Education gap looms, will affect Georgia jobs

It will take help from parents, educators and an area’s business community to close the state’s educational achievement gap, according to speakers Wednesday at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Critical Issues Forum.

The gap is the measured difference between the average Georgian’s educational level and the level that employers need for workers. Georgia is lagging. To support its economic development and growth, the state must produce 250,000 more graduates by 2020 than it is on schedule to, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The state’s rapidly changing demographics — including population increases and diversity shifts — are largely responsible for education challenges. According to Mike Carnathan, a researcher for the commission, many factors contribute to educational disparities, including:

• income

• family stability

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• economy

• population segregation

“That has a very very strong relationship with how children do inside the classroom,” Carnathan said of the socioeconomic factors.

Relationships to bridge educational gaps are growing between schools, business and government.

Philip Lanoue, superintendent of Clarke County Schools, said about 84 percent of his 13,000 students receive free or reduced-rate meals, and the state Department of Family and Children Services gets twice as many calls about children than average. In 2004, the district’s graduation rate was 40 percent.

“We’ve been taking a comprehensive look at the community,” Lanoue said. “We’ve got to fix it.”

Plans are under way to ensure every student in the district has had time to visit nearby University of Georgia, since many have never seen an institution of higher learning at all.

“We have to take kids to a place they didn’t think they could be,” he said.

Laurie Murrah-Hanson, coordinator for the Great Promise Partnership, which works with local businesses to expose students to careers, said about 30 students are working at businesses across the state to help prepare them for future jobs.

Art Dunning, interim president at Albany State University, said the differences of what he saw while living in more affluent Gwinnett County versus Dougherty County in south Georgia are glaring. He sees an advantage in collaboration in his area between his university, the local technology school and the county school district.

“We have to have all these units working together,” he said of potential relationships between k-12 school districts, colleges, tech schools and area businesses. “The biggest issue is how to address it in rural Georgia.”

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