Teachers groups line up against governor’s merit pay idea

Originally published: Atlanta Journal Constitution – December 15, 2015

Teachers groups line up against governor’s merit pay idea

Gov. Nathan Deal got a final copy of his Education Reform Commission’s recommendations Tuesday, and though he didn’t say what he’ll do with them, teachers in Georgia are already girding for battle during the next legislative session.

Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he favors one of the commission’s proposals — the introduction of merit pay for teachers — which has already ignited a movement and led to Georgia’s Speaker of the House, David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, saying he is not aligned with Deal on this issue.

Ralston said at a town hall meeting that he cannot support merit pay without a “metric” that can accurately measure performance. Teachers have been critical of the current plan to use high stakes annual tests as a major component of their evaluations because tests cannot measure all the ways that teachers’ contribute to a dhild’s development and because teachers cannot pick the students they get. Many students come to school with domestic problems that affect test performance.

The state Education Reform Commission posed for a picture as they delivered their final recommendations to Gov. Nathan Deal Tuesday.

“I try to support our governor when I can, and when I can’t I tell him very respectfully that he and I disagree,” Ralston said during last week’s meeting, which was captured on video and published online. “I told him as recently as 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon that I can’t go with you on this yet.”

He said merit- or performance-based pay “sounds very good but I am going to have to be convinced a lot more than I am now to support including that piece [of legislation].”

Deal’s office had no response on Tuesday.

The group Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to overhaul education, issued a statement in support of the commission’s overall funding recommendations, of which merit pay is a part, saying they are more “student-focused.”

But Allene Magill, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, called Deal “misguided” in supporting the merit pay part.

“Clearly, Gov. Deal believes that educators — individually and collectively — are withholding their best effort and therefore need financial incentives to prod them toward improvement,” she wrote, in a statement Monday that went out to the group’s 90,000 members. She said merit pay is ineffective because it fosters competition instead of teamwork among teachers and because a teacher’s effect on a child is difficult to measure.

On Tuesday, Sid Chapman, the leader of another teachers group, announced a gathering at the Capitol at 1 p.m. Thursday of a new “alliance” opposed to both the Education Reform Commission’s recommendations and the Opportunity School District, a constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November. It would allow the state to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools to try to get them on track.

Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Educators Association, said his group will present “alternative strategies” with the help of the Southern Education Foundation and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

In his comments last week, Deal said he wants to use an “objective assessment” to evaluate teachers, though he said “much” of a teacher’s review would have to be “subjective.”

Magill said the governor’s apparent support for testing in evaluations — tests are considered an objective measure — goes against the recent direction set by Congress and President Barack Obama when they downplayed high stakes tests in a bipartisan overhaul of federal education policy this month.

Ralston said at the town hall meeting that he has “real concerns” with the current plan to use tests for half of teachers’ evaluations.