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Pre-K Day at the Capitol draws a crowd! Left to right: Robin Ferst, president and founder of the Ferst Foundation; Bobby Cagle, DECAL commissioner; Pat Willis, Voices executive director; and teachers, parents and children from local Pre-K centers. A big thank you to all of our supporters. More pictures available on Flickr (feed below on blog) !

In 2009, Georgia was awarded an $8.9 million federal grant to improve its educational data system. Since then, Georgia Department of Education has been developing a statewide Longitudinal Data System (LDS), which allows the State, school districts, schools, teachers and ultimately, parents to make data-driven decisions to improve student learning. In fact, a large piece of the Federal Race to the Top Grant Georgia received last year is tied to the implementation of such a system.

Enrollment, attendance, assessment, and course information for Georgia’s public school students has been gathered for ages, and now can be easily and quickly reviewed. The application is designed to players at every level to make data- driven decisions to improve student learning, and allow assessment and planning which could help close achievement gaps. Already, the system has been implemented across most of Georgia, and though districts can choose whether or not to participate in the program, so far all but one county has chosen to opt in.

Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend demo on the DOE’s K-12 LDS, which some day (hopefully soon) will also track students through preschool and post secondary school as well. Though the system still needs a few more bells and whistles, the sheer ability to drill down into long term data about each district, school, teacher and student is pretty impressive, and useful. I am even more pleased, however, that the system promotes education as a continuum. Long has Georgia needed to align the designs and demands of Pre-K, K-12, college and technical schools so that investments made in all parts of the journey come to fruition for each child.

Budget hearings during a recession are rarely uplifting, and today was no exception. K-12, the University System and the Technical College System of Georgia all had their moments in the sun – or rather shade, justifying their expenditures and cuts for the FY11 amended budget and the big budget for FY12. While there was much talk of the increasing efficiency of programs and brave sacrifice of staff and students, the ongoing lack of revenues and the uncertain speed of recovery hung over the hearings like a piano on a frayed rope.

Graphs presented by all entities in the education system had a consistent shape: peaking in 2009 and sharply declining over the next 2-3 years. Expenditures per student at all levels have fallen drastically as a result of low revenues coupled with increased demand. In addition to potential increases in class size, K-12 could lose yet more money for school nurses. USG’s budget has dropped about 25 % from $2.3 Billion in 2009 to $1.74 Billion for 2012, yet the system has grown by 37,000 students over that time. That translates into a drop in expenditures from $8200/student to $5500/student in just 3 years. Technical colleges have merged institutions, moving from 33 colleges in 2008 to 26 in 2011. While this is often seen as a more efficient use of resources, one has to wonder about increased lack of access for those left in the further ends of the tech school regions. An educated workforce is the surest pathway out of a recession, but a recession such as this is doing all it can to block the road out.

There is a lot of news in education these days…

Last Tuesday applications for round two of the federal government’s Race To The Top (RT3) program were due. Georgia plus 34 other states and the District of Columbia applied. If selected as a RT3 winner, Georgia could receive over $400 million.

  • To view Georgia’s application click here. (warning – it’s over 200 pages)

The following day, leaders from the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers descended on Georgia (specifically on Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee) for the release of the Common Core State Standards.

  • For an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the CCSS click here to read the brief from Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (don’t worry – this one really is an overview – only 4 pages).

Both of these endeavors have many vocal supporters as well as many vocal detractors. Both contain many elements we want to see for all our children – a focus on excellence, equality and success. At Voices we want to raise the bar for all children so that every child truly has a chance to succeed first in school and later in life. The concern is that equal isn’t always fair. It’s too simplistic to think that if we give all children exactly the same support, they will all excel in exactly the same way.

The reality is that some children are more vulnerable than others. Think about the impact on learning when a child regularly comes to school hungry, spends their day worrying about where they’ll sleep at night or if dad has gone back to jail. What about when the child fears being beaten when they get home, worries about mom using drugs again or about the gunshots they’ll hear just outside their front door? What is the impact when the peers that surround a child discourage her from doing her homework or him from even going to school?

For all children to achieve, we have to accept that some will need more support than others. During this time of fiscal crisis, it is more important than ever to examine our public spending and target it to the places where it is most needed and can make the most difference. Our vulnerable youth need our support and they will pay us back by succeeding, by joining the ranks of the gainfully employed and civically minded. Yes – let’s continue to improve conditions for all of Georgia’s children but let’s also remember that our most vulnerable youth may need need some extra attention. If Georgia is awarded RT3 dollars or adopts the CCSS or really as we go forward with any major education reform, there has to be special attention paid to vulnerable children if we are going to give them all a chance at success.

Kudos to the Division of Family and Children Services for committing resources to the education of children in foster care!

An article in today’s AJC announces DFCS’s plans to use federal stimulus dollars to hire 150 certified teachers to tutor the 3,000 Georgia foster children who are falling behind in school. According to the article foster children in Fulton and DeKalb counties fail the 3rd grade math CRCT at twice the rate and the 8th grade math CRCT at triple the rate of their non-foster care peers.

Children in foster care have experienced trauma and upheaval in their lives that make them vulnerable to many poor outcomes. It is essential that we target resources to help them succeed and this program appears to be a solid commitment to doing just that.

DFCS and the GA Dept of Education have been working together for a while now to share data and to examine ways they can partner to improve student success. Voices commends the efforts of DFCS to share the responsibility for educating these children and we encourage all state agencies and non-profits working with children and parents to do the same.

We also encourage DFCS to collect data on the effectiveness of the program and to openly share the results with the community so successes can be built upon and challenges addressed.

Beth Locker

Policy Director

Leaders of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which organized the drafting of the K-12 standards, told early-childhood experts in meetings and conference calls late last month that they hope to begin working on zero-to-5 standards within a couple of months

The move for K-12 Common Core Academic Standards has largely been embraced with governors from 48 states signing on to the effort. Now comes word of plans to work on standards for very young children.

A new article available on the EducationWeek website [Both Value & Harm Seen in K-3 Common Standards] addresses some of the potential good and potential pitfalls around standards for K-3 education and provides the above quote referencing the latest move to expand the standards even further to include the youngest children.

We know that ensuring all children are school-ready is important. Research is clear that our most vulnerable children start school already far behind their peers with limited vocabularies and limited social skills. Those children rarely catch-up. Will “standards” help? What are your thoughts?

See statement from Gov. Perdue at http://gov.georgia.gov/00/press/detail/0,2668,78006749_78013037_158048234,00.html

AJC coverage at http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-loses-in-round-415073.html

US Dept. of Education statement at http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2010/03/03292010.html

Raise your voice for Georgia’s children and families!

Join us at a RALLY FOR REVENUES on Tuesday, March 23rd at 2 pm at the Georgia State Capitol (Washington Street Side).

State budget cuts are already threatening access to health providers, education, child welfare, and quality pre-K in Georgia and around the country. 

This column from New York Time’s columnist Bob Herbert quotes Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children’s Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Redlener says:

“We’re looking at all these cuts in human services — in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis.”

In Georgia, advocates, including Voices for Georgia’s Children, have joined together to call for a more balanced approach to the budget crisis so that Georgia can address the current crisis while also ensuring that our children and our state are well positioned in the future. This crisis cannot be addressed by cuts alone.  The governor and state legislators have already cut essential programs deeply, threatening our state’s progress.  Now, leaders must consider revenue measures.

Raise your voice with us on Tuesday to ensure that revenue options should not be off the table.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

Watch interview of USDOE Head Arne Duncan on YouTube discussing the social and emotional needs of children that must be met if we are to successfully meet their educational needs as well.

If children are hungry, they cannot learn…

If children can’t see the blackboard, they cannot learn…

This is a battle for social justice…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuO_nB7WY9w

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) today released three policy briefs explaining their position on key education reform bills before the Georgia legislature.

  • Click here to read the Partnership’s statement on school vouchers, an issue that is currently being proposed by Senate Bill 361.
  • Click here to read the statement on tiered high school diplomas, an issue that is currently being proposed by House Bill 215.
  • Click here to read the statement on growth-based accountability and school grades, an issue that is currently being proposed by House Bill 1100 and Senate Bill 352.

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