You might not think education goes hand in hand with the state and local economy, but it turns out they have a lot to do with each other.
Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE), talked about the economics of education during the Second Annual Media Symposium in Atlanta on Wed., Jan. 23.
Dolinger said Georgia students are improving in proficiency levels, but not quickly enough.
"Our current Superintendent Kathy Cox has the procedures in place to help take us ahead by some leaps and bounds," he said. "While Georgia high school graduation rates have steadily increased over the last four years, 30,000 kids each year are not graduating on time. We still have more work to do."
While state numbers have been increasing, Bryan County’s have been rising even faster.
From 2002 to 2007, Bryan County’s graduation rates increased by 17.7 percent, a jump from 64 to 82 percent in five years.
When those results came out from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement this past fall, Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer said the county was one of 18 systems that scored a high graduation completion rate in the state.
"We look at the graduation rate as a good measure of the dropout rate, based on how much our graduation rate has increased," Brewer said. "I think the chief indicator for the quality of life in a community is the quality of the public school system."
Brewer explained the success of a school system being like a domino effect for the community, having beneficial impacts on the local housing market, local businesses, and so on.
"People do not flock to a place that is not good for their children," she said.
But state-wide, Dolinger said current non-graduate levels can have a significant economic impact. GSU did a study in April 2007 that took a look at just that.
The study broke the state up into 12 regions and looked at how much each region could benefit from income being given up by Georgians who don’t finish high school. Bryan County’s region, which included eight other counties, would have an additional $1.1 billion dollars worth of income and, overall, the state would have an additional $18 billion to work with.
Other impacts of high school non-completion include less community involvement; higher public service costs, due to higher rates of teen pregnancy and single motherhood; and reduced buying power, tax revenue and economic growth, as those without a diploma have lower lifetime earnings, among others.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor said projections through 2014 show nearly 65 percent of the estimated 19 million new jobs nationwide will likely be filled by workers with at least some post-secondary education.
On the other side of the problem, Dolinger said teachers need encouragement to stay in school, too.
"The other dropouts in the state of Georgia are teachers," he said.
After one year of teaching, an estimated 14 percent of new teachers will drop out and after five years, 46 percent will be gone, according to the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy in 2003.
"That’s almost as bad as our student dropouts," Dolinger said.
But Bryan County is surpassing those numbers, too.
Brewer said the district doesn’t have to start from scratch each year. In fact, she said 91 percent of the certified staff from last year stayed in the district. On average, Brewer said they add one new teacher each year per grade at the elementary level for Richmond Hill. On the high school level, one per discipline is hired each year.
"We treat all people who are new to Bryan County in the same way," she explained. "We have a two day orientation before school starts…(and) every new teacher gets a buddy, who is an experienced staff member, to help them in case they have any questions as they begin working."
Dolinger said the way to improve high school graduation rates is to improve early life experiences, academic achievement from kindergarten to 12th grade, and teaching quality. To help with those improvements, he said the state needs to really work to provide leadership training and a clear accountability system.
Brewer said Bryan County is already on track, for two main reasons.
"The first is that the board gives the district the resources it needs. The teachers have everything they need and they don’t have to purchase anything out of their own pockets, and that’s been the case for many years," she said. "The second is the quality of our staff. The staff is attracted to Bryan County because of the resources available and because it’s a safe place to be. Teachers know if they enforce handbook rules, the principals will also, and I will as well. We go through our rules consistently."