Sunday, May 1, 2011

Education Policy Destroying Public Schools

My analysis of School Performance scores posted last week (see the article below) points out that the majority of schools in Louisiana may soon be rated as “D” or “F” schools. Such schools that do not increase their SPS by the growth mandated by BESE will have a minus attached to their assigned grades. These ratings will surely demoralize teachers, students, and parents and stigmatize these schools as failures. But the failure is that of our government to provide real support for struggling schools rather than failure of the schools themselves. Both Federal and State policies today are harmful rather than helpful to public education.

U. S. Education Secretary Duncan stated recently that within the next two years as many as 80% of our schools nationwide may be classified as failures by the No Child Left Behind law. This is the result of the flawed assumption that our schools alone can overcome the effects of poverty. This just added: Click on this link to read an article in The Texas Tribune about new research on poverty and Charters in their public school system. (Thank you to one of my readers for finding this story) The mandate in Louisiana that each school must reach a School Performance Score of 120 by 2014 shows the ignorance rather than the wisdom of our policy makers. The setting of SPS growth goals are arbitrary and based more on wishful thinking than on tested and proven educational practice. Academic performance does not occur because of decrees from higher authorities. Yet many thousands of professional educators and their students are sure to be punished for failing to achieve the goals of these dubious decrees.

The data used to produce the analysis of poverty vs SPS shows that 282 schools in Louisiana have between 90 and 100% of their students classified as high poverty students. The Federal and State governments ten years ago decreed that such schools should produce the same student performance as schools with only 10 to 20% poverty. This would be like the government requiring that the Intensive Care ward of a hospital have the same rate of success as a section of the hospital that treats people with minor colds and sniffles. Any expert in tests and measurement could have told the government that this goal was completely irrational. Rather than consult experts who could have recommended more productive approaches, the government decided to double down on previous bad bets.

The next step was to allow new management to take over so called “failing” schools. Direct takeover of so called “failing schools” by charter schools has resulted in major declines in student performance in the Baton Rouge area and other parts of the state. (Click here to see our post of Feb. 19)  The New Orleans system of takeover has resulted in higher scores for a very few select schools with overall sub par average performance in the New Orleans Recovery District. Legislation that provided vouchers to allow public school students in New Orleans to attend private/parochial schools has resulted in declines in student achievement. But the government was not yet tired of micro-management.

The new punitive grading scale to be implemented this fall is sure to make it even more difficult for schools to get the needed cooperation of parents who will be encouraged by this system to simply blame the principal and the teachers. This meddling with local schools by the state and federal governments is sure to drive the most competent and dedicated educators away from the schools most in need of their services.

The latest strategies of the public school haters are thinly disguised. Recently when parents were given the choice to transfer their students from so called “failing” schools to more successful public schools they have usually declined to do so. So recently Baton Rouge was visited by a group of pro-voucher advocates who are trying to drum up support among parents of high poverty students for additional vouchers for the Baton Rouge area. As schools are assigned “D-” and “F-” this fall, parents in high poverty communities are expected to demand vouchers to send their children to private/parochial schools. The governor who is now in the process of starving traditional public schools of state support has already announced that he will support additional vouchers. Even in a budget crisis there is apparently always new money for non-public schools.

The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education is meeting this week to determine legislative priorities for the defense of our public school system. Please check with this web site and with the Face book page of the Coalition to get up-to-the-minute reports on scheduled actions at the legislature. If you believe in public education, please contact your legislators about these critical issues.