Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jindal Reform Effort Misguided; Destructive

I have been involved with Louisiana education for over 40 years now and never have I seen such a misguided and wrong headed attempt to implement change in our educational system as was announced by Governor Jindal on Tuesday! If you study the Governor's proposals you can only come to the conclusion that he believes that the teaching profession in Louisiana is rife with incompetent or lazy teachers and administrators, and that if we simply fire and replace them our students will magically start doing much better on the state tests. Almost everything in the Governor's plan is based on this incorrect assumption.

Probably the most dangerous part of the plan is the proposal to expand tremendously the school voucher programs that have apparently failed to produce results in the New Orleans area. According to the local charter school advocates in New Orleans led by former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, the students who got "scholarships" to attend private and parochial schools have performed at an even lower level than the students in the Recovery District. So the Governor wants to take an ineffective program and allow it to drain students from over 70% of the public schools in the state (any school rated as "C" or lower by the new school grading system). This program could become a huge drain on public school funding as students get free tuition to attend private schools. This would effectively become the largest (in terms of percentage of population) school voucher program in the country. All this damage would be done to public schools without a shred of evidence that it improves the education of the transferring students!

The Governor claims that the "scholarship" students will still be tested using the state testing program in their new schools to insure accountability. This is what I predict to be the long term result of this expanded voucher program: The private and parochial schools will carefully select the students they want for the limited amount of space for new students in their schools and cull out many using expulsions until they have retained only the higher performing students. The public schools will then have to contend with more lower performing and more special needs students than before with less money. Contrary to what some parents are being led to believe, this process will result in an even greater disparity in the education of high poverty students.

In addition to expanded vouchers, the Governor plans to propose that any group wanting to set up a charter school in any parish or city school system rated as D or F would be able to go directly to BESE (which is now controlled by charter school advocates) to have new charters approved. This rule would apply to over 50% of the student population in Louisiana. Some charter organizations would even benefit from an expedited approval process. All this means that there would be huge drains on the MFP for many of our local school systems without the opportunity for the local citizens in that area to have any input in the process! The "smarter" charter management organizations also know how to use public money for recruitment campaigns that also drain off the higher potential students from public school systems.

The Governor also wants the new untested teacher evaluation program to form the basis for firing or demoting large numbers of teachers based on student test scores. His plan would also encourage local systems to reallocate teacher salary money to give merit pay raises to teachers who are deemed proficient by the new evaluation system. The problem with this plan is that it is based upon an untested value added model similar to one that is already failing in Tennessee and New York. Principals there are reporting that all the VAM evaluation does is produce much more of a bureaucratic burden on principals with highly questionable results. In Louisiana the two chief architects of the new Value Added Model have resigned from their roles in the program, passing this potential monster on to other staff. Such an inaccurate, inappropriate system for evaluating and rewarding teachers can only destroy the morale of an already besieged teaching force in Louisiana.

There is much more to this destructive list of reform priorities announced by the Governor that needs to be analyzed, particularly after it is drafted into legislation. I intend to use this blog to attempt to inform educators of the details and potential hazards of this reform plan as it unfolds. I hope that educators will make their voices heard by the Governor and the Legislature about the real consequences of these proposals on the welfare of our students.

Click on this link to see the text of the Governor's speech on this plan to LABI