Saturday, May 25, 2013

Public School Opponents May be Sabotaging Efforts to Reform the Reforms

Several bills have been slowly moving through the legislature with the intent of restoring sanity to public education reform. But the critics and opponents of public education are still intent on protecting their ill advised "reforms" without corrections no matter what.

The leaders of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) with the support of A+PEL, have had their hearts set on seeing a significant number of teachers fired based on student test scores. They want that process to start this year even if it is defective. Apparently LABI leaders do not care that the new VAM has a 74% error rate in identifying ineffective teachers and that teachers getting just one such bad evaluation resulting from VAM would immediately be stigmatized. They know that the VAM was never intended to rate teachers as "ineffective" based on only one year of data. LABI leaders are well aware of the "Seabaugh solution" that will exempt certain politically connected teachers from the stigma of an ineffective VAM score. They are well aware that the law protecting teachers from having their VAM scores revealed to outsiders has apparently already been violated by persons close to Superintendent John White. LABI leaders are also aware of the fact that many other groups of teachers have good cause to challenge the new evaluation system as being inaccurate for their specialty. They know that the training for implementation of COMPASS has been ineffective and produces wildly different results by different evaluators observing the same teacher. Yet LABI leaders are determined to use the new flawed evaluation system to start the process of firing teachers this year. This may be the reason why the Senate Education Committee is dragging its feet in hearing HB 160 by Reynolds. But the bill is scheduled to be heard this Thursday, May 30! Educators need to be there to have their concerns heard.

Another critical bill also being delayed is HB 466 by Representative Havard. This bill would prevent Superintendent White from implementing his new school grading system this year which includes such controversial components as the ACT, and which would drop student attendance as a factor while adding bonus points based on a VAM system, different from the one used to evaluate teachers. I want to remind my readers that I and many other educators believe that even the old letter grading system is very unfair because it is mostly influenced by poverty. However, most educators are also suggesting that it is time the LDOE stop changing the rules and targets schools are supposed to attain in order to improve their ratings by the state. But again Jindal, LABI and the astro turf groups created recently to attack public education apparently see an artificial  lowering of school letter grades as another opportunity to push for more privatization.

With major unfunded mandates to public school systems growing each year, the Governor and Superintendent White continue to freeze funding to public schools while funding the growth of questionable voucher schools and course choice programs without legislative approval. Their obvious objective is to create a growing constituency for these non-accountable privatization efforts as a way of ensuring their survival and growth in the coming years. LEAP results from this year's vouchers are pitiful, yet legislators are still behaving as though they have no authority to rein in White's continued expansion of vouchers. Why is there no limit being put on the expansion of voucher schools until there is some evidence that they actually educate students?

 The blog Louisiana Voice has printed several posts exposing the massive fraud that is called course choice. Tom Aswell sent an email recently to all members of the House and Senate Education Committees and requested to know what action did these legislators plan to take to investigate the apparently fraudulent course choice enrollment practices. According to Aswell, only one responded with a non-committal reply. White has just announced that he will fund a limited number of course choice programs using DOE and BESE funds apparently without legislative approval. My question is will the questionable course choice recruitment by out of state providers take precedence over the legitimate courses being offered by our state colleges and school systems for this limited funding?

So with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, it seems quite possible that the flawed Act 54 evaluation system may still go into full effect starting the damage to teachers' careers, that the new school letter grading system may still be implemented, and that the expansion of vouchers and course choice rip offs will be continued.

If you agree with me that these results of the 2013 legislative session would be outrageous and amount to a continued attack on professional educators and public schools, please contact both of your legislators now and request the following:

1. Ask Senators to vote "yes" for HB 160 delaying the punitive application of the Act 54 evaluation system.

2. Ask Senators to vote "yes" for HB 466, retaining the 2011-12 system of school grades and requiring legislative approval of any future changes.

3. Ask Senators to vote "yes" for HB 115, the reverse parent trigger that would allow schools to be taken back from the RSD.

4. Ask all legislators to allow no expansion of funding of vouchers or Course Choice without specific approval of the legislature and only after evidence that such programs are educationally sound.

The legislature has the responsibility of cleaning up the mess they created last year when they approved the Jindal reforms over the objection public school educators.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to meet at approximately 10:00 am, Thursday, May 30. I am encouraging educators to attend this committee hearing and put in green cards (support cards) for both HB 160, HB 466 and HB 115. I believe that HB 650 allowing a major reorganization of the DOE is also scheduled. Many educators are filling out red cards on this one because we do not trust any reorganization White may be planning. Autism parent advocates are opposing the bill because of the removal of a major position supporting autism education.

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