Monday, March 4, 2013

What Do Real Edcuators Think About the Jindal Reforms?

The recent LAE forums across the state highlighted much of the frustration teachers feel about the Jindal reforms, but also demonstrated the high level of professionalism and dedication of Louisiana teachers. I interviewed Ouachita Parish teacher, April Stockley after she made comments directed at local legislators at the forum in West Monroe.

Ms Stockley, a 15 year veteran teacher who possesses National Board Certification, told the local legislators attending the Monroe forum that they should not have approved these sweeping mandates without first consulting classroom teachers. She said many of the most respected teachers she knew were feeling extremely stressed out by some of the so called reforms that seemed to be poorly thought out and rushed. Many teachers feel that the state mandates are not being clearly communicated to the teachers in the field because state officials are unclear in their instructions to local supervisors.

For example Stockley who teachers high school English III and A.P. U.S. History, was informed that she needed to set her Student Learning Targets (SLTs) so as to expect 70% of her students to reach proficiency by the end of the year. This goal was strongly recommended to her even though the new evaluation plan specifies that SLTs are to be determined through consultation between the principal and the teacher each year based on various factors including student characteristics. Apparently someone from the sate level simply recommended the 70% as a model goal. But in describing her classes this year, Stockley said that her classes contained an increased number of students with disabilities and several students who were no longer living at home and who were not in a stable learning environment. She states: “These types of conditions and numerous others, unrelated to the classroom can negatively impact learning and test scores for which teachers are still held accountable in the eyes of the LDOE even though we have no control over such circumstances.” Yet apparently the state expects sort of a pre-set performance from all such classes. That's the kind of frustrating uncertainty faced by many teachers according to Stockley.

Stockley who believes in challenging her students to achieve at very high levels, nevertheless worries that many students who are not college bound will be unfairly punished or may be more likely to drop out because of the new common core standards and push towards college readiness for all. The state superintendent has made clear that the new standards are weighted to stress more college prep level work. She stated that she felt many such students would benefit more from the career diploma than from the typical college prep. curriculum. She estimated that even though her high school recently became an “A” rated school, a growing number of her students are revealing a reluctance to attend a traditional college largely due to economic reasons: rising prices in college tuitions/costs coupled with the greater need to earn more money quickly through trade schools and working in the oil and gas industry. Such students, in her opinion, would be better and more immediately served through certifications and hands-on experiences offered through the career diploma, which would also spur greater interest in attending and succeeding in school courses as opposed to the college-prep track.
(Senator Bob Kostelka, who was in attendance at the forum was one of the authors of the legislation creating the career diploma just 3 years ago. That legislation was proposed only after much consultation with local superintendents and other educators. But apparently that was not considered "reform" enough by the Jindal administration. Many educators believe the career diploma is under utilized and will be further pushed aside by the new common core requirements.) 

“There are so many unknowns with so many changes in education policy being implemented at the same time, that we don't know if our students will benefit or be harmed”, Stockley said. “Our administrators don't seem to have clear directives from the state and the rules seem to change from day to day. Most teachers are not afraid of evaluation or accountability but feel that their careers are being endangered by these poorly planned reforms.”

“One of the changes teachers question is the rushed approval of voucher schools and course choice programs that will draw students and funding away from public schools even though it is clear there will be little state oversight and almost no accountability for such programs. Teachers believe this represents an unacceptable double standard”

My discussions with Stockley and many other dedicated teachers leads me to the conclusion that Jindal and the Legislature have missed a great opportunity by not consulting our experienced professional educators before launching some potentially harmful changes. But then I believe the motives of the reformers were more political than educational. I hope the so-called reforms don't drive away teachers like Ms Stockley. Our students need such teachers much more than any of these “bold” reforms!

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