Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Need to Empower Educators

Important Notice 3/5/12: Jindal Education Reform Legislation Introduced; Please click on the following bill numbers to read the full text of the Jindal legislaton to expand vouchers and charters and nullify tenure, add merit pay and fire teachers. HB 976 and SB 597 are House and Senate versions of the charter/voucher bills. HB 974 and SB 603  are House and Senate versions of bills that shift teacher firing authority to Superintendents and make teacher and administrator firing, loss of tenure, merit pay, and loss of certification dependent on achievement of unrealistic student goals. Please review these bills and prepare to contact your legislators since this package is expected to be the first order of business at the Legislature starting March 12. The Jindal plan is to rush these bill through before educators have time to tell their legislators how damaging these bills are to public education and to teachers and administrators. I will add analysis on this soon.

Something happened last week in Louisiana public education that went completely under the radar of the news media. It happened without the knowledge of and consultation with most professional educators in the field. Our Governor and new State Superintendent have taken pains to pay lip service to the idea of empowering school principals and teachers, yet the changes in policy this week continue the trend of mandating unsound education goals and practices without considering the legitimate concerns of the educators in the field. I believe this week's changes in policy will only undermine public support for public education and demoralize public school educators. The policy changes came about as a result of a somewhat obscure 131 page proposal by the LDOE to request ESEA flexibility and waivers of the No Child Left Behind requirements.

This proposal was submitted to the US DOE without a vote of BESE and without the opportunity for public discussion. The only information shared by the LDOE with local educators was a slick Power Point show presented to Superintendents and the Accountability Commission that did not divulge the choices available to Louisiana in requesting the ESEA flexibility and waiver.

In my opinion, the most disappointing component of Louisiana's ESEA Flexibility Request and waiver of No Child Left Behind was that the request did not take advantage of the most helpful change in rules offered to us on a silver platter by Arne Duncan and the US DOE! If you have followed this blog in the past you are familiar with the concern of many educators about the impracticality of the NCLB requirement for 100% proficiency of all children in English language arts and math by the year 2014. But this is the option (Option C) chosen by Superintendent White and our DOE as part of the waiver request. And to add insult to injury, the LDOE implied that educators in the schools agree with this impossible requirement! See the statement on page 65 of the linked document:Louisiana remains committed to the AMOs established several years ago, which set yearly growth targets aimed towards 100 percent of children in the state attaining proficiency by 2014.”

On page 62 of the flexibility application, the US DOE had allowed Louisiana to choose between three options for setting student achievement goals according to the following:

Option A reads: "Set AMOs in annual equal increments toward a goal of reducing by half the percentage of students in the 'all students' group and in each subgroup who are not proficient within six years.”

Our LDOE passed up this opportunity in favor of a PR choice (Option C) that may end up putting a failure label on 90% of our public schools across the state by 2014. So much for the empowerment of local principals and teachers.

The Department tries to hedge this foolish choice by calling the goal of 100% proficiency  an “aspirational” goal. But the USDOE did not ask for an aspirational goal. They asked for “ambitious but achievable annual measurable objectives.” If you look at the table submitted by the LDOE on page 62, you will see that the AMOs for the years 2012, 2013, and 2014 are not achievable in the real world.

My concern is this: If we lie to the public about what is achievable in public education, aren't we setting up our schools for an unnecessary perception of failure in the eyes of the public? Would a doctor guarantee every patient a cure of his ailment regardless of the other factors in the environment affecting that patient's health? Yet that's what we are doing in Louisiana public education.

Do you really care about being empowered as a professional educator? Then why not make your concerns known to the US Department of Education by sending an email to the Department indicating which choice you believe Louisiana should make in its NCLB waiver application? The Louisiana Association of Educators (click on this link to see the LAE letter to the LDOE and the  USDOE) has made its concerns known to the USDOE, but one group is not enough. The USDOE needs to hear from individual administrators, principals and teachers.  If you agree, just copy the following email address: ( and use it to submit your own email on this subject to the US DOE. I suggest you include your name,  position,  and the name of your school if you want it to be taken seriously.

I hope many educators and even parents will email their concerns on this matter directly to the USDOE.

On Wednesday March 7 this blog will discuss other important details in the Waiver Request which will also affect every public school in the state.