The back-to-school season has arrived for families and teachers in Georgia. Most schools have already started classes, while a few others are holding in-service days and new student orientations in preparation for the first day of school. It’s an exciting time that makes me think back to my first days as a new teacher when the school building hummed with the anticipation of the coming year and the possibilities it held.
We have a lot of exciting changes coming this year for Georgia students. For the first time ever, all entering high school freshmen will choose from 17 Career Clusters that link rigorous academic learning with the skills required for post-secondary success – no matter what they choose to do after graduation. We also will offer career awareness for our elementary students, career exploration for our middle school students and career development for our high school students so they are ready to choose a Cluster when they reach their freshman year.
The Clusters were identified by leaders from business, industry, government and education across the state as critical to the economy of Georgia. The Clusters are: agriculture, food & natural resources, architecture & construction, arts, audio/video technology & communications, business management & administration, education & training energy systems, finance government & public administration, health science, hospitality & tourism, human services, information technology, law, public safety, corrections & security, manufacturing, marketing, transportation, distribution & logistics, science, technology, engineering & mathematics.
Each pathway will include rigorous content, industry credentialing and transitioning into post-secondary education. For example, we recently announced a partnership with Microsoft to offer IT Academies at high schools throughout the state that gives students access to coursework leading to industry credentials in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other programs. These credentials can lead directly to work after high school or can translate into the advanced skills needed to excel in college.
Through Career Pathways, students will once again find relevance in the classroom as we help them pursue their passions. Parents will notice their children have a sense of direction, focus and eagerness to attend school. Making classwork relevant again will help keep students in school and on a path to graduation. The result will be a graduate ready for college, career or a job.
This year, we also will roll out our new teacher and administrator evaluation system in 172 school districts across the state. We’ve trained and certified more than 1,300 evaluators this summer and worked with educators across the state to ensure the Teacher and Leader Keys Effectiveness Systems can help educators identify exactly how he or she can improve student learning. We can’t just ask teachers to change. We have to practice, experiment, share, show results, collaborate and evaluate. Teachers need multiple measures with deeper meaning to improve performance - not a checklist of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
You may also have read news reports about Georgia withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test development consortium. The new tests being developed by PARCC were far too expensive for our already cash-strapped schools and put us in danger of losing control over how we test students in Georgia. Some have asked if this is a retreat from our standards or from a rigorous test to measure how well our students are performing and the answer to that is: absolutely not. Georgia will pursue other options for developing its own state assessments in English language arts and math at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I couldn’t in good conscience ask taxpayers to add about $26 million to our state testing budget while we still have two-thirds of our schools in session less than 180 days, entire school districts facing financial insolvency and teachers still being furloughed. To accept the additional financial burden from the PARCC assessments would be a slap in the face to all Georgians.
Withdrawing from PARCC is not a suspension of the implementation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards in language arts and math. We will continue to use CCGPS as long as it works for our children. If we need to revise those standards, we’ll do just that.
To our parents, thank you for your engagement in our schools. Please continue looking for ways to be involved in your child’s education, because our schools won’t be successful without your help. You all make the difference between a good school and a great school.
To our educators, your dedication to our children is extraordinary. Thank you for making education work for every child in Georgia, even in the face of less-than-ideal financial circumstances. Thank you for working long hours over the summer to help us tweak our lesson frameworks in math and English language arts and for attending hours of professional development to ensure you are ready for your students this fall.
Have a great year, everyone!
John Barge is Georgia’s superintendent of schools.