In school-funding debate, err on the side of flexibility

Barrie Maguire NewsArt

Barrie Maguire NewsArt

The charge Gov. Nathan Deal gave his Education Reform Commission back in February was ambitious: Propose an overhaul to the state’s long-debated school funding formula, among other things, within six months. As members met Tuesday, it became clear why they’re going to blow past their Aug. 1 deadline.

Because no one can agree on much when it comes to changing the way more than $8 billion in state money is spent, that’s why.

Do experience and advanced degrees make for more effective teachers, or not? How do we fairly measure a teacher’s effectiveness anyway? Should the state be more concerned about starting salaries, or about what the average teacher makes? What about benefits and retirement?

And that’s before we even get to how to allocate money based on student characteristics and needs.

Previous efforts to change the Quality Basic Education formula, established in the mid-1980s, have flopped precisely because the stakes are so high and agreement so rare. That is unsurprising in a state with 180 school districts that range from 187 students (in Taliaferro County) to 172,693 (in Gwinnett). More than half of those districts have fewer total students than the state’s largest high school (Gwinnett’s Mill Creek, with 3,776).

Common ground will always be hard to find among districts that are equally diverse when it comes to race, income and geography (rural vs. urban vs. suburban). The answer is to require as little agreement as possible.

Let the state set standards and measurements for student achievement. Tie money to the student, with allowances made for characteristics around which there’s a general consensus, such as more money for English language learners, kids from poor families, students in early grades who need to reach key literacy benchmarks.

Beyond that, let districts have as much flexibility as possible in deciding how to spend the money.

The advantage of advanced degrees is a truly academic question in poor, rural counties that have trouble attracting any teachers at all. If those school districts believe they’d be better positioned to recruit and retain good teachers by paying more for younger, less-credentialed educators and then awarding raises based on performance, why should the state stand in the way?

Or consider a district that wants to experiment with larger class sizes (or digitally delivered instruction) in some subjects and smaller class sizes in others, with varying pay levels as appropriate. Why should it be hamstrung by a statewide salary scale?

Ditto for a district that wants to take advantage of increasingly frequent career-switching by hiring subject-matter experts who have no intention of teaching long enough to qualify for a pension. They might prefer a higher salary and a portable, defined-contribution retirement account over the smaller paycheck and more-generous pension that traditionally attracts people to a teaching career.

As we have heard so many times, public schools don’t get to choose their students. But they do get to choose their teachers. Likewise, while most students don’t have real education options, many teachers can change employers. One-size-fits-all doesn’t make any more sense for teacher pay than it does for student learning. Recognizing that is the truly bold path forward.

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
dg417s
dg417s

Oh, and if we start putting in rules or policies that drive teachers out of Georgia (see North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas), what businesses are going to want to come to Georgia? There won't be potential future workers and no where to send the children of current employees.

dg417s
dg417s

Kyle, do you really want your children educated by individuals who, despite content knowledge, have no training or experience in actually delivering that knowledge to children? I worked with someone like that. It wasn't good for the students. As far as retirement portability, and funds paid into TRS are returned to the individual if they aren't there for 10 years to be vested. They can put it in an IRA or whatever they want. If new educators aren't going into TRS as we know it, it won't be there for the people who spent 30+ years educating the children of Georgia. We have one of the best and most sound teacher retirement systems in the country. Don't mess with that.

As far as salary scale goes, although I can see the argument for change, I can say two things I have seen from experience. I am a better teacher with my masters than I was teaching with my bachelor's and I am definitely a better teacher as I continue to work in the profession. The state has already stopped awarding raises for teachers getting advanced degrees they aren't using. My masters is in my field. If I get a degree in, let's say leadership, but I stay in the classroom, I don't get a raise. I have no problem with that. If I get an EDS or doctorate in instruction, that does impact what I do in my classroom and should be rewarded.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maximum flexibility would call for no requirements for teacher preparation, no required performance standards, no set schedule of classes.  Is that what is wanted?

flaneur_
flaneur_

Maximize parental choice, preferably through the use of tuition vouchers, and allow us to vote with our feet.

Point
Point

No, you don't get to choose your teachers.  You get to choose the best that apply in your system.  The whole state is not metro Atlanta. So the answer is to pay teachers based on personalities of humans?  That's not going to work either and school systems will be in court fighting employment claims.  


Why are we changing the whole pay structure for Teach for America teachers anyway?  Teacher turnover is expensive, school systems invest in professional learning for teachers for them to leave after 2 years?  It may sound good on paper, but the delivery won't go well.  As the economy improves, I'm sure the plethora of TFA candidates dries up as well.


The main problem is that no one is talking to teachers!  We know top down reform doesn't work, but that doesn't

t deter those at the top.  You keep throwing around value added, accountability, effectiveness,and all the other buzz words in the quest for identifying the great teachers. The truth is, the great teachers are born that way.  It's nothing they learn at school, it's just in their DNA.  It starts with their heart.  Quit wasting money on all the studies.  Great teachers, effective teachers are the those that teach from the heart.


Sorry for the rant, but teachers have been disrespected long enough.  If we truly believe that children are our future, then the people who spend the majority of their time with your children deserve a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion.


I

Jim Retired
Jim Retired

Sad, but teaching students is not like making hamburgers taste the same across the state. I like the ideas of giving local control to the school systems. Since Superintendents are appointed, while School Board Members are elected with the only qualifications  of living in a District, and being a certain age, I can see nothing but the student interest in every decision.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Kyle, I like your “money follows the student according to need” idea.

The Constitution of Georgia states “Paragraph I. Public education; free public education prior to college or postsecondary level; support by taxation. The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation.

The state government has determined through its plan to take over failing schools, and its insistence that teacher pay should be about performance, that passing mandated standardized tests is the definition of adequate. It stands to reason that money should only be spent only on students not meeting performance standards.

That is a bit draconian though, so I propose annual testing at the beginning of the year. If your child meets or exceeds standards, they are sent home with a laptop, $100 per month for fast internet, and a list of free online resources to prepare for next year’s test. Children who failed will have the remaining amount spent on them in schools designed to get them to the passing level. Can you imagine how much progress they could make with very small classes, highly paid expert teachers, mentors and coaches, various technologies, field trips, etc.? It boggles the mind.

After all the state does not guarantee anything beyond an adequate education, and if your child is passing, that is adequate: especially if many other children are failing. The state should not be a childcare provider for children who are performing at or above the state standard. What a waste and burden on taxpayers – especially those with no children in K-12

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Difficult situations inspire ingenious solutions, or, as Plato would say...

necessity is the mother of invention. 


SGAMOD
SGAMOD

We already have that flexibility - it's called Charter, IE2, or Status Quo - It's Deal's plan so he must deal with it.

M H Smith
M H Smith

Unfortunately the market in this case is mostly confined to the public sector. So whatever compensation is awarded is somewhat arbitrary in regards to a totally open market setting the scale. 


This one is not easy to reach conclusions on. In different areas, different skill sets and educations qualifications are in higher demand, which should ordinarily bring higher rewards for services. In any case, if one district here in Georgia cannot match or better the compensations to teachers holding advanced degrees in a course of study in high demand they always have the options to shop themselves to other districts. even districts outside this State, willing or able to met the compensations they desire: If money and benefits are their only concern.     

straker
straker

Kyle, I think the best thing Georgia officials could do would be to visit the top private schools, like Marist and Westminister, and see what experience and qualifications their teachers have.


If advanced degrees and experience are common in these schools, then our public schools should encourage our public schools having  those kind of teachers.

MANGLER
MANGLER

@straker Compare what it costs at those top private schools per student to what the public system spends.  Would you be willing to let public schools increase their spending to match?  That means higher taxes.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@straker Cause the difference in Marist/Westminster and a school with 70% or above free lunch is the TEACHER QUALITY.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" If those school districts believe they’d be better positioned to recruit and retain good teachers by paying more for younger, less-credentialed educators and then awarding raises based on performance, why should the state stand in the way?"


Because, it's more likely that cost-cutters are cutting good teachers just to save a few bucks at the risk of sending kids into a lower quality education.  For raises, As Dekalb has recently seen, "raises based on performance" is a gray area, and many teachers got a raise/bonus and others didn't. For them, there was no meeting with higher ups to say what to improve, or why they got the money. It was just there. Or not. 


There are some good ideas, but the state is constitutionally obligated to educate the populace.  

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude Oh, and if we're going to use shenanigans in DeKalb as a reason not to do things in other places, we might as well shut down all the schools.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude Had you included the sentence before that, you would have noticed I was talking about districts that struggle to recruit the more-experienced and -credentialed teachers. They're not trying "to save a few bucks"; they're looking for a way to attract and retain good teachers.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude The problem is one of unintended consequences.  Remove the burden of complying with state rules, and some areas will run with it and be the very definition of corruption ruining the area.  

The question is how do you balance the good ideas at the regional levels with complying with state rules. These are definitely some good ideas, but unfortunately, I also see some people taking full advantage of the system when nobody's there to punish wrongdoing. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

As you point out Kyle, we can't even begin to craft solutions that work everywhere at the state level, so what does that say about trying to craft education policy at the federal level?  Why do we need a federal Department of Education?  Education decisions need to be addressed as close to the teacher pupil level as possible.  We need to just let the funding follow the student and allow the parents to choose where to spend their money, and where their child will get the best education. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@RafeHollister Before the feds we had a lot of "separate but "equal" and we would quickly revert to that.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@RafeHollister You mean "allow the parents to choose where to spend OTHER PEOPLE'S money?" It's kinda traditional in this country to only allow taxation with representation. 


Now, if the parents want to spend THEIR money from THEIR pocket where they want, they're free to do so. Apparently that's not enough for some folks.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

You can bet the state will shift as much as they can to the local property owners, as they don't follow the constitution...

straker
straker

"do experience and advanced degrees make for more effective teachers or not"


The very asking of that question by State Government officials calls into question their true agenda here.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker Actually, there is research indicating advanced degrees matter in certain subjects (math and advanced sciences) but not others, and that the gains from experience tail off after the first several years.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @straker So, to save money, it's worth getting teachers who are just out of college to have them teach most classes, and then fire them after 3 years to get new teachers fresh out of college?  You know, to save money? 

That doesn't sound like a good plan to me. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude As noted above, you are reading this all wrong. It's not about saving money. It's about giving school districts flexibility to use the money to serve their needs. Not every district in this state is in a place that naturally attracts good teachers or professionals of any kind.

And nowhere did I write or even insinuate the part about "then fire them after 3 years to get new teachers fresh out of college." You are making that up out of whole cloth.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Kyle_Wingfield @straker Perhaps your child's charter school, for flexibility, will decide to get rid of all teachers with more than a year's experience, and rehire out of BS degrees from Albany State?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wascatlady Actually, most of the teachers at his school are very early in their careers, some of them first-year teachers. I suspect the school will use its resources to develop and retain them (even though it gets a fraction of the funding its APS counterparts get). So, even though I hadn't thought about that school when I wrote this, it is a good example of what I was talking about.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Kyle_Wingfield  So instead of developing them, they could just let them go and get some fresh ones?  Have you looked at where your child's teachers matriculated?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wascatlady Can you not understand what I wrote, or do you just refuse to engage my arguments honestly? The answer to your question is in my previous comment: "I suspect the school will use its resources to develop and retain them." I made similar clarifications elsewhere in this same thread to Logical. What part of that makes you think I meant "let them go and get some fresh ones"?

And, for the umpteenth time, I am talking about flexibility for schools that have a hard time hiring teachers the way other schools do. If you can't attract well-credentialed, experienced teachers, what good does it do you to have a pay scale that would pay those teachers more? We are talking about exceptions to the rule -- those are the kinds of schools that need flexibility.