Posts Tagged ‘Race to the Top’

The Education Solution: Teacher Evaluation

March 6, 2011



Northside High School classroom

  Ginger Starling used phrases like “value added,” or “teacher bonuses,” but finally agreed she was talking about a form of “pay for performance,” a term that a lot of teachers want nothing to do with.  Starling is the Muscogee County School District’s Race to the Top Grant Administrator. She and MCSD Superintendent Susan Andrews are on the state committee that is devising a new teacher evaluation program, which Georgia must have to get the  $400 million  supplied by the federal program. Muscogee County School District, which is one of the 26 Georgia districts participating in the program, is getting $11 million. It is keeping $4 million of that in reserve to pay bonuses in the fourth year of the program. To give those bonuses it must be determined which teachers are performing well enough to get them.

 Many teachers are not interested in getting paid bonuses connected to evaluation results.  They like things the way they are.  They like getting raises for seniority and obtaining advanced degrees.  So a lot of them are fighting the evaluation idea.

One of the people they have to fight is arguably the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who is now dedicating a lot of his life to education reform.  In a Washington Post op-ed he said,  “After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.

“Another standard feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for advanced degrees. Such raises have almost no impact on achievement, but every year they cost $15 billion that would help students more if spent in other ways.”

He is also for larger class sizes, saying that surveyed teachers have said they are willing to teach larger classes for more money.   While there is no evidence that I know of that supports the idea that smaller classes get better results, many educators scoff at the idea that larger classes are just as effective. 

 The Georgia Board of Education has already dropped class size limits for budgetary reasons, but no one has said that teachers will be paid more for the increase in students.

 As far as the new evaluation procedure is concerned, former Richards Middle School teacher Judson Patten asks, “How do you compare a math teacher to an English teacher or a geography teacher to a science teacher? They all have education degrees and they all have 4, 5, 6, 7 years of college degrees. That’s why a state-wide salary schedule was created. Pay for performance is NOT the way to go.”
But, it is the way it’s going for a lot of states, including Georgia.

 Neither Superintendent Susan Andrews nor Grant Administrator Ginger Starling has a problem with having a new evaluation system.  Both agree that the one used now is weak. They tell me that fifty percent of the teacher’s score is expected to be based be on student achievement based on test results.  The other fifty percent will be made up of a number of factors, perhaps including student and parental input, plus classroom observations.  Whereas only one observation is required now, there will a lot of them in the future.

What about the comparisons that Judson referred to, things like comparing a science teacher to a math teacher,  or a teacher whose class is made up of affluent kids with one made up of children who in live poverty?  Starling admitted, “It is very complicated.”  She said, however,  those problems are not being ignored and ways to be fair are being studied.
None of this is set in stone. It’s a work in progress.  I couldn’t get an answer on when it goes into effect.  But, it will have to be ready three years from now because that’s when the district will start paying $4 million in bonuses to teachers who qualify. 
To be considered for a bonus a teacher will have to agree to participate in the bonus program.  What happens if they don’t?  They can’t get a bonus.  They can, however, continue to teach.   However, they will be evaluated under the new system whether they opt for a bonus or not.  .

 My evidence is anecdotal, but I have yet to run into a classroom teacher or retired classroom teacher who buys into pay for performance. Still, when one of the richest men in the world calls for pay for performance for teachers a lot of people are going to listen. 

In the Washington Post Op-ed he also wrote, “We know that of all the variables under a school’s control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching. It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.
‘Yet compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.”
Changing an established order is never easy. However, anyone who doesn’t realize that America’s education system needs upgrading in order for the country to remain economically competitive globally, is, in my view, in a state of colossal denial.


The Education Solution: Race to the Top in Muscogee County

February 1, 2011


Muscogee County School District Superintendent Dr. Susan Andrews agreed to answer some questions I have about education reform in America, Georgia, and Muscogee County. Yesterday she explained the effects of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program.  Today, she explains the effects of President Obama’s Race to the Top. 

Race to the Top is a federal grant for school reform.  The purpose of this grant is to transform the nation’s lowest performing schools, to enhance teaching and learning, to ensure the implementation of the Common Core Standards, and to allow for teachers to use the most current data available to inform their instruction day to day, as well as providing them longitudinal data so they can see student progress over time.  Muscogee County will be receiving $11.6 million dollars over the next four years.  I am excited to be at the table as we begin these initiatives.  My greatest concern is that we will spend, as a state, $400 million dollars in the next four years and a true transformation will not have taken place.  We are going to work very hard in Muscogee County to use this money over the next four years to implement the reforms with integrity and make a difference in the achievement of all students.  A large portion of this money had to be set aside for year four of the grant to provide bonuses for teachers who reach a certain level on the Teacher Effectiveness Scale which will be developed at the State level.  The State told districts how much of the money to set aside for that purpose.  Another large portion of the money will be spent on building capacity among our teaching staff through targeted professional development.

Having said all of that I must remind everyone that in America, we value every child and believe that every child should have the opportunity to be educated in our public schools.  We are educating more students, with more diversity, to higher levels than at any time in the history of our nation.  That is a story that doesn’t often get told.  Providing a quality education for all students is a civil right due to all American children.   


The Education Solution: NCLB and Race to the Top

January 31, 2011

International ranking of the world’s education systems has the United States lagging behind other developed nations.  When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, President Eisenhower called for a crusade to improve American schools in math and science.  It worked. But it didn’t last. Now, other developed nation’s better school systems are threatening America’s place in global economies.

  So a new crusade is underway. President Bush started it with No Child Left Behind. President Obama is continuing it with Race to the Top.  I asked Dr. Susan Andrews, Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District, to explain how those two programs affect the District.   

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)is the generic name of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  (Note:  President Bush began calling this law NCLB and the name stuck.  President Obama and his administration want to get away from calling it NCLB and therefore, you will see it referred to by its appropriate name ESEA by the current  administration.) 

MCSD Superintedent Susan Andrews



This federal law is past due for reauthorization and we are hoping that the new Congress will address the fundamental flaws in the current NCLB act.  The positive about NCLB is that the mandates have forced school districts to look at the performance of subgroups of children by ethnicity, socioeconomic levels, and to look at the performance of students with disabilities.  In the past, districts could look at their average achievement levels and feel good about how students were achieving.  When you look at subgroups of children, however, you see that many children in public schools in America are performing well, but there is a great disparity in the achievement of white students and students of color and there is an even greater disparity when you look at middle class students (regardless of ethnicity) and economically disadvantaged students.  This has increased our awareness and our efforts to teach all children with increased rigor in order to close these gaps.

The negatives of NCLB are in the requirements in regard to students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners (ELL).  NCLB is in direct conflict with another federal law, IDEA, which requires an individual education plan with individual goals for each student with a disability.  NCLB sets an academic bar for students with disabilities at each grade level that schools must obtain without regard to the individual disabilities of the student and requires the SWD students (except the most severely disabled) to take standardized tests on their age appropriate grade level regardless of their functioning level.  For example, a student with a disability who is ten years old and functions on a third grade level must take the fifth grade test because he is assigned to that grade.  His IEP, however, states that he is learning third grade objectives and is delayed due to his disability.  Educators around the nation are hoping that these issues will be addressed in the reauthorization and base school progress on the growth of students from year to year and not on whether or not students meet an artificially set standard.  Students who are ELL must take the test in English even when they are not yet proficient in the language.

In my next report, Dr. Andrews explains what Race to the Top will do for the Muscogee County School District.