Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Need for Educators to Unify

I was very pleased this week to accept an invitation by my professional organization, the Louisiana Association of Educators to write a guest blog for the Association web site. I am now a retired member of LAE but I find that the Association has welcomed me to participate in education issues just as much as if I were still an active classroom teacher. I have enjoyed renewing old friendships with teachers and administrators in our common fight for public education, and my blog has brought me many new friends who encourage me every day.

I hope my readers will click on this link to the LAE Blog site and read what I had to say to both members of LAE and to all other public school educators and even parents of public school children. I believe that public education in Louisiana is in serious crisis created by the actions of our Governor with his so called education reforms.

Yes, public education in Louisiana has been struggling for years partly because of court ordered desegregation, the accompanying white flight, federal interference and a serious lack of support and motivation particularly of our high poverty students. Many teachers have been reporting for years that they are appalled by the lack of respect for teachers exhibited by students and parents of all socioeconomic levels. Education seems to be the only profession where everyone thinks they know just as much or more about how to run the system as the professionals who have devoted their careers to educating children. People who would never question what their doctor or lawyer or even their auto mechanic prescribes think they should second guess every homework assignment, every report card grade and every disciplinary action taken by a teacher or school principal. In some public schools basic classroom discipline has broken down and disruption by a relatively small number of students interferes almost daily with proper instruction. Yet our state and federal education authorities have imposed rules that interfere with the use of proper disciplinary measures in those schools.

This environment of frustration by members of the public with our schools and a general feeling by many that our education system is not putting enough critical knowledge into our children's brains and not preparing them well enough to compete for a good future in worlwide job competition has set the stage for this radical revamp of our public education system.

The sad thing, as I have pointed out many times in this blog is that education reform is attacking the wrong problems and making scapegoats of the very persons who should be most trusted in working on the problems of education. The only thing some of the charter schools have proven in Louisiana is that if you carefully cull out the low performers and classroom disruptors, a school can produce higher overall student achievement. We already knew that. Good examples of this strategy have been demonstrated by the excellent performance of our public magnet schools such as the one attended by Governor Jindal. Those schools have been labeled as “A” schools as though such performance was not a foregone conclusion. I am in no way minimizing the dedicated efforts by teachers in magnet schools. They deserve the high rating.

On the other hand if you require a school in a high poverty neighborhood to take all students, even those that are not interested in school, and you tie the hands of teachers and administrators in implementing effective disciplinary policies, students will exhibit low overall performance. That school is then labeled by our so called accountability system as a “D” or “F” school and the teachers and administrators are considered by our State Superintendent as “ineffective” educators. No matter that the teaching environment and the policy makers have stacked the deck against them; all of a sudden, its the teachers who are to blame. Then the Governor and his supporters can lament about the students “trapped” in failing schools who need to be given a voucher to escape these ineffective teachers.

As many of us have tried to explain to the legislators and to the news media, the letter grading system implemented in Louisiana schools is a deceptive abomination! It wrongly accuses teachers of failing our students and encourages less cooperation by parents who should have been involved in intensive efforts to produce better parent-teacher cooperation. Our Governor has branded thousands of dedicated teachers and many struggling schools as failures instead of giving them the support they needed to improve their school's environment. If the teachers were so bad in those D and F schools, why is it that for years many of the ethnic Vietnamese students attending some of the low rated schools in their neighborhoods have received some of the highest academic honors in their school systems? I guess those “ineffective” teachers were only good at teaching Asian students who start school with poor English skills. Obviously the home environment was a huge influence for those students. Why have we not tried to learn why some home environments make students more successful and tried to implement programs that encourage positive parental involvement?

Instead the Governor and his allies have chosen to take over schools and convert them to charters. This strategy has been a huge failure. (see my post of  Feb. 19, 2011) Now the legislature has added a law implementing a statewide voucher system to allow students to “escape” often to substandard religious schools that use video lessons and teach Creationism while the preacher/principal stands to rake in a huge salary and rental fees from our tax contributions to his little enterprise. We also have a major potential for other “out-of-the-mainstream religions” to use our taxes to promote their causes through the unregulated schools promoted by our new education laws. Louisiana could soon move from being simply a low performer in education to a laughing stock of the nation with potential businesses shunning our state as though it had a plague in K-12 education. Take a look at this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to see what I mean.

That's why in my guest blog for the LAE and on this site I repeatedly encourage teachers to join and become very active in their professional organizations/unions such as the LAE and LFT. Forget about APEL. They are on the other side. I also encourage administrators to join either the LAE (LAE does not limit its membership to non-administrators) or an administrator group that is willing to advocate for and fight for public education. I would encourage parents to join their parent organizations and advocate for support rather than dismantling of our public schools. Finally, I hope that school board members through the LSBA will begin a renewed effort to defend our democratic system of public school management which allows every citizen to elect their school board member who answers to the voters rather than to a corporate, religious or private group. All of the groups mentioned above are participating in the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. This unified effort of many individuals working for common goals is the only hope we have for survival and true improvement of our public education system.

PS: If you have not already done so, please send me an email today at and join my Defenders of Public Education data base. It is free and totally confidential. The “Defenders” data base does not take the place of a real professional organization or union which I strongly urge all my readers to join. The Defenders data base is simply my small contribution to coordination of efforts by many groups who comprise the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education to help us speak with a unified voice to the legislature. Please include you home address so I can categorize you by your legislative district.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Where Were the Deans?

The Deans of our colleges of education were apparently absent during the battle at the Legislature over the Governor's education reform package. It made me wonder if the Deans of our Colleges of Education in Louisiana believe there is value in their programs.

One key part of the Governor's reforms was the removal of the requirement that teachers in public charter schools be certified. The only requirement now to teach any subject or grade in a charter school is a bachelor's degree in anything. Amazingly our Deans of the colleges of Education whose sole reason for getting a salary is that of preparing college graduates to be teachers, did not appear before the legislative hearings to object to the hiring of persons without credentials to be entrusted with the future of our children!

A parent recently pointed out that the legislature has laws on the books to protect the public in Louisiana from unqualified landscape designers, uncertified florists, uncertified manicurists, or barbers etc etc. A judge would certainly not allow a citizen to be represented in court by a non-lawyer. You could sue the hospital if they let a veterinarian do surgery on you (although I have one I would trust).

But now with the Governor's desperation to make it easier and cheaper for charters to operate, using our tax dollars, he has dropped all credentials for teachers in those schools. That should be no surprise since he appointed a person with no real credentials to be our State Superintendent. Mr White also apparently has no track record of improving a single school in his short career as an administrator in the New York school system.

Finland on the other hand, increased its certification requirements for teachers and then saw student performance rise to the highest level in the western world. Finland also does not use high stakes testing and does not use student test performance to rate its schools or teachers. The government in Finland actually treats its teachers as professionals. Teachers there are truly "empowered".

Removal of certification requirements for teachers, in addition to putting Louisiana students at risk, is a huge insult to all of our colleges of education! Yet the Deans hid out in their ivory towers while the governor made a mockery of their profession as teacher educators.

This formalized disrespect for the teaching profession in Louisiana will surely drag our educational system down. It is hypocritical that our business community represented by The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has called for higher standards for our students while they supported the Governor in lowering standards for those who teach them.

When did insanity become education reform? Why should any real teacher have any respect for the Governor, the State Superintendent, or the Legislature.