Teachers to Deal’s Ed Reform Commission today: Weary and wary of experiments, promises

Teacher John Palmer, spokesman for TRAGICTeachers Rally to Advocate for Georgia Insurance Choices, will present an abbreviated version of this statement to the Education Reform Commission meeting today at 2 p.m. to finalize recommendations to the governor.

While TRAGIC formed in response to health benefit issues, the group has grown and now addresses broader education issues, as this piece by Palmer reflects.

Here is Palmer’s statement in full:

teacherhidingI think everyone is in agreement having quality teachers is one of the single most important factors in a child’s education. Nathan Deal made one of this Education Reform Commission’s missions to “recruit and retain high-quality teachers for our classrooms,” a goal the governor proclaimed was “critical to the success of our students.” Yet, I believe the commission has failed to implement a program that will do just that.

A recent poll by the Foundation for Excellence in Education found 67 percent of Georgian’s surveyed believed we needed lower class sizes and higher teacher salaries, even though 75 percent of those surveyed did not have children in the public schools. The commission could have acted on these two recommendations alone, and I believe the state would have seen both higher student achievement and higher teacher retention.

Instead, the commission has elected to cement austerity cut funding and recession-era class sizes. In refusing to examine what the cost to educate a child should be, I believe the commission missed an opportunity to improve our educational system.

The commission also missed an opportunity to examine why 47 percent of Georgia’s teachers leave the profession within the first five years and why enrollment in Georgia’s teacher preparation programs has recently plummeted.

Since there are no active classroom teachers serving on the Education Reform Commission, focus groups were with some of Georgia’s classroom educators. Teachers in these meetings overwhelmingly listed curriculum, instruction, and assessment as their greatest concerns. Changing curriculum, excessive testing, and evaluations based on this testing were the greatest concerns of these focus groups. Teachers are frustrated having to adopt new curricula, standards, and tests every year. They are frustrated their evaluations are based on ever-shifting criteria; can you imagine always having to hit a moving target?

The Teacher Recruitment, Retention, and Compensation Subcommittee prepared a list of 12 recommendations. There are some excellent proposals in this list, even a few that addressed teacher concerns, but, when asked to rank their proposals to present to the full commission, the TRCC made changing teacher compensation their No. 1 recommendation. At the same time, the funding subcommittee has proposed capping the state contribution for new teacher hires at $51,000, leaving the rest up to local districts.

The combination of these proposals will create an uneven system of teacher compensation across the state, and, we fear, lead to lower teacher salaries across the board in just a few years. The commission has estimated the state contribution for training and experience to be around $90 million. When this goes away, it will be up to the local districts to provide that money or decide they cannot afford to pay their teachers.

What other profession requires a four-year degree, continuing education for certification and encourages additional two-year degrees, yet caps the salary at $51,000? We have districts in this state that still can’t afford to open their doors for a full 180 school days — where are they going to find the money for additional teacher compensation?

This commission and our legislators need to know teachers and parents are very concerned about these proposals. After a decade of underfunding, curriculum changes, unfunded mandates and over reliance on bubble tests, you must forgive us for being wary.

Teachers are data-driven, and we learn how to analyze and interpret research, especially in graduate level courses. When we hear we should consider research on the lack of correlation between years of experience and many advanced degrees on student achievement, we ask to see the research.

I do not know of any specific research analyzed by this commission, but I know Mary Jane Pearson, former regional director for the U.S. Secretary of Education, stated in the 2013 Nation’s Report Card, “Children who are taught by a teacher with a master’s degree consistently score higher on the NAEP reading and math than children whose teacher holds a bachelor’s degree.”

We ask the same of this commission as we would ask our students: to backup your statements with data, and be prepared to explain your conclusions.

Georgia teachers haven’t seen an increase in state base pay in more than seven years, and it would certainly help to recruit new teachers if Georgia would raise the entry-level pay. However, raising the entry pay must not come at the expense of higher salaries for experience down the road. In order to retain quality teachers, salary increases must be built into to pay scale and allow us to keep pace with the cost of living.

Teachers are used to broken promises from the state. A decade ago, Georgia promised teachers a 10 percent salary bonus for achieving National Board Certification — a task that was both time-consuming and costly to the educator. About 2,500 of Georgia’s teachers completed these requirements, but the Legislature discarded the bonuses in 2009. Educators do not trust any promises for additional compensation in exchange for the newest certification fad.

It is imperative we place quality teachers in some of our most challenging schools. Higher salaries might help, but no salary will make up for evaluation methods that link a teacher’s effectiveness rating to the test scores of students; children who often face severe challenges and obstacles to learning outside of the school building. No teacher believes in excuses, and all teachers want to give every student an opportunity to learn.

But the harsh reality is the business adage of “location, location, location” applies to education as well. Tying teacher effectiveness, and eventually teacher pay, to student test scores will only make it harder to fill hard-to-staff schools with quality teachers.

In regards to the new teacher compensation models, the commission has recommended the state design several models: districts would be able to pick one or create their own. The only requirement would be some form of “teacher effectiveness” would factor into the compensation. While I have no doubt some districts would work diligently to ensure the most effective teachers were compensated fairly, on what metric will they rate teachers? Our evaluations? Our test scores?

The Georgia Milestones results from last April were just released this week. As one teacher wrote on this blog yesterday, “the state took six months to grade a test we had seven months to teach.” Teachers who are evaluated on student scores from this test can’t even see the questions being asked — but at least this test is supposed to align with the class curriculum.

I teach music. My class does not have a component in the Milestones, so I am rated on Student Learning Objective tests, or SLOs. I can only give a computer-based, multiple choice test for my SLO, and these can only measure a limited amount of my class material.

I have a sixth grade student who entered my class with no knowledge of the trumpet, but he has been taking piano since he was 6. He scored a 100 percent on his SLO pre-test. At the end of the year, he will know how to play his trumpet, but he will show no growth on his SLO, so as far as the state is concerned, I will be ineffective.

Luckily, I have an administrator who sees the insanity of this. She sees the growth of my students over their three years in my program, she knows I have ensembles performing on state, regional, and national stages, she knows I am a highly effective teacher.

I am fortunate; not every teacher has an administrator willing to look beyond the limitations of a test score. Teachers will not trust compensation models that focus solely on test scores.

Finally, we appreciate the assurances of members of this commission that current teachers be allowed to stay on the current pay scale, and the state should honor its compensation obligations to us. However, we do not have faith in these assurances.

Charter districts and strategic waiver systems already have the ability to design new compensation systems for their teachers. All but two of Georgia’s school districts fall under those two categories, yet none have eliminated training and experience from teachers’ compensation. If districts could already change their teacher compensation models, why haven’t they? If this was such a good idea, why have districts not rushed to do so?

I’ll tell you where they have changed teacher pay: states like Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina have all changed their teacher compensation models to ones similar to these proposals. These states have not seen an increase in student achievement, but they have seen drastic teacher shortages. These shortages have led to higher class sizes and the waiving of teacher licensure requirements.

What mechanisms will be put in place to make sure our teacher shortage is not exacerbated by these proposed changes to teacher compensation? As of now, I don’t see any plan to revisit these proposals down the road: Remember, QBE has been the law for 30 years, even if it was ignored for the past decade.

Teachers are not afraid of change… we are awash in change. Every year or two someone decides they have the next great idea, the best curriculum ever, the best new strategy for teaching math concepts. Teachers are tired of experimentation, of moving goalposts, of political games at our expense.

This Education Reform Commission had the opportunity to be bold and remake teaching as a true profession in Georgia. Instead, the subcommittee tasked with recruiting and retaining quality teachers has recommended eliminating compensation for education and experience, asking the Legislature nicely to stop changing the curriculum all the time, and will use a question on an administrator survey to somehow protect planning time.

Teachers are professionals, and we want to be treated professionally. Give us a target, give us the resources, and trust we will do everything we can to hit that target. As an educator, I want to be an effective teacher, and I want to succeed. But if the state does not treat educators professionally and does not compensate educators with a professional salary, then our best and brightest students will no longer look to teaching as a viable profession, and many of our best teachers will have no choice but to look for another profession.

Thank you for your time.

 

Reader Comments 0

29 comments
Bitcoined
Bitcoined

Never doubted TRAGIC is a front for the teachers' union.

These tired union talking points, and the AJC's constant promotion of the group's press releases, dispel any doubts.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The political forces in Georgia which refuse to expand Medicaid as a part of Obamacare are the same political forces which will not support public education as they should in Georgia.  They try to minimize the "intrusion" of government, as they see it, to our state's detriment and to the detriment of the very people who vote them into office. 

It is better that Georgia's blue-collar, white Republicans learn "late than never" how much the Republican ideology is hurting them personally, not only with lack of adequate medical care, but with lack of social programs such as mental health facilities, lack of medical jobs, and lack of a commitment to traditional public schools.

To admit one has been used is difficult.  I hope that this element of Georgia's Republican base has the courage to do so NOW.  As bad as it is in Georgia for medical care, education, mental health facilities and resources, things can get a whole lot worse if they do not wake up soon.

Vote the new Democratic Party in Georgia, the people's party, not the political party of the super-rich.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

1. let the money follow the student - to the charter school

2. Alott $50K per new teacher - charter school pays $35K and uses churn and burn to keep the "profit"

3. Class size waiver - online classes with 100 students and 1 teacher - charter school gets the "profit"

4. Kids outgrow charter school by 9th grade and there is no profit in charter HS - Kids go to traditional Public School

5. Charter school supporters continue political donations


Starik
Starik

Funding what we have at a higher level wouldn't give the kids the education they deserve, though it would be good for the people who work in education. Spending more would be fine if we could rethink the ways we educate - public schools need restructuring so that kids receive the education they are equipped to handle.  The teaching profession should be equal in pay and prestige with the legal and medical professions, at least.  It should be hard to become a teacher, with stiff requirements for admission to the profession.  We need to rethink the whole system.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Anytime you see the words "education" and "reform", taxpayers would do well to keep a tight hold on their pocketbooks.  Fact is, Georgia spends more than all the other Southern states except for S. Carolina and Louisiana.

It's not a "funding" problem, but rather, a "spending priority" problem.  When you have multi-million dollar football stadiums while students are sardined into trailers and teachers spend personal money for classroom supplies, then something is wrong.

As far as salary, yes, it needs to be evaluated.  The current years x degree matrix isn't working and there needs to be a market value component included - which means you may need to pay the math teacher more and the librarian less.

dg417s
dg417s

Just curious as to why you say the current matrix isn't working out? Why do you think the media specialist is less valuable than a teacher. Media specialists teach classes (even to my high school students who really needed to learn how to do research other than Google).

class80olddog
class80olddog

The other thing about asking for more money is that it has been clearly shown that increased spending per student does NOT result in increased learning.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

Sources? (This is going to be difficult to prove.  Measures of learning? All students? Only certain students? This is an opinion that has NOT "been clearly shown.")

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@sneakpeakintoeducation 

Excellent article which rings true throughout.  Here is its closing paragraph:

"The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers' salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@sneakpeakintoeducation 

However, I will add that, imo, taking away teachers' benefits and defined pensions will hurt the cause of attracting the best teachers, not help that cause (in that some research has supported merit pay for teachers and doing away with teachers' tenure). 

The best teachers are smart enough to know when they are being used by political forces which do not support them and courageous enough not to allow it.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Also, as a percentage of total state spending, education spending has been relatively constant. In order to increase Ed spending you would have to cut other programs or increase taxes

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

The spending may be constant, but the numbers of students along with different student groups (disabled, immigrant, poor, etc.) have risen. Same $$ with more students to cover is a real problem!

class80olddog
class80olddog

All of the teacher comments here boil down to one thing - send more money to schools. No thought about where that money will come from, what other programs would have to be cut. And no discussion of where the money goes to when it gets to the school - whether makes it to the classroom or stays at central office. The fact is that we spend FOUR times what we spent in the sixties, with worse results. THAT is what the public and the politicians see

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@class80olddog  "The fact is that we spend FOUR times what we spent in the sixties," its called inflation "with worse results." Do you have ANY CREDIBLE SOURCES for your nonsensical post? 

class80olddog
class80olddog

That is four times after adjustment for inflation. That data is out there and common knowledge.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Even teachers dont dispute the increase in spending, so why do you insist it is "nonsense" where are your "credible sources" that spending has not increased?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

We certainly DO dispute your figures, for they don't take into account the student populations that weren't covered by general state funding in the sixties (disabled students, minority students, immigrant and ELL students).  It has been pointed out to you over and over that you're comparing two very disparate groups. Why won't you acknowledge this?

newsjunkie3
newsjunkie3

@class80olddog So spending has increased and not made a difference. Here is what has changed: the family. Review stats from the early 1900's re: intact families and you will find a big difference. Families are too busy and indifferent to supporting their child's education at home. Spending more money will not improve family participation in education. Success and prospects for children are better in two parent homes. And there are sources for research on that.

I know you are thinking of Ben Carson. He would be an exception. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Would you post again the names and brief creds of those on the committee?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Outstanding comments.  Readers, I recommend that you re-read, specifically, John Palmer's last two paragraphs in his essay, above his, "Thank you for your time," sentence.

On target and well-stated.


In addition, if you love teaching students, as I did, then there is another option open for you, teachers, instead of being forced to abandon the profession you love and often were born to do.  That option is to organize to form authentic teachers' unions in Georgia.  To do that, you are, first, going to have to vote for Democratic legislators and governors in this state through whom you will receive respect.  Thereafter forming unions, you will be able to control your own destinies and be assured of being treated as professionals.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OriginalProf 

Those who are politically savvy know that only a Democratic majority in Georgia's legislature would change the right to work laws in Georgia so that teachers' unions could be established in this state.  That is THE reason I urged voters to vote Democratic in this thread. First steps, first. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." ;-)
 Eventually teachers will confirm their worth to themselves, above all, and take this action to gain power over their lives and respect for what they accomplish with students in Georgia.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady @OriginalProf @MaryElizabethSings 

Explain, please. This is the Code Section that  prohibits public teachers from collective bargaining (striking), and thus from union activity.  Or do you see the formation of teachers unions as "backwards and to the far right"?  (Al Shanker says, "What?)

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

The NEA is the largest teachers' union. Says so right on their website. (Google NEA and "union 101".) All GAE members are also dues paying NEA members.

And there's more to unions than workplace militancy.