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August 7, 2017

Student-centered reforms give each child a shot at success

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With summer coming to an end and our kids going back to school, it’s time for Georgia’s families to think about student-centered reforms that can improve educational outcomes across Georgia.

Education is the great equalizer. I grew up with a single mom – in a trailer park – and attended eight different elementary schools by the time I reached the sixth grade. My upbringing was not the traditional route to success, but because of my mom’s dedication, my public school education, and a lot of hard work, I had opportunities that led to a great career.

In Georgia, there are a lot of students who live in circumstances similar to those that I grew up in. Unfortunately, about 25 percent of our children live in poverty – and in 40 counties, that figure rises to 40 percent.

Many of our schools are offering their students brilliant educations and are serving as the catalysts that convert potential into true achievement. However, we cannot ignore the fact that many school systems in our state need improvement. We must strive for improvement until every Georgia child has a legitimate shot at attaining the American Dream.

As lieutenant governor, I have challenged the status quo of our education system. I led the effort to create Charter Systems – entire systems with total freedom, flexibility, and choice – to give local control to our communities, schools, principals and teachers. Charter systems outperform traditional schools in nearly every metric, and we now have almost 30 percent of Georgia’s students enrolled in Charter Systems.

I also led to establish Georgia’s College and Career Academy Network so that we could provide choices for students to develop hands-on knowledge, skills and experience while connecting our schools to the needs of industries and their communities. Our College and Career Academy Network has grown to more than 20,000 students who are on track to graduate with a high school diploma, industry certification or associate degree. This is huge: For a typical student, earning an industry certification or associate degree will double their annual income.

My life has benefited greatly from public education, and we must continue to reform our schools until every student succeeds.

No longer can our education system be transfixed on generic averages at the expense of individual student performance. The average of 11 and 9 is 10 – but so is the average of 1 and 19.

The only way to shift our focus to individual student achievement in public schools is by restoring a human element to education and giving independent governance authority to principals, teachers and each school’s leadership.

Ultimately, my vision for public education relies on empowering school districts through local control. It is imperative that we implement reforms to give principals control of their schools and teachers control of their classrooms. We will eliminate the counter-productive mandates of standardized tests and utilize individualized learning plans to truly meet the needs of each student. And importantly, we will slash the ridiculous paperwork that overburdens our overworked educators.

I know how – as governor of Georgia – I will lead our state to offer all students access to a world class education, because as lieutenant governor I have led on our state’s most innovative education reforms. I know that I want endless opportunity for my granddaughter Everett Grace and my grandson who is due next week, and I know that every Georgian reading this wants the same for their families.