November Update

November Update

The big news in Georgia education is the upcoming recommendations of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission.

The ERC has simplified the funding formula known as QBE, but in doing so has cemented the the austerity cuts that have plagued Georgia school systems, including Fayette County, for years. From the GPBI:

“The General Assembly appropriated $460 million less for districts this year than the current school funding formula calculated. It also underfunded school transportation grants by $180 million and reduced sparsity grants by $14.5 million. Sparsity grants help districts offset the higher costs of small schools. This is the fourteenth year the legislature imposed cuts to the formula and it’s one reason Georgia now spends far less on each student than most states.

The hardship on school districts worsened in 2012 when the Legislature decided Georgia will no longer cover a portion of health insurance costs for school bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and other essential district staff. Districts now pay the full tab and spend $400 million more annually on health insurance for these employees, local tax dollars that could otherwise be spent in the classroom.

If the new formula was in place this year and fully funded by lawmakers, districts would get $234 million more in state money. That still leaves local school districts a combined $421 million short of what’s called for in today’s formula and grant programs.”

It’s important to note that the ERC made no effort to investigate the actual cost of educating Georgia students. Reworking the funding formula may redistribute existing school funding but it does nothing to fully fund student needs in Georgia, even according to a 30 year formula.

At the same time one subcommittee of the ERC wants to cement funding cuts, another, charged with Teacher Recruitment and Retention wants to increase the base salary for teachers and tie teacher compensation to “effectiveness.” I hope effectiveness can be broadly defined and not too reliant on standardized testing (one of the big agreements I have with our current State Superintendent.)

The ERC may also recommend a new voucher program, again falling into the failed notion that choice alone makes things better. Recommendations in Early Childhood education such as increasing pay for teachers and assistants and reducing class size are measures I fully support, although unlikely to ever be funded. The ERC will also make recommendations on moving to a “competency-based” learning system that would allow more flexibility to students. I’m not really sure how “competency-based” will turn out, but in theory it makes sense.

The funding committee is expected to vote on its recommendations when it meets November 12 and the next meeting of the full commission is November 19th.

Besides the ERC, the next headlines you will see will be Test Scores:

In the next week or so Georgia is going to release the first set of “Milestones” results. The replacement for CRCT and EOCT tests, the Milestones results will most certainly be lower than the old testing system. Cut scores have been raised (kind of like Daylight Savings Time) and the test is theoretically designed to test application of knowledge rather than rote memorization or response. Although we don’t really know how well it measures that yet.

So it’s different, it’s new, and it’s designed to give lower scores.

No, your school is not failing. No school in Fayette County is failing.

Again, I’ll turn to our current State Superintendent, talking about a different measure, but equally applicable:

I started the day looking over data points but, by day’s end, it wasn’t the TEMs, LEMs, and CCRPI that made an impact on me, or defined my notion of real effective teaching and learning. It was meeting school leaders who saw their schools as their homes, their teachers as their family members, and their students as their own children. It was meeting teachers who did what they asked their students to do: constantly work to get better. This wasn’t a show; it was sincerity.

I can promise you that any individual who had spent some time in these schools would have walked away labeling these schools as model schools with CCRPI scores in the 80s or 90s and would be shocked to learn that they are in the 50s

From a school board standpoint, the next few months may be focused on policy review.

For instance, here is our current policy on cell phones and technology:

Students shall not be permitted to use any personal electronic communication device, including cell phones, during the school day, except for instructional or educational purposes. For purposes of this policy, the school day begins when the student enters the building and ends when school is dismissed.

Students are prohibited from using any electronic devices during the operation of a school bus, including, but not limited to, cell phones, pagers, audible radios, tape or compact disc players, or any other electronic device in a manner that might interfere with the school bus communication equipment or the school bus driver’s operation of the school bus.

So no using your phone unless a teacher says you can.

Does that seem reasonable? What are the pros and cons of cell phone use by students? What do students and parents expect? What do adults expect from each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Our policy review will cover everything from sex ed to payroll deductions. Policies can be reviewed here. The ones on the left are the current ones and the ones on the right are the ones that have been initially reviewed by the board.

Other things besides the school board I’ve been working on: 


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