Friday, March 8, 2013

No Trust in New MFP and Jindal "Deforms"

In addition to all the changes in teacher evaluation, vouchers, course choice programs, and the transition to the common core curriculum, school systems will now have to contend with a radically changed MFP. It almost seems as though State Superintendent White and Governor Jindal are trying to implement every radical education change ever conceived and make the students and educators of Louisiana the guinea pigs of untested education reform.

There is apparently no check on the power and brashness of Jindal and White. At least not at BESE. Except for only three members, (Beebe, Hill and Lee) BESE members have performed like perfect puppets. This is a very unhealthy situation for our students and teachers.

The BESE meeting Thursday witnessed a parade of highly experienced education professionals led by Superintendent Michael Faulk of the Superintendent's Association and Scott Richard of the School Boards Association who practically begged BESE to hold off on rubber stamping the radical new MFP. Their efforts were supported by dozens of Special Education supervisors, teachers and parents who made it clear that there was no trust whatsoever in the new special education formula which begins a shift to new funding rules. Almost no one in education except for those feeding at the trough of poorly regulated and unaccountable vouchers and course choice giveaways have any trust that public schools will not be systematically dismembered by Jindal and his amateur superintendent.

Superintendent Faulk has compiled a list of staggering unfunded mandates demanded by the state and not funded by the MFP. They include unfunded huge increases in retirement contributions, burdensome in-service requirements, testing technology mandates, and new merit pay mandates based on the erratic VAM and the COMPASS which has now been denounced by Charlotte Danielson. (Danielson told the Monroe Newstar that she believes her carefully designed system has been inappropriately abridged and modified to the point that it may no longer yield valid results. She warned that Louisiana may face numerous legal challenges as flawed evaluations lead to damages to teachers careers and compensation.) The new MFP will certainly not help local school systems pay for these increased legal costs.

The so called “Jindal reforms” are poised to wreak havoc on Louisiana's education system because of what I believe to be a perfect storm of damaging and sometimes unintended results of Jindal's radical changes. I pointed out some time ago in a post titled “Chicken Processors Preferred to Teachers” that Jindal, contrary to his claim of trying to attract good jobs to Louisiana, is actually promoting a huge college educated job drain from Louisiana with the new Course Choice program. The results of this “innovation” are even more sinister than the regular vouchers because they will cause teachers to be laid off in Louisiana and their jobs outsourced to other states. Our MFP dollars will benefit other states. At the same time, since the course providers for most courses will be the sole judge of student success with no minimum attendance required, Louisiana taxpayers will be ripped off of millions while our students get bogus credit for empty courses. To add insult to injury, our students' home schools will be rated lower and blamed when such students fail to perform satisfactorily on state and ACT tests!

Another insane consequence of such programs is as the public school teaching force is reduced, the unfunded accrued liability of our state retirement system will skyrocket because there will be fewer teachers paying in. Testing costs will be driven to millions by the new common core assessments with the burden for associated technology upgrades for test taking mandated to local school systems. At the same time, students will have less access to computers to spend on their actual studies. Meanwhile unregulated charter schools and voucher schools will misuse tax dollars for exorbitant administrator salaries and “service fees. advertising costs, and rents”. This is just part of the brave new world of the Jindal “deforms”. Unfortunately most of the cost will only be realized after Jindal is gone.

If all of the above concerns you, please join my Defenders of Public Education data base. The legislature is our only recourse. We must demand that our home legislators represent us and our public education system for a change. Tell them to vote down the new MFP until it is revised to truly support public education! Remember they are your representatives, not vice-versa. Here is what you need to do now:

If you have not yet done so, please consider joining my Defenders of Public Education Data Base, before the next legislative session begins. Just send me an email at with the name of your State Senator and State Representative and your preferred email address. When issues come up in the legislature I will send you an email hopefully in time for you to communicate your wishes to your legislators. Only through coordinated action will we be successful in stopping these attacks on the profession and on public education.
Mike Deshotels

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Teacher Town Hall Meeting with Diane Ravitch

This should be mandatory attendance for all teachers! If you believe in a good public education system for all; if you believe that teaching should remain an honored profession; you should definitely attend this town hall meeting with Diane Ravitch.

When? March 14

Where? BREC Administrative Bld., (Ballroom) 6201 Florida Blvd., Baton Rouge

What time? Doors open at 5:00 P. M. Program starts at 5:30 P. M.

Teachers with a current school ID will have priority steating

Sponsors: Leaders with Vision & LVWBR Edcuational Foundation

Following the event, Dr Ravitch will be available to autograph her best selling book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Congratulations to LFT; The Fight for Public Education Continues

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and its president Steve Monaghan deserve to be commended for an excellent legal challenge to Governor Jindal's Act 1 of 2012. Judge Caldwell agreed with the Federation claim that the new law was unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety because it addressed several subjects instead of the one issue per bill required by the Constitution.

Act 1 was a very bad law and should never have been enacted. In passing Act 1 the Governor had rammed through several very bad ideas that I believe would pretty much destroy teaching as a profession in Louisiana and have taken away the rights of voters to run their own local schools. It made a mockery of school choice. The following points will remind my readers of the destruction of teacher and parent rights embodied in Act 1.
  • Act 1 was designed to strip experienced teachers of the rights earned by a long and distinguished career in education. It would have invalidated all of a career teacher's many accomplishments, evaluation records, and seniority accumulated before 2013 based on one year of student test results. For many teachers it would have substituted an error prone value added score based on one test of student performance for years of successful and dedicated service. One test result could have invalidated a twenty year teacher's seniority and placed her/him first on a list for any layoffs. Just take another look at Herb Bassett's 5 minute video on the misuse of VAM. It could have frozen that teacher's salary and have removed all rights to due process in dismissal. Just one test in one year could pretty much destroy a teacher's reputation and career even if her/his principal totally disagreed that this teacher should be rated ineffective! This part of Act 1 was an insult to the entire teaching profession in Louisiana. (Clarification: This ruling does not nullify VAM or the COMPASS evaluation system which was created by Act 54 of 2010. If the ruling is upheld it will simply nullify some of the consequences of the new evaluation system. Those would include a state mandate that would have prevented seniority from being considered in layoffs, immediate revocation of tenure based on one ineffective evaluation, and the change to a new tenure system. Louisiana would revert to the old tenure law at this point.)
  • Act 1 also made a mockery of due process in the way that it changed the structure of the tenure law.  The new law stacked the hearing panel in favor of the administration and would have denied the teacher any appeals to the courts.  It deserved to be struck down based on its implied disrespect for the teaching profession. But it was not struck down because it is a bad law. It was struck down based on a technicality. It can be easily resurrected by a new bill in the legislature that could be introduced by the governor's puppets in this coming session!
  • In addition to disrespecting the teaching profession, Act 1 disrespected the rights of Louisiana voters. Act 1 would have allowed the State Superintendent to overrule the decisions of local voters when they elect their school board members. It would have prevented local school boards from voting on teacher employment and firings or to even give a teacher a hearing on a proposed dismissal or demotion. In some cases it would have allowed the State Superintendent to evaluate or even demand that a local superintendent be declared ineffective. This would be just as objectionable as the Federal Government taking over our schools or telling our elected officials how to manage our schools. Come to think of it, that is also already happening! What ever happened to the idea that the voters closer to a function of government should have the right to make decisions? What ever happened to school choice as determined by local voters in electing their school board members?
  • Act 1 also dictated to local school boards how to design their teacher salary schedules in a manner that would reward or punish teachers based on this same seriously flawed evaluation system. Local school boards while being faced with growing unfunded mandates from the state, have been forced to restructure their teacher salary schedules in a way that punishes teachers who had pursued higher degrees and National Board Certified status. The new law disrespects all efforts teachers in Louisiana have made over the years to enhance their knowledge of teaching and the profession and instead substitutes student performance on one test. 
If Caldwell's decision is upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, it will mean that all of the changes in state law brought about by Act 1 will be nullified. That would be a good thing for teachers and their students but Jindal is not about to back off. Judge Caldwell simply agreed with the LFT that such changes could not be made in one bill. But they could be proposed in separate bills. Educators must understand that the judge's ruling does not prevent the Legislature from making each of the changes embodied in Act 1 using new bills, maybe even in the coming legislative session.

My question to educators is: "Are we prepared to fight for the rights of teachers and for the survival of our profession, or will the teaching profession continue to be Jindal's whipping boy in his pursuit of higher office?"

If you have not yet done so, please consider joining my Defenders of Public Education Data Base, before the next legislative session begins. Just send me an email at with the name of your State Senator and State Representative and your preferred email address. When issues come up in the legislature I will send you an email hopefully in time for you to communicate your wishes to your legislators. Only through coordinated action will we be successful in stopping these attacks on the profession and on public education.
Mike Deshotels

Monday, March 4, 2013

What Do Real Edcuators Think About the Jindal Reforms?

The recent LAE forums across the state highlighted much of the frustration teachers feel about the Jindal reforms, but also demonstrated the high level of professionalism and dedication of Louisiana teachers. I interviewed Ouachita Parish teacher, April Stockley after she made comments directed at local legislators at the forum in West Monroe.

Ms Stockley, a 15 year veteran teacher who possesses National Board Certification, told the local legislators attending the Monroe forum that they should not have approved these sweeping mandates without first consulting classroom teachers. She said many of the most respected teachers she knew were feeling extremely stressed out by some of the so called reforms that seemed to be poorly thought out and rushed. Many teachers feel that the state mandates are not being clearly communicated to the teachers in the field because state officials are unclear in their instructions to local supervisors.

For example Stockley who teachers high school English III and A.P. U.S. History, was informed that she needed to set her Student Learning Targets (SLTs) so as to expect 70% of her students to reach proficiency by the end of the year. This goal was strongly recommended to her even though the new evaluation plan specifies that SLTs are to be determined through consultation between the principal and the teacher each year based on various factors including student characteristics. Apparently someone from the sate level simply recommended the 70% as a model goal. But in describing her classes this year, Stockley said that her classes contained an increased number of students with disabilities and several students who were no longer living at home and who were not in a stable learning environment. She states: “These types of conditions and numerous others, unrelated to the classroom can negatively impact learning and test scores for which teachers are still held accountable in the eyes of the LDOE even though we have no control over such circumstances.” Yet apparently the state expects sort of a pre-set performance from all such classes. That's the kind of frustrating uncertainty faced by many teachers according to Stockley.

Stockley who believes in challenging her students to achieve at very high levels, nevertheless worries that many students who are not college bound will be unfairly punished or may be more likely to drop out because of the new common core standards and push towards college readiness for all. The state superintendent has made clear that the new standards are weighted to stress more college prep level work. She stated that she felt many such students would benefit more from the career diploma than from the typical college prep. curriculum. She estimated that even though her high school recently became an “A” rated school, a growing number of her students are revealing a reluctance to attend a traditional college largely due to economic reasons: rising prices in college tuitions/costs coupled with the greater need to earn more money quickly through trade schools and working in the oil and gas industry. Such students, in her opinion, would be better and more immediately served through certifications and hands-on experiences offered through the career diploma, which would also spur greater interest in attending and succeeding in school courses as opposed to the college-prep track.
(Senator Bob Kostelka, who was in attendance at the forum was one of the authors of the legislation creating the career diploma just 3 years ago. That legislation was proposed only after much consultation with local superintendents and other educators. But apparently that was not considered "reform" enough by the Jindal administration. Many educators believe the career diploma is under utilized and will be further pushed aside by the new common core requirements.) 

“There are so many unknowns with so many changes in education policy being implemented at the same time, that we don't know if our students will benefit or be harmed”, Stockley said. “Our administrators don't seem to have clear directives from the state and the rules seem to change from day to day. Most teachers are not afraid of evaluation or accountability but feel that their careers are being endangered by these poorly planned reforms.”

“One of the changes teachers question is the rushed approval of voucher schools and course choice programs that will draw students and funding away from public schools even though it is clear there will be little state oversight and almost no accountability for such programs. Teachers believe this represents an unacceptable double standard”

My discussions with Stockley and many other dedicated teachers leads me to the conclusion that Jindal and the Legislature have missed a great opportunity by not consulting our experienced professional educators before launching some potentially harmful changes. But then I believe the motives of the reformers were more political than educational. I hope the so-called reforms don't drive away teachers like Ms Stockley. Our students need such teachers much more than any of these “bold” reforms!