Public education in Georgia — it’s time for a bold and different approach

By Saba Long

Who is failing Georgia’s young students?

This year a new federal formula recalibrated Georgia’s graduation from 80 percent to 67.4 percent, meaning nearly one in three Georgia students fail to graduate from high school in four years.

A new Brookings Institute study notes that students who succeed in elementary and middle school grades, graduating high school with a 2.5 GPA without parenting a child or committing a crime, have a 75 percent chance of achieving a middle-class income.

There are three components that taxpayers need to review when it comes to public education: the accreditation by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), school board infighting, budget cuts.

SACS is currently investigating Clayton and DeKalb school systems on the grounds of dysfunctional board dynamics and potential mismanagement of support systems and resources. Clayton County lost and regained its accreditation in a four-year period, and it is now facing a SACS inquiry on the heels of the departure of its school superintendent.

These systems aren’t under scrutiny for student-on-student violence or low test scores or even high dropout rates. DeKalb students cumulatively raised their SAT scores by nine points, well above the state increase of five points.

Last week on her blog, Maureen Downey posed the question, “Do school boards work anymore?”. The average metro Atlanta voter has little understanding of the functions of the school board. The election is given low priority in the media and on the ballot. There are no public debates for school board candidates, no newspaper endorsements or lengthy articles detailing a candidate’s vision for the district.

In addition to Downey’s question, we should ask if our current accreditation agency, a privately-held organization funded by taxpayer dollars, is sufficiently serving our students.

Should investigations of board travel expenditures and political infighting cost a graduating senior a valid diploma? Perhaps SACS’ time would be better spent on prioritizing success in the classroom.

The third area of concern for our education system is the continued state budget cuts. The Georgia Budget and Policy Insitutute details: “For FY 2013, state funding for K-12 education is 12.5 percent below its FY 2009 funding level. Funding for the Pre-K program will be 11.4 percent below FY 2009 funding, despite an ongoing wait list for Pre-K slots. …When adjusted for inflation, per pupil state funding will remain at is lowest level in over a decade.”

A select few of Georgia’s school districts are repeatedly at risk of losing accreditation due to events outside of students’ control. Present day pupils are receiving a diminished quality of education due to increased class sizes, reduced extracurricular programs and paranoid educators worried about test results rather than student comprehension.

With the majority of our state budget going to education and our state consistently ranking in the bottom percentile nationwide, it’s time our leaders consider a bold, different approach to education.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

1 reply
  1. Chris Clark says:

    Thanks for a great article and a unique insight. I hope others will read this and participate in a larger discusion in Georgia about how we elevate the discussion and strategy of how we improve our public schools by focusing on student needs and how we get our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession and how we then reward their work.Report

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