Let’s Get Honest About Public Education in Georgia
by Cathy Henson
The chief executive of Delta airlines Richard Anderson was recently quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution explaining why many of the Northwest Airline employees relocating to Georgia from Minnesota will look for private schools for their children: “I think the high school graduation rates and the quality of the graduates that we have coming out of the schools in Georgia need to be a lot higher.”
Mr. Anderson succinctly summarized our problems in education: too few students are graduating from high school, and those who do are inadequately prepared for what comes next. The public in general and parents in particular are often very confused by the conflicting reports they hear about the quality of public education in Georgia. Like everything else, numbers are subject to “spin” and whoever is putting forth the data often has an agenda to promote. Unfortunately, this seldom improves the underlying problems.
Let’s start with Mr. Anderson’s first point – the quantity of graduates. How many students are graduating from high school each year? One would think this question would be relatively easy to answer – not so. Every state uses a different calculation to determine its graduation rate. Georgia’s official graduation rate published by the Governor’s Office and the Department of Education is 75 percent. It is difficult if not impossible to figure out how that percentage is reached if one actually looks at the numbers:
One way of calculating a graduation rate is the cohort method: compare the number of graduates (83,516) to the number of 9th graders four years earlier (142,079). Using this method, the graduation rate for 2008 would be 59 percent, sixteen points below the official average published by the state of Georgia.
The National Governors Association recently adopted a graduation rate calculation that uses a three-year average enrollment for grades 8-10 and compares it to the number of graduates. Using this formula, Georgia’s graduation rate is 65 percent, ten points below the official average published by the state of Georgia. Nationally, Georgia ranks in the bottom five states for high school completion.
Now for Mr. Anderson’s second point – the quality of graduates. It is difficult to get folks to agree on measures of quality, but the old standby, the SAT, is probably the best indicator we have. Why? First, because of what it measures – how well a student is prepared for college. Not that all students plan to attend college after completing high school, but it is a measure of academic preparation. Second, because it is a national assessment that students across the United States take, rather than a home-grown, potentially dumbed down Georgia test only taken by students in Georgia’s public schools.
How do Georgia students do on the SAT? Not particularly well – Georgia has ranked in the bottom five nationally since the results have been reported. Occasionally, Georgia ranks dead last and a public relations nightmare ensues. (What happened to “Thank God for Mississippi?”) But seriously, there is little qualitative difference between 50th and 47th, our current position in 2008.
Before examining what Georgia’s SAT scores reveal, we need to examine the common excuse for our poor performance – that too many students take the SAT. Georgia does have one of the highest participation rates, but even compared to other states with similarly high participation rates, Georgia ranks next to last in performance. (Maine, which now requires 100 percent of its students to take the SAT, ranks last.) And if we compare the number of SAT takers in Georgia (51,591) to the number of 2008 high school graduates with a college preparatory diploma (62,950), one could argue that not enough students are taking the SAT. After all, shouldn’t the college preparatory diploma in high school be preparing students for college?
That is what the SAT results are telling us – even our high school graduates with college preparatory diplomas are not adequately prepared. This point was driven home by the AJC’s recent front page article on the increasing number of incoming college freshman who require remedial work.
So where does that leaves us? With too few adequately prepared students. For college, for work, for life. Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for being honest.
(c) 2007, 2008 Georgia School Council Institute. All rights reserved. Text materials
on this site may be
reproduced or reprinted for non-commercial purposes, provided that the source is cited.