Letter Number One to Governor Deal and State School Superintendent Barge of Georgia

Dear Governor Deal and Superintendent Barge,

As sitting elected officials of Georgia, the next year will challenge each of you to think courageously about your views of K-12 education and the basis for your positions. Since you will be running against each other in the primary next year, you will have many opportunities to talk about your positions on topics such as charter schools, vouchers, the Common Core, high-stakes testing, using student test scores to evaluate teachers, and the “achievement gap.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 8.56.44 PMHere are some questions you might want to think about.

  • Why do you support charter schools when the research shows that public schools actually outperform charters?
  • Why do you think Georgia should continue using student achievement tests as the principle criteria to evaluate students and schools, as well as teachers?
  • You received a letter from GREATER, a consortium of Georgia university professors who believe the use of value added measures in teacher and leader evaluation will likely lead to negative educational, social, and emotional outcomes for Georgia’s children.  How did you react to the letter?  Do you agree with these Georgia professors?  Why?
  • What do you think caused the cheating scandal in Atlanta?  Do you think there is any connection between the cheating that was exposed in Atlanta and the obsession we have with high-stakes testing?  Why?
  • Did you know that Georgia’s Race to the Top project has contractual agreements with Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project in the amount of $7,839,994 or 11% of the total spent by RTT?  What do you think of this? Do think the state should pay these private firms a head hunters fee for Georgia school districts to hire inexperienced, non certified, and part-time teachers?  Do you know how teachers are prepared at Georgia State, the University of Georgia or any of the other colleges in the state?  How do they compare to TFA?

Julian Vasquez Heilig posted this quote on his website, Cloaking Inequity, and I think it is especially relevant here as you explain and debate the education policies that will guide education in Georgia starting in 2015.

Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular…but one must take it because it’s right.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Governor Deal and State Superintendent Barge, how will you act on the education issues that are facing the state of Georgia?  What is right for you?


Messing with Georgia’s Social Studies Curriculum

According to the Governor of Georgia, now is the time to write a new social studies curriculum. Why now? Well, Mr. Deal has signed on to the Common Core, but rumblings from his own political party, especially the right-wing Tea Party have caused him to possibly reconsider the Common Core. But why the social studies curriculum?

In my opinion, Deal’s order to review and possibly rewrite the social studies curriculum is probably more of a political move than one that has any remote connection to a scholarly examination of what is taught in history, political science, geography, economics, and other “subjects” of the social studies.

A committee has been formed of parents, politicians, business types, and some educators. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution article entitled Social Studies Review Political?, members expressed these high-powered concerns:

  • students aren’t taught enough about geography
  • they don’t learn much about civil engagement
  • they don’t learn how to balance a checkbook
  • how to respect the flag
  • students don’t have a clue about the founding, the history of our country
  • they should learn more about fiscal responsibility

If these are some of the real concerns expressed by committee members, they clearly have not read the Georgia Social Studies Standards.

Don’t be fooled by Deal and other Republicans who insist on a review of the standards.  Their goal is to politicize the content of the social studies, much in the same way that politicians inflicted right-wing propaganda into the Texas social studies curriculum in 2010.

Bill Moyers analyzed the Texas “review” of the social studies.  He said:

In 2010, the board got a lot of attention when it approved over 100 amendments — many of which had a very clear conservative political agenda — to the social studies and economics curriculum standards.

You can read his analysis here, but here are three to gain your attention:

  1. They removed Jefferson from a list of great Enlightenment philosophers — including John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau — who inspired political revolutions from the 1700s to today. They also removed the word “Enlightenment” and added Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. After much criticism, they added Jefferson back, but left out “Enlightenment” resulting in a standard very different from the original.
  2. In perhaps the most blatant political move, the board passed an amendment requiring U.S. history students to learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” but not about liberal or minority groups.
  3. The board approved a standard requiring students to learn about “any unintended consequences” of the Great Society, affirmative action and Title IX. Other attempts to change the way the civil rights movement was taught, including a provision that would require students learn that it created “unreasonable expectations for equal outcomes,” failed to pass.

Deal is opening the door to turning the curriculum into a political agenda, and not a scholarly pursuit of the nature of the social studies.  And, he is running for re-election, and realizes that he might have made a mistake endorsing the Common Core.  The review of social studies gives him an opportunity to gain the support of the Tea Party of Georgia who would endorse any of the analyses made by Moyers.

Deal also knows that his Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, has announced his intention of running against Deal in the Republican primary for Governor in 2014.

What do you think about the Governor messing with curriculum?

Georgia’s High-Stakes Plan Based on Erroneous Conclusions

“High-stakes plan could change teachers pay,” is the title of an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution paper. The article is a good review of the history behind why the state is going to move to “merit” pay, and how the Race to Top grant that Georgia won in 2010 provided the funds and a mandate to pay teachers on the basis of performance. But earlier this year, the Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, a Republican (who has announced he will run for governor in 2014 against Republican Nathan Deal), said that the merit plan will not be implemented in the 26 districts that are part of the Georgia’s RTT.

However, Marietta City and Fulton County Schools, who are part of the RTT, are charging ahead with a merit based plan, and have hired the same Boston company to help them spend their money.

Using merit pay plans, especially if they are tied to student achievement scores, are based on incorrect conclusions.

Student achievement scores on high-stakes examinations are the preferred strategy of paying teachers for performance, or service rendered to its employer. The idea here is that if students do well on achievement tests, then the teacher should be rewarded–more pay. On the other hand, if the kids don’t do so well on the tests, then what? Punish the teacher? Less pay?

In Marietta, Georgia, the Marietta Board of Education has announced that it will freeze teacher salaries, and “float” the idea among faculty and staff of the school district that it might be better if they were paid based on performance and not on experience and their education level.

Marietta and Fulton County teachers are in jeopardy because the plan that the school boards and superintendents want to put in place to decide teacher compensation will be based on unscientific and unreliable methods. I’ve reported horror stories describing how outstanding and experienced teachers received poor evaluations here, here, and  here.  The plan will use student achievement, and other methods as shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1.  There will be three pieces to the compensation plan for Georgia teachers, and the largest piece will be based on erroneous student test scores.
Figure 1. There will be three pieces to the compensation plan for Georgia teachers, and the largest piece will be based on erroneous student test scores.

Student achievement tests were not designed to measure teacher or administrator performance.  They were designed to measure student learning, but for years researchers have warned not to try and make connections between student test scores and teacher performance.  The measure that is actually used is the Value Added Measure (VAM), and it is just as unreliable as the student test scores used to generate a VAM number.

One noted educational research blogger (Crazy Crawfish, aka Jason France, former Louisiana Department of Education data analyst), said this about the use of VAM in his state:

Many of you may be familiar with VAM, or Value Added Modeling. This is a teacher evaluation system that uses student test scores to evaluate teachers’ performance. The data used for Louisiana’s system is fraught with errors. The premise behind the system is flawed. And as it turned out, Louisiana’s system was corrupted on the inside for political reasons.

Diane Ravitch reported on her blog that researchers at the Atlanta Journal have uncovered a “surprising number of errors, though not surprising to those familiar with the testing industry.”

Anthony Cody, former Oakland teacher, and educational blogger at Education Week, has studied the research related to VAM scores.  As we all know, the make up of the kids in your class will have a great deal to do with their performance.  He said this about VAM scores and types of classes:

 teachers who taught more remedial classes tended to have lower value-added scores than teachers who taught mainly higher-level classes. “That phenomenon was not due to the best teachers’ disproportionately teaching the more-rigorous classes, as is often asserted. Instead, the paper shows, even those teachers who taught courses at more than one level of rigor did better when their performance teaching the upper-level classes was compared against that from the lower-level classes.”

Georgia is headed down a path that will end up creating more problems that it solves.  This plan will not improve student achievement, nor will it lead to the improvement of the quality of teaching.  What it will do is demoralize teachers who have worked for years to improve what happens in the classroom.

And finally I would add this quote from Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.

Yet the myth persists that the teacher is primarily responsible for student scores and that great teachers can overcome the influence of family, poverty, disability status, language proficiency, and students’ own levels of interest and ability. Certainly, there are many people whose lives were changed by one teacher, but their stories typically describe teachers who were unusually inspiring, not “the teacher who raised my test scores to the top.” Teachers do have the power to change lives. But after more than a decade of No Child Left Behind, researchers are still searching for a nonselective school or a district where every student, regardless of his or her starting point, has achieved proficiency on state tests because that school or that district has only effective teachers. (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 2144-2145). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

Marietta and Fulton County teachers, this is a heads up.

Georgia’s Race to the Top Questionable Relationships with Charters, Teach for America & The New Teacher Project

Georgia’s Race to the Top has clear, yet questionable relationships with Charter Management Companies, Teach for America and The New Teacher Project. Charter management companies are private nationally based firms that receive public funds intended for public schools. The Race to the Top insures that management firms are welcomed into the 11 states and D.C., at the detriment to local school districts.

Build Charters and They Will Come

Add to this fact that the Georgia State Legislature passed a law to amend the Georgia Constitution allowing the defunct (because the Georgia Supreme Court ruled its existence unconstitutional) State Charter Schools Commission to rise from the dead. This summer the revived Commission received 16 applications from various groups seeking to embed charter schools in districts around the state. And, they can set up shop without the district’s approval or need, as long as they are approved by the State Commission.

Why is this relationship such a big deal? One of the goals of the RTT Georgia plan is to turnaround the lowest-achieving schools. In this scenario, the state fires the principal, and no more than half the faculty, and replace them. One of models is the “restart model” whereby a school is converted, or closed and then opened by a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.

Screen-Shot-2012-03-14-at-7.17.54-PM-1So, the Race to the Top has laid the ground work to unleash charter schools with false claims and lots of money.  The problem here is that charters have not been more effective than regular public schools, and indeed it would be better for a parent to send their child to a public school than a charter.  For example, data from Dr. Michael Marder’s research, University of Texas shows that not only is poverty correlated with low test scores, but charter schools on the whole are at the bottom of the graph showing how ineffective they have been in improving academic achievement.

Charter schools also have increased the segregation of children.  Instead of seeking other possible solutions, such as teacher enhancement and staff development, health care for families, social services that offer opportunities and help in alleviating poverty and unemployment, investment in the infrastructure of the communities of these schools, all the state can come up with is firing 50 percent the staff, and then hiring inexperienced and non certified part-time teachers.

Hire Inexperienced, Non Certified and Part Time Teachers

One of the four focus area of the Georgia RTT is great teachers and leaders.  In the mind of the Georgia RTT officials, one way to get great teachers and leaders is to partner up with two organizations that “train” teachers during a boot camp style summer program lasting at most six weeks.  I’m talking about Teach for America, and The New Teacher Project.

In the budget of the Georgia RTT there are two lines that show the amounts paid to these two organization.  Teach for America received $4,837,104 through June 30, 2012.  The New Teacher Project received $3,002,890 through the same period.  Why would the state pay out $7,839,994 to hire inexperienced and non certified teachers, and place them in schools that have been identified as “low achieving.”  Through this period, the total expenditures of the Georgia Race to the Top is $69,765,001.  More than 11 percent of the budget was allocated to these organizations who prepare non certified teachers.

Thousands of Georgia teachers lost their jobs over the past three years, yet the state is willing to hire nearly 500 inexperienced and non certified recruits from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, at a cost of about $14,000 each.

How is this plan going to improve the quality of the teaching profession in Georgia when the state seems bent on replacing experienced and well-educated teachers with people who’ve already indicated they are only going to stay for two years and move on to something more lucrative?

The relationship between the government and these private organizations is enough to get your attention.  Why spend so much money on non certified teachers when the goal is somehow improve teaching, and get what the state calls Great Teachers.

Why not use this money to develop sustainable and research based teacher education programs?   The RTT funded three projects based on the U-Teach Program at the University of Texas.  However, the three universities in Georgia received a total of only $789,6748, a miniscule amount compared to what TFA and TNTP received.  And, oddly, RTT people didn’t have to go to the University of Texas to find such a model.  It exists at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of Georgia.

What do you think about the nature of the relationships that are evident by examining the Georgia RTT Budget and Plan?


Is Georgia’s Race to the Top a Good Idea?

A report was published this week that ought to raise the eyebrows of a lot of Georgians.  The report is an analysis of the progress of the the U.S. Department of Education’s signature program, the $4.5 billion Race to the Top Fund.  Georgia snagged nearly a half-billion dollars of the fund.

The report said that most winning states made “unrealistic and impossible” promises to boost student achievement in exchange for a monetary prize.

On this blog, I have lambasted the Race to the Top concept from its beginnings when in 2009, the Secretary Duncan announced the plan to entice the governments of the states and D.C. into a competition to get a piece of $4.5 billion.   Georgia was a second round winner in this massive government competition.   $400 million, which was the amount of Georgia’s grant, looks like a lot of money.  If you do the math, however, over four years this amounts to $64.00 per student in the state of Georgia.

However, if you are the Governor, Executive of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Georgia Superintendent of Education, or the RTT Project Director, then getting $400 million from the Federal Government during the Great Recession is a very good idea.  But in my opinion, that is the only good to the idea.

The Race to the Top was ill-conceived from the start.  It was conceived by people at the U.S. Department of Education who favor using charter management companies to come into cities where students are failing state mandated tests that are not valid and unreliable measures of learning.  The Director of the Race to the Top in D.C. is Joanne Weiss, who previously worked as Executive Director of the New Schools Venture Fund, an organization working, especially with charter management groups, to invest in schools where students are simply not doing well .

Georgia claims that its Race to the Top plan involves 41 percent of public school students, 46 percent who are in poverty, 53 percent are African-American, 48 percent are Hispanic, and represent 68 percent of the state’s lowest schools.   This is all well and good.

However, if you were to go to the original documents, and videos of who presented the Georgia Race to the Top proposal in D.C., none of these groups are visible, or seem to be involved.  The only educator that was present was Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools.  The Georgia Superintendent of Education at the time was Brad Bryant, who was not an educator.

Georgia made claims in its proposal no different from most of the other winning RTT states, and according to Elaine Weiss, author of the Race to the Top study, states did what it took to earn the points on their proposals, no matter what.  For example, some states made the claim that they would raise student performance on academic tests in math and reading that would be impossible to achieve.  But, by making outrageous claims, evaluators of the Race to the Top proposals would mark the proposals so.

Problems with Race to the Top

Here are some of the serious problems that Weiss found among the Race to Top winners.

  • With one exception, every grantee state promised to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps to degrees that would be virtually or literally impossible even with much longer timelines and larger funding boosts.
  • Virtually every state has had to delay implementation of its teacher evaluation systems, due to insufficient time to develop rubrics, pilot new systems, and/or train evaluators and others.
  • States have focused heavily on developing teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores, but not nearly as much on using the evaluations to improve instruction, as intended.
  • Because state assessments tend to test students’ math and reading skills, attention has been focused mostly on those subjects, potentially to the detriment of others. States have also struggled to determine how to evaluate teachers of untested subjects and teachers of younger students, a critical issue, given that they constitute the majority of all teachers.
  • While some states have developed smart strategies to recruit talented professionals to teach subjects and/or teach in schools that are underserved, the vast majority of alternative certification money and effort has gone to bringing young, largely non credentialed novices to teach in disadvantaged schools.
  • Many districts increasingly protest state micromanagement, limited resources, and poor communications.

One of the big issues that Weiss uncovered was the States’ promise vs. their capacity to deliver.  In a top down way, how can funding of $400 million, which represents only 0.98% of Georgia’s $10.199 billion budget, carry out the goals that are spelled out in the proposal?

Georgia’s Flawed Plan

Raising student achievement, especially in Georgia’s lowest achieving schools, is one of the four goal areas of the Race to the Top project.  Georgia’s solution to this problem?

  • Create a new office with the Department of Education that will manage turnarounds.
  • Establish a pipeline of teachers by working with Teach For America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) to bring non certified, inexperienced, part-time help to schools that the state said are in need of the most help.
Figure 1. NAEP reading scores and child poverty rates.  Georgia is circled in red. Source: Weiss, E. Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement
Figure 1. NAEP reading scores and child poverty rates. Georgia is circled in red. Source: Weiss, E. Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement

Why do these officials at the state level think that hiring TFA and TNTP recruits will solve this problem?  If they were to look at the relationship between NAEP scores and child poverty rates, they might be motivated to look to very different solutions to the problem of academic achievement.

So, we will use inexperienced and non certified teachers in the state’s lowest achieving schools to raise achievement by spending $64 per student.   Now, that’s a solution.

Georgia’s plan also said that they will create “great teachers and leaders.”  To do this, the state will develop “effectiveness measures” for teachers and administrators and collaborate with Teach For America and The New Teacher Project to stream non certified teachers to schools in need.  But for the majority of teachers in Georgia, the state will rate them by using student achievement scores, and by “leveraging” the power TKES and LKES (teacher and leader evaluation systems).

The Race to the Top in Georgia also mandates that all schools adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and reading/language arts.

So, is Georgia’s participation in the Race to the Top a good idea?  It is a travesty, and the real effects will start to appear next year when all teachers’ and administrators’ evaluations are based on student test scores and the untested TKES and LKES scales.

The authors and proponents of the Georgia Race to the Top open the door to increasing opportunities for teacher preparation groups and charter management companies to privatize Georgia education.

We need to call them out.  We surely don’t want to let them pull the wool over our eyes.  This is all about power and money, and not about improving teaching and learning.  What do you think about Georgia’s Race to the Top?