At his second town hall meeting of the year, Cobb County School Board Member David Morgan, who serves South Cobb area schools, spoke to a room of about 30 parents and community members at He presented three key programs he thinks will help close the achievement gap in South Cobb and throughout the county: the Rocketship Education Model, Teach for America and the National Council on Teacher Quality audit.
After allowing the community members to speak about various issues, including the , redistricting and , Morgan stated his case for why the academic achievement gap is his main priority as a school board member.
He presented the fall 2010 Iowa Test of Basic Skills results for South Cobb schools, which were consistently below the district’s average across the board.
Attendees voiced their thoughts on the reasons for this, which included: more lower socioeconomic households than other areas, more money in other schools to purchase supplemental teaching materials and a pervasive lack of parent engagement in the area, among other reasons. However, most agreed that the top reason was lack of parent involvement in students' education and schools, not the socioeconomic status of the students’ households.
Morgan presented a different reason.
He explained that when he taught at Knowledge Is Power Program Academy charter school, it was, at the time, the highest performing school in the Atlanta Public School system. This was not because the students came from higher socioeconomic backgrounds or because there was high parent engagement, he said.
In fact, Morgan said the school was only two miles from the system’s worst performing school in the same neighborhood with the same community.
Morgan said the high level of performance was due to the high level of principal and teacher quality, and he said the key to ensuring that quality is finding principals and teachers who are competent and who fully embrace the challenges that exist in these schools.
“You’ve got to have that flooding your culture,” Morgan said.
Morgan went on to explain that when he was first elected to the board he wanted to address the disparities in South Cobb, but several people felt he was only pointing out the negatives in the area or simply pointing fingers at administrators or faculty members of certain schools.
“I’m not assigning blame to anyone. It is what it is…The gap is there. I’m not throwing any teachers or principals under the bus,” Morgan said.
Rocketship Education Model
Morgan first introduced the Rocketship Education Model for elementary schools. In this model, each student attends one block of Math/Science, two blocks of Literacy/Social Studies and one block of Learning Lab each day.
In Learning Lab, students have computer lessons that are individualized to meet their learning needs.
“I believe in this model,” Morgan said. Rocketship allows for “blended learning” that reaches each student on his or her level. The model helps ensure that as teachers direct their energy to helping underachieving students get caught up, children on advanced levels are not left “twiddling their thumbs” or being “undereducated," he said.
“That is fundamentally unfair,” Morgan said.
Teach For America
Morgan also proposed bringing in more Teach For America educators to the district to increase teacher quality.
Last year, Gwinnett County won the prestigious 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education and $1 million for scholarships for students graduating in 2011. Morgan said the prestige of the award helps bring in additional funding from private organizations, like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.
According to Morgan, Gwinnett currently has 75 Teach for America teachers, and Cobb only has one.
Gwinnett also is the largest school district in the state with 161,000 students, and the Cobb County School District is not far behind with a district-wide student population of 107,000 as of October 2010.
Morgan would like the district to have 25 Teach For America educators by the start of the next school year.
“Their training is second to none,” he said, adding that Teach For America provides ongoing training and guidance for its teachers. “I don’t think you can microwave a good teacher … I believe in ongoing training so you can get better at your craft, and that’s a budget fight.”
James Young, a South Cobb area parent, said, “The biggest opposition that we have to Teach For America are the teachers.”
National Council on Teacher Quality audit
Morgan’s third solution to the achievement gap problem is to have the National Council on Teacher Quality audit the CCSD about its teacher practices and policies.
“We have to change current policies that prohibit us from getting the best teachers,” Morgan said.
The audit would cost $75,000. However, Morgan said, the Gates Foundation would pay $65,000 and the remaining $10,000 would come from the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Wellstar if they get on board. He said he has already met and had conversations with executives of the Cobb Chamber, Wellstar and the NAACP.
Morgan along with the NCTQ members will present the audit plan to the members of the Cobb Chamber, Wellstar and the NAACP in late April at the Cobb Chamber.
“If the Chamber says, ‘we back that,’ the school board will say, ‘we back that,” Morgan said, explaining that the Chamber is “concerned with economic vibrance,” and good schools drive up property values and thus, companies want to do business in communities with high property values.
Currently the county has a policy that tenured teachers must receive a contract at another county school if they are found to be an ill fit for their current school, Morgan explained.
Administrators at the tenured teacher’s new school has no say about whether they want or need that particular teacher, Morgan said.
The NCTQ audit, which takes four months, could help change this policy, Morgan explained.
These are only the first three steps in Morgan’s plan to help close the achievement gap, he said. He intends to unveil the final two in the near future.
Key Points of Rocketship Education Model (from its website):
Learning Lab does not require certified teachers and allows for reduced staffing by five teachers and five classrooms per schools, saving $500,000.
The savings are reinvested into:
- Principal training: each new principal receives a full year of training
- Response To Intervention: students below grade level get an extra hour of tutoring
- Academic Deans: each school has a fulltime academic dean to mentor teachers and run RTI
- Teacher salaries: Rocketship pays approximately 20 percent higher than surrounding districts.
Key Points about Teach For America (from its website and from Morgan's town hall materials):
"Teach for America is a nationally recognized nonprofit that specializes in putting the best and brightest individuals in urban classrooms to teach. Their model for preparing teachers for success looks like this:
- Recruitment: Teach for America recruits from teh most prestigious and hailed colleges and universities in our country. They also recruit highly accomplished career-changers from other industries
- Institute: A five-week intensive training program designed to set corps members up for success from their first day of teaching.
- Coaching: Throughout their two-year commitments, corps members receive one-on-one coaching from program directors and meet in learning teams to further develop the knowledge and skills needed to lead their students to success.
- Online support: TFANet is an online hub for corps members and alumni and includes lesson plans, videos and other resources. It is a forum for corps members and alumn to connect.
Key Points about the National Council on Teacher Quality (from Morgan's town hall materials and from the NCTQ website):
"The National Council on Teacher Quality advocates for reforms in a broad range of teacher policies at the federal, state and local levels in order to increase the number of effective teachers. In particular, NCTQ recognizes the absence of much of the evidence necessary to make a compelling case for change and seek to fill that void with a research agenda that has direct and practical implications for policy."
NCTQ specializes in doing audits on school districts about their human capital practices and policies. They give formal recommendations to the district about what practices and polices are detrimentally impacting student achievement.