Thursday, April 26, 2012

Takeover Schools Fail

Click here to read the Baton Rouge Advocate article on yet another school takeover in Baton Rouge. My question is how in the world can this action be justified considering the following recent revelations?

It is now official. The State Department of Education has finally admitted that all of the state takeover schools in the Baton Rouge area are dismal failures. (The same can be said of all takeover schools in Pointe Coupee, St Helena, and Caddo) Patrick Dobard, RSD Superintendent admitted that the schools in the Baton Rouge area after almost 4 years in the RSD have failed to make any progress. In fact the LEAP and ILEAP results show a decline in student performance in almost all testing areas. (see our earlier post on this)  In addition, most of the schools have suffered major losses in student enrollment. It looks like parents have been utilizing “choice” even before the major choice legislation was passed by the legislature this year. Dobard wants to form an "Achievement Zone" for 20 Baton Rouge schools patterned after the Harlem Children's Zone. (I guess they are giving up on modeling after the New Orleans RSD)

Many of the takeover schools in Baton Rouge have been run as charter schools by Advance Baton Rouge, a community organization comprised mostly of “do gooder” junior league types and heavily supported by the business community in Baton Rouge including major blow hards like Rolfe McCollister, editor of the Baton Rouge Business Report. (Rolf's daughter who had no education credentials was hired at one time to help administer some of the ABR schools). Another charter management organization that failed and turned their schools back to the state was the 100 Black Men group which had contracted out two schools to the for-profit Edison Group.

Don't believe it when the reformers tell you that all charter operators are non-profits. An increasing number of charter managers are hiring “for-profit” groups to actually run the schools. The same is happening with the groups approved by BESE to run the two new virtual charters schools. One Virtual Charter is run by the Connections Academy group and another by the K-12 Education group. These for-profits are major funders of the ALEC group (The American Legislative Exchange Council). They have taken lead roles in the drafting of much of the “reform” legislation Governor Jindal rammed through the legislature this session. Does this look like a conflict of interest? How much of our school tax dollars are going into the pockets of wealthy Jindal supporters? (ALEC gave Jindal its top “leadership” award last year)

Advance Baton Rouge which has now demonstrated total failure in its efforts to run schools, was highly favored by groups such as the Gates Foundation and the Milken Foundation which now has a partnership with the US DOE to administer TAP grants to local school systems and charters. ABR had received a six million dollar grant to run the TAP program in its charter schools. ABR also billed itself as a trainer of principals in a program related to 21st Century Skills. Throughout their efforts with charter schools ABR has brought in highly paid principals from as far away as New York, only to have every one of them fail in turning around a single school.

Another charter group that is still struggling to keep control of its Baton Rouge school is The Pelican Educational Foundation affiliated with the Turkish Gulen Movement. This charter group had its charter school in New Orleans taken over by BESE because of several major infractions of state and federal regulations. Its school in Baton Rouge is supposedly under investigation by the State Dept. for possible violations. The former school secretary is suing the Pelican Foundation based on a claim that she was fired because she blew the whistle on efforts by administrators to implement selective enrollment in violation of state law. Charters in Louisiana are notorious for firing teachers who blow the whistle on their illegal activities. None of these teachers had union membership.

Also yesterday, the teachers at Crestworth Learning Academy in Baton Rouge are said to have staged a walkout because of a 20% cut in their salaries and benefits. My understanding is that these teachers have no union protection and could be fired without any form of due process. Did you notice that the Jindal administration is also pushing through legislation (HB 1023) that would ban teachers from having payroll deduction privileges for joining teacher organizations that are involved in political activities.

Teachers wake up! Jindal is not only taking away all of your due process rights, and making your employment totally dependent on student test scores, but he wants to make it much harder for you to join organizations that work to protect your rights and benefits! It is ironic that the teaching profession in Louisiana seems to be a tartget of attacks on consitutional protections.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are All Schools Mandated to Find 10% of Teachers Ineffective?

Is Superintendent White really serious about requiring that 10% of public school teachers be rated as “ineffective”? If so, will this be mandated on a school-by-school basis or on a school system basis or on a statewide basis? Comments from some of my readers this week prompted me to research this issue further. The following is an exact reprint of a statement in the Act 54 evaluation plan recently submitted by White to the US Dept. of Education as part of the ESEA Flexibility Request. Judge for yourself what it means.
4. Establishing Measures of Effectiveness: For teachers where value added data is available, the composite percentile is converted to a 1.0-5.0 scale to use in the teacher’s final evaluation. Teachers and leaders (school-wide) whose value added, composite percentile fall within the bottom 10% will receive an ineffective rating. Teachers in the middle 20-80% range will receive a rating of effective. The top 10% of teachers will receive a rating of highly effective.”

Since that plan was submitted, White has announced that the rating scale will be changed from a 5 level scale to a 4 level scale. Will that change the 10% factor? This brings up the following questions that may need to be asked of Supt. White at the teacher town hall meetings:

  1. Would it make sense to apply the 10% ineffective factor on a school-by-school basis since some schools are rated A and some are rated D and F?
  2. Since the teachers of non-tested subjects and grades will be evaluated using a somewhat different system, will the 10% “ineffective” group include only teachers of state tested subjects? Or will there be two categories of 10% ineffective rankings (one for state tested subjects and grades and another for non tested)?
  3. Will the teachers of non tested subjects and grades have an advantage since they and their principals will set their performance goals for the value added portion of their evaluation?
  4. Is it true that a formerly tenured teacher can now be terminated without a tenure hearing as soon as he/she receives an “ineffective” rating using the Act 54 evaluation? The new law states that a teacher loses tenure as soon as he/she gets an “ineffective” evaluation. Once you are non-tenured you become an “at will” employee, subject to dismissal with only a notice of such by your Superintendent.
  5. Isn't the new tenure hearing process really just a mockery of due process since the Superintendent and the Principal get to pick 2 out of 3 of the hearing officers?
Since this is a blog and I get to give my opinion, I want to make the following point:
I think the letter grading system adopted by BESE for public schools is very misleading and can lead to real dilemmas when it comes to classifying teachers as “ineffective”, “effective”, and “highly effective”.

 In the document referred to above, White points out that one-third of Louisiana's public school students are performing below grade level. He then asserts that in the past too many teachers in Louisiana have received satisfactory ratings. In doing so he implies that teachers are primarily responsible for the sub par performance of the students in some schools.

 The Act 54 evaluation system is supposed to determine the effectiveness of teachers in all types of schools. Consider a comparison of teachers teaching in high poverty schools with teachers teaching in academically selective magnet schools. Throughout the state, most high poverty schools and particularly alternative schools that work with difficult to teach students are rated "D" and "F". At the same time most selective magnet schools are rated "A". Does it make sense to expect that a large number of teachers working in alternative or extremely high poverty schools will get an "ineffective" rating and that many teachers in  magnet schools will get a "highly effective rating"? Or is it fairer to decide ahead of time that 10% of the teachers in all schools should be rated ineffective? No matter what course our education Czar chooses the end result is highly arbitrary and potentially unfair. This whole teacher evaluation and school letter grading system stinks!

I urge all teachers who care about their profession to attend the town hall meetings in their areas. I do not believe it is appropriate to limit each school to only 3 teachers allowed to attend. These issues are of great concern to all teachers!