State News

March 9, 2014

Atlanta aims to invest more in teachers

Atlanta’s new school board is betting that an investment in teachers will pay off more than attempts to reduce class sizes.

The city Board of Education plans to give teachers and staff a raise, eliminate furlough days and move up hiring dates so the school district can compete for the best teachers. At the same time, average class sizes would remain at the maximums allowed by the state, which can vary based on grade level and subject.

School board members say the size of the classroom isn’t as important as the effectiveness of the person in front of it.

“Would you rather have a large class size with a great teacher, or a small class size with a not-so-great teacher?” said board Chairman Courtney English. “The choice between the two would hopefully be obvious.”

While smaller class sizes can help students learn, English said, limited education money is better spent on educators who haven’t received a pay increase in six years.

The school board is considering raises of 3 percent or 4 percent for all staff in next year’s budget, which is expected to be completed in April. The budget would also eliminate furlough days, which often landed on days that would otherwise be used for professional development.

By finalizing the budget well before June, when it was approved last year, Atlanta Public Schools could attract teachers who are looking for jobs at the same time as other metro Atlanta school systems are hiring.

The school board plans to continue average classes as large as 20 students for kindergartners and up to 28 students for high-schoolers in core courses.

Reducing class sizes by five students citywide would cost $22 million; in comparison, the cost of a 3 percent pay raise would be $11 million, and eliminating three furlough days costs $4.5 million, according to budget estimates.

The effort to reward teachers for their work follows a struggle over class size last year, when the school board hired 78 additional teachers.

Those teachers were assigned to schools where they were needed most, but the increased number of teachers didn’t put much of a dent in average class sizes.

But class size does make a difference, according to a recent report by Northwestern University professor Diane Schanzenbach. She found a variety of research indicates students learn more   and teachers are more effective in smaller classes.

“Of course it matters — and so does teacher quality,” said Schanzenbach, an economist in Northwestern’s school of education and social policy. “There’s no question that investing in our kids by having both high-quality teachers and preferably small classes ... makes a lot of sense.”

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Tiffany Mitchell said a pay raise would help her provide extra supplies to students. When her classrooms run out of No. 2 pencils, pens, copy paper, scissors and markers, Mitchell spends more than $200 a year from her own pocket to replenish her supply closet.

“This increase not only makes me feel valued as an educator, but it also helps me give back to my students,” said Mitchell, who teaches at Inman Middle School. “We’ve been talking about how happy we are that we’re being valued again.”

Atlanta already pays its teachers more than surrounding school systems, with salaries starting at $44,312 — about $4,000 to $7,000 more than its neighbors. The city school system has for many years paid a higher rate as an incentive to teach in an urban educational environment.

“We all want to be acknowledged for the hard work we do,” said Rita Simmons, who teaches gifted classes at Cleveland Avenue Elementary and is the school system’s 2013-2014   teacher of the year. “We love our children and we don’t spare any expense when it comes to making sure our children get what they need.”

Higher pay could help school systems like Atlanta’s find and retain talented teachers, but there’s no “silver bullet” when trying to solve educational challenges, said Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology for the University of Pennsylvania.

“As an individual teacher, I’d love to have my pay raise, but it’s not necessarily going to make me do a better job, particularly if I’m already working at capacity,” Ingersoll said. “Pay alone isn’t necessarily going to turn things around.”

1
Text Only
State News
  • One charged in death of Dalton woman, another sought

    A Dalton woman found dead in Calhoun earlier this month is believed to have died of a drug overdose after two Calhoun residents abandoned her in a car behind the VFW on East Line Street, Lt. Tony Pyle with the Calhoun Police Department said Wednesday afternoon.

    June 18, 2014

  • Guard shot at FedEx center to undergo 14th surgery

    A security guard critically wounded when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility is scheduled to undergo his 14th operation Tuesday.

    May 27, 2014

  • Arson ruled out as cause of chemical plant fire

    Police say investigators have been able to rule out arson or foul play as the cause of a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles.

    May 27, 2014

  • Teen tied to shopping cart drowns in lake

    Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials say a teen has died after being tied to a shopping cart and pushed into Lake Allatoona.

    May 25, 2014

  • Underground tattoo artists frustrate officials

    The work of tattoo artists whose living rooms double as body art studios might come cheap, but experts say the unsterile -- and illegal -- work environments could leave clients in pain long after the initial sting of the needle subsides.

    May 25, 2014

  • No runoff lets Republicans focus on Rep. Barrow

    While Georgia Republicans have to wait until July to settle runoff races for the U.S. Senate and three open House seats, one of the biggest GOP victories in the primary elections last week went to Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen.

    May 25, 2014

  • Audit probes juvenile justice turnover rate

    A state audit cites low pay, long hours and management concerns as reasons for a relatively high turnover rate at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    May 25, 2014

  • Atlanta schools ex-tech director to be sentenced

    After his relationship with the superintendent of Atlanta’s school system soured, a former technology director for the district set up a kickback scheme to pad his pockets before he left his job, according to court documents.

    May 24, 2014

  • Georgia veteran, 92, honored at surprise ceremony

    Family and friends surprised a 92-year-old World War II veteran from Georgia on Memorial Day by honoring him and presenting him with the World War II Victory Medal.

    May 24, 2014

  • Police: Massive chemical plant fire extinguished

    Authorities say a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles has been extinguished.

    May 24, 2014