The governor successfully and deftly attached a merit pay framework to another bill passed Tuesday by a House Education subcommittee and then the full committee, surprising and disappointing representatives of the state’s two largest teacher organizations, both of whom said they were unaware that the amendment was coming and that teachers will be angered over the political maneuvering. Now, the bill goes to the full House next week for what promises to be a spirited debate.
Representatives of the Georgia Association of Educators and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators expressed dismay that the House Education Committee would act on such a complex topic on the 37th day of the 40-day General Assembly session and without teacher input.
But as House Education vice-chair Fran Millar noted, the state had another deadline that forced the rapid action — Georgia’s reapplication for a federal Race to the Top grant in which performance pay is a key component to land the prize. Georgia came in third in the first round, in which only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, won grants. The state has vowed to come out a winner in round 2.
“This is also about $500 million,” said Millar, in a slight overestimation of how much Georgia could get if it won a Race to the Top grant. “This is one of the criteria to be in the Race to the Top game. So, if we’re going to be in the game, let’s be in the game.”
With that, the committee gave its blessing to the amendment, but not before state Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked, “Are we trying to do an end run on merit pay here?” (The educators in the hearing room responded “yes.”)
To be clear, the language attached late this afternoon to Senate Bill 521 at the behest of Gov. Sonny Perdue does not mention merit or performance pay or reference the salary schedule. The governor could not get an outright merit pay bill through the Senate this session, but clearly was determined to offer the feds some proof that Georgia is at least laying the groundwork for a system that pays teachers based on how successful they are with their students.
The Perdue amendment takes a more indirect route, requiring statewide uniform teacher evaluations created and enacted by the state Board of Education by July 1, 2011. That single evaluation tool for teachers can take into consideration several factors, including student progress on standardized tests, peer review and parental input.
In a concession, the House Education Committee softened the language sought by the governor’s office, which wanted the bill to mandate that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation depend on a measure of student progress as reflected in test scores.
Now, the bill says that the statewide evaluation tool to be developed by the state board and used by every school system may consider student progress in deciding how well a teacher performs. However, the change was a hollow victory because the state board of education could easily reinsert the mandate language. The bill gives the governor-appointed school board free hand in developing the evaluation instrument and terms. This clearly paves the way for merit pay, said Herb Garrett of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.
As PAGE member Margaret Ciccarelli explained, the evaluations that teachers receive influences whether they are deemed unsatisfactory for two or more years, which, in turn, can lead to dismissal or a salary freeze. It is not accurate, she said, to contend that the teacher evaluation is not linked in any meaningful to salary.
While PAGE shared the belief that student performance and teacher evaluations should somehow be linked in the future, Ciccarelli told the House committee, “Day 37 is not the time to do it.”
She was followed to the podium by Marcus Downs of GAE. He told the committee that Georgia lost out in the first round of Race to the Top not only because it had no merit pay plan in the works, but because it failed to have all education stakeholders at the table, including teachers. “Our input was not sought. We were again not part of the discussion that was just held,” he said.
Downs was particularly upset that the Senate education committee had only this morning taken up Senate Resolution 1290, which said, in part:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA that there is created the Joint Study Committee on Performance Based Salaries for Teachers to be composed of 12 members as follows: three members of the Senate to be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, three members of the House of Representatives to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, three local board of education members to be appointed by the Governor, and three teachers, one each to be appointed by the Governor, the Georgia Association of Educators, and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
Committee members expressed concern about whether there was enough time to tackle such a controversial issue, but in the end most voted for it. It passed 12 to 2.
House members did pepper Erin Hames, the governor’s policy director, with questions about how this would impact the investment thus far in Class Keys, an evaluation system now being piloted in 1,200 Georgia schools.
Here are points that Hames mades about Class Keys in response to the committee questions:
- The state has spent $600,000 on Class Keys, all federal dollars. It hopes to build on Class Keys rather than discard it in developing a single uniform way of evaluating teachers. (The state would also develop companion tools to assess principals and assistant principals.)
- The Class Keys evaluation instrument is now in the “validation” phase to see how it is working. One issue is that Class Keys does not now contain a student progress component so that would have to be developed by DOE in rapid fashion to start using it in 2011.
- Only 30 percent of Georgia teachers teach classes where there are standardized tests that could be used in their performance evaluations to assess student progress. That means some other measure of student progress would have to be developed for 70 percent of the state’s teachers. Hames was confident that could be done, and would seek the input of teachers to do so.
In noting the objections of GAE and Page, Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley cited a teachers survey done by the governor’s office in November and December and the response to questions on whether teachers should be evaluated on student performance. The governor’s office maintains that eight out of 10 teachers favor it.
“It seems like PAGE and GAE are out of touch with what teachers actually believe…’Teachers should be evaluated both on classroom observation and the degree to which their students have grown academically” — 81 percent,”’ said Brantley in an e-mail.