Thursday, May 13, 2010

What to do When Education Reforms Fail

Each week local newspapers report that more and more school boards have been forced to lay off education staff and cut student services because of a severe state-wide budget crisis caused by increasing retirement costs and the many unfunded mandates by state and federal authorities. What is the answer of our State Department of Education to this crisis? Our State Superintendent whose own job security is now firmly protected by his alliance with Governor Jindal, is recommending that local school systems use mostly imagined surplus funds to cover these mandated costs. In addition he is pushing legislation that will implement a new teacher and administrator evaluation system designed to fire teachers and principals based on student test scores. The idea is that if school systems fire and then replace the bottom 5% to 10% of teachers based on student test scores, student achievement on LEAP and other tests will automatically go up. This assumption is based on national studies that distort the effect of teacher quality related to student achievement. The state instead of providing support to local school systems to deal with increasing costs and budget shortfalls will develop a state mandated evaluation system aimed at producing such teacher dismissals. In addition, the State Department of Education will simply create alternative certification processes for replacing fired teachers. As Diane Ravitch points out in a recent Teacher magazine article, education policy makers may soon be tempted to waive all teacher credentials and certification requirements in favor of employment of anyone who can raise student test scores. Click on this link to read an interesting discussion between Ravitch and Mike Rose on the current state of education reform.

Our state Department of Education should be the strongest ally of local public schools. Instead it is an adversary. It supports outside interest groups (Charter Management Organizations) who want to remove local schools from supervision by locally elected school boards. It supports increasing vouchers for parents wanting to use public funds to send their children to private schools. Now it wants to set quotas for firing and replacement of locally employed teachers.

Much of this is a desperate effort to divert attention from the fact that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted in the last ten years on ill conceived reforms. Taking over schools in New Orleans and other parts of the state is a fiasco, and when the Katrina based federal funding dries up, the state will either have to pick up the tab or abandon many expensive programs and highly paid administrators. Charter school operators are increasingly leery of taking responsibility for handicapped students, many of their test scores are backsliding, graduation rates are dismal, state bureaucratic costs are out of control, yet the State Superintendent somehow finds a way to keep blaming local school systems that are out-performing the state's takeover schools.

Because of the ill conceived “college prep for all” agenda pursued by Superintendent Pastorek, attention has been diverted from vital technical skills programs leaving Louisiana with almost no young people trained for promising careers requiring modern construction and technical skills. Louisiana businesses are having to recruit workers from other states while our dropouts and flunk-outs go on welfare or to prison.

So what does our Department of Education do when reforms fail? Blame the teachers and local school systems and start up a new round of reforms.