Saturday, May 18, 2013

Public School Haters: Their M. O.

Diane Ravitch recently asked: "What kind of a strategy causes a general to turn his artillery on his own troops?" She was referring I believe to the group of State Superintendents who have named themselves the Chiefs for Change to promote the implementation of the most radical parts of today's education reforms in their states. Ravitch was referring to the destructive use of inaccurate VAM systems for evaluating teachers and the promotion of vouchers and charter schools which take away critical resources from public schools. John White who has proclaimed himself one of the chiefs for change has set a quota of 10% of VAM rated teachers to be found ineffective each year, no matter how much student test scores may improve. The VAM system picks mostly a new batch of teachers to rate as ineffective each year because the VAM rating system is very erratic and unreliable. VAM ratings change drastically for a given teacher from year to year even if the teacher continues to teach exactly the same in successive years. According to an email I got from White, he and BESE intend to impose the 10% failure factor on Louisiana teachers indefinitely or until BESE chooses to end it. That's what Ravitch is talking about when she questions why a general would fire on his own troops.

But this is all part of the Modus Operandi of what I call the public education haters. One of the basic assumptions of the public education haters is the idea that most of the low performance of some of our public school students can be attributed to incompetent, or ineffective or just plain lazy teachers. So it makes sense to set a quota for teacher firings each year until you “clean up” the profession. White made this clear in his application for the ESEA No Child Left Behind waiver application when he compared the 98% satisfactory rating of teachers in Louisiana a couple of years ago to the large number of students that are performing below grade level in Louisiana. His conclusion is that there must be a lot of incompetent teachers in Louisiana if we have lots of kids performing below grade level. I suppose he would be surprised to find out that grade level performance is just the normal distribution of achievement you get when you test a representative group of students. No matter how hard teachers teach there will always a certain number of students who perform below what the statisticians decide is grade level or better. It's just like when the big computer at the DOE graphs a distribution of teachers evaluated by the VAM. There will always be 10 percent of the teachers who fall in the bottom ten percentile, each year no matter how well the students perform. To set quotas for teacher firings is viscous and illogical!

Take a look at my paraphrasing of one of nutty memos to principals from our own DOE earlier this year. One of the advisories sent to principals pointed out that there seemed to be too large a proportion of teachers being rated as effective by the observation portion of the COMPASS. The reason given for this assumption is that only 50% of the teachers were being rated over the 50 percentile level by the VAM. Of course stupid! That's the definition of a percentile ranking system. 50 % will always be below the median! So the DOE was saying to the principals: “We want you to rate at least 50% of the teachers as “not very good” no matter what your lying eyes tell you when you observe them!”

Another part of the Modus Operandi of the public education haters is the conviction that any school must be better than a public school. That's why White and BESE have no real accountability system for the Voucher schools or for the Course Choice Providers. The teachers in the voucher schools are not evaluated by VAM, and the Course Choice providers get to decide when a student has completed a course even if he/she has attended the virtual course very infrequently. The students' home public school however, will be rated by the LEAP and  end of course scores of these course choice students, not the choice provider. Lefty Lefkowith who runs the program and who has never taught a day in his life, says that course choice is outcome based instead of the outmoded attendance based system we are required to use in public schools. So again we have zero standards for the non-public providers because they are automatically assumed to be superior. This assumption is also why charter schools are allowed to use discipline rules to cull out the low performers and the more disruptive students while public schools are not allowed to put out any of their students, some of which may be rejects from charters!

Much of the strategy for the privatization of our schools was developed by a small group of very rich national power brokers who decided, without the benefit of any legitimate education research, that opening up our public schools to the free enterprise system would be the cure for all the alleged problems of public education. The key players in this strategy are junk bond king Michael Milkin, New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, News Corps owner Rupert Murdock, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee. The rallying cry they used was "Let's break up the monopoly!" That phrase was actually used at the LABI sponsored Leadership for Change Conference held just over a year ago as part of the launch of Jindal's education reform effort. One of the key speakers at that conference was Joel Klein, a non-educator lawyer who served as the education chancellor for Mayor Bloomberg.  Klein had run the New York city public school system through much of its transformation period where his assistant, John White, was trained in setting up charter schools . Only after he left was it found that the dramatic gains claimed for the students were bogus and caused by a lowering of the testing stanards instead of real achievement. It's just like the major gains claimed by Michelle Rhee in Washington DC which are now suspected to be largely because of cheating on the test.

The super rich promoters of the education privatization movement are willing to use huge infusions of cash to actually purchase the loyalty of education decision makers. That's how we got our new "rubber stamp" BESE and that's why we have seen fake grass roots organizations spring up such as BAEO (Black Alliance of Educational Options) and Stand for Children. These groups are financed by interests outside of Louisiana and are set up to create political pressure groups in places that would normally not support privatization. BAEO is paid to recruit black parents for vouchers and create a pressure group aimed at black legislators. Stand for Children attempts to form a parent and teacher group that will lobby for test based teacher evaluation. Money flows freely to such groups and there is a good living to be made running what some of us call the "astro turf" organizations that promote corporate education reform.

But there is a basic flaw in using the so called "free enterprise" or "free market" system to run public schools. The primary driving factor for free enterprise is the profit motive. This means that in most cases, profit by the entrepreneur takes precedence over the welfare of the students. It means that the state must put in place a very complex regulatory system over any such free market schools if we want to insure that the children's needs are the priority. But the public school haters/reformers have done just the opposite. They have implemented systems that minimize regulation over charters and vouchers and now course choice programs in the belief that these entrepreneurs will always do the right thing. So what we see are charters dumping out low performers (see this story on Sci Academy), voucher schools telling some parents that the entering student will be held back in the previous grade as a way of discouraging low performers from registering, and now course choice providers registering hundreds of students whose parents have not given permission.

One of the most vicious myths promoted by the public school haters is that we need the vouchers so that children can escape from failing public schools. You see, the haters have set up a school grading system that is not at all based on the instruction and care that students get in a public school, but just reflects the level of poverty of students attending a school. Sure enough, each year the grading system creates a certain percentage of so called failing schools. But now the haters have counted any school rated C or below to be in the failing school category. What's to keep them from redefining failing as a public school rated B or A?  The only data we have from students attending voucher schools is that on average they do worse than their peers that are still attending public schools. You know, the failing public schools. Now when the low test scores of the voucher students are revealed, the public school haters cite parent surveys that indicate that 93% of the parents of voucher students are happy with their child's new voucher school. Tom Aswell made a public records request of John White recently to produce the surveys he recently quoted about parent satisfaction with vouchers and the DOE said that such a document did not exist. When you are a public school hater you need not document your statistics.

Another tactic or M.O. of public school haters is to demonize the teacher unions and blame them for everything that is supposed to be wrong with public schools. They ignore the fact that the states with the highest performing students are also the most unionized. Finland which has the highest student scores in the western world has a teacher force that is 100% unionized. That is certainly not the case in Louisiana, but it does not phase the haters. I think it is ironic that the same legislator who convinced White to make exceptions to the VAM for just 3 teachers authored a bill to strip teacher unions of their payroll deduction rights. I suppose his method of using political favoritism to single out a few teachers for special favors is superior to teacher organizations that seek fairness for all their members. When LABI (the big business lobby) proposed the stripping of union payroll deduction rights, they blatantly proposed to exclude A+Pel from the bill. I believe that when teachers allow themselves to be intimidated by the big business lobby who tries to tell teachers what organizations they should join, they are not true professionals. I classify LABI as a public school hater.

The public school haters are wrong. Public schools perform quite well when they have parents who do their part in encouraging students to do well and who back up the hard work that teachers do every day. There is no miracle solution, but the regular public classroom teachers are the closest thing to a miracle for our children. We need to support them and our public schools and put a stop to the hater attacks.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another Major Victory for Public Education

Important breaking news:

BESE President Chas Roemer sent a letter last night to Senator Appel, chair of the Senate Education Committee explaining that the wrong MFP resolution was sent to the legislature and was the one considered by the committee! He stated that the language submitted to the legislature was from a working draft that was never considered by BESE and that the correct version has now been sent. What a bizarre development!  Roemer further stated that this incorrect language was the reason the committee rejected the formula, despite the fact that Senator Dan Claitor stated on the record in the committee that the revisions of the formulas for special education and gifted and talented were also a major concern of many legislators.

Many believe that the real reason the Jindal allies on BESE do not want to meet is that they do not want to deal with the many issues that have surfaced recently about possible unethical behavior by Superintendent White. (see the post below) What Roemer is really saying is: "This is another  fine mess you've gotten us into Johnny."

A Thirty Million Dollar fine is being assessed to State Superintendent White to be paid back to local school systems as part of the recent Supreme Court decision on vouchers and the MFP. Unfortunately that's a fine that must be paid by taxpayers, not by White, and it could eventually be assessed back to local school systems as the Jindal controlled BESE prepares to rubber stamp another Jindal/White revision of the MFP. The 2013-14 MFP formula is being sent back to BESE as a result of yesterday's action by the Senate Education Committee. That's a big victory for public education advocates but the revision by BESE is far from guaranteed to be fair to our public schools.

According to the AP story linked here, White informed the Senate Education Committee that the Supremes had not only struck down the use of MFP funds for vouchers but had declared the 2012 approval of the MFP by the legislature to be null and void because the House vote approving the MFP was not a legal majority. This means that the MFP, according to the constitution must revert to the 2011-12 formula which did not employ the various schemes by Jindal and his minions to raid the MFP in various ways including the vouchers.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the many educators that sent emails and made phone calls to their Senators asking them to reject the 2013-14 MFP. I especially want to thank our Defenders of Public Education group which has been particularly active this session.  If that new version of the MFP had been approved, it would basically have continued the Jindal/White plan to dismantle public education. At least this way, educators have a shot at correcting some to the flaws in the new MFP. I believe our special education advocates have a real chance of restoring the proper formula for funding special education in place of White's new weighted formula.

I must warn educators that the battle of the MFP is far from over, and could possibly end in a tie between the Jindal public education haters and those of us who are now fighting for the survival of public education. The biggest part of the problem is money. The legislature with the present budget just does not have enough money to both fund real public education properly and to take care of the Governor's vouchers and course choice programs.

My opinion is that by far the most dangerous of the Governor's privatization schemes is the Course Choice program. We have already seen how salesmen for the out of state providers have rampaged through neighborhoods signing up numerous students that had not even agreed to take such courses using the "gift" of a free tablet computer. Then our DOE, even though the start of the school year is still months away and no funding has been appropriated, gave local Superintendents only 72 hours to approve the enrollments. This was purely a pressure tactic by White to sign up as many students as possible to these bogus courses so that he could insist that the legislature fund the program, no matter what. I want to complement the school systems that have resisted these pressure tactics and have chosen to protect their students from this scam.

I believe that the vicious attacks on public education by the Jindal administration and the many unethical deceptions by White, such as the "Seabaugh solution" have helped to unify the education profession in Louisiana as we have not seen in decades. Educators have finally started demanding support from their legislators. That is the key to success for us. Forget about changing Jindal and White and even BESE. We must change the legislature!

How do we change the legislature? Very simple. Just exercise your right to send emails, make phone calls and just tell your legislator how you want him/her to vote. It's as simple as that. They represent us, not the reverse! They depend on us for their reelection and they fear our anger if they continue to meekly follow Jindal and White. We have already seen major changes in attitude of some legislators that last year we could not even talk to.

Finally, I want to complement the leaders of the excellent Coalition for Louisiana Public Education that has been created to support public education in the face of these  attacks by the public education haters. The School Boards' Association, the LAE, the LFT and administrator groups have unified as never before for the common goal of protecting public education. It is my hope that some of the damage already done to public education can be repaired through this positive coalition and that eventually public education can truly be improved and strengthened for the benefit of our students. Yes I am still foolishly optimistic and I hope many other educators are too.  We will only win if we truly believe we can win!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Continued Dismantling of Public Education in Louisiana

One of my friends asked me this question recently: "Mike where do you get all this stuff about Louisiana Education Issues that you write about in your blog?"

My answer was: "My only problem is that the haters and deformers of public education are constantly giving me too much "c_ _ _" to fire away at in my blog. I can hardly keep up."

So I want to take this opportunity to thank the really skilled bloggers such as Tom Aswell of the Louisiana Voice, Crazy Crawfish, and Mercedes Schneider who have enthusiastically taken up the challenge of exposing all the ugly truths about our so called education reformers, or as many of us like to call them "education deformers" here in Louisiana.

I must crown Tom Aswell as the king of all investigative bloggers in Louisiana. He makes most of the newspaper reporters and other media in this state look like incompetent children when it comes to exposing the cynical corruption that has been called the education reform movement in Louisiana. Please see his blog post recently that further exposes the disgusting Jindal/White/Seabaugh conspiracy in concocting the  "Seabaugh Solution" mockery of the sick attack on our public school teachers known as VAM.

Crazy Crawfish has also put out a masterful piece using the actual voice of John White as he concocted one of his elaborate deception schemes. Please try to get a small laugh as you contemplate the immeasurable harm this errand boy from New York has inflicted upon our educational system.

Finally, Dr Mercedes Schnieder, one of our highly qualified and competent classroom teachers continues to expose the fraud that is called Course Choice in Louisiana.

I can only add one more sad story to the continued dismantling of public education in Louisiana:

White Proceeds to Dismantle the True Professional Functions of Our DOE!

Superintendent John White moved forward a couple of weeks ago with a plan to dismantle most of the remaining legitimate professional services to local school systems by laying off many of the older career staff of the Department of Education and replacing them with "know nothing TFA'ers", other non-educators like Lefty Lefkowith and bogus contracted services to corporate reformer allies.

Over two years ago, State Treasurer John Kennedy called to the attention of the Legislature the many lavish contracts freely given out to testing companies, consultants and others by Superintendent Pastorek that were exceeding over one hundred million of our tax dollars going to many unaccountable companies and services.

John White's recent actions fully supported by the rubber stamp BESE and Governor Jindal makes Pastorek's efforts at privatization look like child's play. White is throwing out a large number of the career educators left in the Department to make room for more testing contracts, more phony astro-turf special interest groups such as Stand for Children and the "yes children" who are now really running the Department. One of the old time staffers put it best when he said that our DOE is just becoming an ATM machine for the corporate special interests.

HB 650 by Carter will be the icing on the cake. If this bill passes it will give the blessing of the Legislature for White to totally demolish the remaining legitimate functions of our Department of Education as a supporter of our public school systems. BESE president Chas Roemer was not kidding when he told a group in Monroe recently that his goal was to dismantle the Department of Education. What he Jindal and White intend to do is to replace the real Department of Education with a front organization for the corporate friends of Bobby Jindal to freely raid our tax dollars that were once dedicated to public education. HB 650 has already passed the House and is now going to the Senate.