Tuesday, May 24, 2011

School Grade Revision Goes to Committee

Important notice (5/27/2011): The committee hearing on SB 35 and SB 201 has been delayed and will be rescheduled for June 2. This gives you more time to contact the senators on the Senate Education committee.

Educators, we need to take steps now to prevent serious damage to public Education! Senate Bill 35 by Dorsey and Senate Bill 201 by Perry are scheduled for a hearing before the Louisiana Senate Education Committee this Thursday, May 26. This is the legislation that would require BESE to suspend and revamp the new letter grading system for public schools and school systems. These bills are strongly supported by the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. My opinion however, is that it will take grass roots lobbying efforts from educators in the field who know that this new letter grading system is destructive to public schools, if this legislation is to be successful.

Click on this link to the information page for the Senate Education Committee and you can get the names of the committee members and their email addresses. Particularly if you live or teach in one the parishes represented by these Senators, you should send each of them an email before Thursday. The following is a sample email:

Dear Senator ___:
I am a public school educator (teacher, principal, superintendent, or school board member) at _____ school or _____ school system. I believe that the new school grading system recently adopted by BESE will be damaging to many public schools in our system. I am asking that you vote for either Senate Bill 35 or Senate Bill 201 this week in the Senate Education Committee. Either one of these bills would suspend the new grading system and require BESE to revise it. The present grading system does not consider critical poverty factors affecting many of our schools and will result in the loss of support of parents just at the time when progress needs to be made to increase positive parental involvement. Evidence will be provided at the committee hearing about why this system should be revised. We would appreciate your support.

Now let me tell you the educator more about why this legislation is necessary:

The school grading system adopted recently by BESE is either a cynical scheme to seriously damage public schools in the eyes of the public so that the forces of privatization can make further inroads into taking over education, or it is an incompetent bungling of a seemingly simple idea to inform parents about the effectiveness of a school. I lean toward the second possibility. Either way this policy is needlessly harmful to public schools in Louisiana.

The BESE grading system is harmful primarily because it does not take into account the overwhelming influence of poverty in many Louisiana public schools. You've seen the data in our post of April 21 showing the major correlation of School Performance Scores with student poverty percentages. But in addition, we now have data showing that it does not matter what school system your school happens to be in or how effective your principal, or how dedicated your teachers, poverty takes precedence.

For example, statistics show that if you teach in a school with anything over 80% free or reduced lunch students, you are almost certain to have a letter going to the parents of the children you teach this fall telling them that their child is attending a D- school. That's because the new system is rigged against you. This grading system applies a wreaking ball to the relationship between schools and parents.

Many schools serving high poverty communities have made dramatic improvements in student performance on LEAP in recent years only to "hit the wall" in the SPS range in the 80's. The new grading system is rigged to give all such schools a D and then add a minus to it if the school fails to increase its SPS by the state mandated growth amount. As we approach the year 2014, the year where all schools are supposed to reach an SPS of 120 (proficiency), the growth target is automatically ramped up to impossible levels. That's why so many schools will get a D-.

But the parents and the local Rotary Club and the business community, don't know anything about all these unfair technicalities. All they will believe when this news hits the papers next fall and the letters go home to parents is that the teachers and administration at our local school are doing a lousy job of educating our children!

That's why you as an educator have a responsibility to act now in supporting legislation that could prevent this serious damage to our schools!