Monthly Archives: November 2014

Revisions to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards

Ga DOE – Announcement

November 12, 2014 – The State Board of Education has posted, for a 60-day public comment period, revisions to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) in English Language Arts and math.

The standards were revised based on a formal review and evaluation process, as directed by an executive order from Governor Nathan Deal. The review and evaluation process included several survey opportunities, along with legislative and State Board of Education listening sessions.

“Through this process, we have taken every opportunity to hear the concerns of educators, parents, and other stakeholders,” State Superintendent Dr. John Barge said. “It’s on the basis of that feedback that we are proposing these changes. This revision is not a retreat from our standards, but a refinement to ensure they are the best standards for Georgia’s students.”

As part of the review process, survey feedback was collected and analyzed by the University System of Georgia. A working committee representing Georgia public school teachers, post-secondary staff, parents, and instructional leaders made revisions to the standards based on public feedback and recommendations from survey results for standards with less than 90 percent approval. ELA and Mathematics Advisory Committees then reviewed the recommended changes, and provided additional suggestions based on public feedback.

View an analysis of the results of the GaDOE Common Core Standards Survey for RESAs (Regional Education Service Agencies) here​. View the proposed revisions here. To provide feedback on the revisions, contact one of the following:

Note: Some survey respondents, as well as the Academic Review Committee, felt that certain standards needed to also be emphasized in the teacher guidance documents developed by the Department of Education for each grade/course and subject. Some of the recommendations to be emphasized in Guidance and Professional Learning include: phonics instruction; cursive writing; literature and informational text; traditional computing methods; and the memorization of addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts.​

Release Date: 11/12/2014


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3 Ways to Lower Crazy High College Costs

Stuart M. Butler | Brookings

After centuries of little change, the basic “sage on a stage” business model of higher education is beginning to undergo a radical transformation. Buffeted by high tuition costs and loan debt, students and their parents are seeking better value for money. Meanwhile technological change spearheaded by online education and such innovations as “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) is shaking up the economics of educational information and teaching. And new business models, introducing such approaches as competency based degrees and blends of online and campus-based learning, are reducing costs and offering more customized degrees.

Thanks to these developments, the cost of acquiring the skills needed to be successful in the future economy is likely to fall sharply. That will be good for the economy. It will also open up opportunities for skill-based economic advancement for the many Americans who today cannot afford college without incurring crushing debt.

For this transformation to achieve its full potential, however, three things are needed.

First, would-be students must be able to obtain clear information about costs and quality, so that they can locate the best value for money. As Wellesley College economics professor Phillip Levine explains in his new Brookings study, that is no easy task. Much like the health industry, higher education is woefully inadequate at providing accurate and usable information on the actual costs a student is likely to incur, given a student’s economic circumstances and other factors. So it is difficult to engage in comparison shopping. Levine notes that “net price calculators” developed by the federal government are difficult to use and often inaccurate for particular students – but fortunately some colleges like Wellesley recognize the market value of good information and are developing more effective tools.

Second, we need comparison information that recognizes “quality” means different things to different people. Students place different values on different features of a college, from the availability of certain courses and professors, to the employability associated with certain majors, to the “college experience.” The weighting of such factors has a strong subjective element. That’s why national and international “scorecards” will always vary widely and be disputed, and why the federal government cannot develop a supposedly objective checklist of quality criteria. So it is important is for students to have access to scorecards that reflect their own criteria for value in education. Fortunately customized information is becoming increasingly available from private sources. It’s not just US News & World Report anymore. Parents and high-schoolers concerned about the earning potential of particular degrees can consult the Forbes and Kiplinger ratings, for instance, while those seeking a broad education can now consult the What Will They Learn rankings of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni

The third essential step is to open up the cozy world of higher education to more competition from institutions with new business models. That is certainly happening, but competition is held back by the outdated accreditation system, which protects the traditional providers because federal aid is limited to use in institutions with traditional accreditation. Fortunately the accreditation oligarchy is under pressure. Degrees based on competency rather than “seat time” are gaining traction, while low-cost degrees are reducing the need for loans. Meanwhile there are a range of proposals to amend traditional accreditation, from legislation to permit states to develop their own accreditation systems that would retain eligibility for student loans to steps to open up the accreditation system to new kinds of institutions.

Innovation combined with information drives change. Administrators of the hallowed halls and ivy-clad towers of the world’s universities are now learning that lesson.

  • Stuart M. Butler

    Senior Fellow, Economic Studies

    Prior to joining Brookings as a senior fellow, Stuart Butler spent 35 years at The Heritage Foundation, as Director of the Center for Policy Innovation and earlier as Vice-President for Domestic and Economic Policy Studies. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and a visiting fellow at the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution. He is a member of the editorial board of Health Affairs, serves on the panel of health advisers for the Congressional Budget Office and is a member of the Board on Health Care Services of the Institute of Medicine. He also serves on advisory councils for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the Kaiser Institute for Health Policy and the March of Dimes.

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Top-Down Reform vs Market Reform of K-12 Education

By Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D.
Newly elected officials interested in “improving” K-12 education might sound a lot like Optimus Prime: “Reform and roll out!” But just like the Transformers, although policymakers’ reforms will differ and change, they’re all inherently the same.

America has seen “reforms” of public education since 1644, when Rev. Ralph Wheelock became the first teacher in the country’s first tax-supported school. Since then, we’ve witnessed:

– Common Schools – Federally-funded schools
– Normal Schools – Separation
– Latin Schools – Inclusion
– Vernacular Schools – Phonics
– Compulsory Education – Whole Language
– Classical Education – Balanced Literacy
– Progressive Education -Computational Math
– Consolidation – New Math
– Comprehensive Schools – Integrated Math
– Small Schools – Traditional Science
– Schools Within Schools – Doing Science
– Prayer – State-funded Schools
– Secular Humanism – Social Studies
– Effective Schools – STEM
– Comer Schools – STEAM
– Montessori Schools – Aptitude Tests
– Waldorf Schools – Basic Skills Tests
– SPONGE Schools – Norm Referenced Tests
– Locally-funded Schools – Criterion Referenced Tests
– History, Civics, Geography, Economics – Salary Schedules
– Merit Pay – De-tracking
– Computer-aided Instruction – Teacher-directed Instruction
– Virtual Learning – Student-centered Instruction
– Blended Learning – Smaller Classes
– Experiential Learning – More Taxpayer Money
– Service Learning – Even More Taxpayer Money
– Standards-based Learning – Charter Schools
– Teacher Tenure – Outcomes-based Education
– No Teacher Tenure – Performance Standards
– Tracking – Common Core

Notably, in that annotated list, many reforms were polar opposites of each other. For example, states and districts spent decades consolidating schools to give students broader opportunities, but then—in a blast back to the distant past—small schools and schools within schools became all the rage.

That is not to suggest one is wrong and the other right. Rather, why should one particular reform be granted precedence over others and subsequently be imposed on all, or a large swath of, children and teachers?

Presidents, governors, legislatures, Congresses, and heads of education come and go, with each determining the trajectory of public education. Such instability among those influencing education, however, has led to, well, instability for those doing the educating.

Reflecting on his 43 years teaching high school English, one prominent teacher wrote about the constant and ever-changing reforms placed on his school and him:

More than four decades of education reforms didn’t make me a better teacher and haven’t made T.C. Williams a better school. Rather, the quick fixes promulgated by headline-seeking politicians, school administrators and self-styled education gurus have in some cases done more harm than good. I found that the most helpful professional-development experiences involved fellow English teachers sharing what worked in their classrooms—always with the caveat: “This works for me; it may not work for you.”

In 2012, a first-grade teacher in a challenging Los Angeles urban public school wrote:

Change can be good, but constant change is not, and is often frustrating. It is easier to teach at a school where the staff is stable, procedures and policies are in place, and there’s a strong sense of community. It is more challenging to teach in a place where there are always new faces, rules change, and expectations vary.

And, earlier this year, this lament of a middle school English teacher in Connecticut went viral:

I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to “mastery,” without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children’s passions—committing “readicide”….

Those experiences, coupled with the prominence of such reforms, recently led former longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to warn about a “plot against public education.” This latest “plot”—or, reform(s)—is “market-based,” according to Herbert. And it is being led by billionaires, namely Bill Gates.

As Herbert notes, Gates spent $2 billion, between 2000 and 2009, to make 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools smaller. Although Herbert is right in his assessment of the reform’s results, he’s wrong on their origin: market-based they are not. Rather, they represent a top-down approach, which is exploitable when the system empowers only one provider of a service.

Such billionaire-backed policies as small schools, non-traditional school leaders, digital learning, Common Core, standardized testing, etc., are more representative of what Adam Smith, the father of free markets, warned about:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

What Smith was referring to was the cornering, or monopolizing, of the market—in other words, imposing one’s will on everyone else, who have little to no recourse to respond.

That is not to suggest Gates or other individuals looking to reform public education in their vision have evil intent. Nevertheless, such altruistic impositions can be harmful to families and educators.

Herbert is right: “This hit-or-miss attitude—let’s try this, let’s try that—has been a hallmark of school reform efforts in recent years.” However, trying new things and differentiating approaches are important—and needed. And there is a way to do it on a localized, personalized level in which educators and educatees work together. It is market-based. And it’s made possible through universal school choice.

Remember, even though many of the abovementioned list of reforms are at odds with one another, that doesn’t make some better or some worse. The quality of each should be determined by those it affects. After all, different strategies and approaches likely work in some situations, but not in others.

For example, different teachers have different strengths. Whereas “integrated math” might be taught well by Teacher A, perhaps Teacher B works best teaching math through more traditional methods. And then there’s the students: Maybe Jane learns best from Teacher A in a private Montessori environment, but John needs Teacher B’s structure in a public setting. The same goes for Common Core, high-stakes standardized testing, small schools, small class sizes, etc.

Students should be matched to schools, teachers, curriculum, courses, etc., and the matching should be done by their parents—through making a choice in a free education market.

Admittedly, allowing parents to choose where their children attend school will bring changes to K-12 education, some of which cannot be predicted any more than the iPhone could have been predicted in 1876. But at least such changes will be decided by those closest to education: parents and educators—not elected officials or bureaucracies, which can be heavily influenced by the top-down lobbying efforts of unions, corporations, foundations, and billionaires. Educators will be free to run schools as they deem appropriate, and parents will decide which schools have the opportunity to best educate their children.

Under a universal school choice plan, there are two ways that Bill Gates and anyone else for that matter—including public educators—can determine the course for K-12 schools:

  1. First, they could open their own schools, which could adopt any number of reform strategies, including small classrooms, Common Core, and instruction from non-traditional leaders.
  2. Second, they could finance research and development into new teaching or management methods and see if any schools—of their own volition—choose to adopt them.

In either scenario, parents would be free to send their children to schools with the reforms they think best fit for their children. Teachers, meanwhile, would be free to teach in schools that had approaches and environments they think are most suitable to their skills.

As Bob Herbert and the teachers quoted above know well, constant reform programs have led to a seemingly never-ending and often contradictory policy churn that affects their jobs, lives, and students. Those top-down reforms are the antithesis of market-based policies.

Parents and educators—through their school choice decisions—should decide what school reforms are best—one child, one classroom, and one school at a time. Now that would be transformational.

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Two More States Eye Repeal of Common Core


On the heels of Republican victories last week, attempts to replace Common Core with homegrown standards are resurfacing in states across the nation.

Most prominently, elected officials in Wisconsin and Ohio are spearheading efforts to reclaim more control of education.

On Nov. 5, the day after the midterm elections, an Ohio House committee passed a bill to repeal the Common Core standards.

Although officials on both sides doubt the bill will garner enough support to pass by the end of the year, they are hopeful the legislature will take up the issue in 2015.

But to be safe, Common Core supporters like state Rep. Gerry Stebelton, R-Lancaster, say they will double down on efforts to defeat the House committee’s repeal bill.

“It deserved to die,” said Stebelton of the bill. “It has no merit.”

In Wisconsin, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Thursday changes to Common Core are definitely on next year’s agenda, according to the Associated Press.

Even though Fitzgerald wouldn’t offer specifics, his plan to reexamine Common Core aligns with that of Gov. Scott Walker, who won his re-election bid campaigning on a platform of expanding school choice, among other issues.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: John Angelillo/UPI/Newscom)

Walker, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, made it clear this July he wants to repeal the Common Core standards.

“Today, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin,” he said in a statement.

>>> Commentary: School Choice Wins, Common Core Loses in Election 2014

Wisconsin voted in 2011 to adopt the educational standards in math and English, but now, support is dwindling.

“Fitzgerald’s remarks show that education policy is a priority for Wisconsin, and that Common Core will continue to drive the debate in the coming months,” said Lindsey M. Burke, a Heritage Foundation expert on Common Core standards.

Developed in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers,the Obama administration incentivizedCommon Core with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants and waivers for states that signed on.

Already this year, four states—Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana—withdrew from the national standards and tests, and more than a dozen others either have exited or downgraded their involvement with the assessment component.

“More and more states are now seriously considering the next steps on Common Core, and the best way forward for them to reclaim control of education content,” said Burke, Heritage’s Will Skillman fellow, adding:

States like Oklahoma and South Carolina have demonstrated that it is possible to withdraw from these national standards and tests, and to take the opportunity to craft quality standards that are homegrown and reflective of state and local priorities.

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The problem with using tests to rate music, art and gym teachers

For the first time this year, all Georgia teachers will be rated in part on student test results.

That’s straightforward enough for teachers whose students take state standardized tests. But the majority of teachers – in subjects like art, music and gym – teach subjects and grades that aren’t covered by such high-stakes tests.

For them, many school districts have come up with their own exams. Educators and research suggest that system isn’t good enough for evaluations that could make or break careers.

The new system for rating these teachers is open to cheating, educators say, because in some cases teachers administer and grade the very tests used to evaluate them. The quality of tests varies by district, meaning a Spanish teacher in Gwinnett could be graded differently than one in Atlanta. And there are concerns about fairness, because research shows teachers of non-state tested subjects tend to score lower than those who teach courses where state standardized tests are given.

Georgia Department of Education deputy superintendent Avis King said the department is aware of the concerns and taking steps to address them.

“That’s why we are being very careful and cautious as we move forward,” she said.

The state’s plan is part of a new educator evaluation system which bases about half of teachers’ job ratings on an administrator watching them teach and about half on their students’ academic growth.

For teachers of grades and subjects covered by state tests, including math, English, social studies and science, students’ growth is measured by state tests.

For about 70 percent of teachers, whose areas are not covered by state tests, it’s often measured by tests their own districts design.

The new system could change. Georgia’s incoming state school superintendent, Richard Woods, has said test scores should play a smaller role in teacher evaluations. And Georgia has asked the U.S. Department of Education for a delay in using the new overall ratings for decisions about hiring, firing and pay. But they’ll still be used this year to determine which educators in 26 districts receiving federalRace to the Top money get millions of dollars in bonuses.Educators have told the Georgia Department of Education there are problems with how teachers of non-state tested subjects are evaluated, state reports on districts already using the new system show.

The tests and the cut-off scores that place teachers at different rating levels vary from district to district. Some districts — like Atlanta Public Schools — use multiple-choice tests to evaluate all teachers. Other districts combine multiple choice tests with other kinds of tests, like essays or how well music students, for example, play a C-major scale.

The state has sample materials to help guide districts in setting goals for student growth in different classes.

Carrie Staines, a teacher at Druid Hills High School in DeKalb County, said the quality of test questions in her district is poor. She should know: She was among the DeKalb teachers who volunteered to help write them. The Advanced Placement psychology test she wrote with two other teachers is far too short, at 20 questions, and reflects only “random” tidbits of knowledge that isn’t necessarily crucial, she said.

State officials say the new system isn’t supposed to be used to compare teachers in different districts. The idea is to measure how much students “grow” in every classroom, said Michele Purvis, an evaluation system specialist with the Georgia Department of Education.

“They’re not designed to compare this British lit class in this district to a British lit class in another district,” she said.

Another issue educators are concerned about: Student growth ratings for teachers of areas not covered by state tests tend to be lower than those for teachers of state-tested subjects, according to a 2014 University of Georgia research report.

In some cases, the lower scores could be due to initial miscalculations in districts’ expectations, said King, the state department of education official. “There’s a learning curve involved” with the new tests, she said.

And in some districts, teachers administer and grade the tests that are used to evaluate them. The state monitors its standardized tests in math, reading and other areas for cheating, but security for these new, local tests is left up to individual districts. So far, the number of potential test-security problems reported has been “relatively low,” King said.

But Melissa King Rogers, an English teacher at Druid Hills High School in DeKalb County, said “I think it’s just wide open to the sorts of scandals we’ve seen in APS.”

She was referring to the test-cheating scandal that resulted in the indictment of 35 former Atlanta Public Schools employees and allegations of secret answer-erasure parties and other subterfuge.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Bill Slotnik, executive director of the nonprofit Community Training and Assistance Center, which has helped dozens of states develop ways of evaluating teachers, if Georgia’s method for teachers of areas not covered by state standardized tests is fair and likely to be effective.

“Fairness, like beauty, tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” he said.

But Georgia’s system appears to be running into challenges, he said. Georgia would do better to show educators how a new evaluation system could improve instruction, he said, and involve teachers directly in finding better ways to teach students and reach the goals set under the new system.

“The more these kinds of things don’t happen, the more” the evaluation process “or any other reform just becomes a compliance activity,” he said.

Staff writer Jeff Ernsthausen contributed to this article.

Other states do it

Georgia is one of about 20 states using student academic growth as a major factor in rating teachers. In Georgia and other states, new teacher evaluation systems were part of applications for federal Race to the Top grants.

How good is your 8th-grade band teacher?

Georgia’s new teacher rating system bases about half of teachers’ job ratings on an administrator watching them teach and half on their students’ academic growth.

For example, to measure “student growth” in an 8th-grade band class, students might take a three-part test at the start of school and again in April. The test could include playing two major scales, a sight-reading exercise and a multiple-choice test.

About half of the teacher’s overall job rating depends on how much test scores from students in their classes improve from the start of school to the end.

Source: Georgia Department of Education sample student learning objective statement

By Molly Bloom and Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Tax Credits For Private Schools

Since 2008 Georgia has allowed married taxpayers filing jointly to take up to $2,500 of their state taxes and redirect them to be used as scholarships for private schools.  Single filers can redirect up to $1,000, and anyone in the state can participate – not just parents with kids in school.

This amazing program, known as the Qualified Education Expense (QEE) Tax Credit, will actually give you a state tax credit -not just a deduction – for money that you designate for the school of your choice.  This credit extends even to religious schools, and since you donate the funds through a non-profit corporation (called a Student Scholarship Organization, or SSO) you can also take the donation as a deduction on your federal tax return.  Because it is a state tax credit, you get all the money you donate back next year when you file your taxes.  Plus you get the tax write off since the donation is made to a non-profit corporation.  For most taxpayers, this means they will actually make money if they can take advantage of this program!

For 2015 the State has allocated $58,000,000 in tax revenue that can be redirected into the hands of needy students at Georgia’s private schools.  Before you can make the donation you must make a request to participate in the program.  These tax credits are granted on a first come / first served basis, and for 2015 the State anticipates all credit will be allocated by January 10th – so please request the credit now.  If you are accepted you will have to make your donation by the end of January to have it count.

The scholarship is only available to students who are moving from a public school into a private school.  Gwinnett County pays over $11,000 per year per student, about half of which comes from state funds.  So every student that moves into or stays in a private school will actually save taxpayer money in the long run.  Note that while you get to select the school that receives the money, technically you are not allowed to designate the student receiving the scholarship.

Here is a link to the Georgia Department of Education website that explains the program:

It also has a list of all of the qualified SSOs that will walk you through the process.  For reference, here is a link to one of the non-profit companies that I have used for a number of years:

You can also contact your chosen private school and they will be able to give you information about the program and help you through the process.

NOTES: Representative David Casas was the author of this legislation (HB 1133, the Georgia Tuition Tax Credit Act) and the law explicitly states that if the beneficiary of the scholarship is a dependent of the taxpayer then there is no State tax credit.  It also states that any student receiving a scholarship must be enrolled in a public school at the time the money is given, although they can continue receiving scholarship money as long as they stay at the private school.

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What Teachers’ Unions Aren’t Telling Their Supporters

TeamFriedman edchoice
Posted: November 7, 2014

In “Teachers Unions Flunked Their Midterms,” The Wall Street Journal chronicled how education reform issues played out in this year’s midterm elections. Today’s freakout comes from that story’s comments, where many parents shared their educational experiences and opinions.

Janet Ashley, whose other comments show she supports union positions, asked the second question education reformers posed long ago. The answer? Not many.

But that’s exactly what school choice vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts (ESAs) do. They make private services more affordable for the majority of people who can’t afford several thousand dollars for learning services outside traditional public schools.

That’s not to say school choice is a cure-all for every family’s financial woes. Sometimes voucher amounts aren’t enough for people to afford the options they know are best for their children. And, yes, it’s possible per-pupil education funding amounts sometimes might not be enough.

For instance, Arizona parents using ESAs receive only a fraction (about 90 percent) of the state per-pupil education funds their public school counterparts receive—local and federal funds do not follow their children. In a recent survey, ESA parents said if they were to receive higher ESA funding amounts, they would spend those additional funds largely on education therapies, tutoring, private school tuition/fees, and savings for college.

Just think of how beneficial such choices could be to the people teachers’ unions are supposed to represent. As the graphic above shows, properly funded school choice programs actually increase demand for more education professionals, especially educators who specialize in therapy and tutoring.

Because current Arizona ESA amounts still don’t cover all the services the 76 percent say they need to best educate their kids, it’s unsurprising many parents are not in a position to afford anything but their zoned public school.

But that shouldn’t be a reason to repeal school choice. Rather, it shows the need to give all parents full access to their children’s public education funding.

The research suggests the number of people who want that is large:

This unfortunate reality is one that teachers’ unions are reluctant to acknowledge. But if the recent election results are any indicator, unions might be better off working with school choice proponents, not against them. One way: discussing new ways to empower teachers—their members—and help them adapt in a new, more flexible system driven by parent choices rather than bureaucrats and regulations.

Doug Tuthill, a former union leader for the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, said it best:

This willingness to participate in open, honest dialogue will be much harder for teachers’ union leaders than for school choice leaders. Union leaders have so misled themselves and their members about the motivations of parents and school choice advocates that walking back from much of their rhetoric will be politically difficult. Nonetheless, if they want to survive, they’ll need to find their way to the school choice negotiating table.  

The technical, political, economic, and psychological forces driving the school choice movement are only going to accelerate moving forward. This transformation in public education is inevitable. What’s unclear is what role teachers’ unions will play in the future. I’m convinced a post-industrial teacher unionism can and should play a vital role, but that will require union leaders having the vision and courage to have some difficult conversations with each other and their members.

Unions may have “flunked the midterms.” But they still have a chance to get school choice right. Time to study up.

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