Friday, April 21, 2017

Parents and Teachers Deserve Better Reporting of Student Test Results

House Bill 203 was introduced in this legislative session to require that more helpful information be provided to teachers on the results of LEAP testing.

Important Notice: This link is to a survey on state testing being conducted by Ganey Arsement of the blog Educate Louisiana.  Please take just a few minutes to respond to this excellent survey!

This link to a petition concerning the reappointment of Superintendent John White is also being made available by Arsement.

The following is taken from a sample report provided on the LDOE website to teachers and parents on the English/language arts LEAP test taken last Spring:
"Your student scored 714 on a scale of 650 to 850, and performed at the Approaching Basic level. Students performing at this level will need significant support to be prepared for further studies in this content area."

The above statement is the first part of a sample report to parents on their child's performance on the English/language arts portion of last year's state testing. The reports provided to teachers on the performance of each student provides just a general rating on major components of the ELA test. A major problem with this report is that it was received at least two months into the new school year, which made it difficult for the child's teacher to address the significant support the student would need in order to improve his/her performance.

What does a score of 714 on a scale of 650 to 850 tell the parent or the teacher about the student's actual performance on the state test? Answer: Almost nothing!  Nothing in this one page report tells the parent that a score of 714 is considered a failing score! Instead the information on the report may  lead the parent to believe that the student is doing OK on most of the test, since a score of 714 out of 850 looks pretty good to most people. (714 is 84% of 850, but that's not the percentage of the questions the student got right)

Do you think the parent would be surprised to learn that a score of 714 on the state ELA test means that the student answered correctly on only 24% of the possible points on the test? This is a fact, revealed by a public records request I made last year. If you were the parent or the teacher, which score would be more useful to you in determining how much of the tested material the student got wrong on the test? The nebulous scale score of 714 out of a possible 850, or the raw score indicating that the student answered only 24% of the questions correctly? Right now the only way that a parent can find out the child's actual (raw) score on a state test is to make an appointment with the Department of Education and travel to Baton Rouge to view the student's test performance. Why is this information top secret? Why are parents being shielded from finding out their child's actual performance?

Later in the one-page report on the student's test performance, the parents and the teachers are told that the student scored three stars on literary text, two stars on informational text, and one star on vocabulary. The report tells us that three stars represents "strong performance", two stars represents "moderate performance", and one star represents "weak performance". We can infer from this report that the student needs to work on vocabulary or his/her recognition and knowledge of a larger number of words in the English language. But we still don't know which of the state standards for ELA the student answered incorrectly.

So what the the teacher is being told is that the student has a weak vocabulary, and needs more exposure to informational reading material. But the report tells us nothing about the student's reading comprehension, his/her writing skills, grammar, spelling, phonics skills, syntax, and understanding of many other state standards in the English/language arts curriculum.

What about providing a report to teachers identifying the standards that were actually tested on the Spring ELA test? What about informing teachers about how students across the state performed on the tested standards? Which standards may require more instruction and practice to improve our student scores for next year?

Out of a total of 32 anchor standards in ELA and several component standards under each anchor, the report to teachers and parents only references a few broad categories. How can such a report delivered late in the school year actually be of value to teachers? Why can't the LDOE and their testing company tell us exactly which standards the students missed and what percentage was that of the total possible points and what areas of ELA are presenting the most challenge to teachers and students? All of the above issues are important also concerning the math test results. Why does the state spend millions of dollars on state testing and still not inform the teachers any better than this about each student's strengths and weaknesses?

That's why we need to urge the legislature to vote "yes" on HB 203 by Representative Bagley. This bill would require that teachers receive a much more informative report on each child's performance on state Spring tests at the beginning of the next school year. Teachers would receive an item analysis on each test given to his/her students and a report on the student's raw score, or percentage of correct answers. The teacher would be able to see exactly which state standards the student missed on the state test and how students statewide performed on each standard tested. The teacher could see immediately which standards require extra attention in their teaching for the current school year.

Please ask your State Representative to vote "yes" on HB 203.

Friday, April 7, 2017

White's New School Accountability Plan . . . Guaranteed to Fail

The new Federal Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) which is replacing the failed No Child Left Behind law requires that each state submit an accountability plan to implement the new federal law.

Last week, BESE ignored the requests of most local superintendents and about 96% of the school principals and tentatively approved an accountability plan submitted by John White with some adjustments on a motion by BESE member Holly Boffy.

Only in Lake Wobegon are all students above average
I pointed out in my 3 minute presentation to BESE that the plan, even as amended, is seriously flawed. It will fail because it is based on the false premise that all students, no matter what their poverty level. no matter their cognitive and other disabilities can all achieve mastery on the state tests. Sure, there are fudge factors in the plan that are supposed to make allowances for low performing students, by allowing extra points for students who improve above their predicted VAM score. But in the end they are all supposed to end up performing above average. Not Possible!

This blog has provided readers with much evidence that demonstrates that the state test results are subject to manipulation to produce whatever results White and his testing company want. But that does not fool the outside observers who don't give credibility to Louisiana's inflated LEAP tests and end of course tests.

The proposed ESSA plan is in violation of state law which requires our state tests to be comparable in rigor to NAEP.
State law requires that our Louisiana state tests must be equivalent in rigor to national tests including the NAEP tests. John White has repeatedly claimed that our state tests are designed to be equivalent to NAEP, but the data shows something quite different. White claims that the performance of our students on LEAP at the Mastery level (level 4) or above is set by our testing company to be equivalent to the proficient level or above on NAEP. Here are the latest comparisons of Louisiana LEAP results to NAEP: (Click on the chart to enlarge it)

In all cases, Louisiana's LEAP results are highly inflated compared to the latest NAEP results.
But to make things worse, the LEAP results have been increasingly inflated in recent years.

Inflation of our state test results will not fool anyone in the long run, because NAEP is the real standard for state comparisons.
In 2003 our students were rated as preforming better on NAEP than on the LEAP test. By 2016, the results for LEAP had zoomed to a level much higher than the Louisiana results on the most recent NAEP test.

It is true that Louisiana students have improved on all parts of the NAEP since 2003, but this improvement is not dramatic considering all the resources and emphasis Louisiana has put into the incessant testing of students. Meanwhile, our school curriculum has been deformed, reducing the emphasis on other non-high stakes subjects. Vital instruction in health/physical education, social studies, the arts, music, and vocational education have been sacrificed so that students can spend more time in rehearsal for math and English tests. Our students are now less active, less healthy, and more obese than students a generation ago, yet our schools are doing nothing to address their real needs. Vocational education in high school has been decimated just at the time Louisiana industry is facing a  severe shortage of skilled workers for many high paying jobs. Louisiana is in the process of importing workers for the construction industry, for high paying plant jobs, and even the health care industry. Many of our current graduates seem to be prepared mostly for working at McDonald's and Popeye's.

I'll be honest and admit that I don't really understand the complex system White is proposing for calculating the school performance scores under the new ESSA plan. I rely on my friend and technical expert, Herb Bassett, to explain it to me. But since the plan is in flux based on the most recent actions of BESE, and may change more, no one really knows where this is heading.

LABI is apparently determined to trash our public school system
I do know one thing for sure. If Louisiana students are expected to perform at the mastery level on NAEP, many more of our schools will receive unreasonably low grades. John White is the fair haired boy of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). White and LABI are pushing hard for further ratcheting up the highly punitive system of grading our schools and our educators. What is the purpose of such harsh ratings for our schools? Will these ratings encourage business and industry to come to Louisiana?

We don't blame our doctors and hospitals if obese patients with diabetes refuse to diet and exercise, but we blame our teachers and schools if our underprivileged students don't excel in school.
We don't blame our doctors and hospitals because Louisiana has one of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease in the nation. If an obese patient refuses to lose weight and exercise, we don't blame his doctor, but we do insist on blaming teachers who teach our most at-risk students because those students don't perform at an above average level.

California does no better than Louisiana on national tests.
Just to demonstrate how unimportant these score comparisons really are for success of a state economy,  consider the fact that probably the most successful state economy is that of  California, whose students score at about the same level as Louisiana on national testing. That's not because their schools are bad. It's because they have just about the same proportion of high poverty and at-risk students as Louisiana. Their ranking on national tests has apparently no effect on the success of their economy.

California has a great economy for many reasons including the development of high tech companies and because the state has great natural resources which they know how to utilize. Louisiana has great natural resources because of the oil and chemical industries, yet our educational system fails to take advantage of this by preparing our students for jobs in the industries that are expanding in our state.  Our educational system has shifted emphasis away from career and vocational education just at the time that our industries have the greatest need for skilled workers. So why is LABI so determined to trash our educational system and blame it for the problems of our state? Their entire campaign is based on the false assumption that our teachers are lazy and incompetent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Louisiana education system could become a winner if we focused on our strengths instead of our weaknesses.
Louisiana will continue to be seen as a loser if we insist on comparing ourselves with other states that have more favorable demographics. We will always be seen as failures if our educational system continues to be skewed too much towards college prep and not enough toward practical education and high tech job training. What we are doing under the rule of John White and LABI is insanity! When will Louisiana take back its public education system from the clutches of non-educator reformers.

One thing you can and should do: Ask your State Senator to vote against the renewal of John White's contract, and insist that a real local educator be appointed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

John White's Plan for the Implementation of the New ESSA law should be rejected

Notice: Special BESE meeting for consideration of the Louisiana plan for the implementation of ESSA, Wednesday, March 29, 1:00 P. M.

John White is a one trick pony. He still believes that the only reason our students don't perform at a level of average or above on state tests is that the teachers are not teaching properly. He apparently never heard the Mark Twain quote: "Tis sad but true that half the members of the american public are below average." White's education reform for Louisiana is based on somehow forcing most children to produce above average scores on state tests. Education has been reduced to test rehearsal and testing. And if our students don't produce the impossible, then it must be the teacher's fault, and the failing teachers and failing schools must be punished.

White has proposed that Louisiana must educate students to a level of "proficient" as measured by the National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP). NAEP has been used for many years to measure the performance of students in all states in the subjects of reading and math. The problem is that experts such as Diane Ravitch who served on the board of directors for NAEP, have made it clear that the level of "proficient" was intentionally set at a level well above average performance. Only about a third of students nationwide score proficient or above on NAEP. Barring some type of brain transplant for american students, most students will not achieve the level of "proficient".  But White like Donald Trump operates in his own version of reality. He has announced that if BESE sets a high standard, our teachers will magically teach to that standard and the students will produce the expected test results. That's the standard that White's plan for implementation of the new ESSA law which he wants BESE to adopt next week.

In his ESSA plan White and his staff have devised complex point awarding systems based primarily on student test scores in each school. There is also a set of points awarded to schools that improve their student test scores from year to year. But what happens if a school has a major improvement one year and then a slight drop or leveling off the next year? These complex formulas could cause wacky results in the grading of schools from year to year just like what happened when the LDOE used a value added system to rate the performance of teachers.

There is a much more direct and accurate way of grading schools relative to student performance than the complex formulas developed by White. Simply rate the schools using a combination of average student poverty and the percentage of students with cognitive disabilities. The schools with a high proportion of economically advantaged students with fewer disabilities would get A's and B's and schools with high poverty and more disabilities would get D's and F's depending on how unlucky or underprivileged its students are. Just like the present system assigns an Fs to the school for the Deaf and the School for the Visually impaired (Both run by John White's staff) and to all the alternative schools that serve the most at risk students.

If we used the method above (percentage of at-risk students) to rate schools we would not even need to test students to find the lowest ranked schools. We could save millions by not hiring expensive testing companies and we could do without some of the LDOE's highly paid staff that do almost nothing but rate schools using test data. Maybe we could use that money to actually help educate the students that need the most help. Now that would be true education reform!

But that would also show that we don't even need John White. In order to keep his job White knows that he must keep on blaming and punishing teachers and stigmatizing schools that don't measure up to his impossible goal.

The following is the testimony I plan to give to BESE next week opposing this ill conceived plan. The testimony is brief because BESE is expected to limit individual input to three minutes:

My name is Michael Deshotels, and I live in Zachary

I appear before you today to ask that BESE reject or at least delay action for the ESSA implementation in Louisiana.

The plan proposed by the Superintendent should be rejected because it is unrealistic, misleading, and represents a false promise very similar to the original promise made to the american public by the No Child Left Behind law. No Child Left Behind was a failure because the premise upon which it was based was wildly unrealistic. The exact same is true of this proposed ESSA plan.

No Child Left Behind promised the American people that within a ten year period every public school would educate each child to a standard that was known by any educator to be unattainable. As a result almost every public school in the the country was designated a failure.

We cannot educate children by decree from on high that ignores the major principles of learning theory and statistics. BESE can solemnly decree that by 2025, we will educate children to perform at a level which is above the statistical average for normal children, but that will not make it happen. Instead such a decree will end up labeling many educators and many schools as failures because of factors over which they have no control. Either that or it will cause educators to cheat to avoid being labeled as failures.

In my opinion, cheating is already occurring at the state level, I must point out that the very design of the state testing program is a form of cheating and manipulation of results to create the illusion of success in achieving unachievable goals. 

About three weeks ago I mailed each of you my analysis demonstrating that the test score results in Louisiana have been inflated so that many students can achieve close to passing results by simply guessing on the multiple choice portion of state tests.

We have been assured that level 4 performance on our state test is equivalent to the level of "proficient" on the NAEP test. This assertion is entirely inaccurate.  I believe this amounts to a violation of the state law upon which our testing program is based. Our level 4 grading standard on the LEAP test is claimed by the LDOE to be comparable to the proficient level on the NAEP, yet the chart you were given by the Department shows that there is a great disparity between the two and that the gap is widening rapidly with each year of testing. In one case, our testing is claiming that over twice as many students are proficient as measured by NAEP. All the other test results are also significantly inflated.

This entire scheme for the implementation of ESSA is an exercise in false advertising. We should not saddle our students and teachers with this bogus system.

Thank you

Please call or email your BESE member and ask that he/she vote to reject the ESSA plan and take the extra time suggested by the governor to develop a plan that provides a well rounded education to children with less emphasis on test prep.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wealthy Louisiana Taxpayers May Actually Make a Profit by Funding Private Schools

Are you worried that the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may divert public school taxes to private schools that are not accountable to the taxpayers? You should be, because that's been the sum total of her involvement with education before being appointed to the top federal job in education. But Louisiana has already found a way to divert public tax dollars to private schools, and such contributors can actually make a profit doing so.

This well researched article in The Advocate by Will Sentell shows how wealthy taxpayers can actually make a profit by supporting private schools. And the rest of our Louisiana taxpayers get stuck with the bill! The rapidly growing tuition donation rebate program (A law passed during the Jindal administration) is really a school voucher program on steroids. That's because for every dollar a doner gives to the program, he can save 95 cents off his state taxes. Then he can claim a full federal tax credit on the entire donation. So if he/she is in any federal tax bracket over 5%, he/she actually makes a profit on the deal! This is a shocking misuse of our state and federal tax dollars! But we shouldn't be surprised since Louisiana has been the leader in the entire country in ripping off public schools to support private schools which are actually underperforming compared to public schools. The latest analysis of our voucher program shows that student test scores on average drop when they transfer to a voucher school.

But to make the ripoff even more offensive, the rebate program has no accountability. There is no provision in the rebate law to stop funding unsuccessful rebate programs. So even if all the rebate students in a particular private school fail all their state tests, there is no way to stop the payments to that school. This is just one more shameful piece of the Jindal legacy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why are Teachers Leaving the Profession in Louisiana?

As usual, the biased Advocate reporter, Will Sentell misses the point about the real causes of teacher attrition in recent years following the so called Jindal education reforms. His story about a report on the increase in teachers leaving the profession in recent years, suggests that the main reason for the growing teacher losses is the tougher tenure law rammed through by Jindal in 2012. Sentell fails to point out that the real problem is the attempt by the state to blame teachers for societal problems over which they (teachers) have no control.

Since the passage of the Jindal "reforms", teachers have been forced to spend inordinate amounts of classroom time mostly prepping their students for state tests. Then the results of these tests are used to evaluate teachers and to assign letter grades to their schools. The assumption has been that student test scores are determined primarily by the quality of their teachers in each school. Yet, the American Statistical Association has determined that the quality of the teacher influences at most 14% of a student's test performance. So when the state uses student test scores to determine half of a teacher's evaluation, the result will be a huge loss of teacher morale. Most teachers are very dedicated and fair-minded. They really resent being evaluated by such a flawed process.

The real problem is the defective evaluation system based on student test scores which arbitrarily labels a certain percentage of teachers as failures each year. Professional educators resent being forced to spend most of their classroom time doing little more than rehearsing students for state tests. Tests that are poorly designed, and whose scores from year to year are so erratic that no teacher is guaranteed a fair shake when these results are used to evaluate the teacher.

I just completed an analysis of the student performance on the state LEAP tests given in the spring of 2016. The raw scores on these tests average about 40% statewide. The passing raw scores on these tests are set at a ridiculous average of 32%. The tests are so poorly designed that even with months of practice and test rehearsal, kids miss most of the questions. Then those test scores are used to assign letter grades to schools. All the magnet schools that select their students based on academic ability get rated "A" and all schools that serve the most disadvantaged students and the greatest percentage of students with disabilities get rated "D" or "F". The teachers have no control over these factors, yet they are also labeled as failures no matter how hard they work and how dedicated they are to their students. The study on teacher attrition by Tulane University points out that such a system is driving teachers away from the very schools that are most in need of highly qualified teachers.

So simply blaming the changes in the tenure law for increased teacher attrition misses the point. The problem is that amateurs have taken over the operation of our education accountability system and have reduced teaching and learning into a boring and thankless job! That's why so many teachers are quitting their profession! 

Friday, February 10, 2017

America, the Beacon of Hope Shines On . . .

The federal 9th circuit court of appeals decision handed down yesterday overruling the Trump travel ban from selected countries was nothing short of an affirmation of the greatness of America!

The entire world watches the news coming out of America every day and is obsessed by almost every American action, particularly in politics and foreign policy. Our country is truly the leader of the world because we have somehow stumbled upon the most successful and fairest form of government known to man. That's why the millions or maybe billions of oppressed peoples of the world watch our country so closely, where despite our many flaws, we still represent the best hope for the success of mankind on this fragile planet.

A few years ago the whole world watched as Barrak Obama, a man of mixed ethnicity who had somehow risen to the top leadership position of our nation, eloquently laid out his dream of hope and change. The whole world unrealistically looked to him as the leader who could help America lead the entire world to a new era of peace, prosperity, and harmony. Unfortunately their expectations were much too optimistic as the extreme polarization between the two major political parties here paralyzed our national government. Our country was struggling with a near collapse of our economy at the time Obama took the reins. Somehow, continuing the moves initiated by president Bush to save our banks and prevent an economic collapse, Obama, his economic advisors and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System executed a plan to pull us out of the economic abyss.

So by the end of Obama's 8 years, despite the petty political paralysis, our nation was leading the  world's economic recovery and we seemed to by inching closer to a better life for all.  But our economy and the distribution of wealth were far from perfect. Many people still found themselves struggling to survive while a tiny percentage of the super wealthy ruling class gobbled up all the cream from our recovering economy.

Then came Donald Trump. This phenomenon referred to by conservative columnist George Will as a  "bloviating ignoramus" somehow convinced almost half of our voters and a majority of our Electoral College to install him as president. Trump was seen by many as a supreme ruler that could single handedly right all wrongs and inequities in America caused by our shift to a world economy pitting our American workers against the hordes of cheap labor from all the less developed economies of the world thereby destroying thousands of higher paying manufacturing jobs in our country.  Trump, who ironically came from the greedy economic elite of our society, simply promised to return our economy to an impossible, obsolete structure where the middle class would once again prosper, where miners could return to their dangerous dirty jobs in the ground to once again bring home a bigger paycheck, and where everything would be right again. In addition, Trump promised to bomb our Isis enemies to hell and remove all the threats of terrorism caused by the ugly clash of ideologies in the middle east.

For the past few weeks since the Trump inauguration, the world watched in horror as Trump announced his "America first" policy and banned the most oppressed and most desperate humans from setting foot on our precious soil. The Trump edict was immediately seen by the world and by experts in diplomacy and foreign policy to be the exact opposite of what America needed to do to defuse the clash of cultures of the west and the middle east. But then just yesterday three judicial wise persons stepped up to the plate and hit a home run!

Yesterday the world learned that our government is designed, at least in this one instance, to curtail the actions of a demigod who seemed to be determined to ignorantly plunge the world into greater chaos. Instead the peoples of the world can still see that our great country has a system of government that can curtail some of the most the insane actions of Trumpism. There are many challenges ahead as Trump continues his petty insecure tantrums and incompetent executive orders and the Republicans attempt to further consolidate the rule of the greedy elites. But on this one day, America demonstrated its greatness

I expect that America may also be spared in the coming years, as the Trump administration proves to be so incompetent that it may not be able to successfully implement his most destructive policies!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

More Frightening Revelations About Betsy DeVos. Please Help Stop this Appointment!

This is your last chance to help stop a very dangerous anti-public education individual from being appointed to the highest education position in the nation! Betsy DeVos is not only one of the least qualified persons ever for U. S. Education Secretary (she has not one bit of training or experience in public education), but recent revelations have uncovered her investments in a highly suspicious, possibly fraudulent pseudo-educational scheme to extract high fees from parents of students and citizens with learning disabilities! Why would we appoint someone who stands to profit from highly questionable schemes possibly fleecing parents of children who are most at-risk?

I am talking about the fact that Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee for U. S. Secretary of Education, is a major investor in a company called Neurocore, which claims to retrain the brains of persons and children with various learning disabilities. See this article in The New York Times that highlights the fact that DeVos has refused to dispose of her investments in Neurocore. Here is the actual Neurocore web site. Look at their slick promotion and judge for yourself if this may be a scam.

This company charges very high fees to often desperate parents to "retrain the brains" of children with ADHD or autism, who have trouble concentrating in school. The problem is that there is not one shred of real, peer reviewed research showing that this "retraining" works. Yet the Neurocore company has announced plans to expand nationwide and possibly offer their services to schools in many states.The whole thing looks suspiciously like a flat out scam (sort of like Trump University). The DeVos investment company is considered the biggest investor in this "educational" company. In my opinion Trump University (which was required to refund millions in fees to its customers) looks like a much more reputable scheme than this outfit.

So here's the situation that applies to the person nominated to implement the education policies of our nation for the next 4 years:

  • DeVos is possibly the biggest national proponent of privatizing public education. The companies she has helped promote in Michigan using huge political contributions to both state and federal legislators, are mostly for-profit companies who have a very poor record of educating children
  • The DeVos fortune was accumulated mostly by an inheritance from the AmWay founder who has extracted billions from what is considered more of a pyramid scheme than an a legitimate business
  • Betsy DeVos did not attend, and has never been trained for any public education purpose
  • Now we find that she refuses to separate herself from a possibly fake education company that could stand to make millions by using her influence to greatly expand its business.
What can we do? Time is running out. The vote on the DeVos appointment is scheduled in the U.S. Senate on Monday or Tuesday of this coming week. We can all telephone the offices of our two U.S. Senators and leave a message with their staff that we want them to vote "no" on the Betsy DeVos appointment for the position of U. S. Secretary of Education. Here are the office phone for your two Senators. Office hours are 9 to 5 Eastern time:
Senator John Kennedy - Washington DC phone: 202-224-4623. Fax; 202-228-0447
Senator Bill Cassidy- Washington DC phone 202-224-5824. Fax: 202-224-9735

Many Senators have reported a huge volume of phone calls and faxes from parents and educators opposing this appointment. These calls are making a difference! Right now, we are just one Senate vote short of blocking this nomination. This is critical!

Important note: Sometimes the regular phone number for Senators are tied up or busy, so many public education supporters nationwide have resorted to sending a fax. The fax method of messaging may have the advantage that it could be sent outside of regular office hours. So you may start by sending a fax now, and then following up with a phone call during office hours.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Hidden Facts About Cuts to Public Education

This article in the Baton Rouge Advocate by reporter Will Sentell describes the dilemma faced by Governor Edwards as he attempts to balance the out-of-balance state budget by trimming proposed funding to public schools.

As usual, the Advocate education writer omits important facts about education funding and avoids telling the truth about forces that are aligned against public education and proper funding for our children's education. Please help me inform the taxpayers, parents, and public educators about the critical facts on the continued defunding of public education at the same time that many wasteful privatization schemes are being promoted for our public school dollars. I hope my readers will share these little known facts with your Facebook friends, twitter followers, as well as in your direct contacts with educators and parents.

The important fact that is being omitted in this article, is that the legislature has chosen to saddle our local school boards with paying for another 38 million dollars in unfunded liability to our teacher retirement system. This is an extra liability that was created by the legislature itself because of benefits and costs that were never voted upon by local school boards or citizens. If the state freezes the MFP, all of the burden of this state mandated cost will have to be produced by reducing educational services to children and/or benefits to educators. But to add insult to injury, the legislature has provided an exemption  from these costs to charter schools and voucher schools. You see, charter schools are not required by the legislature to participate in the teacher retirement system, so they are also exempted from making these payments to the unfunded liability. As more and more charter schools are added by BESE, the cost of the unfunded liability assessed to our local school boards grows and grows, and our teacher retirement system is endangered.

That's why I am happy that the Louisiana Association of educators has sued to prohibit these state approved charter schools being funded using the MFP. So far the district court has ruled in favor of the LAE and local school boards, but the case is being appealed to the state supreme court and BESE continues to approve more charters.

Another insult to the real public schools is that charter schools that are approved by BESE over the objection of our local school boards are still allowed to get their full proportion of both sate and local tax dollars even though they are exempted from some of the costs of operating schools. For example, any student who resides in a particular Parish or City system that chooses to attend one of the online virtual charter schools approved by the state gets 90% of the MFP and the local school taxes from that parish even though the charter school is exempted from providing school buildings, school lunches, bus transportation, janitorial services and teacher retirement benefits. (That's a hell of a lot more than the 10% cut.) What a huge windfall of our tax dollars that are diverted as profit to the virtual charter managers! The other loophole is that even though the charter school may be non-profit, the management of the school is farmed out to a far-profit company that can keep as much of our tax money as they choose as profit by hiring the cheapest non-certified teachers and depriving students of many services required of the real public schools.

So when Caroline Roemer, Executive Director of the LA Charter Schools Association is quoted as saying "charter schools face the same concerns as traditional public schools", we need to point out that this is far from being true.

Bridgette Neiland who represents the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) is pushing to remove as much school funding as possible from the MFP  and replacing those funds with lower amount of undedicated funds so that they can be subject to cuts in the future. She said that part of the reason for the position of the big business lobby on school funding is that education leaders have resisted reforms of the teacher retirement system. This statement is actually code for saying that educators have resisted having the retirement benefits of teachers cut as a way of minimizing school taxes on big business.  

As you can see from the previous post on this blog, President Trump believes that our public schools are "flush with cash but that is depriving our beautiful children of all knowledge", there is now both a state and national effort underway to starve our public schools while continuing to promote the raiding of our tax dollars by charter and voucher "entrepreneurs".  His secretary of education nominee ,  Betsy DeVoss is totally dedicated to privatization at the expense of the real public schools.

These are the real facts about the proposed funding cuts to public education. Please help pass them on because you cannot expect The Advocate to include them in their education articles. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump: " an education system flush with cash which leaves our students deprived of all knowledge"

The small part of President Trump's inauagrial address that referred to public education hit a new low even for Trump. As a retired educator who researches the facts about public education, I am shocked and appalled that the new president could be so inaccurate and insulting to educators who always give their very best to their students. Not all, but most children in our public schools receive an excellent education and their education is quite superior to what students got in the 50's for example. (This is the time period most observers believes Trump compares the present to when he talks about making America great again) I taught as far back as the 60's and I can assure Trump that even though my colleagues and I did a good job, it was still not as good as teachers are doing today. The students we educated went to the moon, created advanced computers, the internet, and even the technology that will help us conquer global warming.

To indeit all public schools as failures because a small portion of our schools are facing extreme challenges because of poverty and neglect in our society, is nothing short of slanderous.

Trump's new education secretary believes that the problems of our schools can be solved by implementing  minimal accountability privatization schemes. The problem with that approach is that we already have ample evidence that school privatization is wasteful of our tax dollars and does not produce as good results as our real public schools. See this most recent study of the charter schools in New Orleans that revealed that such schools spend more on administration and less on the classroom. My most recent analysis shows the RSD schools in New Orleans rating at the 18th percentile compared to all other districts in the state.

My impression is that Trump knows almost nothing about public education in this country. Unfortunately this has not stopped him from making outrageously incorrect statements that are designed to tear down this necessary very critical part of our country's infrastructure.

Educators and parents who believe in our public education system will need to be prepared to defend education from the destructive Trump agenda.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos Superbly Unqualified to be Secretary of Education!

Taking the idea started by President Obama of appointing a non-educator to the highest education post in the nation to extreme absurdity, Trump has nominated a non-educator who is the biggest enemy of public schools to run our federal education department. This appointment if approved will be nothing short of disastrous for the education of our children. See this video clip of education experts including Diane Ravitch describing the qualifications and philosophy of Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos and Trump have made it clear that their number one objective on education is to implement as much privatization of schools as possible across the nation. We in Louisiana have already had a very bitter dose of privatization by the Jindal/White reform of schools in our state. When first proposed by Jindal, school choice was promised to be a utopia for both parents and educators who wanted better education for all students and better recognition and empowerment of our best teachers. Here  are some of the results:

  • Parents would be able to choose better education for their children by sending them to charter schools authorized by the state recovery district, and to private voucher schools often run by churches. The result: The charter schools in the Louisiana Recovery District after more than 10 years are some of the worst performing schools in the state; to the point that several have been totally closed down or returned to the original school boards. The best performing part of the Recovery District in New Orleans which took over many non-failing schools now perform in the bottom one-fifth of the state. This, just released report, shows that they greatly increased administrative costs while paying their teachers the lowest in the state. Many of the voucher schools have majority unqualified teachers and have the lowest student performance scores in the state. Sending a child to some of these s chools could be considered a form of child abuse!
  • John Stossel and others who are promoting Betsy DeVos and school choice have assured their viewers that the proliferation of more vouchers, more charters and choice of these schools for parents would reward and empower the best teachers to demand the highest salaries and the most control over their classrooms. The truth is in Louisiana our legislature passed a merit pay plan for teachers based on student performance that turned out to be a supreme boondoggle. Some top teachers got the worst value added ratings while teachers of non-tested subjects qualified in much greater numbers for the meager merit pay than did the math and English teachers. But to add insult to injury, in most parishes teachers had to give up their step increases to fund the merit pay because Jindal did not provide one penny to local school systems to fund his merit pay scheme. Considering the insane shift to test prep at the expense of teacher designed instruction, I will let each teacher answer the question of whether or not they feel more empowered by the shift to choice and test based accountability.
Finally, I would urge my readers to view this video of Senator Elizabeth Warren, questioning DeVos about what steps she would take to prevent the rampant ripoffs of students in higher education by private "fake colleges" such as the Trump University that was forced to pay back 25 million in fees to the students that were conned into paying exorbitant fees for worthless seminars.

Please contact both of our Louisiana Senators, Senator John Kennedy and Senator Bill Cassidy and ask them to vote "no" to the Betsy DeVos confirmation!

Call your US Senators at 1-855-882-6229. The person answering the phone will ask you which Senator you wish to contact and your zip code. You will then be allowed to leave a message with the Senator's legislative assistant. (I believe the switchboard to the Senators's offices opens after 8:00 am central time)
Note: Something or someone has blocked Senator Cassidy's office from the number above, however you can leave a message for Senator Cassidy at any of his local offices below:
Baton Rouge: 225-929-7711
Alexandria: 318-448-7176
Lafayette: 337-261-1400
Lake Charles: 337-493-5398
Shreveport: 318-798-3215