Monthly Archives: October 2014

Carter’s Change of Heart on HOPE is a Full Flop

Carter flips position on income cap for HOPE scholars

Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter was adamant in 2011 that Gov. Nathan Deal was taking the wrong approach to saving HOPE, arguably the most popular state program ever created.

The lottery-funded scholarship program was looking at potential bankruptcy.

Deal, Georgia’s newly elected governor, proposed a series of changes to the program — the most significant being that full scholarships would go only to the best and brightest, students with a 3.7 grade-point average and 1200 SAT scores.

Carter, however, championed an alternative in 2011 and 2012.

His proposal would have set a so-called income cap on HOPE scholarships. The scholarships would go only to qualifying students from families with a household income of $140,000 or less.

Opponents said that would put the program in equal financial peril, eliminating only 6 percent of all Georgia families.

The proposed income caps resurfaced recently in the tight governor’s race between Carter and Deal.

Republicans pounced with attack ads suggesting Carter “wants to eliminate HOPE scholarships for thousands of middle-class families.”

But then Carter appeared to change his approach on the income cap. At an education summit earlier this month, Carter said an income cap is “probably too blunt an instrument.”

The goal, he said, is to maximize the number of scholars and consider “need without a full-fledged cap.”

So has Carter flip-flopped on his position?

We found an article from January indicating that Carter had changed from his original call for an income cap. He said he still wanted to push for some needs-based criteria for the HOPE scholarship. But he dismissed the idea of an income cap, calling it “too blunt an instrument,” the magazine reported.

Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas said Carter first discussed abandoning the idea of an income cap with students at the University of Georgia about a year ago.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, said Carter was late to the game.

“It’s literally taken Jason Carter three and a half years to realize you ‘cannot pay for everybody’ — a conclusion that responsible Republicans and Democrats reached when they took courageous votes to save HOPE from bankruptcy.”

We rate Carter’s change of heart on HOPE a Full Flop.

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How Grade Inflation Hurts College Students’ Futures

The scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is principally about academic dishonesty. But it highlights an institutional failure at almost all American colleges that dissuades students from pursuing the best career possible. Some academic departments systematically inflate students’ grades. And many of those departments give students the least rigorous preparation for the labor market.

Part of college is learning what you’re good at. Students use freshman-year courses to gauge their interest and aptitude in different majors. A student who receives an A in writing and a B in calculus might conclude that she’s a better writer than mathematician. But what if she actually earned the average grade in both courses?

Plenty of students who start in difficult fields such as math decide to scale back their ambitions. That’s fine if it’s a personal choice–but not if they’re doing so because they got deceptive messages from their graders.

Women appear to be more sensitive to these grading messages than men. When Wellesley, an elite college for women, instituted a sensible grading system across all majors, the number of students majoring in the previously “easy” disciplines declined by 30%! Colleges that refuse to tackle grade inflation bear some responsibility for the fact that women, on average, end up in lower-paying fields.

Colleges will always have borderline students who hunt for the classes most likely to pass them and keep them enrolled. Educational institutions have a responsibility to ensure that the classes students are most likely to pass are the ones where they have a comparative advantage–not the ones where the faculty is most permissive.

Originally appeared on WSJ.com.

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Portrait of Salim Furth

Salim Furth, Ph.D., researches and explains how public policy affects economic growth as senior policy analyst in macroeconomics at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. Read his research.

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An Ignominious End to John Barge’s Political Career

GaPundit.com was exceptionally good today.  (Sign up for their daily email updates)

By | Oct 23, 2014 | GaPundit Daily, Georgia Politics

It is being widely reported that Republican (in name only) State School Superintendent John Barge will endorse Democrat Valarie Wilson today in a campaign event.

Sitting State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge (R) will join State School Superintendent Candidate Valarie Wilson (D) to make a special announcement and host a press conference on Thursday at 12 p.m. in front of Tucker High, 5036 LaVista Road, Tucker.

This brings Republican State School Superintendents who ended their political careers at their own hands to three. If you recall, Linda Schrenko ran for Governor in 2002 and was later convicted of embezzlement; Kathy Cox filed for personal bankruptcy in 2008 and resigned in 2010 to take a job in the private sector. Now Barge, who ran for Governor this year and appears to have spent the rest of his time seeking employment elsewhere without much success.

Two things about this. First is it shows that the election for State School Superintendent is not about who is the best candidate – it’s about the bureaucratic educational establishment retaining control of the Georgia Department of Education. The term “bureaucrats” does not include teachers, though many will follow the lead of the administrators who are supporting the Democratic candidate – by bureaucrat, we mean primarily people who draw a check from the Department of Education or a local school system and do not teach students.

It is the bureaucrats who are threatened by a candidate who will take a carefull look at how much money is spent by DOE outside the classrooms and seek to move more of that spending toward classrooms.

It is within the very large Department of Education, which educates exactly zero students, that Democratic activists will be hired and burrow in to career positions where they will outlast any State School Superintendent and affect education outcomes for years into the future.

It is the state’s educational bureaucracy that has delivered the results we have gotten for our tax dollars. Electing yet another bureaucrat like Valarie Wilson will mean that Georgians continue to get more of the same results.

The second issue is that the State School Superintendency has become a stepping stone – from Schrenko who sought the Governor’s Office, to Cox who left to work in the private sector, and now John Barge, who has spent the better part of at least this year seeking higher employment.

It is well-known that John Barge has been an absentee Superintendent for months, turning the office into a mobile campaign, and now seeking out-of-state employment and holding press conferences with other politicians in the middle of the day on a Thursday, when he should be at work.

So I have two questions for Dr. Barge.

First, what kind of deal did you cut with Valarie Wilson to help her win election as Georgia State School Superintendent. Since your job search appears to be going nowhere – either in Cobb County or in Utah –the most-likely scenario, in my opinion, for your endorsement, is that you cut a deal.

If no deal has been cut, will Barge and Wilson both pledge that Barge will neither be offered nor accept, a position as an employee, consultant, or contractor, with the Georgia Department of Education if Valarie Wilson is elected?

Second, will John Barge reimburse the taxpayers the cost of his job search, including his absences during the Gubernatorial campaign, and the time he’s spent on his job search instead of performing the job he has?

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Filed under Georgia State School Superintendent, John Barge, Richard Woods

Experts say Carter’s school funding model is untested

ATLANTA — Democrat Jason Carter’s call for a separate state education budget and his promise it will increase funding for schools is the hallmark of his campaign for Georgia governor against incumbent Republican Nathan Deal.

“If folks have to stand up and say ‘Are we properly funding education every single year?’ I believe you will see a very different discussion and an increase in the funding,” Carter told reporters after a Georgia PTA candidate forum this month.

Education finance and state budget experts aren’t so certain. No other state is using the exact model Carter has proposed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Alabama, Michigan and Utah split education funding from other expenses, and the three states are nowhere near the top in national education rankings.

Carter argues moving away from Georgia’s all-encompassing budget process would eliminate political cover on cuts to education spending for lawmakers and force a discussion on how much it costs to provide a quality education.

“It is a complete shell game right now,” Carter told educators at an October forum hosted by one of the state’s largest teacher groups. “Folks hide behind the budgeting process to say they’re doing all that they can.”

The three states with separate education budgets also have designated sources of funding —individual and corporate income tax and other taxes in Alabama, for example. Carter doesn’t plan to divert any state income directly to education. He said the change only requires a vote on education funding on its own merits before lawmakers can move to any discussion of other state spending.

Voters tend to support promises to take politics out of education, said Mike Griffith, school finance consultant for the Education Commission of the States. But actually, taking politics out of budgeting is very unlikely, he said.

“Budgeting is politics,” he said. “That’s what the budgeting process is, negotiating these things out.”

Michigan used to require budget votes on K-12, higher education and community colleges. Cutting the number of budget votes to two continued to isolate lawmakers from some political pressure but they still approved cuts to K-12 funding as state revenue was squeezed, said Bob Schneider, director of state affairs at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

“My gut instinct is a separate budget might make it easier to add a little bit to the school budget, but in the long run, you still only have so much revenue to carve up,” he said.

To make his proposal happen, Carter would have to defeat Deal in the Nov. 4 election and then convince lawmakers and voters to amend the state’s Constitution— requiring a 2/3 vote from a Republican Legislature. Carter has told education groups he also would focus on teacher training and retention in addition to the budget change.

The sitting governor blasted Carter at the October educators’ forum for promising more money without saying where it will come from and for not offering his own budget amendments during past legislative sessions. Carter has said the state can collect more than $2 billion in unpaid taxes and cut waste to increase spending on education.

“I think that’s one of the very specific things that people need answers to,” Deal said. “Our budgeting process is not perfect by any means, but it is one where people have the right to participate.”

by The Associated Press

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APS Revives Bonus Program

Atlanta Public Schools is once again tying teacher and principal pay to student performance as are five more metro Atlanta school districts. The others are Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Atlanta’s last performance-pay program ended in 2011 after state investigators found evidence of widespread cheating.

Thirty-five former Atlanta district employees, including former superintendent Beverly Hall, were indicted last year, accused of a conspiracy to cheat on state standardized tests. Prosecutors allege they boosted scores to meet performance targets in part because, for many, bonuses and raises were tied to the targets. Twelve former employees are on trial now.

“You wouldn’t think they would do that, considering the last debacle they had,” attorney Gerald Griggs said. He represents teacher Angela Williamson in the cheating trial.

Setting up a performance-pay plan was required under the federal Race to the Top grant Atlanta and the other districts received.

Bonuses under Atlanta’s new program will be based on Georgia’s new educator evaluation system. It bases half of a teacher’s overall job rating on student academic growth, measured by state or local tests, and half on classroom observations. For principals, 70 percent of the rating is based on student academic growth and progress in closing the achievement gap among various student subgroups and 30 percent on observations.

Under the old program, bonuses for school employees were based primarily on meeting targets for changes in state test results from year to year, according to a 2011 state investigative report.

Here’s how Atlanta’s new program will work:

• Teachers who score in the top 10 percent districtwide on the new evaluation system will receive $2,500. Principals and assistant principals will receive $2,300. (The average Atlanta teacher salary is $58,640. The average principal salary is $100,051.)

• Teachers with a top rating on classroom observations but who don’t have a rating based on student test scores will receive $2,500. (A teacher might have only one of the two evaluation components because, for example, the teacher is new or has been on a medical leave.)

• Any money left over will be distributed in bonuses of at least $1,000 to teachers who score among the top 11 to 30 percent on the new evaluation system.

For teachers of subjects covered by state standardized tests — about 30 percent of teachers — half of their evaluations will be based on the previous year’s test scores, because of the timing of state data releases.

District officials estimate 400-500 teachers and about 20-25 administrators will receive bonuses under the program, which will be overseen by Chief Human Resources Officer Pamela Hall.

Atlanta was required to launch the new performance-pay program because it accepted some of Georgia’s federal Race to the Top money, a decision made before superintendent Meria Carstarphen was hired. The $1.6 million performance-pay program is funded entirely by Race to the Top.

All 26 Georgia Race to the Top school districts plan to launch performance-pay programs, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

These scattered programs are a dramatically scaled-back version of the comprehensive performance-pay program Georgia promised in its application for $400 million in Race to the Top money. Georgia’s failure to fully follow through on that promise led the U.S. Department of Education to withhold $10 million in grant money.

The Atlanta school board has not identified a way to fund the program after this year or made it a priority for next year’s budget.

The program’s short term calls into question whether it’s a wise allocation of resources, said Matthew Springer, director of Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives.

“It’s hard to say if this program will bring any changes, given that it’s only being implemented for a single year and it’s treating teachers differently based on whether they teach in a tested subject or grade,” he said.

And, as Atlanta has learned, any performance-pay program has the potential to incentivize the wrong behavior.

Carstarphen said district staff are working with teachers and principals to identify ways to improve instruction and prevent bonuses from being the sole driver of their work. But she said she isn’t sure how the program will play out.

“It’s an opportunity and it’s a risk at the same time to do merit pay in APS without having a chance to rebuild the culture and work with people to understand how careful and thoughtful they have to be about how they do this in the classroom,” she said.

Attorney Angela Johnson represents teacher Pamela Cleveland, one of the 12 on trial. Johnson said the case against Atlanta teachers isn’t about pay for performance. Some of those indicted received bonuses less than $500. Eight didn’t receive bonus money.

“I don’t think it’s an issue with the teachers. Why would they throw away a career for $500?” she asked. The bigger issue, she said, are the bonuses superintendents can earn as test scores rise.

Hall collected more than five times as much bonus pay as the other 34 original defendants combined. In all, Hall received more than $580,000 in extra pay in the dozen years she was superintendent. The contract the Atlanta school board signed with Carstarphen earlier this year does not include performance bonuses.


Race to the Top Districts

Twenty-six school districts will pay out educator bonuses this spring: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Treutlen, Valdosta and White

Source: Georgia Department of Education

Atlanta performance-pay plan

APS will allocate $1.6 million in Race to the Top money in three tiers:

  1. Bonuses of $2,500 (teachers) and $2,300 (principals and assistant principals) to those scoring in the top 10 percent on their overall job ratings.
  2. Bonuses of $2,500 to teachers who receive a top rating on their classroom observation but do not have an overall rating.
  3. Any remaining money will be distributed in bonuses of at least $1,000 to teachers who score in the top 11-30th percent on their job ratings.

By Molly Bloom
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Teacher Evaluations

Outrage In OK About Federal School Lunch Guidelines

An Oklahoma student has sparked outrage about federal school lunch guidelines after taking a picture of her meager lunch.

Kaytlin Shelton’s lunch consisted of a few slices of lunch meat, a slice of cheese, two small packages of crackers and two pieces of cauliflower.

The lunch is particularly small for Shelton, 17, who is eight months pregnant.

Her family shared her picture with Oklahoma City’s KOKH-TV. According to local news channel, the meal is called a “munchable” and schools in Chickasha, Okla., “serve it every other week.”

Kaytlin Shelton's lunch consisted of a few slices of lunch meat, a slice of cheese, two small packages of crackers and two pieces of cauliflower. (Photo: KOKH-TV)

Shelton’s father, Vince Holton, called the $3 meal “ridiculous” and insufficient for his pregnant daughter.

“I can go pay a dollar for a lunchable and get more food in it,” said Holton.

“It makes me want to take that and take it to the Superintendent and tell him to eat it for lunch,” said Shelton.

But David Cash, superintendent of Chickasha Public Schools, happens to agree with her:

“I know they are [too small]. There is no doubt about that. My own kid comes home and the first thing he does is raid the refrigerator. You’ve got, in some cases, little kids that their only two meals are breakfast and lunch at school and they’re getting … a grand total of 1,100 calories. That’s not enough.”

“Decisions should be made by communities, parents and students,” says @DarenBakst.

According to Fox News, the meal “complies with lunch regulations championed by first lady Michelle Obama and implemented by the USDA.”

No exceptions to the guidelines are made for pregnant students or athletes who need more calories.

Assistant State Superintendent for Child Nutrition Joanie Hildenbrand told KOKH-TV the district is “still struggling” with the federal regulations put in place two years ago.

According to Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, Shelton’s story is “yet another example of the problems with the meal standard.”

“The primary focus of the program should be that kids actually eat,” said Bakst.

He said school officials know there is a problem but their hands are tied.

“School officials want more flexibility,” said Bakst. “That needs to happen. The decisions should be made by communities, parents and students. And I stress students, because they are the ones who actually have to eat the food.”

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Tom Owens is a Political Mattress Stain

DeKalb County, Georgia – Tom Owens sees himself as a crusader, but the dozen people with restraining orders against him beg to differ. When Tom Owens decided to run for office, George Chidi decided to look into his background. Chidi wrote,

“I believe the story I wrote to be well reported and well researched. But given the findings — a long list of police reports, restraining orders, a no-contest plea to stalking and a legal accusation calling for unpaid child support — I considered it irresponsible not to make every possible effort to give Mr. Owens an opportunity to offer his side of the story, and to help correct inaccuracies before publication. Instead … “

Instead of giving his side of the story, Owens obtained a temporary restraining order against Chidi.

Chidi and Owens had their day in court. Judge Becker told the 6-foot-3 230lb bear of a man Tom Owens, “People can be obnoxious, Mr. Owens; I’ve run for office, obnoxiousness is not worthy of a protective order.”

George Chidi and Larry Danese, concluded that Owens is nothing more than a “raging mattress stain”.

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