By Maria Saporta
A regional initiative to improve educational outcomes in metro Atlanta’s five core counties – Learn4Life – released its second annual report at a Metro Atlanta Chamber event Tuesday morning.
The “State of Education in Metro Atlanta” report highlights the cradle-to-grave approach to improve outcomes for all students. Learn4Life encompasses eight school districts in those five counties – Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Decatur, Cobb, Marietta, Gwinnett and Clayton.
“This is a progress report,” said Ken Zeff, executive director of Learn4Life, adding the year-to-year change is basically flat. “It is a marker of progress. We are coming together. We are lifting up bright spots. But it’s a long game.”
Learn4Life, launched in 2016, is a unique collaboration among four regional entities – Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
“Throughout metro Atlanta, the idea of regionalism is taking hold. Our business, philanthropic and educational leaders seek proven solutions to improve education for all of our students,” said Hala Moddelmog, president andCEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “In this first year, Learn4Life brought together diverse stakeholders to build a deeper understanding of our region’s educational challenges. By leveraging the talents and resources across metro Atlanta, Learn4Life has identified proven solutions that we can scale for the benefit of each and everychild.”
One example of success is the “Vision to Learn” – a program that offers free vision screening for students and provides free eyeglasses for 39,000 students.
Other programs include:
Reach Out & Read: an early education program that engages pediatricians to support literacy; and
Read Right from the Start: a program that focuses on teacher preparation – proven literacy professional development for educators.
Third-grade reading proficiency is one of six community-level indicators that Learn4Life has identified asthe keys to achieving a cradle-to-career vision of success for every child. Others include:kindergarten readiness, eighth-grademath proficiency, high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment and post-secondary attainment.
“The 2018 ‘State of Education in Metro Atlanta’ Report serves as a call to action to each stakeholder in the region to come together to support strategies that have been proven to address the root causesof academic underperformance,” Zeff said. “Learn4Life’s first year was marked by collaboration and action. We now have identified an initial set of strategies that are proven to move our region forward.”
The five-county territory has more than 600,000 students, and Learn4Life has brought together the various school systems along with local communities, businessesand nonprofits to improve education outcomes based on common goals and shared benchmarks.
The 2018 report shows a substantive need for quality early childhood education in the region. Currently there are 56,266 slots for quality pre-K programs. But Learn4Life the actual need is for more than 260,000 slots. That is an indicator for kindergarten readiness.
On the other end of the spectrum is high school graduation rates as well as post-secondary enrollment.
“A really interesting story is emerging,” Zeff said. “You see more kids graduating from high school and more kids enrolling in post-secondary education. But fewer kids are completing post-secondary education.”
One of the great byproducts of Learn4Life is bringing together the superintendents from the various school districts and building trust among the various players.
“We are thrilled to work together with our partner districts as part of Learn4Life,” commented Dr. Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools. “We want to continue to learn and contribute to a metro Atlanta agenda to serve all students.”
Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation, explained the challenge.
“The daunting scale of the region was something no single organization could tackle from their vantage point,” she said. “But together, we could see a horizon for positive change firmly grounded in quantitative and qualitative strategies. It’s going to take all of us working together, but we can do this and build a model of collaboration and progress.”