Wednesday, July 25, 2012

BESE Approves Whitewash on Voucher Accountability

Yesterday BESE approved the so called “accountability” rules developed by Superintendent White for private schools accepting public school voucher students under the Act 2 legislation. This was just a formality since White had been given sole authority by the legislature to make the rules. As I have pointed out before, BESE has become irrelevant since it has become clear that all but two of the members are firmly under the direction of Jindal and his hand picked superintendent. But the meeting was valuable in that it allowed members of the public and representatives of education organizations to point out the many flaws and areas of non-accountability in the rules. Click here to see the Reuters new story on this issue and compare it to the Advocte support for the Whitewash.

One of the most important criticisms of the accountability rules for voucher schools pointed out by several speakers is that they are not truly rules since the policy allows the state superintendent to waive them or make exceptions to the rules. The only real potential for the accountability rules is that they provide for the continued testing of voucher students and the reporting of results to the state (but that was already in state law). In addition, for some voucher schools, the state will calculate a Scholarship Cohort Index (SCI) which will be similar to the School Performance Score (SPS) which is now published for all pubic schools. Voucher schools with an SCI below 50 would not be allowed to accept new voucher students in succeeding years. Unfortunately, many of the schools will not have SCI scores and no public reports because they enroll fewer than 10 voucher students in a grade or fewer than 40 voucher students overall. Others will not have scores at all because they will enroll most of their voucher students in grades K-2 initially.

Here are some of the important issues pointed out to BESE by various individuals and groups:

BESE members Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebie pointed out that BESE may not have followed their own rules for adoption of new policy in setting up the meeting on Tuesday. Adequate notice was not given of the new rules and publication rules for the new policy may not have been followed. Ms Hill and Ms Beebie should be commended for standing up to extreme pressure from the Governor and his allies and voting their conscience by voting “no” on White's voucher rules. They both pointed out that White's Rules did not amount to real accountability for the voucher schools.

It was also pointed out by members of the audience that some groups who were voucher supporters apparently got to review the rules before the public or even BESE did because they were quoted in the original press release from the Department announcing the new rules. Parent advocate from New Orleans Karan Harper Royal half jokingly said that in the future she wanted to be put on the list of persons who get “pre” notifications of new policies.

LAE Associate Executive Director, Wayne Free pointed out that there were no assurances to the public that voucher schools came anywhere near meeting state curriculum standards. He questioned the rule that allows the state superintendent to make changes in the rules pretty much at will and the fact that already one of the private-for-profit virtual charter schools was allowed to increase their enrollment by almost double even though student performance on state tests are far below state acceptable standards. The young science advocate Zack Kopplin pointed out that the religious voucher schools he checked into would be teaching all kinds of non-standard science curricula and various forms of creationism.

Scott Richard of the Louisiana School Boards Association pointed out that letter grades should also be assigned to voucher schools based on the performance of voucher students so that parents could have a measure similar to that used for public schools. He also informed the Board that many of the new voucher schools have not been approved by federal authorities as meeting Brumfield-Dodd standards for non-discrimination in enrollment of students. This would be a violation of federal desegregation rules that must now be followed by all public schools.

Donald Songy representing the Superintendent's Association said that since three fourths of the voucher schools will have no reports made to the public about their student performance (because they have been exempted by the White rules), at least the state could publish an aggregate SCI score for all voucher students so that the public could get an idea of the success of the program.

All of the valid recommendations above were ignored by BESE in accepting the Whitewash.

Just for Fun if you want to see how some teachers view the new trend of teaching the test go to: I think this youtube video/audio will become the official theme song for this blog.

Here's a button one of my readers sent me. Pleas use it any way you like:


Kathy said...

Will Sentell's coverage of yesterday's BESE meeting wasn't worth the space it took up in the Advocate. At least the Picayune did a bit better job. Reuter's as you pointed out was a bit more balanced. Without blogger's like you, those of us not in attendance wouldn't know what the hell really went on. Thanks for your keen observations and the sharing of points made. Proponents always seem to get the printed quotes. If the opponents are quoted they are invariably misinterpreted. As important as this issue is, both sides need equal space and time in the mainstream media.

robert trudeau said...

Today I wrote BESE this note:

James and the members of the board,

As a veteran Louisiana teacher I am disappointed in the state's turn toward the privatization of schools.
I feel that BESE might be able to judge whether charters and voucher-based schools are a productive avenue for upgrading student achievement.

Most important to me is that you find a way to ensure that standards for faculty and for reporting of student progress are uniform, regardless of school type.
- Teachers need to reach comparable standards of preparedness, regardless of school type.
- If voucher schools and charter schools are to be evaluated by the public, there should be a grid that presents a level playing field of information comparing new schools and the traditional schools.

If privatization works poorly I hope you will have a clear way of evaluating and acting upon the results.

Gov Jindal has fired some 11 administrators for their independence in the face of his dicta. Hope you will guide the state system with integrity rather than with terrible worry about dismissal.


Mr Garvey wrote back:

I share your concern regarding keeping (implementing) benchmarks for the schools that are participating in the voucher program. I believe that the rules that BESE approved yesterday will implement a good set of benchmarks by which we will be able to accurately judge whether the voucher schools are improving student achievement. The rules will require all schools to report to BESE all test results for all students.

I can assure you that we will use that information to weed out those schools that are not achieving the desired results.

I also agree with your sentiment that the BESE members should not be worried about, or focused on, possible dismissal by the Governor. I am not worried about, or focused on, that issue. My first duty is to try to improve the education of our children. When my opinion on how best to get that done is in agreement with the Governor's opinion, that is great, because we will get more accomplished if we can work together as a team. But, if working to achieve what I see as my duty gets me dismissed, then that is fine with me.

Jim Garvey

Anonymous said...

So Mr. Garvey feels the benchmarks are "good"?

Karla Kiper said...

Is there a way for parents of public school kids who will have to take high-stakes tests in the spring of 2013 can file a complaint or protest against the state setting up a taxpayer funded, parallel system of education (vouchers) where students do not have to meet the same high stakes performance standards to pass to grades 5th and 9th?