Thursday, October 27, 2016

Recommendations on Constitutional Amendments

Please take the time to Click on this link to the LAE Fund for Education. They give recommendations on 3 of the 6 amendments. I agree with the recommendations of LAE based on the reasons given. In addition, I would also personally recommend a "no" vote on Amendment #2 because it lets the legislature off the hook for funding higher education and allows various colleges to raise their tuition without a vote of our elected representatives. This could result in out-of-reach tuition for certain universities for our low income students. This is not the way to close the opportunity gap.

I am recommending "yes" for Amendment #5 because it could provide state funding to pay off the unfunded liability of the state employee and teacher retirement systems. Be aware that it is the legislature that has caused some of our retirement systems to be underfunded because of benefits granted to some classes of employees that were not properly funded. These extra benefits were not given to most regular workers.  I don't think the majority of the retired employees and our school boards should continue to be punished for the decisions of the legislature. Recently our school boards were forced to pay over 25% of payroll to the retirement systems because of such abuses. At the same time charter schools received the same MFP funding but were exempted from participating in the retirement systems. This was a huge windfall for the administrators of such schools.

I hope these recommendations are helpful to the readers of The Louisiana Educator.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Please Vote for Candidates Who Truly Support Public Education

This blog is about education . . .  and more specifically about Louisiana Education. I have tried to limit my blog to education issues and have not gotten involved in political issues except as they apply to education. It turns out that on November 8, we will have a real choice between pro-public education candidates and candidates for national office that would promote the destruction of our public education system. This is a system of education which has been one of the greatest sources of success for our nation. For the benefit of public education and for many other reasons, I want to recommend  a candidate for the U.S. Senate and one for the office of President of the United States.

I have written thousands of words in this blog explaining what I believe is solid evidence that the nationwide move to privatize our public education system is a huge mistake. I have pointed out in many posts the overwhelming evidence that privatizing education through the use of charter schools and voucher schools is generally counterproductive, does not improve education, and opens up the funding of public education to fraud and abuse. Not all charter schools are bad and not all schools that accept vouchers are bad, but I believe the concept of allowing our public school taxes to go to unregulated and unsupervised private groups is a bad idea.

Please don't believe all of the horrible stuff you have heard over the last 10 years about Louisiana having failing public schools. There will always be some schools that are not doing the best they should be doing for our children, but I truly believe that any student who is motivated and works hard will receive a great education in our public schools. Sure, we have schools where students score below average on state and national tests but that can be much more accurately ascribed to the rate of poverty of the students and their families. In almost all cases efforts of the teachers and administrators in so called "failing schools" is extremely caring and almost heroic despite the unfair criticism our warped system of accountability heaps on them each year. Our public schools in Louisiana provide all children with a path to success if they just are willing and able to take advantage of what is being offered.

Unfortunately, our public schools have had very poor leadership at the state and national levels in the last 10 years because of an extremely misguided reform movement that has pushed an ineffective college prep "for all" program and that has promoted all forms of privatization over the support of our public schools.  But my research for the past 10 years shows conclusively that charter schools and voucher schools often do not give our taxpayer's their money's worth. Again I repeat, there are a few such schools that really do a good job, and I have personal knowledge of such schools and their success, but the overall effect of privatization encourages fraud and abuse of our tax dollars and does not do justice to most students. You need only to look at the results of privatization of schools in Chile to see the end result of privatization. That country is now facing a major effort to reverse the destructive results of privatization.

It is with the above principles in mind that I would like to strongly recommend Foster Campbell for the U.S. Senate and Hillary Clinton for President.

I have personally known Foster Campbell for over 30 years and have always found him to be a true supporter of public education. Foster respects the teaching profession and would never recommend national policies that would force half-baked education reforms over the recommendations of our educators and parents. He does not support the current privatization move and will instead work hard to strengthen our public school system and elevate the teaching profession.

Now for the big one! In all my many years of involvement in the democratic process for election of our leaders have I ever seen a more important decision for the office of president. 

I want to start by making clear that I do not believe Hillary Clinton is a perfect candidate. She has in the past been misled to some extent by the propaganda that has so effectively promoted charter schools as a magic solution. But I believe that she has great respect for the teaching profession and will listen to reason on major issues relating to privatization and support for the profession. I believe much of the criticism of Mrs. Clinton has been exaggerated by the tremendous partisanship of our current two party system which seems to value party success over the welfare of our nation.

I will just make one small point in contradiction to what I believe has been unfair criticism of Mrs. Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Republicans have spent millions of our tax dollars investigating the Bengazi incident where 4 courageous and loyal American public servants were viscously murdered by terrorists. It is alleged that Clinton was negligent in not providing adequate security and in not rescuing the victims. The problem is hindsight is 20:20. Certainly now we can see that more should have been done, but I will never believe for one minute that Secretary Clinton did not care sincerely for the wellbeing of these dedicated individuals. I just want to make one comparison: Years ago, president Reagan was warned repeatedly by security professionals that is was not wise to maintain a base in Lebanon for U.S. Marines. He ignored these warnings and our security system was not able to prevent a huge bomb from being driven to the marine barracks which resulted in the horrible deaths of over 250 marines. Our nation was horrified, and Reagan very quickly closed the base and moved the rest of our troops out of harms way. But the difference, is our congressional leaders did not choose to have endless investigations and second guessing of the mistakes by Reagan and his appointed leaders that may have prevented this catastrophe. Now, the political climate is such that every mistake of our present leadership is always blown out of proportion.

I repeat: Hillary Clinton is not perfect, but I believe she is extremely well qualified to be president of the United States, is highly respected by the world community and will always attempt to do what is best for our country and the world in general. I do not believe the same can be said for Donald Trump.

One of the major reasons I believe it would be a serious mistake for the citizens and voters of the United States of America to elect Donald Trump is that he obviously knows nothing about elementary/secondary schools, but he has stated repeatedly that he wants to remove all barriers to expansion of both charters and vouchers with our public taxes. The national Republican party also has a solid position promoting the expansion of both charter schools and vouchers.

But there are other very important reasons why Trump should not be elected president. So much of what we have seen and heard from Trump himself and from persons who have had dealings with Trump over the years show him to be unprincipled, dishonest, deceptive, greedy, hypocritical, and unworthy of our trust as president of our great country. Trump is obviously a pathological liar as evidenced by his promotion of the Birther Movement against president Obama, his outlandish claims about his Republican opponents, his attacks on Hillary Clinton, the media and the Republican leadership. His proposals to ban immigrants, to torture prisoners, to murder the families of radical Islamist enemies, and to simultaneously be an isolationist and to be a war monger would certainly destabilize international relations. His vow to banish 16 million people, most of whom are good people, and who contribute greatly to the workforce of the construction industry and farming industry in this country, according to most economists, would quickly deal a severe blow to our economy.

Trump has been one of the worst examples of the abuse of our American economy by the privileged class. We have no reason to believe that he will change and somehow become a good leader for all the citizens our country.

Please consider voting for Hillary Clinton for President and Foster Campbell for U. S. Senator.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Superintendent White Reverses Course on Teacher Credentials and Training

Superintendent White's new teacher certification proposals are totally at odds with his previous policies on teacher credentials and experience

State Superintendent John White who himself has minimal credentials as a professional educator has proposed a beefed up program of Louisiana teacher certification that includes a one year internship supervised by experienced master teachers. Many agree that such internships are highly desirable as a way of providing teachers with coaching and guidance in developing their classroom teaching skills. But this proposal is totally at odds with policies that White has promoted from the beginning of his tenure as Louisiana State Superintendent!

When John White came to Louisiana and started his term as Governor Jindal's hand-picked State Superintendent, he was called upon to testify on Jindal's education reform legislation as proposed by Acts 1 and 2 of 2012. These bills proposed major changes in the qualifications and credentials of teachers.

Act 1 of 2012, included provisions removing all teacher seniority rights and limiting teacher pay based on years of experience. Act 2 of 2012 allowed charter schools to be exempted from the previous requirements in Louisiana Law that all teachers must complete a teacher training program as part of their certification process.  Act 2 allowed charter schools to hire as fully certified teachers, anyone with a bachelor's degree of any kind if they passed a background check. Such persons would be given the responsibility to teach a classroom full of students without a single hour of teacher preparation. This exemption for charter schools is still the law in Louisiana. In addition, based on BESE policy, certification was provided to Teach for America corps members who had received only 5 weeks of summer training before fully assuming the duties of classroom teaching. These alternatively certified teachers were eligible, and are still eligible to teach in any public school classroom in the state. John White, himself had received just such preparation before he taught for TFA.

In his testimony before the legislature, (I am paraphrasing) John White suggested that there was no measurable difference in the effectiveness of new teachers compared to experienced teachers. White also suggested to the legislature that there was no significant value in the system of step increases that provided teachers a salary schedule with financial rewards based on years of teaching experience. Act I also required that each public school system implement a merit pay system for teachers based on student test scores. In addition, the new evaluation plan for teachers targeted 10% of teachers for dismissal based on student test scores.

The new laws have basically decimated Louisiana teacher salary schedules based on years of experience.  Since the state provided not one penny of funding for the mandated merit pay scheme, most school systems shifted money from teacher step increases to pay for the merit pay plan. White also supported the changes in Act 1 that stripped all teachers of their seniority rights in determining priority for layoffs in reduction in force actions.

In the ensuing years since the passage of Acts 1 and 2, the combination of loss of step increases and loss of seniority coupled with teacher evaluations and merit pay based on student test scores has been identified by many experienced teachers as the causes of their decision to take early retirement. Hundreds, maybe thousands of teachers in Louisiana have retired earlier than they had originally planned because of disillusionment with the new laws implemented by John White. Now Louisiana is experiencing a teacher shortage.

So now, White apparently has had an epiphany in which he has discovered the value of teaching experience in providing students with the best instruction possible. Just 4 years ago White saw no value in teacher preparation and teaching experience and helped to strip teachers of salary raises based on experience and to deny teachers seniority rights in layoff procedures. He supported hiring teachers for charter schools who had received no training whatsoever to be teachers. Yet now he seems to believe that teacher training and experience are valuable after all. I have a few questions about this whole turnaround:

  1. Is White proposing that from now on TFA Corps members entering Louisiana classrooms must receive one year of supervised internship before becoming certified? Or will such persons continue to be allowed to receive preferential treatment in the certification process?
  2. Will White propose a repeal of the law that limits the use of experience as a major component of the teacher salary schedule?
  3. Will White support the repeal of the prohibition on the use of teacher seniority in reduction in force policies?
  4. Will White propose that now teachers hired to teach in charter schools must complete a teacher preparation program, or will charter schools continue to be exempt from teacher certification requirements?
  5. Why does Louisiana continue to allow a non-educator to set policies on teacher certification and to use our teachers and students as guinea pigs for his contradictory education reforms.