Bates Mattison

What do great schools mean to our community?

Shortly after I was elected to Brookhaven City Council, my friend Glenn Delk shared with me some startling statistics. An April 2013 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed where U.S. middle class-students rank globally: trailing 24 countries in math, and 15 countries in science.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put’s Georgia’s proficiency level at 25 percent or lower on the four major subjects. According to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Georgia public schools achieve a 59 percent high school graduation rate of rising ninth graders, of which only 22 percent are ready for college without needing remediation. Gov. Nathan Deal has stated that in order to remain economically competitive, 60 percent of our students must achieve two- or four-year degrees by 2018, yet we’re currently at 9 percent.

It’s time to start thinking outside the box about education.

The obvious questions are: What’s the solution? Do we need to invest more in education? Are parental involvement, socio-economic factors, or curriculum the determinants in student success?

First, let’s look at the money. Georgia currently invests $17 billion annually on K-12 education, having more than doubled per pupil spending since 1950, adjusted for inflation. In 2014, DeKalb County is projected to spend around $8,000 per pupil.

Is this enough?

Let’s look at an example of a charter school in San Diego called High Tech High (HTH), founded in 2000 with just 200 high school students. Last year, the HTH system, which has grown to a network of 12 schools serving 4,700 students, has 90 percent of ninth grade students achieving graduation, and 100 percent acceptance of graduates to college (80 percent to four-year institutions). Over 35 percent of HTH students are first-generation college students, meaning they’re achieving these results within a diverse, socio-economic environment.

Here’s the best part – they’re achieving these results on $7,500 per pupil. HTH is just one example of schools able to achieve dramatic results, but schools such as KIPP Academy in Washington, D.C., and BASIS Schools in Arizona have achieved similar results with a diverse student population and similar funding.

Our schools are becoming inundated with standardized testing. We have the state tests, IOWA tests, CoGAT, PSAT, SAT, and now Common Core. In many instances, teaching in the classroom stops for up to a week while tests are administered.

I believe testing is important, but let’s choose one or two, and make them international, competitive tests. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administers a test which allows high schools to benchmark itself against the world’s best schools (www.americaachieves.org).

Our children are competing for jobs in an increasingly international world, so let’s start competing on the same playing field before it’s too late. As Thomas Friedman said in The New York Times, “The truth is, America has world-beating K-12 schools. We just don’t have nearly enough.”

If some schools can achieve better results than others with similar resources and population, then how do we replicate the success? In my opinion, it’s all about local control and good management.

Businesses succeed because they’re well managed, focus on the needs of the customer, and deliver the best value – and schools are no different. Successful schools are led by strong local management, which empowers teachers to teach to the needs of the student population they serve.

The culture of success invites parental involvement and community “buy-in.” If the parents and members of the community see results, then the community is willing to invest in the schools through capital campaigns for facility and teaching improvements.

The success of our schools creates a dramatic economic impact on our city. Better schools create higher property values – creating a higher tax digest for infrastructure improvements – and attracting employers that create jobs for our citizens.

We have an opportunity to demand greater accountability in our public schools.

Describing his 2011 presentation to the Metro Atlanta Chamber, IBM’s Stan Litow suggested: “Create public-private partnerships to tackle big problems. Neither the public nor private sectors can overcome our current challenges by acting alone. Furthermore, cities cannot successfully attract and create jobs without coordinating education and economic development. But public-private partnerships can enable the creation and execution of targeted strategies that connect education to employment, and improve other areas of urban life.”

Bates Mattision represents District 3 on Brookhaven City Council.