Friday, November 4, 2011

Former Education Secretary Urges Business Community to Spearhead Education Reform

(From L-R) Former Education Secretary Rod Paige, CEG
Director Jerri Nims Rooker, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
ATLANTA - Former Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday joined local and national education experts at an event which engaged business leaders in expanding educational options for Peach State families, highlighting the importance of improving education for Georgia’s economic future.

The event, titled “ROI: Education is Your Business,” was sponsored by the American Federation for Children, the Center for an Educated Georgia at Georgia Family Council, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It featured remarks by Governor Nathan Deal and a strategy session hosted by and featuring prominent business leaders discussing education reform.

Paige urged attendees, which included several state legislators, to make education a primary focus of the Georgia business community. He cited lagging achievement statistics and a growing gap among demographic groups as hurdles to recruiting businesses and an educated, skilled workforce.

“No society can long survive, no culture can long flourish, no economy can long prosper, when it leaves behind as many children to poverty and ignorance as we are doing now in this great country," Paige said. "We simply must muster up the courage to face the brutal fact that how our education system is working is not working.”

Focusing on education in Georgia, Paige said the state’s large achievement gap between blacks and whites was equivalent to two grade levels.

"It is even below the national graduation rate," he said. "And like the rest of our nation, there is a 25-point difference between the performance of our African-American students and their Anglo peers. We have a problem.”

Paige, who served as Secretary of Education during President George W. Bush’s first term, said that that the keys to increasing Georgia’s economic standing are changing what does not work in our current public education system and allowing educational innovation through expanded education options for those who need them  most.

He stressed that education innovation includes protecting the state’s ability to create charter schools, which has been threatened by the recent state Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. This ruling makes it much more difficult to create charter schools in the state and threatens access to expanded educational options for low-income and minority families.

Governor Deal, who has expressed his support for a constitutional amendment protecting the state’s ability to provide educational options for students and is a strong supporter of Georgia’s special needs and tax credit scholarship programs, highlighted some of the ongoing education initiatives in the state, pledging his ongoing commitment to school choice.

“In our college and technical school systems, we are spending a tremendous amount of money on remediation," Deal said. "We need to shift our point of emphasis, and in the budget I present to the General Assembly this year, you will see that we are going to put a greater emphasis on the early years of learning.”

Jerri Nims Rooker, Director of the Center for an Educated Georgia, concluded the program by facilitating an interactive strategy session with the business leaders in attendance. Among the proposals was more significant corporate involvement in advocating for substantive and major education reforms and options. CEG plans to release a report to the broader business community summarizing key initiatives from the strategy session.

“We are in an age where we need big ideas, and we need [people] who are willing to lift their voices trying to make those big ideas come to pass,” Deal said.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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