Saturday, May 11, 2013

Proposed Changes to Discipline and Bullying Laws

My post of May 7 on this blog included a short discussion of HB 646 (click on the bill number to see the engrossed version of the bill) and my concerns that the bill may possibly water down the discipline law and may adversely affect the learning environment in classrooms. With those concerns in mind, I approached the author of the bill, Patricia Smith of Baton Rouge, to discuss my concerns. To her great credit she suggested a prompt meeting with the coalition of representatives of the group Louisiana Progress, children advocates and educators who had helped to draft the bill so that we could attempt to propose amendments to the bill before the floor vote.

A meeting occurred on the evening of May 7 with Rep. Smith and the child advocate coalition and representatives of LAE, LFT and observers from the School Boards' Association. I and others presented our proposals for amendments and a thorough discussion produced what I believe to be a reasonable compromise on the major issues.   I am presenting a paraphrasing of the proposed amendments below with the understanding that the actual language is still being drafted by the legislative staff.  The following is my best understanding of the amendments that Rep. Smith has agreed to add to the bill on the floor before it is voted upon by the House of Representatives:
  1. A clause to be added on line 11 of page 2 to give any teacher who has removed a child from his/her classroom because of disruptive or disrespectful behavior the right to either an in-person or telephone conference with the parent or guardian before the student is readmitted to the classroom. As part of this conference the parent or guardian must provide assurance that the parent shall take appropriate steps to prevent the improper student behavior.
  2. On page 2, line 11 and 12, the language would stipulate that the principal may implement more than one of the measures listed to correct the inappropriate student behavior.
  3. On page 3, line18, an amendment would allow the principal and the teacher to require a parent conference prior to the student being readmitted to the classroom.
  4. On page 3, after line 18, add the following; "If reasonable attempts to contact and conference with the parent or guardian are ultimately unsuccessful, then the teacher and principal may confer and establish any other disciplinary measure authorized by the principal with the concurrence of the teacher in line with the law and school board policy.
  5. Page 3, line 27, language is added to stipulate that the referring teacher cannot be required to take time away from teaching to prepare assignments for students removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.
  6. On page 4, line 14 through 20 would be deleted and Out of school suspension would be added as it was in the original law as one of the options for discipline. Also expulsion would be retained as an option after exhausting other reasonable and appropriate options to keep the student in the classroom.
  7. Also on page 4, language would be added to make it clear that the principal will enforce the right of a teacher to have an orderly classroom and to give precedence to the rights of other students not to be deprived of instruction because of the actions of a disruptive or uncooperative student. The teacher would also have the right to file a grievance if he/she believes that the principal has not enforced such rights to an orderly classroom.
  8. On page 4, language would be added to allow the teacher and principal to require a parent conference when the student has been removed from class for the third time because of disciplinary problems.
  9. On page 4, language would be added to ensure that sanctions or disciplinary measures are applied on a graduated basis determined by the nature of the offense and the disciplinary history of the student and the age and development status of the student.
  10. On page 6, line 1, language would be added to stipulate that once nonexclusionary discipline alternatives have been considered, implemented and documented to the extent reasonable, suspension of the student could be implemented if such is necessary for the various infractions warranting suspension as listed in the law. [Note to my readers: Such infractions include willful disobedience, disrespectful behavior toward teachers and other school personnel, use of profanity, immoral or vicious practices, engaging in bullying, use of controlled substances, destroying school property, or habitually violating  any rule and many other infractions specified in present law. All of the previous requirements for suspension hearings would not be changed by this bill in any way.]
  11. On page 6, delete lines 10 through 14.
  12. On page 7, line 12, delete the word "concluded" and insert "scheduled and held".
In my opinion, all of the above proposed amendments were negotiated in good faith in an effort to balance the goal of reducing suspensions with the right of each teacher to maintain an orderly classroom and to prohibit disrespectful behavior by students.

As I made clear earlier, the final form of the amendments are still being drafted and that the above is simply a paraphrasing of the amendments with every effort being made to give the true meaning of each amendment.

I also want to inform my readers that LAE Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones who participated in the meeting (along with Steve Monaghan of  LFT)  pointed out  that potentially a most powerful alternative to suspensions which is in present law has not been implemented extensively in most school systems. This is a section just after the sections amended by this bill, and it is already in the law. It reads as follows:

"17.416 A.(1)(c)(v)(bb):
Each city, parish, or other public school board may adopt a policy that requires the parent or legal guardian of a pupil removed from the classroom pursuant to this Sub paragraph to attend after school or Saturday intervention sessions with the pupil. The school board may refer a parent who fails to attend such a session to the court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with Chapter 2 of Title VII of the Louisiana Children's code. Each time a parent is referred to the court of competent jurisdiction, the court may impose a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars and not more than two hundred and fifty dollars, forty hours of court approved school or community service activities and attendance at a court approved family counseling program and may suspend any recreational licence issued by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries."

To my knowledge the above mandatory intervention session for the parent of a disruptive or disrespectful student has seldom been used, but according to law, it is available to all public school systems. I believe very strongly that there should be more parent accountability in the student discipline process. In recent years we have seen very little of that.

HB 646 is expected to be debated on the House floor early this week. I believe that Rep. Patricia Smith has made a good faith effort to propose amendments to her bill that properly balance the interests of teachers and principals to enforce orderly classrooms with the need to reduce suspensions and expulsions of students.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Illegal Payments for Vouchers Should be Recovered

Last year when LAE, LFT and the School Boards' Association filed suit against the Jindal Vouchers, claiming that the payments taken from the MFP were unconstitutional, Superintendent John White representing the State decided to start making quarterly payments to the voucher schools anyway, instead of making the payments contingent upon the pending court ruling. LAE attorney Brian Blackwell warned against this practice at the time, and even sent letters to the voucher schools warning them that they may be required to return the money should the courts rule against the state. This is an action which was severely criticized by many (mostly voucher proponents).

Now it turns out that Blackwell was 100% correct, (see the Advocate story here) but we see no indication that the state will try to recover the illegal payments or at least find another source of funds for the payments that have already been made. Also, according to White there is a remaining 6 million dollar payment for the 4th quarter of the year that has not yet been made to the voucher schools. It would be a  blatant violation of the Supreme Court decision if White decides to make the payment at this point.

There is the added issue that the new MFP for 2013-14 approved by the rubber stamp BESE is also in violation of the court ruling. You can fully expect White and Jindal to come up with another "creative" way to circumvent the law so they can keep their precious vouchers to questionable private religious schools and rip off course choice providers going and growing. How is Louisiana supposed to pay for this insanity?

I have to repeat something you have seen in this blog before. This is what you get when you bring in an amateur from outside the state with no qualifications to run our public school system. White and Jindal have gotten the State of Louisiana into a "fine mess", to paraphrase Laurel and Hardy.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

White Still Muddying up the Narrative

On Oct 22 and Oct 25 of 2012, I wrote two posts for this blog about the "adjustment" of VAM by Supeintendent White to accommodate a select group of teachers as South Highlands Elementary, a highly selective magnet school in Shreveport. I pointed out at the time that this rush to fix the VAM for just a few teachers was a purely political maneuver to "take care" of one of Jindal's friends in the legislature.

What I did not have at the time was the actual conversation between White and the legislator where they cooked up this scheme. That conversation has now been supplied to us by investigative "genius reporter", Tom Aswell with this recent article in the Louisiana Voice. He has published an actual transcript of conversations between White and Rep. Seabaugh and a State DOE employee where they collectively scheme to fix the VAM just for those teachers!

Here is the most damning part of the conversation between Seabaugh and White:

White expressed exasperation at being a go-between. “There’s a disconnect,” he said. “To be honest, I’m a messenger between you, Chas (BESE President Chas Roemer) and the board. All the while, the governor’s office is saying, ‘Trust me, trust me, trust me. You gotta do this, you gotta do this, you gotta do this.’ And I get it. But people have a helluva lot harder time believing me that there’s a real issue than they do out of the governor’s office of from you. I’m a little concerned about playing ping pong. The assumption on the board (BESE) is that I’m just doing the governor’s bidding on some favor that he’s cashing in on. I don’t want to be crass about it; I’ll stand up for it and I have. But I think it might take a little bit more than me to try and convince them it’s the right policy because they’re being hit on the other side pretty hard.”
Seabaugh brought the conversation back to tweaking the VAM so as not to penalize teachers for student’s shortcomings. “If you fall but stay within your category, call it a zero. But if you improve, count it as a plus—give teachers credit for success but not giving negative marks for failures.”
“If we did it within the formula, we could establish some type criteria within a reasonable number,” White replied.
“Tweaking the formula was my initial suggestion,” Seabaugh agreed, “not addressing it legislatively.”
“I didn’t want to open the formula up to such scrutiny (unintelligible),” White said.
“I don’t care how you fix it,” Seabaugh said, adding that teachers had been calling his office and sending him emails and that they were “absolutely livid.”

To me the key part of the secret conversation between Seabaugh and White is the statement by Seabaugh where he said "give (my) teachers credit for success but not to penalize teachers for student's shortcomings".  So using this system, Seabaugh's favored teachers would benefit if their student's scores go up and such teachers may qualify for merit pay, yet the same group of teachers would be protected when their students' scores go down. What a sweet deal!

Educators know that whole point of VAM is: "to penalize teachers for student's shortcomings" and reward them when students do well. You can't have one without the other.

At the time this issue surfaced, White was quoted as saying that this was just a minor glitch in VAM that affected only a handful of teachers. Not true. His new policy adopted by his "rubber stamp" BESE,  just to please one legislator, actually affects a large number of teachers all over the state who teach gifted or other high achieving students. If you read the transcript of the secret conversation, you will see that this new policy protects some teachers from getting a bad evaluation from VAM even if their students show a decline in performance, as long as their average student scores remain at the top two levels of performance. At the same time that teachers in this category are exempted from being rated "ineffective", additional teachers statewide will be forced into the "ineffective" category because Louisiana has a 10% quota of teachers that must be rated "ineffective" each year. As we all know, this "adjustment" to take care of  Jindal's political friend, violates the entire concept of Value Added evaluation (in addition to being unethical).  No teacher who has a negative performance of her/his students, according to this new system, is supposed get an acceptable evaluation from VAM. 

Let me assure my readers that I am not in agreement with the VAM rule that every teacher is supposed to show an increase in "value added student performance"  according to the formulas used by the DOE. While I am sure the teachers of high performing students deserved to be exempted from the VAM,  I also believe that this concept and these formulas are flawed for all categories of teachers. (Many have pointed out that VAM particularly does not work well with teachers of students with disabilities). But in addition, in any one year, any teacher could get a poor VAM score because of the major factors outside the school that the teacher has no control over. VAM is a travesty to all teachers, not just to teachers of high performing students.

In my opinion, this conversation between White and the legislator in the Aswell tape is an indictment of the entire administration of John White. Remember he started off in an unethical manner by trying to cover up his lack of a review process for the new voucher schools. ("I want to muddy up the narrative") It is an absolute insult to the many highly qualified and dedicated teachers of this state to have their careers be constantly in jeopardy under the direction of a person who has no qualifications for his job and who has demonstrated unethical behavior that has now been repeated over and over.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Great News From the Legislature & the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Strikes Down Use of MFP for Vouchers & Course Choice

This is great news, but look down to my post from yesterday about the efforts by White and his Course Choice providers to rapidly sign up participants for this giveaway program which is scheduled to start this coming school year "Come hell or high water" as far as Jindal and White are concerned. White will have to convince both BESE and the legislature to find another source of funding if he wants to use this scam on parents and students. Please start talking to your legislators now. Louisiana cannot afford this giveaway program that benefits no one but the greedy privatizers. Course choice and vouchers are destructive cancers, and now is the time to cut them out! 

A couple of weeks ago I got a comment to my blog from a teacher who in effect said that she appreciated the support the education profession was getting from this blog, but she said it was a bit depressing to always see so much bad news about education in Louisiana. I responded that when there was good news I would be happy to report it. Well here it is. Good news for a change!

Yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 102 to 0 to approve HB 160 by Rep. Reynolds.  (See the Advocate story here) This bill will put off the punitive measures required in the Act 54 evaluation system for at least a year. The vote on this bill demonstrates a major turnaround in attitude of the legislature from last year when it seemed that teachers were just not being heard even when they showed up by the thousands at the capitol. I believe that teachers have finally done a good job of "educating" their legislators that evaluation reform must be based on solid and tested programs before it is allowed to affect the lives of dedicated professionals. There is so much wrong with the new evaluation system which I have discussed extensively in this blog! But for now, I hope that teachers and administrators will be able to breathe a sigh of relief that even this stop gap measure is a sign that we can work with our legislature. I am not so sure about John White and Governor Jindal! Remember the bill must still pass a previously Jindal controlled Senate Education Committee and the full Senate.

In addition to HB 160 the House of Representatives approved HB 466 by Representative Havard (I like to brag that he is my Representative) that will stop the change proposed by Superintendent White to a new school grading system that includes the ACT and other unwise measurements. As I have said before, the present school grading system is not much more than a measure of student poverty in our various schools and tells us very little about the quality of teaching in those schools, but this new system would have been much worse and would have resulted in many excellent schools having their school grades lowered for no good reason. As soon as I can get it together, I will include the actual vote tally on this bill so you can thank your legislators who voted for it. Did I ever mention that an important part of the legislative process is to thank the legislators when they do something right, just as you do when you complement your students for good work? Legislators love to be thanked, and sometimes such praise goes a long way toward improving performance. (Just like it does with your students)

Finally, HB 115, The Reverse Parent Trigger also passed the House overwhelmingly. This bill demonstrates that the legislature is not willing to let the RSD keep a school forever if their big claims of improvement don't pan out. It gives the parents the option, by signing a petition to return a school to the local school board in the event it is not improved sufficiently by the RSD. What a great idea!

Potential Problem With School Discipline Law

In the last several months I have been getting numerous emails from teachers and even parents about deteriorating student discipline in some of our public schools. I think it has many causes, but it certainly does not help that our schools are now getting tremendous pressure from the DOE to keep all students in the classroom no matter how disruptive. This is wrong, if it is preventing the students who want to learn from getting the best instruction possible from their teachers.

Now there is a bill awaiting a House floor vote that could potentially make the discipline situation in many classrooms much worse (If you can imagine that). HB 646 is by a good friend of public education, Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge. The Smith bill began I believe as a good, positive attempt to improve the anti-bullying law, but it has unintentionally picked up language that could have a disastrous effect on school discipline law.

I am meeting today along with representatives of the LAE and LFT with Representative Smith and a small coalition of individuals that drafted this legislation in an effort to suggest amendments that would restore the important safeguards for the classroom in the discipline law. Please stay tuned for a report on the outcome of these negotiations. In the meantime I am encouraging teachers and school principals to read the engrossed version of the bill, HB 646, which you can read by just clicking on the bill number. I want you to judge for yourself what it does to the authority of the principal and the teacher in maintaining discipline in our classrooms. I just do not believe in substituting minimal behavior training in the place of real disciplinary measures when students are preventing others from getting an education. And I certainly do not believe that students should be allowed to be extremely disrespectful to their teacher without suffering major consequences!



Monday, May 6, 2013

The Course Choice Cancer

The campaign is already starting up. There will be millions devoted to marketing alone. Despite the court decision finding Course Choice unconstitutional, Jindal and White have given the green light to for-profit companies to go right ahead with marketing.

These are millions that will be taken from Louisiana taxpayers and possibly from the scarce MFP dollars that were once dedicated by the voters and going to our legitimate public schools systems. Jindal and White's strategy is obviously to sign up as many students as possible, so that they will have a pressure group built up when it comes time to get legislative approval for continuing the program no matter what the Supreme Court decides. One of my readers found some ads that are now being run all over Lousiana to hire salesmen to hawk these courses to parents in high poverty neighborhoods:

Free ipad; cost to parents zero; costs to Louisiana, only $1,200 per course..
Here are some of the ads being run accross the state on Craigs list for a program that as of today has no funding: - Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans

Dr Frankenstein created a grotesque monster, Bobby Jindal and John White created Course Choice. Here's the gist of one of the Craigs list ads:
"Help change the landscape of public education in Louisiana!
On your own time!
With the potential to make $75k+ in 6 months or less!
Company Description: SmartStart Virtual Academy ("SVA") (a division of SmartStart Education) is a state-approved Course Choice provider. This means that SVA has been authorized to offer FREE courses to high-school students in the state of Louisiana for graduation credit. SVA is offering 22 approved courses -- both core-classes (such as reading, math and science) and career-ready courses (such as web-design and publishing)."

Another ad states:
"Pay rate: $16/hour
Position Responsibilities:
Conduct door-to-door marketing of program."

There are over 50 Course Choice Providers approved by our State DOE though the office of "Lefty" Lefkowith, one of the non-educator privatizers hired recently by Superintendent John White at a handsome salary. (See The Louisiana Voice story.) Many of these are out-of-state outfits with minimal resources. (Remember the religious voucher schools with no teachers or classrooms)

I met personally with Superintendent White in his office months ago and warned him that the Course Choice guidelines approved by his DOE are an open invitation for fraud and abuse. There are no attendance requirements for these Choice Courses often offered by out-of-state, fly-by-night outfits. In most cases the Provider is allowed to make the sole judgment about whether or not a student has completed a course. The provider gets half the tuition when the student registers for the course and the other half when the provider states the student has completed the course.

In an email to BESE last September, I asked:
Question: Suppose a student takes and passes a credit recovery course from a choice provider, and the student is tested on the course by his home school following the completion of the course and fails to make a score that is acceptable to his local school system for receiving credit for this course. Is the student's local school system still required to give the student credit for such a course? Will the choice course provider be allowed to keep the tuition?
Answer: Under state law, school districts must award credit for courses completed by students through Course Choice and those credits must count toward the requirements of a diploma.
(Later White told BESE that course choice students must pass courses that have end of course tests for the provider to get full pay, but that's only a fraction of the courses being offered by the providers)

So this is how taxpayers, school systems and students are sure get ripped off by some of these Course Choice Providers:

The provider hires a salesman to go door-to-door in a mostly high poverty neighborhood to sell parents on a huge basket of Course Choice courses. The sales pitch is "Your child gets a free Ipad, free Internet service, and if he is behind in his credits toward graduation, this is a great way for him to catch up. Our company offers all the courses he needs, and he can take them in half the normal time using our accelerated course for each Carnegie unit, and every course is free." (as long as his home school is rated C or less by the state)

The way it really works out, is that out of a hundred students, maybe 50 drop out after the first 3 or 4 weeks. That's no problem because the Provider gets paid half the tuition for kids who just sign up and go through the motions for a short time. Virtual course providers nationwide have huge attrition rates. Some kids get lost in the shuffle and some find their way back to their real public school where real teachers have to try to educate them. Since the provider does not have to take roll, students can just sign in occasionally to mostly complete automated worksheets that are machine graded. So it takes very little staff time spent on each student. The Course Provider has a zero cost for classrooms, janitorial, busing, meals, counseling services, utilities etc. It is completely up to the provider to confirm that a student has completed a course, so there is every incentive to allow students to successfully complete a course with very little actual work or accomplishment. According to the answer given above, the local school system is required to give the student credit, even if there no real evidence of true learning. One could point out that public school systems get paid even if students fail courses. The difference is, our public schools are expected to give instruction to students every day of the school year even if we have to track them down at home or at the hospital to do it. Students who miss more than 10 days without a valid excuse get no credit. For now, there is no such requirement for Course Choice Providers.

The so called teachers working for the Choice Course provider are never evaluated by COMPASS or VAM. They have great job security as long as they saythe students have completed the course in the required time.

But to add insult to injury, all the state test scores will be assigned to the student's home public school no matter how many courses he/she takes from the course choice providers. If the course choice students do poorly, it just results in a lower letter grade for the home school and a greater possibility that it will be taken over by the RSD (another cancer).

Jindal, ALEC, and LABI ought to be happy because as the cancer that is Course Choice grows, more public schools will have to shut down or be taken over by the RSD. And LABI can continue to criticize public schools for sending the work force graduates that have little knowledge and no skills.

If all this just makes your blood boil, whether you are a parent or an educator, please take the time to send me a short email at and tell me you want to sign up for my Defenders of Public Education data base. (If you have not already done so) Tell me your preferred email and your zip code so I can assign you to your correct legislators. Then when an opportunity comes up, I will send you an email about a critical legislative vote so you can email your legislators on how you want them to vote. Believe me this works. Just see the post just below this one. I know you are tired of me begging you to sign up, so just do it now! You won't be sorry. Public education is worth it!