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RttT, Common Core and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

RttT, Common Core and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

    Remember back in 2009 when the economy tanked and state governments and schools were desperate for cash? Governor Perdue and later Governor Deal decided that it would be a good idea to balance the state budget on the backs of public school teachers and students by ignoring the Georgia Constitution and dramatically increasing austerity cuts to education.  Even though it meant pay cuts for teachers and a shorter school year for students and layoffs and increased class sizes and tough financial times for local boards that was OK  because the President and Arne Duncan were having a contest where the prize was millions of dollars, and all we had to do was to say we would go along with a few educational, “reforms” and suggestions and $400 million dollars would be ours and the kids would be saved and education would improve exponentially and, like a Shirley Temple movie, everything would Turn Out OK.  Only not.
    Common Core Standards were part of the deal to receive the RttT dollars.  Oh, they weren’t specifically named but 46 states responded to the announcement about the “competition” with applications that included the signatures of the Governor, the Chief State School Officer and the head of the State Board of Education that said they - among others - would support the state’s intention to “reform” education by adopting “rigorous” state standards, data driven instruction, more standardized testing and teacher evaluation using student test scores.  They really needed the money NOW, and there was no time to develop their own state standards, but, just like the deus et machina in a B movie, there WERE standards available but they weren’t quite finished yet so you couldn’t read them but we guarantee they WILL meet the Federal requirements so you could use those….if you really want to….and if you really need the money now….and if you want to have your application accepted before all these other states get the money first. There was no teacher buy in, there was no “state led initiative” there was no research to support the standards or any of the basic tenets of school reform they included and there certainly was no a priori review of CC standards before signing on the dotted line.  All those state leaders accepted without question, without supportive research and without reading the standards - they couldn’t read them, they hadn’t been completely written yet - and apparently on the assumption that any set of Federal standards would be preferable to allowing states to develop their own and, after all, it’s the Federal government.  What could go wrong?
    The USDOE guys were convinced from the outset that “we know know better than you because we are in charge.”  It’s pretty obvious now that the USDOE, like the Georgia Legislature, believes that laws and the Constitution are a series of suggestions and not necessarily legal documents, and that all those pesky rules and laws and regulations about states being in control of education weren’t REALLY supposed to apply to them, were they?  After all, these Common Core standards were written by a guy named Dave paid in part by Bill Gates and in part by the USDOE and wouldn’t it be great if everyone had to follow the same rules?  Except, of course for the kids of those of us that make the rules, and anyway, our kids go to private schools.  Private schools don’t need standardized testing and private schools don’t need Common Core...or want either one.  
    So it turns out, according to Joanne Weiss, former Chief of Staff to Arne Duncan at the USDOE, the RttT competition was remarkable in its manipulation of states that wanted the money in its use of deception, non-transparency and coercion in order to achieve the goal of Common Core implementation.  Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow at American Principles in Action, said that Weiss’ admission “shows the USED was actively coercing states in blatant violation of constitutional principles of federalism” and Weiss’ admission undermines any politician’s claim that “Common Core was a state led process.”  The surprising fact here is not that politicians used greed and manipulative tactics to achieve their own ends but that one of them, albeit after leaving office, publically admitted the deception that most of us already believed was the case.  
    Pastafarians believe the world was created by the Great Spaghetti Monster.  They also believe the GSM created the universe but hid all of the wonders of that creation behind scientific data. They also believe his first disciples were Pirates.  They point out that in spite of all the bad things you hear about Pirates, Pirates in reality used to travel the world and give children candy.  The primary reason they give for the increase in global warming, world wide disasters and other bad things is the decline, since the 1800’s, of the Pirate population.  Somalia, for example, has more Pirates than most countries but also has among the world’s lowest level of carbon emissions, so the connection there is pretty obvious.  Pastafarians wear colanders on their heads as a symbol of their faith, and believe that the afterlife contains beer volcanoes and stripper factories.  They also end every prayer to the GSM with Ramen.  Look it up.
    The Great Spaghetti Monster was created as a satiric response to a Kansas school board’s plan to teach creationism in their public schools.  RttT was created to justify Federal intrusion into state control of public education.  When education becomes a Federal issue it’s no longer about what’s best for kids but becomes what’s best for the corporations that finance US politics and politicians.  When states took the financial carrot the Feds dangled, they either forgot to look for strings or simply didn’t care that they were there.  The Common Core part of RttT wasn’t created to improve educational outcomes for students.  How could it be?  There were no pilot studies, there was no small scale implementation, there was no public or teacher input, it was magically made available at the right time for states to guarantee its acceptance in order that they receive the RttT money they so desperately needed right then.  It was financed and created to standardize education to allow Microsoft and Pearson and textbook manufacturers to standardize their products for every educational market.  Imagine how much more profitable it would be to have two or three models of computer that would fit the needs of every system in every state or a few standardized learning programs that didn’t have to be tailored to Massachusetts standards or Mississippi standards or Wyoming standards but one wonderful size that fit the educational needs of every school in every system across the country.  How great would that be for profits?  Don’t forget the textbook guys either.  Having one set of CC aligned books that every state could buy probably wouldn’t reduce the price of those books, but would increase profit margins exponentially by having only one edition for all instead of different ones for every state.
    Don’t fool yourself into thinking the USDOE or the Georgia Legislature cares about the education of a poor white kid in south Georgia or a poor black kid in Atlanta or vice versa.  They might talk about how “their plan” will transform education so every child has an equal opportunity to succeed educationally and “break the cycle” of poverty and go on to succeed beyond their wildest dreams because of this for-profit charter or this voucher program or this new school bureaucracy to take over failing schools will make a difference. That’s not the goal, and don’t fall for yet another round of political chicanery. Need convincing?  Look at the USDOE waivers for states to exempt themselves from NCLB.  A legal option for exemption approved by Congress or the administration’s pilot program for later executive actions to get something done without Congressional approval?  While you’re at it, look at Governor Deal’s plan to “reform” the way educators are paid.  Did you notice that the base amount of dollars the committee used as their starting point never mentioned that the Governor’s austerity cut was part of that amount?  Wouldn’t it make sense to begin with the amount already required by the current funding formula instead of the amount the Governor will allow?  Did anyone also notice that the requirement for every system in Georgia to declare their intention to become charter or IE2 systems already gives those systems the authority to change the teacher pay scale in their respective system?
    Addressing poverty as the root cause of poor educational achievement is much too difficult and much too expensive, and besides, that’s not the goal.  The goal is twofold: 1) control, and 2) private use of what used to be public funds.  Period.  Look beyond that and you’re looking at political promises based on the same premise as the Great Spaghetti Monster.  Georgia’s current graduation rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%.  If only political promises could reach the same plateau.
    So what can be done?  What should be done?  The first positive step would be to eliminate any and all ties with Common Core standards.  John Barge said the Georgia Performance Standards aligned 90% with CC before CC was adopted, and, on top of that, GPS can be altered and adjusted as needed by the State Board.  Try to change a Common Core standard.  You can’t. The second step would be to eliminate SLO’s from the Georgia educator’s lexicon.  They were written to satisfy a Federal requirement for a program that has run out of money.  What’s the incentive to continue their use?  Can you name one student that has been encouraged or helped to achieve by SLO’s?  Third, eliminate all standardized testing for all students in the state of Georgia.  Research shows that the single best predictor of college success are high school grades awarded by high school teachers.  Trust teachers to determine the academic success and level of achievement of students in their respective classrooms.  Use the money saved on useless standardized testing to expand and support the Pre-K program in Georgia.   Fourth, end any pretense of the efficacy of value added measures in teacher or school evaluations.  There is no justification for VAM unless the intent is to vilify public education schools and teachers. Lastly, end the war on public education and teachers.  Public schools are succeeding with students in spite of the constant attacks and denigration from politicians for political - not educational - purposes.  Imagine what would happen if politicians actually kept their campaign promises and supported schools and teachers with something besides lip service and incessant attempts to legislate excellence.
    I wonder what would happen if we decided to evaluate politicians using value added measures?  The Great Spaghetti Monster knows that’s a thought any Pastafarian could support, especially if the Pastafarian happened to be a Georgia teacher. While we’re at it, maybe the Great Spaghetti Monster would pave the road to my house.  Aaargh, and Ramen to that.


Teacher Shortage? What Teacher Shortage?

Are we in the beginning stages of a nationwide teacher shortage?  It would really be no surprise, would it?  Is it any wonder that many teachers have finally reached the point where they are fed up with scripted teaching requirements and phony evaluations that include junk science VAM and furlough days and increased testing that reduces valuable teaching time and no pay raises and constant curriculum changes and repeated attacks on their profession from people that have no teaching experience and the constant attempts to legislate excellence and cut teacher salaries and reduce teacher benefits and monkey with teacher retirement and SLO’s for non-tested subjects and state and federal policies that require more and more paperwork and less and less teaching and tighter and tighter budgets that mean doing more and more with less and less and longer school days and larger classes with higher and higher expectations and a political agenda that actively encourages blaming teachers for societal issues and the denigration of public education and market based solutions and legislators bought and paid for by ALEC and a continued reliance upon standardized test scores as an accurate depiction of student learning and achievement with no substantive research to support such a position and top-down management from people that wouldn’t know good teaching if it spit on their shoes and slapped them in the face?  No wonder teachers are discouraged.  No wonder teacher morale is at an all- time low.  No wonder more and more teachers are retiring.
    Most teachers love their job.  More specifically, they love the time they spend teaching students.  What they don’t love is all of the paragraph above and all of the other things that get in the way of the time they spend actually teaching their students.  They don’t mind the time after school for conferences and meetings, they don’t mind grading papers on weeknights and weekends, they don’t mind spreading a 9 month salary over 12 months so their families don’t go hungry in the summer and they can tolerate the interminable “professional development” meetings presented by people they don’t know using teaching methodology from the 1950’s because of some arcane system requirement and because “that’s the way we always done it.”  They tolerate administrative interference and legislative buffoonery supposed to “fix” educational issues that only serve to provide news and photos ops rather than help students.  They put up with all that because it’s what they have to wade through to get to the point where they can teach their kids.  The change they affect on children’s learning is in almost every instance in spite of the legislative intrusions and administrative requirements rather than because of them.
   Let’s add to all that the very real day-to-day responsibilities that aren’t listed in their contracts but are part of every teacher’s reality.  You know, stuff like drug abuse education, alcohol abuse education, parenting, character ed, special ed, gender equity, environmental ed, women’s studies, African – American education, school breakfast, school lunch, lunch duty, daily attendance for each class, make-up tests, computer education, multicultural ed, ESL (ELL, ESOL), teen pregnancy, Jump Start, Even Start, Head Start, Prime Start, Bright from the Start, Kindergarten, Pre-K, alternative ed, stranger/danger, anti-smoking ed, mandated reporting, CPR training, defibrillator training, anaphylactic shock recognition training, inclusion, internet safety, distance learning, Tech Prep, School to Work, Gifted and Talented, at-risk programs, keyboarding, dropout prevention, gang education, homeless ed, service learning, gun safety, bus safety, credit recovery, dress code, cell phone monitoring, bus duty, bicycle safety, drivers ed, bullying ed, obesity monitoring, BMI (body mass index) monitoring, financial literacy, diabetes monitoring, media literacy, RTI, hearing and vision screening, on-line education, IEP meetings, parent meetings, faculty meetings, departmental meetings, mandated system meetings, 504 meetings, Georgia MILESTONES, EOCT, SAT prep, ACT prep, dual enrollment options, post -secondary options, AP, honors, IB, STEM, STEAM, adult ed, career ed, after-school programs, student interns, student observers, psychological services, RTTT, CCGPS, CCRPI and oh yes - lesson plans and classes……………..shall I go on?  Wonderful ideas all, and each deserving attention – and all have come to be the responsibilities not of parents but of our schools and teachers.  Hmmm...
    So it’s really no surprise that teachers that love their kids and love teaching hate what it has become, is it?  They get tired of getting blamed because every student doesn’t succeed at high levels and because politicians find it easier to blame teachers than to address societal problems that cause student underachievement.  So not only are teachers retiring at a higher rate, but their replacements are not signing up for teacher education programs. This is not just a Georgia problem.  Enrollments in teacher prep programs have gone down about 10% nationally between 2004 and 2012, and larger states like Texas and California have seen enrollment reductions in teacher prep programs of over 50%.  Along with the economic recession of 2008 came a deadly combination of layoffs and misguided accountabilism that changed the perception of many that teaching was a stable, attractive profession.  Particularly hard hit were the areas of special education, math and science.  
    In Georgia, over 9,000 teaching positions have been eliminated in public education since 2009, state money for public education has been reduced significantly and public school enrollment has grown from 1.6 to 1.7 million since 2010.  Any way you look at it, that means larger classes sizes.  At UGA, enrollment in the teacher education program has fallen 14% since 2009.  Georgia State, Kennesaw State, Albany State and Valdosta state report reductions in enrollment in teacher prep programs as high as 36% in the same time period.  So not as many replacements are being trained and the teachers we have are retiring at higher rates. The total number of Georgia teacher retirements by year for the last 10 years are listed in the chart below:

2005    2006    2007   2008    2009    2010   2011   2012    2013    2014    total
6213    5617     5891   5864    5564    6425   7168   7051    7929   7072    64,794

So that’s almost 65,000 teachers in our state that have retired in the last 10 years.  You might think that figure is a phenomenon caused primarily by the long predicted retirement of baby boomers, and part of that assumption would be correct.  But hold on just a moment.  Let’s look a little deeper at the numbers.  Below are the number of teachers that retired with 10-25 years of experience.  Yes, 10-25 years of experience.  That could mean a number of things - focus on family, better job offer, spouse transfers to other states, divorce, hit the lottery...and maybe more than a few tired of being on the front lines of the incessant political assault on public education.

2005    2006    2007     2008     2009    2010   2011    2012   2013    2014   total
2289    2119    2437     2513     2483    2999   3559    3577   4107    3979   30,062

That leaves us with about 30,000 teachers that retired in the last 10 years that left before they qualified for full retirement benefits.  You might also notice that the numbers increased significantly in 2010 - 2014 compared to the previous 5 years.  Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not that coincides with Governor Deal’s ALEC inspired war on public education or whether the increase is coincidental.
    Delving a little further, there is another telling trend that is a little more ominous.  Teacher retirements among those with 10-15 years of experience have also increased dramatically over the last few years.

2005   2006    2007    2008   2009    2010    2011    2012    2013    2014   total
907     815       975     1010    1008    1195   1455    1532    1721    1744   12,362

Let me see... that’s over 12,000 teachers that chose to retire with 10 to 15 years’ experience; 7,647 of them (62%) in the last 5 years alone.  Once again, draw your own conclusions - the Deal effect or the greener grass syndrome?  My personal belief is that the answer is yes.  
    Can you guess Georgia’s response to the reduction in the number of teachers in the hiring pool and plans to replace them?  Is it to actively recruit those with teaching certification that left the profession early?  Is it to increase incentives for retired teachers to return to the classroom?  Guess again.  Teachers that have retired, regardless of the years of experience, are limited in what they may do in retirement without negatively affecting their TRS retirement income.  They may substitute teach, teach in private school, teach in another state, be employed in the private sector, work for the State of Georgia in a different government agency, be self-employed, work in professions not covered by TRS (Board of Regents or Technical College) and can only work full time in a position covered by TRS for a 3 month period.  Those receiving TRS pensions can, after a one month break between retirement and reemployment, work in TRS covered positions but only in a part time (49% or less) capacity.  Administrators are specifically prohibited from returning to their prior positions.  These restrictions are legislative.
    With these restrictions, it would seem that Georgia has little or no interest in filling teacher shortages, present or future, by using retired teachers, regardless of years of experience.  Maybe the plan is to recruit new teachers - you know, the old “best and brightest” stuff we hear from politicians all the time.  The same politicians that think it’s a good idea to evaluate teachers using student test scores whether the teachers actually teach those students or not.  You might think that they want to recruit great candidates for the teaching pool, but once again you would be wrong.  Instead of making teaching more attractive by reducing the Title 20 restrictions that inhibit student learning, legislators constantly find reasons those restrictions are “important” and must stay in place.  I must admit I am more than a little puzzled about why a law that inhibits student learning is proposed or approved in the first place, but Title 20 seems to be full of them.  John Barge, to his credit, did lead an initiative to eliminate some of these inane rules.  Most remain intact, and are given as reasons systems should seek charter or IE2 status - relief from some of those restrictions that will allow “flexibility to innovate” and “the possibility of financial savings” for systems.  No, really.  Look it up.  Then ask your local school administrators about the DOE summer “recalibration” meetings to show them that too many teachers were scoring too high on the new evaluations and not enough were failing. fooling.
    Well then, maybe we are looking at increasing teacher pay or retirement benefits for prospective teachers.  Wrong again.  The Governor’s former education advisor led the fight to reduce teacher pay by eliminating supplements for training and experience and by changing the way teachers - and the state of Georgia - pay for teacher retirement.  “Recommendations about pensions and pay would only affect future hires,” said Erin Hames, Deal’s education policy adviser and a liaison to the commission: “The important thing to say is that these changes, like the changes on T&E, would not impact current teachers.”
    OK, then I guess the Governor is leading the charge to encourage new teachers by working to lessen state paperwork or intrusive laws or unfunded mandates for school systems?  No, he is looking to form a new layer of bureaucracy and drain even more money from public schools with his know, the government program run by a political appointee that will turn around the lowest performing schools by removing local control and creating yet another state entity.  That’s always worked so well in the past, hasn’t it?  Look at all the successful government programs we can point to as models of efficiency and effectiveness and progress…….nevermind.  The Governor says it will work so his reassurance is all we really need.  
    So what can we do to head off the effects of the shortage of teachers?  Several quick fixes that would have an immediate positive effect are:
  1. Allow retired teachers with more than 10 and less than 25 years experience to return to work without affecting their partial retirement pay.  Legislators do it all the time.  Why can’t teachers?
  2. Encourage teachers with 25 years or more experience to teach 1-3 classes per day at a per student rate.  This will save systems dollars.  They don’t have to pay retirement or additional insurance costs for teachers that are already retired.
  3. Eliminate or significantly reduce those extra duties and paperwork that teachers are required to do that have little or nothing to do with curriculum or effective teaching; see paragraph 3.  Most of these are parental responsibilities anyway, and better taught by parents that are responsible for kids 16 hours a day and all weekend rather than teachers who only see them for 8 hours 5 days a week at the most.
  4. Allow systems money to pay stipends in addition to regular salary for teachers to work in designated rural or high poverty areas.  It’s harder work, it requires more time and effort and addresses a real need that would immediately help systems that have trouble attracting and keeping great teachers.
  5. Remove any consideration of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.  Rating teachers by student scores on standardized tests is like rating doctors by the number of their patients that eventually die.  The VAM idea is not supported by research or by common sense.

    Real teaching is hard.  The fixes to educational issues are not easy and are not available through political mandates of excellence for all...unless, of course, the real goal is the destruction of public education by whatever means necessary.  Through the machinations of private foundations working in the interest of multinational corporations to colonize public education, for instance.  In that case the teacher shortage is working just as it should for your kids.  And your neighbor’s kids.  But not theirs.


Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in Georgia - Bruce Potts

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

Bruce Potts is the Principal of Sonoraville High School, but began his teaching career as a para-pro in Gordon Central high school's In-School Suspension program.  Working as a para is a long way from school administration, but starting at that level allowed Bruce to learn about teaching and kids from the bottom up, and provided an experience and appreciation of the ground level, front line work teachers and paras do with students that other administrators may not have. His Principal was impressed with his success with those challenging students and assigned him to work with a group of at-risk 9th graders in a Physical Science class.  This group’s behavior had led to the resignation of the teacher early in the school year and the subsequent refusal of 3 long term substitutes to return to that class.  Bruce had no classroom experience, but was given the job.  “If they won’t learn anything” said the Principal “at least take control of their behavior.”   Bruce said “This was a great learning experience for me.  I learned from the students, other teachers and administrators.  I had to learn quickly what management techniques worked and which ones did not.  This challenging environment shaped much of who I am as an educator today.  I not only taught them the rest of the school year, they actually learned enough Physical Science to pass the class.”  

As a high school student, Bruce was interested in a career in parks and recreation.  His counselor warned him that jobs in that field were few and far between, and that if he were interested in helping young people perhaps a career in coaching would be more suitable.  He took that advice and graduated with a degree in physical education.  Mike Stanton, former Gordon County Superintendent, urged the young coach to move into school administration.  “He shared with me the influence of an administrator compared to the influence of a coach, and opened my eyes to the fact that our realm of influence increases as we lead a school in a positive direction.  He showed me that as an instructional leader the interest and needs of the learner, instructors and climate of the school must be priority number one.  I also learned from the three Principals I served under that no problem is too difficult, that my job is to provide solutions and that I refuse to be outworked.  I also learned that to be a catalyst for positive change a true leader must have a servant’s heart.”  

Gordon County in northwest Georgia is named for William Washington Gordon, the first Georgian to graduate from West Point Military Academy and later the first president of the Central Georgia Railroad.  The county also has the dubious distinction of being the beginning of the “Trail of Tears”, the point where the US Army, in 1838, rounded up 15,000 remaining Cherokee Indians and forced them to march over 1,000 miles to relocate in Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  

Sonoraville, seven miles southeast of Calhoun, is an unincorporated community just off the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest in the mountains of north Georgia.  The high school was built in 2005 and opened in that year with students in grades 9 and 10.  Two years later, as those initial students moved up, grades 11 and 12 were added.  The school mascot is the Phoenix, the colors are red and black and Bruce Potts became the second Principal of SHS in 2006.  As the school population grew, it meant that Bruce and his leadership team were responsible for hiring the majority of the teachers and support staff that serve the students of SHS and for growing the positive culture of the school from the ground up. The high school is part of the Gordon County School District, recently named as a Ford Next Generation Learning Community.  Ford NGL schools work with local businesses and civic leaders to provide emphasis on college and career educational opportunities for students, including engineering, healthcare, technology and marketing.  One of 19 Ford NGL communities nationwide, Gordon County earned inclusion through higher graduation rates, increased academic achievement, lower dropout rates and industry certifications in high school vocational programs.

SHS serves grades 8 through 12 and has 1300 students.  There are 8 buildings on the campus, 102 staff members including teachers, cafeteria staff and custodians and FRL is about 53%.  “The actual numbers are higher” Bruce says “because high school kids don’t always turn in paperwork.  In reality we have about 63% of our students that should be on FRL.”  Around 96% of the students at the school are white and a little under 3% Black or Latino. About 1% are American Indian or listed as “other.” Bruce believes in the power of students and public education to connect and engage the community in all aspects of his school.  Athletics, Fine Arts and CTAE courses are all supported by stakeholders in the community.  “We expect our students” he noted, “to be involved in the neighborhoods and small towns that make up our service area.  Our teachers expect students to be a part of ideas and programs that help our community in a variety of ways.  Our citizens see that involvement and see the lessons we are trying to teach.  Our school is a vital part of our community in thousands of interconnected ways.”  The SHS cohort graduation rate for 2013-14 was 88.7%.

Kerry Davis is the Math Instructional Coach (Department Chair) at SHS, and an original member of the faculty.  “Mr. Potts knows that the school cannot grow if the concerns are only within the building and limited to the school day” she noted. “He has empowered students and teachers to take ownership and pride in their school.  He insists department leaders sit in on interviews for new teachers, remains calm even in difficult situations, keeps lines of communication open for all stakeholders, doesn’t get rattled and advocates for what is best for students...not most popular or in demand, but best for students.  He knows his students, knows his staff and attempts to have a positive relationship with all he encounters.  He is a man of influence.  Period.”  Gordon County Superintendent Dr. Susan Remillard agrees; “when anyone in Gordon County thinks of Bruce Potts, they think of the strong school culture and a sense of community he has built at Sonoraville HS.  He epitomizes the tagline of Gordon County Schools - “Into the Future with the Wisdom of the Past.”  He knows how to build relationships with his community, and that carries over into his school with his teachers and his students.”

Bruce uses an inclusive approach in curricular decisions and especially when hiring new teachers and staff.  “We’re looking for someone to be a part of the school and not just teach” he noted, “and we work as a team in the hiring process.  Teachers and administrators are part of the selection committee, and we look specifically for teachers that can integrate technology into daily instruction, are willing to collaborate with other teachers and can effectively share best practices.  We don’t want anyone that won’t share what works with other teachers.”  He also mentioned that flexibility was an important consideration when considering candidates.  “We want well-rounded teachers at all levels.  We don’t want just one person teaching gifted kids or one person that only does honors or AP classes...we want those classes spread among the entire department.  We also want to make sure our 9th grade teachers are not always the new teachers.  Our goal is to have the candidate fit into the department, because we are a team and not pockets of isolated teachers that only come out between classes.”  “Others have noticed our successes” said Bruce, “and we get visitors regularly from other schools and other districts.  It’s not only an affirmation for our teachers when that happens.  We love the opportunity to tell our story, share our journey and let others know that our path can be replicated.  What we do is not easy and requires constant monitoring, but by allowing teachers to be leaders and to share their successes with each other we can not only improve the education our students receive but restore much of the joy that has been missing from teaching over the past several years.  The process works, and we live it every day.”

Teacher evaluation is an everyday concern for every Principal, and Bruce is no exception.  “I like the TKES instrument” he said, “and the ability to gather evidence and offer immediate feedback is powerful.  I would like to see the design qualities added to the mix, however, and offer an adjustment to the evaluative process that would give teachers the opportunity to create and design engaging student work.  The form does need additional tweaking.  A solid teacher with proficient ratings doesn’t need the same amount of observation and evaluation as a new teacher or one not yet skilled in their art.”  Ms. Davis also observed “our teachers trust his judgement.  He doesn’t talk down to teachers, doesn’t claim to have all the answers, isn’t afraid to ask advice and isn’t afraid to make hard decisions.  He is a big picture guy, gives teachers responsibility, delegates authority and shares successes.  He is a leader that both expects and allows teachers to teach not only students but each other.”

The Common Core Standards are not high on Mr. Pott’s list of wonderful educational improvements, but he did note that changing the standards again might demoralize teachers even more than keeping them.  “They’re not great” he said, “and some of them are not age appropriate, but changing every two or three years does not help teachers or students.”  He also noted he would love the opportunity to sit down and talk with Arne Duncan or Governor Deal.  “I would like for them to walk a mile in our shoes.  I would love for one of them to serve as an Assistant Principal for a week...especially Homecoming Week!  The 14-18 hour days alone would give them a little insight into what happens in schools, and might make them appreciate what we do a little more.”  Bruce also suggests that the Governor or Secretary of Education might surround themselves with people who have taught in public schools and have experience.  “Too many times they appoint folks that do not relate to or understand what we do on a daily basis.  They are offering advice on something they only read about and have not experienced.  It’s like the difference in talking about painting a portrait and actually painting one.  They need to trust the people trained for this work and allow us to share with them the benefit of our experience and skills.  I never see politicians mandating the Shaw or Mohawk factories in our area increase production to a given level, yet they think nothing of mandating educational achievement for every student regardless of family history, poverty, learning disabilities, parental supervision, hunger, fear or IQ.  They need to take away the factory mentality for kids.  They are all different, all have their special needs or skills or weaknesses and a one size fits all approach is not only foolish but counterproductive.”  He was also insistent that critics of public education not constantly refer to “the good old days.”  “In the not too distant past we had separate but equal, no resources for students with disabilities, no breakfast or lunch program and no help for English Language Learners.  Only 18 years ago the dropout rate in Gordon County was 56%.  If you talk about the good old days, begin the conversation with how we kicked out the kids that couldn’t or wouldn’t conform before you tell me how wonderful education used to be.”

Sonoraville was one of the original participants in the High School Redesign Initiative sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.  The program is part of a PAGE effort to improve teaching and learning in Georgia schools by improving student engagement.  HSRI is provided to Georgia schools free of charge, and there is no requirement for membership in PAGE for participation.  Ricky Clemmons has been the Director of the program since its inception in 2007.  “I first met Bruce at a learning session for HSRI Principals in 2007.  I was immediately struck by the level of his commitment and his intense desire to actively participate in the sessions.  I was also impressed that he allowed teachers to really lead in his school.  He is insistent that he and his teachers focus first and foremost on the needs of the students they serve.  I often think of a quote that describes Bruce, his leadership and his passion for making sure his students and their educational needs come first:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams

Mrs. Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams had someone like Bruce Potts in mind when they made those statements, and Sonoraville High School is proof of his success.  His teachers get to see the human side of Mr. Potts every year at the Graduation ceremony.  Kerry Davis explains; “he usually gets a standing ovation from the graduating Seniors and they present him with a gift.  We stand on the side and watch and take bets on when the tears will begin...and they always do.  That’s when the teachers add their applause to that of the students.”  

Bravo, Bruce, Bravo.


Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

   I will admit that I was more than a little skeptical when I learned about the group appointed by Governor Deal to investigate the possibility of updating the decades old formula used to fund education in Georgia.  It wasn’t necessarily the membership that made me suspicious, but the motives behind such an effort.  Governor Deal has shown himself on more than one occasion to be a supporter of the privatization of public education, one who believes that charter schools will provide a magical answer to the effects of poverty on learning and one that believes public schools and public school teachers must be the both the problem and the enemy because every student in public education does not succeed at high educational levels.  Career politicians like the Governor seem to have developed a sincere belief that quick fixes and silver bullets will solve educational issues and that if only teachers could once again do more and more with less and less they could overcome the problems created by poverty, society, single parent homes, hunger, unemployment, the economy and rural isolation.  The real reason behind the “study” became evident last week when Erin Hames, who oversees education policy for Governor Deal, said that if the group doesn’t recommend doing away with paying teachers for training and experience, then “I’m not sure that we’re going to change anything about the way business is done.” She also said research is “pretty clear” that teachers with advanced degrees do no better in the classroom.
    I was surprised to hear that.  Not surprised to hear about the desire to find what amounts to a gigantic teacher pay cut but to discover that research, however deceptive, played a part in any educational decisions made politically in Georgia.  On the face of things, it would seem that experience and advanced academic study in almost any profession you might name would be desirable for employees and those that employ them. Quick - make a decision - you have a choice between 3rd grade teachers for your child.  You can have the new one fresh out of college or you can have the one that’s been teaching for 12 years and that your neighbor’s kid loved.  Would you choose the new one still finding her way through the maze of new teacher mania and discovering what does and what does not work through trial and error, or the one with a clear idea of what she expects, how she handles behavioral issues, how she assesses students and their progress and her network of professional contacts to help her solve any problems or issues that might arise?  Seems like an easy one to answer, doesn’t it?  For that matter, how many politicians cite their own political experience as an enticement to voters for re-election?  I haven’t seen much research on whether or not it makes them more effective politicians but incumbency does seem to have it’s own set of political privileges.  Surely teaching experience and advanced education counts for something?
    The research in question does indeed state that teacher training, including in-service training, undergraduate training and advanced degrees, play little or no part in improving student achievement as measured by standardized achievement tests.  Value added statistical models also show that teacher training and experience have little or no effect on student achievement scores on standardized tests, so on the face of things it might be reasonable to assume that experience and educational attainment make little difference in student learning.  Looking further, however, shows us extensive additional research indicates that even the most effective teachers account for only 1- 15% of student improvement on standardized tests in any given school year.  There are additional issues with the assumptions that student learning is accurately measured by standardized testing and that 8 hours of teaching can overcome the influences of life, society, parents, poverty or television for the other 16 hours.   Over a week’s time, for example, students spend about 40 hours at school and about 80 hours at home or other places not counting weekends.  Over the course of a 9 month school year (assuming there are no furlough days in effect) that would mean 1440 hours in school and around 2880 hours at home, again not counting weekends.  That is a rather large chunk of student time that teachers don’t have to teach that hasn’t really been part of the responsibility discussion.
“The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.”

   I also think most teachers would agree that the vast majority of in-service training they attend is a waste of time.  It is invariably presented, with few exceptions, using methodology that would result, when observed over time by an administrator, in the non-renewal of a beginning teacher’s contract.  Many administrators and professional in-service providers seem to have overlooked the somewhat obvious fact that group lectures and death by powerpoint are not only ineffective in the classroom with students but with captive audiences of teachers.  I overheard one veteran teacher say that she hoped that when her time came to die it would be during an in-service presentation because the transition from life to death would be so subtle as to hardly be noticeable.  
    Advanced degrees for teachers also seem to have little effect on student scores on standardized tests.  I would suggest that this is just another indicator that what those tests measure is not student learning but test taking strategies.  Teachers and administrators would never make the mistake of believed that authentic student learning is measured by standardized testing.  Neither should you.'t-Measure-Educational-Quality.aspx
    What does, however, invariably affect student standardized test scores is the economic status of the parents.  Studies again and have serve to point out that students from more affluent families score higher at every grade level and with every imaginable test than students from families struggling in poverty.  Conversely, research has also shown that the only accurate predictor of student success in college are the grades provided by high school teachers.
Think that over for a moment.  Not the SAT, not the ACT, not the EOCT, not the CRCT, not the Georgia Milestones…not even Pearson... teacher grades that students earn in high school.  So it would seem, in spite of the “blame teachers for everything wrong” movement that the vast majority of teachers do conscientiously administer grades and employ defendable grading methods.  Just as there are some politicians that don’t follow ethics rules and some policemen that don’t follow departmental procedures and some doctors that practice illegally and some lawyers that end up getting disbarred, some teachers and some administrators are the exception to the effective grading continuum.  For the grades to be valid predictors, as research suggests, the vast majority of teachers must follow sound methodology and grading practices in their classrooms.  Teachers and administrators know that if you are basing your evaluation of teachers, teaching and learning and public education on standardized test scores then you are measuring the wrong thing with the wrong instrument.  As my mother used to say, you have the ac - cent’ on the wrong sy - la’ - ble.
    Georgia’s reformy leaders continue to ignore this research because it doesn’t fit in with their goals to allow more and more public money to be used to pay for private education and for private gain.  It’s pretty inconvenient for their cause so it usually just ignored.  They use research only when it can support the implementation of policies that increase the amount of public tax monies available to testing companies, charter schools and the private investors that support them.  
    Georgia doesn’t spend much on individual teachers.  The base salary for a beginning teacher is $33,473 annually and a little under $2,800 per month.  The education budget for 2015 includes a total amount of $3,474,099,349 for T and E (training and experience) raises statewide.   Teachers may earn incremental increases every few years for experience and may also earn increases for advanced degrees, as long as those degrees are in their field of teaching assignment.  Without the raises for experience and advanced degrees, it would be safe to assume that a teacher with X years of experience might still be earning the same amount as a beginning teacher.  It would also seem the removal of those incremental increases would serve to make teaching even less attractive than it already is.  Like the failed effort to change teacher participation in the Teacher Retirement System in SB 152, the sole purpose of removing T and E from the state education budget would be to discourage experienced teachers from remaining in the profession and to further discourage recruitment of college students to teaching, unless perhaps redirecting the money used for T and E from the education budget would be just about enough to fund an Opportunity School District.  Such an idea might make the idea of a constitutional change more palatable to Georgia voters...except maybe for teachers.’s not an election year, the Governor reduced the austerity cut to education and called it a raise, the State will pay for insurance for part time Legislators but costs for cafeteria workers and bus drivers have been passed on to local boards...who needs those pesky teachers this year anyway?
    Governor Deal recently announced 10% raises for much of his staff.  These raises come in addition to the performance review incentives, bonuses and other added income for key members of his staff.  The Governor failed to mention any research citations that supported the necessity of his decision to increase staff salaries, but did say “they could all make higher salaries in the private sector.”  So if I am following the Governor’s logic here, it’s necessary for him to keep his staff from going to other positions by raising their salaries but it’s OK to cut teacher salaries and expect them to keep working at their jobs without any hope for an incremental raise that doesn’t even approach the 10% given his staff.  Curious logic, but here again, it’s not an election year.
    The research often cited by reformy- minded politicians is often research of convenience to support their anti-public education sentiments.  Even as the study of the New Orleans Recovery School District touting wonderful progress and academic gains was labeled as “inaccurate” by the executive director of the Cowen Institute John Ayers and withdrawn, the Governor went ahead with his “Opportunity School District” plan for Georgia based on that same information.  
    If the Governor were really interested in improving public education in Georgia, perhaps his model could have included schools in Finland rather than those in New Orleans.  Rather than measuring success with standardized test scores, VAM and “no excuses” models that ignore the causes and effects of poverty on student learning, he could focus on the things that help teachers make a difference in teaching and learning; cooperation, commitment and a positive school culture.  There are places like that in Georgia, if only he would look.  There are models to follow if only it weren’t so inconvenient.  There are educational leaders to listen to if you don’t mind hearing that the reforms you are proposing are a waste of time and money and won’t help students in rural or urban locations.  There are ways to improve educational outcomes and educational opportunities if you care to measure the right things, and read more than just the educational research that fits a plan to privatize public education.  Yogi Berra seemed to have Georgia politics and education in mind when he said “If you don’t know where you are going you might not get there.” Research can tell us that, too.


Building Administrators Making a Difference for Public Education in Georgia - Kevin Gaines

You can’t go much farther northeast in Georgia than Hart County without running into South Carolina.  Hart County is the only county in Georgia named after a woman, and Nancy Hart was a legendary hero of the American Revolution.  When British soldiers arrived at her cabin looking for her patriot husband, Nancy plied them with alcohol, stole their guns, shot one who resisted and, when her husband returned, insisted they be hanged as retribution for their intrusion on her cabin and family.  Even though the incident did not occur in the area, Georgians were impressed enough with Nancy’s courage, tenacity and patriotic spirit to name the county after her.  The county was created in 1853 by the Georgia Legislature, and Hartwell is the county seat.  Lake Hartwell, also named after Nancy, occupies the center of the county and the city of Hartwell, the county seat, sits on its southern shore.  The town and the county are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and are only 78 miles from Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.  The high school mascot, appropriately fitting the character of the county’s namesake, is the bulldog.

Kevin Gaines is Principal of HCHS, and believes strongly that his school is not just an integral part of the community but serves as a face of the community.  He encourages staff members to get out into the surrounding area with students, their parents and business leaders and show them that school achievement is as much about the impact of the school in the community as in academic achievement within its walls.  Teacher Noelle Reese explains “Mr. Gaines makes Hart County different from other schools.  He is a Principal of principle, and a proactive leader.  He is encouraging to teachers, students, parents and business leaders and believes that every student has a place in a club, activity or program.  He understands the need for teachers to build relationships with students to give them the desire to work hard, remain focused and stay in school.  He supports teachers, provides innovative technology in trying economic circumstances, encourages the community to support our work by fostering relationships with local industries, health care providers, entrepreneurs and technical colleges.  Mr. Gaines is a man of integrity, faith and an advocate for all students of all abilities and is making HCHS an exceptional school through his work.”  Meagan is a Senior at Hart County, and agrees wholeheartedly.  “Mr. Gaines has expanded our AP program, created partnerships for dual enrollment opportunities, led the creation and growth of our STEM program and somehow finds the time to support students in athletics, the Good Dog Deed program, the Good Dog Incentive card program and other rewards programs for students and for teachers.  One of my friends participates in dual enrollment with North Georgia Tech and is pursuing a degree in welding.  I have had the opportunity to work with a lab at UGA to analyze samples of biodiesel fuel I made while working in an independent study research class Mr. Gaines made possible. He is a wonderful example for us all.”

Teacher Barbara Rousey also points out “our school is changing, and in a good way.  I have been teaching at HCHS for 24 years and worked for 8 Principals.  Mr. Gaines leads in all aspects of our school and in our community.  He supports teacher efforts in academics, in our CTAE program, and our agriculture, business and technology students have never been so active and competed so well in so many areas as they do now.  Over the last 2 years, the school and the community worked together to pass the ESPLOST referendum, secured a $2.2 million grant to fund construction of our College and Career Academy and partnered with Athens Technical College to provide an early start for students in their career pathways. Mr. Gaines has led the efforts from our school from being just a rural school towards becoming a rural school with global ideas.  Students bring their own technology to classes and he has untied teachers and students in ways I used to think were not possible.”  Senior Raeanna agrees.  “This high school has played a tremendous role in my growth, and has offered so many opportunities and paths that have been more than a blessing.  The school is set up to help students in and out of school.  The Business Ed teachers have been a huge help in preparing our juniors and seniors for college.  Mr. Gaines was recognized as the Administrator of the Year by the Technology Student Association.  He makes sure the students are pushed and supported throughout the school, and continues to make our school strong and maintain a high standard for all.”

Hart County HS serves grades 9-12 and has 951 students.  There are 63 teachers and 32 staff members.  The student population is 67% white, 25% black, 4% Hispanic and 51.5% of the student receive Free or Reduced Price lunches.  “We are definitely a rural community” Kevin noted, “but almost everyone in the community and the school has responded positively to the changes we have worked hard to implement.  We look hard for ways to improve while making sure the successes are celebrated.  I’ve never heard anyone here say ‘I guess that’s the best we can do.’  The attitude and commitment of everyone involved is impressive.  I do get impatient sometimes when things don’t change as quickly as I would like, but I remind myself that education is a marathon and not a 400 meter dash.”  Kevin began his personal marathon by graduated from Hartwell County High School in 1996, earned a degree in Mathematics Education from Georgia Southern, a Masters in Educational Administration from Clemson and an Ed.S from Lincoln Memorial University.  He taught math for 2 years at Metter High, 7 years at Banks County High, was AP at Stephens County High for 3 years and returned home to Hart County High School as Principal in 2012.  

Kevin feels he has been blessed with a great faculty and staff that puts students first.  “We can’t be successful without great teachers, and “it seems they all want to be that teacher that makes a difference in the life of a student just like a great teacher did for them when they were growing up.”  He looks for happy people when hiring new teachers.  “Nothing can kill a positive school climate quicker than a negative person.  I am looking for teachers that are open to new ideas and even on bad days can find something positive to say.”  He has impressed on his faculty the belief that “an incident is 10% action and 90% your reaction.  We want our leaders to think things through before responding in a negative manner.  I try to do the same.”  Noelle Reese noted that he is making a difference.  “Mr. Gaines is a man of few words, but when he does speak it is precise and encouraging.  He also trusts teachers to do their jobs.  He makes Hart County a different place and an exception to the rule.”

Mr. Gaines likes the TKES evaluation instrument for teachers.  “It’s a good tool for education and for educators as far as the 10 standards it addresses” he said, “but my concern is the amount of time required for administrators to do all the observations.  Some teachers need more help than others, and the drawback of TKES is that the same number of observations and the same amount of time must be spent on every teacher.”  He offered this advice for political leaders making educational decisions; “Listen to those in the trenches.  Many times those making decisions on our future are not educators.  Education should be about what’s best for students of our state and nation and not about what a particular political party or lobby wants.”  His thoughts on the Common Core standards mirror that belief.  “There are pros and cons about the standards, but things change so often and so quickly we don’t really have time to measure its effectiveness before it changes.  Let’s stay the course on something for a while before we change to something else.”  He also suggests again that people making decisions about education listen more to teachers.  “When I have a question about an issue or an idea, I talk to other Principals.  Mark Wilson, 2009 NASSP Principal of the Year is at the top of that list.  Mark has had a tremendous influence on my career as an administrator.  I am a better leader because of the advice I get from him.  If I have a car problem I talk to a mechanic.  If there is a medical issue I talk to a doctor.  If I want insurance advice I call my insurance agent.  Why don’t our leaders include teachers in the discussions and decisions about education?”

Senior Meagan summed up the influence Mr. Gaines has had on Hart County students; “He sets the tone for a culture that encourages a close-knit family feel in our small town rural school.  I watch administrators, teachers and students led by Mr. Gaines’ example give generously of their time and efforts to those in need, not just on a few occasions but many.  What we are learning at HCHS offers a balance of skills we need in everyday life as well as extraordinary opportunities.  Habitudes, a program started by Mr. Gaines, are short life lesson sessions conducted by our teachers.  There is a different theme each week, and the lessons make us think about how we react to each other and to situations and how we can change our behavior to make our world a better place for all of us.”

Teaching these life lessons is just as important to student success as academic achievement.  Kevin Gaines, by changing the culture of his school and his community in positive ways, is indeed making a difference in Hart County for students, teachers and the surrounding area.  Nancy Hart would have approved.


The Wolves Are Out of the Closet

The Wolves Are Out of the Closet

SB 152 is sponsored by Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), Francis Millar (R-Atlanta) and Curt Thompson (D-Tucker).  It creates a hybrid retirement system named “Georgia Teachers Pension and Savings Plan” and is written to cover new teachers on or after January 1, 2017.  Teachers currently covered under TRS may remain in TRS as long as they maintain active membership.  Current TRS members have the option of enrolling in the new plan.  This sounds a lot like “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” doesn’t it?

The new defined benefit plan allows members to contribute between 5 and 6% of their salary, and they will receive 1% of their highest average monthly salary multiplied by their years of service.  The current benefit is 2%.  No cost of living adjustments for contributors will be pre-funded by the legislature, accumulated sick leave is not available for inclusion and service credit transfers from other positions is only allowed for TRS covered positions, ERS or specified military service.  Current TRS rules allow transfers of service credit from some federal positions, some private schools, some colleges and universities and some private schools.  Salary increases of over 5% in a 12 month period will not be recognized.

The 401K defined contribution plan, the second part of the bill, allows members to be enrolled at a 5% contribution rate, they may not be allowed to withdraw money from their 401 K while employed in a TRS covered position, limits employer contributions to 1% plus up to 50% of a total of 2% of the employee salary and members will be vested in the system after 5 years of service.

This bill represents a significant reduction in benefits for anyone entering the teaching profession after January 1, 2017, and is being sold as a plan that allows teachers to keep their retirement plan if they choose to change professions.  In other words, it removes one of the incentives for teachers to stay in teaching for more than 5 years.  What a bargain!

Just after the turn of the century, the Georgia Legislature called for a “fiscal study” to look at the Employee Retirement System, presumably because it was costing the state too much money.  The ERS became, in 2007, a defined contribution program like the one being proposed for TRS.  Now, in addition to low pay, low morale and increased insurance costs (sound familiar, teachers?) the ERS retirement package provides even less incentive for state workers to stay in their positions for any length of time.  Ask a state employee what they think of the defined contribution retirement program.

It would seem our Legislature, in lieu of making teaching a more attractive profession, has found a way to make it even more unattractive to prospective teachers by proposing changes to TRS.  It’s apparently not enough to under fund education through austerity cuts that have been a staple of the education budget since 2003, micromanage teacher evaluations by adding junk science VAM, script test-centric teaching through Common Core standards, blame teachers for societal issues they did not create, grade schools through a CCRPI method designed to produce failure, burden teachers and students with standardized testing that again and again points out the effects of poverty on standardized test scores in the zip code effect version of “if we measure it enough it might go away,” agree to restore health coverage for under-paid part time school employees by “allowing” local systems to absorb the costs, give legislative lip service to “local control” and “individualized learning” while insisting on the same thing at the same time for every student, restoring part of the austerity cut in an election year and having the gall to call it an “increase for education” and now, to add insult to injury, propose a reduction in retirement benefits for the profession they all love to hate.

It’s little wonder that enrollment in teacher training programs in Georgia has decreased significantly since 2011.  UGA noted a 28% decrease in its teacher education program since that time, and KSU is down 23%.  Overall, teacher training programs in Georgia are down over 15% in the last 4 years.  That means over 6,000 students in Georgia have chosen NOT to become teachers, and just when we need them most.  Perhaps this is a sign that our Legislators need to rethink their priorities...or is it?

Perhaps this is just another road sign along the ALEC highway to the privatization of public education.  The American Legislative Exchange Council encouraged states to convert their defined benefit public pensions to 401 K and/or defined contribution plans with a report last August entitled “New Report Provides Solutions to State Public Pension Dilemmas”  (   Also listed on the ALEC website is model legislation for a pension reform act suitable for framing...or reframing, as the case may be.  See for yourself .)  You won’t find it on the ALEC website, but other sources list Fran Millar as a member (along with other members of the Georgia Legislature) of ALEC.  

The National Public Pension Coalition issued a statement about just such legislation as this in other states.  “When states have adopted pension overhaul legislation, they have found that it came at a significant cost.  Alaska and Michigan went down that road and saw their pension debt increase.  West Virginia adopted a 401 K like plan for public employees in 1991, but reversed course in 2006 after a report found that public employees had such low incomes in retirement that they were eligible for means-tested public programs, driving up costs to the state.”   The Plot Against Pensions noted that in Rhode Island, often used as a model by ALEC, costs were driven up by exorbitant fees to Wall Street money managers so much that Forbes Magazine called it “just blatant Wall Street gorging.”

I haven’t talked to any teachers yet, working or retired, that think this is a good idea.  In the interests of fairness, I will proudly tell you that I served in public education for over 39 years, and retired as a TRS member in good standing in July of 2013 with a little over 30 years in Georgia public education and I talk to teachers almost every day.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe our Legislators don’t spend enough time talking to teachers, employed or retired.  If they keep finding bad ideas like this one, there may not be enough teachers left to talk to. I suppose we all knew it was coming.  The temptation of messing around with something that’s working as well as TRS is just too much for some politicians to resist.  Those billions of dollars that teachers put in there is just too tempting a target, and could be used for so many other things if only teachers weren’t so stubborn about it.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the Senate and House Retirement Committees will hold a joint meeting on Thursday, May 7 at 10am.  I have already contacted my Legislators and told them my opinions about adding yet another bad idea to an already full bag of bad legislative ideas concerning public education.  I hope you do the same.  Do it now.  The wolves have come out of the closet and are hiding behind the couch in the ALEC room.  ALEC is watching, and if you are in public education or have a child in public education they are not your friend.