Learn4Life: Atlanta region’s public education offerings can be improved

By Maria Saporta

For the first time in recent memory, a regional consortium is addressing public education in metro Atlanta.

Learn4Life, a collaboration of four regional entities, released its baseline report Tuesday for how students are doing across five counties and eight school districts in the Atlanta region.

The baseline report provided some sobering facts:

  • Only 40 percent of third graders in metro Atlanta are reading at grade level each year. The other 60 percent, roughly 28,000 third graders, are not.
  • Of our low income students, only about 25 percent are reading at grade level in third grade.
  • Research is clear that children who have not developed reading skills by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
  • 31 percent of the eight school districts’ high school graduates go on to complete some type of post-secondary education, nowhere near the number needed to address the region’s needs. By the year 2025, more than 60 percent of jobs will require some form of post-secondary education such as a certification or degree.

Learn4Life was launched last summer to work with the school districts in the region to discover which programs have had the greatest success with the hope of sharing what works.

Learn4Life

Learn4Life’ unveils State of Education in Metro Atlanta’s baseline report (Special: Learn4Life)

Learn4Life will produce an annual report to see how the region is improving according to six different metrics: kindergarten readiness; 3rd Grade Reading; 8th Grade Math Proficiency; High School Graduation Rate; Post-Secondary Enrollment; and Post-Secondary Completion.

“Throughout metro Atlanta, the idea of regionalism is taking hold,” said Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, one of the four regional Learn4Life entities. “Our business, philanthropic and educational leaders seek regional, proven solutions to improve education for all of our students.”

The other organizations involved are: the Atlanta Regional Commission, the United Way of Greater Atlanta; and the Community Foundation fir Greater Atlanta.

“Learn4Life represents a new data-based approach driven by the engagement of the region’s leaders in business, community and education,” Moddelmog said. “This effort focuses our work on important achievement measures, and it leverages the best talent and resources within each of the anchor organizations, school districts and other partners to address the factors that influence those measures.”

Learn4Life’s executive director, Kenneth Zeff, unveiled the results of the “State of Education in Metro Atlanta Baseline Report” at a breakfast meeting at the Metro Atlanta Chamber Tuesday morning. He said the report serves as a call to action to each stakeholder in the region to come together to support strategies and bright spots that have been proven to address the root causes of academic underperformance.

Learn4Life

Learn4Life leaders: Milton Little, Ann Cramer, Alicia Philipp, Ken Zeff and Doug Hooker (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Learn4Life is governed by a Leadership Council, which is a diverse group of senior executives who guide the work and bring together stakeholders throughout the region including higher education presidents, corporate CEOs and leading community-based organizations.

Eight participating school superintendents across the five county region are at the nexus of this program. It is designed to serve over 600,000 students among all eight participating school districts (Atlanta Public Schools, City Schools of Decatur, Clayton County Schools, Cobb County Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools, Gwinnett County Schools and Marietta City Schools).

Before becoming Learn4Life’s executive director, Zeff served in several roles at Fulton County Schools including Superintendent and Chief Strategy Officer.

Research has identified the six community-level indicators to measure achievement in the region’s schools, and these six metrics are considered key to achiveing a cradle-to-career vision for the success of every child.

Leaders of the eight school districts have met extensively with community leaders to lay the groundwork for this partnership. They have identified early grade literacy as an important starting point for the collaboration. In the coming months, action teams will build out strategies for business and community leaders to champion and support to address persistent challenges to student performance.

said Dennis Lockhart, retired president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “Now, Learn4Life can help scale those practices where they are needed from north Gwinnett to south Clayton. This initiative will set the bar high and drive the positive change our region’s future deserves.”

Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation, said the regional initiative was too daunting for any single organization to tackle.

“But together, we could see a horizon for positive change firmly grounded in quantitative and qualitative strategies,” Philipp said. “It’s going to take all of us working together, but we can do this and build a model of collaboration and progress.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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