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The Art of Teaching Science: What is Georgia’s Race to the Top Plan for New Teachers?

What is the Georgia Race to the Top (RT3) Plan for New Teachers?

Teach for America

The simple answer is to hire inexperienced and uncertified teachers through contractual arrangements with Teach for America, a political action organization that provides boot camp summer training for college graduates from élite universities.  After five weeks of training, with little to no “student teaching,” these young persons are then dropped into a variety of schools.  For Georgia, most of the TFA cadets are hired by school districts in the metro-Atlanta area.  According to the TFA Metro Atlanta website, since 2000, there are 989 TFA alumni in the Atlanta region, 13 alumni school leaders, and 300 corps teachers hired this year for Atlanta area schools.   And according to the AJC, four of the TFA alumni are running for a place on the Atlanta School Board.

The New Teacher Project

The New Teacher Project is essentially a step-child of Teach for America.  It was given birth in 1997 with the aim of giving poor and minority students equal access to effective teachers.  TNTP’s CEO was Michelle Rhee, a TFA alumni, from 1997 – 2007.  TNTP uses  TFA boot camp model with a five-week “pre-service” summer training period.  TNTP teachers then begin their teaching assignment in the Fall.

trendsThese two programs train teachers, just as we train athletes.  At their websites you will find falsehoods about so-called traditional teacher education.  They make the claim that traditional teacher education stress theory, and don’t offer practical field-based experiences for its students.  Both of these are falsehoods.  I entered the field of science teacher education in 1969, and from the beginning all of our programs at Georgia State University were field-based, and might be described as programs that mingled theory and practice, and prepared people to be educators.

And to make matters even more fuzzy, Georgia State University’s College of Education has partnered with TFA to offer a route for recruits to earn a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education.  Although I do not know the circumstances that led to the partnership, it is questionable why GSU would agree with TFA that putting inexperienced cadets in the poorest classrooms with out student teaching type internships is disappointing.  So on the one hand, TFA and TNTP claim that traditional teacher education is too theoretical, but on the other hand, they are quick to ask the traditional provider of teachers to educate their recruits.

That said, the facts are that the directors of the Georgia Race to the Top advocate putting the most inexperienced teachers in some of the poorest schools in the state where the evidence is that more experienced teachers with advanced degrees would perform at higher levels.  Figure 1 is evidence that the RT3 favors rookies over experienced teachers.  The evidence is in Table 1, which includes four budget lines showing how $30,375,235 million will be spent on turning around the lowest achieving schools.

Figure 1. Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools Budget Items in Georgia's Race to the Top Grant. (Race to the Top Scope of Work)

Table 1. Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools Budget Items in Georgia’s Race to the Top Grant. Table was copied from www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/state-scope-of-work/gerogia.pdf

Teach for America has a $15.6 million contract with Georgia’s Race to the Top over four years, while The New Teacher Project has a $12 million contract with RT3 (the difference in the amount shown in the graph is to pay for supervisory teachers) .  Each of these projects is a fundamental part of the RT3 plan to turn around the lowest-achieving schools in Georgia.  The lowest-achieving schools in Georgia are closely monitored and put most of the resources into improving the achievement scores of students in mathematics and English/language arts.

Pipeline

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

RT3 mandates that if a school is considered a turn around school, typically the principal is replaced, and many of the teachers are replaced with new teachers.  There is also the possibility that the school will become a charter school managed by a charter corporation.

Where will the state find the teachers to fill the gaps in these schools?  Well, that’s easy to answer:

  • Teach for America
  • The New Teacher Project

So as we see, the effort to work with schools whose students do not do well on achievement tests boils down to replacing experienced teachers with new recruits who will only stay on for two years.  This is simply not a sustainable approach, and ignores the intention of experienced teachers who understand from their earlier work with children that there is more to school than getting kids to pass a test.

Yet, the plan is that TFA will provide between 900 – 1100 uncertified teachers for metro-Atlanta schools, while TNTP will train 200 – 300 uncertified teacher for Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia.

What about “traditional” Teacher Education?

Does the RT3 have any interest in investing in colleges and universities who have been in the business of preparing teachers for decades, and quite effectively.  The short answer is yes, but at lower levels than for TFA and TNTP, and primarily in the fields of science and math.

The RT3 awarded grants to three Georgia universities, University of West Georgia, Southern Polytechnic University, and Valdosta University.  According to RT3, these programs replicate the teacher education program developed at the University of Texas, the Uteach program, which is a traditional science and mathematics teacher education program.  The Uteach program is very similar to the science and mathematics teacher education program at Georgia State University, the TEEMS program, which was developed in the early 1990s, and is still operating at GSU.

The RT3

The $4 billion Race to the Top contest was won by 11 states and the District of Columbia.  The goal of the RT3 is for states to make sure that student achievement scores increase according to performance standards which have no basis in science.  I have spent hours studying the Georgia Race to the Top budget and work plan.  I normally do not study budgets, but I’ve been a critic of the RT3 ever since it was announced, but in order to do this, it was paramount that I look into the details.

This post only exposes a tiny piece of the complexity of the RT3.  Millions are spent on testing and evaluation, creating instruments to measure the effectiveness of teachers, millions of dollars to set up a data warehouse to store a wide array of student and teacher data.

Because the model of learning that is advocated by the RT3 is behavioral, and not constructivist, the drive is to produce teachers who can get results on achievement tests.  And so it doesn’t matter how experienced the teachers are, according to the RT3, they only need to be able to teach to the test, and hope that students score high enough so they won’t contribute to their school being labeled, “needs improvement.”

Well, there you have it.  Is the nearly $400 million that Georgia received to improve education being used in ways that you think will improve schooling?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was co...