Thursday, August 18, 2011

Report on BESE Actions

The following report was sent to me late last night by LA School Board Association Consultant Don Whittinghill. I thought I would reprint it so my readers could get the very latest information on critical BESE actions. I'm pleased that BESE realized that it did not make sense to hand out contracts for teacher recruiting when we have a surplus of teachers!

Arrogance Put on Hold
BESE Says Hold ON!
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), meeting today in Baton Rouge repelled a move by the State Department of Education to alter the way that BESE advisory councils operate.

BESE member Walter Lee chided the department for initiating an action that would have changed the way that the BESE-appointed Superintendents’ Advisory Council operates. He reminded DOE spokespersons that the council is created by BESE policy and that only the board has the authority to change operation of the councils. BESE also has an 8(g) Advisory Council, Nonpublic school Commission, a Special Education Advisory Council, and a Textbook and Media Advisory Council.

BESE also put on hold a pair of contracts that proposed to pay Teach for America $2,023,197 for recruitment and orientation of teacher candidates; and also $1,275,479 to the Brooklyn, NY, New Teacher Project for the recruitment, selection, training and certification of alternative route teachers.

These large contracts were proposed by DOE in the face of a reported surplus of teachers made by the state education estimating conference just yesterday.

The Department was also taken to task for its calculation of Graduation Cohort Index and Rate, statewide, using a policy that has not been officially promulgated. The policy was adopted by BESE in June, and published in the official state journal. Law requires that the public be provided time to comment on the Notice of Intent proposing the new policy. The rule would become official in November. However, under BESE grilling Erin Bendily, assistant deputy superintendent of the Office of Departmental Support, admitted that the application of the new policy was done because it was deemed to be the latest expression of BESE intent.

BESE member Louella Harding-Givins of New Orleans, protested that the department acted illegally as a Notice of Intent is a warning to the public that something is about to happen, and its intent is to provide the public time to comment and, perhaps, alter the proposal.

Linda Johnson, another BESE member questioned the entire early School Performance Score released this spring by the department.

Testimony was provided by Tom Spenser of the Lafayette Public School District, that the impact on 2011 SPS was significant. A graduation rate of 85% would have produced 9 points under currently established policy, but only 2.3 using the pending policy that was used. An 80% graduation rate earned by a high school would have earned 6.8 points with the current policy, but zero points by applying the pending policy.

The impact of such losses likely would have a significant impact on the number of schools earning an SPS below 65 this year and thus gain the designation of Academically Unacceptable School. The 2010 listing on the DOE web site showed that Stewart Elementary School, in Webster Parish scored 65.1. A 6.5 point reduction if applying the proposed policy would have cast the school in AUS. Potentially 89 additional schools would have been reported as AUS had the proposed policy been used in 2010.

The multi-million Teach for America (TFA) contract would cover the cost of eight TFA employees working an average of 50 hours per week another 1.5 employees would cost $406,314 for an average of 50 hours work per week, and $1,000,000 was proposed to pay for three employees who are expected to work 50 hour weeks, and one part-time consultant working 20 hours per week.

In still another action, BESE approved a Pre-K assessment that the DOE recommended should be deferred until later. A motion to reconsider the approval so as to allow three non-governmental agencies to consider the assessment proposals was not adopted.

In a nine hour committee schedule, BESE once again heard a variety of protests from New Orleans education activists Karen Royal Harper. Her protests about RSD facilities decisions, and how nearly a billion dollars had been spent, with little regard for repopulation patterns in New Orleans, drew some support from BESE members.

Don Whittinghill

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lavish State Funding for Education Alternatives

At a time when state funding for traditional public education has been reduced and frozen even as mandated costs have surged, some alternative education initiatives have received generous funding. In a guest editorial for the Monroe News Star Sunday, State Treasurer John Kennedy pointed out that the state has too many unnecessary consulting contracts. I agree with Mr Kennedy and want to point out just a few of the highly questionable Education Department consulting contracts. These include a no bid contract for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and several appropriations for Teach for America recruitment activities.  Here are the line items in the budget of the LA Department of Education.
  • $729,769 for professional services by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to manage charter applications and to help review charter school contracts for BESE.
  • $630,000 with the Teach for America organization to help recruit TFA recruits for different school districts around the state
  • $468,468 for another contract with Teach for America to assist the State Department of Education in recruiting 600 TFA recruits.
  • $1,267,250 for another contract with Teach for America to specifically recruit TFA recruits for the Recovery District and for the Louisiana Teaching Fellows program in Northwest Louisiana.
I have strong objections as a taxpayer to each of these appropriations.

 The first item of $729,769 to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers looks like a conflict of interest to me.  This group is set up to promote charters, not to look after the interests of public school students.  I believe the Department of Educaiton has attorneys and other highly paid staff who could better review these charter contracts. It is obvious from the recent action by BESE to terminate a charter after serious wrongdoing that this organization is not involved in monitoring alleged violations of state law or provisions of the charter contracts.

The three different appropriations for Teach for America, I believe are unnecessary to begin with and seemingly pay more than once for the same service. I have to ask why are these gifts to TFA necessary? Does the state pay our state colleges of education for all the work they do in helping school systems to place new teachers in local schools?

The Recovery District in New Orleans systematically lays off over 250 teachers each year by closing some schools and opening new ones. This helps to make room for the new TFA recruits. That's a slap in the face of laid off certified teachers who have achieved proper certification and have made teaching their real career instead of signing up for a two year stint in TFA before going on to their true profession. Many other school systems have cut back on teaching positions because of the budget crunch. Why is Louisiana not making efforts to find jobs for laid off certified teachers first, before bringing in more TFA recruits?

I believe that originally this idea to have a large pool of TFA recruits and the subcontract for the Louisiana Teaching Fellows came about because of a push by former Superintendent Pastorek to implement the new value added teacher evaluation model starting in some parishes this year. There was a proposal by some education reformers last year that if school systems could fire and replace the bottom 5% of their teachers according to student performance, that student test scores would improve dramatically. Pastorek had obviously bought into this hair brained scheme. (Most education researchers say there is no real basis for this theory)  In one of the memos concerning the new evaluation system sent to local superintendents last year, Pastorek sought to alleviate fears about teacher shortages caused by the new evaluation system. He suggested that the State Department would attempt to provide a source of new teachers to fill the vacancies created by value added firings. I guess that's the reason for the 600 extra TFA recruits in addition to the recruits by the Louisiana Teaching Fellows (Does anyone know who owns or runs the Louisiana Teaching Fellows?) for the Recovery District.

I hope the state auditors carefully monitor these expenditures and that the legislature considers not renewing such "no bid"contracts in the future.