Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Essay on Education Reform

By: Bryan Alleman, M.Ed.
Puzzled by the all-of-a-sudden outside interest in Louisiana education politics, I decided to examine a few key metropolitan areas in the United States with pro charter school environments. Each has a suspiciously coincidental connection to the forces changing and profiting from Louisiana’s dramatically turbulent educational landscape. My goal is to determine the relevance of the current charter school movement in Louisiana and its feasibility as a method for improving student achievement in our state.

Before proceeding, it is important to note a phenomenon reported by the American Association of School Administrators called the 95/5 dilemma. The AASA describes how many school leaders have been seduced into abandoning common sense approaches due to an overwhelming emphasis on poor results on standardized tests by a tiny portion of the whole student body—roughly five percent. It is alarming that such a small portion of the overall results are now consequently driving school, district and state policies at the expense of the remaining student population who do not need such extreme measures, and in most cases, are not even beneficial to them at all. More outrageous is the trail of evidence across America suggesting this sensitive issue has been exploited by some to promote a disingenuous reform agenda that often calls for extreme changes and many privately owned charter schools. Originally, charter schools were a noble concept that involved highly trained teachers working with a small number of at-risk students---a real formula for genuine grade level recovery. Now, many charter schools are governed by boards composed of individuals who have succumbed to greed and seek profits at the risk of jeopardizing the only guaranteed escape from the crippling grips of poverty---a good public education for all students. Most charter schools in the New Orleans area are not staffed with highly trained educators but rather young, inexperienced rookies that help to drive the personnel cost down and keep the energy level up. Charter schools continue to be part of a sporadic nationwide movement despite current, valid and reliable research reporting charter school mediocrity. Additionally, many appeals have come from credible, experienced experts calling for policy makers to look at the data now available on charter school performance such as the CREDO study by Stanford and other scholarly research like the POINT study by Vanderbilt on merit pay incentive systems for teachers. Hopefully, such a review of data is paired with a reexamination of their intentions for supporting such a drastic change to public education with no empirical basis. More alarming still are the multiple allegations of rampant fraud including cheating on standardized tests and covered up scandals.

New York City, NY: Step1:“Break up the monopoly!” In an unprecedented change of governance stakeholders moved education policy decision making authority from a multi member Board of Education, where several officials set the majority of the education policy, to mayoral control of the school system. Such a stronghold on the city’s schools would allow Mayor Bloomberg to make a series of questionable appointments to the office of Chancellor, the city’s top education job (see Table A, A Brief History of NYC School Chancellors Since 2000). This drastic change created a system that is more dictatorial by design than democratic.
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Mayor Bloomberg of New York City donated $100,000 to support John White for State Superintendent of Louisiana in a very unusual long distance show of support. Money is only one way Michael Bloomberg will try to insert his influence in attempts to keep the failing reform movement going across the nation. Source: http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/10/new_york_mayor_michael_bloombe.html

After filling Paul Vallas’ vacancy in the Recovery School District in New Orleans, John White became Governor Bobby Jindal’s, “natural choice” to succeed Paul Pastorek as Louisiana’s next state superintendent of education at thirty-six years old and without valid credentials. Prior to White’s Louisiana anointment, he spent time working in the New York City school system within Chancellor Joel Kline's administration. (Kline was Bloomberg’s first appointment after gaining control of the city’s schools.) White held an executive level position in the New York City school system related to human resources after working for the Teach for America corporate headquarters in Chicago.
STATUS: After being given complete control of the NYC school system, Mayor Bloomberg’s three hand-picked Supermen, including a Superwoman, have not produced the results promised to the public.

Chicago, IL: Step 1: “Break up the monopoly!” In 1995, Mayor Richard Daley convinced the Illinois State Legislature to move the Chicago Public School (CPS) system under mayoral control…sound familiar? Such an act established the position of CEO of the CPS with Paul Vallas appointed by Mayor Daley as the very first. Controversy soon came and Vallas left the CPS for his next job as CEO of the School District of PA [source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Vallas ]. Vallas would leave the Philadelphia system seventy-three million dollars in the red.
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Paul Vallas became the RSD Superintendent appointed by Paul Pastorek after Katrina, both strongly supported by Governor Bobby Jindal. Vallas was imported into LA and presided over arguably the largest spending spree in the name of education in this state’s history; notably, occurring in the aftermath and as a result of Katrina. Prior to the RSD, Vallas was in Philadelphia, PA after leaving Chicago. Recently, in a completely legal but highly questionable and rare use of star power, U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, phoned each of the Louisiana BESE Board members asking for their consideration in support of John White as the next State Superintendent of Education in Louisiana. Considering the amount of federal money that will change hands if Louisiana plays ball with Duncan via the Race to the Top program, such influence on a state would not pass the ethical smell test local school boards must endure. Secretary Duncan succeeded Vallas as CEO of CPS prior to his cabinet level appointment in President Obama’s administration.

STATUS: System is still waiting for superman after the charter school ‘reform’ experiment failed to produce the results promised to the public.

Washington, DC: Enter Teach for America recruit turned Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who takes the District of Columbia on a roller coaster ride which leaves that system in turmoil. Under her leadership, the district is filled with lawsuits and investigations pertaining to rampant and unwarranted employee dismissal and test tampering. There are also queries about the actual educational achievement of students during her tenure. Rhee’s imposed merit pay system for teachers and allegiance to the promotion of charter schools contributed to the chaos leaving an educational landscape that is anything but more accessible to all. The usual “Break up the monopoly!” mentality was present here in 2007 when the D.C. Board of Education was stripped of its authority, changed its own function to one of an advisory board, and created the office of the Chancellor of education after giving Adrian Fenty mayoral control of the schools. Michelle Rhee was the first Chancellor of D.C. schools appointed by Fenty per the suggestion of Joel Kline. [Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-07-08-schools-DC-investigation-cheating_n.htm ].
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Michelle Rhee founded the money-generating nonprofit organization, The New Teacher Project, which provides fast track training to aspiring new teachers often times working with a large number of Teach for America recruits in urban areas. Rhee is now providing that service right here in Louisiana which has watered-down a once highly rated and effective professional preparation program that took years to refine. I imagine this training is sold as an ideal supplement to the fluid, ever-young Teach for America based work force---imagination among Louisiana educators has been necessary since Governor Jindal invites more business lobbyist and out-of-state investors than teachers and educational experts to meetings about our future. Louisiana has a contract with Teach for America essentially guaranteeing its members teaching jobs in Louisiana schools. Rhee’s second money-generating nonprofit organization, Students First, is very well funded and functions as a super PAC targeting local and state school elections to help promote charter schools. Rhee recently stated that she wanted to raise one billion dollars for Students First---a statement indicative of an intention to be the first ‘billionaire educator’ more than improving student achievement and far from the notion of actually putting students first.
STATUS: System in turmoil after charter school ‘reform’ experiment failed to produce the results promised to the public and stakeholders even with the benefit of lessons learned in other urban areas like NYC. Is there too much kryptonite in the Potomac?

There is a definite pattern to the charter school reform model. First, rewrite the rules of governance so one powerful individual can make all decisions very quickly (usually through the office of a newly elected urban mayor); then, fire a significant number of teachers to create an artificial emergency teacher shortage; next, pick up the phone and hire Teach for America recruits; then, send them through Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project to train batches of inexperienced neophytes. Finally, mention Harvard University enough to lessen concerns about the mass teacher extermination while altering the accountability system to constrict traditional schools with laborious regulations and strenuous unfunded mandates while many charter schools enjoy the freedoms of a pre-NCLB era in education. But why? The reason most certainly is not a lack of funding for charter schools. According to Rupert Murdoch, “…education is a goldmine...”. Plus, investors are plentiful and are anxious to ante up. Well-financed foundations exist to promote the need for charter schools. The Jeb Bush sponsored organization, the Foundation for Excellence for Education, refers to a select group of current and former system leaders as "Chiefs for Change" with none other than Louisiana's very own Paul Pastorek providing some very interesting sound bites from the dais. Beginning with Pastorek’s Napoleonic sounding introductory address at 9:54 (all times given are approximations, in minutes), he gives us the aforementioned, “Break up the monopoly!”, mantra by channeling Rupert Murdock, who was the keynote speaker for the foundation’s conference, at which Pastorek spoke freely about his experience in Louisiana.

Beginning @11:15  “…. (educating children) is not a right…” as part of an explanation of his pro competition philosophy in regards to public education.
Beginning @42:00  Explains why compromise is wrong. Encourages others not to compromise either.
And between 43:30 and 61:40  Pastorek manages to: tout his own performance; rant in an even more Napoleonic sounding fashion while giving reasons why he thinks he is not divisive, yet admits to a legacy of being divisive while working in Louisiana as superintendent; accuses Louisiana educators of being lying hypocrites since, despite educators across the state repeatedly telling him all students can learn, his trans-cerebral abilities convince him that public school teachers really don’t believe all students can learn; blame poor classroom teachers for the lack of parental involvement in schools; remind his cohort on stage that they wouldn’t want to attend some public schools in Louisiana either. The final blow comes when he disingenuously excuses talking about his state so much by offering his intentions for mentioning Louisiana so frequently not by citing an overwhelming sense of pride, but rather by hoping those present will benefit from the stories he shared.
{Watch the video: http://wpc.230d.edgecastcdn.net/00230D/august2/fee/webcast/index.html (click “Chiefs for Change”)}

To be an educational leader, it takes more than a willingness to fire teachers en masse while blaming unions and tenure policy when both are doing exactly what they were designed to do---afford protection from the ill-intended. It is obvious to me, the charter school reform movement is led by those that believe in the fallacy, If you can’t do, teach. More frightening is their approach, which I describe as---If you can’t teach, DESTROY the profession!
Click here to see; TABLE 1: BRIEF HISTORY OF NEW YORK SCHOOL CHANCELLORS SINCE 2000

About the author: Bryan P. Alleman is a life-long resident of Louisiana and a certified math teacher, school and district administrator. He lives and works in Crowley, LA and may be reached via email, balleman@acadia.k12.la.us .

47 comments:

Bryan Alleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Alleman said...

Lawyers do teaching & learning better than certified educators??? Why has our Governor supported unlicensed and hardly trained people to LA's top education job of Superintendent?

Would you expect to see an architect taking the place of your family doctor? Does it make sense for any profession to rely on untrained people to lead the field?

Why is our Gov. experimenting with our state, our children's future? If we are in the emergency he claims with stakes so high, shouldn't he start by appointing experienced professionals?

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget about some other connections:
Rayne Martin - Chicago (Paul Vallas)
Elizabeth Shaw - Chicago; Philadelphia (Paul Vallas)

Both of those persons ended up at state DOE after coming from RSD. Neither had the experience nor education acumen to do the job at hand. In fact, the areas they worked in are in a worse state than prior to their arrival.

Bryan Alleman said...

Anonymous,

If I'm not mistaken, I believe Ms. Shaw was over the dept titled, "HUMAN CAPITAL", right? That dept didn't always have that name either, if memory servers me....do you recall?

And thanks for the reminder on the other connections. Ms. Shaw's dad was Vallas' campaign manager for his attempt at Gov. of IL. He lost to Rob Blagoyovitch(not spelled correctly)....yes, the guy that sold President Obama's vacant seat in the Senate.

Anonymous said...

The Office of Educator Support (OES) was changed to the Office of Innovation. Rayne Martin was the Chief and Elizabeth Shaw was the over Human Capital office which encompasses Educator Support & Evaluation (Act 54/Compass and TAP) and Certification. Previously, OES had an Assistant Superintendent which is the position Shaw took. Once the Dept. was reorganized w/ Chiefs (so that Martin could take the position though she didn't qualify) the titles were kinda muddy and there was a definite power struggle.

All in all, Shaw and Martin made some inadvertent hires, spent a lot of taxpayer dollars on failed contracts, and now both of them are gone. Just terrible for our educational system. So much money and time wasted.

Bryan Alleman said...

I guess they were 'calling a spade a spade' by changing from the OFFICE OF EDUCATOR SUPPORT to HUMAN CAPITAL. The tone and the nomenclature is now one that makes educators fearful rather than feel supported by there state.

Will B said...

Thanks for offering this, Bryan. Crisis management as an entry point for the privatization of the public sphere is an old neo-conservative trope, largely developed by Friedman, and expounded upon thorughly in "The Shock Dotrine" by Naomi Klein. Rather than putting professionals in place to assess the state's needs and balance those against resources avalable, we've put venture capitalists into state administrative positions who can then turn over these public dollars and the public trust over to provate interests, who an reward their loyalty in various and sundry (read:hard to track and non-taxable) ways. So long as peoeple believe in this manufactured crisis, even against their own ability to judge their own best interests, we'll ccontinue to elect representatives who'll not only push for this to happen, but stand idly by as it does.

Bryan Alleman said...

You are welcome Will B...thanks for reading and sharing your perspective. Woven throughout this whole manufactured crisis is the unquenchable desire for cheap labor----no wonder why they are trying to portray unions (and the teachers they protect) as bad entities. A 20- or 30-year veteran is seen only as a financial expense instead of a cognitive & community asset.

Anonymous said...

True, about the change int he name. The Office of Educator Support, at one point, provided various types of support to educators across the state. The office included professional development, certification, and LaTAPP. All examples of ways the office supported the educator in becoming a better, more informed educator. That no longer is happening. Human Capital is more about compliance and, to me, catching the teacher doing something wrong (i.e., not performing up to a random standard).

Our state education office is not a place to turn for support anymore.

Bryan Alleman said...

EVERYONE...did you click to see the video I referenced in the essay with Paul Pastorek speaking about LA? If not, please take a couple of minutes and hop to the minutes markers I list towards the end of the essay----after you actually hear him, his words and tone about education it becomes clear that this is not about student achievement; its about promoting those who are willing to profit from the destruction of public education.

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