Fellowship Friday: An Evening Under the Stars Boosts STEM Learning


This week the Atlanta Science Festival offered a variety of events scattered across the city to indulge the curiosity of students young and old. As a self-admitted nerd, I was delighted to attend an event last night with the company of my 9 year old brother.

Prompted by his 3rd grade studies of space, my brother and I took full advantage of the festival by attending an open house at Agnes Scott College’s Bradley Observatory. The evening was hosted by the Astronomy Department, and visitors were able to learn about moon phases, view a planetarium show (my favorite part!), and tour the telescope tower amongst other science activities.

As we worked our way through the activity stations, I was thrilled to see my brother enhance his knowledge of the cosmos through such a fun community-based event. It is not every day that a student gets to engage professionals who work in unique areas such as astronomy. My brother really seemed to benefit from the opportunity to ask the professors as many questions as he could. Likewise, conversations with the undergraduate tour guides were a highlight for me. Hearing one student’s aspiration to work for NASA and another student’s study of life in space, I secretly hoped this experience planted a seed of interest in my brother.

Beyond looking through a telescope, my evening at the observatory emphasized the continuing need to spark interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In the context of the College and Career Pathways initiative, this is particularly vital as America’s economy becomes more rooted in technical and specialized industries. Events such the Atlanta Science Festival are incredibly important as they not only offer early exposure to the careers of the future, but also facilitate partnerships that benefit schools, businesses, and families alike.

(If you would like to take part in Atlanta Science Week yourself, don’t miss Exploration Expo at the Georgia World Congress Center!)

Courtesy of Georgia Public Policy Foundation — Eric Cochling, Kyle Wingfield Dissect 2014 General Assembly

This week GCO’s Eric Cochling spoke at a “2014 Legislative Roundup” event hosted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, their summary is included below:

Good enough on some levels but not good enough across-the-board.

That was their analysis of the 2014 General Assembly from Eric Cochling and Kyle Wingfield at our sold-out policy breakfast on Wednesday, March 26.  Cochling is vice president of public policy at the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Wingfield is the conservative voice on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial pages.

“You saw a lot of excitement about certain ideas whether it was welfare reform or new school choice concepts coming through that made it through a chamber with vast majorities voting in favor of it but then it goes on to die in the other chamber,” Cochling said.  “I would characterize the session as some positive things happened but many missed opportunities for a truly conservative policy movement forward.”

“Thirty-seven constitutional amendments were introduced and two will be on the ballot this fall,” Wingfield said.  “Several would have been very good and would represent great progress for Georgia.  They are not going to be there and the prospects of getting them on the ballot I would argue will only get worse in future years.”

Issues discussed in this YouTube video include criminal justice reform, federal balanced budget constitutional amendment initiatives, child welfare and foster care, transportation investment, tax credit scholarships and school choice, state income tax and pension reform, and Medicaid expansion and improved access to health care for all Georgians.

This content is courtesy of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and can be seen in its original form HERE.

Fellowship Friday: The Power of a Parent’s Words


As I enter into this new season of parenthood, I have a mixed bag of emotions. Mostly excitement and anticipation, to be sure, but also the sobering realization that my wife and I are about to be responsible for the life of another human being. The reality of this awesome responsibility is scary for a first time parent, yet at the same time, it’s a gift and privilege that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’ve been reflecting some on the sort of father that I would like to be to my son: What values will I instill in him? How can I help him to discover his gifts and passions? How can I best prepare him for his future?

In the process of contemplating my parenting aspirations, I came across a very interesting study cited in the book Whatever it Takes, by Paul Tough, which simplified matters a bit for me. The study – which addresses the impact that parental interaction can have in the cognitive development of a child – was conducted in the early 1980’s by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists from the University of Kansas. Through the course of their research, the two spent over two years visiting a sample of forty-two families in Kansas City with newborn infants of various races and economic backgrounds. During their time with the families, Hart and Risley recorded their conversations and observed interaction between parents and their children. Afterward, they transcribed the recordings and analyzed each child’s rate of language acquisition and parent’s communication style.

The results that they found from their research were staggering: By age three, the children of professional parents had vocabularies of about 1,100 words, and the children of parents on welfare had vocabularies of about 525 words. The children’s IQs correlated closely to their vocabularies, as the average IQ among the professional children was 117, while the welfare children had an average IQ of 79.

What caused such a sharp disparity in the learned vocabulary of children born to professional parents as opposed to those born to parents receiving welfare? The answer turned out to be quite simple:

The more parents spoke to their child, the more the child’s vocabulary developed.

Hart and Risley concluded that strong correlations existed between the amount and kind of language that children heard in infancy and its impact upon their IQs and abilities later in childhood. This factor seemed to matter more than socioeconomic status, race, or any other variable they measured.[i]

After reading this study and thinking about its implications, I felt a little relieved. Something as simple as interacting with my child more and speaking plenty of words to him on a daily basis can have a profound impact on his vocabulary development, IQ, and abilities later in childhood. This was good news to me! Talking to my child is not a practice that seems overly complex or impossible to do. It simply requires time, effort and intentionality.

As I embark on this new journey of fatherhood and continue to contemplate how I can be a good father – besides changing diapers and wiping up spilled milk – I hope to put into practice this simple yet profound practice of speaking words to my child. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but based upon this research the words I speak to my future child could have immeasurable value.

[i] Paul Tough, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 41-43.

*A summary of the Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley study concerning the impact of parents’ words on children’s development can be read in Chapter 2 of Whatever It Takes titled “Unequal Childhoods.”


Focusing on Career Readiness in Georgia

Below is a guest blog by Dr. Eric Wearne of Georgia Gwinnett College and formerly with the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Dr. Wearne currently leads GCO’s College & Career Pathways working group.



Over the past several months, the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s College and Career Readiness working group has focused on big-picture concepts relating to “college readiness”. Presentations by administrators from Georgia Gwinnett College, as well as from the Foundation for Educational Success, which creates and administers programs on non-cognitive variables, have helped shape our discussion so far.

Most recently, the working group turned its focus towards “career readiness” issues. Early on in the group’s work, panelists supported the ideas coming from Mike Rowe’s foundation, and his theory that American education has not been serving great numbers of American students:

“A trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. Three million good jobs that no one seems to want. The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degrees the only path to success.”

To continue its research in this area, this month the panelists heard from both state-level and national experts on various needs and approaches specific to Georgia.

Matthew Gambill, Executive Director of the Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education, spoke to the group and answered questions.  The idea of considering CTAE courses as academic credits; the need for more (and more well-supported) career academies across the state; and the idea of trying new advisement approaches to strengthen school counselors’ relationships with individual  students were all topics of conversation.

The group also heard from Bob Lerman of the Urban Institute and American University.  Dr. Lerman has spoken on MSNBC about the need for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., and is a founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship.

Dr. Lerman talked about the relative strength of apprenticeships in Georgia compared to other states, noting the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program.  He also argues that the Common Core State Standards, because of their one-size-fits-all approach, especially in high school, set up the possibility, or even the probability, of crowding out career-based programs with their focus on college readiness.  Ultimately, while Georgia is actually doing some work to promote education and training for careers, Dr. Lerman felt that some opportunities exist in the state for improvements, including getting local businesses more involved in the process of partnering with schools and setting up apprenticeships; keeping the standards for entry into apprenticeship programs high (as a point of comparison, Teach for America, which is rapidly growing and has a good reputation among academically strong students, has a very high bar for entry); and making sure students are getting good counseling, especially in 9th and 10th grades.

Both speakers independently echoed some of the ideas the working group has been hearing in the context of college readiness – that individual relationships with students matter; that students are seeking more and more specific choices and options in their educational careers; and that big, sweeping programs intended to solve every problem for everyone of Georgia’s nearly 2 million students might just be too big.


Fellowship Friday: Georgia Justice Project’s “Enhance the Chance” Lobby Day at the Capitol

Yesterday, Georgia Justice Project (GJP) hosted a lobby day at the Capitol which aimed to “enhance the chance” for Georgians with a criminal record to find employment. Concerned advocates traveled from as far as far as Albany to the State Capitol to voice their support for SB 365, a bill which captures a number of recommendations made by the Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform to increase employment opportunities for ex-offenders (read the report here).


Before the 125+ advocates who attended the GJP’s Lobby Day met with legislators, the team at GJP provided a brief run-down of what the bill says, how the legislative process works, and what to say when talking with one’s legislator. Information packets were handed out explaining the nuts and bolts of SB 365, making it as easy as possible for participants to advocate for the recommendations made in the bill.

It a nutshell, SB 365 makes three important reforms that will assist ex-offenders in obtaining employment: (1) It mandates that private background check agencies update their criminal history information on a monthly basis and permanently delete any records that have been restricted or of persons who have been exonerated (absolved from guilt); (2) It protects employers from being accused of negligent hiring if they hire ex-offenders who have received a Program and Treatment Completion Certificate or a pardon; (3) It gives judges discretion in determining whether an offender’s license should be suspended or not for a non-driving-related drug offense.

After the brief orientation, advocates headed to the House Chamber to speak with their representatives. Staff at GJP and other volunteers instructed advocates on how to page their legislator at the ropes outside of the chamber in order to speak with them.

I had the chance to speak with Rep. Tom Rice (R-95) from Norcross about SB 365. Rep. Rice spoke in favor of the bill and mentioned that he has seen virtually no opposition to it in the House. His remarks confirm what we saw in the Senate last Thursday, February 26, as the bill passed unanimously with a vote of 53-0. The bipartisan support for this bill is strong as both parties acknowledge the importance of removing unnecessary obstacles to employment for those who carry a criminal record.

GJP’s Lobby Day at the Capitol finished as Executive Director Jay Neal of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry addressed the group of advocates who participated in the effort. He expressed his appreciation for people coming out to voice their support for reforms that will improve the lives of those who carry a criminal record. Neal, who is passionate about this issue, shared with the group the effort that the Governor’s Office is putting forth to improve the reentry strategy in communities across the state. He mentioned that Georgia has done in four months what it took Michigan to do in two years – a state that is largely regarded as a national leader in recidivism reduction. Georgia has been to do this because of the broad support these reforms have received from the top-down.

Neal shared with the group that nine years ago the state had 64,000 people in prison or in jail. Today, this population has been reduced to 55,000 people – a savings of nearly $190 million to the state (the average cost of incarcerating a person in Georgia is $21,039 per year). Furthermore, of the 9,000 people released over this time period, 1,000 people were released in just the past month. The majority of these releases are low-level, non-violent offenders who are better-off receiving treatment under community supervision than within prison. These reductions allow the state to reserve expensive prison beds for offenders who pose the greatest threat to public safety.

Much of the success that the state has experienced in reducing prison costs and increasing public safety has taken place through recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Reform Council during the past three years. The council’s recommendations have served as a powerful guide for realigning Georgia’s criminal justice system with evidence-based practices nationwide.

As statewide collaboration continues to take place from the Governor’s office to local community service providers, there is good reason to believe that Georgia will continue to see positive outcomes in offender reentry in the coming years.