Thursday, March 18, 2010

ENDLESS EDUCATION REFORM

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has come up with a “Blueprint for Reform” as the reauthorization plan for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the federal law that provides the bulk of federal dollars for public schools). The blueprint proposes to start another round of reform of public education designed to create a “world class” education system by 2020. That term is very familiar in Louisiana. In fact Louisiana is already in the middle of testing some of the ideas of Duncan’s reform plan.

With this Blueprint, President Obama intends to create his own legacy of education reform by preparing all children for college and career by 2020. He and Duncan propose to restore the US as the world leader in production of college educated young adults by encouraging states to adopt high standards for High School graduation and by transforming low performing public schools that now serve only as “dropout factories”.

The good news for Louisiana schools is that the Obama administration proposes to discontinue the increasingly ridiculous timetable requiring all schools to reach full proficiency (In Louisiana it meant a school performance score of 120) by 2014. Instead all schools will be expected to educate every child to a level of readiness for college that will eliminate the need for remedial courses at the college level. As you know from reading this blog, I cringe every time I hear a politician promise that he will ensure a particular level of performance by every student. I know it means that professional educators will have hell to pay when such lofty goals are not reached. To be fair, the President has indicated in his earlier comments on this issue, that college readiness may include preparation for Associate or Technical degrees as well as 4 year degrees. A welcome change in the Blueprint is that the Obama administration proposes to encourage a broader curriculum that includes more than just English/Language Arts and Math. But the high stakes testing and endless test rehearsing in key subjects in Louisiana will surely go on.

Mandatory radical transformation, accompanied by major increases in federal funding would be required only of the bottom 5% of public schools. Such restructuring could include strategies such as firing all teachers and administrators and starting over with fresh administrators and no more than half the old teachers. Shutdown and transfer of schools to privately run Charter Schools is also a favorite of Duncan and also of Louisiana’s Pastorek. Unfortunately, this major infusion of federal funding will go mostly to the two Recovery Districts in Louisiana because the bottom 5% of schools will already have been taken over by the time the new funding is allocated.

The Blueprint also proposes to provide financial rewards for schools that are successful in closing the achievement gap for “at risk” students. In addition it will attempt to insure that highly effective teachers are distributed equally to low performing schools.

Louisiana has already tried out much of the Duncan Blueprint, when it took over New Orleans schools and formed the Recovery District. All the experienced teachers and administrators were fired and Charter School organizations were asked to restart the schools. What happened was a few charter schools were allowed to use a process called “creaming” or selecting the most motivated students with the most supportive parents, leaving the remaining schools with fewer successful students. These Charter organizations hired cheaper new teachers, and focused most efforts on test rehearsal. Vocational and technical skills training at the high school level has been virtually abandoned in favor of cheaper college prep courses. But when we examine what really matters to the students, which is graduation from high school, the results are disastrous. A statistical analysis of dropping enrollment figures in higher grades in combination with analysis of the high failure rate of the Graduation Exit exam in the Recovery District gives a projected graduation rate of less than 40% if measured starting with students in 7th grade. Talk about dropout factories! The Recovery District in New Orleans makes Detroit and District of Columbia schools look like success stories.

Despite my criticism of many reform efforts, there are strategies that work! I intend to address these in next week’s blog.

BESE President Guice under attack from Jindal and Pastorek faction
It seems that civility and respect for different views continues to be a victim of raw political power in our state. (Click on this link to read the article by John Maginnis on efforts to unseat Guice)

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