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State leaders discuss top education issues

Adequate Yearly Progress could be over in Georgia

POSTED: January 21, 2012 12:03 a.m.

ATLANTA — In a time of constant change and technological advancements, the world of education has stood relatively still. Now it's playing catch-up.

Where that race begins was the primary topic at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education symposium Friday, where legislators, government officials and educators gathered to discuss the year's top 10 educational issues, all circling back to one fundamental problem: lack of funding.

"We have deeply disinvested from education," said Rep. Stacey Abrams, Georgia House minority leader. "We have to recognize that we have to spend more on certain children to help them."

Billions of dollars in cuts have come down and there's no adjustment to the funding formula to offset that.

Quality Basic Education, the formula Georgia's been using to fund school systems since the 1980s, isn't fully funded, said Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia State School Superintendents Association.

Though it's never been "fully funded," per se, the complaints from schools now are different, since the QBE funding hasn't increased in 20 years.

School systems are now mostly funded locally due to the state's austerity cuts, which Garrett defined as, "You calculate how much money the formula is supposed to generate and then you whack it."

The state's commission on education finance is meeting Tuesday to discuss the issue, said Rep. Brooks Coleman, chairman of Georgia's House Education Committee.

"QBE is an excellent funding formula," Coleman said. "We just have not in the last 25 years adjusted it for inflation and there's not a technology component in there."

The state, however, continues to look for ways to push education forward, including partnerships between Gov. Nathan Deal and the Department of Early Care and Learning to help prepare children for school before they even start.

He's got additional programs focusing on more science and math classes, graduating more students from college and creating a needs-based scholarship program for middle school students.

The state is also working on Race to the Top programs, a $400 million federal education reform initiative, by implementing the new Common Core curriculum standards and a high school graduation path centered on college and career readiness.

The latter is part of Georgia's No Child Left Behind and Adequate Yearly Progress waiver, submitted last fall to the U.S. Department of Education by State School Superintendent John Barge.

Barge said Friday the national department should let them know by the end of January if the waiver will be approved.

"We are very encouraged. If the waiver is granted, we will not be initiating any AYP reports this summer. AYP will be done in Georgia," Barge said.

That's good news to teachers who feel as though some of the fault for education falling behind lies in teaching to a standardized test instead of teaching to learn.

"The public thinks that my job as an English teacher is to teach a child to understand ‘Beowulf.' ... The kid doesn't care about that. That kid cares that they're in a room with heat. This kid cares that they're in a room with someone who cares," said Jadun McCarthy, Georgia's 2012 Teacher of the Year.

"The reality is, there is no standardized test that can measure that. There is no standardized test or measurement that will say, ‘Mr. McCarthy made a difference in this child's life because he kept him off of the streets.'"

Barge recognized that over his first year in office.

"We are creating a product, a student or graduate, who is not prepared for the world that they're about to see," he said. "It's urgent that we change for our kids' sake. ... Our schools are improving, but they're not improving at the rate our society is changing."

Abrams said it's necessary for everyone to make the choice to fund education before anything will change.

"If you want economic development, if you want public safety, all of those things track directly back to your educational system," she said. "It's not a political choice, it's a citizen choice. We have to decide what we're willing to pay for, and I think we have chosen not to pay for education."

McCarthy said though teachers get blamed for many problems in education, there are a variety of issues at play.

"There will be no secret cure to what ails education. It will take a steady improvement from everyone to see us get better. The only way this state and this country will improve is if our schools improve," he said.

"There is no better investment of our time, our effort and our projects than to see that our students have more than just a Quality Basic Education, but to see they have a quality excellent education."

 



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