Category Archives: Nathan Deal

OSD – Governer Deal and the Business Community

Georgia citizens will be voting on the Opportunity School District (OSD) this November. Supporters see this as a way for the state to finally step in do something about perpetually failing schools. Opponents liken this effort to the charter school movement and the privatization of public education.

Educators circled the wagons in opposition to OSD last year. Governor Deal has been busy spending a lot of money on education but slow out of the gate in garnering support for his amendment. Dave Williams writes about the Governor’s plea to the affluent Atlanta business community to support the Opportunity School District referendum. Half of Atlanta Public Schools, by the way, qualify as perpetually failing and are on the list to potentially be taken over.

Gov. Deal asks for business support of school takeover vote
By: Dave Williams covers Government

Gov. Nathan Deal appealed to Atlanta’s business community Monday to help build support for a referendum this fall on a proposal to let the state take over chronically failing schools.

The National Education Association is preparing to spend $1.5 million on an ad campaign opposing a constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly last year, Deal told members of the Atlanta Rotary Club.

“I don’t understand why people are satisfied with a status quo of chronically under-performing schools,” the governor said. “It is not a power grab by me, as they will argue. … It is a critical step for us to change the dynamics of our education system.”

If voters ratify the constitutional change in November, the state would be permitted to intervene in schools that score below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) for three straight years. Such persistent failure would put those schools under the supervision of a statewide “opportunity” school district that would operate them through the governor’s office.

Deal said there are nearly 140 schools that meet those criteria statewide, schools that serve nearly 75,000 students. He cited statistics showing that students relegated to such schools are more likely to end up in prison than students who attend higher-achieving schools.

“Their chances of graduating [high school] are significantly diminished,” he said. “Chances are they’re going to become the fodder of our prison system.”

The legislation cleared the General Assembly largely along party lines. Democrats argued giving the state the power to take over failing schools wouldn’t solve the underlying problems of poverty and under-investment in education affecting student progress.

But the constitutional amendment won widespread support from business groups, picking up endorsements from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others.


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Gov. Nathan Deal all in on merit pay for teachers

Gov. Nathan Deal said he’s ready to ask lawmakers to make a “significant” step toward tying the teachers’ pay to their performance in the classroom, setting up a showdown with educators’ groups who have long opposed the policy.

But it’s unclear how much political capital he’s willing to put on the line for the controversial proposal. Equally unclear is whether lawmakers – all of whom face re-election next year – will be willing to sign on for the battle, knowing full well that they will get blow-back from teachers.

Gov. Nathan Deal all in on merit pay for teachers photo
Georgia policymakers have flirted for decades with the of idea of merit pay for teachers, and more than two dozen school districts have received money from the state’s $400 million federal Race to the Top grant that rewards teachers on their performance.

More comprehensive changes have been stalled by critics who question, among other aspects, how teachers will be evaluated and how any pay increases would be funded.

Deal, though, indicated he’s willing to pick a fight with teachers groups. He said he plans to endorse merit pay as part of a broader education overhaul from a reform commission he tapped to recommend changes to the way Georgia divvies up money between 180 school districts.

“We’re not going to go to a fully merit-based pay system, but I do think there is a portion of the teachers’ pay that should go to how good a teacher they are,” Deal said after a recent policy conference. “Now, getting the education community to support that is sometimes difficult.”

The governor’s Education Reform Commission made merit pay one of its top recommendations despite numerous meetings with teachers who didn’t mention it as a priority. It led teachers’ advocates to openly criticize the commission’s work last month, saying the group failed to address more pressing issues such as recruitment and retention of educators.

School districts in Georgia generally pay teachers based on how long they’ve been teaching and degrees they’ve earned.

That forces some teachers looking for bigger pay bumps to move into administrative roles, Deal said. Top administrators earn more than most teachers.

The challenge is coming up with a metric that satisfies skeptical educators groups and policymakers. Teachers advocates often question the reliability and rigor of, say, using test scores or other factors to determine a teacher’s salary.

“We want it to be an objective assessment,” said Deal. “Much of it has to, of course, be subjective. We think there’s a way to do it, and we’re going to try to move it along the road. We’re not going to get as far as perhaps some would like for us to go, but we think the first step is significant.”

A recent analysis by the Georgia Association of Educators, one of the state’s largest teacher groups, evaluated merit plans in other states. “There is little research evidence to support the notion that pay-for-performance incentives have a positive impact on student learning,” the report concluded.

Sid Chapman, president of GAE, said the commission Deal put together to give him guidance included no working teachers.

“The entire process has led to increased low morale among teachers and many are voicing to me that they want to retire as soon possible or leave the profession altogether,” he said. “Proposed changes such as those on teacher compensation and eliminating the state salary schedule will make the morale even worse.”

John Palmer, a Cobb County middle school band director and spokesman for the teacher protest group TRAGIC, said, the group opposes merit pay. “We are not opposed to it because we don’t want to be held responsible. We are opposed to it because they don’t have an effective way to determine how we are doing.”

Palmer said there are so many variables that go into good teaching that it would be hard to construct a model to use to decide who gets merit bonuses. Some teachers, like physical education teachers, might not be eligible. Some teachers work in schools that already have top test scores and are less likely to see big gains in the classroom.

“You can’t just put numbers in and put some statistical model together to tell you how a teacher should be paid,” he said.

By Greg Bluestein and James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Education Reform Commission, Legislation, Nathan Deal, Teachers

Atlanta, DeKalb Schools Try To Ward Off Potential State Takeover

Some Atlanta-area communities could lose control of their struggling schools if voters approve a plan proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal next fall. The two districts with the most schools at risk are DeKalb County and Atlanta Public Schools. The pressure is on, and the districts are pulling out all the stops to avoid a potential state takeover.

Pressure To Perform 

At a recent DeKalb school board meeting, Morcease Beasley, DeKalb’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, explained the district’s plan to avoid a potential state takeover.

“Not only [will we have] additional support for academics through our student success tutors, our Georgia Milestones mentors and after-school extended-day programs, we also have our engagement coaches that are strategically placed at various schools, our student success coaches, our post-secondary transition specialists that help by improving the graduation rate,” he said.

Beasley took almost 20 minutes to explain the entire plan. DeKalb has identified 54 schools that could be vulnerable to a potential takeover. Beasley’s challenge is making sure they all improve enough this year to avoid that possibility.

Tosha Croom teaches at Columbia Middle School, which is on the list of 54 schools. Her students vary widely in their academic abilities. Columbia is a magnet school for high achievers, but it also has a large percentage of children from poor households.

“It’s hard to teach a child when a parent tells you, ‘You know, Mrs. Croom, I can’t read,’” she said. “And that kid is the sweetest kid; they’re not the troublemaker. So, I will be intrigued to see what the state comes up with that we’re not already doing.”

An Unclear Alternative

Croom is active in her classroom. She walks to every corner, talks to individual children and makes sure they understand. Because her students are constantly assessed, she’s also honest with them about their progress. She explains their performance on a recent test.

“These three standards, as an eighth-grade class, 48.3 percent mastered those standards,” she tells her class.

Scores like these put the school at risk of a potential state takeover. So, teachers at Columbia decided to turn testing into a competition. The class with the highest scores next time will get a pizza party.

If it works and helps improve the school faster, that’s good news for Deal.

“Nothing would please me better than for us to have no chronically failing schools in the state of Georgia, and that the constitutional amendment would simply be something we could put in the closet and never have to use,” Deal said at a recent conference of educational leaders.

It’s hard to teach a child when a parent tells you, ‘You know, Mrs. Croom, I can’t read.’ –Tosha Croom, 8th grade English/Language Arts teacher at DeKalb’s Columbia Middle School.

Deal says there are 139 failing school now that could be targeted for takeover if voters say “yes” to his plan next year.

“So, as you work hard to get those schools in your systems off the list, just know that the state board, school superintendent’s office, the governor’s office, will be there to help you,” he said. “We want you to do it.”

Columbia Middle School’s principal, Keith Jones, said he’d welcome that kind of help.

“If the state has some initiatives they know will work, I wish they would share them with us now,” he said. “I mean, if they have something special that they have, they’re going to come in and take us from ‘focus,’ to just a regular, traditional school, we would like to know so we can implement it now.”

Some details of the potential state takeover plan are yet to be determined. Officials say some decisions would depend on the needs of the individual schools, but money would play a big role. A takeover could deeply cut into the budgets of systems like DeKalb and Atlanta. Money that would go to individual schools would instead go to the state to run them.

Committing To Change

That threat is enough for APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to hold town hall meetings about failing schools. More than 100 people showed up at a recent meeting at APS headquarters, where Carstarphen was challenged by some community members. Parent Michelle Head said she was tired of hearing officials talk about change, especially in the wake of the test-cheating scandal.

“These are our children. These are our schools. This is our city. These are our neighborhoods, and we’ve all invested our time, our energy in trying to save all of this,” she said. “You haven’t invested anything in this; you’re just getting paid a salary. This is our life. This is our life’s blood. When you’re gone, we’re all still going to be here.”

But Carstarphen said she’s committed to improving APS.

“It’s a broken system,” she said. “I don’t know why, as a community, we don’t understand that Atlanta Public Schools is effectively broken. We have the lion’s share of every problem you could possibly imagine in urban public schools. But I am here. This is my community. They are my babies and my children, and I expect of myself to do a good job with or without the support of anyone else.”

But she does have some support. APS hired a consulting group to help develop a plan for low-performing schools. It’s also hired one of Deal’s former advisers, who designed the takeover plan. But Carstarphen made it clear to the crowd — state takeover or not — it’s time for huge improvements in APS.

“I try not to judge people, but I will say this: I know what I do in my life,” she said. “I know that I care about Atlanta. I know I didn’t come here by accident. I’m from Selma. I’m Black. I have seen what has happened to our children, and I can’t stand it for this city. I cannot stand it. We cannot do this to our Black community, and it’s got to be fixed.”

APS says 26 of its schools — or 60 percent — would qualify for state intervention if the governor’s plan were signed into law today.

With so much money at stake, heavy lobbying is expected in the coming year by supporters and opponents of the takeover idea. But school systems aren’t waiting for the vote count and have already started their own improvement plans.

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Governor’s education reformers take aim at teacher pay scales

Georgia teachers have been paid for decades by a predictable salary scale, but that could change as a panel working for Gov. Nathan Deal considers an overhaul of education policy.

Teachers get automatic raises as they gain experience and earn advanced degrees, but Deal’s Education Reform Commission is talking about a new way to fund school districts that would ignore those factors.

The idea is to pay more for better student outcomes or for high-demand fields such as science or math.

Districts currently are reimbursed by the state based on where each of their teachers falls on the pay scale. Those districts with longer-serving and more highly-credentialed teachers get more money. The proposal would give every district the same amount for each teacher.

So some districts would get less, which could encourage them to abandon the pay scale.

Erin Hames said the state funding law could be rewritten so that current teachers’ pay is unaffected, but she acknowledged Thursday that most districts will soon be able to ignore such a requirement.

That’s because all but two of the state’s 180 districts are either applying to become, or have already been approved as, “flexibility” districts. This gives them the power to ignore costly state mandates such as maximum class sizes, 180-day school calendars — or teacher pay scales.

The funding proposal is far from a done deal. The commission would have to recommend it to Deal, who would then find a champion in the General Assembly to pass it into law. Deal gave the commission, which continues to study the effects of the proposed changes, a December deadline to make final recommendations.

Craig Harper, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, one of the state’s teacher advocacy groups, said pay is a “big issue” for teachers, but it is unclear now how the proposal would affect each teacher. Some stand to make more money, but others possibly less. He said that creates uncertainty that can hinder recruitment and retention.

Deal needs a way to pay for his reforms without forcing an increase in the amount of state money that goes towards education, and eliminating the pay scale is one way to do that.

Charles Knapp, who is leading the commission, says it must figure out how to divide money the state has for education rather than recommending a formula that mandates an increase in spending.

Proponents of a pay scale overhaul say it could inject new life and enthusiasm into the teaching ranks, encouraging excellence. Others caution that Georgia’s teacher evaluation system may not accurately portray performance.

The evaluation system is built on student test results and teacher observations. However, there have been questions about the fairness of using test results to measure teacher performance because of factors beyond their control, such as student poverty.

“It sounds exciting,” said Dick Yarbrough, a retired business executive with teachers in his family, and a member of Deal’s commission. “The question is the quality of evaluations.”

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Legislation, Nathan Deal, Teacher Evaluations, Teachers

Governor plans to pump $50 million into Georgia’s pre-k programs

Gov. Nathan Deal wants to spend $50 million next year to start reversing changes he engineered to a lottery-funded early-childhood program aimed at keeping HOPE programs from going bankrupt that also led to waves of teachers leaving pre-kindergarten classes and tarnished its national reputation.

The governor said in an interview that the specifics are still in the works but that the funding would reduce class sizes in pre-k programs and increase the salaries for teachers and assistant teachers.

“We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-k program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools,” he said. “Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-k program.”

The governor pushed lawmakers in 2011 to restructure pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs to keep them financially afloat as they struggled increasing demand. The pre-k school year was cut by 20 days, and the maximum size of classrooms was raised from 20 to 22 students.

A 180-day calendar has since been restored, but class sizes remain the same. And advocates have long called for smaller classrooms and higher teacher pay to improve the quality of early childhood education.

Deal plans to get the funding to increase teacher pay and cut class sizes from an enticing pot of money known as the unrestricted lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million by the end of 2014, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. It is separate from the $460 million in lottery reserves that, by law, cannot be touched.

A reserve retreat

The governor has resisted calls to dip into the fund in the past — he said during his 2014 re-election campaign that “it’s not wise” to take from the fund in case of an economic downturn — but he’s changed his tune ahead of a new debate over lottery-funded education programs.

“The scare we’ve seen just this past week with the stock market is a reminder that we always should err on the side of being cautious,” he said in the interview Friday. “But when we do have the money available, we need to do what we can to spend it wisely.”

The shift comes as lawmakers prepare to debate a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling, which supporters say would infuse a new surge of cash into Georgia’s scaled-back pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs. Deal opposes the expansion of gambling, but he said he may not veto the legislation if voters support it in a referendum.

The specifics of his plan for a $50 million pre-kindergarten infusion will be honed by an education reform commission that he appointed after his re-election. The panel’s members have already begun to debate whether to boost the pay of pre-k teachers with advanced college degrees.

Early childhood education experts welcome Deal’s decision. Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said the state’s national reputation as a leader in early education was “severely damaged” as days were cut, class sizes were increased and experienced teachers fled.

The program has yet to recover while early childhood education systems in states such as Alabama, North Carolina and even Mississippi held steady or moved forward, he said. But he said Deal’s proposal to add an additional $50 million would “help restore Georgia’s reputation, and, more importantly, restore quality so that children and taxpayers gain from this investment.”

The pre-k program still has trouble holding on to its teachers. The program keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent in fiscal 2012, when the brunt of the cuts took effect.

Early childhood education advocates have long urged Deal to find money in the reserve fund to increase pre-k teacher pay and decrease class size to help needy families who don’t have access to quality early care.

“I am agnostic on where the funding comes from,” said Mindy Binderman, the executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. “But using lottery reserves is the logical choice.”

Tech students

Some Democrats want Deal to tap the lottery reserve for a different purpose.

Changes to the HOPE grant program in 2011 hiked the required grade-point average for technical college students to keep the tuition award and reduce the payments. Nearly 6,000 students who lost their grants bolted from schools in the years after the change.

Lawmakers approved a new grant named after former Gov. Zell Miller two years ago to cover the full tuition of tech students who earn at least a 3.5 GPA, which is awarded to about 14,500 students. That leaves an additional 67,000 students on the HOPE grant, and many get roughly 75 percent of their tuition covered by the program.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants the state to cover the rest of the gap. She’s met several times with the governor and his aides about taking roughly $23 million from the unrestricted reserve fund to restore full tuition funding for the grant recipients.

The new funding would only amount to a matter of a few hundred dollars a semester for most tech school students, she said, but that could be the deciding factor for many students struggling to make ends meet.

“The difference in funding is sometimes only $400 or $500, and it’s the difference between completing a program and someone not completing it,” Evans said. “And anything we can do to drive more people into the doors of a technical college is going to result in more people in unfilled jobs.”

She pointed to strong lottery proceeds – the program’s profits for state education programs recently set a record for the fourth consecutive year – as a sign that Deal doesn’t have to choose between the two programs.

“With the lottery posting record proceeds, we can responsibly do both,” said Evans.

The governor, though, signaled in the interview that he was wary of dipping deeper into the reserve funds for the HOPE grant program. He pointed to a workforce development initiative that pays the full tuition for grant recipients pursuing high-demand fields, such as welding and movie production.

“Rather than just using our money across the board,” he said, “I think it’s more appropriate to focus on areas where they can get jobs.”

By Greg Bluestein
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Deal’s education commission considers pre-K teacher pay

Teachers of Georgia’s youngest students might get more money for advanced college degrees while those in regular K-12 schools might not, according to ongoing discussions in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Subcommittees studying topics from teacher pay and retention to student choice and charter schools reported their progress to the full commission on Wednesday. Many, including the crucial funding committee, have reached no conclusions, but the group studying early childhood education had solid recommendations. They recommended tying pay to the level of college attained and to the amount of job experience. Pre-K teachers with a bachelor’s degree would get a $1,200 bump under the recommendation, with their annual pay rising to $26,000, while teachers with a master’s degree would earn a base amount of $38,400.

Meanwhile, the group studying what is arguably the most important topic — state educational funding — has discussed removing the long-existing requirement that school districts pay K-12 teachers more if they hold advanced degrees. The group made no formal recommendation about that or anything else Wednesday, but commission chairman Charles Knapp said specifics should start to emerge next week. That’s when the funding subcommittee will consider new ways to channel state money to school districts.

Currently, districts earn money based on a complicated formula that requires their compliance with state-established rules for everything from salary scales to attendance calendars. Deal has said he wants to simplify the formula so that districts get a set amount of money per student, with the flexibility to spend it as they see fit, Knapp said.

The commission members have been meeting since winter with a deadline by next winter for most. But the funding subcommittee has a July deadline to give Deal time to incorporate the proposals into his next budget.

Knapp warned that the funding formula that begins to emerge next week will likely produce winners and losers, with some districts getting proportionately more, or less, money than they do today.

“We’re getting into the real important stage where we’re going to be talking about specific numbers and specific allocations,” he said.

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Bibb school system has more to worry about than Gov. Deal

When Gov. Nathan Deal was running for re-election last year, he promised his focus would sit on education. While many may not like how he’s focused on education, he is keeping his promise. The General Assembly has given approval to his constitutional amendment proposal that, if approved by voters, will allow the state the authority to take over troubled schools (defined as scoring less than 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three consecutive years). There are 139 such schools in the state out of 2,184.

If the measure is approved in November 2016, the state will set up an “Opportunity School District” patterned after similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee. The Opportunity School District will have its own superintendent answerable only to the governor. The state district would take over 20 schools per year with a maximum of 100. Bibb County has 10.07 percent of the state’s failing schools. While having 14 schools targeted by the governor is horrible, Atlanta Public Schools have 27 on the list and DeKalb County has 25. Those figures should give no comfort. Atlanta Public Schools have 101 facilities, and 26 percent are listed as failing. De­Kalb has 133 schools, and 19 percent are failing. Thirty-four percent of Bibb’s schools are in the failing category.

Will the new Opportunity School District sweep into Macon? Time is on our side. The earliest such a district could get started is the 2017-18 school year. That gives new Superintendent Curtis Jones time to turn those schools around, but there is a more pressing issue staring the Bibb County school board in the face than the governor. AdvancED, the accrediting institution, gave the system 24 months to clean up its governance act. Time has just about run out. The board’s homework assignment, fixing the governance and leadership issues, is incomplete as of this writing.

While some on the board believe Bibb could become a national model for other districts that find themselves sideways with AdvancED, that’s hard to conceive. The new incomplete board handbook is a hand-me-down from DeKalb County that was borrowed from an Austin, Texas, district. We guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s nowhere near innovative. Other board members think AdvancED will give the district a pass because the work is in progress.

We don’t understand the distinction the board uses to differentiate between items that are “incomplete” and those that are a “work in progress.” Either way, the homework isn’t finished, and there’s not a dog around to blame for eating it.

By Telegraph Editorial Board

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Filed under Bibb County, Legislation, Nathan Deal, Opportunity School District