Over-exaggeration from TRAGIC

Over-exaggeration from TRAGIC

Last week the group TRAGIC –Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes shared their thoughts with Governor Deal’s Education Reform Commission on potential changes to teacher pay models. 

TRAGIC

I have a few qualms with some of their statements:

These are the teachers whose voices have been silenced for the most part on the work of the Education Reform Commission by the direct exclusion of professional education organizations from the commission. I speak for all of these educators today, since lawmakers are not asking professional educators who are currently in classrooms, nor the parents of children who are attending public schools for any suggestions on how to improve education.

I thought there might be a case to say that educators weren’t being included in the commission. Granted, maybe unofficial teacher associations weren’t included but that doesn’t mean that educators aren’t on the commission. Maybe there aren’t individuals with TRAGIC’s specific point of view, but you can’t say that “lawmakers are not asking professional educators who are currently in classrooms.”

K-12 Educator related commission members:

Robert Avossa Superintendent Fulton County Schools
Kent Edwards Superintendent Carrolton City Schools
Hannah Heck Attorney, Vice Chair and Founding Board Member Westside Atlanta Charter School
Kylie Holley Principal/Superintendent Pataula Charter Academy
Noris Price Superintendent Baldwin County Schools
Elizabeth Rhodes Retired Teacher Educators First
Will Schofield Superintendent Hall County Schools
Anthony Townsend Principal Locust Grove Middle School, Henry County
Alvin Wilbanks Superintendent Gwinnett County Schools
Pam Williams 2011 Georgia Teacher of the Year Appling County High School

Could you have more teachers on the list? Sure. But its incorrect to state that educators aren’t represented.

Any pay scale that fails to incentivize experience and education can only be construed as an attempt to drive teachers out of the profession before they reach retirement.  While the state budget might benefit from paying fewer retirement benefits and lower health-care costs from fewer retirees, the children of Georgia will certainly not benefit from a revolving door of teachers.

Any pay scale that ONLY considers experience and education can only be construed as an attempt to play the role of employment agency to potentially ineffective teachers – which take valuable learning days away from students everyday when they provide ineffective instruction.

The teaching crisis that is just now being seen in Georgia is a result of fewer teachers entering the profession, and is also a result of more teachers leaving Georgia’s schools.  You must have a mix of new and experienced teachers in every school.  New teachers bring energy, vitality, and new ideas to education, while veteran teachers bring wisdom, experience, and knowledge gained through years of interacting with children.

Maybe fewer teachers are entering the profession because the “veteran” teachers who we can’t confirm are even effective, are holding up all the jobs. There are hundreds of thousands of education professionals who can’t get a job because of nepotism and no open positions. I believe most new teachers are interested in learning from effective veteran teachers, but I can’t say I know many veteran teachers who are willing to learn about the new ideas and strategies the new teachers are bringing in.

 

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How do we get to a fair funding formula?

Jarod Apperson recently wrote a response to one of Maureen Downey’s articles about the new proposed teacher salary model. He is a graduate of NYU in both finance and accounting, Apperson is pursing a doctorate in economics at Georgia State University, focusing on education data analysis. He writes the Grading Atlanta blog and serves on the board of the public, non-profit charter Kindezi Schools.

Having a focus on education data analysis and Ph.D. in economics I would ask Jarod what he thinks would be an acceptable new funding formula. Maybe he has made a recommendation and I have missed it?

Maureen agrees with Jarod in this synopsis of his comments:

It makes no sense to rely on the Legislature for a deep-dive reform of education. Lawmakers have neither the expertise to address what are complex questions nor the ability to respond with agility and accuracy to the fast-changing education landscape, witnessed by the fact the funding formula they’re attempting to revise goes back three decades.

Jarod describes the current formula this way:

Our current funding system, introduced in 1985, is complicated but the crux of it can be boiled down to this:  about 63 percent of the money earned is based on needs of the students served while 37 percent of the money is driven by characteristics of the teachers employed, incentivizing schools to hire teachers who fit certain profiles that the state deems more valuable.

A state-level incentive structure makes sense if legislatures are incentivizing schools to do things that lead to greater achievement, but it is inefficient if the state is incentivizing things that don’t work.

The evidence suggests that Georgia’s Legislature is not very good at prescribing education approaches, and the current incentive structure implemented by the state does not align with what we know about the relative value of training and experience.

His demonstration of the legislature incentivizing things that do not lead to greater student achievement is how the pay scale jumps greatly for advanced degrees, but takes a teacher with a bachelor’s degree 14 years to make the same as a teacher with an advanced degree and no teaching experience. He recommends that we reward years of experience over the advanced degree also in an effort to retain our teachers.

For example, there is clear evidence teacher experience matters, and year-to-year improvements are particularly dramatic early in a teacher’s career. A fifth-year teacher is substantially more effective than a rookie.

If the state’s incentive structure were strategic, it would give teachers large raises in the first five years. Instead, Georgia teacher earnings grow a paltry $2,036 over that period, or about 1.5 percent a year. That’s measly compared to the early-career salary growth seen in other skilled professions like technology, accounting or engineering.

Rather than paying teachers substantially more as they gain valuable early-career experience, the state offers huge incentives for something that does not lead to greater student achievement: advanced degrees.

In Georgia, it takes 14 years for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree to reach the starting salary of someone with zero experience and a specialist degree.  This emphasis on advanced degrees over experience is not strategic. It doesn’t benefit students and doesn’t make teaching a more attractive profession. Instead, the only real winners from this scheme are the degree-granting institutions that collect tuition from Georgia’s teachers.

Funding formulas are a problem all over the country. Some legislatures, like in Massachusetts, don’t want to admit that they haven’t met their own benchmark for funding schools because of the automatic infusion of cash required to fix it. So they make little tweaks to get by, but won’t commit to really fully funding schools.

The one thing I will say for Massachusetts that I don’t believe Georgia does, is MA adjusts its state contribution based on a formula of what the LEA can pay. In Worcester, the state paid ~75% of the total LEA budget. But in other LEA’s where the city could pay more of their share, the state paid a smaller % (and because the communities were affluent the cities contributed funds over the budgeted amount). It appears that in DeKalb County, the state contributes closer to 30% of the costs to run the school system and the county has to make up the remaining 70%.

It also sounds like the state is in a catch 22 where I assume the legislators want to see progress before they contribute more funding, but the schools are trying to say they need more funding to demonstrate progress.

 

 

Not a true turnaround effort – Worcester Tech

Not a true turnaround effort – Worcester Tech

I’ve been meaning to write about my thoughts on Worcester Tech in Worcester, MA since last year when Obama gave the commencement speech. This month, an interview with the principal of Worcester Tech came across my twitter feed.  Here’s my thoughts on her interview, the school and what she didn’t say (or that the report did not print).

It’s a very cool school that has an incredible balance between academics and technical experience. Each week students rotate through academic and tech weeks for 90 tech days and 90 academic days. This model actual helps to demonstrate that my theory that you could have elective based classes instead of Math, Science, English, Social Studies and still teach the standards, concepts and skills. They have a great way of introducing students to all the tech disciplines and empowering them to make choices. There is virtually nothing like that in traditional schools. The school is a great opportunity to get a head start and build a great college application.
worcester tech logo

 

The principal says that the school used to be focused towards strictly students going into the workforce after high school. The test scores where falling and they were going to shut down the school. Instead they turned it around. There is just one item missing from this interview that brings more light to this situation.

Worcester Tech now has an application process. Here is the Application  and the Admission guidelines for the school.  I know this predicament well because I was a middle school guidance intern at a middle school in Worcester. The application requires data regarding grades, attendance, and behavior record. So who do you think is attending Worcester Tech?

In the past the admission requirements were probably weak if at all. That probably wasn’t the right method. But is this the correct method?

Let’s assume that a majority of non college attending kids went to the old school. They probably didn’t have good grades, or good attendance records, or  good behavior records. Those facts probably lead to the decline of the school. So when the “turned around” the school…..where did those students go?

They didn’t turnaround the school. They literally built a brand new different school. And it’s a great school. My two issues are these:

What happens to all the students who used to attend Worcester Tech? The only school in the city that could prepare them for a career after HS is only open to students with good grades, good attendance and good behavior. Basically, the kids who need a great school like this, likely are not getting admitted. This actually sounds like what most people think charter schools do – they selectively choose students and by doing so eliminate “unworthy” students. Most charter schools, through their choice of attendance zones operate in under served communities and through a lottery serve at risk students. But, I will ask again, What happens to the students who used to attend Worcester Tech?

Did you know that only 1/4th of Worcester HS graduating seniors attend a 4 year university? Another 1/4th go to local community colleges (which I hear is where students are pushed towards due to their lack of success) and 50% go directly into the workforce, or at least not to any college directly after school.

So if 95% of Worcester Tech grads go to college – those students are not likely any of the 50% going directly into the workforce.

All of a sudden does Worcester Tech seem a bit exclusive? I’d say so.

Now, I think the school is great. Students who do well in school deserve a chance to get ahead, build their tech skills to get into the best colleges, and learn in an empowering school environment. But on the backs of the students who need that school environment?

Which brings me to my second point, this type of school should be available to all students who wish to attend. There should be enough campuses to accommodate every student who need this opportunity. We should be incorporating more of their school culture and style into traditional public schools. We need more Worcester Tech’s.

But please don’t laud them as turning around a school – when the students who were there to begin with are not there. And we are still not serving those students who need us. Because of the admission reqs, its very likely that the 95% college going graduates would have also gone to college from their sending school. Worcester Tech may not actually be increasing Worcester’s graduation rate. Just moving the numbers around.

Real motivation over APS hiring OSD policy creator

Real motivation over APS hiring OSD policy creator

This year legislation passed narrowly to put a constitutional amendment to the voters regarding the state being able to take over what they are labeling failing schools and run them with tax payer monies. AJC gives a quick review:

The proposed change to the constitution would allow the state to take over “failing” schools and close them, run them or convert them to independent charter schools. The schools would be part of a new statewide district for up to a decade. This new superintendent, selected by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, would have authority to take local property tax revenue to fund both the schools and the opportunity district administration.

Other posts about the Opportunity School District:

Opposition to Gov Deal’s Opportunity School District wasn’t strong enough to prevent passage

GA follows LA & TN to an Opportunity School District

Stop vilifying pro-ed reform Democrats

GA AFT affiliate opposes OSD – big surprise!

The AJC reports that Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstaphen has hired Governor Deal’s policy advisor who crafted the Opportunity School District legislation for the purpose of not allowing her 26 APS schools currently with CCPRI scores lower than 60 to become part of the OSD.

APS logoGlenn Delk, an Atlanta lawyer and long-time advocate for parental choice in education responds to Carstaphen’s attempt to avoid the OSD with education savings accounts. (He has written about these before). He writes:

She concluded her explanation with these telling comments…”Through all of these efforts and community engagement, we can find a path that ensures that all of our schools remain APS schools.  But that path can only be defined by child-centric agendas and not adult-focused ones…”If she and the Board of Education truly put the interests of children ahead of adults, instead of hiring high-priced consultants to “…help us navigate the system to avoid the OSD…”,they would vote to allow APS students to use education savings accounts to choose the school which best fit their needs. The time has come for the Board of Education and its superintendent to stop trying to avoid a state takeover, and instead fulfill what Gov. Deal has called a moral duty to help students trapped in failing schools.

Education savings account sounds like the word “voucher” if you ask me. Also sounds like privatizing social security into personal accounts. Just making an observation that it appears school voucher advocates have re-branded away from the negative connotation of the word “voucher.”

He continues to make the point that APS has had the opportunity to educate these children and haven’t been successful especially for children in poverty or low socioeconomic status.

It’s been five years since the cheating scandal first surfaced.  In those five years, the Atlanta Board of Education has spent more than $3.5 billion in taxpayers’ funds to pay for a school system which has, according to the state’s 2014 CCRPI rankings, 31 elementary, 12 middle and 13 high schools, or over 50 percent ranked D or F.

However, those results don’t begin to show the depth of the problem, given Georgia’s low academic standards compared to the national NAEP results.  Keep in mind that Georgia ranks either dead last, or next to last, when comparing our standards to other states, using the National Assessment of Educational Progress results as the benchmark.

According to the 2013 NAEP results, 88 percent of black 8th grade students in APS are not proficient in math, and 84 percent are not proficient in reading.

Another indicator of the lack of acceptable academic achievement by both APS students, as well as statewide, is the recent report by the ACT that only 11 percent of Georgia high school graduates who qualify for free and reduced lunch met college readiness benchmarks on the four major subjects.

Since over 76 percent of APS students are low-income, APS is clearly not meeting Gov. Deal’s goal of having at least 60 percent of entering 9th grade students ultimately receive a two or four-year college degree.

Delk sees Carstaphen’s action as trying to circumvent the PSD process for the protection of her district, image, and to protect teacher’s jobs – but NOT with the primary objective being student’s education. I mean really – they have had all this time and why now? Because the state has threaten to take some of your schools away? You shouldn’t have needed the Governor to tell you that these schools needed help.

Delk makes the claim that all over the country students are being  segregating students by wealth, income or zip code, which is unconstitutional. Parents deserve school choice and those who can’t afford choices should be able to use the money allocated for their child for a school of their choice that fits their needs.

Atlanta is a microcosm of the state and the country when it comes to the issue of giving low-income minority families the same rights and financial means as wealthier families, to choose the best school for their child.  Those residents with the money to do so have bought a house in the right zip codes where their children can attend Buckhead or Midtown schools such as Jackson or Morris Brandon, where less than 10 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, or pay $25,000 or more in after-tax income to attend Lovett, Westminster, etc.

While these parents can exercise school choice, the low-income families, who are overwhelmingly black, whose children attend one of the 68 APS schools where the free and reduced lunch percentage is 98 percent or more, have no such choice.

Does Carstaphen really have the best interests of students at heart? or is it district image, her own success, pride and jobs for adults?

GA may overhaul teacher pay

GA may overhaul teacher pay

I’ve always wondered how teacher pay scales started and were implemented. I understood that with a teacher’s union contract it is all laid out in the contract. But in states where there is no official union and it is a right to work state, I’ve often wondered how teacher pay scales got involved.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

As it turns out, these teacher pay scales have usually been entered as a law through the state legislature and the contract process is somewhat unnecessary. Here in GA teachers are paid by number of years on the job and educational level of attainment. That’s all. This generally creates an uneven balance where veteran teachers are making a lot of money while newer teachers are making much less. Quality of teaching has nothing to do with the pay.

Under the current system, in place for decades, teachers are paid based on their years on the job and their education level. Their salaries rise according to a fixed state schedule that specifies minimum pay, though some districts pay above that.

Deal wants to free up money so teachers can be paid more if they perform better or if they are teaching subjects — science, math — in which there is high demand for their talents.

But Deal also doesn’t want a formula that costs more, and the money for high performers would have to come from somewhere, like lower-performing teachers.

It sounds like the process will be a slow one IF implemented at all, because the new salaries are only effective to new teachers and those who opt into this system.

Some suggest that it may not help with recruitment and retention, if the teachers feel the system isn’t working on their behalf. But the Governor wants us to be able to take some of the money from an ineffective tenured teacher and provide it to a newer teacher who is performing at the proficient and exemplary stage.

This new proposal is only in the incubation stage and far from being enacted into policy. It would have to win approval of the General Assembly, and before that it would have to emerge as a formal recommendation from Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Charles Knapp, who chairs both the full commission and the funding subcommittee, was careful to describe the subcommittee’s support for this proposal as only a “preliminary consensus.”

Next, officials will calculate the effect on each district, which could alter the debate. Also important is the reaction of teachers, whom Georgia is working to recruit and retain. (One of the commission’s other subcommittee’s is tasked with figuring out how to do that better.) Hames and other officials have said current teachers will be grandfathered under the current pay structure if they choose, but they acknowledge the state can’t make an ironclad promise.

While this is not perfect, and is nowhere near ready to be implemented, I think it is a good conversation to have. We need to have more incentives and opportunities for newer teachers who may be as good or better than some of our veteran teachers. I have seen plenty of veteran teachers who aren’t effective in today’s environment and we need the tools to make appropriate adjustments.

This shouldn’t be seen as an “attack” on teachers – it’s about making sure ALL of our kids have an effective teacher. Our public schools are not an employment agency, we need to make sure our kids receive a high quality education. They need to be able to grow into productive members of society, because right now too many are not.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Huffington Post reported on a Superintendent’s Summit this past May. The writer proposes 3 ideas that would change our schools. The first is one I am very much a fan of – changing teacher education programs.

Ok, that is not exactly what he says, he says there is a paradigm where the gifted students have all the resources and great teachers and the new teachers usually start with the most challenging students and fewest resources and support.

New teachers should first start with gifted students and the best-behaved classes in order to prepare for more challenging classrooms. Teaching the gifted students should not be a reward that educators are able to cash-in after many years of service, but rather the education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

How does he propose that would occur? In union run states it’s near impossible to fire a teacher, let alone reassign veteran teachers to underperforming students and slide the new teachers in. Even in states like GA where there are no unions, the teacher step system and nepotism rule over the system to the point where the writer’s suggestion is virtually impossible to implement.

Secondly, I am not sure that working with gifted, well behaved students would prepare a teacher to work with challenging students. There are certain mindsets, behavior management strategies, educational learning practices, patience and caring for EVERY student that a teacher must possess to succeed in challenging classrooms. Those are not skills learned in teacher education and not gained working with well behaved students. The right teacher education program and the right learning experiences through student teaching must be obtained at a minimum.

I would also argue that sending veteran teachers to work with challenging classrooms proves part of my point. They may not have gained those skills necessary to manage the behavior of a challenging classroom and if they believe they have, they may operate like a prison or the military instead of instilling hope and opportunity to our students. This is also because the description of challenging classrooms has evolved over time to a much different environment than any of our veterans teachers ever grew up with. School is much different than when I attended and I am only 30 years old.

Also, who says those veteran teachers will even agree to teach those students? They may retire or quit if they are forced out of their cozy advanced students classes. I really don’t see logistically or practically how this would work.

Right now, teacher education programs are short maybe 30 credits, about one year. Student teaching programs run from a couple of weeks, to a 6 month stint, sometimes one year (first time I saw this was Clark University in Worcester, MA). While they have classes on pedagogy, they rarely cover psychological, social-emotional skills or education learning disorders. My ability as a school counselor to assist students and teachers with student learning is derived from my ability to understand psychology first and implementation of curriculum second. Then a teacher can come from a place of understanding “why” a child isn’t learning and not just managing their behavior to gain compliance on school work.

I recently wrote about how we need to have the right teachers in the right place at the right time. I am hopeful that this was the essence of his statement. Also maybe we could have the student teaching performed at challenging schools, so where ever a new teachers teaches he/she may have some of the experience they need. But, with so many ineffective teachers in challenging schools, I am not sure I want our student teachers learning from those teachers either.

 

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

My first thought when I read this article by Education Post was to come out guns a-blazzing for the public to have input in education issues. When I read one of the first supporting links, I’ve come to a slightly different feeling.

In this The Educator’s Room post, the teacher is simply stating that teachers want to see more of themselves in leadership positions. I would argue that the opportunities aren’t readily accessible or teachers don’t try hard enough to get those opportunities. I had an idea of starting an institute that would coach and train teachers to run for office. I think effective teachers carry many of the qualities of a great public official, but so few end up going in that direction. And honestly, unions have not been helping to make these opportunities possible or maybe there would be fewer complaints about how there is never a teacher to provide input.

It could be that teachers are just tired, and don’t have the energy to pursue something different. Their teacher salaries don’t allow for a huge savings that you could campaign without working and still pay your bills. Teachers are more generically also women who traditionally carry multiple roles in their household in addition to teacher, wife, mother, care giver…etc. I want to make those opportunities more available to teachers.

However, to follow the author of the Education Post piece, yes I think that non-teachers are often criticized and left out of important discussions about education.

The first is that we, tax payers are paying for the schools, and we should have say in whether we are satisfied with the results or not.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

As parents,  we have a right to make sure our child is in the best possible school for him or her. We want and deserve to have choices. We see how school affects our kids and that feedback is valuable. How parents feel about the school and the staff is valuable.

Student have a tremendous amount of feedback that we rarely, if ever listen to. This is their education. They need to have a say in what works for them and what can be done differently. That doesn’t mean you give in to silly things, but talking with students to get that one or two tidbit that you didn’t know that would really make a difference for them.

Other people with related skills should be able to consult on those skills – such as finance, human resources, health, counseling, management – many items that teachers often may not.

I’m not over here telling you what should be in the English curriculum. But I can tell you that the high school graduates we need should be able to do x,y, and z. I know from my own personal experience that I didn’t learn how to write anything but a simple research paper in all of high school. And I never understood why I didn’t get a high grade in 12th grade English. By the time I got to college I realized I lack certain writing skills and worked to build them.

But I can tell you that many students are not engaging with traditional curriculum and I think they would perform better and be more engaged with all electives based classes with intentional ways of developing English skills. Model UN doesn’t have to be an after school program, or just an elective. It could be regular class where you learn history, writing skills, public speaking skills, strategy, team work, and responsibility. And it’s a real entity of the World that brings real world experience right to students. Why can’t you have gardening classes where you can learn science, math and incorporate a reading and writing element. I learned more in my “elective” history classes than I ever did in my required classes.

These are common observances that all people have and they all have a right to express them and others should listen and take that into account. When the public has questions about the school department budget, they have as much responsibility as a tax payer as the person who wrote the budget to ensure it’s spent well.

Personally, I have a Master’s in school counseling. I interned at an at-risk middle school in Worcester to specifically have that experience to learn from. You know a good teacher when you see one and who know those who are just biding their time. The biggest revelation I had was that no matter if I spent 30 minutes counseling a student, he/she was just going to have to return to 7 hours of subpar teaching. my work would probably be erased in the first 30 minutes. These kids need to be rescued from their own school. I felt like they were just required by law to be there and everyone is just going through the motions. These are experiences that are worth while that deserve to be heard.

I try to stay in my “camp” if you will when I make suggestions, but my 60-credit masters in school counseling gave me much greater knowledge of psychology and how students and adults learn than many teachers received training in. I may not be qualified to contribute in a curriculum way, but the implementation and how students learn is something that I know about. Differentiated learning is very important. Looking at a student and working to discover what emotionally, academically or physically is holding him back, before you discipline, assume that the student “doesn’t want to learn”, send to the principal’s office…and the rest of the menu of discipline. If you treat kids like animals, they will most certainly act like animals.

Career and college guidance. That is a whole other story. Schools are doing very little if any college and career guidance. Not in middle school where it needs to be and not with every child in high school. Schools need to admit they are not accomplishing these goals and make sure that utilize community resources to do so. And you HAVE to start in middle school if you have any hope of the student starting 9th grade on the right foot. All the resources being poured into high schools are completing missing the beginning of the pipeline.