Troubling news for Georgia today after the U.S. Education Department issued a progress report citing grave concerns about the state’s Race to the Top progress. Here is a link to the newly released 17-page report.
What has the U.S. DOE concerned is Georgia’s struggles with introducing and implementing a new teacher evaluation, a central piece of the state’s $400 million Race to the Top grant.
In a press call Thursday, the US DOE said that while most Race to the Top recipients were progressing satisfactorily, they were concerned with the stumbles in Georgia, the District of Columbia and Maryland.
“Race to the Top has sparked dramatic changes, and in only the second year of the program we’re seeing those results reach the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Most states have made tremendous strides and met aggressive timelines on work that has the potential to transform public education for years to come. Comprehensive education reform isn’t easy, and a few states have faced major challenges in implementing their plans. As we reach the halfway point, we need to see every state show results.”
The fed’s focus on Georgia’s stumbles is not a surprise. In July, U.S. Department of Education officials said the $33 million in Georgia’s grant dedicated to the new evaluations is ”at high risk.”
Federal officials feared that Georgia has strayed too far from its original plans to create a teacher/leader evaluation system with four key components: classroom observations, student growth, a reduction in the student achievement gap and student surveys. They also worry that the state is proposing changes before it finds out how well the proposed new evaluations worked. They were tried out in 26 school districts from January to May of last year.
Here is an excerpt from the report:
Georgia experienced significant challenges related to implementation of its educator evaluation system in Year 2 of its Race to the Top grant. The Department is concerned about the overall strategic planning, evaluation, and project management for that system, which include decisions regarding the quality of the tools and measures used during the educator evaluation pilot and the scalability of the supports the State offered to participating LEAs.
For example, during Year 2, the State piloted the educator evaluation system in a portion of schools in its participating LEAs, but did not complete the statistical analyses to determine the degree of correlation between the key components of the system—i.e., student growth percentiles, student surveys, observation protocols—in time to inform the design and roll-out of the evaluation system in subsequent years as originally planned. As a result of these concerns, the Department placed the
educator evaluation projects in the Great Teachers and Leaders section of Georgia’s Race to the Top plan on high-risk status.
Across its Race to the Top plan, Georgia has faced difficulty developing and implementing a comprehensive communications plan that illustrates how all of its Race to the Top projects are complementary and cohesive. In addition, strategic planning across Race to the Top projects was a challenge for the State and affected participating LEAs’ ability to implement key components of the State’s plan, including CCGPS and the educator evaluation system.
Further, Georgia must revise its processes for monitoring and assessing the quality of implementation of Race to the Top projects at both the State and LEA levels. The State must amend its Race to the Top Scope of Work to reflect these challenges and their implications. Georgia also experienced delays in implementation among its Race to the Top projects. For example, Georgia released its benchmark assessment request for proposals (RFP) roughly nine months later than planned because it was determining how best to approach the project without duplicating the work of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). As a result, Georgia was several months behind in securing a contract to complete the work for the benchmark assessments. The State was also delayed in the implementation of several STEM activities by over one year.
The second annual report on the recipients of $4 billion in competitive grants under the Obama administration’s signature education redesign program reveals that the majority of winners are struggling in two areas: implementing teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, and building and upgrading sophisticated data systems that will do everything from inform classroom lessons to identify students at risk of academic failure.
And Education Department officials say they are most worried about three recipients for which second-year performance took a nose dive: the District of Columbia, Georgia, and Maryland.
Georgia and Maryland have both struggled with implementing their teacher-evaluation systems, while the District of Columbia’s sluggish pace on school turnarounds means it has only worked with one persistently low-achieving school with its grant funds so far.
“This is really hard work, and there will always be bumps in the road,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a call with reporters.
Georgia and the District of Columbia are perhaps in the biggest trouble right now, as department officials say they are encouraged with the new state leadership in Maryland.
Part of Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top grant is on “high-risk status”—an official designation that can lead to losing grant funding—for weaknesses in implementing its teacher-evaluation system. Their second-year performance, in particular, concerned the department.
For their part, Georgia officials said they’re working to straighten things out with federal officials. State education department spokesman Jon Rogers said Georgia has made “quality progress” in four of the five conditions federal officials placed on its grant—which included things like improving the overall management of the teacher-evaluation system. The final condition, which is using feedback and data to improve Georgia’s educator-evaluation systems, will come after teacher and leader evaluations are done this school year, Mr. Rogers said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog