As we prepare to enter 2012, what are the issues to resolve in educating all students to their capacity and utilize public education to advance the productivity of Gwinnett County, Georgia, and our nation?
One of the first issues to resolve is developing a standard measure of graduation rates state by state, regionally, and nationally. Why is this of such importance? Students who earn high school diplomas increase their options for employment in the global workforce. Dropping out before graduation reduces workforce opportunities.
In 2005, the nation’s 50 governors signed a compact that by 2011 all states would use the same definition of “graduation rate” and have robust data systems that replace estimates of ninth grade enrollment with actual counts.
Having standard measures allows accurate counts of four-years graduates, GED recipients, other completers, dropouts, and students still enrolled for a fifth year. Having graduation rates comparable across districts, states, and the nation helps identify potential dropouts and ensure that students stay to graduate and compete in the global workforce.
Another issue to resolve is closing two achievement gaps in public education. The first is the gap between the lowest and highest-performing students. Much of the work of the past decade addressed closing this gap. Reauthorization of the Elementary/Secondary Education Act of 1965, updated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, addresses this gap.
Of equal importance is closing the global achievement gap between U.S. students – even our top performing students and their international competitor peers. As we enter 2012, demand is placed on student mastery of 21st Century high-skill, high-wage service economies. Among these are critical thinking, problem solving, and other cognitive skills. The work of this second decade will focus on developing students’ skills to survive in economies that are technologically driven.
According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, demographic changes challenge the two achievement gaps. In 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that the U.S. population will be older and more diverse by the middle of the 21st Century. It also projected that minorities will comprise the majority of the nation’s population by 2042, with children expected to be 62% percent minority by 2050, up from 44% in 2009.
According to the Southern Regional Education Board, the 16 states of its region will account for most of the nation’s overall population growth between 2010-2020 – an increase of 13.1 million. SREB predicts that much of the growth will be among minorities who traditionally have been the least likely to attend and graduate from college. During this same period, Georgia’s population is projected to grow by 915,900, or 9 percent.
Another issue to resolve is forging links between K-12 education and higher education. Increased diversity in K-12 education will be reflected in college and university enrollments in 2010-2020. Programs such as middle and high school college preparatory programs, pipeline programs, and early admission will advance the links between K-12 and higher education.
Reduced state resources in 2010-2020 for K-12 and higher education may result in increased K-16 options such as three-year baccalaureate programs, elimination of the 12th grade in favor of Joint Enrollment or other options, and expanded summer school programs.
The decade ahead may be the “New Normal,” a time for our community to prepare students for success in 21st Century global workforce and a time when accountability, creativity, and innovation will be watchwords for advancing the productivity of Gwinnett County, the State of Georgia, and our nation.
About this column: Mary Kay Murphy, Ph.D., is the Gwinnett County Board of Education District III member representing Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake, Norcross, Duluth and parts of Peachtree Ridge. She served as board chair in 2010, 2004, and 2000.