Georgia Governor’s Dangerous Plan to Takeover “Chronically Failing” Public Schools is a Bad Deal

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The Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who was just elected to a second term, has proposed that he become the education Czar of Georgia by holding the power to put schools on a list that could be taken over by central command, in downtown Atlanta at the Twin Towers.

But here is the “deal,” this simply is a bad deal for schools that are put on a list based on “data” that sets up some schools for failure, according to the state’s definition of failure.

Square, New and Bad Deals

In the last century Theodore Roosevelt introduced the “square deal” which was an attempt to help middle class Americans by countering the power of corporations.  In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the “new deal” which was a series of domestic programs to in response to the Great Depression.

Now, in the 21st Century, the Governor of Georgia has introduced the “bad deal” for Georgia parents whose children attend schools identified as “chronically failing.”  In the “Square and New Deals,” there was evidence to support these deals.

In the case of Nathan Deal’s “Bad Deal,” the data or evidence that will be used to take over some schools is nothing short of giving the schools to private charter firms, who will reap millions of state funds, and then will make deals with Teach for American and the New Teacher Project to bring in uncertified and inexperienced teachers to work with students that Deal claims are “chronically failing.”

In an earlier post, I investigated Georgia’s Race to the Top (RTT) program and reported that 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.  Georgia is one of these states.  And Nathan Deal sees an opening to join to “take over” mentality.

Charters + Inexperienced Teachers = A Bad 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.

Georgia’s five-year RTT program 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 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.

To staff these new “taken over” schools, the state will look to teacher preparation mills such as Teach for American and The New Teacher Project. In the mind of some education officials, one way to get great teachers is to partner up with these two organizations that “train” teachers during a boot camp style summer program lasting at most six weeks.

This is a sweet deal for these two organizations. Georgia has already paid millions to them. 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.

Improve Education: No Deal Here

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.

Georgia’s Mardi Gras Turn Around Program

In an article in the Atlanta Journal, a group of legislators and state educators will visit New Orleans, the site of Governor’s go to school district to learn from the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD).  The RSD is a statewide school district established by the Louisiana Department of Education.  Established in 2003, in the post-Katrina period, more than 100 New Orleans’ schools were assigned to the RSD, meaning they were all taken over by the state. And nearly all of these schools have become charter schools.

Oh, the Governor’s office has named the “chronically failing schools” the Opportunity School District (OSD).  Please see the policy summary here on the Empowered Georgia website.

So, it makes sense to the Governor of Georgia to send a team there to find out how successful they’ve been in improving education in New Orleans and other parts of the state.

But, hold on.

Before they head off and experience Mardi Gras, they ought to read the research, and find out what Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, blogger,  author, and Jason France, a former Louisiana Department of Education employee, and now one of the most dedicated education bloggers (Crazy Crawfish) in the USA.  France has investigated most aspects of education in Louisiana and has reported his finding on his blog.  In his study of the RSD, he writes:

The Recovery School District is arguably the most corrupt, wasteful and unnecessary state department in all of Louisiana. Over the next several weeks I will explain exactly what they have lost, how much they waste, why they are unnecessary and explain the many unethical and possibly illegal behaviors they engage in. If I could cover everything in a single article I would, but their scheming really needs several posts to cover in any depth. This post will describe how they have managed to steal property and funding and to exploit loopholes created for them by the state legislature to rip off the federal government. I will not be revealing anything that is not already available in the public domain (Crazy Crawfish’s Blog. 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015)

Before the Deal groups heads off to New Orleans they might want to call Jason France as interview him to find out just how ineffective the Recovery School District has been in turning around schools.

While they are gathering information before they make their flight on Delta, they should also make a call to Mercedes Schneider.  She has done research on education reform, documented her work on her blog, and has published her first book describing her findings.  She has doctorate in educational research, and is a teacher in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

But, Dr. Schneider has written extensively about the New Orleans Recovery School District, and it is in this context that Georgia officials should focus their attention.  If they follow this link, they will find many articles by Schneider that uncover information that one would want to have before heading west from Atlanta.

The Governor is quick to criticize anyone who opposes his take over plan.  He makes the claim that these questioners are more interested in adults, rather than the children of Georgia.

Hogwash.  If the Governor would be honest, and look at the research on recovery schools, he would find that these schools are not in the service of children and youth, but adults who lead corporate charters and stand to make a lot of money.

I hope that you will pass these ideas on to Georgia school officials, whether you agree or disagree with my position.

 It’s a Bad Deal

Establishing a Louisiana-style recovery school district in Georgia (OSD) is a bad idea.  What do you think?

What do the Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent of Education Have to Say about Reform?

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There are 15 people running for Georgia State School Superintendent in the primary election on May 20th.  There are 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats jockeying for positions for the November election.  In this post I want to explore issues that ought to be important in this election.

Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.
Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.

EmpowerEd Georgia is a citizen group advocating for quality education in the state.  It’s a grassroots movement of parents, educators and community.  They have taken an active part in the State School Superintendent campaign by being on the road to live stream debates, and to gather information about the candidate’s positions of important education issues.

EmpowerED Georgia requested responses to a questionnaire from all the candidates.  Even after repeated follow ups, only six of the 15 candidates completed the questionnaire.  You can find their responses on the Empowered Georgia website at the following links:

According to EmpowerED, the other nine candidates refused to complete the questionnaire.

There are some candidates that understand the issues that are crucial for the improvement of education across the state.  As we have shown on this blog, poverty is the leading factor affecting academic learning.

We have also shown that the model of education that thrives in Georgia is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM) that is a virus that has infected its way in schools and show up in the form of standardization, poking and prodding students with tests, using student tests to evaluate teachers, and the use of competition in all aspects of schooling.

Although candidates were not asked on the EmpowerED questionnaire directly about poverty, there are several questions on the EmpowerED questionnaire that give clues about their place on the Global Education Reform Model, which is in full operation in the state of Georgia.

To get some idea of the candidates thinking I want to check the characteristics of the GERM virus that has spread across Georgia, and much of the nation.  GERM is described in detail by Finnish educator Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  Figure 2 is chart listing 5 GERM symptoms and whether of not each symptom is clear in Georgia’s educational system, and if so what is the evidence.  My analysis is based on studying documents on the Georgia Department of Education website.  I also have visited more than a hundred Georgia elementary, middle and high schools over a forty years.  There is also further information on the Georgia Race to the Top Proposal and project that outlines the education in the state.

Based on this analysis, Georgia shows evidence that at least five symptoms of the GERM model are part of the education model used in the state.  Georgia, like most states, has a standards-based, high-stakes testing accountability system.  The state outlines in the standards what and how every student is to do, and to what level.  To measure whether the students met these performance standards (in math, reading, science and social studies), the state administers Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).  The CRCT test results are used as a major part of a comprehensive accountability system called the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).  The data collected from the CRCT is also used as part of the teacher evaluation system.  The state legislature enacted into law the provision that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance on the CRCT achievement tests.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 6.54.08 PMFigure 2. Analysis of Five Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) Symptoms and Georgia’s Education System

 There were several questions on the EmpowerEd questionnaire that indirectly pertain to the GERM model and could be used to gather insight into the candidate’s views of educational improvement.

In my view, answers to these questions will tell us a great deal about the person’s understanding of education, and specifically if they support or question the GERM model in effect in Georgia schools:

  1. Do you feel Georgia’s current testing model is effective? Explain.
  2. Do you support the Common Core Standards? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think any changes need to be made to the newly adopted Teacher Evaluation System? What factors do you feel should be included when evaluating a teacher? Do you support the use of student standardized test scores in measuring a teacher’s effectiveness?
  4. Explain the role, if any, that you feel vouchers, charters, and privatization efforts should play in Georgia’s educational system.
  5. What is your plan to increase Georgia’s graduation rate?

In order to disinfect Georgia we will need a leader at the Superintendent’s level who is willing to speak out against GERM, and begin to call out the corporate take over of public education.  Testing and standardization are at the heart of the GERM model, and it will be refreshing to see if any of the candidates are willing to challenge the current model.  This is not an easy task.  Right now, it a damned if you do, damned if you don’t environment, especially on the issue of the Common Core State Standards.

For example, Valerie Wilson, when asked whether the current testing model in Georgia is effective, said this:

I do not believe Georgia’s current testing model is effective because it does not provide an accurate assessment of what students learn. It is a model that forces teachers to teach to a test, students are not allowed an  opportunity to truly learn the content, and schools and teachers are punished because of that. In order to accurately assess a student’s learning, teachers should be afforded an opportunity to really focus on content delivery based on a full understanding of the student’s understanding of the course content prior to instruction and throughout. In my system, we focused on a student’s growth over the course of the instructional period, which is a better indicator of learning than a test at the end of the class. I believe districts should be allowed some flexibility in the method they select to assess instruction.

Another candidate, Alan Fort, a former superintendent, said this about testing:

We test way too much to make no real use of the assessments except to see if we are doing good or bad and how we  compare to a similar system or to Massachusetts, etc. We may make a data wall, but I have found  that schools do not make appropriate use of that resource either. To have value in the test  data, you should use it every week and make students aware of their progress. We are more adept at making testing companies richer than appropriate use of this information. We have gotten into the “teach to the test mode” and feel shackled to that premise. We take up too many
teaching days preparing for the test, taking the test and making up the test for the value given  them, thus have become test institutionalized. This is testing lunacy at its best.

You can read all their responses on the Empowered website.

However, if you are able to attend any of the events leading up to the primary on May 20, or the general election in November, here are some points that many of us feel ought to characterize education.  What would the candidates say about these issues, if put in the form of a question?

  1. Put high confidence in teachers and principals and learning.  The focus on meaningful learning must be at the school level.  Superintendents need to get out-of-the-way, stop micro-managing, and entrust education to well prepared teaching staff.
  2. Create a systemic environment which encourages teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches.  Encourage principals to work with teachers to push for curiosity, imagination and creativity in the classroom, and make that the focus of learning.
  3. Fill classrooms with well experienced and well-educated teachers who are not only knowledgeable in the content, but more importantly understand how to teach and how to experiment with different pedagogies.
  4. Empower principals to be the leaders of change, not superintendents.  Superintendents are too far away from the day-to-day life of students to encourage the kind of creative teaching that can be supported by principals.
  5. Teachers should have masters degrees in education and be knowledgeable in their field of teaching.  Reliance on uncertified and inexperienced teachers will in the long run lead to failure.

The EmpowerED site is a very good site to visit to find out about six of the 15 candidates.


Why No Mention of the Effect of Poverty on Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index?

Georgia released a lot of data about every school in the state which is summarized by a score attained through the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

When the results were released this week by John Barge, State Superintendent of Education, the focus was on the new calculation system used to generate a score for each school.  The second thing was to show that elementary school scores improved from 74.9 to 78.5 (+3.6), middle school increased from 73.9 to 75.0 (+1.1) and high schools decreased from 73.0 to 72.0 (-1.0).

When the media caught hold of the data, they immediately posted lists of the highest and lowest performing schools, and directed Georgians to their website to find the score of schools in their neighborhood.

There were also interviews with principals and superintendents who talked about the new system used to calculate the scores, and to explain that the system is a better way to tell citizens the degree to which students are ready for college and career.

But there were also some who questioned whether this system tells us anything about student’s readiness for college and careers.  “Who knows what they want to do in elementary school?”, one school board member in Cobb asked.

Missing from the announcement and media reports was the effect of poverty on the CCRPIs for the schools.  Six hundred and seventy-two thousand (27.3%) of children under age 18 live in poverty in Georgia, and more than one million (59.7%) of children attending school are eligible for free or reduced meals.

Poverty in Georgia has increased steadily since the provision of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 which mandated annual testing in the content areas of math and reading for all children grades one through eight.  Georgia assumes that the test they use, the Criterion Reference Competency Tests (CRCT), measures college and career readiness.  I don’t think it does.

Figure 1. Map of the Percentage of Students in Poverty by Georgia Counties.

In the graph in Figure 2, I’ve selected the five states in which I’ve lived, and graphed the percentage of children living in poverty, 2008 – 2012. Georgia leads the selected states in the percentage of children living in poverty.

Why is the state reluctant to talk about the possible effect of poverty on student scores on the state’s Criterion Reference Competency Tests? Student CRCT scores contribute 60% of the index that the state uses to rank schools.

Figure 2. Children in Poverty from 2008 – 2012 for Five States

Why no mention of poverty, when in fact, it is well-known what the effect is of poverty on academic achievement (see Figure 3). The state has its own data showing that poverty is inversely related to student achievement on the CRCT. The higher the percentage of children living in poverty, the lower the achievement scores. Take a look at Figure 3, which shows a scatter plot of all Georgia schools vs poverty measure using free and reduced lunch.

Figure 3. Relationship between CRCT scores and percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Figure 3. Relationship between CRCT scores and percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches.

The state really does not want to bring poverty into the equation when it calculates the performance index of Georgia schools. Why?

The states thinks that using poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.

If you read Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) proposal or reports, you will find that the burden of helping kids who live in poverty is left to classroom teachers and their colleagues.  Most of the $400 million received from the Federal government for the RT3 is used to write and implement “rigorous” standards, develop data collection systems, develop the technology to measure teacher effectiveness using student tests, and hire inexperienced teachers to turn around “failing” schools, based on the CCRPI.

You can read more details about Georgia’s Race to the Top here, here, and here. If you do, you won’t believe it.

Diane Ravitch has explored this issue in-depth in her recent book, The Reign of Error, and what she has to say about how poverty affects academic performance is relevant here.

Georgia has a poverty rate of about 28%, and this ranks the state among the top five states in the U.S. in terms of childhood poverty. It ranks Georgia very high in international comparisons of childhood poverty. In fact, the rate is more than double the childhood poverty of any other comparable Western nation.

But Ravitch explains how school reformers (she names Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools; Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City public schools; Bill Gates, the head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Wendy Kopp, the chief executive officer of Teach for America; and Arne Duncan , the Obama administration’s secretary of education of this group) believe that effective teaching can overcome poverty.

These folks believe that schools can be fixed by tweaking with various parts of the system of schooling. The real problem is that they do not see the school as part of a larger system that includes the community around the school, and how the two interact. No. They see the school as separate. And they shun anyone who suggests that teachers alone can not make up for problems that their students bring to school.

They make the premise that if every classroom had a great teacher, and if schools were privatized and put into a free market system, then we would experience changes in learning beyond our wildest dreams.


Ravitch makes it clear that doing this makes no sense. But it does make sense to recognize the effects of poverty. She says this:

Poverty matters. Poverty affects children’s health and well-being. It affects their emotional lives and their attention spans, their attendance and their academic performance. Poverty affects their motivation and their ability to concentrate on anything other than day-to-day survival. In a society of abundance, poverty is degrading and humiliating. Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1933-1935). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We’ll explore this issue in more detail over the next few posts.

In the meantime, what do you think about the state’s reluctance to deal directly with the issue of poverty and its affects on academic performance?

If You Think Student Output as Measured by Achievement Tests Is a Way to Evaluate Teachers, You’d Be Plug Wrong!

If You Think Student Output as Measured by Achievement Tests Is a Way to Evaluate Teachers, You’d Be Plug Wrong!

What will it take to convince school boards, departments of education and administrators that using student achievement scores, one of the outputs that we constantly measure in American schools, is not a scientific nor ethical way to evaluate teachers.  To do so is to ignore the research on this issue, and to perpetuate the myth that using a student test score is a valid way to determine the effectiveness of teachers.

To carry out this plan, which will be implemented in the Cobb County Schools (where I live) and the rest of Georgia’s schools by 2015,  reinforces the machine age conception of our schools.  The machine age gave rise to factories, which became the model used to build and organize schools.  The outputs of a factory such a shoe, a dress, a pot or pan, are analogous to the outputs of schools such as grade point average, drop out rate, or student achievement.  In this machine age example, many people believe that the outputs are explained by a cause-effect relationship.  In our world of education there is the belief that student achievement as an output is caused (or added to) by the teacher.  This is a false belief.  And by the way, if a factory produced “bad” shoes, you can’t pin in on the factory workers, either.

If teachers don’t effect in substantial ways student achievement scores, what does?  To answer this will require us to be willing to think in a different way.  Albert Einstein is quoted by Russell Ackoff about thinking in different ways:

You can’t solve the problems created by the current pattern of thought using the current pattern of thought.

The current pattern of thought, based on causal thinking, derives from the acceptance of a cause as enough for its effect.  In the case of student achievement, this pattern of thought means that the teacher effect can be taken to explain rises or falls in student achievement.  Nothing else needs to be taken into account.  As Russell Ackoff has said, “Machine-Age thinking was, to a large extent, environment-free; it tried to develop understanding of natural phenomena without using the concept of environment.”

But here is the thing.

We’ve left the machine age.  Or perhaps it might be safer to say we are in the midst of a transformation from the machine/factory age of thinking to an other way of viewing the world.   This transformation is to an ecological, interdisciplinary or systems view of the world with writers from many fields describing this new way of thinking, including Rachel Carson (ecology), W. Edwards Deming (economics and business), Russell L. Ackoff (management), and Peter Barnard (systems thinking schools),

We need to think about school as a whole.  It’s a school system, and a more powerful way to look at schooling is to think of it as a system.  A system (according to many researchers in this field) is a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts.  Indeed, every part of a system has properties that it loses when separated from the system, and every system has some properties–its essential ones–that none of its parts do.

In order to improve school, we have to stand back and look at the school system.  As we look at school as a system, researchers such as W. Edwards Deming suggest that 94% of the variation we see in the school system is due to the nature of the system, not the people who work or make the system work.  For many of us, this doesn’t make any sense.  But if we are willing to move away from the linear factory model, and move to a vertical or system view, then we are led to ask what are some causes of the variation.  What causes variation in student achievement, in drop-out rates, and the achievement gap?

The Importance of Understanding Variation

There are two types of variation in a system, common-cause (accounting for 94%) and special cause.  Common-cause variation is the noise in a system.  It’s there in the background.  Its part of the natural pattern of the system.  Special cause is a clear signal, an unnatural patter, an assignable cause.  Variation falling within statistical limits means that any variation we see (test scores, graduation rates, achievement gaps) is the result of the natural behavior of the system, and as such, we can not point to one reason that caused higher scores, lower graduation rates, or decreases in the achievement gaps.  We need to accept the fact that student achievement scores are subject to the behavior of the system, and if you do the math, teachers have almost no control over this.  So why do we continue to put the blame on teachers for kids learning or not learning.

In research on the Trial Urban District Assessment which was reported here based on Ed Johnson’s analysis of TUDA for the years 2002 – 2013, there was very little variation in test scores over this period for 21 urban districts.  In fact, except for four instances at the 4th grade reading system, all the variation in test scores at the 4th and 8th grade in math and reading was due to common causes.

Figure 1. TUDA, Reading, 4th Grade Control Chart Showing Long Term Achievement Scores Across 21 Urban Districts
Figure 1. TUDA, Reading, 4th Grade Control Chart Showing Long Term Achievement Scores Across 21 Urban Districts. Source Ed Johnson, NAEP TUDA 2002 – 2011 Study

When we try to isolate the effect of teachers on any of the outputs of the school, we are sure to fail.  When we try to break the system apart, it loses its essential properties.  In this case the output as measured by student test scores is the product of the system, which is due to interactions and interdependencies that the teacher is only one small part.  How is student achievement affected by inadequate resources, living in poverty, not having a home, parents who struggle to earn a living, the size of the school and district, the location of the school, students coming to school each day hungry or inadequately fed, school policies, and so on?  


Which Model Describes the Real World?

For example, Mike Stoecklein wrote a guest post on the W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog, and according to researchers in the field of systems thinking, performance of the person can not be separated from the system, and is unknown.   The relationship between the individual (a teacher in this case) and the system (school system) is important to understand, if we are to try to test teachers based on some measure of student’s performance.  Stoecklein presents three models developed by a colleague of Dr. Deming–Heero Hacquebord.  They are shown in Figure 1.

In World I the individual is independent of the system, and performance is independent, and in this model, pay for performance, ranking and rating makes sense.  But is it the real world? Of course not.  In World II, the person is immersed in the system, and totally dependent on the system.  All outcomes are attributable only to the system.  Does this world exist? No.  World III is a model in which the individual interacts with the system, performance of the individual can not be separated from the system, and is unknown.  Performance pay or ranking makes no sense.  Performance is only improved by focusing on the union of the system and the person.  Stoecklein believes this is the real world.

Figure 1.  Three World Views showing the Interaction between the System and the Individual by Hacquebord, in Mike Stoecklein's blog post.
Figure 1. Three World Views showing the Interaction between the System and the Individual by Hacquebord, in Mike Stoecklein’s blog post.  (Stoecklein, Mike. “We Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively.” Deming Blog. W. Edwards Deming Institute, 07 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2014)

If the world of school was depicted as shown in World I, then using VAM scores might be valid.  But World I is not real.  Teachers are not separate from the school system any more than are students.  So why does the state insist that teacher performance can be measured by student performance.  It doesn’t make any sense.  World II might be closer to the truth.  But surely teachers have some sense of independence, and are not totally dependent on the system.

So we come to World III where teacher performance is the result of an interaction between the individual and the system.  Yet, even in this model, it is not possible to dissect how the system affects performance, any more than how student achievement can be used as the reason to judge teacher performance.  There are too many other variables and interactions that affect performance if teachers and students.  If we want to improve teacher performance, then we must focus on the union between the system and person.  In this model we have to make the assumption that one’s ability as a teacher is not only related to his or her pedagogical abilities, but ones interaction with the system.  We could ask, What’s the contribution of the individual to the system?  What’s the contribution of the system in which the teacher works?  These are not easy questions to answer.  To continue to believe student achievement score gains are directly related to personal teacher performance is a falsehood.  It’s a misrepresentation of the complexity of teaching and learning.

Yet, in Georgia (and other Race to the Top winning states), large sums of money are being spent on hiring consultants to tell school districts how to manage its people.  Heero Hacquebord made an important point about this on a comment he made on the Mike Stoecklein’s blog post:

Our systems are cancerous diseases that consultants do not seem to have the courage to address, because that terminates their client contracts!!!  “Performance appraisal:, “pay for performance”, “bonuses”, “productivity measurements” for nurses and physicians, are sold by consultants at great costs to the health care systems. We talk about respect for people, but then we destroy them by the systems we use. We do not motivate people, we only activate them, which means they do what leadership want them to do because of the consequences if they did not? We end up with fear and intimidation, and people have to go along to put bread on the table (note, substitute the word nurses and physicians with administrators and teachers).  (Stoecklein, Mike. “We Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively.” Deming Blog. W. Edwards Deming Institute, 07 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2014)

To Stoecklein,  Hacquebord, and others, because system leaders do not understand variation, they continue to lack the knowledge to manage humanely; instead they prod along tampering with the system.  Because of this lack of understanding of systems theory, they think that most of the problems of schools can put on the shoulders of teachers, and they continue to think that simple causal relationships define the teacher-student relationship.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is the effect of using student test scores to evaluate teachers?  Its demoralizing not only to teachers, but imagine the kid who says to herself, “today I am going to take a test that will decide if my teacher is hired or fired!”  What’s the effect of this in the school culture?  How would you approach the curriculum if you knew that student scores will affect your performance and job stability?  Wouldn’t you teach to the test?  Using pre-test vs post-test scores, Value Added Measures, and high-stakes tests are unsubstantiated methods that have very low reliability on the one hand, and are simply invalid on the other.  How can school board members vote to carry out such as plan in their own school district?  What are they thinking if they do this?

Last year, a group of Georgia university professors, who are experts in the field of educational evaluation, posted a letter to Governor Deal, State School Superintendent Barge, as well as key politicians in the Georgia Legislature, and superintendents of school districts participating in Georgia’s Race to the Top.   The researchers provided detailed evidence that the teacher evaluation system that the Georgia Department of Education has created is not based on supporting research.  They raised the following concerns, and recommended that using student achievement scores to evaluate teachers should be postponed.  Their concerns included the following:

  1. Value Added Models are not proven;
  2. GA is not prepared to implement this evaluation model;
  3. This model is not the most useful way to spend education funds;
  4. Students will be adversely affected by this Value Added Model.

We need not only suspend the use of teacher evaluation systems based on student achievement gains, we need to think differently about schools.  We need to heed Einstein’s warning that we can’t solve the problems created by the current pattern of thought using the current pattern of thought.

My dear colleagues, school board members, school leaders, if you think student output as measured by achievement tests is a way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, please consider that you might be wrong.


EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets

Guest Post by Matt Jones

EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets.

Since 2010, EmpowerED, a grassroots nonprofit, has focused on building and growing a grassroots movement of parents, educators, and community members to support public education in Georgia.

This week, EmpowerED launched a campaign called “Stop Putting Our Schools on Shoestring Budgets.”  The campaign is designed to be a memorable and easy way for people to get involved with the education funding issue in Georgia and to make a difference.  With simple shoestrings, EmpowerED Georgia has created a strong symbol for education funding concerns in the state to share with others, especially elected officials.

Here is Matt Jones’ speech which was given December 12 at a public meeting on school funding issues at the InfoMart, in Marietta, Georgia. Two organizations, FACE It Cobb (Funding Awareness Campaign for Education) and EmpowerED Georgia organized the meeting.

Good morning.

We have gathered here today for those who can’t be here – our students. For the over 100,000
students who attend Cobb County Schools and for the over 1.6 million students who attend
public schools across Georgia.

My name is Matt Jones. I have taught for six years in a small rural school in southeast Georgia.
Last year, I was selected as the System Teacher of the Year. In 2010, I co-founded a statewide
education advocacy group called EmpowerED Georgia with parents and fellow teachers.
What motivated us to come together was seeing the negative impacts that the funding cuts were
having on our students – our kids. In Toombs County, our Superintendent also served as our
high school principal, our copier machines were turned off, we were urged to turn off our
classroom lights at lunchtime to save on electricity, and if a teacher was out, fellow teachers had
to give up their planning to cover their classes.

Personally, my local supplement (and that of other teachers) was cut out completely and then
was restored to $0.50 per pay (sodas in the school vending machines cost $0.60). I taught high
school English Language Arts, World Geography and Engineering – all in one year. Last year, I
taught over 280 students and had only a 20 minute planning period during the school day. In my
sixth year of teaching, I barely made more than what I did when I started.

Impact of State Funding

While this might seem dire, the impact that the state funding cuts had on my students was far
worse. Toombs County has been on a 160-day school calendar for four years, meaning our
students have lost a half year of instruction.

I remember my students’ reaction when the 160-day calendar was announced. As you can
imagine, at the beginning of the year most students were excited to get more time off. The story
was different at the end of the year when standardized test scores came back. One of the
students who had cheered at the beginning of the shortened school year was now crying
in class. She came to me and said: “Mr. Jones, I think if I could have been in your class just a
few more days I could have passed my test.”

While this story does not reflect Cobb County’s situation now, it predicts what will happen if
we sit back and do nothing, if we do not speak up for our kids.  Without our action today,
Toombs County and other schools like it will only see their situation degrade further and we will
see Cobb County slowly join them.

$1 Billion Cut

This year, the state cut over $1 billion to Georgia schools and over $65 million to Cobb County
Schools. These are more than just numbers.

Elected officials all agree that students should have access to a 21st century education but the
state is not even fully funding our schools using the 1986 formula.

While many countries are lengthening their school year, over 71% of Georgia schools are
shortening their school calendars. While élite private schools are touting small class sizes, since
2009, 95% of Georgia schools have increased their class sizes. While countries with some of
the highest test scores tend to have the lowest level of poverty, 58.9% of Georgia students are
Economically Disadvantaged and 38% of Georgia school districts are cutting back on services
to help low-performing students.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 5.57.45 PMIt is clear that Georgia students are not being given access to a world-class education.
Looking strictly at the numbers, it is hard to believe that this could be occurring in the state that
we hold so dear.

We hear a lot about Georgia being a place to do business but what business is going to want to
make serious investments in a state that is not adequately investing in its schools? We hear a
lot about supporting job creators but not about supporting teachers – who create all other

It is no coincidence that those most concerned about the cuts to school funding are the parents
and teachers who witness the negative effects each day.

Challenging the Critics

Though even faced with this reality, the critics continue to find a voice.

Some may argue that test scores have not eroded. These people ignore the erosion of non
tested courses — 42% of Georgia school districts report that they have eliminated or reduced
art and music courses and 62% report that they have eliminated or reduced other electives.
Critics also ignore the constant fundraising of PTAs, the use of local reserves, and the
increased burden on local taxpayers that have blunted the negative statistical effects of the
funding cuts. Teachers are going above and beyond to serve their students with less pay and
fewer resources. Long-term, this is an unsustainable path that will lead to the decline of the
teaching profession and student achievement.

Some may point to administrative bloat as a source for funding. Though school boards and
school leaders must certainly live by the example of shared sacrifice, I would invite critics to visit
my school system’s Central Office. The building dates back to the ‘60s, with window AC units
and administrators who fill multiple roles. Those who put a magnifying glass on the large
administrative costs of a few school systems, ignore the bare-bone operations of the vast
majority. Even critics of Cobb County must admit that you can’t cut enough administrators to fill
the projected $80 million deficit, especially at a time when federal and state mandates continue
to increase.

Still others suggest that local communities should shoulder more of the funding burden, yet
these critics conveniently forget that there was a time when more state support was being
provided without us having to max out the mil. Let’s be clear — it’s the state failing local
communities, not the other way around.

Like the name of the grassroots group in Cobb suggests, critics need to FACE the facts and
FACE reality.

The State’s Responsibility

No doubt, the path to fully funding Georgia’s schools will take multiple avenues and a long-term
plan but we cannot allow the state to escape its obligation and responsibility.

In education, we hear a lot about ‘accountability’. That we need to hold teachers accountable
and schools accountable. Now is time to hold our elected officials accountable.

The State Constitution Says

Georgia’s State Constitution states: “An adequate public education for the citizens shall be the
primary obligation of the state.” More than just constitutional obligation, our state elected
officials have a moral obligation to support our public schools and Georgia’s students.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 5.58.05 PM

This year, I have travelled across the state speaking with parents and teachers. Parents have
told me about buses too full to have enough seats for their children. Teachers have told me
about classes so full that students sit on the floor. Duct taped textbooks, ceiling tiles that
crumble and fall when it rains, and teachers buying their own copier paper. The stories of
desperation go on and on.

We must take the first step in the long but important process of fully funding our schools.
Estimates put discretionary state revenues for this year at $300-$400 million. Parents,
educators, and community members from across Georgia must come together to urge the
Governor and state legislators to ‘Fund Education First’ and put the revenue back into the
funding formula.

We must ensure that the Governor and state legislators do not do the political thing by
attempting to buy votes through the promise of teacher raises, but do the right thing by putting
the money back into the formula, helping both teachers and students.

Putting the revenue back into the formula would begin to lower class sizes, hire back teachers,
roll back teacher furlough days, restore the 180-day school year, and expand electives for

Parents – you must be advocates not only for your kids but for all kids. Educators – you must do
what you do best – educate. Educate the public concerning the issues facing education. For we
know that good schools lead to strong communities.

We cannot afford to sit back and watch as the quality of our schools and the education of our
children erodes. We must stand up and speak up for the more than 100,000 students in Cobb
County and the more than 1.6 million students across Georgia.

We must be their voice.