Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Congratulations to LFT; The Fight for Public Education Continues

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and its president Steve Monaghan deserve to be commended for an excellent legal challenge to Governor Jindal's Act 1 of 2012. Judge Caldwell agreed with the Federation claim that the new law was unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety because it addressed several subjects instead of the one issue per bill required by the Constitution.

Act 1 was a very bad law and should never have been enacted. In passing Act 1 the Governor had rammed through several very bad ideas that I believe would pretty much destroy teaching as a profession in Louisiana and have taken away the rights of voters to run their own local schools. It made a mockery of school choice. The following points will remind my readers of the destruction of teacher and parent rights embodied in Act 1.
  • Act 1 was designed to strip experienced teachers of the rights earned by a long and distinguished career in education. It would have invalidated all of a career teacher's many accomplishments, evaluation records, and seniority accumulated before 2013 based on one year of student test results. For many teachers it would have substituted an error prone value added score based on one test of student performance for years of successful and dedicated service. One test result could have invalidated a twenty year teacher's seniority and placed her/him first on a list for any layoffs. Just take another look at Herb Bassett's 5 minute video on the misuse of VAM. It could have frozen that teacher's salary and have removed all rights to due process in dismissal. Just one test in one year could pretty much destroy a teacher's reputation and career even if her/his principal totally disagreed that this teacher should be rated ineffective! This part of Act 1 was an insult to the entire teaching profession in Louisiana. (Clarification: This ruling does not nullify VAM or the COMPASS evaluation system which was created by Act 54 of 2010. If the ruling is upheld it will simply nullify some of the consequences of the new evaluation system. Those would include a state mandate that would have prevented seniority from being considered in layoffs, immediate revocation of tenure based on one ineffective evaluation, and the change to a new tenure system. Louisiana would revert to the old tenure law at this point.)
  • Act 1 also made a mockery of due process in the way that it changed the structure of the tenure law.  The new law stacked the hearing panel in favor of the administration and would have denied the teacher any appeals to the courts.  It deserved to be struck down based on its implied disrespect for the teaching profession. But it was not struck down because it is a bad law. It was struck down based on a technicality. It can be easily resurrected by a new bill in the legislature that could be introduced by the governor's puppets in this coming session!
  • In addition to disrespecting the teaching profession, Act 1 disrespected the rights of Louisiana voters. Act 1 would have allowed the State Superintendent to overrule the decisions of local voters when they elect their school board members. It would have prevented local school boards from voting on teacher employment and firings or to even give a teacher a hearing on a proposed dismissal or demotion. In some cases it would have allowed the State Superintendent to evaluate or even demand that a local superintendent be declared ineffective. This would be just as objectionable as the Federal Government taking over our schools or telling our elected officials how to manage our schools. Come to think of it, that is also already happening! What ever happened to the idea that the voters closer to a function of government should have the right to make decisions? What ever happened to school choice as determined by local voters in electing their school board members?
  • Act 1 also dictated to local school boards how to design their teacher salary schedules in a manner that would reward or punish teachers based on this same seriously flawed evaluation system. Local school boards while being faced with growing unfunded mandates from the state, have been forced to restructure their teacher salary schedules in a way that punishes teachers who had pursued higher degrees and National Board Certified status. The new law disrespects all efforts teachers in Louisiana have made over the years to enhance their knowledge of teaching and the profession and instead substitutes student performance on one test. 
If Caldwell's decision is upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, it will mean that all of the changes in state law brought about by Act 1 will be nullified. That would be a good thing for teachers and their students but Jindal is not about to back off. Judge Caldwell simply agreed with the LFT that such changes could not be made in one bill. But they could be proposed in separate bills. Educators must understand that the judge's ruling does not prevent the Legislature from making each of the changes embodied in Act 1 using new bills, maybe even in the coming legislative session.

My question to educators is: "Are we prepared to fight for the rights of teachers and for the survival of our profession, or will the teaching profession continue to be Jindal's whipping boy in his pursuit of higher office?"

If you have not yet done so, please consider joining my Defenders of Public Education Data Base, before the next legislative session begins. Just send me an email at louisianaeducator@gmail.com with the name of your State Senator and State Representative and your preferred email address. When issues come up in the legislature I will send you an email hopefully in time for you to communicate your wishes to your legislators. Only through coordinated action will we be successful in stopping these attacks on the profession and on public education.
Thanks,
Mike Deshotels



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