Friday, March 9, 2012

Jindal Plan Moving Now! March 14-15

Legislators are telling the LAE lobbyists that the Jindal public school destruction bills will be heard first in the House Education Committee on Wednesday March 14, then in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday March 15. I also got a personal call from a Republican Senator friend who told me the same thing.

They are telling us that if we as educators care about public education we had better show up at these committee meetings in large numbers. Our professional education lobbyists for the teacher unions and School Boards Association are heavily outnumbered by the big business lobbyists. And I'm sorry to say they have millions of dollars more than we have to contribute to legislators' campaigns. What we have is numbers! Public school teachers live and vote in every legislative district in this state in large numbers. When you add our voting relatives, we should be the most powerful political force in this state! Why don't we start to exert our potential influence?

 I know, it's because teachers and principals are busy preparing kids for the all important LEAP tests! I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that if the Jindal package passes intact, the public schools are in serious trouble and if you continue reading the second portion of this blog and my posts from the last two weeks you will know why.

Please talk to your colleagues now, and plan to take a personal day Wednesday or Thursday, March 14 and 15 to come to the Capitol and show your concern about this disastrous plan. Educators should read the bills carefully and some should plan to testify in the committees. Every educator should go to the legislative web site, get the email address of your Representative and Senator now and send an email immediately indicating your opposition to these bills. I am including two sample emails, but I would expect the creative educators out there to customize their own emails to say exactly how they as individuals feel. Now is the time for us to do something important for our profession.

Here are the bills we expect to be heard; (we now have the official agenda and they are listed). In the House Education Committee starting at 8:30 a.m. March 14, HB 974 and HB 976 will be heard. Please click on the bill number to get the full text of the bill. 974 is the School Employment and tenure bill I discussed in my last post, and 976 is the Voucher and Charter school expansion bill. The corresponding Senate bills that will be heard on March 15 are SB 603 and SB 597.  Let me give you the most critical information about the Voucher and Charter school expansion bill.

By far the most destructive part of this bill is the provision that lets BESE authorize a large number of new agencies across the state that can approve new charters in every parish. These charters don't have to tackle turnaround of failing schools. (which have been a dismal failure in the RSD) They will be new charters that can cherry pick the best students from the public schools while public schools continue to serve the left overs. They have every incentive to do this because the new law says that they have to maintain a "B" or better rating. So expect a big PR campaign from these charter companies in your parish to recruit students for college prep schools. If you have resisted setting up magnet schools in your parish because you don't want to pull the best students out of your regular schools, they will specifically target your parish. If you have a lot of middle class families (white and black) who are uncomfortable with the school population in their local school, they will target your parish. Now imagine a few years into the future to see the result of all this. Schools will be re segregated into the haves and have-nots, and the public schools will be left with the have nots.

Now on the issue of HB 974. (tenure nullification and firing teachers based on student test scores) I just want to add a little information to what I gave you earlier this week. The issue is not tenure. Many teachers will tell you they don't care about tenure because they have a principal who knows they are doing a good job and who will never try to fire their good teachers. The problem is this new Act 54 evaluation system will be so erratic and unpredictable that teachers will be mostly at the mercy of the value added formula gurus at the state Department of Education. (there are many horror stories from other states that have tried this) Student performance is supposed to count for only 50% of the evaluation, but I firmly believe it will have a much greater impact than 50%. What do you think will happen if you teach in a high poverty school rated as C or D and most of the teachers get a satisfactory evaluation because of the COMPASS portion of the evaluation? Someone from Baton Rouge is going to come down hard on the principal because he/she is not rooting out the "incompetent" teachers. We all know it has nothing to do with teacher competence. "It's the poverty stupid!" You get the picture. This bill puts every educator unfairly at risk. Please start working on your emails to legislators now, and plan on sending a delegation of teachers and administrators to Baton Rouge on March 14 and 15.

This is how you get the email address of all legislators: Click on this link, and type in your address and zip to find all your legislators. Click on each one to go to their web page where you can get the email for your Rep. and Senator.

Additional Resources: Since this was first posted the LAE website has added a great legislator contact feature. Just click here to take advantage of the LAE expertize.

Take my advice. Forget about your party affiliation. This is not a political party issue. It is a survival of education issue. We just want our legislators to represent us and our families for a change when they vote on this.

Here is a simple sample email. I am sure you can improve on this:
Dear (your legislator):
I am a (teacher) (principal) (etc) who lives in your district. I am very much opposed to HB 974 (or SB 603) because it will unfairly base my continued employment as a teacher on student test scores. I do my job faithfully as a teacher but I have no control over students whose parents send them to school unprepared or let them miss too much school or allow them to refuse to do homework or study. I do not want to have my job and my due process destroyed because of factors over which I have no control. Please vote against this bill. My family and I are depending on you to represent us, not some unproven system.

Here is one for HB 976 and SB 597
Dear (your legislator)
I am a public school educator in your district. I am writing to ask you to oppose HB 976 or (SB 597). This bill (along with a lot of other bad provisions) allows private companies to come into our parish and establish a school that will cherry pick our students so that some individuals can make a profit off of our children. This will not improve education. It will simply further damage our public schools and endanger public educator's careers. Please vote against this bill.

Finally, I strongly recommend that schools have faculty meetings to plan your strategy on this. Someone needs to take the lead and research the bills and inform everyone. Send them to this blog. Do everything you can!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Governor Jindal's war on Public Education and Teachers

Part I Changes in Accountability and School Performance Scores: The ESEA No Child Left Behind proposal sent to the US DOE last week is really a major revision of the Louisiana Accountability System. In my opinion, when combined with the new legislation nullifying tenure, making all professional educators' careers dependent on student test scores, and adding unlimited vouchers and charters, it amounts to accountability on steroids. And just like athletes who misuse steroids to get bigger and stronger, this "miracle" reform plan is likely to produce grotesque and damaging results and side effects.

In addition to setting unscientific and unattainable student achievement goals in a two year period, the ESEA waiver proposal drastically changes the mechanism for calculating school performance scores. (see pages 49 - 61 of the ESEA waiver application). To put it briefly the rating system is changed from a 200 point system to a 150 point system yet the points needed for various letter grades are not reset proportionately. Proportionally the minimum "A" should go from 120 to 90, but the lowest A is set at 100. The new B is 85 to 99.9, the new C is 70 to 84.9, and the new D is 50 to 69.9. The numbers have changed drastically but, not to worry. The Department plans to jury rig the scoring system to end up with just about the same numbers of schools falling in each category of letter grades as with the old system. So this seems to indicate what many suspected all along; that the Department can manipulate the numbers to produce whatever results they choose. For example, there will be a fudge factor in the calculation that will award bonus points for schools that make greater than expected progress with low performing sub groups using the new value added formulas. These are formulas like the Coca-Cola formulas that are kept in a safe that only the statistics gurus at the DOE are allowed to study and adjust.  This whole scheme is a process that looks scientific because of the fancy formulas, but is really pseudo science used to produce a predetermined result. So local school administrators will only know how it works after the results have been determined.

All schools other than A schools will be expected to increase their SPS by 10 points each year (proportionally this would be like 13.3 points on the old system) so that the state can seem to be progressing to 100% proficiency in only two years. This goal will be unattainable for most schools. No one in the field now really knows what sanctions may result from not attaining these goals.

Now lets look at the main thrust of the attack on public education and teachers:
Part II Legislation, MFP, Vouchers and Charters: (See Diane Ravitch's article on the same legislation linked here)
The major campaign against public education began with a drastic change in the MFP last week by the Jindal controlled BESE. According to the new formula, numerous special schools, charters, and voucher schools will now be able to raid the funding from public schools according to the number of students they gain. One major legal concern is that since the private schools will also raid the component of MFP coming from local taxes that the voters may have approved for specific purposes, this may not be allowed by the constitution. Local school Boards along with the LAE and LFT are encouraged to adopt the LSBA resolution to authorize and pursue an immediate legal challenge.

HB 974 and SB 603 which may be heard in the Senate Education Committee in a full day meeting next Thursday, March 15 will be the big push for destruction of job security for all teachers, principals, and even superintendents! When combined with the implementation of the Act 54 evaluation and the accountability changes described above, these bills (they are identical versions of House and Senate bills) will basically make every educators' job dependent on the student achievement of unrealistic academic goals and could demoralize the teaching profession.

The new legislation will immediately eliminate the normal tenure process for any new teachers and nullify tenure for thousands of experienced teachers. Tenure is ended as soon as a teacher gets one ineffective evaluation. Also, the Act 54 evaluation, in the first year of operation, could put thousands teachers on a path to dismissal because of the mandatory 10% failure factor. This number will only grow by thousands each year as the 10% factor is applied again and again. That's because the evaluation plan for teachers described in that ESEA Waiver will mandate that the bottom scoring 10% of  teachers get an evaluation of "ineffective" no matter what local administrators believe about their teachers' effectiveness. This is further complicated by the fact that 66% of  teachers in Louisiana are teaching non-tested subjects. It is not clear if the 10% failure factor will be applied to the teachers of non-tested subjects. No one has figured out a practical and equally rigorous way of applying value added goals to these teachers. But who cares?

The Principal's evaluation will also depend partially on the number of teachers rated "ineffective" and principals will be trapped by a "catch 22" situation. If the principal applies the (COMPASS) in too strict a manner, too many teachers will get "ineffective" and the principal is in trouble. If the principal grades teachers too easy and the value added portion shows up poor or negative for the unique student gains expected of each teacher, then the State Department will send an investigation team out to find out why those teachers are not being properly punished! (I'm just guessing on that part). All indications are that the ACT 54 evaluation will produce many erratic and incorrect teacher evaluation results. How can anyone justify tampering with the job security of professional educators in this frivolous manner? Local school boards will have no more say in these issues than the BESE Board has in dealing with Jindal and White.

My readers are sophisticated intelligent people. You know what will happen if HB 976 and SB 597 (The charter and voucher expansion bills) pass. This will introduce a major conflict between privatization forces and local school boards. The parent trigger provision allows any charter group to attack a low performing school with a petition drive among parents, bypassing local school boards. But the most dangerous provisions are those that will allow BESE to approve new charters and new voucher schools to spring up and cherry pick students from most local school systems to set up schools that have a performance advantage over local public schools. They will also dump out all their low performers to re-enter public schools. This is just like how the New York Yankees used to guarantee success by buying the best talent. All of this will raid the local MFP. In addition, since the charters and private schools do not have to participate in the teacher retirement system, local school boards will be mandated to pay an even greater contribution to the retirement system to offset the loss of employees. (they are now mandated to pay 25% contribution for each employee)

Educators, this is nothing less than an all out attack on public education and the many dedicated educators who have devoted their lives to the welfare  of children. It makes what happened last year in Wisconsin to public education look like childsplay! And what's sad is the Governor's strategists have calculated that the teaching profession in Louisiana is too beat down to fight back! If educators do not go to the capitol on March 15 to tell our legislators how we know this will damage the education of children and ruin many educators' careers we will be partly responsible for the demise of public education in Louisiana.

I will immediately update the information in this blog when we find out more about the legislative agenda for March 15. Please stay informed and be willing to act on a moment's notice.