10/16/14 EVENT: Hope for Failing Schools

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Imagine taking schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in a district, where reading proficiency is 22 percent and math proficiency is less than 3 percent (no, that’s not a typo!), and doubling and tripling those numbers in just two years time.

That would be an amazing accomplishment measured by any standard.

Well, despite sounding impossible, these are the results that Matchbook Learning has achieved in one of the toughest places in the country – Detroit.

And you don’t have to take my word for it.

Sajan George, Founder and CEO of Matchbook Learning will be our guest speaker at our October 16th innovation luncheon. George will be discussing Matchbook’s work in Detroit and how the right use of technology, coupled with creative ways to empower and inspire students and teachers, can set the stage for dramatic turnarounds for failing schools and, more importantly, greater success for students.

Please join us.

Register to Attend

Brown v. Board of Education at 60: School Choice New Frontier of Opportunity

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A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at Georgia Gwinnett College to a group of students, including some future educators, students from the school’s honors program, and a few professors, who had been reading about the impact of school choice in America and in other parts of the world.

In my remarks, I noted that Brown was successful in eliminating official, legal enforcement of segregation and paved the way for integrated schools and gains in minority student achievement. Today, we don’t find government officials claiming a legal right to physically block a child’s entrance to a school because of his or her race. By that measure, Brown hit its mark.

Instead, in 2014, what we witness is a very different kind of school segregation driven largely by the zip code in which a child lives, which is largely a function of income.

Today, children are not so much being locked out of schools they would like to attend, as much as they are being locked into schools they wouldn’t choose if given an option.

This is especially true for lower and middle-income families who likely do not earn enough to move to a district with great schools or afford the cost of private tuition.

This is where school choice is able to help.

Given control over their education dollars (over $9,000 per year per student on average in Georgia), parents and their children would have the ability to select the school best suited for their needs, whether public, private, virtual or otherwise. Since each family would be given, essentially, the same base level of purchasing power, segregation based on income (enforced now by our zip code system) would be much less of a barrier.

For areas of the state, especially in more rural communities, where the local public school may be the only option right now, giving parents control of those education dollars would likely mean entrepreneurs would soon find ways to make additional options available, as each class of students (assuming an average of 23 children) would bring with them over $200,000 of funding each year. You can pay a teacher very well and buy a lot of materials with that kind of money.

Americans value choice in all areas of life and instinctively understand that the choices we make with our money drive improvements in the products we buy, whether the product is the food we eat, the houses we live in, or the cars we drive. The same thing could be true relative to the education our children receive.

The system will improve if we are allowed to vote with our wallets. It most likely will not until then.

For more reading on the power of school choice and creative ways communities are making it possible (in the US and abroad), I highly recommend the books that the students at GGC read this year:

Education Freedom In Urban America: Brown Vs. Board after Half a Century

By: David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue Jr.

The Beautiful Tree

By: James Tooled

Market Education: The Unknown History

By: Andrew J. Coulson

Why America Needs School Choice

By: Jay P. Greene

Snow Can’t Stop This Crowd for School Choice

By Dr. Danielle LeSure, GCO’s Director of Education Policy

Amazingly, over 600 students, parents, teachers, and school leaders crowded the Capitol in the middle of a snow storm to cheer for school choice options—charter schools, public school transfers, special needs and tax credit scholarship programs— on Tuesday, January 28.

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Students have their photo taken to share their support of School Choice through social media.

After touring the Capitol and visiting with legislators, students were greeted by never ending snow flurries. While waiting for the rally to start on the steps of the Capitol, Governor Nathan Deal (GA) announced the closing of all state government buildings. Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Vice President Eric Cochling approached the crowd of students that were dancing to the song “Happy” from Despicable Me to deliver the news and lead everyone in a cheer. From the streets surrounding the Capitol you could hear voices shouting “more school choice, more school choice.”

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Eric Cochling addresses the crowd at the rally and leads the cheers of “More school Choice!”

Though we were unable to hear from our scheduled speakers Governor Deal and actress Keshia Knight Pulliam who are strong supporters of choice, we did get to hear from those who benefit most from school choice—Georgia students.  As they left, their footprints in the snow symbolized Georgia’s journey in the school choice movement. While we have many options in Georgia, there are still over 5,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools and many more students longing for a better option but private school costs are not affordable for their parents.

Georgia does not stand alone in its efforts to increase support for school choice. During the week of the rally, there were over 5,500 events nationwide celebrating school choice options. This is a record high according to an article by National School Choice Week.

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Two students showcasing the signs they prepared for the rally.

If you are or know of a parent who needs more information about choice or would like to become an advocate please visit the Georgia Parents Alliance. Together, we can continue to make a difference!

Demand for Choice High: Education Tax Credit Cap Reached in Record 22 Days

Just this past week, Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship program reached its cap of allowable donation commitments (currently, $58 million) in well under a month. That’s the earliest the cap has been reached in the program’s history, three and a half months earlier than last year, when the cap was reached on May 9th.

Add to the early cap the fact that Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO’s), those groups tasked with distributing tax credit scholarships, nearly universally report long waiting lists of students seeking a scholarship and it becomes clear that the program is in high demand.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that a school choice program in Georgia is overrun with interest.

Charter schools have long experienced high demand, with lotteries becoming necessary to decide which children are selected among the many who want to attend. Of course, parents are expressing their desire for additional choices in other ways, including sacrificing to send their children to private schools and, in an ever growing trend, teaching their children at home.

Given Georgia’s record on educational achievement, it’s really no wonder parents and their kids are looking for something better. That said, the desire for choice often has as much to do about wanting to escape an unsuitable school environment as with academic achievement.

That’s exactly why we’re hosting a rally at the Capitol tomorrow to celebrate National School Choice Week. While we are happy about the progress Georgia has made in increasing education options in recent years, less than 1 percent of Georgia’s more than 1.6 million students has been able to access Georgia’s school choice options.

Our tax credit program cap of $58 million annually may seem like a lot but compared to other states, it’s just a beginning of what’s needed to meet the demand. Florida’s program, for example, is currently capped at $286 million annually and grows each year automatically while Louisiana’s program has no cap at all.

Not only are Georgia’s current school choice programs limited, but for the 57% of Georgia students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, options are limited yet again because – unlike wealthier families – they are often unable to move to a district with better public schools.

The net result is that if the local public school isn’t suitable for them, they have nowhere else to turn.

With many billions of dollars spent in Georgia each year on public education, there is no excuse for a child being trapped in any particular school. We should demand more for Georgia’s children.

Cage-Busting Leadership: Reforming Public Education from Within

Our team at GCO had the privilege of hosting Dr. Rick Hess this week. On Tuesday, Dr. Hess, who is an education scholar (and prolific writer) with the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at an early morning breakfast attended by a group of about 45 people that included politicians, lobbyists, academics, parents, and policy wonks.

While the crowd was diverse, each person shared a common concern about the depressing condition of public education in the state of Georgia and wanted to hear Dr. Hess’ thoughts on the subject. He didn’t disappoint.

Using his book Cage-Busting Leadership as the springboard, Dr. Hess challenged the group to consider how much innovation and real reform could be achieved within the current education system if administrators, teachers, and concerned parents stopped taking “no” for an answer.

He shared example after example of people who were able to break through the “cage bars” erected by overly risk-averse school system lawyers or years of outdated rules that still clogged school procedures and hamstrung teachers from addressing student needs.

The bottom line: With a little questioning and a lot of grit, it is possible to change the system so that children receive better educations.

Although Dr. Hess focused on ways to improve the system from within, he didn’t shy away from endorsing school choice as an important tool for giving children more and better options – and incentivizing the public system to improve. Wisely, though, he warned the audience that just changing laws – even something as significant as vouchers – will not be sufficient in itself to really change education if everyone at the school level simply continues to accept business  as usual.

In addition to legal reforms that allow parental choice and school flexibility, we must have pioneering and system-challenging educators and parents willing to question the status quo every time any engrained practice misses the mark of promoting our children’s best interests.

Those were all great points by Dr. Hess and a wonderful reminder that we have more power to change things than we may realize just by asking the question “Why not?”

Join us in asking that question and pushing for reforms that free parents and children to have more educational options and free excellent teachers to change lives.

CBS Covers Breakthrough Norcross Reception at NHS

Monday afternoon, December 2, Breakthrough Norcross celebrated the completion of its three-part “listening tour” with an authentic White House Reception held at Norcross High School.

Prior to the reception, the last of three working meetings were held in which nearly 30 representatives from numerous business, non-profits, churches, and schools reviewed and made final contributions to the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact strategy.

To aid in celebrating this great milestone, Walter Scheib, former White House Executive Chef to the Clinton and Bush administrations, prepared a wonderful meal for meeting participants, as well as numerous other community representatives invited to hear about Breakthrough Norcross’  cradle to career plan for collective impact.

For those unable to join us, CBS Atlanta covered the event.  See their re-cap here.