Georgia’s Race to the Top: Follow the Money

In 2010 the Georgia Department of Education received ~$400 million from the Race to the Top (RT3) fund to Like all states that were winners in the Race to the Top (RT3) competition, Georgia’s scope of work entails four “project” areas:

  1. Standards and Rigorous Assessment–The grant proposal indicates that the state’s Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics for grades K-12 are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The state will develop “high quality” assessments aligned with the CCGPS and presumably the CCSS.
  2. Data Systems–Develop a  warehouse of data integrating P-20 Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS)
  3. Great Teachers and Leaders–make sure all students have effective teachers
  4. Turn Around the Lowest Achieving Schools–use data from high-stakes tests to name failing schools and either close them, or replace them with new administrators and teachers

How is the money that the state received distributed among the four project areas, and what does this tell us about reform in Georgia that is being propelled by the RT3.

Overall Distribution of Funds for Georgia RT3

As you look at the RT3 budget shown in Figure 1, half the of $400 million is distributed to the 26 school districts (LEA’s) to carry out the RT3 goals at the local level.  LEA budget distribution is based their relative share of funding based on Title I, Part A of the ESEA.  The other half of the funding is controlled by the Georgia Department of Education.  Figure 1 shows that two goals lead in the distribution of funds, namely, Great Teachers and Leaders ($59 million), and Data Systems ($39 million).  Turning Around failing schools ($30 million) and implementing standards and developing assessments ($30 million), and the management of the RT3 ($14.5 million) round out the budget.

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Great Teachers and Leaders

A significant part of the RT3 grant in Georgia focuses on Great Teachers and Leaders.  But what is really going on here?  Is the goal to really create an environment in Georgia leading to great teachers and leaders.  Are there going to specialized professional development projects in which all teachers are invited to take part?  Will teachers be encouraged to be creative and to make key decisions about curriculum and instruction?  Or is there something else going on here?

Figure 2 tells a different story.  Instead of developing great teachers and leaders, the major part of the funds in this category are being used to develop tools that will be used to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores.  Note that more than $15 million is directed to develop a Value Added Model to score teachers based on the improvement of student test scores.  Using VAM is an unscientific and unreliable method of evaluating teachers.  Note also that there are three items in the budget related to pay for performance, which has been shown not to improve teacher effectiveness or student achievement.  Yet, in Georgia, teachers will be targeted by these methods that do not have a supportive research base.

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Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools

The Race to Top Fund promotes the idea that the lowest achieving schools should be either closed, or “reformed” using one of various reform models.  In these reform models, the principal is fired, and at least half the teachers are replaced.  In all cases, the measurement to decide performance is high-stakes testing.  More than 90% of  “lowest-achieving schools” were reformed by initiating the Transformation Model where the principal was replaced.  The Transformation Model also calls for increasing teacher and leader effectiveness, instituting comprehensive instructional reforms, increasing learning time, and providing flexibility.

Yet, when the RT3 budget for turning around the lowest achieving schools is examined, its Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that receives the lion’s share of the money.  TFA and TNTP offer a pipeline of inexperienced and non-licensed teachers, who are hired by school districts and then placed in the lowest performing schools.  According to the RT3 work plan, the lowest achieving schools need more flexibility to presumably enrich the curriculum and use a diverse set of teaching strategies to help struggling students.  Yet, based on the budget, most of the funds will be paid to two organizations that train people in five weeks to teach.  How could beginning teachers be expected to carry out new curricula or use a range of teaching strategies?  It doesn’t make sense, nor is it a sustainable solution for helping improve education.

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If you follow the money in the Georgia Race to the Top Project, its clear that the corporate, test-based model of education is the basis for many of activities.   Teachers in Georgia will be evaluated using VAM scores, TFA and TNTP will send cadets to teach, while experienced teachers will find themselves moved to the side, especially those who lost their jobs during the Great Recession.


How Georgia Could Turn Around Turnaround Schools

Georgia, like other states, has identified schools whose students and teachers have been labeled failures on the basis of high-stakes tests. These tests measure the narrowest and possibly the least important aspects of schooling, namely the ability to answer multiple choice questions on the lowest level of content in math, or science, social studies or English language arts.

I argue here that curriculum development and advanced sabbatical month-long staff seminars in the context of the elimination of high-stakes tests would do more to help struggling schools than punishing them.  Students in these schools are quite capable of engaging in projects, original work in art, music and science,  hands-on minds-on learning, as well as learning how to learn.  Using inquiry-based learning, and steering away from a teach to the test mantra will go along way not only in so-called “turnaround” schools, but any school.

Many of  the labeled “failing” schools end up being closed, in others the principal and at least half the teachers are replaced by unlicensed teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Closing or labeling schools alters the ecology of these communities, and instead of providing resources, and creating opportunities for curriculum innovation and advanced staff development, these plans fail to discuss the real problems–poverty, recreating uninteresting curricula, and using punishments and rewards to control the system.

Our schools can not solve the problem of poverty.  But if schools were integral and public spaces of its community, then the school would be a place that parents send their children to uncover their natural abilities and interests, and pursue learning about the world, and enriching each other.

But we have created an environment in which success in school is based for the most part on  high-stakes testing.  There isn’t a need for high-stakes tests.  The scores that are generated from these tests do nothing to improve individual student learning, and do not give feedback to teachers to improve instruction.  These tests only serve the state as way to create a metric that is used to punish or reward schools, teachers and students.  Do we send our children to school to take tests? Is that why we send our children to school?

In the “Defies Measurement” film (5 minutes) that follows, Shannon Puckett exposes the damage caused by high-stakes testing on our children, teachers, schools and communities.  Shannon started this film in 2004, but for many reasons, never finished the film.  However, now she is reaching out to everyone to give a small amount of money to fund the completion of the film.  She is close to the amount she needs to raise. (Update: the monetary goal was reached)  This short clip will give you insight into the film, and in it you will hear from amazing teachers and top researchers who tell stories and give evidence that the present era of test-based reform is damaging students.

Schools should not be labeled failing in the first place. The measurement used is a sliver of the goals of schooling in a democratic society. As stated in the film, no other comparable country fails it’s students or schools on the basis of these narrow and unreliable tests.

The schools in these communities need the same kind of education that takes place in schools where students are successful–typically those in affluent neighborhoods.

As Lisa Delpit says, kids need good teaching in the context of an interesting and diverse curriculum. They do not need neophyte teachers who’ve been trained to teach to the test.  They need teachers who as Lisa Delpit puts it are “warm demanders.”

In her more recent book, Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, Dr. Delpit provides the insight to understand what schooling should be in public schools.  She says that the teacher is crucial in teaching poor children.

But she doesn’t advocate using tests to try and name so-called bad or not so good teachers.  No, she reminds us how important teachers are in the lives of children.  To hold schools hostage prevents teachers from doing the sorts of things that she advocates.

Dr. Delpit says:

And so, to my students who are teachers, and to all teachers, I reiterate: Your work does matter more than you can imagine. Your students, particularly if they are low-income children of color, cannot succeed without you. You are their lifeline to a better future. If you put energy and expertise into your teaching, learn from those who know your students best, make strong demands, express care and concern, engage your students, and constantly ensure that your charges are capable of achieving, then you are creating for your students, as Professor Bill Trent once said about his own warm demander teachers, “a future we could not even imagine for ourselves.”  Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children (p. 88). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

With the funds that Georgia has allocated in its Race to the Top (RT3), curriculum development combined with sabbatical advanced staff development seminars would infuse enthusiasm and new confidence in the faculty and would result in a school culture of innovation, hope and change.  Closing schools or replacing them by firing principals and teachers and hiring inexperienced teachers is not in the best interests of students.  We need to preserve our schools, not abandon them.

Further investigation into why we find ourselves labeling schools as failures needs to be made.  Why is it that most of these schools are in urban districts?  Why aren’t these schools provided the same resources as schools in other parts of the same district?  Why do we think it is acceptable to close or convert schools to charters run by outsiders who have little vested interest in the community? Why?

For further reading:

Is the Purpose of Education Economic Development? The State of Georgia Says Yes.

Which of the following is the most important purpose of education in Georgia?

  1. to prepare students to become responsible citizens
  2. to enhance personal happiness and enrich lives
  3. to support the economic development of the state
  4. to get a job
  5. to learn how to learn

According to Governor Deal’s website, the answer is either 3 or 4, since it is clearly stated on the Governor’s website that education is economic development (Figure 3).  Or another way to put this is that students are in school because they will be future workers who will develop the economy.  The purpose is to get a job.

There are five points outlined on the Governor’s website, and “education is economic development” is number 1.  The purpose of schooling, according to the Governor’s website is based on the rationale that Georgia students (as well as students in the rest of the nation) have “lost ground” to their peers around the world, and to get our students up to speed we’ll go out-of-the-way to push student’s academic achievement higher and higher so that the U.S. ranks at the top (aka Race to the Top).

Not are graduates of American quite able to compete globally, they have built the world’s largest economy.  How can the state make the claim that students are in the middle of the pack.  Oh, that’s very easy.  All they do is look at the results on one of the international achievement tests such as PISA or TIMSS, and they claim that U.S. students fall somewhere in the middle of average scores of sixty or more nations.  In math and science, American students are not falling behind, and are not in the middle of the pack.

American students are not in the middle of the pack.  In fact they are quite high in the league standings chart, and indeed, if Massachusetts was a country, it would be number one on the PISA international tests in math and science.

Furthermore, over the past 20 years, NAEP long-term test results show that American students (elementary, middle and high school, white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American) scores increasing in mathematics, reading and science.  Take a look at mathematics score from 1973 – 2008.  Where is the failure here?  Scores seem to be going up, and if you go the NAEP Long Term Trend site (not available right now because of the Government shutdown), you will find scores for African-American and Hispanic students following this pattern.

Figure 1. NAEP Mathematics Scores of American students, 1973 - 2008.
Figure 1. NAEP Mathematics Scores of American students, 1973 – 2008.

Here are two more graphs that the Governor of Georgia and his staff should study and use to rewrite their opinions of education in Georgia.

Figure 2.  Long term trend reading scores of American elementary students.
Figure 2. Long term trend reading scores of American elementary students.

Yet, even with these FACTS, the state of Georgia keeps repeating the mantra that students and schools are failing and that the solution is to hire uncertified teachers from Teach from America (my critique of TFA), turn around failing schools by firing the staff and then converting it to charter school run by management companies that probably have its corporate office in Florida.

Governor of Georgia’s Statement on Education Issues

Figures 3 and  show copies of the Governor’s statement on education.  Figure 3 is unmarked.  I’ve used red and blue arrows and comments to highlight some of the problems with the State of Georgia’s approach to education as shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 3. Statement on the Issues related to Education on the Governor of Georgia’s Website.


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Figure 4. Marked Up copy of the Governor of Georgia statement on education.

This is what happens when politics and corporate influence and power misinterpret the purpose of schooling in a democratic society.

School Closings: What’s the Lesson Here?

In the last post on this blog, in which I argued it was a mistake for large districts like Chicago to carry out mass school closings, readers expressed strong opinions on the issue of closure. The post was also published on Anthony Cody’s blog, Living in Dialog over on Education Week, and you can read all the comments there.  Dialog is important, and its important to listen to each other’s points of view.

Disconnected from the Real World

What do students need to know about space science?  The new Framework for K-12 Science Education has some suggestions.  Take a look.  Scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Real World?

One commenter wrote “Mr. Hassard’s commentary is extremely disconnected from the real world. Where is Chicago going to get the money to maintain all the current neighborhood schools? Every building has its own fixed costs that don’t depend on the numbers of students; you simply can’t keep open every low-enrollment school.” The reader concludes that “bottom line is that every public operation, like every private one, has a bottom line.  ‘Deep ecology’ won’t pay teacher salaries, the costs of books, or utility bills.”

Another reader agreed with this view and went on to say: “First off, Chicago has 54 schools set for closing. The average capacity of these 54 schools is 51%. 51%! All these buildings essentially half empty. A school board’s first priority is to their students but they’re also responsible to the taxpayers in their district, the one’s responsible for footing the bill (or at least what they can afford) for the operation of their schools. So how, in all good conscience, can a school board even attempt to rationalize keeping all those half empty schools open? They can’t.”

Other readers had different ideas about the purpose of schooling and how closing schools impacts more than the “bottom line.”

Connected to the Real World

Closing schools might save a school district money (although there is evidence reported in a Pew Study that contradicts this) but the effect on people who live in the communities of the closed schools is much more extreme.   Another reader commented that  “not only are Traditional Public Schools part of the ecology of a community, within the buildings themselves exists an ecosystem essential for sustainable success for the at-risk, poor, black and latino youth most likely attending “failing”/closing schools.”  Mary Conway-Spiegel, the writer of this comment, went on to explain how closing schools affects students, especially those children needing support and encouragement.

Closing “failing” schools closes off the Love most of our neediest children desperately need and rely upon. This love is demonstrated in so many small and large ways throughout a day in a “failing” school they are too many to count. I’ll name a few: an oasis of safety from unbearable home lives, three meals plus snacks, warmth in the winter, boundaries, positive role models…and so so so much more.  When we deny our neediest children positive connections to school, when we forget that at the very center of education is Love – a Love of learning–it’s akin to clear cutting a beautiful forest.

Another reader raised a number of questions that she thought should be discussed among the school boards ordering the closings and the constituents of the schools marked for closing.  And, the reader wonders if 13% of Chicago’s schools are so under-enrolled, why is that?  She writes, “ If that many have fallen into that state of disrepair, there is a larger problem here then under-enrollment. That indicates a deeper, systemic problem.”

According to the Mayor of Chicago, (who appoints members to the Chicago Board of Education), the issue of which schools will be closed is settled.  Yet, the districts plans to hold discussions with citizens in the affected areas.  A little late, I would think.

The CEO of the Chicago School District made what I thought was an odd statement.  According to an article in Education WeekBarbara Byrd-Bennett, the school system’s chief executive officer, released a statement Wednesday, saying,

I fully support the rights of individuals to express their opinion and as a former teacher and principal who has lived through school closings, I know this is not easy for our communities. But as CEO of this district, I need to make decisions that put our children first.

Student Voice

Students might see this kind of decision-making differently.  Here is how one adolescent student (now a college student) takes issue with the point of the view of administrators who make decisions to close their schools.  The student’s name is Melissa Kissoon, a 21-year-old graduate of Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn. She is also a youth leader with Future of Tomorrow and the Urban Youth Collaborative.  These comments were made by Ms. Kissoon during a conference on school closings.  Her high school, Lane High School, Brooklyn, NY, went though major changes while she was a high school student, and was phased out and replaced by other schools. She writes:

As we know, most students who have gone through a similar situation to this, are low-income students of color, primarily Black and Latino, as well as West Indian and other targeted groups.  The zone schools we go to are usually the low-performing ones.The higher performing schools are the specialized high schools or high schools with high-income students that are mostly for more privileged kids compared to those in neighborhood public schools. This creates an ongoing cycle, because it is hard to become privileged when you come from a poor education system. And this is the mentality of most students, which is honestly why most students give up on school so quickly. When school districts close schools, they are sending a message to low-income students of color that is: “We’re going to give up on you, and not supporting you.” And it is understandable that the DoE may assume phasing out a school is actually improving the schools in the long-term, but what about the current students?  In a recent report made by the Urban Youth Collaborative, UYC, of the 21 phased-out high schools in New York City, the 33,000 students who were in their final years, only 9,592 actually graduated. In schools the dropout rates were high, including my own and at another school, the drop out rate reached 70% in the year the school closed.

Although I graduated and I’m in college now this is not a typical situation of a student who has come from a high school phase out. I can honestly say, I look back at the last four years of my life and I feel robbed of my high school experience. My school was no longer MY school; I was basically being kicked out of a school that made a promise to support me and give me all I need to graduate. Students must be consulted about the use and future use of their school. We must be included in decisions about OUR education.

Melissa Kissoon believes that student’s voices need to be heard when changes are made to a school’s future.  In a research study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, entitled Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts, one of the most important finds was that of giving voice to constituents in the affected school zones, and that the board of education was willing to make changes when compelling arguments were made.  Unfortunately in Chicago, discussions with parents will only take place after the decision was made to close schools.

Dialog before Decisions are Made

Although the Pew Study reported that public acceptance went up when school officials acted on the following recommendations, there still remain deeper questions about why so many low achieving schools are being closed.

  • presented the case for downsizing as early in the process as possible;
  • hired outside experts to help guide the process;
  • established clear, quantifiable criteria for deciding which schools to close;
  • showed a willingness to make some adjustments in the announced list of targeted schools when faced with compelling arguments; and
  • made the decision on the entire plan with a single vote and not separate votes on each school.

Low achieving schools are those schools whose students don’t do well on mandated multiple-choice end-of-the-year examinations. The focus on this single variable as the measure of school effectiveness makes it almost impossible for many urban schools to make the mark set by bureaucrats who have perhaps never been involved with schools in high poverty communities.

As I write this post, the New York Times reported that a court in Fulton County, Georgia has indicted 35 former Atlanta Public School educators, including the former Superintendent of Schools, Beverly T. Hall.  According to the Times report, “Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for Dr. Hall; she could face up to 45 years in prison.”  This is a grotesque continuation of the “Atlanta cheating scandal,” that was one of the unintended outcomes of the standards-based and high-stakes testing environment.  The effectiveness of schools is now reduced to test scores, and teaching at its highest is teaching to the test.

Because we have continued to use standardized test scores to check how schools are doing educating our children and youth, we have blinded ourselves from the humanistic side of schooling.  For students, school will always be more than taking a test.  Yet, we pull a fast one on students by using the very tests that they are required to take, and if they attend schools where many of the kids simply don’t do well on these things, the authorities pull the rug out from under them by closing the school.  What’s the lesson here?

What do you think about the school closing issue in contemporary American education?