Friday, April 19, 2013

Jindal Tries to Resurrect Act 1

Dear Educator:  Correction from prev., The Ed Comm Meeting starts at 9:00 am
Next Wednesday April 24 at 9:00 AM could be the most important day of the legislative session for teacher issues.  If you care about the future of the Education profession, you should contact the members of the House Education Committee about several important bills that are scheduled to be heard, especially if you live and vote in any of their districts!  (Click here to go to the Ed Committee web site where you can get the email address of members by clicking on each name.) This committee determines what bills will go to the full House of Representatives. The membership of this committee was carefully stacked in favor of Governor Jindal when it was formed last year. But things have changed for the Goverrnor (Approval rating down to 38%) and educators may have a chance to talk sense to their legislators who serve on this critical committee. Do not write any of them off yet!

The following bills are very bad for teachers and one is bad for school boards. I hope you will ask them to defeat the following bills which will mandate most of the legislation passed by Jindal as part of Act 1, last year. These were all ruled unconstitutional by district court because the legislature is only allowed to have one subject in a bill. So now, by putting these issues in different bills, they may succeed in making these new laws constitutional. Here they are:

HB 478 by Champagne takes away all teacher seniority in the event of a layoff and ranks teachers according to the new Act 54 evaluation and the VAM. This bill could destroy the careers of some experienced teachers who have previously been evaluated to be effective under the old system. VAM is not reliable! (See the 5 minute video)

HB 596 by Carter removes all school board powers relative to hiring and dismissal of employees. In addition to limiting the powers of elected board members this bill removes the right of a teacher to have numerous personnel matters reviewed by their School Boards. A teacher or an administrator could be involuntarily transferred to the "boonies" and would have no recourse over this and many other personnel matters.

HB 644 by Whitney establishes merit pay based on the Act 54 evaluation as part of state law. I would not want to have my salary dependent on this erratic system from year to year. It would also freeze the salaries of any teachers who have the bad luck to be rated just one time as ineffective by the VAM.

There are four more bills on the agenda that I believe should be supported by educators and school boards:(Please ask legislators to vote "yes" on these).

HB 160 by Reynolds delays implementation of the Act 54 evaluation system and the use of VAM for rating teachers for one year. This year would amount to a non-binding trial for the system. The bill would also require that the VAM portion be approved by the Education Committees of the legislature before being applied. Right now the VAM is erratic and unrealiable in rating teachers. I don't think it can ever be made to work but I sure don't want it ruining teacher's careers this year because of flaws!

HB 115 by James allows parent petitions to require failing schools run by the RSD to be restored to their local school boards. This is the reverse trigger legislation. What a great idea!

HB 230 by Pope corrects the problem of kindergarten children in satisfactory school zones being subject to vouchers. This is a loophole that needs to be closed.

HB 466 by Havard keeps the same school grading system that was in effect in the 2011-2012 school year. Many school systems have calculated that White's new formula for calculating school grades could lower some schools' letter grades by one or two letter grades this year even if the school performs exactly the same as last year.

Remember if you want to read the bill, just click on the bill number and you will be taken to the bill text.

Important tips:
All emails should first state who you are and the fact that you are an educator who lives in that Representative's district. Always be polite and professional. Emails should be in your own words, not a "canned" message. Get your message in to committee members before 9:00 am Wednesday, April 24!
Mike Deshotels

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Education Summit: Just Another Bogus Propaganda Effort

I attended the so called "Education Summit" called Leadership For Change yesterday in Baton Rouge. This was an invitation only conference sponsored mostly by LABI, the big business group, and several astro turf organizations that promote charter schools, vouchers and merit pay schemes all over the country. (Oh yes, a+pel was also a sponsor) There were very few real educators in attendance, and no real educators as speakers or panel members. State Superintendent John White did speak, but after what he tried to do recently with guidance counselors and librarians, special education funding, and what he has done in approving vouchers to religious schools with minimal facilities with weird curricula, I don't count him as a real educator.

But my real problem with this so called education summit is that it spoon fed a lot of decent business people and well meaning civic leaders in attendance a diet of hateful ideas about our public schools and a lot of outright lies about charters, vouchers and other misguided education deforms.

The first speaker was Campbell Brown, the former CNN news anchor and daughter of former Secretary of State Jim Brown. She mostly related horror stories about how the teacher unions in New York protected pedophiles and opposed laws to get rid of teachers who abuse children. She implied that Louisiana may have a similar problem. I have to say I was personally insulted by this, because I was a professional employee of the Louisiana Association of Educators for 20 years and served a term as the Executive Director for the LAE. In all that time I cannot remember one instance where the Association helped keep one pedophile in the classroom. To my knowledge there was never any law designed to protect children in schools that were opposed by the LAE or the LFT. In fact while I was Executive Director of LAE the Association sponsored a discipline law that was designed to create a better learning environment in every classroom.  (That law is now being violated all over the state at the insistence of the non-educators in our own DOE) There were cases where the Association successfully defended teachers who were falsely accused of improper behavior. After the meeting I called the former LAE Director of Legal services and he confirmed for me that the few cases of real misconduct by teachers in the last 30 years in Louisiana were non-members who were never defended by the LAE. I submit that Campbell Brown knows almost nothing about Louisiana public education. She attended all private schools while she was here. Her speech was nothing but an attempt to discredit the teacher unions that have united with the School Boards Association to defeat Jindal's unconstitutional attacks on public schools and public school teachers. But unfortunately the organizers of this "education conference" did not allow any rebuttal of these unfounded charges.

Another speaker, Gloria Romero, was the author of the Parent Trigger legislation that was first passed in California and which was part of the Jindal package adopted in Louisiana in the last session. This law allows parents in schools designated as failing to petition to have the school taken over by the Recovery District. There is no such provision to have any of the numerous failing schools in the Recovery District restored to the local school board, even though our public school systems are demonstrating better results and are now gaining back so many students that the RSD has closed schools and used the buildings for DOE administrators. No one on the panel of Leadership for Change mentioned that fact! In California, since the Parent Trigger was passed only one school has been converted using the Parent Trigger. You may want to read the real story here about how this was handled. No rebuttal was allowed of the bogus claims made by this presenter. As a bright spot, there is one bill (HB 115) offered in this legislative session that would allow parents to petition to have a failing RSD school restored to the local school board.

John White made his usual speech about the great strides made by the education reformers in Louisiana but he forgot to mention that 87% of the RSD takeover schools are graded D and F by his own system and that all but one of the schools taken over in Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, and St Helena had to be "reorganized" and taken back from their charter managers because they have been absolute failures by every measure. His big success story was about an unnamed student from Greensburg who made an appointment to come to the DOE to thank someone for providing her with a voucher to a private school. He also bragged that because of the Jindal reforms, every school system in the state now has pay for performance policies and policies that protect the best teachers during layoffs. He forgot to mention that there has been no money appropriated for these merit pay schemes and that the number two ranked school system in the state is being forced to lay off teachers because of the numerous unfunded mandates pushed by White and Jindal.

Another speaker, John Chavous, talked about the famous Nation at Risk report from 30 years ago which predicted economic catastrophe because of a week education system. Much of the data used in that and subsequent reports has been discredited. No one mentioned that the No Child Left Behind program which was intended to reform public education has been an absolute disaster and can no longer be enforced because it was based on false assumptions and had unrealistic goals. Chavous while serving on the Washington DC Council helped to bring in Michelle Rhee as Chancellor for that school system. Recent revelations show that she was an absolute disaster for DC schools.

At least one presenter (Romero) repeated the falsehood that "teachers are the biggest factor in student achievement". All of the data shows that teacher effectiveness is greatly overshadowed by the socioeconomic baggage students bring with them to school. No one mentioned the fact that not a single teacher merit pay scheme has been shown to work and that a recent comprehensive study by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee discredited a major merit pay system for teachers just this last year.

Condolezza Rice who seems to be a likable person, talked about the need for high expectations for children, the importance of providing choice, and the idea of rewarding good teachers. I just don't know of any education expertize or credentials she has to be talking about Leadership for Change in Louisiana education.

Governor Jindal showed up late and said he would keep trying over and over again until his reform package is resurrected from the court defeats.

Many in the audience were successful business people who know that you always bring in the best experts when you are contemplating major changes in business. Yet they were subjected to presentations by persons who have absolutely no expertize in education who are still pushing programs that have been discredited. No wonder the real educators in Louisiana are disgusted and dismayed with the extremist propaganda promoted by this so called "Education Summit."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Michelle Rhee: No Excuses; Whatever it Takes. Even Cheating?

Great cover art! One of our readers sent us this link to a  revised  Time Magazine Cover that shows the real Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee, promoter of all of the latest and most damaging education reforms, may have covered up a major cheating scandal in DC schools that would surely have prevented her rise to godlike status in the education reform movement. That's what a heretofore "secret" memo to Rhee uncovered by reporter John Merrow may indicate. Click on this link to see John's interview with Chris Hayes of MSNBC.

Michelle Rhee almost overnight had become the fresh new shining star  who demonstrated amazing "results" at turning around the troubled Washington DC school system. Because of her "success" in DC, and her adoption by the media as the darling of education reform, credibility was given to the recent draconian changes inflicted on the American public education system. Rhee was one of the promoters of the idea that there is no legitimate excuse for the failure to educate poor and at-risk students just as successfully as rich or middle class kids.

There was no research upon which to base this revolutionary theory. Michelle Rhee had no credentials in education other than duct taping the mouth of a noisy student when she did her 3 year TFA stint. Like Louisiana's imported superintendent John White, Rhee's rise to the top of the education ranks was based on blind faith that setting academic goals for students and firing principals and teachers and giving bonuses based on these goals would automatically bring academic results.

Her system of carrots and sticks seemed to work, and the Washington DC school system seemed to demonstrate the major achievement gains she had expected. That's where Louisiana and many other states got the ideas for many of our recent education "reforms": Abolish teacher tenure, abolish seniority, create merit pay based on a highly erratic Value Added Model, and allow private groups access to public money for charters and vouchers.  It was all predicated on the idea that the teaching profession is rife with lazy and incompetent teachers and administrators and if we could just either motivate them with merit pay or fire them, all of our students would immediately show dramatic achievement. I submit to you that this assumption was wrong, but the new approach promoted by Rhee is creating unprofessional behavior.

The recent secret memo uncovered by John Merrow showed that Rhee was willing to ignore the facts about the cheating in DC that created her big reputation. The scam worked! Rhee became a superstar of education reform based on the fake dramatic improvement of DC schools. But now John Merrow points out that even though Rhee's policies have continued, the Washington DC school system by every accepted measure is performing worse than before Rhee and is just about the lowest performing system in the country!

The Rhee theory was implemented in Atlanta and El Paso and many other places including New Orleans. What have been the real results of this policy of putting tremendous pressure on professionals who often do not have control over the major factors that influence student achievement? Cheating! What we are seeing with federal indictments of educators who cheated to produce results is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2011 the Louisiana Recovery District announced that they had reduced the high school dropout rate from 11% per year to only 5%, yet the 12th grade class was only half the size of the 9th grade class! What happened to all those students? The OWN network in their series Blackboard Wars inadvertently revealed gimmicks that charters use to inflate their results.

I met with Louisiana Director of Accountability Dr Scott Norton just before he left his position at the LDOE and found out that in our state the BESE policy is to turn investigations of test cheating over to local school administrators. There seems to be no concern that those same authorities could be involved in the cheating! Our state action when school cheating is found is to give a school a zero without further investigation. To paraphrase Bobby Jindal this is a stupid policy! What if the FBI were to launch an investigation in Louisiana as they did in El Paso?

Washington DC and the Louisiana Recovery District should have an independent investigation of the entire system with subpoena powers as was done in Atlanta.

This is what we learn from the Michelle Rhee story: When eduction miracle workers with no credentials in education promise dramatic results and apply the pressure, the educators under them end up going to jail!