Only when we design education around the individual needs of children will we achieve excellence. I have visited several schools throughout the state this session to share details of two of my priorities, which revolve around the fundamental belief that no two children learn at the same pace or in the same way.
I have seen this first-hand, in my own home with my three sons. What motivates one son in the classroom does not interest the others. Where one may gravitate toward reading to absorb information, another may learn better with a hands-on approach.
Because children learn differently, the best education occurs when local control is prominent and innovation and flexibility are involved. Untying the hands of our teachers and principals, allowing schools to be relevant to their communities and giving local control will create the best educational system for Georgia’s students.
The 60 charter schools in Georgia have demonstrated remarkable success, paving the way for more communities to look to chartering. Nine new charter schools will open in 2007 and the Georgia Board of Education has an additional 14 petitions pending. Georgiaís charter schools are outperforming traditional schools and are serving a more diverse and economically disadvantaged population, according to the Georgia Department of Educationís annual report on Charter Schools. Additionally, charter schools exceeded traditional schools in both meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and graduation rates.
Georgia needs to free systems from burdensome state and federal mandates allowing communities to define their own educational system and letting teachers do what we have hired them to do ñ teach our children. Today, for a school to become a charter school, each individual school has to enact its own charter. By allowing an entire school system to charter, the process is streamlined and expedited. A competitive grant program would encourage systems to take advantage of this new process.
Of course, even when such charter systems have individualized plans to attain their goals, they need to meet a set of standards agreed upon by the State Board of Education. As long as schools meet these standards, they will maintain their charter.
The charter system allows the truest form of local control of public education. By giving teachers and local education officials ñ who know their community and students best ñ maximum flexibility to tailor education programs around students, some really special things will happen.
Career academies, which provide students alternative paths for education, are another option providing excellent results. Not all students are interested in pursuing college education or have the necessary funds to do so, but all graduates want a well-paying job and an opportunity for a successful career track. Enabling school systems to expand career training and workforce development by integrating academic courses with a 21st-century technical education makes this possible.
Georgia needs more schools like the Central Educational Center in Newnan, which partners with the local technical college and surrounding businesses to create a program where students are trained to obtain well-paying, secure jobs in the local community. The opportunity for these high school students to gain a technical certificate ñ which guarantees employment upon graduation ñ is what education should be all about.
Recently, I met a car dealer who told me that he has six technicians taking home more than $100,000 a year. Imagine if that car dealer partnered with a career academy and a ninth-grader decided he wanted to get on board and train to be one of those technicians. By the time he graduates from the 12th grade, he would be certified and ready for a great career and income in an industry available in his local economy.
Educational reform and our students’ success will take place when our state gives an individual the chance to follow an educational path that excites and challenges him or her; a system where students find value.
During my 12 years in the Georgia Senate, I saw a lot of Band-aid approaches to reforming education. We can do better and our students deserve better. Education initiatives that take decisive steps to provide teachers and administrators the power to shape each schoolís course individually will usher in a level of responsiveness in local school systems never before witnessed. They can spark new ambitions for thousands of Georgiaís students who have become disinterested with their everyday coursework.
Imagine if every community had elementary schools where children are learning two languages. Imagine if every community had magnet schools and career academies so that each child could chart a course for educational success. Imagine a community where every child has a place and an option. I am tired of Band-aids and am ready for real reform. I believe real reform can happen through charter schools and career academies.
Cagle, Georgia's lieutenant governor, wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation