Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More Outrageous Education Deforms

Louisiana Supreme Court to Decide on Vouchers: The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear final arguments today on Louisiana's voucher and course choice programs. Those are the Jindal reforms that allow some public school students to get “scholarships” to attend private and religious schools or to take individual courses next year provided by various private groups. The Supreme Court has already received written briefs from both the plaintiffs and defendants of the voucher system and today will only hear limited oral arguments. There is concern among opponents of the voucher system that even though the constitution seems to clearly prohibit the use of the MFP for private schools, the election recently of a new Justice who campaigned on a conservative platform could sway the court against public school supporters.

In another development, new litigants have joined opponents and are challenging the vouchers on the grounds of separation of church and state. This story in the Monroe New Star points out that the ACLU and some religious groups are concerned that Louisiana's voucher program to religious schools is not only a violation of church and state but also has opened the door to many non-conventional religious groups receiving state aid to run their schools. If the Court agrees to consider this argument, we would have a much more powerful argument against religious school vouchers. The challenge to vouchers would no longer be limited to just the source of funding. My legislator who had voted for Act 2, woke up recently and expressed alarm that some Muslim groups who may want to get funding for Madrassa schools could possibly qualify for voucher funding. This is the Pandora's box you open up when you decide to use public money to fund vouchers to religious schools.

One of the bogus arguments for vouchers often expressed by BESE president Chas Roemer and others, is that parents should have the right to take their school tax money and use it for whatever schools they choose for their child. The basic flaw in this argument is that many of the parents who are qualifying for vouchers because of the public school their children attend, are not paying significant school taxes. Certainly not enough to fund their child's “scholarship”. The fact is that parents who are actually paying tuition to private schools are probably paying more than the average of public school taxes because they are wealthier and pay more property and other taxes. So with the structure of vouchers approved by the Jindal reforms, we have a situation where parents who pay tuition to send their children to private schools are also subsidizing funding for voucher parents.

But the reality is that most elite private schools allow only a limited number of voucher students if any, because they do not want to deal with too many low performing students. What we are seeing instead is the overnight growth of independent religious schools that will make their preachers rich by marketing to poor parents while providing a truly substandard education to the children.

Outrageous Merit pay Scheme Tried in New Orleans: You have got to read this article in the New Orleans Lens describing how a few teachers in a New Orleans charter school were awarded huge bonuses using our federal tax dollars. Arne Duncan apparently has not yet seen a merit pay scheme for teachers he is not willing to fund at least temporarily with federal grants. The idea apparently was to raise the performance score of this charter school by rewarding teachers who raised their student scores. But the plan was so poorly devised that it left out the one teacher who seemed to raise student performance the most. At the same time, the huge bonuses to just a few teachers is causing distrust among the entire faculty. After all this awarding of merit pay to improve the school performance, the school got an SPS of 75.8,  just barely above an "F" rating!
Diane Ravitch pointed out last week that even in a carefully designed merit pay system studied by Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee, it was found that the control group of teachers who were not given merit pay produced equivalent student performance when compared to the group eligible for merit pay.  Ravitch concluded that maybe this means that all of the teachers were doing their best with or without merit pay.

One of the flaws of teacher merit pay is that it assumes that teachers are somehow holding back on their best efforts and will only teach their best when they can get bonuses for higher student performance. One teacher was quoted as joking: “Yea sure, I have these fantastic lesson plans that I keep locked up until I get offered merit pay!”

Local School Reorganizations May be Illegal One of the newest schemes for reorganizing schools was pioneered in New Orleans by the Recovery School District under Director Paul Vallas. It consisted of the laying off of the entire teacher force after Katrina and then rebuilding the school system by rehiring mostly new teachers. Well Vallas is long gone now but those experienced teachers who were laid off recently won a court ruling that their layoffs were not valid and did not consider their tenure rights. Apparently the judge was convinced by the testimony that the layoffs amounted to mass firings and replacement of tenured teachers without due process. It is yet to be seen how this whole mess is going to be finally resolved.

The same thing on a smaller scale may be about to happen in Baton Rouge. The new Superintendent originally from Michigan who may not be familiar with the law in Louisiana is in cahoots with the RSD to reorganize some low performing schools to avoid state takeover. (The state has already failed spectacularly in all of the schools previously taken over in Baton Rouge but they are not giving them back and are using the thereat of more takeovers to force the EBR system to create more charters.) Superintendent Taylor has announced that when some schools are reorganized the entire faculty will have to reapply for their jobs with whoever is the new principal. Well I believe that if this process results in new teachers being brought in to take teaching positions resulting in the layoff of some of the tenured teachers, those teachers will have solid grounds for suing to get their jobs back.

Stay tuned to this blog to keep up with all the wacky schemes in Louisiana that pass as school reform!


Anonymous said...

In our legislators' haste to create change, they basically threw in the towel on public education. What do they plan to do with the students when these charters/vouchers "decide" in a few years to close, or restrict their voucher students, and the public schools have slashed budgets/services and can no longer accomodate the students? Not much "strategic planning" for the future with these deforms. You bring up the logical arguments for public tax dollars and voucher/charters...on teacher merit pay, they would be better served to offer higher pay for jobs teachers DON'T WANT in order to attract good teachers there. I'd leave my top 10 district for a bottom 10 district for double my present salary...but I'm certainly not going there with an inaccurate VAM model "deciding" if I'll get higher pay. That would be like correlating an off-shore drillers "high risk" pay with how much oil he directly gets pumped instead of correlating it to the actual risks he survives.

Anonymous said...

Another teacher movement by-product of these reforms (other than waiting on retirement, lack of new kids joining the profession) has been literally freezing teachers in their current jobs. I have a desire to move to a school/district with lower SPS than what I have now. But by switching districts, my current tenure becomes obselete and re-earning it becomes nearly impossible. Therefore, I am a teacher that would like to move to a more needy district, but have been frozen in place by these deforms. Also, when teachers must be rehired...the uncertainty of salary schedules and getting paid what we are "worth" anchors us into our current situation...good teachers like to "reinvent" themselves every 7-10 years...and this deform has all but halted that.

Anonymous said...

Everybody is frozen in place. We have teachers who are losing tenure because of moves to other parishes with husbands or wives career moves and several subs who were getting teaching degrees changed majors. We have a couple new schools being built around here. Teachers would love to move most because they would cut their drive in half or more but are afraid to because they fear changes in salary.