In the second installment of its teacher quality series this morning, the AJC questions whether the state’s $400 million Race to the Top grant will improve teacher quality and evaluation as intended.
According to the AJC series, Georgia spends more than $1 billion annually on teacher improvement efforts with little evidence of success. Among the problems identified by the AJC education team in their month-long investigation: The state hasn’t figured out a way to identify and remove ineffective teachers. In 2011, only 628 of the state’s 114,248 teachers received unsatisfactory job evaluations.
(The AJC is making this occasional series on teacher quality available only to subscribers. You can read the full article by picking up a copy of Monday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution or logging on to the paper’s iPad app. Here is a link to the AJC digital options, including an E-subscription, which gives you the actual paper online.)
The series reports:
State leaders are hoping Race to the Top will usher in the kind of comprehensive improvement that has eluded the state for a decade. But there is no guarantee the plans will ever materialize statewide. Twenty-six districts are signed up to pilot the program, with others slated to follow after a four-year roll out. Significant portions of the plan must first be approved by state lawmakers and education policymakers before other districts adopt the changes.
Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said it’s too soon to tell if Race to the Top will be a positive force for change, or if key components (such as the new salary scale that will pay the highest performing teachers more) will be enacted.
“There is the concern about the Legislature’s ability to pay and their somewhat whimsical attention span,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t advise any educator I know to predicate a car or mortgage payment on any special salary program or incentive.”
Georgia’s plan calls for student academic growth to play a large role in decisions about teachers, along with more traditional measures such as classroom observations. New teachers whose students aren’t showing enough growth on tests will not be recertified. Other teachers will be recertified every five years only if their students post the proper gains. Teachers will receive training based on where data says they need to improve.
Some metro school districts are already doing innovative work around teacher effectiveness that could be a signal of things to come. In 2010, Atlanta Public Schools was awarded $10 million from the Gates Foundation to fund its “Effective Teacher in Every Classroom” program. The intentions are similar to those laid out in Race to the Top: Use academic growth to see how much value a teacher is adding, evaluate them using a more thorough tool and provide training and support where needed.
Race to the Top is spurring change around the country and some feel Georgia’s pilot approach isn’t aggressive enough. The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank, raised concerns about whether the state’s program will have staying power, since there’s no specific commitment to expand after the grant expires. Other states have written aggressive changes into law, ensuring the reforms will be adopted in every district. For example, Tennessee changed its law to require that all districts make 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation hinge on student scores.
But others believe the pilot approach is a smart strategy. House Education Committee Chair Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said lawmakers won’t consider legislation in the 2012 General Assembly session. In the meantime, they will be watching how the evaluation system plays out in the 26 local districts.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog