Perspectives on Georgia’s High Schools

on Mar 01, 2006 in High School Improvement, State Policy, Systems Change by
A report on the Regional Focus Groups on High School Redesign and the Work of the High School Redesign Advisory Panel. Prepared for the Georgia Department of Education School Improvement Division.

Educators and the public in Georgia share a growing concern about the capabilities of the public education system going forward into the 21st century. Despite our best efforts, changing demographics, economic realities, and challenges to democracy put pressure on the system as a whole to improve. The good news is that much is being done to assess the current and future needs of students and to adjust or redesign our education systems accordingly. Over the past several years, the nationwide emphasis on early literacy and standards-based education reform opened the doors for improved student results. While many of these efforts are paying off in the early grades, improvements have not yet taken hold at the high school level nationwide or in Georgia. Rather than attempt to make incremental improvements to a system that is widely recognized as needing large-scale reform, the Georgia Department of Education has approached the challenge to improve student performance as an opportunity to redesign its high schools at the levels of both student and system outcomes. Initially, the Department endeavored to provide answers to three broad questions:

  • How do we create a sense of urgency and action in the high schools across the state in a way that motivates redesign and leads to improved student achievement?
  • How can the Georgia Department of Education align resources to affect high school improvement?
  • How can the School Improvement Division collaborate across the Division and the Department as a whole to help align inter- and intra-agency work to improve high school?

With these questions in mind, the Georgia Department of Education directed substantial resources to support secondary school improvement. In late 2004, the Department created the position of Coordinator of High School Improvement. It also directed a majority of its federal Comprehensive School Reform grants to high schools and middle schools. With the Board of Regents, the Department launched Education Go Get It in February, 2005, which is a program to encourage Georgia’s youth to embrace education in high school and beyond. Once these programs were in place, the Department began to plan the first steps toward its much larger goal of comprehensive high school evaluation and redesign.

In April 2005, the Department convened an Advisory Panel on High School Redesign, comprising leaders of statewide education associations, Department staff, and community partners. The Advisory Panel helped conceptualize the focus groups as forums for public engagement and information gathering. In August and September of 2005, the Georgia Department of Education organized a series of high school redesign focus groups, hosted by the Regional Education Service Agencies, with the purpose of identifying core areas for focus in Georgia’s effort to lead the nation in improving student achievement. The Department contracted West Wind Education Policy, Inc., an independent entity based in Iowa City, Iowa, and with no ties to the state of Georgia, to conduct the regional High School Redesign Focus Groups.

After collecting and analyzing focus group results, analysts at West Wind developed a series of recommendations based on those data. The Advisory Panel was again convened in December 2005 to review the findings and draft recommendations and again provide their input. The result is this report. It is hoped that the Department will use this resource as it develops a vision and state action plan for the redesign of high schools toward the goal of leading the nation in preparing high school students for education beyond high school and for their chosen fields of work.

Continue reading by downloading the full report (PDF).

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