This is my live account from the Georgia Partnership on Excellence in Education daylong media symposium Friday featuring education movers and shakers
First up is Dr. Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the partnership, on the Top Ten Education Issues to Watch in 2013.
Please note that all these comments are from the speakers today, not from me. (I did add a few comments, but I clearly designate them as mine.) I am writing as folks speak and may miss a typo but will go back during the breaks and clean this up.
Top 10 issues, says Rickman:
Race to the Top: Halfway through implementing grant. Where do we stand?
Elevating low performing schools. Will require high performing teachers and leaders.
How do we pay for k-12 eduction? (”I don’t know,” says Rickman. “That really is the answer to that question.”)
Help wanted: Hiring 250,000 new graduates. Where are they? Only 42 percent has a college degree; State needs 250,000 more graduates.
Early learning: What this issue focuses on is high quality learning from the zero to age 3 population.
Stem: Promoting the sciences and math for both workforce and economic development. Fastest growing job fields in state and nation. What is Georgia doing to promote STEM learning?
Waiver from No Child and what it means.
Technology; the next generation of learning. How is technology being used in classroom?
Flexibility and choice.
Final issue: Demographics; Changing face of Georgia public schools. Tremendous demographic shift within Georgia. For all these reforms to be successful and for education continue to improve from birth through work, we need to pay attention to those demographic shifts, says Rickman.
Rickman says her major concern is the growth of children living in poverty in Georgia. The key to economic development is a strong education system. Children in poverty undermine a strong education system as they are harder to educate, need more resources.
Rickman is now delving into a few of these issues, starting with the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind. (Georgia is among 33 states that earned already earned waivers. Seven more state waivers are pending.)
Under AYP, proficiency goal was all students proficient by 2014. No longer under that mandate. Now, the goal for Georgia is to reduce the number of non-proficient student within six years.
There are four performance categories of schools, three of which only apply to Title 1 schools. The categories include reward schools, which are high performing or show the greatest gains among cohorts. Second category is priority, which means the school falls in bottom five percent and has one of these three liabilities: low graduation rates, lack of progress or received a school improvement grant. A focus school is also only Title 1. Schools have to be in bottom 10 percent and either suffer low grad rates or a wide achievement gap
The last category is alert and applies to all schools: This is calculated by grad rates and test scores lower than the stage average.
Rickman also went through the state’s new career ready performance index, which has many moving parts.
The state has a complex, holistic formula to rank schools that includes student achievement, progress, an achievement gap closing score, an exceeding the bar score. The states also assigns ratings for financial efficiency and the school climate.
“It is very complicated but what the state was trying to do is get away from good school, bad school, pass, fail,” says Rickman, “and use this as a learning tool for the districts and the schools.”
Jumping in is Dorie Turner Nolt, the assistant director of communications for the state Department of Education. (She is the former education reporter for the Associated Press and covered Arne Duncan and Race to the Top.)
Nolt said the complexity and shadings within theses ratings will be channeled into an easier-to-understand format for parents.
Morris News Service reporter Walter Jones just asked Rickman what parents can do if they are not happy with their school. She says she recommends parents join the PTA and get involved and try to push change. Another reporter asked now what parents can do if they have gotten involved and are still unhappy. (These reporters come across the state so I don’t know all of them.)
Rickman says parents can choose another option for their child. She says there are choice options now in Georgia.
Now, she is being asked what the penalties are if schools don’t make the grade. Are there punishments?
Rickman said the response will not be punishment, but intervention by the state for schools in trouble, whether Title 1 or not.
My former AJC colleague Maria Saporta just asked about the impact of kids in poverty.
Rickman warms to this topic as she says it is pivotal to the future of education in Georgia.
–60 percent of our kids in public schools qualify for free and reduced lunch, a 10 percent increase since 2007. That is going to have a big impact because of the resources required to bring poor kids up to speed.
–56 percent of students in k-12 are non-white. “We have a diverse, increasingly poor population that our schools are trying to educate.” She says investing in early education for low-income kids brings a $7 return for every dollar spent. She says schools need more bilingual teachers.
Overall, Rickman says she is pleased with policies that the state has put in place. But says we have to keep an eye on the shifting demographics, as these kids present greater needs and we have to see what teachers ought to have to address these students. She is now done speaking.
Now up is Race to the Top update, presented by Dr. Susan Andrews, Georgia Department of Education.
She is talking about the online resources for teachers, including standards and student performance.
She is explaining that the DOE Office for School Turnaround was created to provide concentrated effort at the school level to help priority schools, which are those identified as lowest achieving – defined as the lowest 5 percent in state in achievement or having less than a 60 percent high school graduation rates.
On how to create great teachers and leaders: “We expect more authentic assessments, more project-based learning. We expect teachers to differentiate because of the differences in ability and achievement levels of their students. We have to train them to do this. This is a new way to teach school.”
State intends to measure how much a student grows while in a teacher’s classroom. Based on student growth and observations, teachers will be rated exemplary, proficient, needs development or ineffective. (See earlier blog on problems with this teacher evaluation measure.) Once they are evaluated, top performing teachers will receive bonuses through Race to the Top.
Principals will do two 30 minute observation sessions of each teacher. There are also four 10-minute walk-throughs where principals are looking at one or two standards in action. If principal does not see enough evidence when he or she visits the classroom, then the teachers will have an opportunity to provide documentation that they are meeting the standard.
For first time: Value-added piece will be added to teacher evaluations. If teacher teaches tested subject, CRCT or EOCT, then they will have a student growth percentile that says “Here is where that student scored on prior test and here is where that student scored today.”
For teacher teaching in non-tested subjects — 70 percent of courses in a school , including art music, AP class, IB classes, foreign language are in the non-tests category — state is now developing pre and post tests for those courses. They are called SLOs, Student learning objectives.
State is dealing with findings from pilot information on teacher evaluations. This year will be a hold-harmless year for value-added measures. In 2013-2014, state will have student surveys and value-added impact. In 2013-2014, state will have that whole piece. The following year, the bonuses will begin.
Now Andrews is talking about the companion evaluation system to measure leader effectiveness.
This is for building-level leadership. Principals will be rated on eight standards. They must meet all eight of those standards. They also have to develop two unique goals tied to their own school improvement plan. Every staff member, including cafeteria, custodians, completes a climate survey on the principal. Principal will choose which groups will rate assistant principal. Principal evaluations will look at student attendance. Also, look at how effective principals are in retaining effective teachers.
“We know that teachers leave leaders first. So, we want to see how effective principals are in retaining those effective teachers.”
Also, state will look at student performance piece for principals. Looking at how the achievement gap between bottom 25 percent and rest of students in the schools is being closed.
So, now, we have both teacher and leader effectiveness measures.
“Race to the Top is not driving the work. The work is driving Race to the Top. These are initiatives we wanted to do. We didn’t have the money to do them. Race to the Top gave us the money.”
Greatest challenge with Race to the Top is moving from piloting, refining, implementing to sustaining.
In the Q&A, I asked Andrews about the Gates Foundation report released this week advising that outsiders do some of the classroom observations to prevent bias, and that districts, pressed for time, consider video reviews of teachers in the classrooms.
My main question: Do principals really have the time to do these observations?
Her answer: It make take a culture shift but principals have to realize that their top priority, along with ensuring their school buildings are safe, is instruction, and they must make time for these teacher observations. No, DOE has not considered bringing in outsiders to observe teachers or using videos of teachers. But DOE is still discussing how best to do this.
Now up: Education Policy – Kristin Bernhard, Governor’s Education Adviser
Bernhard is full of good news only about education and her boss.
Gov. Nathan Deal is restoring 10 days of pre-k, which she casts as a raise for those teachers. (Me: Those teachers may feel it is a restoration of some of the salary they lost when Deal cut pre-k by 20 days.)
“We are interested in improving student achievement in STEM fields.” She cites a speech by Gov. Perdue where he noted that Georgia only graduated one physics teacher that year.
She cites the UTeach Programs under way in some Georgia colleges to identify and direct science majors to teaching. “We are a long way from those days. I think we have over 100 students enrolled in those programs,” she says.
She says high-definition networks are enabling college professors to teach science classes to rural students through the Innovative Fund.
Bernhard says she has every reason to believe that the new charter schools commission, restored by the November constitutional amendment, will be up and running by March.
She says we have seamless articulation from technical colleges and four-year schools as part of Deal’s Complete College Initiative. She said Deal was inspired by Florida’s Take Stock in Children program, and has replicated it here. Kids selected in middle school are asked to sign contracts that they will work hard. If they have satisfied the contract and worked hard by the end of high school, they are given $2,500 from the state to attend college.(You can read about the program here.)
Deal has set higher goals for college completion rates to get those 250,000 more college graduates needed to fill the jobs of the future in the state, most of which will require education beyond high school.
Deal’s Higher Education Funding Commission has recommended fundamental changes in how public campuses are funded. Now, college funding will depend in large part on how many students finish rather than how many enroll.
HOPE: Deal is adding 3 percent to HOPE Scholarship awards this year. But tuition has gone up more than 3 percent. “What a student got last year will increase by 3 percent in terms of this year,” says Bernhard.
NOTE from me: My AJC colleague Nancy Badertscher has asked a series of tough questions, attempting to find news in what thus far has been pretty surface and pretty news-free. She pressed Bernhard as the governor’s budget and his funding plans for k-12, but Bernhard said that Deal would be the one to unveil his budget
Now up, Education Funding – Herb Garrett, Executive Director, Georgia School Superintendents’ Assn.
Garrett is the anti Bernhard speaker. He is sharing the bad news.
Cuts thus far to k-12: $6.6 billion. “It is like the national budget deficit. Those numbers are so big that they don’t mean anything to anybody anymore.”
One pressure on the state budget will be the $28 million needed to fund state charter schools, those charter schools that the state has adopted and agreed to fund.
Garrett raised the issue of the new title fee for cars that replaces the ad valorem taxes, part of which went to fund schools. “There is supposed to be enough money to give back the money school systems lost on ad valorem taxes. That should be a wash. But I will promise you that the individuals that trade cars under the oak trees, those casual sales going on in Georgia for a million years that we haven’t taxed, aren’t going to be happy. When that person goes to get that title, then they have to pay the fee on the fair market value of that car.”
Garrett predicts that angry car buyers — it is a pretty hefty title fee buyers will now have to pay for any car purchase, even from private owners — will be calling their legislators, and some lawmakers may get cold feed and back off the fee. If so, school systems could lose out.
Garrett said the private school tax credit — taking $50 million a year from the state coffers — will be an issue this year as some lawmakers are seeking to double it. Garrett wishes there was more sunshine as to who gets this tax credit.
Since 2008, individuals and corporations have claimed about $170 million in tax credits through the program. The program had a $51.5 million cap this year, but the program was so popular that the money ran out in mid-August.
He is talking about the PARCC testing consortium, which is developing the test that Georgia will use to measure the Common Core.
“One of the things that nobody is talking about is the anticipated cost of that test. Last number I heard is $15 per student. We’ve got legislators who already think we spend way too much on testing and I can promise you that is nowhere close to $15.”
Also, Garrett says the $100 per child given to charter systems may be a problem now that bigger systems — including Fulton — are becoming charter systems. With Fulton, that $100 per child turns into an extra $10 million a year for the state.
One of the elephants in the room, he says, is raises. State employees and teachers haven’t had raises for years.
State vs. local in school funding:
“It’s fact that responsibility for paying for the cost for public education has been shift dramatically from the state to local systems The numbers don’t lie.”
Prior to 2003, the overall split in school funding between state and local dollars was 60/40 on average, 60 percent state dollars and 40 local dollars raised through property taxes.
(Garrett: That ratio varies from system to system depending on how much local money districts put into their schools. State money represents only 33 percent of what Fulton spends, while Ben Hill County’s state share represents about 80 percent of its school spending.)
Now, that ratio has shifted, with local money slightly outpacing the state share of education funding. To understand why that matters, Garrett said each school funding percentage point shifted from the state to the locals represents more than $100 million dollars.
That is why districts have raised school taxes. Average school millage rate across state was 15. Now, it is 16.1.
(From state web site: The tax rate, or millage, in each county is set annually by the board of county commissioners, or other governing authority of the taxing jurisdiction, and by the Board of Education. A tax rate of one mill represents a tax liability of one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value. The average county and municipal millage rate is 30 mills; the state millage rate in each county is 0.25 mills.)
But 41 school systems levy 18 mils or more. Of those 41 systems, 11 levy 19 mills or more; 11 others levy 20 mils or more. There is a 20 mil cap except for a handful of systems that got their voters to approve a 25 mil cap.
Questions: What does Garrett think of Law proposing to arm principals in schools?
Qualifies that he is answering for himself and not for the Georgia Superintendents Association:
“Having a person in school with a gun and minimal training, what could go wrong? I would never recommend that to a board of education.” As he listened to the proposals to arm administrators, Garrett says he went back to his own days as a principal and school chief and started putting names and people to the idea.
“Even with training, I just can’t see some folks ever being in that position to be able to do that.”
Police have said that if there is an armed school administrator and officers come roaring, how do they know if that person is on their side? Garrett says the situation could be confusing and dangerous.
“Unless it is a uniform officer that nobody has enough money to pay for, I am not sure how to do that,” says Garrett.
Now up, Georgia’s 2013 Teacher of the Year Lauren Eckman:
Her theme is the changing classroom and changing schools. She has a prepared and passionate speech, which essentially says the old ways won’t work with students. Content is no longer delivered as much as it is discovered. There is an app for everything.
“Education is no longer one size fits all, which, if we are honest, is really one size fits none.”
In answering questions, she says she is excited about Common Core; “I like the clarity of them. I like the depth of them. They really get into the nitty-gritty and into the good stuff in each of our subjects.”
Asked about the new teacher evaluation system, Eckman says she like the new system better than Class Keys which “told us so much, it told us nothing.” The new method gives teachers more feedback, more meaningful insights in what they must improve.
She also says that in her travels she has met many teachers who are positive and committed. She has not seen low morale.
Eckman says that the state is about to graduate its first class of high school school students who are truly digital natives, raised with all the new technologies and at ease with them. When these digital natives go to college and become teachers, they will bring their expertise to the classroom and be able to share it with veteran teachers, she says.
Dr. John Barge, State Superintendent of Schools, could not make it as he had to go to Washington. Chief Academic Officer Mike Buck stepped in and went through all the trend lines showing Georgia schools are improving. He stressed that Georgia is not where it should be, but is headed in the right direction.
He was elaborating on the career pathways, in which kids pick a high school concentration in 8th grade. (Me: That seems awfully early to me for children to declare that they want a health concentration. Public school students will pick a potential job to pursue in one of 17 broad career categories, known as career pathway clusters. Teachers would start talking to students about potential career opportunities, starting as early as fifth grade. I think focusing on a career option in 8th grade narrows children’s perspective. It is still unclear based on what Buck said here that who will serve as the kids’ career advisers. Apparently, it will be teachers who will have to carve out time.)
What’s Ahead for Education in the 2013 Legislative Session – Rep. Stacey Abrams and Rep. Ed Lindsey:
Abrams: My goal is make certain education doesn’t suffer in the budget. We have never funded education fully.
“Too often, we concentrate so fixedly on a single measure that we ignore the comprehensive needs. The fact is that charter schools, while a good option, are not a panacea. They overall serve students as well as traditional public schools. We should not get so caught up in the over-hyped nature of the debate that we ignore the fundamental responsibility we have to educate children.
Other concern: The tax credit to attend private schools, which she called a pseudo voucher program, is now viewed as an entitlement by the public.
“It would be hard to get rid of it, but we need transparency so we are making certain those dollars aren’t being used to discriminate against students. Because of the way law was constructed, can’t get data we need on those dollars,” she says.
Charter school vote was really a vote on status of public education in Georgia. “With a 67 percent statewide graduation rate, the status quo is both morally and economically unacceptable. I agree charter schools drowned out all other discussions in the recent political election, but I never believed charter schools are a panacea or a silver bullet.”
Pre-k is important. Need a vigorous curriculum in pre-k programs. Many others just serve as daycare centers.
Lawmakers are taking questions.
Lindsey and Abrams are disagreeing on whether Legislature has cut education. Lindsey says the money per student was actually higher, but delivered in targeted programs rather than block grants.
Lindsey addresses why his bill allows even a high performing school to convert to a charter school by parental will
“It creates an additional avenue of communication directly from the parents to the school board, which I think is critically important.”
Lindsey also wants teachers to be able to initiate a takeover of a school and a charter conversion.
He says there is a check and balance in his bill as the school board has the discretion to accept or reject the parental petition.
Why include high performing schools in the bill?
“Every parent ought to be encouraged in their child’s education. I find it interesting that parents may actually spend more time talking to their school board about the quality of their child’s education.”
Abrams: We don’t have adequate structures in place to manage our charter schools. Florida faced issues with its for-profit charters. If we are going to make it easier to do this, we have to make certain that we create adequate protections the day after.
Lindsey: Warns about the forces of the status quo throwing up roadblocks to innovation.
Q: Couldn’t the parent trigger bill divide schools?
If parents are not happy with the conversion to a charter school, their child would be able to move to a different school under the bill.
Bottom line, Lindsey says his bill fosters parent involvement.
Would Lindsey support doubling the private tax credit?
Lindsey says he shares both Abrams’ concerns about the lack of data and transparency around the tax credit and her questions about whether safeguards are in place to ensure the tax credit is truly helping poor kids go to private schools. “Certainly, before I would vote to increase the threshold, I would like to see those additional things put in place.”
Abrams: Doesn’t imbue the November charter school vote with the same significance as Lindsey does. “We can’t over-read that election. That said, there is not a member of the Georgia General Assembly who can say we do our best by the children of Georgia, that education in Georgia is where it should be.”
Lindsey: Disagrees that people didn’t understand the ballot question on charter schools. “If it fooled the voters, it should have fooled all the voters around the state. If you start drilling down, it wasn’t logical that a 58 percent vote in favor of this amendment was because voters were fooled…we had a full and robust debate around this.”
Guns in school:
Lindsey says it should be a local decision. Many schools already have armed officers.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog