Friday, April 20, 2012

White town hall meetings

Superintendent White announced yesterday that he will host a series of town meetings . (click on the link above to see the schedule.) with teachers and superintendents across the state to discuss the new reform laws and the No Child Left Behind waiver request. The new initiative announced by the Superintendent is titled Louisiana Believes! Apparently the superintendent, fresh from major legislative victories that destroy teacher tenure rights, ban the use of seniority in personnel decisions, order local school systems to revise teacher salary schedules that may freeze many teacher salaries for years and diminish the importance of experience and degrees in calculating salaries, rip students and much MFP funding from local school systems causing increases in class sizes and decreased funding for education supplies, and impose a punitive new teacher evaluation system, believes that he will be able to enlist enthusiastic teacher and administrator support for this damaging program!
The gall of this guy is truly amazing!

I hope many teachers attend these town hall meetings in their areas and ask a few critical questions of our new czar of education. Here are some I would suggest:
  • What makes you (Superintendent White) think that teachers are going to embrace a reform program that blames teachers for all deficiencies in student's performance and makes teachers responsible for correcting some of the ills of society over which they never will have control?
  • Why does the new superintendent assume that teachers are not already trying their best to help students succeed? Does he really believe that he who has minimal qualifications for his job and zero experience dealing with Louisiana public education can motivate teachers to do the job that they have always tried their best to do?
  • Since the legislative reforms have not given teachers one additional tool for improving instruction, apparently White believes that all that has to be done is for teachers to teach harder or stop being so lazy and incompetent and students will automatically succeed. Don't the reforms just assume that teachers have not being doing their job and that threats and incentives will make them more effective?
  • Suppose the theory that teachers have to be whipped into shape to improve education is not correct. Suppose that classifying 10% of all teachers as ineffective each year does not improve student achievement on the state tests or on the NAEP tests. What will White do then?
  • Since White believes in firing ineffective teachers and administrators, will he resign if his reforms fail to make any significant improvement in student achievement? What if the schools taken over by the state continue to rank second to last in the state? Will he resign then?
These are just a few of the questions that popped into my head when White announced that he would hold these town hall meetings with teachers. I'm sure my readers have good questions of their own and that many will attend these meetings.

If you would like to read something positive about the work teachers in Louisiana do for a change, please click on this link to Teacher in a Strange Land. Its good to read about real education reform in Louisiana.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ed Reform May Increase Segregation

Options galore! That's how the Baton Rouge Advocate describes school options within the next few years for Baton Rouge public school parents. Now in addition to expanded charters and vouchers, a new breakaway district is in the process of being approved by the legislature for another mostly white section of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. One would assume that expanded school choice, should increase the racial mixing of all students by allowing students to transfer to successful schools and by forcing the closing of unsuccessful mostly segregated schools. It is quite likely instead that racial segregation will intensify as a result of the radical reforms approved this year by the legislature. Governor Jindal's contention that vouchers and charters will allow many low income parents to exercise better educational opportunities for their children will turn out to be mostly an empty promise. Other large school systems such as Caddo may soon follow the example of EBR in allowing the breakaway of mostly white or affluent sections of the school system also resulting in poor, mostly black inner city districts with decreased financial resources compared to the suburbs! I believe that much of the reform effort will eventually result in a reduction in opportunities for poor and black students!

Re-segregation has happened before following the federal courts' push to end racial segregation in many Louisiana public school systems. Part of the rationale for desegregation was to equalize opportunities for black and other minority students. Take the East Baton Rouge Public school system for example: Prior to 1976, as the courts fully implemented busing of students to achieve desegregation, the school system had reached a peak enrollment of 68,000 students of which 42,000 or 62% were white. Now after 30 years of desegregation efforts, there are only 5,000 white students left in EBR comprising less than 12% of the student population of only 43,000. The rest of the white students have mostly moved to Livingston, Ascension, Zachary and Central. Many others are in private and parochial schools. Their families are still part of the greater Baton Rouge population, but the students are pretty much re-segregated. Of the three breakaway districts, only Zachary has a well integrated student body with 44% black students. Baker is almost all black and Central is predominately white. I think it is correct to say that court ordered desegregation in Baton Rouge has been a dismal failure.

This new round of education reform is also supposed to be all about equal opportunity, particularly for students from low income families. The concept of mixing races is not the primary emphasis of the recent school reform although the demographic data shows that it is mostly black students who are considered to be “trapped” in so called “failing schools”. Governor Jindal and Superintendent White's theory is that by providing opportunities for low income families to transfer their children to private and charter schools, the free market will work to provide most children with an improved education. This is supposed to happen because some students will benefit by moving to better schools and the remaining students will benefit because the traditional public schools will have to improve or die in the competition for students. To Jindal and his supporters, it looks like an obvious solution. Privatization and the free markets are bound to finally transform Louisiana education from failure to success.

If we look more closely at the track record of the reform movement in Louisiana, it turns out that success of the Governor's plan is far from assured. The New Orleans Recovery District which is held up as the model for reform, upon close examination is not very successful. When all the schools that were below the state average in performance were taken over by the Recovery District in New Orleans, some of the more sophisticated charter groups were able to use a process that attracted highly motivated students and parents while culling out low achievers to gain an advantage over other schools. This handful of schools have demonstrated up to “B” level success, while almost all other Recovery district schools remain at “D” and “F” levels. The much criticized East Baton Rouge system for example, performs significantly better overall than the New Orleans Recovery District. So this begs the question; why are the reformers so eager to apply the New Orleans reform model to EBR?

It turns out that the few “successful” charter schools use a formula that has worked very well for many years for the successful private schools but also for the many successful public magnet schools. This formula can be summarized by one word; Exclusivity. The best way for a school to be effective is to be exclusive of low performing or poorly motivated students. While the traditional public schools have been forced by both the U. S. Department of Education and our own State Department of Education to try to educate every student regardless of motivation or often serious disciplinary behavior, the successful schools choose to work mainly with the successful students. If we look at the transfer records for the higher performing charters in the New Orleans Recovery District, we find an extremely high turnover rate. That's because these mostly unregulated schools toss kids out who do not perform well or who habitually disrupt the education of other students.

There is another side to the Recovery District that is carefully hidden from the eyes of the media and the public. In almost every case where a so called failing school was taken over by the RSD with no significant change in the student population, average student performance has actually declined!
(see my post of March 23) Superintendent White is trying desperately to cover up an embarrassing failure of all 12 takeover schools outside of New Orleans. Unfortunately the news media has been compliant in allowing the RSD to falsely claim success. The fact is that both the New Orleans voucher students and charter schools have continued sub-par performance. Except for the few charters that are allowed to counsel out poorly motivated and non-compliant students, charters and vouchers are failing to deliver.

At the same time that charters are allowed to be generally free of interference, our LDOE pushes traditional public schools to implement a program called Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in the place of enforcing effective discipline. The highly touted (by the LDOE) PBIS system often results in classrooms plagued by disruptive students who are allowed to interfere with the education process day after day with minimal consequences. The combination of restrictive discipline rules for special education students and state and legal pressure discouraging student suspension plagues many public schools. That's why the most common complaint of parents who want to pull their children out of public schools is that they fear for the safety of their child and feel that classrooms are too chaotic and dumbed down to provide effective instruction. The real problem in low performing schools is not lack of teacher expertize or commitment. The real problem is the destruction of an effective learning environment by the lack of order, discipline and respect for teachers.

Let me describe what I think will be the real result of major education reforms now taking place in Louisiana. (1) The new breakaway districts will drain even more white and affluent students from the large school systems producing mostly segregated districts. (2) Very few minority and poor students will be accepted by the private and parochial schools that maintain good standards. The only students who will be allowed to retain their vouchers are those who work hard and follow the rules. (3) Takeover charters will continue providing a very poor education. (4) The new virtual charter schools will serve a growing number of students whose parents want them out of the increasingly chaotic public schools. Many of these students will fail to receive an adequate education because of the lack of structure of virtual schools. (5) Public schools will experience further erosion of high performing (black and white) students because of the approval of new charter schools throughout the state by BESE. These new charters will cherry pick the best students from the remaining public schools. The end results of reform will be an increasingly segregated system of schools with even fewer opportunities for most poor and minority students. Expect Louisiana's prison population to grow.

When you add to the above, the general demoralization and decline of the teaching profession caused by increased focus on personnel policies based on test results, we can expect a very dismal future for our Louisiana school systems. Jindal and White will have moved on to other careers by then.