Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Essay on Education Reform

By: Bryan Alleman, M.Ed.
Puzzled by the all-of-a-sudden outside interest in Louisiana education politics, I decided to examine a few key metropolitan areas in the United States with pro charter school environments. Each has a suspiciously coincidental connection to the forces changing and profiting from Louisiana’s dramatically turbulent educational landscape. My goal is to determine the relevance of the current charter school movement in Louisiana and its feasibility as a method for improving student achievement in our state.

Before proceeding, it is important to note a phenomenon reported by the American Association of School Administrators called the 95/5 dilemma. The AASA describes how many school leaders have been seduced into abandoning common sense approaches due to an overwhelming emphasis on poor results on standardized tests by a tiny portion of the whole student body—roughly five percent. It is alarming that such a small portion of the overall results are now consequently driving school, district and state policies at the expense of the remaining student population who do not need such extreme measures, and in most cases, are not even beneficial to them at all. More outrageous is the trail of evidence across America suggesting this sensitive issue has been exploited by some to promote a disingenuous reform agenda that often calls for extreme changes and many privately owned charter schools. Originally, charter schools were a noble concept that involved highly trained teachers working with a small number of at-risk students---a real formula for genuine grade level recovery. Now, many charter schools are governed by boards composed of individuals who have succumbed to greed and seek profits at the risk of jeopardizing the only guaranteed escape from the crippling grips of poverty---a good public education for all students. Most charter schools in the New Orleans area are not staffed with highly trained educators but rather young, inexperienced rookies that help to drive the personnel cost down and keep the energy level up. Charter schools continue to be part of a sporadic nationwide movement despite current, valid and reliable research reporting charter school mediocrity. Additionally, many appeals have come from credible, experienced experts calling for policy makers to look at the data now available on charter school performance such as the CREDO study by Stanford and other scholarly research like the POINT study by Vanderbilt on merit pay incentive systems for teachers. Hopefully, such a review of data is paired with a reexamination of their intentions for supporting such a drastic change to public education with no empirical basis. More alarming still are the multiple allegations of rampant fraud including cheating on standardized tests and covered up scandals.

New York City, NY: Step1:“Break up the monopoly!” In an unprecedented change of governance stakeholders moved education policy decision making authority from a multi member Board of Education, where several officials set the majority of the education policy, to mayoral control of the school system. Such a stronghold on the city’s schools would allow Mayor Bloomberg to make a series of questionable appointments to the office of Chancellor, the city’s top education job (see Table A, A Brief History of NYC School Chancellors Since 2000). This drastic change created a system that is more dictatorial by design than democratic.
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Mayor Bloomberg of New York City donated $100,000 to support John White for State Superintendent of Louisiana in a very unusual long distance show of support. Money is only one way Michael Bloomberg will try to insert his influence in attempts to keep the failing reform movement going across the nation. Source:

After filling Paul Vallas’ vacancy in the Recovery School District in New Orleans, John White became Governor Bobby Jindal’s, “natural choice” to succeed Paul Pastorek as Louisiana’s next state superintendent of education at thirty-six years old and without valid credentials. Prior to White’s Louisiana anointment, he spent time working in the New York City school system within Chancellor Joel Kline's administration. (Kline was Bloomberg’s first appointment after gaining control of the city’s schools.) White held an executive level position in the New York City school system related to human resources after working for the Teach for America corporate headquarters in Chicago.
STATUS: After being given complete control of the NYC school system, Mayor Bloomberg’s three hand-picked Supermen, including a Superwoman, have not produced the results promised to the public.

Chicago, IL: Step 1: “Break up the monopoly!” In 1995, Mayor Richard Daley convinced the Illinois State Legislature to move the Chicago Public School (CPS) system under mayoral control…sound familiar? Such an act established the position of CEO of the CPS with Paul Vallas appointed by Mayor Daley as the very first. Controversy soon came and Vallas left the CPS for his next job as CEO of the School District of PA [source: ]. Vallas would leave the Philadelphia system seventy-three million dollars in the red.
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Paul Vallas became the RSD Superintendent appointed by Paul Pastorek after Katrina, both strongly supported by Governor Bobby Jindal. Vallas was imported into LA and presided over arguably the largest spending spree in the name of education in this state’s history; notably, occurring in the aftermath and as a result of Katrina. Prior to the RSD, Vallas was in Philadelphia, PA after leaving Chicago. Recently, in a completely legal but highly questionable and rare use of star power, U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, phoned each of the Louisiana BESE Board members asking for their consideration in support of John White as the next State Superintendent of Education in Louisiana. Considering the amount of federal money that will change hands if Louisiana plays ball with Duncan via the Race to the Top program, such influence on a state would not pass the ethical smell test local school boards must endure. Secretary Duncan succeeded Vallas as CEO of CPS prior to his cabinet level appointment in President Obama’s administration.

STATUS: System is still waiting for superman after the charter school ‘reform’ experiment failed to produce the results promised to the public.

Washington, DC: Enter Teach for America recruit turned Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who takes the District of Columbia on a roller coaster ride which leaves that system in turmoil. Under her leadership, the district is filled with lawsuits and investigations pertaining to rampant and unwarranted employee dismissal and test tampering. There are also queries about the actual educational achievement of students during her tenure. Rhee’s imposed merit pay system for teachers and allegiance to the promotion of charter schools contributed to the chaos leaving an educational landscape that is anything but more accessible to all. The usual “Break up the monopoly!” mentality was present here in 2007 when the D.C. Board of Education was stripped of its authority, changed its own function to one of an advisory board, and created the office of the Chancellor of education after giving Adrian Fenty mayoral control of the schools. Michelle Rhee was the first Chancellor of D.C. schools appointed by Fenty per the suggestion of Joel Kline. [Source: ].
CONNECTION TO Louisiana: Michelle Rhee founded the money-generating nonprofit organization, The New Teacher Project, which provides fast track training to aspiring new teachers often times working with a large number of Teach for America recruits in urban areas. Rhee is now providing that service right here in Louisiana which has watered-down a once highly rated and effective professional preparation program that took years to refine. I imagine this training is sold as an ideal supplement to the fluid, ever-young Teach for America based work force---imagination among Louisiana educators has been necessary since Governor Jindal invites more business lobbyist and out-of-state investors than teachers and educational experts to meetings about our future. Louisiana has a contract with Teach for America essentially guaranteeing its members teaching jobs in Louisiana schools. Rhee’s second money-generating nonprofit organization, Students First, is very well funded and functions as a super PAC targeting local and state school elections to help promote charter schools. Rhee recently stated that she wanted to raise one billion dollars for Students First---a statement indicative of an intention to be the first ‘billionaire educator’ more than improving student achievement and far from the notion of actually putting students first.
STATUS: System in turmoil after charter school ‘reform’ experiment failed to produce the results promised to the public and stakeholders even with the benefit of lessons learned in other urban areas like NYC. Is there too much kryptonite in the Potomac?

There is a definite pattern to the charter school reform model. First, rewrite the rules of governance so one powerful individual can make all decisions very quickly (usually through the office of a newly elected urban mayor); then, fire a significant number of teachers to create an artificial emergency teacher shortage; next, pick up the phone and hire Teach for America recruits; then, send them through Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project to train batches of inexperienced neophytes. Finally, mention Harvard University enough to lessen concerns about the mass teacher extermination while altering the accountability system to constrict traditional schools with laborious regulations and strenuous unfunded mandates while many charter schools enjoy the freedoms of a pre-NCLB era in education. But why? The reason most certainly is not a lack of funding for charter schools. According to Rupert Murdoch, “…education is a goldmine...”. Plus, investors are plentiful and are anxious to ante up. Well-financed foundations exist to promote the need for charter schools. The Jeb Bush sponsored organization, the Foundation for Excellence for Education, refers to a select group of current and former system leaders as "Chiefs for Change" with none other than Louisiana's very own Paul Pastorek providing some very interesting sound bites from the dais. Beginning with Pastorek’s Napoleonic sounding introductory address at 9:54 (all times given are approximations, in minutes), he gives us the aforementioned, “Break up the monopoly!”, mantra by channeling Rupert Murdock, who was the keynote speaker for the foundation’s conference, at which Pastorek spoke freely about his experience in Louisiana.

Beginning @11:15  “…. (educating children) is not a right…” as part of an explanation of his pro competition philosophy in regards to public education.
Beginning @42:00  Explains why compromise is wrong. Encourages others not to compromise either.
And between 43:30 and 61:40  Pastorek manages to: tout his own performance; rant in an even more Napoleonic sounding fashion while giving reasons why he thinks he is not divisive, yet admits to a legacy of being divisive while working in Louisiana as superintendent; accuses Louisiana educators of being lying hypocrites since, despite educators across the state repeatedly telling him all students can learn, his trans-cerebral abilities convince him that public school teachers really don’t believe all students can learn; blame poor classroom teachers for the lack of parental involvement in schools; remind his cohort on stage that they wouldn’t want to attend some public schools in Louisiana either. The final blow comes when he disingenuously excuses talking about his state so much by offering his intentions for mentioning Louisiana so frequently not by citing an overwhelming sense of pride, but rather by hoping those present will benefit from the stories he shared.
{Watch the video: (click “Chiefs for Change”)}

To be an educational leader, it takes more than a willingness to fire teachers en masse while blaming unions and tenure policy when both are doing exactly what they were designed to do---afford protection from the ill-intended. It is obvious to me, the charter school reform movement is led by those that believe in the fallacy, If you can’t do, teach. More frightening is their approach, which I describe as---If you can’t teach, DESTROY the profession!

About the author: Bryan P. Alleman is a life-long resident of Louisiana and a certified math teacher, school and district administrator. He lives and works in Crowley, LA and may be reached via email, .

Monday, February 13, 2012

NCLB Waiver Request Continues Failure Trap

Superintendent White's request for a waiver of the US Dept. of Education mandates of the No Child Left Behind law has serious basic flaws. Even so, such flaws will probably have no affect on its approval by Arne Duncan.  Since Duncan campaigned for White to be appointed, he will obviously approve anything White submits. The proposal amounts to a guaranteed failure trap for Louisiana public schools. The 120 page document linked here will institute major changes in Louisiana education policy.

The most basic flaw in the Louisiana waiver application is that it would keep the original requirement of bringing all students and all schools up to "proficiency" in ELA and math by the year 2014. (see page 59 & 60 of the application) This is the exact same false assumption about education attainment that has caused the collapse of the NCLB structure! To put it simply, you cannot force all students to perform at average or above levels. There will always be a distribution of students above and below grade level. All educators can reasonably do is improve overall performance. This is the crazy mandate that is forcing the need for the waivers in the first place! This so called "bold goal" of total proficiency for all is either dishonest or evidence of a staggering ignorance about the facts on the ground by our new state superintendent. (The application waiver form requires ambitious but achievable goals)White claims in his proposal that the state will require the continued acceleration of  school performance scores as we approach 2014. He apparently believes that the new value added system will somehow magically cause every single low performing student to move up to grade level.  All the state's low performing schools will be mandated to produce proficiency for all students in a little over two years. Boy is he in for a big shock! Just take a look at the chart on student performance history he included with his waiver application (on page 56). Notice how the slope flattens out in the last two years. White and his staff may need some remedial work in math and data analysis if they think this curve will tilt upward dramatically in two years.

The only thing I can figure is that White believes his scheme for giving extra points to schools for accelerated growth will somehow correct or compensate for the overall lack of student performance. White has not yet disclosed the formula he will use for the bonus point system. Or Maybe White and Duncan believe that it is a good idea to set unreasonable goals for student achievement because this allows these non-educator "leaders" to keep the real educators under constant pressure of failure.

White proposes that the creation of a new super subgroup of low performers will allow local systems to provide better services to boost their performance. That may be a helpful idea but the projection for progress is unrealistic.

Another major concern, is that White proposes to eliminate student attendance and dropouts in grades K though 8 as a factor in awarding SPS points. There was already too little emphasis on factors that reflect parent responsibility. This change totally removes all parent responsibility factors. We are creating a system where parents are led to believe that they have no responsibility to produce responsible behavior in students. Everything is now the responsibility of educators. This poisonous attitude will only cause a further deterioration of parental support and assistance in education. In addition, the change may encourage more dropouts before 9th grade. I believe there are already a large number of dropouts that are being improperly recorded as transfers.

The waiver proposal drastically changes the SPS system for high schools. 50% of the SPS would be determined by the graduation rate, and 50% would be determined by the average ACT score for all students. This removes the end of course testing as a factor in determining SPS. All students would be required to take the ACT. Any school with an average ACT score less than 18 would get zero points for this component. (see page 52) This means that White believes that our high schools should be converted totally into college prep institutions. It totally neglects the need for good vocational-technical programs and for career prep. One lesson White as a non-educator has not yet learned: forcing all students to take college prep is counterproductive. All this does is water down the rigor of true college prep courses while depriving the majority of students of career training of any kind. It winds up hurting all students.

This ESEA waiver is pretty important. It completely changes the focus of our school systems with minimal input from the real educators. It will be submitted to the feds before the end of February without so much as a vote of BESE. BESE has become irrelevant.