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Poor kids in Georgia get least experienced teachers. Can we change that?

A new federal study says a greater proportion of teachers in Georgia's highest-poverty schools are first-year teachers, compared to the lowest-poverty schools.

When my oldest child began school, I appreciated the energy of brand new teachers. However, as I had more kids and spent more time observing classrooms, I recognized novices lacked the classroom management skills of more experienced peers.

A leading expert on teacher recruitment once told me he found new teachers too inexperienced and older teachers too jaded – he felt teachers were at their optimum in years seven to 11.

I can’t personally discern any magic number. One of the best teachers I ever saw in action had been in the classroom for 30 years. She only improved each year. But some of my older children’s favorite high school teachers were fresh out of grad school.

However, the research shows students learn more with more experienced teachers at the helm so the distribution of experience is important.

As AJC education reporter Molly Bloom noted:

First-year teachers are generally less effective than more experienced teachers. And because teachers' pay is mostly based on years of experience, teachers in high-poverty schools make less than their peers in more affluent schools on average.

Those trends hold along racial lines too: Georgia schools with the most nonwhite students also have more brand-new and lower-paid teachers.

The federal reports, which echo findings from piles of previous research, are part of federal efforts to encourage states to improve their teacher workforces and ensure that poor and nonwhite students have great teachers. States must submit improvement plans to the U.S. Department of Education this spring.

Among the report’s key findings for Georgia:

> About 6 percent of teachers in the highest-poverty schools are in their first year, compared to about 4 percent in the lowest-poverty schools.

> Their average salary is about $48,000 compared to about $51,000 in the lowest-poverty schools.

> In Georgia and neighboring states, more teachers in schools with the fewest nonwhite students are absent for more than 10 days than teachers in schools with the most nonwhite students.

> The average salary in Georgia's highest-poverty schools is higher than the regional average. However, Georgia has one of the biggest salary gaps between teachers in the highest- and lowest-poverty schools.

To entice its best teachers to its neediest schools, Fulton County plans to create a model incentive program that will offer stipends up to $20,000 to teachers willing to move.

As the AJC reported:

As part of the plan, Fulton would initially place up to 20 high-performing teachers in at least two elementary school and one middle school that are under-performing. The teachers would be expected to stay at the school at least two years. To qualify, a teacher would be in the top 25 percent on Georgia’s new student growth measure, which is based on standardized test performance.

Close to 20 Fulton schools in the bottom 20 percent of the state’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores are considered “potential receiving schools” for the highest-performing teachers. Only a few of those schools would be included, to begin with. Principals and interview panels would ultimately determine which teachers are the best fit for their schools, Fulton leaders say.

Eligible teachers for the stipends cannot be at a “potential receiving school.” But the district is looking to offer $10,000 stipends for existing teachers at the receiving schools who meet eligibility criteria as a “way to provide some compensation to those ‘superstar’ teachers already serving in those schools,” said Ken Zeff, chief strategy and innovation officer with Fulton schools.

He said the stipend is higher for teachers moving into those schools because “bonus models that simply pay teachers for a job well done do not lead to improved student outcomes. Therefore we want to devote more of our resources toward enticing more high performing teachers to come in and work in struggling schools.”

Fulton leaders say they’re modeling the plan off a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education that looked at 10 districts in 7 states, which tried a similar program. The study found that with the teacher transfers to low-performing schools, test scores at the elementary level rose while those at the middle school level were mixed.


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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.