Georgia Gets Threatened With the Stick

Well if Race to the Top wasn’t a mandate for the states prior to receiving a grant, it certainly is after it has been awarded.  What the Federal government gives, the Federal government can also take away.  This is a lesson that Georgia is learning at the moment.

Part of Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top grant is being put on high-risk status, the U.S. Department of Education told Gov. Nathan Deal in a letter dated July 2. The department is worried that the state, which has had a number of amendments to its plan in the tricky area of teacher evaluation, has strayed too far from the vision it originally outlined in its winning application.

Peer reviewers gave Georgia high marks in the second phase of Race to the Top, despite that the U.S. Department of Education has concerns about how teacher evaluations are being implemented.

So what are the department’s concerns when it comes to Georgia’s teacher-evaluation system? First off, the department is concerned about the strategy behind the teacher-evaluation component of the grant. Federal officials want more information about the quality of the tools the state is using for its educator evaluation pilot program, for example. And they want to know whether supports being given to districts can be scaled.

Also, Georgia has asked for a number of amendments to the teacher-evaluation component of its plan. When taken together, these could represent a big shift from the state’s original vision, the department contends.

One amendment deals with Georgia’s move to incorporate student surveys into the “qualitative measures” portion of its teacher-evaluation system, which includes observations and is worth 40 percent for teachers, and 30 percent for principals. Before the state can take that step, it must provide more specifics about how the surveys would work as a valid part of a teacher’s evaluation, the department wrote.

And earlier this year, Georgia asked to rework implementation of the portion of its teacher-evaluation system dealing with closing the student achievement gap. In order to do that, the state was asked to detail other methods for calculating whether the achievement gap has narrowed, and come up with a proposal for implementing the achievement gap component in the 2012-13 school year. Georgia submitted that information last month, but it only “minimally” met the department’s criteria. So the department is holding off on approving the achievement gap change.

With Federal money strings are always attached – always.