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If north Fulton teachers went to south Fulton schools, would achievement soar? Or is it the students?

One of the problems with bonus programs designed to entice top-rated teachers to low-rated schools is figuring out who the most effective teachers are and whether their effectiveness is portable. (We have been discussing incentives this week in relation to Fulton County's abandoned pilot that offered certain teachers $20,000 to transfer.)

A teacher may dazzle in a school where students perform at grade level and parents jam open houses, but may fizzle in a high-poverty classroom where many kids are behind and parents are too busy working two jobs to run robotics teams.

We are still not adept at separating out how much of student performance reflects socioeconomics and family inputs and how much hinges on teachers and schools.

Consider the release Thursday of the Georgia Milestones scores, the state exams given each spring to elementary, middle and high school students and used to rate both schools and educators. In the five-county metro area, the top middle school for eighth-grade math was Dodgen in Cobb and the top elementary school for third-grade language arts was Lake Windward in Fulton. Both schools have 6 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, the proxy for measuring low-income households.

When you go to the other end of the spectrum, the lowest-performing schools on this year’s Milestones, many have 90 percent or more of their students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch.

At Banneker High School in south Fulton, nearly nine out of 10 students failed the state geometry exam, scoring below proficient, at the beginner or developing learner level. No student scored at the advanced level, according to the state data released Thursday. At the College Park school, nine out of 10 students are also eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, according to the state Report Card. At Milton High at the other end of Fulton County – where one out of 10 students is low-income  — 24 percent failed the End of Course geometry test. Nearly 30 percent scored at the highest level.

Would $20,000 persuade math teachers from Milton to move to Banneker where the lift to student proficiency would be far more arduous and frustrating? Even if they agreed to move — and most likely would not, given the distance and the challenges — could they be as successful with students arriving in geometry class in need of remediation?

As one teacher said on AJC Get Schooled Facebook, “It’s easy to look like you’re the best when your students are all on grade level and come to class every day. The better strategy is to grow the people you have on site and give them the supports they’ve been begging for for years.”



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.