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.