In this Issue:
State Chamber Educates on Standards & Reform
“In the year 2010, Georgia’s education leaders face a unique challenge and opportunity of continuing the policy work that has been done recently to improve our academic standards and assessments while seeking new, bold strategies that will further enhance the teaching and learning in our public schools.” That’s how the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) describes the push for the Common Core standards, just one of the many initiatives that it has had a hand in promoting.
With Georgia’s Governor, Sonny Perdue, serving as the co-chair of the Common Core effort (together with Delaware’s Governor, Jack Markell) and a long-standing relationship with then-Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox, getting involved was easy for GPEE.
“From both the business perspective and military families, this is the right thing to do. Families who move across the country deserve some satisfaction that the curriculum will be similar state to state,” said Dr. Steve Dolinger, GPEE president. “With our mobile population, particularly some military families and business families that move to Georgia, we felt there should be some assurance that there would be similar curriculum as people move about. There was a lot of frustration with the fact that in moving from one state to another, curriculum would be more or less challenging for the children.”
One of the concerns that emerged during work on the standards was that the state already had strong standards – so why change? But the Common Core actually builds on the new Georgia performance standards, which were used as part of the model for the Common Core. In order to communicate this point, “We’re now talking about infusing the common core” into Georgia’s ongoing work, Dolinger said. That’s helping to alleviate some of the concern.
Now that Georgia has adopted the Common Core Standards, GPEE continues to see communication as key. Among the most important ideas to communicate, according to Dolinger, is that the standards, while specifying what should be taught, do not specify how it should be taught: “Our teachers can still be as creative as they want to be” – a point that, as a former superintendent, Dolinger understands is key to accepting this educational change.
“We’ve cautioned Georgia that communication of what the standards are and are not has a price tag – we need to have funding for that as well as staff development for teachers.”
Georgia will see the first effects of the Common Core as it redesigns its secondary assessments, moving from grade-level to end-of-course tests, which will be keyed to the new standards.
The Georgia Partnership
GPEE was created in 1992 by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and, although a separate organization, functions as its education arm. The GPEE Board deliberately includes a blend of business, education and legislative leaders – from the State School Superintendent to the Georgia Teacher of the Year, allowing it to “have high-level, strategic conversations” about important issues like teacher quality and education funding. But one of the important contributions GPEE has made to the process – and continues to make – is in educating policy makers, journalists, and the community at large about important education issues.
Its publications have been used as models across the country, but GPEE goes beyond just publishing useful reports. Every January, it puts out the Top 10 Issues to Watch, a publication that is popular with legislators. Following a recommendation by Turner Broadcasting, GPEE also hosts an annual forum for journalists to discuss the Top 10. The forum, held every January just before the legislative session, draws print, radio and TV reporters for half a day to learn about the issues – having surveyed the reporters to see what issues they’d like to discuss - and results in ongoing relationships between GPEE and reporters, who come to GPEE for support.
Another report, the Economics of Education, resulted from the Georgia Chamber’s request to help with messaging across the state: specifically, that education builds the workforce and economic development. Now in its third edition, GPEE not only presents the report’s data across the state (and the country) – it uses the report as a way to prompt local conversations. In communities that respond to the data with a real desire to improve education, GPEE supports those efforts by helping with strategic planning. The community brings together the stakeholders, and GPEE helps establish metrics. Dolinger says “We’ve had some pretty good successes, working in a number of counties that want to get serious.”
Yet a third report, the Education Policy Primer, is produced for Georgians running for office at any level, to help candidates get their education platform together. Having just concluded seven sessions across the state, GPEE will now wait for the primaries to finish and then conduct two more sessions for the non-partisan candidates who will run in the general election.
By befriending these communities – journalists, local communities, and office-seekers, GPEE gets invited to do presentations when it matters, whether getting invited to come to the legislature before session or when lawmakers are wrestling with an issue.
Georgia’s Race to the Top
GPEE hopes that its communication efforts and its work on the Common Core will help Georgia secure funding in the second round of Race to the Top. Having finished in third place during the first round (when only the first two applications were funded), the state is very hopeful about this round.
That funding “will help us continue the work on standards and assessments,” Dolinger said, but the state also has a number of other objectives. “Our data system has been an Achilles heel for Georgia and we don’t have cohort analysis in place yet.”