Friday, March 16, 2012

Jinadal Bills Going to Floor Votes Soon

Governor Jindal succeeded, with the help of carefully stacked committees, to move his education reform legislation through both House and Senate Education Committees. See the Advocate story linked here. As usual, the description of the bills in the big business controlled newspaper "forgets" to include a description of some of the most destructive portions of the legislation. Did I mention that The Advocate has refused to print my letter to the editor about the Governor's war on public education?

Don't believe for a minute that the newspapers are unbiased on these issues. When I met with the editors of the Advocate a year ago, concerning the distortions of school efforts produced by the new school letter grading system, they admitted to me that they favored "anything but public schools". The newspaper also forgot to mention that there were even more teachers at the Capitol Thursday than the day before, and that the Senate committee severely limited debate refusing to hear from the great majority of teachers that had signed up to testify.

As these public education destruction bills go to the House and Senate floors for a vote possibly next week it is critical that educators meet with their legislators if possible to express opposition to the legislation. You may want to form a committee of educators, (include your principal if possible) to actually try to meet with the legislators while they are in their home districts this weekend or early next week. One of the primary rules of politics is that you cannot accuse a legislator of voting wrong on an issue if you have never personally communicated with him/her on the issue. The best approach is a face-to-face meeting, but letters and emails are also effective.

One of the important facts many newspapers forget to mention is that the most dangerous part of the voucher/charter legislation is that it will allow private companies to set up brand new charter schools in any parish that have nothing to do with turning around failing schools (they have been absolutely ineffective at doing this). These schools will be able to cherry pick the best students by calling themselves college prep schools leaving the public schools to educate the rest. Also, because of a special exemption, they will be able to hire uncertified persons to teach. This undermines the teaching profession as well as damaging the public schools and starving them of funding.

Another important fact left out of newspaper reports is that the teacher dismissal legislation allows the value-added results to overrule your Principal's evaluation in determining you to be an ineffective teacher. The new evaluation system that is mandated but not described in the legislation requires that 10% of teachers evaluated using Act 54 rules must be determined to be ineffective and placed on a path to dismissal each year. This could put thousands of teachers on a path to dismissal within just a few years of the program.

Now for your reading pleasure, I would like to recommend that you go to a very prestigious national blog for teachers that carries an account by one of Louisiana's National Board Certified teachers about how the Governor's education reform package was introduced in Louisiana. Click on this link to read the blog Teacher In A Strange Land. Note the disdain with which the big business types treat professional educators that are not part of their hand picked privatization corps.

By the way: A few days ago when I was adding to this blog, my virus protection service flashed a warning on my screen "Incoming worm/virus detected. Its purpose is to destroy or erase all components of your current website". Luckily my virus protection worked. But I don't know how much longer this blog will be on line. Not paranoid, just cautious.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

HB 976 and 974 Pushed Through Committee

(The following is a report of events at the Capitol on Wednesday, by the Louisiana Association of Educators) See also The Advocate story linked here.

Gov. Jindal Attempts to Suppress Educators & Thousands Push Back to Make Voices Heard

Educators Testify on Capitol Steps to Express Outrage over Attempt To Ram Education Package Through Legislature

BATON ROUGE, LA – March 14, 2012 – Thousands of education stakeholders flooded the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol Wednesday, but a majority of the teachers, support professionals, administrators – even parents and students – who showed up, were forced to remain outside on the Capitol steps due to the governor’s orders of closing down alternative entrances into the building.

They wouldn’t let people in because they said the committee rooms were full, but it looked like Governor Jindal was trying to keep educators out of the room during his testimony,” said LAE President Joyce Haynes. “If he really believed in his plan, then he should have taken this opportunity to stand before educators and put it all out on the table; instead, he chose to lock us out of the process.”

School employees from across the state came together in Baton Rouge to speak against the governor’s extreme education agenda brought forth in House Bill 976. The bill calls for taking public tax dollars and turning them over to for-profit charter schools. It also calls for the expansion of a statewide school choice program. Educators want to know why the governor is demanding a rush to vote on such complex legislation that impacts the future of Louisiana’s public schools.

It is the Legislature’s responsibility to schedule a fair hearing process that allows us to offer input on those bills that affect us,” said Haynes.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu sided with school employees as she spoke out against the rush. She agrees that the governor is moving outrageously fast to try to win committee approval for his plan.

"If this is such a great reform package, it should be able to stand the test of review. This is a democracy. This isn't a dictatorship," Landrieu said in an interview.

We were forced to attend on a school day,” said Haynes. “Legislators should have made the appropriate move to schedule these hearings when education employees are available to attend, like in the evenings or on the weekends.”

House Education Committee approves both HB 976 and 974

The House Education Committee met until late Wednesday night and heard testimony from LAE, LFT and dozens of individual teachers before adopting both of Governor Jindal's key "reform" bills. Huge stacks of Red opposition cards sat on the committee desk top as teachers jammed every available inch of space inside the capitol. The rest waited patiently outside the Capitol. I was there also, and testified against HB 974. I witnessed only one teacher out of the crowd of about 2,000 who actually testified in favor of this bill. She said she was a second year teacher, and according to her testimony, she liked the provision of the bill that outlawed the use of seniority for reduction in force. She said her school system may soon be laying off teachers.

After initially insulting the teachers who had signed up to testify by passing a motion that testifiers should state the type of leave they were requesting before testifying, the committee met for over 15 hours and attempted to hear from everyone. The motion to intimidate teachers did not work as expected and was denounced by several members of the committee and even Senator Karen Peterson who came before the committee on personal privilege and called the motion shameful and unprecedented. Teachers went on to testify unfazed, with some expressing sarcasm about the "requirement".

Unfortunately, the committee was obviously stacked by the Governor and his floor leaders to insure that the bills would pass no mater what. The committee split on 12-6 and 13-5 votes in favor of approval of the two bills. I will report later on how individual legislators voted.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear the Senate versions of the bills, at approximately 9:00 a.m. Thursday. Another large delegation of educators is expected to attend, and again request to be heard. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Let's Review the Democratic Process

On Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. the House Education Committee will hold a hearing on Governor Jindal's education reform package in Committee Room 1 at the Capitol. This legislation will include at least HB 974 and HB 976. The Senate Education Committee will have a hearing on the Senate versions of the bills on Thursday.  Thank you to St Martin Parish and Vermilion Parish School Boards for making it easy for educators to attend. Educators in other parishes must try their best to participate also.

HB 974 basically destroys teacher tenure and eventually makes almost all teachers "at will" employees with approximately the same employment status and job security as a teenage store clerk. If the bill passes, school systems will be mandated to make most teacher employment decisions based on student test scores. But with this legislation, teachers who never achieve, or who lose tenure because of one bad evaluation can be fired for any reason with little recourse.
  • The bill absolutely outlaws any layoff decisions for teachers based on seniority. A 25 year teacher must be laid off before a first year teacher if the new value-added evaluation yields even a slightly higher score for the first year teacher. No consideration can be given to the older teacher's 25 years of service to the school system or previous good evaluations.
  • Each teacher automatically loses tenure upon receipt of an evaluation of "ineffective" no matter how many excellent evaluations he/she has received in the past.
  • The Act 54 evaluation of a teacher that results in an "ineffective" rating shall be considered proof that the teacher is incompetent. Such teacher can be fired at any time without a tenure hearing.
  • Even if the teacher's principal rates a teacher as "highly effective" on the qualitative part of the evaluation, a value-added result of "ineffective" overrules the Principal's evaluation and the teacher will receive a final evaluation of "ineffective".
  • With this legislation our Governor and State Superintendent of Education are willing to bet the careers of thousands of teachers that an untested value-added evaluation which is producing highly erratic results in other states will accurately identify the 10% of Louisiana teachers that deserve to be fired each year. (According to the Act 54 evaluation plan, the bottom scoring 10% of teachers automatically get rated "ineffective".)
HB 976 would allow the almost unlimited expansion of voucher schools and charter schools throughout the state. Such schools would have a great incentive to recruit the best students thereby pulling high performers out of and lowering average student performance in public schools. The voucher schools would not be subject to accountability regulations and could expel or council out problem students back to the public schools. Local school boards would be required to forfeit the MFP funds for all such students recruited away from public schools. In addition, if a public school is rated by the state as "failing", charter school organizers would be allowed to run petition drives among parents to force a takeover of such schools from the locally elected school board. All MFP monies would follow these students to their new school.

The above legislation is patterned after extremely destructive legislation that is being introduced all over the country by a conservative big business group called ALEC. Click on this link to read a description of ALEC activities. This group is funded by school privatization interests such as K-12 Virtual Schools.

The Education Committee process is as follows: Prior to the start of the meeting proponents and opponents of the bills to be heard may be seated in Committee Room 1 which is on the ground floor of the Capitol on the House side. Seating is on a first come first served basis after the doors to the committee room are unlocked about half an hour before the meeting. Proponents of the bills may fill out a green card and may request to testify on the bill or just indicate support. Opponents fill out a red card and may request to testify against the bill. The hearing begins when the author of the bill is allowed to introduce the bill and discussion proceeds. At some point the chair calls for testimony from the audience. After discussion of pros and cons, committee members make appropriate motions and the bill may be voted up, down, or other approved disposition. If the bill passes it must go through the rest of the legislative process.

Please send emails to your legislator and to members of the House Education Committee. Attend the hearing if possible. Click on this link to use your address to get to your legislator web pages. Their Email addresses are listed there.

Many Educators should also attend the Senate Education Committee meeting on Thursday morning about 9:00 a.m. where the Senate versions of the same bills will be heard upon adjournment of the morning Senate session. Please send emails to your Senator and to the Senate Education Committee members before Thursday.

The future of your profession and the public school system is at stake. Please do everything possible to exercise your democratic rights and represent your profession.
Michael Deshotels

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Object is to Fire Teachers; and Lots of Them

Have you sent emails to your legislators yet? Time is running out! Just scroll down to my Friday, March 9th post to get sample emails.Well it turns out that the Governor's teacher dismissal legislation, (HB 974 or SB 603) is even worse than I thought it was. When you combine the new legislation with the implementation of the Act 54 evaluation, there are two major ways a teacher can lose tenure and get fired! An astute reader of my blog posted a comment to last Friday's post to point out that according to a letter dated Feb. 28 sent to local superintendents by John White (go to page 4 to the section titled Final Evaluation), a teacher will get an "ineffective" overall rating if either the value-added (quantitative) portion of the evaluation or the Principal's evaluation (qualitative) part of the evaluation is unsatisfactory. So even if your principal believes you are doing a good job, that value-added part of your evaluation that was supposed to count for only 50% of your evaluation can destroy 100% of your future as a teacher.

Remember, you are not guilty of paranoid thinking if "they" really are out to get you!
John White also sent an ESEA waiver proposal to Washington at the end of February that totally changes the Louisiana accountability system. It takes away almost all the responsibility of the parents, sets totally impossible student testing goals to be achieved by all public schools in two years and proposes that the new evaluation system will require 10% of the teaching force to be rated "ineffective" each year (at least in the LEAP tested subjects).

How did all public school teachers' non-educator "bosses" at the Department of Education come up with the figure of 10% ineffective teachers each year anyway? Believe it or not, it comes from a mis-quote of education researchers' findings concerning the impact of teacher quality on student performance. Follow this link  to the  Educators For All website to see exactly how important research was twisted to mean something completely different from the conclusions that were made by researchers.

To put it simply, the incorrect assumption that teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in student success, leads our reformers (Governor Jindal and John White) to the inevitable (but incorrect) conclusion that all you have to do is fire the teachers that produce the least student progress (value-added), replace them with new teachers, and in a few years all of our students will perform at or above average! This is junk science based on false assumptions and has never been shown to work.

The primary factor related to student success in school is the rate of poverty (as measured by the percentage of students on free lunch). So if you have the misfortune (or you simply have chosen to work with at-risk students) your future will be at-risk when the Act 54 evaluation is implemented next year. Even if you are teaching more privileged students, value-added can defeat you if your students do not progress as predicted by formulas you will never see. If HB 974 or SB 603 passes, only one bad evaluation (which is in the hands of your students), and your tenure is gone. Also, according to the governor's legislation, the evaluation itself is the ultimate proof that you are "ineffective" and you  can be terminated immediately even if you have a hearing. And by law, that bad evaluation result must go to any of your future employers. So much for professional treatment of teachers. So much for the "teacher empowerment" talked about by Jindal and White. There are plenty of horror stories about the value-added evaluations being tested in other states like New York and Tennessee. Just click on this link to look at one example in Washington DC.

Please send emails now to your members in the Legislature, and particularly to members of the House and Senate Education Committees. (Make sure you have correct grammar and no misspelled words) I hope teachers and administrators will take a day of personal leave either Wednesday or Thursday to attend first the House Education Committee, then the Senate Education Committee meeting.