgcair

I applaud the efforts of the coalition to improve schools. Their focus on early childhood is especially commendable. Studies have shown for years, since the early days of Head Start, that investment during preschool pays off in later benefits for students and communities. It is also a relatively easy fix. It will be harder to bring improvement once the focus is moved into the public school arena, but it still can happen. I am a long-time educator with experience from preschool through university throughout the metro area, and would love to see positive effects come from this movement, but my optimism is cautious. As you pointed out, Georgia has a long history of fizzled-out initiatives. There are deepseated issues that should be addressed to bring about true reform, and they are not in the form of regulations and mandates. They are in the hearts and souls of our educators and administrators. I have addressed some of these in my book, This Teacher Talks. Thank you, Maureen, for your column. It is always enlightening and on point.

Janet hogan Chapman, Ed.D

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“We haven’t pulled that off yet, as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen noted. ‘We need to make a commitment to help our families from zero to age 3,’ she told the crowd. ‘Now, there is tremendous lift that has to happen when our kids come into pre-K.’”

Without question, Carstarphen continually demonstrates having a behavioristic, anti-common good, pro-individual school choice, competitive bent.  Thus her involvement in the lives of children – especially black children – aged zero to 3 readily draws forth gut-wrenching fear that she aims to institute early childhood education as “Skinner boxes” as a quick-fix way to further sate her ambitions, if not achievement addiction, much as she does by continuing to attack Atlanta public schools with increasing numbers of charter schools.  The picture of the children accompanying Maureen’s post intimates a reason for the fear and deep concern for the children’s welfare and natural development.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“The problem is our political leaders have sidestepped the issue by talking about giving parents more choices for their kids rather than creating quality choices for all kids. As long as we cast education as an individual endeavor rather than a community good, we aren’t going to get where we need to be.”

Spot on!

Astropig
Astropig

Until the culture changes in Atlanta,the school system will reflect that culture's failure(s).Some caring parents reject that destructive culture and demand choices that will enable their kids to escape that cycle of failure.Those parents are heroes.They really care about their kids and are willing to fight to improve their lives.They should be exalted,celebrated and admired.The last paragraph of this piece should tell those thinking parents where the media stands in regards to their aspirations for their kids.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Astropig


I actually took more from the 2nd to last paragraph.  We all benefit when students are achieving at all schools, regardless of what neighborhood they are located in.  I can definitely support targeted assistance programs to help children in communities that regretfully enter schools less prepared than many of their counterparts.  It has to be done in partnership with the parents and communities for it to be effective.

Astropig
Astropig

@ErnestB @Astropig


Sure, parents can try to serve some abstract political concept of preserving the status quo so that it can "make schools better for every child",but after decades of going in the opposite direction,should parents bet their kids futures on that?


I can only speak to my own experience here,but you only get one shot at this.When the kids are grown up and the school system has washed its hands of them,that abstract idea isn't worth much.Those status quo educrats are going to blame you,the parent, when your kids have to work a few part time jobs to keep the lights on.That's when you'll realize that this is a system that is bent on its own preservation,above all else.Then it will be too late.


Again, IMHO, if you're fighting for choice and parental empowerment and holding school systems accountable for performance-you're a modern hero.The road will be long and the battles fierce,but you will prevail.It may take a while,but you will win.

time for reform
time for reform

In looking to the future the one thing we do know is that the status quo will continue to fail, and that resistance to change won't go away.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

They are gathering input -- but they want to highlight what works, singling out schools in Fulton and Gwinnett that they say are defying the odds. Carstartphen gave them what seemed like a good idea -- create a program or center that would be the gold standard in teaching teachers how to teach reading. She says it is a critical skill and a real need in the region.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

And more wasted bureaucracy! Teachers need smaller class sizes and classrooms of kids that are at about the same level academically so that no one is left behind (whether they are a high performer or a low one). What teachers "need" is for people to quit pretending they are early childhood education specialists and telling teachers how to do it and to listen to the true specialists on how to get to success!

Quint Bush
Quint Bush

Get the parents to read to their children every day from the day they are born. That would help tremendously! Otherwise, smaller class size and fewer standards would help.