Here is a pro piece in favor of the charter schools amendment by Atlanta educator Tyler S. Thigpen.
Thigpen is Head of Upper School at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs. A former teacher in Gwinnett County, Thigpen is co-founder of the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School of SW Fulton and continues as a voluntary adviser to the school.
By Tyler S. Thigpen
Money and control are at the heart of the current debate about our state’s upcoming charter school vote, critics argue, while innovation, choice, and opportunity are king for amendment supporters. But there is another, and more urgent, narrative that should move us when we vote next week: We are in desperate need of stronger leadership and higher standards in Georgia k-12 education.
Let us create a statistical snapshot of 10 children who entered kindergarten in Atlanta this year. These darling children have since been sounding out letters, singing songs, and writing the alphabet. It does not take more than a classroom visit to see that that their minds are open, their futures bright.
But if nothing changes in our schools, then by the time these 10 kindergarteners are 18, only six of them will have graduated from high school. And by the time these same young people are 21 years old, only two of them will have graduated from college.
Ten kindergarteners. Six high school graduates. Two college graduates.
Statistics statewide are equally as dismal, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, with a mere 24 percent graduating from college.
That is, of course, if nothing changes.
What has been absent from the recent conversation about charter schools is that when the state-appointed Charter Schools Commission, in its day, authorized charter schools, in every instance the commission held its schools to a standard higher than the one to which their local district held neighboring schools.
When we applied for charter status for Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, we had to demonstrate our commitment and plan to outpace Fulton County Schools in absolute terms (that the percentage of our students scoring advanced or proficient on end-of-grade tests was greater than in other schools in FCS), in comparative terms (that we outperformed other FCS schools with similar demographic profiles), and in longitudinal terms (that the percentage score of individual students in our school increased over time at a rate greater than at other). Schools lacking either a similar plan or the expertise to execute did not make it past the first round.
The commission also has a track record of meaning what they say, having denied the reauthorization of underperforming charters like Imagine Marietta and West Chatham Preparatory Academy. Moreover, the commission was made up of uniquely qualified educational leaders, including a former University of Georgia president, who, unlike elected officials who navigate competing priorities, could be focused singularly on academic achievement.
Few to none would deny that what Georgia needs is 10-10-10. Ten kindergarteners. Ten high school graduates. Ten college graduates.
Every sector of our economy stands to benefit from achieving this goal. Business savvy college graduates will populate our state’s corporations. Well-trained administrators will fill our state’s public offices. Shrewd alumni will enter and positively shape finance, law, housing, and health.Georgia boasts the busiest airport in the world, the fourth busiest port in the United States, and, if Georgia were a stand-alone country, the 28th largest economy in the world. As a state, we are economically ambitious, yet we remain academically underperforming.
Within 10 years, more than 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree. Already, most new Atlanta jobs require higher education. And these jobs are quickly outpacing the number of college graduates that our state is producing.
In “Immunity To Change,” authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey suggest that at this moment in history, we are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own. To fix it, we can try and reduce the world’s complexity, or we can enhance our capacity to manage that complexity. The first won’t happen. The second, they argue, has long seemed an impossibility of adulthood and something too difficult to achieve in our schools.
But failing to prepare our children to navigate a 21st century marketplace is not a valid option. And 10-6-2 is absolutely unacceptable. We must confront complexity head on.
After the Georgia General Assembly established the Georgia Charter Commission in 2008, national leaders lauded our representatives for positioning the state to experience academic innovation and growth, and high-performing school leaders were drawn to Georgia where they have launched successful schools.
Charter schools are not a panacea. But they are a mechanism for change. And in a state where 10-6-2 is the reality, change is sorely needed. More school leaders in Georgia should be thinking about how to outperform neighboring schools and outdo their own growth year after year. And we need state leaders who demand it.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog