Thursday, February 23, 2012

Basic Flaws in Education Reform

New Developments  on ESEA Waiver Request 2/28/12: The LDOE has revised its proposals for the ESEA waiver request. The weight for the ACT average for high schools will be reduced from 50% to 25% and a 25% factor added back for the Graduation index. (This is an improvement). Unfortunately, all schools other than A schools will be required to grow 10 SPS points each year on a much more compressed scale. When you include the addition of the new bonus points, there is no telling how all this will affect schools, yet it is clear that keeping the 100% proficiency goal by 2014 is totally ridiculous. The USDOE had given states the option of progressing to a 50% reduction of its non-proficient student groups over a 6 year period. Louisiana is choosing to reach full proficiency in a little over 2 years!

Several local and regional newspapers around the state are editorializing about what the editors perceive as possible flaws in the Jindal education reform package. In addition, some local superintendents and other long time educators are pointing out basic flaws in the plan. Our readers can get a good overview of concerns of educators and non-educators by reviewing the following recent articles from around the state:
Governor Jindal's education reform plan may have been well thought out politically; its like the "shock and awe" campaign waged in Iraq. But like that military campaign, while it may be successful in bringing major change to education, the entire theory and basis of the campaign are dead wrong!
Here are some assumptions that amount to fatal flaws in the plan:
  • Many people pay their hard earned money to send their children to private schools, therefore private schools must be better. As Jindal stated: "parents are the best accountability system". Well if that's true why are we spending millions upon millions testing and grading public schools? Several Louisiana school systems long ago have adopted open enrollment polices that allow parents to transfer their children from their local school to another school if they feel it will provide a better education. Also one of the big miscalculations of the No Child Left Behind law allows parents whose children attend schools classified as failing to transfer to other public schools. Most parents have ignored all of these "opportunities" and continued to send their children to their neighborhood school. The fact is many parents send their children to private schools because they do not like the racial composition or the socio-economic complexion of the public school in their community. As a by product of white flight or middle class flight, statistics show that a middle class or higher income student body generally results in higher educational attainment. Let me add that the Zachary school system (a public school system) which has prospered partially because of this trend has attracted many black middle class families whose children also do well in school. Does anyone really believe that the middle class families who have paid their hard earned money to send their children to an exclusive school will tolerate an invasion of low performing and possibly disruptive students into their selective school?  If this voucher proposal passes, some poor families will try to enroll their students because of hope for a better opportunity but most will be refused because of lack of seats. In addition, many who are accepted will soon be expelled or counseled out because there is no way the state will tamper with a private school's right to enforce discipline policies as it has done with our public schools. The real danger, as was pointed out in a couple of editorials, is that fly-by-night operations will spring up to make a profit from the vouchers at the expense of the children and the taxpayers. 
  • State Superintendent John White apparently believes that the new value added teacher evaluation system coupled with a dismantling of tenure, will magically cause all students in Louisiana to achieve proficiency on the state tests. Proficiency, which in Louisiana is defined basically as average performance, cannot be achieved by the statistical nature of how average performance is determined! So to accomplish this misguided mission the state will try to decree that at least 10% of all teachers will have to be rated ineffective and ultimately dismissed. Will we call them back when the students fail to perform as expected?
  • Finally, the dumbest assumption of all is that the school system can produce 100% high school graduates that are college and career ready. Prior to recent times the goal of public education was to produce students who were college or career ready. This seemingly small change in educational philosophy puts huge numbers of our students in an impossible trap of having to be prepared for college even if they have little aptitude or motivation to do so. See the comments of the Evangeline Parish Superintendent in the article from the Acadian Press. By adopting a high school rating scale that depends on ACT scores, the state is killing most legitimate career training programs in our schools and watering down the true college prep courses. Even in Finland, the most successful educational system in the western world, only 40% of the students are prepared for college. The majority are given top notch vocational training which leads to excellent careers. Add to this the fact that Finland has a poverty rate in their schools of only 5% while Louisiana has a 60% poverty enrollment in our public schools. This is a really dumb requirement!
I believe Jindal and White are setting Louisiana up for an educational disaster.