Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Legislation for Improving the Teaching Profession

We have all witnessed an appalling attack on the teaching profession in Louisiana in recent years. Damage has been done to the profession because of various provisions of Act 1 and 2 of 2012 and through the use of VAM as the dominant factor in teacher evaluation. The obvious purpose of the Jindal "deforms" of the teaching profession was to reduce the status of teaching to no more than that of a teenage grocery store clerk who could be dismissed at will without due process. The new laws implemented the VAM (value added model) principles with the objective of tying  every phase of teacher employment to student performance. While this may have sounded like a logical system to business representatives who believe that the teaching process can be measured by standardized testing, the system is fatally flawed and has resulted in the early retirement of many of our best teachers. The flaws of the VAM system have been discussed in previous posts on this blog.

Several judges have now ruled that major portions of Act 1 are unconstituational and at least two judges have now ruled that the new dismissal proceedure violates due process in the dismissal of teachers.

That's why several of the bills to be considered by the House Education Committee this Wednesday, April 23 would represent a welcome improvement in the attempt to place an effective teacher in every classroom. All of the following bills would help to rescue the teaching profession in Louisiana and if properly implemented would continually improve the teaching force in our schools.

Just click on the bill number to view the entire text of each bill.

HB 982 by Gaines would afford reasonable due process to permanent teachers in the case where discipline or dismissal is recommended. It provides a streamlined process for the removal of unsatisfactory teachers while affording reasonable due process to teachers who have earned their status as permanent teachers by demonstrating solid teaching performance.

HB 1129 by Thierry provides for the creation of various levels of professional status for teachers starting with novice teachers who have minimal employment rights but who get mentoring and guidance in their beginning year. The final stage of status for teachers would be the master teacher level which would be acquired only by demonstrating solid teaching performance over a 7 year period..

HB 1172 by Bishop prescribes a process for the attainment of due process rights for teachers.

HB 995 by Williams requires that the evaluation of teachers be based on multiple measures of student growth rather then on the error prone VAM system.

Please review each of the above bills. If you agree that they represent a major improvement in the evaluation and retention of good teachers, write one or more emails to members of the House Education Committee asking them to vote in favor of these bills. You may also telephone their offices and leave a message.
The following is the contact information for each of the House Education Committee members:
Stephen Carter 225-362-5305 carters@legis.la.gov
Christopher Broadwater 985-543-4900 broadwaterc@legis.la.gov
Jerome "Dee" Richard 985-447-0999 richardj@legis.la.gov
Patricia Hayes Smith 225-342-7106 smithp@legis.la.gov

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Only One Major Bill Left Defending Public Education

Take Action on HB 703

Please ask your state representative to vote "yes" for HB 703. HB 703 by Rep. John Bel Edwards would prevent BESE from bypassing local school boards in approving charter schools in school districts rated “C” or better. It was approved by the House Education Committee last Wednesday. The bill will probably be debated by the full house sometime late this week. This is the only bill intended to curb the abuses of charters and vouchers that was able to get committee approval.

HB 703 is extremely important to the survival of our public school systems because the new business model being implemented in Louisiana by a group of charters I call predatory charters allows out of state for-profit operators to raid the MFP and damage local public school systems while enriching charter management executives. These schools receive the full state and local MFP funding for each student they are able to attract without the mandate of paying the huge assessment for the unfunded liability of the retirement systems that is required of all local school boards. These charters are also allowed to hire uncertified teachers and provide them with fewer benefits. This preferential treatment allows such charters to spend our taxes on slick adds designed to attract the higher performing students in an area and allow the operators to keep a tidy percentage as profit. The whole scheme by predatory charters is aided by a hands off approach by the LDOE that allows administrators of predatory charters to expel or “counsel out” discipline problems and other low performers who then by law must be served by the regular public schools. Such a process makes the regular public schools a dumping ground for students that lower the school performance scores for regular public schools while the new charters boost their performance score. No matter how often the supporters of charters repeat the lie that charters improve student performance does not make it true. This blog has produced many posts showing that charter school success is bogus and not supported by objective data. The majority of BESE members whose votes have basically been “bought” by big business interests are determined to approve as many of these charters as possible over the objections of our local school boards.

The Louisiana big business lobby, The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) is the major force behind this new model for education in Louisiana, which over time just about guarantees the destruction of our public school system. LABI is promising major campaign contributions to legislators who will vote with them on this restructuring “deform” of public education. Why would the big business lobby in Louisiana support such a destructive system? Such a re-segregation of students by academic ability will result in many students getting short changed in their education. At the same time, the teaching profession will be stripped of salaries, status, and benefits and will lose many of the career professionals that are the backbone of any profession. This growth of predatory charters will eventually force a collapse of the teacher retirement system at a huge cost to taxpayers and possible loss of promised benefits (see stories on the collapse of the Detroit pension systems) to dedicated teachers who depend on our retirement system. Why would LABI want such a future for Louisiana education and for the teaching profession? It does not make any sense. The only thing that can explain such a strategy by big business is that the leaders of LABI hold a deep resentment and suspicion of the teaching profession. They have no idea how hard teachers in Louisiana work and how dedicated they are to their students. LABI leaders themselves receive huge salaries and benefits to do their destructive work on education. They have a smug disregard for all public employees. They believe that entrepreneurs are entitled to make whatever profits they can extract from our public education dollars.

Governor Jindal and Superintendent John White are 100% behind this effort to privatize public education and reduce the status of teachers to that equivalent to teenage grocery store clerks. This is where teachers have no real professional training (just training in test teaching), minimal salaries, few benefits and can be fired at will for any reason). White and Jindal attorney Stafford Palmeri both testified against HB 703.

The only hope for those of us who truly believe in public education and the teaching profession is to organize and oppose these destructive efforts. It's not too late! Please send an email or telephone your state representative and ask him/her to vote for HB 703 when it goes to a floor vote sometime next week. All of the other bills designed to stop the abuses of charters and vouchers have been defeated in the Education Committee. HB 703 is the only bill we have left this year to defend our public schools. The House Ed committee even killed a bill that would require voucher schools to have accountability measures similar to what we have in public schools! You can be certain that LABI will be using their money and power to try to kill HB 703 in the House or the Senate. Please do your part for public education.

Here is what I suggest all supporters of public education do as soon as possible: Get the email address for your state representative. (You can look it up by going to this link on the legislative web site). Here is the email I suggest you send. Feel free to modify it to reflect your own opinion.

Dear ______________,

I am a public school teacher (principal, parent, citizen) who lives in your district. I am requesting that you vote “yes” for HB 703. This bill is very important to maintaining local control of public education. It would prevent BESE from overruling our local school boards in the approval of charter schools. I believe that only the local voters acting through their local school boards should determine the course of education in our parish.

(Your name and city)

You can also get the phone number of the Representative's district office (using that same legislative link) and dictate a short message to his/her legislative assistant asking him/her to vote for HB 703.

Please do this as soon as possible, but at least by Wednesday, April 23 .

Friday, April 11, 2014

Last Chance for Accountability for Charters and Vouchers

At its next meeting on April 16, the House Education Committee will resume its consideration of bills that would curtail abuses of the voucher and charter school programs. It is very important that supporters of our public schools ask committee members to vote "yes" for several of these bills if we are to insure the continued viability of our public school systems. Make no mistake about it. Our public schools are threatened by the continued abuses of charters and vouchers.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the addition of charter schools and voucher schools have improved the opportunities for our students in Louisiana. The original reasons given by Governor Jindal for the expansion of charters and vouchers by Act 2 of 2012 is that parents needed a way to escape "failing" public schools. However it has become clear that initial screening and monitoring of new voucher schools by the LDOE has been inadequate, allowing fly-by night-voucher schools to receive tax dollars with little accountability. The testing data and legislative audits have shown that performance and accountability of these schools is sub standard. Also, new predatory, for-profit charters are being given financial advantages to attract students away from many successful public schools. There are no restrictions on how much of our tax dollars can be diverted from student education for slick ads and for the enrichment of developers.

HB 89 by Miller would restrict funding to charter schools that are not paying their fair share of  unfunded liability for retirement costs that are mandated by the legislature to all other public schools. (See the explanation of this bill on the post below. One of the rich charter developers from Florida has a 40 foot yacht with a name ("Fishin' 4 Schools") that flaunts his exploitation of our tax dollars.

HB 184 by Havard would keep charter school owners from profiting from buildings purchased with tax dollars. This is happening sometimes even after such schools fold.

HB 701,702, and 703 by Edwards would prevent the approval of vouchers and charters by BESE in school systems that are rated "C" or above. These are not "failing" school systems.  See the explanation below.

HB 836 by Harrison requires accountability for voucher schools. (see below)

All of the above bills should be passed if we really believe in accountability. Last Wednesday, the charter and voucher proponents killed certification requirements for teachers in charters and vouchers and killed a bill by Pearson seeking to close the kindergarten loophole for charters. If this trend continues, charter and voucher schools will dominate our educational system at the expense of our public schools.

Please help me correct a misconception about some of our public schools. The supporters of school privatization have succeeded in creating a false image of "failing public schools".  I hear it repeated over and over as justification for increased privatization. This is an image based on a flawed grading system for schools. The school grading system is based entirely on student performance, not on the quality of services provided by a school. A "D" or "F" school turns out to always be a school serving high poverty at risk students. When such schools are closed or their students are allowed to go to other schools, the data shows that on average such students do not improve their performance. One added point: Herb Bassett has analyzed the student performance data from the past school year and has found that on average, low performing sub groups actually do better in "D" or "C" schools than they do in "B" or "A" schools. Herb wants to look at more data to confirm or disprove this conclusion. But if it holds true then there is no justification for providing ways for students to "escape failing schools".