Saturday, July 6, 2013

Diane Ravitch's Message of Support to the Badass Teachers Association

I joined the Louisiana Badass Teachers Association at their Facebook page recently and was going to write a message of support, until I saw this one by Diane Ravitch. This was perfect and exactly what I wanted to say if only I had been eloquent enough to say it!        
Michael Deshotels

With A Brooklyn Accent

Message of Support from Diane Ravitch to the Badass Teachers Association

Dear Members of the Badass Teachers Association,

I am honored to join your group.

The best hope for the future of our society, of public education, and of the education profession is that people stand up and resist.

Say "no." Say it loud and say it often.

Teachers must resist, because you care about your students, and you care about your profession. You became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of children, not to take orders and obey the dictates of someone who doesn't know your students.

Parents must resist, to protect their children from the harm inflicted on them by high-stakes testing.

Administrators must resist, because their job is changing from that of coach to enforcer of rules and regulations. Instead of inspiring, supporting, and leading their staff, they are expected to crack the whip of authority.

School board members must resist, because the federal government is usurping their ability to make decisions that are right for their schools and their communities.

Students must resist because their education and their future are being destroyed by those who would force them to be judged solely by standardized tests.

Everyone who cares about the future of our democracy must resist, because public education is under attack, and public education is a foundation stone of our democracy. We must resist the phony rhetoric of "No Child Left Behind," which leaves every child behind, and we must resist the phony rhetoric of "Race to the Top," which makes high-stakes testing the be-all and end-all of schooling. The very notion of a "race to the top" is inconsistent with our democratic idea of equality of educational opportunity.

We live in an era of ignorant policy shaped by politicians who have never taught a day in their lives.

We live in a time when politicians and policymakers think that all children will get higher test scores if they are tested incessantly. They think that students who can’t clear a four-foot bar will jump higher if the bar is raised to six feet.

We live in a time when entrepreneurs are eyeing the schools and their budgets as a source of profit, a chance to monetize the children, an emerging market. Make no mistake: They want to make education more cost-effective by eliminating your profession and eliminating you. Their ideal would be 100 children in front of computers, monitored by classroom aides.

You must resist, because if you do not, we will lose public education in the United States and the teaching profession will become a job, not a profession. What is happening today is not about "reform" or even "improvement," it is about cutting costs, reducing the status of teachers, and removing from education every last shred of the joy of learning.

It is time to resist.

Badass Teachers, as you resist, be creative. Writing letters to the editor is good but it is not enough. Writing letters to the President is good, but it is not enough.

Be creative. The members of the Providence Student Union have led the way. They staged a zombie march in front of the Rhode Island Department of Education to demonstrate their opposition to the use of a standardized test as a high school graduation protest. They invited 60 accomplished professionals to take the released items from the test, and most failed. This convincingly demonstrated the absurdity of using the test as a requirement for graduation. When the state commissioner of education who was the main backer of the tests scheduled her annual “state of education” speech, the students scheduled their first “state of the student” speech.

Act together. A single nail gets hammered. When all the nails stick up, the people with the hammers run away. When the teachers of Garfield High School in Seattle boycotted the MAP test, they won: the test was canceled and no one faced retribution.

Be brave. When you stand together and raise your voices, you are powerful.

Thank you for counting me as one of your own.

I salute you.

Diane Ravitch

Monday, July 1, 2013

BESE Member Dr Lottie Beebe Letter to Editor

A recent Baton Rouge Advocate Story about a discussion between BESE member Dr Lottie Beebe and Superintendent John White prompted her to send the following letter to the editor. (I have not seen the letter in The Advocate so I am printing it here)

Dear Editor:
I am writing this letter to the Editor to clarify what I stated publicly at the June 19th BESE meeting. I began my presentation by thanking all educators in Louisiana for their commitment to improving educational outcomes for our students. Additionally:
  • I praised the efforts of teachers and school leaders who are embracing the challenges of school reform despite the haphazard and hasty implementation. 
  • I stated it is a “sad day in Louisiana when we start “pitting” one group against the other-- a transparent strategy employed by John White to divide and conquer;” and
  • there are many challenges in today’s classrooms for both Teach for America (TFA) and traditional teachers.
At Tuesday’s BESE Committee meeting, I listened to supporters of TFA who suggested that TFA teachers are more effective than traditional teachers. I will acknowledge my temper flared; specifically, when I heard John White suggest that TFA teachers are more effective than traditional educators. His evidence was “look at the number of students in failing schools"; suggesting those teachers prepared by our Louisiana colleges as being responsible for the failure, which ignores the impact of poverty on our students and the lack of resources for our schools.

[BESE Rep.] Holly Boffy stated her support of TFA because “traditional systems do not offer support and assistance to their teachers.” I emphatically disagreed.

Superintendent White recanted his comments on Wednesday stating “TFA teachers are needed in remote areas where traditional teachers are not available.” For the record, I have always stated the TFA Corp Members are fulfilling a purpose and are great people. My issue does not lie with the individual TFA teacher. My issue lies with BESE for contracting with TEACH for AMERICA—paying $2 million dollars to a “staffing agency” for 25 teachers at $32,800 per recruit. The justification offered was “the contractor will assist the Recovery School District in teacher recruitment.” One of my issues with this arrangement is that school districts are also required to pay approximately $5000 per TFA teacher hired within their respective districts bringing the tally for a single recruit up to $32,800 in addition to their salary.

It is evident that our state superintendent of education has an alliance to Teach for America. Some might say I have one with traditional public educators. I don’t think we will ever agree because of White’s condescending view of Louisiana, our teachers and our citizens. To prove my point, just take a morning stroll through the Claiborne Building parking garage on Third Street, where LDOE is housed, and count the number of out-of-state license plates.
Lottie P. Beebe
Representative, BESE District 3

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Education for the Wrong Future

On January 24, 2010 I posted an article on this blog with the headline: Are Louisiana Schools Training Students for the Wrong Future? That is the question some educators were asking 3 and a half years ago as the State Superintendent and BESE proposed to greatly increase the number of students graduating with a Core 4 diploma. The theory was that if Louisiana pressured more of its high school students to complete a true college prep curriculum, then Louisiana could become a leader in turning out more highly educated workers who would be prepared for the jobs of the future.

So how has the "college prep for all" push worked out for Louisiana? According to the Advocate story today, sure enough, we were training students for the wrong future! But it was not just educators who were concerned several years ago that Louisiana may be pushing our students into the wrong path. The following are two paragraphs copied directly from my post of over 3 years ago.

"Is this the curriculum most Louisiana students need? Is it practical and feasible for 72% of our public school students to graduate with a Core 4 curriculum? Does this new push really prepare more students for college? If they do graduate from college, will Louisiana have appropriate jobs available?

What are the job prospects for grads? The Louisiana Workforce Commission recently pointed out that more than half of Louisiana’s recent college graduates are forced to leave the state to find jobs appropriate to their education. At the same time it was found that Louisiana has a serious shortage of skilled labor. Dan Juneau of the La Assoc. of Business and Industry (LABI) announced recently that Louisiana must shift emphasis in education toward the two year Associate degrees and Industry Based Certification in order to supply the labor needs of La Industry. Nationally, approximately 27% of students attain a 4 year degree, yet since the recession, many 4 year graduates have been enrolling in Community Colleges for reeducation in skills oriented training."

Even with Dan Juneau of LABI proposing that Louisiana shift toward the two year Associate Degrees, LABI nevertheless became a major proponent of the college-prep for all curriculum for high school graduation. As this blog noted in a post last week, instead of increasing, Louisiana's 4 year Bachelor's degree graduates have decreased in the last few years. This is despite the fact that the great majority of our high school graduates enroll in 4 year colleges after graduation. The problem is, most of them drop out without getting a college degree of any kind. Many of our students are ending up saddled with crushing debts from college loans and no degree or job with which to pay them back. Superintendent White announced recently that Louisiana's 4 year college degree rate is now down to only 19%!

Concerning the DOE efforts to upgrade low performing schools, many of the charter schools in Louisiana's Recovery District claim to be preparing their students for college. But the latest statistics show that such schools have the lowest college attendance rates in the state.  This blog has warned before that these kids and their parents are being sold an empty promise.

According to today's Advocate article, Louisiana expects to have a huge construction boom in the next 2 or three years, particularly in the Baton Rouge and Lake Charles regions. And because of the college prep for all craze, our schools have prepared almost no students for the construction trades. If the present trend continues, Louisiana will have to import thousands of workers from other states and other countries in the next few years to supply the construction industry while our Louisiana high school graduates sit around unemployed. This is what I have called our college prep and jail prep system.

When I was promoting the career diploma, 4 years ago, I took a framing square and a carpenter's level with me to one of my meetings with local superintendents. I asked the question, "How many of our graduates today do you think know how to use these two basic tools of the construction industry?" The answer was "Very few."  It is ironic that State Superintendent Pastorek around the same time in speaking to a large group about the need to beef up our graduation requirements said that all students needed to learn Geometry concepts. He suggested that carpenters could use the Pythagorean Theoem to figure out the slope of rafters in a building. This is not true of course, but a carpenter can certainly use a framing square to find slope or to lay out the slope of rafters. But I bet Pastorek did not know that!

When you have education policy based only on ideology and not on sound education and job market principles, you end up with what we are now facing in Louisiana. A total mismatch between our job preparation of students and the actual job market.

When I surveyed guidance counselors 5 years ago to find out why they thought so many students were not completing high school, their most common answer right after the one about lack of positive parental involvement was a concern by many students that the high school curriculum was not relevant and did not prepare them for a job. The guidance counselors felt that our high schools needed to provide more vocational/technical courses for students who were not going to attend college. So what did our brilliant state education leaders do? They basically killed the career diploma right after it was passed by the legislature and went right ahead with the "college prep for all" curriculum.

Now with the implementation of the common core, I fear it will be more of the same.