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.