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Much has happened since the Georgia Board of Education unanimously adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Both a new governor and new state school superintendent have come on board, and we will receive a $400 million Race to the Top grant to help improve our public schools.
But today, in terms of high school graduation rates and academic achievement, Georgia students are no better off than they were a year ago.
All Georgians must work together to ensure that our students have the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond. The time for our communities to be informed, involved and invested is now.
First, every Georgian should know that the standards will define the knowledge and skills that all students will be expected to acquire by the time they graduate from high school. Creating common standards requires rigorous review of course content and an application of knowledge to match real-life higher education and work needs.
Second, these standards are based on international standards of education, so Georgia graduates will be prepared to succeed in a global economy.
Community investment in public education reform shapes the environment for academic and social success. Community resources such as parent centers create opportunities for parents to learn ways to more effectively track their children’s academic progress and understand school performance data.
These resources also help parents and their children create course selection plans that ensure students graduate fully prepared for college and career. Partnerships between businesses and community organizations create student enrichment opportunities that are aligned with academic success and career readiness.
We must insist that our elected leaders safeguard and equitably distribute resources for education reform, even as they seek to get Georgia’s budget crisis under control.
We should be clear about the cost to Georgia’s future prosperity if we do not substantially improve our public schools. Nearly four in 10 Georgia high schools are dropout factories – schools in which the number of seniors is routinely 60 percent or lower than the number of freshman three years earlier.
Such schools tend to serve high proportions of students of color and low-income students, who are disproportionately impacted by lower standards. Yet by 2020, students of color who currently attend Georgia’s public schools will make up a significant percentage of the state’s adult workforce.
According to the state school superintendent, up to 10,000 of our students are at risk of not graduating this year because of low academic achievement. And just as disturbing, published research has revealed that employers and college professors say current expectations for high school students don’t match what is needed to succeed, so about 40 percent of students who manage to graduate do so without the literacy skills that employers seek. Fewer than half of Georgia’s African-American and Latino students even make it that far.
Time is a luxury we clearly do not have.
The most critical work we do on behalf of our children will take place in cities, small towns and schools across the state – places where we will take on our collective responsibility to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to realize their fullest potential.
Our children will reap the rewards of these efforts for the rest of their lives.

Butler is the executive director for the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. Nicholls is the executive director for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. This column was originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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