Opinion: Collaborative effort needed to improve region’s schools and future


Across metro Atlanta, the statistics are sobering. Just 40 percent of third-grade students in the region are reading at grade level. Even fewer eighth-grade students – 38 percent – are meeting state math standards.

And consider that for every 100 students who enter ninth grade, only 37 enroll in a second year of college or other post-secondary institution. The distressing question: What happens to the missing 63?

The answer for too many is they enter adulthood with an insufficient education, limited skills, and few options for building their own and the region’s economic prosperity.

Our school systems are full of committed, dynamic educators, but they face a regional challenge that requires a regional response. That’s why our two school systems have joined six other metro Atlanta districts and an array of leading businesses and nonprofits to form a partnership called Learn4Life.

This effort is regional in scope. It includes the school districts in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties, and the city districts of Atlanta, Decatur, and Marietta, serving 600,000 students in all. Four leading civic institutions also play a foundational role: Atlanta Regional Commission, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Metro Atlanta Chamber, and United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Learn4Life aims to build a sustained, action-oriented agenda to improve education outcomes and workforce readiness. In order to focus our community’s collective energy we need a common set of measures.

We have identified six research-based indicators to assess cradle-to-career education success as a region: kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency, high school graduation rate, post-secondary enrollment, and post-secondary completion. These indicators are a subset of the United Way’s comprehensive Child Well-Being Index.

Our first benchmark report, issued a few weeks ago, showed just how far we have to go.

Learn4Life convenes community leaders, education experts, parents, and practitioners into teams we call Action Networks that take deep dives into each indicator.

The goal is to identify “bright spots” – strategies that are producing real, measurable progress in our region. We’ll then provide funding and other resources to help scale these proven ideas so they can be shared across the metro area. We are starting with third-grade reading.

We know this kind of approach works. Some 70 communities across the country are following this model with success. For example, metro Cincinnati has been at this work for about a decade and has seen consistent improvement in outcomes. The region came together to build on that success and pass a levy to significantly expand access to preschool and strengthen the pre-K-12 public school system. In the Dallas region, third-grade reading performance increased after the community invested in teacher retention, among other strategies.

Gains in education are happening every day, in every corner of our region. But it will take sustained, aligned focus to lift all students. There are no quick fixes.

Indeed, ensuring the success of Learn4Life requires active engagement and financial commitment from our region’s business and civic community. A prosperous, vital metro Atlanta is our collective responsibility.

Meria Carstarphen is superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. J. Alvin Wilbanks is the CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools. For more information about Learn4Life, please visit L4LMetroAtlanta.org.



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