Happy New Year!
We need to work very hard to insure that 2014 will be a better year for our public schools.I just came across this article about the Walton Family Foundation beefing up their efforts to promote vouchers. It made me wonder: "What business do the Walton heirs have in trying to dictate that we should spend public tax money on private schools?" This story and other reports like it caused me to reassess my shopping habits at Wal Mart.
We keep hearing about how vouchers help low income kids to escape failing schools. This article in the Advocate shows that such an assumption is highly questionable.
Almost everything we know about the Jindal/White voucher program in Louisiana demonstrates that it is basically a hoax perpetrated on Louisiana taxpayers and parents of some of our most at risk students. The New Living Word voucher school was so blatantly fraudulent that even John White was forced to admit that it should not continue. But that did not prevent dozens of other highly questionable schools, as indicated by the recent state audit from continuing to pad their budgets using voucher money. New Living Word and others like it, demonstrate clearly that just giving parents a "choice" of what to do with our tax money is not anything close to school reform!
We need once more to address this bogus term "failing school" used by the reformers to condemn many of our good public schools. Jindal has expanded the definition to include all public schools that are rated F, D, and C by the John White school rating system. As was brilliantly demonstrated by Noel Hammatt, in the excellent article, Why Schools Fail or What if Failing Schools Aren't, such schools are usually far from failing in their services to students. There is no evidence whatsoever in White's rating system that students in F, D, and C schools are not receiving excellent instruction in such schools. In fact, the most recent analysis by Herb Bassett of accountability and school grading for the 2012-13 school year, provides remarkable evidence that such schools are demonstrating better results with at risk students than are the A and B schools. The state audit finds that there is no evidence that the voucher students are performing any better than they were at their old schools.
The problem is that the school grading system which was sold to Louisiana by former Florida governor turned "reformer expert", Jeb Bush, is totally misleading and unfair to our public schools. As demonstrated by Hammatt, all the grading system does is tell us which schools are serving our most challenged student populations. There is no better example of this phenomenon than the grades assigned to the Schools for the Deaf and Visually Impaired. (These schools are run directly by John White's DOE) It was pointed out recently at a BESE meeting that these two schools are always rated F by the John White grading system. Yet it is completely obvious that this is because of the high proportion of students with severe disabilities served by these two schools. This is also true of all of our alternative schools across the state. It is just wrong and unfair to the dedicated professionals serving these students to label their schools as F schools.
But some people in other parts of the country are finally coming to their senses. I think it is great news that Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York City has announced the elimination of this grading system for the public schools in his city. Why can't Louisiana for once follow an example of positive school reform?
But my most important point here is that it is wrong to use this flawed grading system as an excuse for sending our public school students to many substandard private schools. This whole scheme makes a mockery of the concept of school choice.