When the state of Georgia received a half billion dollars of Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education, it agreed to carry out several mandates, but two that stand out are:
- Adopt the Common Core State Standards
- Use Student Tests Scores as a Metric for Evaluating Teacher Performance
In a recent article in the Marietta Daily Journal, it was reported the the School Board of Marietta is considering a new compensation plan that will essentially replace the current system in which teachers are rewarded for their experience and their ability.
The plan will use student test scores on achievement tests to measure the effectiveness of teachers and principals. The student test scores will be used in conjunction with a teacher observation instrument developed by the Georgia Department of Education with Race to the Top funds. Neither of these methods has been validated nor have they been shown to be reliable measures of teacher effectiveness.
Achievement tests are designed to measure student learning in a specific course. The questions on the test are a sample of what could be tested. Indeed, the score that students make on such a test is a prediction, and does not really represent what the student knows. These tests were never designed to measure teacher or instructor knowledge, or effectiveness. But that doesn’t matter to policy makers.
Even though we know that these methods are unscientific, the Georgia Legislature passed HB 244 (Annual Performance Evaluations) in which teachers will be graded as exemplary, proficient, needs development, or ineffective based student scores and the state observation system.
To get the ball rolling, the Georgia Department of Education hiredEducation Resource Strategies (ERS), a not-for-profit corporation in Boston. (Disclaimer: I was born in Boston, and began my teaching career there).
The Devil is in the Details
Why was this company chosen?
ERS is a company that specializes in “bold and systemic reform” of school districts around the country. They also say that “they are dedicated to helping urban school systems organize talent, time and money to create good schools at scale.”
There are 40 people listed as staff on the ERS website. Very few of these people have earlier experience as teachers or education leaders. I could only find three people who had earlier teaching experience, and one of these was a Teach for America recruit who taught in Texas, but apparentley moved on. Many of the staff had experiences in corporate America, including Fidelity Investments, Bain Capital, TFA, and the Gates Foundation.
One of its funders is The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is not surprising. As Mercedes Schneider has documented, Gates only funds projects within their own priorities, and directly contacts organizations they wish to fund. I wonder what are their shared priorities?
Georgia, ERS, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, share this idea: that a teacher’s compensation should be based on VAM scores that are derived from student achievement test scores. The do this by trying to convince everyone that ignorance is bliss. They cleverly ignore valid research on student learning.
To promote the idea that teacher compensation must change, the ERS received funding from the Gates Foundation, to develop a workshop entitled “Teacher Compensation Workshop.” The workshop can be purchased from ERS and the materials include: one facilitator’s guide, one workbook for every participant, and one deck of Hold’em cards for every team (of 4 – 8). Follow this link to see the Promo on the teacher compensation workshop.
According to the Teacher Compensation Promo, the most important factor affecting student achievement (according to ERS, Gates, and the Georgia Department of Education) is the effectiveness of the teacher. Karen Hawley Miles, President & Executive Director of ERS claims that there is no other factor that affects achievement as much as the teacher factor. Sorry but she is wrong, and for her to make the claim the teacher factor trumps other factors out there is not only unscientific, but is unethical and immoral.
One of the most trusted educators who analyses educational research data is Matthew DeCarlo. Figure 1 is a graphic showing his analysis of math and reading growth percentiles and poverty as measured by the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch in D.C.
As you can readily see, the correlations in all cases are negative, and significant at the .01 level. This tells us that there is a relationship between poverty and achievement in math and reading. Ignoring this is unacceptable, but not to policy makers who have a fetish for the unscientific. So, for the head of the ERS company to claim that teacher effectiveness is the most important factor influencing student achievement is refuted here, and in many other analyses.
If you want more, here is a robust research study that was peer viewed and was not done by a left or right leaning think tank.
And in research reported on this blog, I cited the research of Dr. Michael Marder, Professor of Physics at the University of Texas (see Figure 2) who has analyzed data on the relationship between poverty and achievement in Texas, and other states. His findings are convincing. Just look at this graph. The higher the poverty (in either charter or public schools), the lower the achievement. ERS is not build on a solid framework of educational research.
But that doesn’t matter. Facts are not important if you have a policy that is part of a larger plan to privatize public education, to demoralize teachers and their unions, and staff schools with essentially non-certified, un-licienced, and inexperienced teachers who will only stay for two or three years, and then move on to something more lucrative.
The Promo from ERS tries to convince that teacher factor is the most significant factor affecting learning. Thus, Ms. Miles states in the Promo that:
It is our moral obligation to get an effective teacher in every classroom, especially those classrooms that serve our most needy children.
I don’t know about you, but it is sickening to keep hearing very well-off folks repeating this line about needy children, when they turn around and ignore the very factor that holds back so many students, and that is poverty. Why doesn’t ERS, the Gates Foundation, and the Department of Education address this issue head on?
Midnight Train to Georgia
So, the ERS is coming to town. And not one town in Georgia.
ERS has established a state-level partnership with the Georgia Department of Education and five school districts. I wrote a piece here that the Marietta City Schools received $90,000 of the Race to the Top money in August to hire ERS to establish a new compensation structure for the school district employees.
The ERS partnership with the Georgia Department of Education involves financial analysis and school resource analysis in Marietta City, Futon County, Hall County, Vidalia City, Treutlen County. Assuming each district received $90,000 (as did Marietta), the expenses could be as high as $450,000 plus whatever ERS charges the Department of Education.
Here is a link to a list of articles on the ERS website detailing the work with the state of Georgia. Taking the Midnight Train to Reform in Georgia by Ashley Woo of ERS describes some of the ways ERS is steering the state toward screwing teachers in the name of freedom and flexibility and greater local school autonomy. In the details, you will find that teacher compensation is a code word for using student test scores as a way to pay teachers.
In my own view, the ERS is a Trojan Horse that has arrived in Georgia, I guess by Midnight Train, and it will release into the state a set of propositions that will de-professionalize the teaching profession, and use methods of evaluation that are unscientific, unreliable and invalid. The Trojan Horse arrived in Georgia thanks to the Race to the Top fund, which I will report later this week has been a failure.
If you are a Georgia teacher do you want to be leveraged by a a group of corporate managers?