Friday, December 23, 2011

Flawed Plan Could Continue School System Decline

The following is an analysis of the recently proposed EBR School System Strategic Plan. Thanks to Noel Hammatt for providing me with a paper pointing out some of his and other researchers major concerns with this plan. The link below connects you to the actual plan now awaiting school board approval.

A special citizens and school board committee has just submitted the final draft of a proposed strategic plan for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. This plan is a  poorly thought out attempt to have EBR participate in some of the latest education reform fads without regard to what really works. It contains several major proposals that I believe are contrary to sound educational practices. These tactics could harm rather than improve this struggling school system.

The EBR school board members that took office in 2011 decided that a citizen's committee should be appointed for the purpose of revising the district's strategic plan. This new plan was intended to be a reform plan aimed at boosting student performance and the school system's ranking among public school systems in the state. The final result is a highly impractical plan that mostly ignores the real issues in the school system while scapegoating and needlessly punishing many of the professional educators of the system.

During the past 25 years the EBR system, once a leader in the state, has declined significantly mostly because a self perpetuating flight of upper and middle class students from the system and a corresponding erosion of public support.  Now that many parents have pulled their children out of the school system, it is becoming more difficult to maintain citizen involvement and continued funding for the school system. Even so, the school system has managed to produce academic results in some areas that are commendable. Most observers agree on the success of the gifted and talented and magnet school programs.

The school system however, is now comprised of over 82% students classified as high poverty. If you have regularly read this blog you know that many education researchers find that such a student composition produces huge challenges to any school system. We would expect that any strategic plan would have as a main focus the goal of attracting back the thousands of students who have fled to private schools, and some of the families that have moved to neighboring parishes to escape the school system.

The fact is Baton Rouge, like many other high poverty urban school districts, is plagued by many incidents of disruptive behavior and disrespect for authority by some students at many of its schools. Many parents are reluctant to send their children to the public school in their community because they fear for the safety of their child and because fights, bullying, truancy, poor discipline, and classroom disruptions make it difficult for students to receive a good education. Many parents feel that teachers and administrators lack the authority to impose discipline, order, and a healthy learning environment in their public schools. If a child cannot qualify for one of the magnet schools or gifted programs, his/her parents have little hope that regular schools can provide a good education. Those are the issues members of the public expect the school board to deal with effectively. Those are the critical issues that should be addressed in any strategic plan for the school system.

Instead, the proposed strategic plan presented to the EBR Board last week contains one major goal with few practical strategies for accomplishing this goal. The primary "bold goal" proposed is to upgrade the EBR system performance so that it moves up to the top ten of the rankings of public school systems in Louisiana by the year 2020. The bold goal also promises to implement school choice for all families.

The plan authors expect to accomplish this "bold goal" partly by implementing the new state value-added teacher evaluation plan and by firing the lowest rated 25% of the school system's teachers and rewarding the top 25%. The plan makes it clear that teachers and principals will be retained primarily on the basis of their student performance statistics. Such a plan apparently assumes that the low performance of many EBR students has occurred mostly because of  lazy or incompetent teachers and principals rather than the negative impact of an extremely high poverty rate of the students enrolled in the system. This is like a hospital deciding to fire the doctors who work in the intensive care unit because many of the patients there are seriously ill. It is like blaming the Louisiana health care system because so many of our citizens lead unhealthy lifestyles. The major flaw in this plan is that there is absolutely no evidence that firing and replacing a certain percentage of teachers improves student performance! Take a look at the latest results on "miracle" schools by Gary Rubinstein.

Many of the teachers in EBR already feel like they are under siege by state and federal school authorities who blame them for not being able to use their classrooms to correct some of the major problems of our society. They are sick of being forced to teach to the state tests in a way that inhibits the creativity of teachers and destroys much of the joy of learning for students. Many teachers feel that they are not properly supported in maintaining discipline and that some students who behave very poorly in school are coddled and allowed chance after chance to disrupt the education of other students. Teachers will surely see this evaluation and dismissal system based upon factors over which they have no control as an attack on educators by their own school board. This ensuing destruction of teacher morale will only cause further decline of the school system. Did the committee consider the impracticality of firing and replacing 877 teachers?  (That's the 25% mandated in the plan. Will the school system go back to hiring ill suited Phillipino teachers?)  What if after damaging the careers of all those teachers, the school system finds that the replacements do not produce any better results?

The proposed plan also recommends the implementation of site based budgeting which could be just an unnecessary headache for principals. When you add this extra duty to the huge burden of the new teacher evaluation system, (now every teacher will have to be completely reevaluated each year using a complex new system) principals may end up neglecting important duties such as campus organization, discipline strategies, critical parent involvement projects, and faculty team building strategies.

One weird component of the strategic plan would tie priorities for school physical plant improvements to a "school climate scorecard" (this is really just an opinion survey of teachers about the effectiveness of the school staff). What possible connection could there between staff effectiveness and the school physical plant? Apparently the committee believed that the school climate referred to air conditioning and heating.

The part of the proposed plan that would provide incentives for effective teachers to teach in high need, low performing schools is commendable, but will possibly be nullified by the requirement that teachers are to be dismissed based on the performance of students. There is no indication at this time that the state value added teacher evaluation will make fair allowances in its rating system for teachers who teach in low performing schools.

My opinion as an observer and retired educator who once taught in EBR is that the most important action that could restore faith in the EBR school system is for the school board to initiate a program aimed at restoring order, student safety, and respect for teachers, principals, and students in all schools. The present system makes it almost impossible for school authorities to deal effectively with a serious incidence of disruptive and violent behavior in schools which is a spillover of an increasingly violent and lawless community (Check the youth murder statistics in Baton Rouge). The proposed plan gives lip service to safety and order but offers no practical solutions.

The strategy #5 to: "Create in each school a safe and supportive environment that promotes academic excellence, healthy choices, and personal character and responsibility" will not occur unless teachers and principals are given full authority to maintain proper discipline in each school with a minimum of bureaucratic obstacles. Many middle and high school teachers believe the PBIS system is ineffective and needlessly bureaucratic for those age levels.  Often by the time the system allows real action to be taken to correct a seriously disruptive student, major damage has been done to the classroom environment and valuable instruction time has been lost.  I am not suggesting that only high poverty students be held accountable for proper behavior. It should be understood that all students, rich and poor are expected to behave properly in school.

New principals should be provided intensive training in building a positive school climate in part by implementing effective discipline techniques and by establishing effective communication systems with parents. All administrators need to know how to abide by state and federal rules while still effectively maintaining order and and a productive atmosphere in their schools.

Every effort should be made to encourage positive parental involvement in schools. At the same time, support of law enforcement and the courts should continue to be sought to enforce school attendance and truancy reduction.  There have been commendable efforts in this area by the present superintendent and the local DA. These should be continued and reinforced. I guess one of my major concerns with this new plan is that it gives no credit to local administrators and teachers for the many successful programs now in place.

Support of the business community should be sought for developing programs of mentors for at risk students combined with a program that shows the connection between success in school and a good job in the future. The school system needs to develop more good career training programs that are connected with productive careers that require various levels of  training instead of focusing mostly on college prep training. (Presently only a small fraction of school system graduates, as indicated by ACT scores, have any chance of succeeding in 4 year colleges).

A plan such as the one used in Iberville Parish for the establishment of special high-expectation math-science and art academies should be considered. Enrollment would be available to all students who meet rigorous requirements of academic performance and discipline. The difference between such schools and magnet schools is that they are basically open enrollment (school choice). Students who do not meet the strict discipline and performance requirements within a specified time period however, lose their right to remain enrolled. This program in Iberville has been shown to attract many students who had previously moved to private schools. The school board should also investigate the possibility of establishing it's own virtual charter school aimed at attracting students whose parents want to guide their children's education from a home environment.

I believe that if the above elements of a strategic plan were written in plain language, adopted, and properly implemented, the school board could count on enthusiastic support from employees and the community for revitalizing the Baton Rouge public school system. I am very much concerned that the new proposed strategic plan will only result in further deterioration of the school system.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jindal Toys With Merit Pay

See this Baton Rouge Advocate story for a report on a Jindal speech to CABL (Council for A Better Louisiana) where he thrilled his supportive audience with the possibility that teacher merit pay could be the next "bold reform" he may propose for public education. The Governor naively repeats the false assumption made by many uninformed education reformers that the quality of teachers is the most important factor in improving student performance. I know it is shocking to many "reformers", but in many high poverty schools, the quality of teachers makes very little difference. (Click here for a recent article on the real problem at That's because other factors are so overwhelming in their negative impact that many of the efforts of good or even great teachers are inconsequential! Considering the fact that over 60% of Louisiana's public school students are high poverty students, the governor, CABL, and other non-educator reformers are attacking the wrong problem.

Once you read the Advocate article above, I hope you will take the time to read the Advocate reader comments I have reprinted below. Based on their insight about education issues, I suspect that most of these commenters have experience in a real classroom. I don't agree with everything they say here, but I feel that for the most part these observers make it clear how impractical the governor's proposal would be. These comments also tell us a lot about the level of frustration in the education community with the dabbling of amateurs like Jindal, Bill Gates, and John White.

Comment by spqr - Friday, December 09, 2011
No one wants to hear that quality education is available. Like sheep, they believe what they read in newspapers and what comes from the mouth of a governor owing political favors to those wanting such changes in public education. What do we do with the army of students who do not want to learn? What do we do with the masses of uneducated parents, some with criminal records, who do not care for their children? What do we do with the overage population at school only to eat lunch and cause trouble in the face of weakening discipline policies designed to keep kids in school while disrupting instruction? Over crowded classes. Gangs. Drugs. Apathy. Sex. Violence. Disrespect for authority. Refusal to do homework. High absentees (The truancy program is a joke). Welfare. Poor political leadership. Out of touch, but well-meaning educational groups that think they know, but don't know they don't know. Unfunded mandates. School boards members with no teaching experience. Federal bureaucracy. Inflammatory anti-public education editorials written by the rich business classes. Frozen teacher salaries. In the middle of it all trying to help the students achieve are the middle class teachers. And they are despised by the Jindal administration. And the public buys it.

Comment by timesright - Friday, December 09, 2011
Jindal said one of the current problems is that “we treat all teachers the same with our one size fits all system.” What an interesting statement when one test is to fit all students. Not surprising that this "let's reward our effective teachers" is the very next Jindal mantra. Monetary incentives are not why teachers are in the classroom. They wouldn't be there in the first place if that were the case. Comments by spqr are right on. A governor who has been spoon fed the things to say and the media who seems to be eating from the same dish are bringing to the table a public who is offered only one choice from the menu. That choice being anything that gnaws away at teachers and public education. Let's keep teachers and public education on the menu.

Comment by squiggly - Friday, December 09, 2011
The only thing Jindal's plan will accomplish is to increase cheating, by teachers and principals, on standardized tests. What these idiots don't understand is that they are dealing with social issues in the public schools and not teacher/school quality issues. Rating schools and teachers based on standardized tests is a flawed concept because the tests are flawed. I personally know kids who have attended schools that are rated D and F schools, but who nevertheless score above average on the ACT and went on to finish college. If the schools were really bad, how could that be possible. The answer is those kids came mostly from a middle class background. In actuality, what the schools are being rated on is the economic and cultural background of the majority of the students who attend said schools; after all that is what standardized tests measure, not how intelligent the student is or what they are taught in school. Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs is what's at play on this issue. Instead of arbitrarily rewarding teachers for fake achievement, that money would be well spent on hiring a group of psychologists and sociologists to figure out how to motivate under privileged students to focus on doing well in school in spite of the hand that has been dealt to them in life.

Comment by bigfatman - Friday, December 09, 2011
Senario : Teacher A teaches honor students at a magnet school. Teacher B teaches low achieving ,over age, socially promoted students. Teacher A gets rewarded because students do well on testing. Teacher B gets the shaft because students showed poor advancement. Evaluations!!!! Where's the fairness????

Comment by mava06 - Friday, December 09, 2011
Bigfatman is absolutely correct. As long as some teachers have classrooms filled with students who bring their baggage to school and other teachers have students who get to school ready to listen, behave and learn, the deck will always be stacked. It's been my experience working in more schools than I can count as an itinerant teacher that teachers of the tough kids work many more additional hours both at school and at home for minimal gains, but gains nonetheless. Teachers who have the "easy" kids typically leave school much earlier because their jobs are somewhat easier. Any growth by the difficult kids should be rewarded, but the current assessment system labels them as "failures" for not making arbitrarily high and unattainable gains. Those teachers who are working the hardest will not necessarily be rewarded for their hard work. Neither will their students. Until the system fully accounts for individual differences and rewards the hard work it takes to take kids from nothing to anything more than they came with then Jindal's idea will stink to high heaven. Just another non-educator making decisions. All people who make decisions for teachers should be contractually required and obligated to spend a number of days actually trying to teach and they should have to do it in the tough schools right before Christmas or spring break or the end of the school year. They should be required to be successful doing it by turning in good test scores. Would Mr. jindal like to have businessmen and politicians telling his doctor how to practice medicine on him and his children? For that matter, where do HIS kids go to school? I can almost bet they don't go to public school.

 Comment by redstickhornet - Friday, December 09, 2011
Ok, what I want to know is why should there be more Jindal involvement in this? WHAT TRACK RECORD of success does our state have in rewarding the right people or punishing the wrong people in ANY INDUSTRY or sector in this state? What successful model of oversight and accountability has Jindal developed? How many of us want to work in a profession where the LA legislature devises the pay scale, evaluation, and incentives? What is fundamentally conservative about about some of Jindal's education policy. Education is such a political football in this state. This needs to stop. What other professions would endure this? Are professors at LSU/SU etc. going to be evaluated using value-added analyses? Are physicians and other health care professionals going to submit to value-added? I could go on and on, but I know there is no need.

Comment by Traveler - Friday, December 09, 2011
Many certified educators are necessary to support the work of the classroom teacher. These 'ancillary" certified educators include, but are not limited to, guidance counselors, librarians, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, physical education coaches, art teachers, and music teachers. Ancillary teachers have no "official" rolls, because they do not teach a core subject----but try running an effective school system without them! At present, there is no plan for evaluating these employees. Since they are not considered "accountable" for the results of students' standardized test scores, there is no plan for how to reward them for students' progress or "punish" them for students' lack of progress. This is just one more example of how poorly thought-out the new teacher evaluation system is. Yet the legislature and BESE approved this half-baked plan!

Monday, December 5, 2011

White: "Charters Are the Answer"

Former state superintendent Paul Pastorek at least gave lip service to the idea that some traditional schools could be acceptable to the State Department of Education. Incoming superintendent White by contrast is a "one trick pony". He plans to tell the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board ( I suggest educators read this revealing Advocate article very carefully) that the one solution to improving schools is to convert as many low performing schools as possible into charters. Charters in White's mind are the be-all and end-all for improving schools. According to the Advocate article, he wants to bring "the New Orleans strategy" to Baton Rouge and other school districts with low performing schools. He would like to convince the local school boards to convert all low performing public schools into independently run charters. The only problem with that solution is that if they follow the New Orleans strategy, the Baton Rouge schools would be adopting an inferior system!

The truth is that even though the RSD has had control of three fourths of the student population in New Orleans for five and a half years, that school system is still performing below all school systems in the state except for St. Helena (which is already partially controlled by the Recovery District). If all RSD schools (some do not have scores yet because of reorganizations or new start ups) would be given an SPS score, over 50% of the New Orleans Recovery District schools would be rated as "F" by the state's new letter grading system. (The official percentage receiving F is 46.5%) The average ACT score for RSD graduates is below 16, indicating that very few such grads have a chance of getting a college education. The only "success" here is a slick public relations spin pulled off on the news media and much of the general public by the charter school promoters.

Just how did so many elected leaders and some of the major news media come to believe that the New Orleans Recovery District and its charter schools had "saved" the troubled New Orleans public school system? Some of it is wishful thinking. Everyone wants to believe that by simply teaching smarter and harder, and just letting competition and the free enterprise system work, any population of underperfoming students can experience success.  Unfortunately most of the perceived success of RSD and its charter schools is a cruel hoax. How was it done?

Much of the false perception, is caused by focusing on a small minority of the charters that have demonstrated pretty good performance by recruiting the best students in the Recovery District. The New Orleans Recovery District is different from other Recovery schools because the special law forming it allowed it to take in some higher performing schools and student populations. These few "successful" schools have then been marketed by the charter advocates as typical of the success that can be obtained by charters. The problem is that this handful of schools has no more of a typical student population than the magnet schools found in most large school systems. So out of the 71 RSD schools that have been assigned scores, only 5 schools or 7% of the total have qualified for a "B" on the new letter grading system. There are no schools in the Recovery District that qualify for an A. Those 5 "B" schools are succeeding at the expense of many of the direct run RSD schools and other charters that have to take the lower performing and discipline problem students rejected by the high performing charters. As a result, approximately 50% of all the other schools in the New Orleans RSD are rated as "F" and another 40% are rated as "D".

The second strategy used by the charter school supporters to claim dramatic success is the use of percentage improvements in the School Performance Scores (SPS) compared to other public schools. By using percentage improvements instead of point increases, the RSD schools which started with low base scores are able to artificially magnify their progress. For example, if we compare a school in the Recovery District with an initial SPS score of 50 to one in EBR for example, with an initial score of 100, and both schools are able to improve their SPS by 10 points, the percentage improvement calculation makes it appear that the RSD school had double the success of the EBR school. That's because going from 50 to 60 SPS seems to be a gain of 20% while going from 100 to 110 SPS seems to be a gain of only 10%. Never mind the fact that the EBR school was already performing at double the rating of the RSD school when the comparison started. Many educators believe it is a greater accomplishment to take a school from an SPS of 100 to an SPS of 110 than for the 50 SPS school to gain 10 points. Average scores in low performing schools can be increased dramatically just by getting students to guess at questions on the LEAP that they normally would not have bothered to answer! That's why it makes no sense to compare schools using percentage improvements rather than actual performance.

John White is quoted as saying that some of the charter management organizations would  like to expand to Baton Rouge because they are running out of "real estate" in New Orleans. That's not true. There are a number of schools in New Orleans that have no charter managers and are still run directly by the RSD and there are plenty of low performing charters. Those represent much "real estate" available for chartering. The truth is that the charter organizations do not want to charter these schools because they are filled with the low performing students they have already rejected. What the charters are looking for is virgin "real estate" where they can use their marketing budget (funded with taxpayer dollars) to draw the best students away from the regular public schools. Most public schools don't get to use marketing to draw  the best students that are motivated and have supportive parents. Public schools are expected to serve the educational needs of all students.  I believe part of the reason the Advance Baton Rouge charters failed was because their managers sincerely attempted to serve the same at risk student population inherited from the previous schools instead of trying to attract mostly high performers. (Also as I have stated before in this blog, they didn't have a clue about how to run a school)

There is a much fairer way to way to compare the East Baton Rouge system to the New Orleans Recovery District schools: A recent demographic study determined that East Baton Rouge Parish now has the greatest concentration of high poverty citizens in the state. Yes, even more poverty than New Orleans. (Don't forget that after Katrina, many of the highest poverty citizens from New Orleans settled in Baton Rouge instead of returning.) What does that have to do with schools? Well it turns out that a measure of poverty of students using the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch is the most reliable indicator of school performance.  So if we want to compare the performance of students in New Orleans with those in Baton Rouge, it makes sense to compare their performance according to poverty. Also, since most of the schools in the New Orleans Recovery District were taken over five-and-a half years ago, a direct comparison seems reasonable.  Here are the results from the State Department website. The average SPS for free or reduced lunch students in EBR was 76.6 compared to 69.1 for RSD students. Using the percentage method, that's a 10 percent advantage for EBR. The SPS for paid lunch (non-poverty) students for EBR averages 118. For the New Orleans Recovery District, that number is 81. This is a 46% advantage for EBR! A comparison of Black and White students in the two districts yields basically the same results with EBR outperforming RSD by a large margin. So EBR students outperform all categories of students in the New Orleans Recovery District by a large margin using the percentage comparisons of SPS.

East Baton Rouge has a higher poverty concentration than New Orleans, yet 14.5% of its schools are still rated as A or B schools by the state, while the New Orleans Recovery District has only 7% of its schools rated as B, and no schools rated as A.  Why would EBR School Board members want to adopt the New Orleans model anyway?

This is the kind of leadership we can expect from John White when Jindal rams through his appointment as State Superintendent. He does not need a deep understanding of the principles of education or even knowledge of what it takes to run a successful school. His basic approach will be to invite all the charter operators to come in and grab as many public schools as they care to manage. He will then just sit back and pull their charters if they can't produce the minimum SPS, and start a new round of bidding by new charter managers.  Pretty soon, most schools will be segregated into high poverty and low poverty, with very little opportunity for the high poverty students to break out of the cycle of low performance.

 I believe public schools could do much better than this if we let real professional educators concentrate our best practices and solutions on the schools that need the most help. Unfortunately it may take years of mismanagement of our schools before we wake up.

Correction added 12/8/11. Upon double checking the schools in RSD for the comparison above, I found that I had inadvertently included three schools that are run by the Dept. of Corrections instead of the RSD. Also the comparison with EBR included all the RSD schools, not just the New Orleans RSD. Making the necessary changes would change the percentage of D and F schools a little but if we consider that there are several previously failing schools in New Orleans that do not have reported SPS scores but are likely still failing, the percentages would remain basically the same.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Charter Schools Self Destructing

Just at a time when the future of charter schools in Louisiana looks brightest, more and more charter school operations are self-destructing. A few months ago, numerous violations of child protection laws and alleged cheating and other improprieties caused the cancellation of the charter for Abramson Science and Technology Charter in New Orleans. A State Department investigation continues of its sister charter, Kennilworth Science and Technology in Baton Rouge.

Now we learn (click for the Advocate story) that all 5 schools managed by the Advance Baton Rouge charter management organization will gradually be taken over or turned over to other managers by the State Recovery District. (There is apparently no consideration of returning these schools to their former parish school boards) The causes as we have reported before on this blog include administrative difficulties and a complete failure to improve academic performance.  This is the same company that has proclaimed itself as a trainer of school principals for 21st Century schools. These failures occurred despite many management changes and special funding infusions including a huge federal grant for a Teacher Advancement Program initiative in the ABR schools. Wonder what will happen to the 13.3 million dollar federal grant if ABR loses its charters?

Now we have learned that Sojourner Truth Academy in New Orleans may lose its charter because of unacceptable School Performance Scores and amid allegations that special education regulations have been violated concerning the discipline and suspensions of special needs students. Teachers in this school and others have complained that some suspensions go unrecorded, that the charters "counsel out" undesirable or low performing students and that many students are being promoted improperly by bending or breaking state regulations. As I have pointed out before in this blog, there is an unhealthy and corrupting pressure to produce or even fabricate results in these charter operations. Apparently this school will also be returned to the RSD for reorganization. When this happens, the transition period allows such schools to start over in the calculation of a new School Performance Score (SPS). Several observers claim that this allows the RSD to avoid reporting SPS on some of the lowest performing schools. ( In this case it looks like the school will be closed and the students assigned to other schools)

Added after original post: Karran Harper Royal, an education activist from New Orleans sent us this more complete list of recently failed charters in the New Orleans area.
RSD Charters  
New Orleans Free Academy (Charter relinquished, now closed)
Esperanza ( Charter relinquished, now chartered by Choice Foundation)
Harriet Tubman Charter School (non renewed now chartered by Crescent City Schools)
Abramson Science & Technology Academy (Revoked, now run by RSD, and K-8 will be rechartered and 9-12 will be shut down)
Sojourner Truth Academy (Announced that it will relinquish it's charter rather than get revoked)
Langston Hughes board will soon decide whether to relinquish it's charter, although they are supportive of Firstline taking over the school.
OPSP Charters
Priestly Charter School (Relinquished, now OPSB direct run school)

Notice that most of the charters were relinquished rather than revoked. The LDOE usually tries to convince the (charter) board to relinquish to save their good name from the revocation process. I suspect it's so as to keep things low key and avoid a nasty public battle.
Karran Harper Royal

Also, just as Louisiana is ramping up to allow increased enrollment in its virtual charter schools that are managed by for-profit corporations, a study in Colorado of some of the same virtual management organizations that are operating in Louisiana, show mostly dismal results. The study found that many virtual charter students fall behind in their studies compared to students attending traditional schools. Many decide to transfer back to regular schools at mid-year after the charter management organization has locked in state funds for that year. This is placing an unfair burden on the school systems that are forced to accept students without the state funding. Added on 11/30: Wow, this is even more damning! Just a week before the Louisiana Legislature will be indoctrinated by a conservative group to enlarge the Louisiana virtual school enrollment, check out the blog on Virtual Schools this week by Diane Ravitch

Many education "reformers" have made the totally unsupported claim that virtual charter schools should be effective in educating "at risk" students or students that have experienced discipline problems etc. All the evidence shows just the opposite. At risk students compared to students who are self motivated are most in need of direct supervision by strong classroom teachers. Such students usually cannot be relied upon to sit at a computer and do mostly self directed academic exercises required by virtual instructional programs. In addition, the virtual system depends heavily on parent or at home coaches to monitor day to day schedules. The problem is, many at risk students are at risk because they do not have effective parental support and encouragement!

It will be interesting to see if the new students in Louisiana's privately run virtual charters stick with the program and succeed academically or opt to reenter traditional schools at mid year. Will the virtual schools get to keep the generous state funding they have received from BESE if some students transfer at mid year?

This is the danger of Louisiana rushing headlong into privatization of schools without the time to carefully assess results of such programs. For example, the Jindal administration has continued to support the funding of vouchers in the New Orleans area even though statistics show that students getting vouchers to attend parochial schools are performing at an even lower level than the students in the extremely low performing RSD schools.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jindal Gets His Board

Governor Jindal and his big business supporters won a decisive victory in the remaining 3 BESE runoff elections. All three of the winners had been supported by the Jindal/Grigsby/LABI machine. With at least 10 times the money spent on Jindal aligned candidates, the election results were a foregone conclusion. In addition to his BESE takeover Jindal also may well have enough support in the legislature for most of his remaining education "reforms".

The appointment of John White, a relative amateur in the management of public education, to the State Superintendent position now seems assured. Next year, even more than in the past few years, BESE will be mostly relegated to doing the bidding of the Governor and his Superintendent. I would expect little controversy and minimal debate at future BESE meetings.  All the Governor's priorities should be approved expeditiously. Too bad they will be the wrong "reforms".

What changes can educators expect? It is likely the the legislature will be convinced to repeal the tenure law in the next legislative session. School systems will be allowed to dismiss both new and experienced teachers with minimal procedural protections. Chances are a law will be passed removing seniority rights of teachers relative to layoffs and other employment benefits. Expect the value added teacher and administrator evaluation to go into effect on schedule without regard to the results of the pilot program. The State Department of Education will accelerate the takeover of low performing schools as the minimum SPS score goes to 75 at the end of the 2011-12 school year. In many cases, local school systems will be allowed to continue administering a school if they agree to draconian reorganizations such as faculty and administrator replacement or conversion to a charter school. The legislature will probably approve the expansion of the voucher program for parents sending their children to private and parochial schools. Some vouchers may be reserved for students attending so called "failing" schools. Expect the legislature and the State Department of Education to use funding or reduction of funding to local systems as an incentive for school systems to adopt reforms. A possible incentivized reform may be the implementation of merit pay systems based partially on student test scores. Expect pressure by the state to replace a certain percentage of teachers based on those deemed to be "producing" in the bottom quartile of student performance.

Why do I believe these are the wrong reforms? Primarily because I do not believe teachers are responsible for the low performance of students in most cases. The really important factors and effective remedies such as early childhood education and school discipline reform will be ignored. Instead everything from the definition of a failing school to the criteria for teacher evaluation will be based primarily on student test performance. When merit pay is established based primarily upon student performance, there will likely develop a major morale problem among teachers and even administrators.  Education research confirms that teachers perform best in a collaborative work environment where there is trust and cooperation among teachers and between teachers and administrators. The punitive reforms championed by the Governor will needlessly damage such collaborative work environments. Administrators will be buried in paperwork mandated by the new complex valued added evaluation if Louisiana follows the lead of other states that have initiated such programs. Newspapers may publish teacher value added scores including the teacher's name as was done recently in Los Angeles.  Schools in high poverty districts will be drained of higher performing students and teachers by the very reforms that are intended to improve schools. This will cause an accelerated spiraling to lower performance for such schools. Such a result will only give ammunition to those who would use a voucher system to fund more students to private schools. As local schools deteriorate, school taxes will fail to be renewed causing an underfunding of public schools. Opportunities for low income students to close the gap will actually diminish in this environment.

Even so the relentless push by the state to graduate a larger percentage of students could cause rampant cheating by local systems on credit recovery and even on state LEAP and exit exams. Somewhere down the line it will be found that Louisiana will be increasingly issuing empty diplomas. Already there is a serious disagreement between LEAP scores and NAEP scores for Louisiana students.  NAEP scores and ACT scores show no significant improvement despite the huge expenditures on testing and test related remediation.

Jindal be careful what you ask for! Although my concern here is only for the future of public education, Jindal's takeover of education may backfire. There is so much that could be done to truly improve opportunities for our students and to make teaching a profession everyone can be proud of. Instead it looks like Jindal and his supporters are going to take us in the opposite direction. When that happens the Governor may find that his ownership of and mismanagement of education is his downfall.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jindal, Public Education Haters May Cause Revolt

Governor Jindal apparently believes he has a mandate to totally revamp education in Louisiana. The problem is his education reform ideas are mostly based on bad assumptions that when implemented will fail and may very well cause a revolt among educators!

Important reminder: If you live in one of the three BESE districts with runoff eclections, please remember to vote Saturday, Novemeber 19 for Givens in District 2, Songy in District 6 and Guillory in District 8. ( Ask your friends and relatives to help also)

Jindal and his pro business "public education hater" friends don't have a clue about the real problems in education. They assume (incorrectly) that most of the problems with low student achievement are caused by lazy, incompetent teachers and administrators and can easily be fixed by just getting tough on educators. "Tighten the screws on educators, fire a certain percentage of low performers and student scores will go up." Too bad it's not that simple. The Governor's so called "reforms" are so radical and so wrong that educators will finally say "Enough is enough, we're just not going to take it anymore." This conflict may even backfire and damage Jindal's plans for higher office!

Educators and many others are beginning to figure out that Jindal's intentions are not sincere, but are based mostly on creating the illusion that he is an education reformer who deserves public support for his greater political ambitions. He proved this recently by turning down critical federal funding for early childhood education which is one of the most vital and proven programs for boosting performance of our students. Then he helped his business friends by sabotaging a wonderful plan to fund high speed Internet access to rural areas, because it may compete with private Internet providers who did not want to develop these unprofitable markets in the first place.

Recently, Jindal sponsored legislation that assigns schools a letter grade rating that greatly distorts the efforts of educators in our most critical high poverty schools. The new system produced an amazing result: All the alternative schools got "F" and all the magnet schools got "A".  Hey I've got it: Why not convert all alternative schools into magnet schools so they can get "A" also? This is basically how simple minded and impractical the Jindal programs are.

Next year the Jindal reform forces will impose a new teacher evaluation system that will base 50% of a teacher's evaluation on student test scores. But most teachers teach subjects that are not part of the state testing program. So the state will come up with some hurry-up testing or base all evaluations on math and English scores. Also, no one has figured out how to factor in student poverty. Let me guess at the results: The teachers in the alternative schools and very high poverty schools will all get "F" and the teachers in the magnet schools will all get "A"! What will be the end result of this? Any teacher with any self respect will start pushing immediately for a transfer out of any poverty school to a school serving more privileged students. But the high poverty schools are where we need the strongest teachers! What kind of reform produces the opposite of its stated goal?

School principals in Tennessee and Long Island, New York are already on the verge of revolt because of their value added teacher evaluation system implemented as part of their "winning" Race to the Top funding. The evaluation program is so complicated, so time consuming and so counter productive that principals believe that they can no longer run their schools effectively.

In addition to the crazy evaluation scheme described above, the reform forces want to put in merit pay based on the new flawed evaluation,  revise the teacher retirement system and replace it with something cheaper, want to take away some of the powers of elected school boards yet allow non-elected charter school boards to operate without oversight, want to do away with teacher tenure, and want to grant vouchers for parents sending their children to private schools and privatize as many schools as possible. This is a recipe for disaster in public education!

Look, I know teachers. I have been a teacher, and I have represented teachers all my life and I'd like to describe for you the typical teacher.  Most teachers are dedicated and hard working, and most care deeply about the success and welfare of their students. Most did not get into teaching for the money. Recent studies have shown that merit pay for teachers does not work. Contrary to recent media opinion, most teachers are smart and work hard to reach all their students. Teachers have been willing to put up with many ridiculous mandates that had little to do with good teaching and have put up with disrespectful, disruptive students who do not care about learning and with many parents who refuse to do their part all because they love teaching and they love their students.

But most teachers have the courage of their convictions and eventually they are willing to take a stand when they have been pushed too far. I have spoken to many teachers recently who say that they are tired of being forced to teach to the test instead of using their creativity as teachers to really reach and motivate students. They have had enough of stupid mandates and lack of respect from politicians and reformers who have no idea what it is like in the classroom. At some point they will stand together and say it's not worth it anymore to implement counterproductive mandates and to put up with more abuse. At that point they are likely to shut down the entire education system until someone is willing to listen to teachers as the true voice of public education. This is where Jindal's reform movement is taking us!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

BESE Run-off Elections

There are just a few days left for early voting for the BESE run-off elections occuring in Districts 2, 6, and 8. I urge all educators who live in these districts to vote now or on November 19 for one of the candidates recommended to us by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. Your involvement could prevent a takeover of this vital policy board by those who would privatize our public schools and deprofessionalize the teaching profession in Louisiana. The following is the press release by the Coalition which explains the reasons for their BESE endorsements:

Coalition for Louisiana Public Education

Endorsements Three in BESE Run-offs

Baton Rouge, LA – The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education has officially endorsed candidates for the three remaining seats on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in the run-off elections for Saturday, Nov. 19th, according to Coalition Chairman Jack Loup.

Based on these candidates’ strong advocacy for public education and their overall experience with public education, the Coalition is endorsing Louella Givens, BESE District 2; Donald Songy, BESE District 6; and Dr. Jim Guillory, BESE District 8.

These three candidates are aligned with the core beliefs of the Coalition member organizations, and are deemed most likely to help transform all public school systems in the state. In the next few years BESE members will focus on how to raise the multi-year status quo of school performance scores in the Recovery School District (RSD), along with how to accelerate the current progress already being made in traditional public schools across the state.

Further, none of the candidates endorsed by the Coalition for the state’s highest education board have any potential conflicts of interest with serving on BESE.

“Coalition members have raised concerns about out-of-state political and business interests, including sizable national investments in our state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education races,” according to Loup. While the governor has three appointments, the remaining BESE members are elected by the people of Louisiana. Loup says, “We feel Louisianans are perfectly capable of selecting the right people, without outside interference, who will steer our education system and who can choose an excellent state superintendent from the many outstanding education professionals within our state, who best know Louisiana’s needs. We feel that Louisiana doesn’t need candidates who have recently moved here from, and are supported by, other states with problem school systems. Further, Louisiana doesn’t need out of state advice on candidates, or investment and profiteering on our own taxpayers and children.” 

Givens, in District 2, already has several years of experience on BESE, and is not backed by major out of state business and political interests. Her opponent, who moved here from New York City, is the head of Teach for America in New Orleans, which removes experienced, certified teachers from the

classrooms, and puts in their places college students, regardless of their major course of studies, for two-year periods.  There is further question as to whether it would be appropriate for her opponent to serve on BESE, given that she has financial ties to Teach for America, which BESE members may vote on.

Songy, in District 6, has a solid background in public education experience, having worked for years as a classroom teacher, principal, in personnel and as former superintendent of Ascension Parish. Songy supports public schools and teachers, and opposes the state seizure and privatization of public schools. Like Givens, Songy is also not supported by out of state business and political interests. Further, Songy believes that state resources should flow to the public school classrooms, rather than to out of state business concerns. In addition, Songy believes that the state Minimum Foundation Program should be fully funded in order to benefit all public school systems. To raise the quality of the profession even higher, Songy supports a fair, consistent evaluation of teachers.

Dr. Guillory has served as a school board member in Avoyelles Parish, and from his experience, he understands the needs of districts that include some of the most challenged urban and rural schools in the state. Like Givens and Songy, Guillory is not supported by out of state business and political interests. Because of his first-hand public education background, strong support for Louisiana public schools, and because he has no ties to big businesses from out of state, the Coalition believes “Dr. Jim” is the best candidate for BESE District 8.

Contrary to descriptions that the Coalition is a group of “teacher unions and school board members,” the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education is actually comprised of the state leaders of Louisiana’s major public education stakeholders: the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA); LA Association of School Superintendents (LASS); LA Association of School Executives (LASE); the LA Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA); the LA Association of Chief Technology Officers; the LA Association of Child Welfare and Attendance Professionals (LACWAP); the LA Association of School Personnel Administrators (LSASPA); the LA Retired Teachers Association (LRTA); state director of National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS); LA Computer Using Educators (LACUE); LA Association of Educators (LAE): and the LA Federation of Teachers (LFT). In addition, the Coalition includes state representatives of Save Our Schools and Parents Across America; and a bank of independent researchers specializing in education data analysis.

More information about the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education is available on Facebook:

For further information on the Coalition, contact Chairman Jack Loup, current president of the St. Tammany Parish School Board, at or 985-796-3771.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Outside Political Influence

It is interesting that the Louisiana media has failed to report on a sizable last minute  outside contribution to Louisiana's BESE election campaign by a political group based in New York. The American Independent Newspaper today carries a very well researched article about the contribution of New York Mayor Bloomberg's PAC to the Jindal/Grigsby PAC just a few days before the October primary election. Why was this important development not reported in the Louisiana news media?  If the public were to view the Governor's BESE takeover effort as part of a plan by a group of rich New York business guys who are involved in privatization of schools, there may be a public backlash against their candidates. On the other hand if Jindal can sell his BESE takeover effort as a good government move to reduce the influence of  unions and school boards who just want to maintain the status quo, the public is more likely to support his hand picked BESE candidates. Unfortunately this revelation did not come in time to cause a public backlash against the defeat of BESE members Keith Guice and Dale Bayard in the Primary.

Heaven knows Bloomberg does not need any more money, but there are recent revelations about his connections with media tycoon Rupert Murdock whose companies have developed computer assisted instructional programs that are being marketed to public and private schools.

The outside connections to Jindal, Grigsby, School Charter Groups and pro-voucher groups with the TFA and New York privatizers are just too numerous and well documented to ignore. One-by-one TFA newcomers have been appointed to the Louisiana Department of Education and BESE staff positions while highly qualified local educators have been passed over. John White, an unproven TFA alumnus is waiting in the wings for his appointment to the top position in Louisiana education while Jindal and his friends build their super majority on BESE.  Rolfe McCollister, owner of the Baton Rouge Business Report whose daughter recently worked for one of the charter management organizations is actively involved in this takeover PAC. Chas Roemer's sister who works for the charter schools has been advised that she cannot appear before BESE, yet Chas has been allowed to vote on critical charter takeover issues.

Testing companies are expecting more lucrative no-bid contracts. Many operators of the private and parochial schools across Louisiana are licking their chops at the prospect of a financial windfall of public funds if the Governor is successful in  expanding his voucher programs to private schools outside the New Orleans area. A group called the Black Alliance for School Choice is already drumming up support for vouchers and charters in the Black community. Only later will such parents find out that these will mostly benefit the affluent who can already afford a private education for their children. Freedom of choice of schools was outlawed by the courts years ago because it did not reduce segregation. Yet these voucher programs will surely produce an excluded group of high poverty students.  This is what we can expect from the takeover of BESE.
As I pointed out in my post of April 3, 2011, "It's not about the children anymore." It's about the adults and their plans to use public school funds for their own benefit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jindal Closer to Goal

The results of the primary election for BESE have brought Governoer Jindal very close to his goal of taking complete control of BESE. The defeat of District 5 and District 7 incumbents, Keith Guice and Dale Bayard make it more likely that Jindal will get his 8 vote super majority to pick the next State Superintendent. Three BESE races, Districts 2, 6 and 8 have yet be decided in the November general election. In District 3, Lottie Beebie, an educator from St. Martin Parish defeated the Governor's choice, incumbent  Glenny Lee Bouquet.

I am very disappointed in the loss of Keith Guice and Dale Bayard from the Board because they were solid representatives for sound education policy. They had been targeted for defeat by the Governor and his allies because they refused to support some reforms that they believed were more destructive than helpful to our schools.

Despite huge campaign expenditures by pro-Jindal incumbent Chas Roemer, he has been forced into a runoff with long time educator Donald Songy. Independent minded Louella Givens is in a runoff with TFA administrator, Kira Jones in District 2.

Carolyn Hill, a social worker is in a runoff in District 8 with former school board member Jim Guillory.

Look for more information on these runoffs in future post on this blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Negative Campaigning

Even the Jindal/big business endorsed candidate for BESE District 7 is objecting to the outrageous attacks (Click to view the Advocate story) by the Jindal/Grigsby PAC against BESE incumbent Dale Bayard. The Governor's friends want to make sure that he and big business have total control over education policy and they don't care how they do it.  They are so determined to remove all dissenting voices to the big business takeover of public education that their negative campaigning has gotten outrageous. Their chosen replacement to Bayard will be expected to do their bidding without question. Just as was done in the case of Tammie McDaniel who had the nerve to occasionally disagree with (non-educator) State Superintendent Pastorek on some critical issues.

The big money pushing the BESE takeover will not tolerate dissenting voices especially if they come from professional educators. In this "brave new world" of education reform anyone who is a professional educator is automatically considered to be an obstacle to "reform".  On the other hand, anyone who comes from a business background or graduated from an Ivy League college with a non-education degree is considered far superior to education graduates for staffing our schools. No matter that the TFA recruits generally only intend to do this bit of public service for two or less years; they are considered experts with only 6 weeks training. No matter that many of the Broad Foundation graduates of the school administrators' academy have no understanding of classroom issues, they are considered superior administrators to those who have toiled in the classroom for years. Their only criteria is:  Did the teacher raise student test scores? This is like having an accountant telling the doctors how do do surgery. If the Governor and his friends are successful, public education in Louisiana will be run by amateurs who believe they have all the answers without ever having worked in the classroom.

I am urging all educators and education support personnel to get out and vote for true public education advocates to BESE seats this Saturday. Ask your friends and relatives to also support your recommendations for BESE. This is the only way we can combat the influence of big money over our profession. Please ask all voters to support the condidates that have been recommended by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. They are the following:

Update: For BESE the Coalition has endorsed: District 1 - Sharon Hewitt; District 2 - Louella Givens; District 3 - Lottie Beebe; District 5 - Keith Guice; District 6 - Donald Songy; District 7 - Dale Bayard; and dual endorsements in District 8 - Jim Guillory and Domoine Rutledge. Also the Coalition supports District 4 - Walter Lee - who drew no opposition. These candidates fully support public education and the real transformation of Louisiana public schools.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reform May Not be Progress

Governor Jindal wants to make sure that BESE members elected this fall will continue to implement his education reform agenda and appoint his hand-picked State Superintendent. That's why he and business groups who support him are pouring money into BESE campaigns. The Governor intends to totally control BESE.

Previous posts on this blog have described Jindal's education reform agenda. See the September 1, post. What is objected to by most educators is that these so called reforms are totally unproven and may actually do more harm than good to Louisiana education. For example, the new teacher evaluation plan now being developed for Louisiana will use a value added formula measuring student academic growth to determine 50% of the teacher's performance rating. The Governor intends to use these evaluations to reward successful teachers and possibly fire teachers whose students don't progress as mandated. But there is a basic flaw in this plan. It is clear that the most critical need for effective teachers is in schools serving high poverty/high risk students. (For example, teaching positions in alternative schools) Yet no matter who their teachers are, these are the students that consistently show the least growth on Louisiana's testing system. So how is the state going to attract the most effective teachers to high poverty schools when teachers know that accepting such a position could result in a bad evaluation, possibly a lower salary, and possibly dismissal?

Another idea that looks good on paper, but may fail in practice is the addition of online virtual schools. Louisiana now has two privately run virtual schools that are expected to grow rapidly.  Proponents say that such schools may work for students who have not been successful in a traditional school environment. Supporters say the virtual school allows for more individual attention and may provide a learning program tailored to a student's unique learning style. What the proponents don't emphasize is that for some grades, the pupil teacher ratio may be as high as 50 to 1. Also, these programs require a parent or other adult in the student's home to serve as a "coach" so that day to day learning can be carefully monitored. For a thorough analysis of what could go wrong,  take a look at the experience with virtual schools in Colorado. According to the article linked here, we find that Colorado is experiencing serious problems with some of the same companies that are contracted to run the virtual schools in Louisiana. A large number of such students are dropping out and an unfair financial and teaching burden is being placed on the traditional public schools when such students transfer back to them in the middle of the school year.

Jindal also wants to continue expanding charter schools and voucher programs in Louisiana. That's despite the statistics that show that all direct takeover charter schools that have been added outside of New Orleans have shown a decline in student performance. The New Orleans takeover schools are the second lowest performers in the state. Also the average performance of the students receiving vouchers to attend private schools is also lower than when these students attended public schools. Reform apparently does not require improved performance.

I encourage educators to actively support the candidates endorsed by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. See these endorsements in my Sept 29 post. These are the candidates that stand for effective education reform.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

School Grades: Chicken or Egg?

Which comes first; an excellent school program or a motivated and academically engaged student body? When the school grades are announced this week by the Department of Education, many parents will be led to believe that their children's teachers are incompetent or lazy or both. They will have one more reason to just blame schools for poor student performance instead of doing their jobs of motivating their children and insisting on students doing their school work. That's because the current education reform craze producing the new school grades has incorrectly decreed that schools and teachers are totally responsible for the academic success of all students who happen to be enrolled.

Added 10/5/11: The school letter grades were released today and there are absolutely no surprises. Out of all the alternative schools in the state (30), all but two were assigned an F. Out of 68 Recovery District schools receiving letter grades, 87% received either a D or an F. Out of all the student selective magnet schools in the state, all but three received an A. Does this mean that all the teachers and administrators in our alternative schools are incompetent and that all teachers in magnet schools are highly effective? Will we get similar results when we apply the new teacher grading system? This is nuts!

All of my analysis of school performance shows that the qualities of student motivation and engagement in school are at least as important as the hard work of teachers in producing school success. The school reformers would probably be shocked to learn that a school could have top notch administrators, excellent teachers and a great academic program and still be rated as a "D" or "F" school by the new grading system. That's because the new school grades are completely dependent upon test data and attendance or graduation rate of students. If many students in a particular school miss a large number of school days, if they refuse to study and do homework, if they fail to get necessary sleep and proper nutrition, and are careless and skip some of the questions on their LEAP test, the school will likely be labeled as bad or failing. How is it that a school rather than the parents can be held responsible for the factors mentioned above?

If public education is to improve, the general public and our education policy makers must understand that it's not just the effectiveness of the school and it's not just the quality and motivation of the students but a complex mix of factors that determine student success.

In a school system like the Zachary Community Schools, we have both factors clicking to produce a truly excellent school system. Administrators and teachers are hard working and demanding of excellence in both their own performance and their student's performance. At the same time, children come to school prepared to work hard and learn. Parents won't let a student miss school unnecessarily and regularly use the Internet and teacher communications to check assignments and insist that students do homework. The school culture has become one of excellence and academic achievement. Everyone, whether educator or student is expected to do his/her part.

The Zachary schools will get A's and B's on the new grading system. The teachers and administrators in Zachary deserve to take their bows and accept credit for a job well done, but they also know that parents and students deserve their share of the credit. Unfortunately many educators in neighboring Baton Rouge will be unfairly demoralized by a grading system that puts the entire burden on their shoulders instead of promoting a unified effort by parents, students, and educators. In those schools, the new school grading system will do more harm than good. Because of this destructive impact on many schools staffed by dedicated professionals, the school grading system itself deserves an F.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coalition Endorses In 5 BESE Districts

The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education has announced its endorsements for BESE Candidates. Endorsements were made in 5 of the 8 election districts. They are as follows:
District 1 - Sharon Hewitt -  Includes the parishes of St Tammany and northern Orleans and northern Jefferson.
District 3 - Lottie Polozola Beebe -  Includes the parishes of St Bernard, southern Jefferson, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St Mary, Iberia, St Martin, west Iberville, southeast St Landry, south Pointe Coupee, and west Assumption
District 5 - Keith Guice - Includes the parishes of Claiborne, Union, Morehouse, West Carroll, East Carroll, Lincoln, Ouachita, Richland, Madison, Jackson, Caldwell, Franklin, Tensas, Grant, LaSalle, Catahoula, Concordia, Rapides, and most of Evangeline.
District 6 - Donald Songy - Includes the parishes of east Ascension, southeast and northern East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Tangipahoa, and Washington
District 7 - Dale Bayard - Includes the parishes of Beauregard, Allen, Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis, Cameron, Vermilion and southwest Lafayette.

Please take the time to inform yourself about the backgrounds and positions of these candidates by going to their web sites and facebook pages.

The Coalition’s  member organizations include a comprehensive group of top state education stakeholders. They are:

LA School Boards Association (LSBA);
LA Association of School Superintendents (LASS);
LA Association of School Executives (LASE);
LA Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA);
LA Association of Chief Technology Officers;
LA Association of Child Welfare and Attendance Professionals (LACWAP);
LA Association of School Personnel Administrators (LSASPA);
LA Retired Teachers Association (LRTA);
LA Association of Computer Using Educators (LACUE);
LA Association of Educators (LAE);
LA Federation of Teachers (LFT);
National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS);
National School Board Association, immediate past president;
Representatives of Save Our Schools;
Representatives of Parents Across America;
Independent researchers specializing in education data analysis.

The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education includes groups representing the great majority of education professionals and elementary/secondary education boards in Louisiana. I believe it is time that we listen to the advice of our professional educators in choosing our representatives to this important Board. I hope all educators and their families and friends will strongly consider the endorsed Coalition candidates.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bad Assumptions; Bad Policy

The Obama administration took action last week to allow waivers to states of some provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. These waivers would allow states to avoid some of the severe sanctions that the law required for schools that did not meet the annual requirements for progress to proficiency for all students in reading and math. Read a good analysis of the waiver plan at this link. The requirement that all students become proficient in reading and math by the year 2014 was ridiculous to begin with and could not be achieved by any school system that served a cross section of regular students.

So what will be required of those states that ask for waivers of the NCLB? Those states will be required by Arne Duncan to remove limitations on the creation of new charter schools, require the adoption of college and career standards for graduation, and require teachers to be evaluated partially based on student scores, and basically do whatever Arne Duncan says. This new waiver policy just puts more power over local school systems in the hands of the U.S. Education Secretary. In exchange for the waiver, we can expect more unreasonable untested mandates to be imposed. And yes, the testing mania will only get worse!

The idealistic goal that all students become proficient in certain subjects was an unrealistic criteria that was sure to create failures out of most of the schools in the country. That's because no government can successfully mandate a Lake Wobegon Effect. (Lake Wobegon is the mythical town invented by radio host Garrison Kheillor where supposedly "All women are strong, all men are good looking, and all children are above average.") It is statistically impossible for all children to be above average, but that's basically what the federal government attempted to require with NCLB.

Another example of a bad or unrealistic assumption is the statement by some politicians that "If our schools are doing their jobs, all children should be on grade level in reading and math". Grade level is really just an average performance determined by testing a cross section of students nation-wide to determine the typical reading level or math performance for a particular age group. Statistics show that a certain percentage of students perform above grade level and a similar percentage perform below grade level. If we could successfully mandate that no student will perform below grade level, the next time the national testing in that subject is done, the measurement of grade level would be re-calibrated upwards, again resulting in some students being below grade level. Children are all different. They are not like widgets built on an assembly line. Bad assumption; bad policy!

Another bad assumption is that if the test performance of students in a particular school is below the government approved standard, then the teachers and the school administration must not be doing their job. Under NCLB, the remedies imposed would have the school authorities close such a school or convert it into a charter school or fire at least half of the faculty and administration. When those remedies were imposed in some schools across the country, no noticeable change occurred. When Arne Duncan closed schools in Chicago and sent the students to more successful schools the transferred students performed no better, but the parents were upset because the transfers resulted in cross community fights and the death of at least one transferred student. When some schools in Baton Rouge were converted into charter schools, the performance of students declined. Under the waiver requirements we will shift mostly to embarrassing or firing teachers based on student scores. But that won't work either because soon the schools serving high poverty students will run out of teachers! Converting schools to charters just allows non-educators to experiment on kids and encourages cheating, and attempts to use public relations in the place of basic schooling. (Just consider the Abramson Charter schools)  Bad assumptions cause bad policy! 

There are no miracle solutions to education. We know that the only real crisis in our schools is the under performance of students from high poverty backgrounds. Why not just take the millions that would be wasted on more testing, and more complex value added teacher evaluations and spend it on beefing up the programs in our poverty schools. Implement effective parent involvement programs. Add more days to the school year, provide reading specialists, provide incentives rather than disincentives for teachers who are trained to address the needs of disadvantaged students. Schools should be judged based on the learning environment, the culture of positive discipline and time on task in practical learning activities, not on the results of a one-size-fits-all high stakes test. It should not shock us to find that when we compare two excellent schools that have good learning environments, we may find that student scores can still vary greatly!

That's why we need to elect reasonable public education supporters rather than school privatizers and misguided "reformers" to BESE.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Choices for BESE Seats

Several experienced, and dedicated educators have qualified for election to BESE along with several incumbents who have already proven themselves to be friends of public education. Voters will have a choice of electing practical decision makers to the state's most critical school board and to remove those who would privatize our public schools. If elected, I believe the leaders I have highlighted will adopt only tested and effective polices that will move education forward in Louisiana.

The following are highly qualified educators and solid public school leaders who have qualified for election to BESE. Within the next week, this blog will inform you of any endorsements made by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education for BESE elections. It is my understanding that the Coalition will recommend persons who are qualified, who are supportive of sound education improvements, and who truly believe that schools should be directed by elected school boards rather than self appointed privatization groups.
  • In BESE District 1, either Lee Barrios or Sharon Hewitt , should be considered. Ms Barrios is a retired teacher who has been active in testifying before BESE and the Legislature and has demonstrated a superior knowledge of education issues. Sharon Hewitt is a highly respected business and parent leader in the St. Tammany public school system. She is highly regarded and trusted by local St. Tammany School Board members. The incumbent, James Garvey, from District 1 has in my opinion blindly followed the dictates of former Superintendent Pastorek. He has been a poor representative of public education.
  • In BESE District 2, the incumbent, Louella Givens has proven to be a strong supporter of public education. She is knowledgeable about what works in education, and is not swayed by the latest privatization schemes. She is opposed by Kira Jones, the director of Teach For America in New Orleans who would be the worst choice for public education.
  • In BESE District 3, Lottie Beebie is a personnel director in St. Martin Parish schools who has extensive experience as a teacher and a principal who has served as a school board member in St. Landry Parish. She is very knowledgeable about the critical issues in education. The incumbent, Glenny Lee Bouquet, has not been responsive to the recommendations of public education leaders in her district and had not planned to run until encouraged to do so by Governor Jindal.
  • In BESE District 4, Walter Lee, the incumbent who is a strong supporter of public education is unopposed.
  • In BESE District 5, Keith Guice, the incumbent is also a strong supporter of public education. Mr Guice who is a former local superintendent has always been willing to make practical, educationally sound decisions on BESE. He deserves to be reelected!
  • In BESE District 6, Donald Songy who has extensive experience as a teacher, principal and local Superintendent deserves the strong consideration of all educators and all voters wanting a practical yet innovative approach to public education. He has testified before BESE and the Legislature on critical education issues. He is a member of the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. His opponent, Chas Roemer, the incumbent BESE member in District 6, has been an enemy of public education and has supported destructive BESE actions such as the new grading system for schools which I believe is very unfair to schools and will damage efforts to get positive parental support.
  • In BESE district 7,  Dale Bayard has been a fighter for public education. He is always willing to listen to the professionals in the field and is not swayed by the privatizers of public education. He deserves to be reelected! His opponent is supported by the Lane Grigsby PAC.
  • In BESE district 8, outgoing BESE member Linda Johnson is not running for reelection. She has told the Coaltion that she will support attorney, Demoine Rutledge who has experience representing local school boards. Other candidates in the race are Russell Armstrong, Jimmy Guillory, and Carolyn Hill. I am not familiar with these other candidates.
Please watch for future posts on this blog that will inform you of all candidates recommended by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education in all 8 BESE districts.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Ultimate Education Reform State

Governor Jindal is moving to assert complete control of both the legislature and BESE. A recent article in the Advocate describes Jindal's plans to hand pick all key legislative leadership positions. In addition, in an Aug 31 article, The Advocate carries a story about a new PAC formed by Lane Grigsby, Rolf McCollister and Jindal's former Chief Counsel who will commit up to one million dollars on the BESE takeover effort. With no viable opponent to his own reelection bid the Governor aims to help elect more close allies to both the legislature and BESE. Jindal wants no less than total control of state government and the public education system.

Recently, Jindal has enjoyed a one vote majority on BESE in approving major components of his reform agenda including value added teacher evaluations, a new letter grade system for rating schools and the addition of two privately run virtual charter schools that can take students and the per pupil funding from any school system in the state. But at its last meeting, based on an official report of a Louisiana teacher surplus, BESE balked at approving a two million dollar "no bid" contract for Teach For America to recruit non-education college grads to teach in Louisiana schools.  Not long after this action, Kira Jones, the Director of Teach For America in New Orleans announced her candidacy to run for BESE against Louella Givens in the second BESE district. Pro Charter groups immediately gushed with enthusiasm in support of her candidacy.

The Jindal/Grigsby group is also targeting the removal of 7th BESE district member, Dale Bayard. Mr Bayard's "sin" against the Governor's reform push is that he insists on getting the opinion of professional educators who have dedicated their lives to the education of children instead of automatically approving every privatization scheme presented to BESE.

If he is successful with his BESE takeover and greater control of the Legislature, Jindal could make Louisiana the uncontested leader in all the latest, unproven, non-research based, standardized test driven, education privatization schemes in the nation! This image would fit neatly into his plans for higher office in the future. His reform agenda would be implemented by Teach for America (six weeks of formal education training) "experts" placed at all levels of the State Department, BESE staff and BESE itself. With TFAer John White as State Superintendent, Louisiana would move rapidly with privatization and de-professionalization of teaching. The following would be some of the major goals of this education takeover:

  1. Reduction of the authority of local school boards to make local education policy. Broad Foundation and TFA trained non-educators would be expected to run the larger local school systems as education Czars much like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan have done.
  2. Out of state charter organizations would continue to expand into more local school systems, with the ability to select the highest potential students to bolster their school performance scores at the expense of local run schools that would be expected to service the leftovers and special needs students.
  3. Expect the elimination of teacher tenure and all seniority rights. Expect Teach for America to enjoy free rein in placing as many new teachers here as they choose even if veteran teachers have to be laid off to make room.
  4. Expect more student testing by the state to determine the ratings of all teachers and all schools. The testing companies and number crunchers will have a field day measuring every grade level expectation. Expect teachers to spend even more time on test prep activities at the expense of arts, foreign languages, social studies, music, performance, and other enrichment courses.
  5.  Expect the teacher retirement system to be phased out along with group benefits and replaced with minimum cost fringe benefits.
  6. Don't expect improvements in teacher salaries beyond the merit pay, or pay for performance schemes that will spring up. Forget about creativity in teaching. Teachers had better get ready to learn how to teach the test and game the system if they expect to survive.
  7. Expect many experienced teachers to retire earlier than they had planned because of frustration with the de-professionalization of their work. Expect the state to resort to hiring more alternative certified teachers to fill those slots. Teaching in Louisiana could become a temporary jobs program for college grads who cannot find work in their chosen field.
That's enough! I think you get the picture. Will these so called reforms actually improve student performance? I hope you can take the time to read a response to a new education reform book reviewed by Dianne Ravitch at this Reuters link.  I believe she does a great job of pointing out that the reformers are fixing the wrong problem.

One of my favorite thought experiments on school reform is as follows:
Take the faculty of the highest performing school in the state (which would be a selective admissions or magnet school) and switch it with the faculty of the lowest performing school in the state (which would be a school serving low income students) and monitor the results for a few years to see how the SPS of each changes. I'll bet most experienced educators would know the answer without having to wait for the results. Educators if you value your profession and if you believe that professional educators have more to offer our students than misinformed non-educator reformers, you owe it to yourself and your students to get informed about the BESE and Legislative candidates education philosophy and do your civic duty in the upcoming elections.

This blog will attempt to inform you about the candidates and any recommendations coming from the Coalition For Louisiana Public Education.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Iberville Education Reform

 Iberville Parish Math, Science, & Arts Academy students start off the year with a free laptop computer for students in upper grades. This is just one example of how technology is integrated into the entire school environment.

New Laptops

Math and Science are emphasized, yet when you talk to individual students you find that they are most often even more excited about the art and performance offerings at the new Academies. Apparently the genius of this reform schooling concept is to offer a variety of great and exciting programs that make attending school fun and challenging.

Iberville Parish is split by the Mississippi River with the majority of the school population on the west side of the river. But Superintendent Edward Cancienne knew that if the new Math, Science, & Arts Academy was to get full public support, he would need to offer a great program for children on both sides of the river. Since there are no bridges in the area, that meant a smaller version of the Academy for the East side. According to newspaper reports, parents on the East side are ecstatic about the opportunities for their children offered at the brand new state-of-the-art, energy efficient facility in St Gabriel. Chuck Johnson directs operations at the East facility. A bond issue passed in 2008 has allowed construction of new buildings and lots of enrichment programs on both sides of the river.

In fact parents on both sides of the river are so impressed that in just 3 years a total of 780 students have transferred from private schools back into the public school system. For years the Iberville public school system had been plagued by the flight of serious top students (both black and white) to private schools. Now the kids are back, and the new concept Academies have a waiting list of over 400. Elvis Cavalier, Chief Academic Officer for the Parish, who runs this program says that more classes are being added as new  facilities are built. The West campus will soon have a STEM wing addition that will also add more classrooms.

So what is the secret of this impressive success story? Cancienne and Cavalier are not what today are considered "education reformers". They are more like old line professional educators who work with traditional schools. But if great offerings, teacher and student engagement, and parental involvement are measures of true reform, then these guys are successful education reformers. I tried to dig below the surface to report to you what I think makes this concept work. None of the ideas are new. They are simply put together in a formula that works for Iberville Parish:
  • Excellence in all programs All students are exposed to accelerated classes in all areas of math, science and the arts.
  • Exclusivity All parents want their child enrolled in a special program that is open only to the best. Yet the Academy programs have no entrance requirements for most students. Once enrolled, all students are required to maintain a 2.5 GPA and must maintain an excellent discipline record to stay at the academy. The program accepts first students that are classified as gifted & talented and their siblings but that's only 15% of the student body. All others are just regular kids who are committed to excellence. Most students are selected by lottery. According to Cavalier even with the strict rules the program has only a 4% student turnover rate.
  • Total Commitment from teachers and administrators to the concepts of the Academies. Teachers don't mind making extra efforts when they feel appreciated by their administrators and parents.
  • Balanced enrollment. The Academies maintain a 50:50 black-white ratio to ensure diversity.
  • Spanish club in Costa Rica
  • No brain drain. The Academy program is not classified as a school. Therefore all student LEAP and iLEAP scores go back to the student's home school. Everybody benefits from the high performance of the Academy students. Cancienne believes that students in the home schools are motivated to perform better by opportunity to attend the Academy.
  • Rewards. A great motivation for students are the special trips and perks for students who score at the mastery level on state tests. The kids I talked to were most excited about performing in the Orchestra and in plays.
  • Dual Enrollment. High school students pursue dual enrollment college credit at every opportunity. Student body president Kristen Ellis expects to graduate with 30 hours of college credit courses.
For years, Iberville parish has struggled with a high dropout rate and a very low graduation rate.  Starting this year, the Academies are expected to help greatly improve those numbers.

According to Superintendent Cancienne, "The Math, Science & Arts Academies in Iberville have created a special culture of excellence and high achievement."

To me this is real education reform that works.
Cavalier and Cancienne with plans