Thursday, May 19, 2011

State Superintendent and Legislative Issues

It looks like powerful national forces and individuals want to keep Louisiana public schools as a laboratory for continued experiments in privatization and many other "so called" reforms. A couple of BESE members indicated yesterday that US Education Secretary Duncan was making telephone calls to them in an effort to convince them to appoint John White from New York as our new State Superintendent.

The latest blog by Diane Ravitch comments on the fallacies of using untested, unverified strategies in school reform. It seems that the new reformers are willing to try any experiment as reform of public schools. One of these reforms is the wholesale firing of teachers whose students don't meet expectations on state tests. That will be one of John White's first actions as Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery District according to this article in NOLA.com.

That's the kind of leader Louisiana will be getting if our Governor and our the national education reformers "have their way" with BESE. This "business" approach to running schools may make sense to groups like LABI (Louisiana Assoc. of Business and Industry) and CABL (Council for a Better Louisiana) but it will instead be extremely counterproductive. When you target teachers for firing using student performance, you will invariably end up producing constant turmoil in schools serving high poverty communities. The unintended consequences of such job insecurity will make it nearly impossible to attract and retain the most experienced and dedicated teachers to struggling schools. I spoke to a teacher last week in such a school who had worked there for 16 years and who expressed real compassion and a true understanding of her students needs. As a result of the arbitrary pressures being aimed at her faculty, she did not know how much longer she could resist transferring to a less challenging school.

At the legislature, the Governor, LABI, and CABL succeeded in killing HB 499 in the House Education Committee yesterday. That is the bill that would have placed a moratorium on future school takeovers by the State Dept. of Education.

The testimony of the opponents to the bill repeated the distorted data about "dramatic gains" in the New Orleans Recovery District (The actual performance is still at the bottom of state rankings even though many of the schools taken over in New Orleans were not failing schools at the time of takeover).  Department representatives implied that most of the problems (declines in student scores) with the takeover schools in the Baton Rouge area happened because of lack of cooperation of local school authorities with the takeover process.

But the primary argument against the bill stopping takeovers is that the Dept. needs this "tool" as a means of "encouraging" local school systems to improve their under- performing schools. In other words, you just can't trust local school systems to improve schools unless there is a constant threat of an embarrassing takeover. Soon teachers will be doing nothing but teaching the test.  As I have pointed out before in this blog, there is no real provision for taking over the takeover schools when they fail to perform.

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