Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Call to Action for Educators and Parents

Educators and Parents: There is a Lot You Can Do to Stop the Destruction of Public Education

I am encouraging professional educators and parents who believe in the welfare and success of our public schools to participate in efforts to defend our schools and our educators.

You probably have seen this appeal before. I often ask my readers to participate in the Defenders of Public Education email system, but if you have not acted yet, I am begging you to take the first step today! No, don't put it off till tomorrow. All you have to do right now is to send an email to me at louisianaeducator@gmail.com, and include your zip code and preferred email address. Just say "add me to the Defenders" and I will immediately add you to our Defenders email list so that you can get timely notices of important actions by BESE and the legislature that have an impact on our public schools and your rights as educators and parents to properly manage our public schools. Here are several reasons why you need to act now:
  • Right now both parents and educators need to be very much involved in opposing the abuse and overuse of standardized testing in our schools. The Common Core fiasco just emphasizes how important it is that we push back to restore sanity to our curriculum and our education priorities. There will be major legislation on these matters coming up in the Spring legislative session, and we will keep you informed so that you can contact your legislators.
  • Various school privatizers, charter school advocates and profit making charter entrepreneurs have dedicated millions of dollars (much of it is really our tax dollars) to pushing for more for-profit privatizing of our public schools so that they can skim big profits from questionable charter and voucher operations. Much of this war chest goes to supporting the election of legislators and BESE members who are committed to more and more privatization of our public schools, and to minimum regulation of the operators and their use of our taxes. If they continue to be successful, it will soon be too late to reverse course no matter how much damage is done to the educational system. In politics money often takes precedence over good government.
  • The proliferation of charter schools is not only taking control of our schools away from parents and taxpayers, it is also systematically destroying job security, and salaries and benefits for public school educators. Almost all new charters that take over existing schools refuse to continue employing experienced and qualified teachers because they can make much more profit by hiring brand new minimally qualified college graduates and TFA corps members. Governor Jindal's Act 2 of 2012 has removed the requirement that teachers in charter schools be certified teachers. 
  • The growth of charter schools directly erode the teacher retirement system because the legislature has exempted charter operators from paying into the retirement system. This saves charter operators about 25% of payroll which they can then use for profit and to buy more legislators. Meanwhile the loss of funding for the retirement system endangers the benefits that professional educators have earned by their service to children. Here are two recent news stories that attack the teacher retirement system. This one is by Caroline Shirley Roemer, the Executive Director of the Charter School Association, and the other is an opinion piece by a NOLA editor. Both are loaded with inaccurate information about the cause and cost of the system. This is contradicted by this article by Kevin Pearson, chairman of the retirement committee. The critical issue is this: The teacher retirement system is one of the main incentives for persons to devote their careers to education (other than the love of teaching and children) and it is critical that it is protected from these attacks.
  • If it were really true that charter schools offer parents a real opportunity to improve the education of their children and a real choice of a better school, I would be the first to say we need to give them a chance to offer that alternative. But I have spent many hours of research comparing the performance of all charter schools in the state with comparable public schools and I constantly find that they produce an inferior education compared to the real public schools, they are much more prone to corruption, skimming of tax dollars, and reducing the curriculum to simply test teaching. This is just not right for our children.
  • The evidence shows that the voucher schools (private schools that get "scholarship" money from our tax dollars so that public school students can attend) have done a terrible job for those students who have been enticed to transfer. The statistics show that most of these students perform worse in their new voucher schools than they would have in their C, D or F rated public school. Whats more, there have been several scandals about unscrupulous voucher operators who pocket our tax dollars.
  • The most dangerous new privatizers are what I call the predatory charter schools. Jindal's Act 2 of 2012 allows charter operators to appeal directly to BESE or to new Charter Authorizers to approve new charters that can draw students from any of our public schools. These predatory charters purposely locate in more affluent areas, often refuse to provide transportation, and use their discipline policies to remove disruptive and low performing students. All of these actions are designed to attract the more capable students and to dump low performers into the real public schools. This allows the predatory charter operators to get respectable ratings from the state based on testing. This is unfair, rigged competition and is corrosive to our public schools and deprives our public schools of tax dollars while it requires them to educate the most challenging and expensive to educate students.
  • Finally, Louisiana now has two privately run virtual charter schools that can steal students from any public school, that does not have a mandatory attendance requirement (because roll is not taken on online courses), and that use advertising to attract their students. No one really monitors these schools and because they have no buildings, no transportation, no retirement system, no libraries, no lab equipment, no PE, no music, etc, etc. yet they get 90% of the MFP, they are huge profit makers, with our tax dollars! This is worse than a Ponzi Scheme perpetrated on all Louisiana taxpayers.
Parents, taxpayers and educators should join our Defenders of Public Education because we will keep you informed of how to counteract these serious challenges to our public schools.

The attacks on the teaching profession are numerous and must be addressed by educators themselves. That's why the Defenders email system has focused recently on correcting the major problems with VAM and with COMPASS. We are also finding that the new merit pay system for teachers is a travesty. In some parishes that canceled step increases so that they could fund the merit pay, a teacher who is rated highly effective every year and qualifies for the maximum merit pay still takes home less than she/he would have gotten under the original salary schedule. This has been aggravated by the fact that Jindal did not fund one penny of the new merit pay system. Meanwhile teachers have lost all seniority rights, and teachers of the basic skills subjects are the most at risk of getting bad evaluations, and are least likely to benefit from merit pay. Teachers need to band together and fight back or these atrocities will only get worse!

For professional educators, I have one more piece of advice in addition to participating in the Defenders email system. Join your union or professional organization (whatever you prefer to call it)! Teachers have a choice of LAE and LFT, principals and supervisors have the Louisiana Association of Principals and LASE. With the attacks on the profession it is just not enough to participate in our Defenders email system. It takes money to fight with lawsuits and other organizing efforts, so don't skimp on your participation. And beware of groups that call themselves professional organizations but that have supported almost every destructive reform pushed by Jindal, LABI and the charter/voucher groups.

I don't know how I can make it any clearer. Please act today.

 

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read your blog regularly and agree with you on most of the issues you write about. However, I do feel the need to correct your information pertaining to virtual charter schools. Yes, there are 2 of them in Louisiana- Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, and Louisiana Connections Academy. Both of them serve Louisiana student in grades K-12. Both of the schools do use public school funding. I have been teaching at Louisiana Connections Academy for three years now, so I know firsthand exactly why these schools are needed in Louisiana, the nature of our student population, how we operate, and exactly what courses we offer.
1) Taking attendance is a tricky issue, but it IS done. This has been our number one struggle as a school, but we are working hard to improve it. We now have a metrics system in place that lines up students' weekly attendance hours with their lesson completion. A parent cannot simply enter 30 attendance hours for a week if their child has only completed 4 lessons. When the numbers don't match up, that student goes into "alarm" which flags our attendance coordinator. The attendance coordinator then sends a truancy notice to the parent of that child. Parents have been arrested for truancy from abusing our system.
2) Only Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (AKA K-12) uses advertising to attract student. Louisiana Connections Academy does not advertise. My school attracts students via word of mouth and some marketing events, but we do not funding to advertise in expensive ways such as television commercials.
3) We do have an office building. Students and parents are welcome to come visit us at any time to meet their teachers face-to-face. Students come to our office regularly to receive one-on-one assistance from our teachers. Our teachers also travel across the state regularly for field trips to meet students, Math Labs, Literacy Events, Open House, and to administer all the same state tests as a traditional public school. We go to great strides to develop real relationships with our families and regularly communicate via phone calls, Live Lessons (the virtual classroom), and of course emails. In fact, I do far more one-on-one teaching at Louisiana Connections Academy than I did when I taught in a traditional public school.

Anonymous said...

4) We DO offer a large variety of elective courses. Health and PE is actually a REQUIRED course. Our Art and Music classes are very challenging. Students regularly submit portfolios to their teachers for these classes.
5) Louisiana Connections serves an extremely diverse population. There is a dire need to provide a virtual school for these students. Families come to us with heart-breaking stories that bring us to tears. We teach students who have been severely bullied in their previous schools. We teach students with serious health issues and compromised immune systems. We also teach serious athletes, artists, and musicians who need the flexibility of our program to complete lessons during the evening hours rather than morning and afternoon.
Please consider visiting our school in person. Our teachers do work from home part time, but you can find teachers on any given day at our office location. I know from previous communications with you that you are passionate about doing what is best for the children and teachers in Louisiana. I encourage you to come to our office location on any given school day and talk to our teachers. Ask them questions. Observe a Live Lesson. Our address is 4664 Jamestown Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA. The front office is on the first floor, and our teachers are on the fourth floor. After you see what really happens at Louisiana Connections Academy and gather correct information regarding our program, you may find that you change your mind about whether or not our school is needed.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

One last correction. We DO have a science lab at our office. The science teachers use the lab for their Live Lessons. Instead of a traditional library, we frequently give away books for students to read leisurely. We offer them books when they visit us at the office, and at events we travel for.
I cannot speak for Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (K-12) because I do not teach there. However, MY school- Louisiana Connections Academy- is definitely a REAL school.
Thanks again.

Michael Deshotels said...

To anonymous: I am sorry that today is the first time I saw this comment. I am impressed by the information you provide and I would very much like to visit the Connections Academy. I will make contact with the school in the near future.
Connections does advertise very aggressively using email contacts with persons who inquire and by getting email lists from various sources. I got on one of their email lists by accident and was virtually harassed to enroll my child. Someone has to be paid to do all this work, and I fear that the money saved by not having buildings and transportation etc. is used to recruit.

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