Friday, March 15, 2013

Ravitch Exposes Reform Myths

Diane Ravitch visited Baton Rouge yesterday, and participated in a forum with BESE president Chas Roemer sponsored by Leaders With Vision.  In this forum and in a town hall meeting with teachers later in the afternoon Dr Ravitch discredited the myths upon which the Jindal education reforms are based.

To summarize, Ravitch used the latest educational research findings to point out that (1) vouchers have never improved education, and in the longest running voucher program in Milwaukee have actually resulted in substandard results (2) Charter schools generally perform worse than average pubic schools and are creating chaos in school systems all over the country (3) Closing schools in poor communities has become an epidemic that dislocates and damages the education of at risk students (4) Virtual charter schools are the worst performing schools in the country and are draining public school systems of vital funding while making their owners rich. (5) Evaluating teachers using student test scores is not educationally sound and is based on junk science. (6) Merit pay for teachers has never been proven to work in almost 100 years of testing. The most recent major research study of merit pay in Nashville where teachers were given extra pay of up to 12 thousand dollars to raise student scores showed absolutely no results when compared to a control group that got no merit pay.

Ravitch also disputed the current assumption by reformers and some news media that educational achievement has declined in our country. She gave statistics showing that American students on average perform much better than they did years ago. Ravitch pointed out however that high poverty students are struggling in this country just as they are in all other countries. The major problem for the US and particularly for Louisiana is that we have a much larger proportion of high poverty students than other industrialized countries. The reforms we have instituted will be more harmful than good for those at risk students she asserted.

All of the above so called reforms have been launched recently in Louisiana by the Jindal and White reform laws with the approval of BESE. Ravitch concluded by warning the overflow audience of educators and business leaders that Louisiana is on the wrong path in education reform and that if continued it will result in the destruction of our public school system!

After the Ravitch expose' of the Jindal and BESE reforms, a flustered Chas Roemer was left to claim that no matter what, parents in Louisiana deserved a "choice" about how their children should be educated. He tried to claim that there had been some successes in the New Orleans Recovery district but was called down by audience members who pointed out that Roemer was quoting erroneous and misleading data on the RSD.

Later Ravitch met in a town hall meeting with enthusiastic teachers where she encouraged teachers to take charge of their own destinies by getting involved in the legislative process and insisting that Louisiana legislators start listening to the real experts in eduction, the classroom teachers. She said that the initial undue influence of the wealthy power brokers who have bought our politicians can be reversed by the great potential people power of teachers, parents and friends they can claim as allies. But Ravitch warned that positive changes will not happen until large numbers of teachers realize that they must become politically active. That's why Ravitch and other teacher leaders are forming a national group to encourage the support of pro public education candidates for public office. It is called The network for Public Education, and you can join by going to the following website:

That's also why you should sign up for my Defenders of Public Education data base. Just send me an email to and give me your name, the names of your state senator and representative and your preferred email address. Soon I will start sending you emails describing important education issues before the legislature. You can then make contact with your legislators to ask that they support your position on these issues. Please make the commitment now to actively defend and promote effective education reform by signing up for the "Defenders" data base. It is free and confidential.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Has the Teacher Bill of Rights Been Repealed?

Last week Lafayette Parish teacher, Abby Breaux, went before her school board and read a letter describing the conditions in many of our schools that are driving good teachers out of the profession. That letter was printed in the Washington Post and got rave reviews from teachers all over the country who are confronted each day by the same demoralizing conditions.

Breaux's letter focused on two major issues. One was the disrespect of the teaching profession by our public officials when they make sweeping changes to public education without so much as consulting the experts in the classrooms. That concern was echoed all over the state in the forums hosted recently by LAE to hear teacher concerns about the current “Jindal reforms”.

The other big issue raised by Abby's letter was the concern by teachers about a growing breakdown in basic classroom discipline and the perception by teachers that our policy makers are changing school practices and policies to make student discipline worse rather than better! Teachers feel that when you add this deterioration of classroom discipline to the huge burden of paperwork and red tape heaped on today's teachers, for some teachers, it becomes sheer torture to stay in the classroom.

Abby said it all when she said: “Enough is enough!”

That brings me to section LRS 17:416 of Louisiana education law. Specific amendments to this law were passed at the insistence of teachers in the 1990's. A bill on teacher student discipline rights was authored by former Senator Armond Brinkhaus who at that time represented part of Lafayette Parish. This law, for the first time in Louisiana history, gave the regular classroom teacher the direct authority to take certain actions to maintain discipline in her/his classroom. Before this law, each teacher was totally dependent on the actions of her/his principal to back the teacher up in maintaining classroom discipline. Some did an excellent job of backing teachers and some just kept shoving the discipline problems back to teachers without giving them any real authority to do anything that would make a real difference. That's why the Brinkhaus legislation was passed. I was involved in drafting and helping to lobby the law through the legislative process.

When Governor Bobby Jindal started his first term, he supported and signed into law a bill that added section 416.18, The Teacher Bill of Rights. This law took some of the major requirements of Section 416 and summarized them into the rights of teachers particularly as they relate to classroom discipline. The Teacher Bill of Rights also required respect for the decisions of teachers in disciplining students and stipultated that parents could be required by teachers to attend a conference with the teacher when their child disrupted the classroom or behaved in a manner disrespectful to the teacher. That was the old Bobby Jindal before he got on the kick of blaming teachers for all the problems of education.

If you read the Teacher Bill of Rights and Section 416 it should be crystal clear that all Louisiana teachers are supposed to have the right to run their classrooms without worring about disruption or disrespect from students, parents or administrators. Sadly this is not the case in some schools and in some school systems. Some school systems and some schools are not enforcing Section 416. In fact some systems are actively discouraging the enforcement of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights. And this is often being done blatantly with the Teacher Bill of Rights posted in each classroom and at the beginning of the student discipline policy handbook! Would you be surprised to learn that the circumvention of Section 416 is often being done at the behest of our own State Department of Education?

Section 416 of Louisiana law is being violated every day in some school systems at the insistence of the LDOE. That's because the amateurs who now run our LDOE are much more concerned about keeping disruptive students in the classroom at all costs than they are about the teacher's explicit rights defined by Section 416 to have an orderly classroom.

The DOE has decided that some school systems have too many student suspensions and too many students are being removed from the classrooms, so they have moved to force local school systems to circumvent the provisions of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights. In East Baton Rouge, the DOE has appointed a special master who has been given the power to overrule principals and teachers in maintaining classroom discipline as prescribed by Section 416. The school system has been forced to adopt discipline practices stipulated by the PBIS system in the place of Section 416. The PBIS system (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) forces teachers who are often confronted with serious classroom disruptive behavior to go through many time consuming and education killing baby steps for addressing each student's behavior. Gone is the right of a teacher to immediately remove an extremely disruptive or disrespectful student.

If a teacher attempts to have such a student removed, the teacher is immediately put on the defensive by being asked: “Before you requested that this student be removed, did you take the steps outlined in our PBIS procedure? Did you warn the student properly? Did you notify the parents? Did you provide the student the opportunity to exhibit acceptable behavior? Do you have a system in your classroom that rewards students for acceptable behavior? Are you over emphasizing negative means of controlling student behavior?”

You get the idea don't you? If there is disruptive behavior going on in a teacher's classroom it must be that the teacher is responsible because the teacher has not properly implemented the PBIS system!

I submit to you that when the PBIS system is implemented in the way described above it is simply a load of C_ _ _, and is in direct violation of the law. Such an application of PBIS or any other so called discipline policy that puts artificial obstacles in the way of enforcing classroom discipline is in direct violation of Section 416 and the Louisiana Teacher Bill of Rights. But it is being forced on teachers who are having their classroom discipline destroyed by people who have no idea what it is like to manage a classroom in today's public schools and who would not survive for a week in such a classroom.”

Now put yourself in the shoes of a parent who has a well behaved child who attends a school that has allowed disruptive and often disrespectful students to remain in the classroom and to constantly disrupt class.

What happens when such parents ask their child: “How was school today? Did you learn a lot?”

And the child responds: “Well the teacher tried, but a couple of kids kept making noise and they even talked back to the teacher when she tried to correct them and we really didn't do much in class today.”

Now multiply the above exchange by many parents repeated over several months and you will understand why parents criticize some public schools and want to pull their children out.

If any of the persons reading this blog is a classroom teacher who has this happening in her/his school, my advice is don't quit. Talk to other teachers in your school and form a group like the "fearless fousome" who started a facebook page, and start to do something to change things. The law is on your side. And you are right to want to have a disciplined and productive classroom. If you are spending half a class period many days filling out PBIS or similar forms you are not teaching.

But you also cannot do it by yourself. I have seen too many cases of teachers trying to fight the system alone who get destroyed in the process. You need to organize your supporters and create a team before you start a fight. And it sure does not hurt to be a member of your union or professional organization or whatever you want to call it. That's because it takes money and expertize to go to court or to even go through a grievance procedure. How many teachers never file a grievance addressing the violations described above simply because they are all alone? This is the kind of situation that causes good teachers to just give up and quit the profession. If you value your profession I suggest you fight against violation of your rights as provided by law. But be smart, do it with support of your colleagues like the "fearless foursome" of Lafayette Parish are doing.

No, the Teacher Bill of Rights has not been repealed! Let's take full advantage of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights and stand for positive change in our classrooms.

Don't forget about the Diane Ravitch town hall meeting with teachers tonight at 5:30 pm, March 14, at the BREC building at 6201 Florida Blvd. in Baton Rouge!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Teachers Show They Can Speak Truth to Power

Please click on this link to read the letter from Abby Breaux that was printed in the Washington Post over the weekend. It is getting rave reviews from educators all over the country. Take a look at the many comments from teachers in other parts of the country that are facing the same impossible challenges as Ms Breaux that are being ignored by our "reformer" power structure. People like Jindal and White have no idea what teachers go through, yet they want to run education. Finally, teachers have decided to speak truth to power! God bless you Abby!

I am reprinting the following from the Lafayette Advertiser:
(click here to see the video provided by the Advertiser)

A group of Lafayette teachers calling themselves the "Fearless Foursome" launched a Facebook page to spark continued discussion about education issues.

Abby Breaux, Andrea Thibodeaux, Linda Rhoads and Jennifer Guillory started the page "Teachers Standing for Solutions" over the weekend. By late Monday afternoon, the page had more than 1,000 "likes."

Guillory said her children encouraged her to start the page after she and the other teachers spoke out last week about the challenges of education. Their concerns include the district's discipline system, a large amount of standardized tests and the state's teacher evaluation system. Breaux presented a letter to the Lafayette Parish School Board last Wednesday that outlined several of her concerns.

Since then, the letter has appeared on The Washington Post's website and other media outlets. Guillory said the teachers have also heard from school board members and members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"My children were saying we needed to do a Facebook page so all of the comments can be in the right place," Guillory said. "We don't want it to be a whining wall. Our agenda right now is about distractions in the classroom and standardized testing. That's where we are starting because that is where we can make a difference now."

The page is described as a way to pursue "moderate and practical changes" in education and give children better learning environments.

"While our catalyst was one teacher's recent letter to a local school board, the need to take a stand has been escalating for years ...," reads a description of the page on Facebook.

"We stand with other teachers, our students and the community for educational improvement."

Guillory emphasized that the group wants the page to serve as a point for a discussion on solutions, rather than focusing solely on problems.

"We're pretty energized by all of this," she said.

"Obviously, we kind of awakened a sleeping giant. It's not about me, it's not only about Lafayette Parish. These are huge issues and they need to be fixed."

Sunday, March 10, 2013, Blackboard Wars Reveal Charter Shortcomings

Recent reports in have described California charter school developer Steve Barr's problems with expanding his charter concept to New Orleans. Bar has a contract with Oprah's OWN network to produce a documentary series on his efforts to turnaround John McDonogh high school in New Orleans

Bar's comments in the NOLA story contradict each other. In one instance he talks about how "beautiful and brilliant" he finds the students of John DcDonogh High School. In another instance he criticizes the New Orleans community and students exclaiming "this is what seven generations of crap looks like!"

The OWN network documentary focuses on some of the new TFA teachers struggling to succeed in their teaching assignments at John McDonogh. Steve Barr is quoted explaining that such teachers are having problems because of inexperience. He points out that it takes at least 4 or 5 years for a teacher to become proficient at his/her craft. If he knew that beforehand, then why did he hire so many minimally trained TFA teachers for his experiment at John McDonogh?

The NOLA article reveals discontent in the parent community and on the charter board and advisory committees. Two of the Board members have threatened to resign because they were not consulted on the approval of the documentary series filming. They also believe that Board members should be able to vote on hiring of staff and teachers. (Note: This is contrary to Jindal's Act 1 of 2012 which places all hiring totally in the hands of school administrators. This provision of Act 1 has been ruled unconstitutional by a district court, so the charter board at McDonogh may still have some say so in employment matters.)

But the real issue is that charter board members are not elected by the public the way the law provides for traditional Louisiana public school districts. Charter schools are really run by their charter management organizations (In this case Steve Barr who lives in California) and by corporate reform power brokers like John White. There is a related story about Lycee' Francais, another charter in New Orleans, which is in the process of being reorganized by John White and Charter School Association head, Caroline Roemer Shirley, using ad hoc appointed puppets.

These recent disputes highlight one of the weaknesses of the charter system. Like other recent school reform schemes, the charter concept assumes that schools cannot be run effectively by democratically elected school boards. The corporate reform movement assumes that schools need to be taken over by business oriented managers like Steve Barr or even for-profit organizations like Edison Schools or K12 or Connections Academy. All of these have proven to be failures in Louisiana, yet the Jindal and White power structure wants to give them more and more students to experiment with. They even want out-of-state Course Choice Providers to be able to freely recruit students from Louisiana public schools paid for by our tax dollars with minimal accountability, just because they are privately run. There is absolutely no research that shows that these schemes educate children better. But there is plenty of evidence that for profit groups like Edison, K12 and Connections squander our tax dollars with minimal service to students. Jindal and White talk about "the urgency of now" as justification for throwing out democratic systems upon which our successful public school system has been built.

The chickens are now coming home to roost. All over the state we are witnessing dramatic charter school failures. Absolutely all the schools taken over and converted into charters in EBR, St Helena, Pointe Coupee and Caddo are failures by the very grading system forced upon our schools by Jindal and White. In recent months we have seen scandals in charter schools from unreported child sexual abuse to embezzlement, to financial collapse with schools not being able to pay utility bills, and to sheer mismanagement by incompetent amateur administrators. Now White and his TFA administrators have announced they will form an "Achievement Zone" in Baton Rouge with the very schools they have so badly mismanaged. Yet the Baton Rouge Advocate reports on the Achievement Zone as though it is an innovative action designed to correct the failures of our local school boards! 

The secret weapon of Jindal and White is a strategy of appointing local power brokers such as business leaders, ministers and state legislators to puppet advisory boards for all these hair brained schemes. This assures buy-in from the powers that be. The same strategy has been used in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D. C. to implement the corporate reform models while bypassing professional educators. These schemes are all failing to produce academic results and end up in the closing of schools serving at-risk students dislocating thousands of students and ruining the careers of thousands of professional educators.

My questions are: When will our news media start doing their job of exposing the fraud and abuse of charters, vouchers, and reform profiteers? When will our legislature call a halt to this misuse of our tax dollars? When will our District Attorneys start prosecuting the crooks who are using our public school children to raid our school funding?

One way for educators and parents to fight the corporate takeover of our schools is to participate in groups like my Defenders of Public Education. Please consider signing up in the manner described in my post below.