The Status of Georgia Race to the Top and What should be done moving forward

This memo assumes that there is a new governor in Georgia as of 2013 for the purposes of an assignment from my HGSE course, Federal Government in the Schools. However, in reality, Georgia's elections for governor fall on mid-term years.  That said, the recommendations for Georgia work out just right if none of that is assumed. So, enjoy the substance, nevermind the exact audience.

Fictional Assignment -- What is the Status of Georgia's Race to the Top Implementation? What are your recommendations for a new governor?

This memo outlines challenges Georgia faces in implementing nearly $400 million in incentive funds received from the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) for a successful Race to the Top (“RTTT”) application. Georgia’s challenges are not drastically different than those of other RTTT winners, but our issues were mostly around data systems, timeline delays, and increasing charter opportunities. These and other issues can be addressed using eight strategies. Four of the eight strategies should be championed by the Office of the Governor: (1) require implementation checks for future RTTT applications, (2) garner local district enthusiasm for Georgia’s state-wide Innovation Fund, (3) maintain vigilance over graduation rates and teacher supports, and (4) encourage and support state legislative efforts to expand equitable opportunities for local charters. The other four strategies, discussed on page 4, should be implemented by the Georgia Department of Education (“GaDOE”). The sections below are instructive. 

More after the break...

Background and Politics
Georgia was one of twelve second-round winners of DOE’s RTTT incentive funds in August 2010. One factor in Georgia’s success was that reform was already underway before first-round applications were submitted (Derringer, 2011). Most opinions of Georgia’s winning application process are favorable, but the largest criticism came from teachers’ unions. They complained that consultants and front-line educators were heavily relied on but professional teacher groups were not involved. But because Georgia does not have strong unions, the lack of teachers’ union input likely did not hurt RTTT peer-review scores (Badertscher, 2009). In fact, it was favorable that twenty-two local school districts agreed in advance to implement reforms if Georgia was awarded funds (Torres, 2010), and, by targeting just a few of the 181 school districts, Georgia’s RTTT funds had the potential to have greater impact (Derringer, 2011).
Generally, both political parties in Georgia have supported RTTT incentive funds.[1] The past two Republican governs were generally supportive: Governor Sonny Perdue saw RTTT like a “Nixon-goes-to-China opportunity” and had been privy to initial conversations with DOE Secretary Arne Duncan about the idea (Badertscher, 2009), while Governor Nathan Deal has implemented a state version of RTTT. Democrat Governor Roy Barnes, who preceded Perdue and Deal, would also likely have been supportive of RTTT (Tucker, 2010). With President Obama’s second-term in office, the White House is likely to retain Secretary Duncan, who will certainly continue RTTT and press for more robust, creative reforms coming from states.

Initial challenges in gearing up for Race to the Top funds
During the second-round selection process, DOE was concerned about states’ capacity in four main areas: national academic standards, teacher quality, data systems, and turning around low-performing schools. Georgia met the four main criteria in the following ways.
National Academic Standards. To ensure a strong application, Georgia moved to tougher statewide curriculum (Badertscher, 2009) and, since, has fully adopted national academic standards DOE mandates for RTTT recipients. Georgia is among five RTTT winners to have completed implementation plans for professional development, curriculum instructional materials, and teacher-evaluations systems based on these new national measures called the Common Core State Standards (Education First & Editorial Projects in Education, 2012).
Teacher Quality. Even before its application, Georgia was among five of the twelve winners already requiring teacher education programs to report on teacher persistence as an accountability measure, an important component in teacher quality reporting (Crowe, 2011, p. 13). Upon receipt of funds, Georgia promised to use data information systems to link “the percentage of teachers from each preparation program moving from initial to advanced certification” and to include assessments of teacher skills “in analysis, interpretation, and use of data for instruction” (Crowe, 2011, p. 16). Additionally, state legislation on teacher performance-based pay anticipated RTTT awards. Supported by Governor Perdue and encouraged as a compensation model alternative by Secretary Duncan, a state bill offered an option where teacher pay would be linked to student test score performance instead of Georgia’s traditional system which rewarded teachers for advanced degrees and seniority (Torres, 2010).
Data Tracking Systems. Georgia’s largest challenge was in student information systems. Budget cuts, changes in project management, and venders going bankrupt stalled progress on information systems for more than a decade. The state had invested $14.5 million toward the effort even before RTTT.[2] Flawed systems prevented accurate tracking of school test scores (Voggell, 2009), transfer students, and dropouts (Swartz, 2009). For example, Georgia was crippled from linking student test performance to teachers in any grade-level below sixth grade. So, in Georgia’s RTTT application, officials highlighted Georgia’s willingness to change (Swartz, 2009). Once Georgia received RTTT funds, it was among four of the winners to have all appropriate “longitudinal data system components deemed essential to measure student achievement, determine teacher effectiveness, and provide accountability reports to schools and to the public” after the first implementation year (Crowe, 2011, p. 26).
Turning Around Low-Performing Schools. To have a strong application, graduation coaches were introduced in middle and high schools and the state’s system of charter schools rapidly expanded (Badertscher, 2009). In fact, Georgia’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools were tightly linked to expanding school choice under state charter schools law. However, the landscape of charters abruptly changed when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled charter schools that were not authorized by local school boards were unconstitutional under the state constitution (Gwinnett County Sch. Dist. v. Cox, 289 Ga. 265 (Ga. 2011)). GaDOE worried that because this charter schools ambiguity coincided with RTTT submissions, Georgia’s ability to show commitment toward closing the achievement gap would be compromised (Dodd, 2010).

Continued challenges in implementing Race to the Top funds
One year after winning RTTT, Georgia’s progress was largely on target (Badertscher, “Obama Administration Scrutinies,” 2011), but Georgia did have to file an amendment to its second-round RTTT plan because implementing funds faced some challenges. The major challenges in implementing these funds include the following:
(a)   leadership changes in six of the largest school districts implementing RTTT. In some state and county offices, those in leadership/elected positions changed after the 2010 midterm election cycle at a time when RTTT implementation decisions were being made (McNeil, 2012). In some circumstances, the new leaders did not agree with prior leaders’ support of RTTT. A telling example former State School Superintendent John Barge who ran criticizing RTTT, remarking that Georgia would be giving up its constitutional obligation to educate its children “in exchange for a relatively small amount of money” (Badertscher & McWhirter, 2010). Barge later administered RTTT funds upon taking office. However, in a school district near the city of Macon, a superintendent returned $1.3 million because he was not willing to implement value-added teacher assessment systems that would be driven by student standardized test performance (Strauss, 2010).
(b)  infeasible timelines because the second-round application did not update or push back its timelines from the first-round losing application. This was a failure to pay attention to details that “resulted in significant timeline delays and required numerous adjustments to the implementation schedule” (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
(c)   other typical timeline delays. Until Georgia’s scope of work was approved from its RTTT application amendment (largely delayed by the leadership challenges discussed above), the state could only draw down funds within 12.5% of the grant for state-level activities (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2011). This likely stalled other efforts (McNeil, 2012).
(d)  piloting the teacher and principal evaluations. Georgia allocated $758,000 toward creating and implementing teacher and school administrator evaluation systems based on student performance (Associated Press, 2011), but eventually was one of five RTTT winners needing permission to push back timelines. Pilot evaluations ended up six months behind schedule in part because of leadership changes and vacant high-level positions needed to execute the system. Teacher and administrative opinions are mixed—many desire a way to differentiate between satisfactory and unsatisfactory teachers but they are skeptical about whether first iterations of this evaluation system (Badertscher, “Obama Administration Scrutinies,” 2011).
(e)   transitioning charter schools authorized under the previous unconstitutional scheme. The charter schools court decision has created difficulty for emerging operators. Whereas before, the Charter Schools Act (O.C.G.A. §20-2-2060 et seq) allowed operators to apply through either the locality or the state Georgia Charter School Commission, which included officials from the Regents of the University of Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2080 et seq.), transitioning charter operators now have to be re-approval by local boards or close down. Many charters who were rejected by their local districts faced budget shortfalls. Among other advocates and supporters, former Governor Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Secretary Duncan met to discuss ways the schools could remain open (Walz, “Race to the Top Money Not For Ga’s Charters,” 2011). An estimated 16 schools and 16,500 students were affected by the decision (Downey, 2011; Rankin, 2011).

Implications for successive rounds of Race to the Top funding
In May 2011, Secretary Duncan announced a third round of RTTT (Associated Press, 2011). When DOE on-site program reviewers met with Georgia implementers in June 2011, they focused on priority areas like “building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale-up, and sustain proposed plans, and the state’s efforts to turn around its lowest achieving schools” (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). However, Georgia was not chosen among the finalists.
The positive news is that Governor Deal set aside $19 million of the second-round RTTT award to create a state-wide Innovation Fund that will hold competitions and award grants to charter schools and local education authorities that form partnerships with colleges, businesses, or nonprofits to create innovative programs. The grants will focus on teacher education and training and will also be distributed to charter schools that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2011).

Generally recommended strategies—for GaDOE
            Your administration has tremendous opportunity to build bipartisan support and leverage RTTT to put Georgia at the forefront of education progress. A total of eight strategies are critical for future RTTT success,[3] and because GaDOE is better positioned to affect four of them through coordination and regulation,[4] your administration should push GaDOE to address the following:
(1)  Timeline Delays—Encourage capacity-building at GaDOE. State education agencies are commonly understaffed and underfunded (Brown et al., 2011) but GaDOE will need increased capacity to drive reforms. GaDOE will need to think beyond the common mantra that compliance is more important than effectiveness (Elmore, 1986, p. 181). Spurring a culture of efficiency will benefit Georgia, and creating room for talent anticipates Secretary Duncan’s proposals that no one approach is best (Duncan, 2012) and puts policymakers in the mindset of creating solutions across administrative silos.
(2)  Teacher Quality—Increase amount of publically available teacher preparation data. Georgia should publically report effectiveness data from teacher education programs from at least 70 percent of its programs.[5]
(3)  Teacher and Principal Evaluations—Encourage precise value-added methods to measure teacher performance. As GaDOE thinks about value-added methods, press for those that identify the value added by teachers without just accounting for student growth over one year (Koretz, 2008). Because professional teacher and/or educator associations are likely create vertical lobbies to block or limit effectiveness of evaluation systems (Kingdon, 2003), it will be important to consult them in this area.
(4)  Data Tracking Systems—Drive GaDOE towards delineating criteria for the state-wide Innovation Fund that focus on data measuring and monitoring systems. Because many aspects of education are easily quantifiable (Hehir, 2009), GaDOE should award funds to those districts that seek to measure outputs like the placements of children in special education, gifted programs, and vocational courses; parent participation levels; teacher satisfaction with school leadership; and performance on state-wide accountability measures. Such data may better enable districts to identify trends and address potential cheating vulnerabilities, given large scandals in two Georgia districts. Districts can also start foundational data collection for early learning initiatives like those proposed in Georgia’s unsuccessful third round RTTT application: daycare quality rating systems and kindergarten testing (Badertscher, “Georgia Pursuing $70 Million,” 2011).

Four Key Recommendations—for Office of the Governor
Aside from the above four general recommendations, your administration has a strategic advantage to rally support around four other key strategies. These are also the most legitimate strategies for Governor involvement because they require action from people outside of GaDOE.
(1)  Adjusting Timelines on Successive RTTT applications—Require implementation checks that plot success backwards, starting with the end goal to create feasible deadlines. Georgia should continue to apply for successive rounds of RTTT because it offers opportunity to innovate and political cover for doing so (Hess & Darling-Hammond, 2011). Since business leaders, legislators, and educators are already involved in the application process, each should ensure deadlines are feasible before submission.
(2)  Navigating Leadership Challenges—Garner local district enthusiasm for Georgia’s state-wide Innovation Fund. Most of the leadership challenges stem from ideological differences in the appropriate federal role in education rather than from capability to lead. Garnering support for Georgia’s own state-wide Innovation Fund may ease opposition directed toward national political constituents, in light of how traditional state and local education prerogatives are changing (Elmore, 1986, p. 167). Georgia’s Innovation Fund highlights how reform can be bottom-up approaches and it better positions Georgia to receive future rounds of RTTT funds.
(3)  Turning Around Low-Performing Schools­—Maintain vigilance over graduation rates and encourage more teacher supports, like providing more paraprofessionals and school support services. Schools with high graduation rates and large year-over-year improvements in graduation rates should be wildly celebrated. Federal funds are available to divert students from dropping out onto graduation pathways (Title I. Part A. § 1002(h)), but your administration should encourage local communities, non-profits, and faith organizations to meet students’ out-of-school needs. Further, you should encourage schools educating large numbers of low-income students to use their built-in flexibility of Title I funds toward “school-wide programs or additional services that increase the amount and quality of instructional time” (Title I. Part A §1001(8)) like hiring more paraprofessionals and seeking increases in school staff to support academic efforts.
(4)  Transitioning Charter Schools—Encourage and support state legislative efforts to expand equitable opportunities for local charters. Not all charters are created equal. In expanding school choice, special attention need be given to new charter operators to ensure charters are inclusive of a diverse population of students with disabilities (Hehir, Charter Schools Testimony to U.S. House of Representatives, 2010) and equal accessibility for boys and girls (20 USC § 1681; 34 CFR § 106.34). This advocacy will need rely on local community support in light of the recent court decision. Remedies for changing the Georgia Supreme Court decision may involve passing a state constitutional amendment.

Implementation plan and Next Steps
            As next steps, your administration should implement the following: include these points in your upcoming State of the State address; schedule a meeting with the State Superintendent of Schools and GaDOE officials within the next two months; send policy appearance notices to mayors and local school board members that you visit over the next six months including these four key recommendations; and promote leaders who share these priorities within the year.

[1] In 2010 midterm elections, Georgia Tea Party candidates opposed most federal programs affecting states’ obligations; however, this anti-federal sentiment has absorbed into the larger Georgia GOP Party regarding RTTT.
[2] In April 2009, DOE granted Georgia $8.9 million, not related to the Recovery Act, to address this need (Voggell, 2009).
[3] For additional analysis, see the “Side-by-Side Analysis of Recommended Strategies” included in the Appendix.
[4] The Office of the Governor is likely to have only indirect influence over these four recommendations, because the elected State School Superintendent is empowered under Georgia’s constitution to direct state education policy as the executive officer of the state board of education and the head of GaDOE (O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-30, 20-2-34).
[5] Georgia only promised to report teacher education program data for 30 percent of state’s programs by the third year of RTT, which one RTTT peer reviewer commented was “quite low and unambitious” (Crowe, 2011, p. 19).


20 USC § 1681. (n.d.).
34 CFR § 106.34. (n.d.).
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Gwinnett County Sch. Dist. v. Cox, 289 Ga. 265 (Georgia Supreme Court May 16, 2011).
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McNeil, M. (2012, January 17). Reports Detail Race to Top Winners' Challenges: States face difficulties delivering on promises. Education Week. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from
O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2060 et seq. (n.d.).
O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2080 et seq. (n.d.).
O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-30, 20-2-34. (n.d.).
O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-80 et seq. (n.d.).
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Strauss, V. (2010, November 24). Schools Chief Returns Race to the Top Money—For His Teachers. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2012
Swartz, K. E. (2009, July 13). Student Data System the Key to Big Bucks; Feds to Pay States that Achieve Innovation; Officials say Georgia is Well Ahead on Reaching Goals Required for Funds. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Title I. Part A §1001(8). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Title I. Part A. § 1002(h). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
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Walz, M. (2011, June 22). Race to the Top Money Not For Ga’s Charters. Georgia Public Broadcasting News. Retrieved March 24, 2012, from

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