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As Georgia moves forward with efforts to improve student achievement in schools, good teaching has become a key concern of state policymakers. Georgia needs competent teachers to meet the challenge of helping all students reach high academic standards. Issues such as teacher recruitment, preparation, certification, salaries, professional development, and retention are critical, particularly given the limited resources available for public education.
There were 103,350 teachers in Georgia in fiscal year 2003. The average age of the teachers was 41.6 years, with 10.6 percent over the age of 55. The teachers were 82 percent female and 78 percent white, with an average of 12.3 years of experience. Half of the teachers had a graduate-level certificate (master's, education specialist, or doctorate).
The need for teachers is expected to increase because the state population is growing and many current teachers will be retiring soon. Georgia's strategies for meeting the need for teachers include an aggressive marketing and recruitment plan, additional alternative preparation programs such as the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, HOPE scholarships for teachers, and the Troops-to-Teachers program, which facilitates entry into teaching for retiring military personnel. Georgia also is developing retention strategies to ensure that new teachers remain in the profession. Currently more than one-third of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
In 1858 all Georgia teachers in schools that received state funds were required to have certificates. The county board of examiners issued teaching certificates that attested to capability and good moral character. In 1924 a state Division of Certification was created. In 1946 the county system of certification was discontinued, and certification at the state level was required of all prospective teachers. More changes followed. These included strengthening the requirements for teacher preparation, adding more areas of certification, implementing programs to evaluate teachers, creating alternative programs for teacher preparation, and requiring teachers to participate in continued professional development. In 1991 the Georgia General Assembly created a government agency, the Professional Standards Commission (PSC), to oversee the certification and conduct of personnel employed in the public schools.
The Georgia Constitution specifies that the state of Georgia is obligated to provide an adequate public education for its citizens. The legal guidelines for how education will be conducted are found in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated under Title 20, Education. These guidelines make the PSC responsible for the regulatory system that certifies and classifies teachers in Georgia's public schools, ensuring that the teachers meet required standards for professional knowledge and skills. This regulatory system is based, in part, on commonly used standards developed by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.
The A Plus Education Reform Act of 2000 (House Bill 1187) created the Education Coordinating Council to provide a forum for interagency communication regarding educational policy and programs. The council consists of the governor, the state school superintendent, the chairperson of the state Board of Education, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, the chairperson of the Board of Regents, the commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, the chairperson of the Board of Technical and Adult Education, the executive secretary of the Georgia PSC, the chairperson of the Georgia PSC, and the director of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (formerly the Office of School Readiness). The council's duties include ensuring the availability and quality of the education workforce through preparation, professional development, and nontraditional routes to employment.
In 1932 the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents was created to unify public higher education in Georgia under a single authority. The board now oversees thirty-four public universities and colleges. In 1998 the board approved "Principles and Actions for the Preparation of Educators for the Schools." The principles emphasize the knowledge, skills, performance targets, and levels of accomplishment expected of University System graduates who become certified to teach in Georgia's public schools. The principles, which guarantee the quality of all graduates, were implemented in 2000 and subsequently refined. In 2001 the board added the goal of an 80 percent pass rate on the PRAXIS II exam (by 2006). The PRAXIS II is the primary test used for Georgia teacher certification; it measures content knowledge. In recent years about 80 percent of the individuals taking the test have passed it, but the pass rate for institutions has varied considerably.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) provides a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet rigorous standards. As of 2003, more than 800 Georgia teachers have earned this distinction, giving Georgia the seventh highest number of NBPTS-certified teachers in the fifty states.
Since 1997 eight institutions in Georgia have been participating in the Standards-based Teacher Education Project, a collaborative effort between the Council for Basic Education and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. The goals are to ensure that teacher candidates know their content area, as well as how to teach it and how to assess it.