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School standards, higher education top 2015 challenges
State leaders discuss top issues before legislature session
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Coming Sunday: A preview of the 2015 General Assembly session.

Top 10 issues to watch

  • High standards
  • Assessments
  • District governance
  • Electing or appointing state superintendent
  • Funding reform
  • Early learning
  • Post-secondary success
  • Charter schools
  • Equity in education
  • Race to the Top

Source: Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education

High school standards and expectations after high school are among the top education issues Georgians can expect to see addressed by state leaders in 2015.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education held “An Inside Look at Education in Georgia” symposium Friday at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta at which officials discussed the year’s top education topics prior to next week’s opening of the General Assembly session.

“This is a nonpartisan, research-based look at some of the major issues in education that are facing us as a state,” said Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the partnership. “... They ask, as new research comes out, new issues come up in the legislature, new issues come up in the state boards of education, early learning and higher education, what are the issues that are really impacting kids? So they follow that throughout the year.”

“What does it mean to have a high school diploma in Georgia? That’s what we need to determine.”

Schools need to further clarify how to prepare students for life after high school, the experts said. Rickman said the challenge lies in matching students’ preparation to future job expectations.

“The challenge is 60 percent of jobs in 2020 will require some higher education,” Rickman said. “Currently, only 42 percent of Georgians have some education beyond high school.”

Rickman said Georgia has high requirements to graduate high school compared to most of the nation. Yet she believes it may be worth considering whether alternate requirements should be made for students who plan to attend technical college or other form of secondary education rather than a four-year college.

There is a balance between telling children that college is important and letting them know it’s not for everyone, Rickman said, and how that message is conveyed.

“We need to watch that kids aren’t being tracked,” she said. “That’s not the intent.”

Funding is another issue likely to be addressed. Claire Suggs, senior education policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, discussed the Quality Better Education Act, a law created to huge funding gaps between districts. Recently there has been a push to redo its formula, which consists of three primary components: the number of full-time equivalent students in a district, class sizes and teacher salaries.

Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek and vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said he believes the governor will make QBE funding changes a priority.

“I think now is the time to look at that formula,” Dudgeon said.

Rickman said questions about assessments will look more broadly, asking why the state has certain measurements and if Georgia students are overtested.

“Georgia has a long and illustrious history with assessment, not always positive,” Melissa Fincher, state deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability. “But we are trying to turn the page.”

District governance and charter schools also are on the table. Rickman said charter schools are here to stay, but how they should be governed and how to support the strong ones and help the weak ones need to be addressed.

Rickman said equity in education is an important issue that has not received proper attention. One of her greatest concerns is the number of children living in poverty and how that affects their access to a quality education.

“Not only are we as a state getting poorer, we’re getting poor faster than the rest of the nation,” she said.

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