Thursday, March 20, 2014

Update on Student Privacy Legislation

Most of the discussion in the House Education Committee Wednesday centered on Representative Schroeder's HB 946 on student data privacy. The committee heard emotional testimony from parents from all parts of the state who were appalled that State Superintendent John White had agreed to hand over much critical private student data with the ID of such students to private data collectors and to the Louisiana Workforce Commission.  These parents were angry that such private information could have been mishandled by the DOE and that parents were never consulted over the data use.  It was also pointed out that the Federal FERPA regulations have been changed by the OBama administration to allow extensive student data sharing without parent permission.

Things got muddied up when John White warned the committee members that Louisiana may lose significant federal funding if certain data was not collected and provided to federal authorities. Schroeder explained that he had not been shown any federal or state laws that required such data to contain traceable student IDs. Everyone agreed to try to iron out the problems and continue debate on the bill next Wednesday. It does look like the parents made their case quite effectively and that the Education Committee will approve a student privacy bill.

School Takeover Does Not Work!

Patrick Dobbard and John White know very well that school takeover by the state does not work. But it got so obvious to everyone else that they are now returning schools taken over in Pointe Coupee and St Helena back to their local school boards. This development runs completely contrary to the continuing policy of Arne Duncan, Bobby Jindal, and all the privatizers who want to continue school takeovers and closures as a way of letting “entrepreneurs” and con artists make a buck on the backs of our students and teachers. The experiment has failed but it is still profitable for some so the exploitation of children continues.

The takeover history of Coupee Central high school was a study in how not to manage a school as conditions went from bad to worse with only about a third of parents still willing to send their children to the educational hell hole this school has become. Eyewitnesses in recent years visiting Pointe Coupee Central have described classrooms with students running wild, computers and educational equipment vandalized and a general disregard for the purpose of education. Student enrollment has dropped to only 185 students from an enrollment of more than 549 before takeover. Almost none of the graduates of Pointe Coupee Central have even attempted college. Many teachers are demoralized by the frequent changes in administration and lack of support for discipline and order.

Flush with Gates Foundation and junk bond Milkin/Federal grant money, the charter management organization Advance Baton Rouge thought it had a secret formula for school turnaround. An elite group of TFA corps members would infuse the students with their “high expectation” magic and soon all students would be graduating and moving on to Ivy League colleges. Instead the academic environment of the school fell victim to the incompetence of amateur educators and the public was never informed what happened to the millions of grant money.

The same thing happened to the 8 schools taken over in Baton Rouge and the one in St Helena. But the RSD is not returning the schools taken over in Baton Rouge. The local chamber of Commerce is supporting a new Achievement zone to be run by a new group of charter managers with millions of dollars of extra funding from foundations. You see, the big foundations would never put money into traditional schools. Instead the state has also taken over Istrouma High school and ended up closing the school that educated thousands of solid citizens over its long history and will again uproot another group of struggling students.

It turns out that our traditional schools that are run by experienced administrators and dedicated career teachers are the best hope for high poverty at risk student populations. Livonia High School run by the Pointe Coupee parish school board has made good progress.  In addition the most recent analysis by Herb Bassett using official state collected data has demonstrated that low performing sub groups last year actually progressed more when they attended so called “D” schools than when they attended "B" schools. You see most people don't understand that the letter grade rating of a school is much more an indication of the size of the “at risk” population of a school than the quality of instruction provided by the teachers. That is what is so unfair about our current system of school letter grades.

As I have pointed out in this blog before, the really dangerous charters are those I call predatory charters. These are charter schools now being approved by BESE over the objection of our local school boards whose method of operation is to try to attract the highest performing students from a local area. They cull out low performers by requiring parents to agree to do school volunteer work and by enforcing strict discipline codes that allow them to dump low performing students back into the local public school system. Examples are the new charter schools in the Baker and Iberville areas recently approved by BESE without input from local taxpayers. These charter management organizations are allowed to pocket a profit from our tax dollars while providing a cut rate educational program. Such charter groups don't have to worry about being subjected to special audits by our DOE to check to see if they are lying about their dropout rate or their efforts to cull out low performers.  Over time such predatory charters could drain local school systems of critical funding while severely damaging the state teacher retirement system. Such schools often do not participate in the retirement system and shift the unfunded liability to our public schools.


Ann Edwards said...

I got excited when I read about "special audits". I thought maybe there was a good tool to see if charters where performing! But then I saw it was a punitive audit to punish East Baton Rouge Parish and try to dig for dirt. So disappointed!

Thanks for the story.

Debbie Meaux said...

Mike, thank you for the public service you perform through your blog. You bring truth to the lies of Jindal, White, and BESE. It often feels as though we are small voices in the wildness, but I believe that every single one of us plays an important part in making sure that the truth comes out and that collectively we can and will make a difference. Thank you! Debbie Meaux