Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Continued Attacks on Louisiana Public Education

A small private meeting was held in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago including representatives of several highly influential power brokers who are dedicated to a major overhaul and privatization of our K-12 education system. These groups were very concerned that much of the Jindal reform legislation has either been declared unconstitutional by the courts or is still tied up in litigation. They are frustrated that the supporters of our public education system are fighting back against their sweeping “reforms”. They figure that they have only the rest of the Jindal administration in which to push through revisions of the law that will keep their reforms intact.

They are concerned that only a relatively small number of teachers are on a pathway to being fired as a result of the sloppy implementation of the new VAM evaluation by Superintendent John White. They believe also that the new laws should be identifying many principals and even local superintendents who should be fired. The firings are not happening quickly enough!

They are concerned that the privatization of our K-12 educational system is not happening fast enough. They are frustrated that many of the new voucher schools have turned out to be run by small time swindlers who knew almost nothing about education and who had no business running schools. They feel their cause has received bad publicity when it was revealed that some voucher schools were teaching about dinosaurs and humans existing at the same time.

The reformers feel that they were let down by the charter takeover schools in Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, St Helena and Caddo that failed to produce even minimal improvement in student performance in the years since takeover. These schools have lost almost half their enrollment when parents pulled students out and re-enrolled them in public schools.

It was clear from the recent meeting that none of the reformers have questioned for one minute the assumptions upon which their reform movement in Louisiana is based. The core assumptions upon which the reformers proposed overhaul of our K-12 system is based are as follows:
  1. Public schools are ineffective and should be replaced by a system of competition between voucher schools, charter schools and reorganized public schools where the survival of each school is determined mostly by student test scores. The profit motive of entrepreneurs can be adapted from the private sector and used to produce effective schools. The market place will determine the winners and the losers. Parental choice will help to determine which schools survive because parents will seek out the most successful schools for their children.
  2. Local school boards are obsolete. School boards are not doing enough to close down or reorganize low performing schools. School boards are an obstacle to entrepreneurs who want to form charter schools and voucher schools.
  3. The primary cause of low student performance is that there are too many lazy, ineffective teachers. Thousands of teachers in our public schools are not pushing students to succeed and have low expectations of poor children. They are protected by tenure and care mostly but their cushy 9 month jobs and their generous retirement benefits.
  4. The solution to the ineffective teacher problem is to do away with all seniority and tenure rights and to systematically fire teachers based on their student test scores. If the state sets a quota of say 10% of teachers found ineffective each year and puts them on a pathway to being fired and replaced by new, younger, lower paid teachers the state can improve its teacher force in just a few years and can save money to boot.
  5. Teacher professional training and traditional certification are an unnecessary luxury. Teach for America has demonstrated that all a teacher needs is a bachelors' degree and 5 weeks of training in how to prepare students for the all important annual testing.
  6. The Common Core standards will produce a revolution in teaching methods to produce world class achievement by all students. This will be accomplished by closing schools and firing teachers and principals based on the level of achievement of the Common Core standards by their customers, the children.
Who are the primary forces aligned with the Jindal administration who want to revive and continue the reforms of our K-12 system?

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry: LABI has been the primary arm of big business in Louisiana. In the past LABI has made sure that the biggest and richest businesses in Louisiana receive the most lucrative tax breaks and exemptions and avoid paying for the destruction of our coast and environment. This is all based on the assumption that the high paying jobs provided by these companies trumps all other concerns of Louisiana citizens. In the past LABI has presided over the destruction of the trade unions in Louisiana by passage of the right to work laws. Many of those unions supported apprenticeship programs that trained young workers for union jobs. Recently one of the founders of LABI admitted that the new system created by LABI left big business with a shortage of skilled workers. LABI has been a major proponent of college prep for all students which has pretty much destroyed all vocational technical programs in our high schools. Now LABI is complaining that our K-12 system which they reshaped is not producing workers for high tech jobs. LABI is a major proponent for the firing of teachers based on student test scores.

Council for a Better Louisiana: CABL is basically a lap dog for LABI. CABL produces so called studies and analysis of government programs that are designed ahead of time to produce the results demanded by big business interests. We can depend on CABL to support all LABI initiatives.

Black Alliance for Educational Options: BAEO is funded by out of state business interests who want to see the proliferation of charter schools and voucher schools. We call this an asto-turf group as compared to a grass roots organization. BAEO is paid to produce bus loads of black parents and students to attend any demonstration in favor of charters and vouchers. Recently, parents were bussed to a BESE meeting to speak in favor of the approval of more charter schools. One of the parents of a child in one of the takeover charter schools in Baton Rouge complained that her child had been subjected to numerous changes in teachers and principals in the charter takeover school yet she was there to ask for approval of more charters.

Stand for Children: Is a recently formed astro-turf group set up to support all privatization and charter efforts. It also supports removal of tenure and seniority rights of teachers. It is also funded by wealthy out of state groups that want to benefit from the testing and charter school movement. The director of the group in Louisiana, Rayne Martin, is a non-educator who helped design Louisiana's Compass evaluation system before leaving the LDOE for this an even more lucrative job. Stand for Children which has a minimal membership is nevertheless quoted in the Baton Rouge media as a major player in education. The DOE contracts with Stand for Children to write some of its web site offerings.

New Schools for Baton Rouge: This group is led by former TFA Corps member Chris Meyer. Meyer did the usual two years of teaching in order to become an expert in education reform. His resume states that he was able to help over two hundred children achieve significant academic gains. This reminds me of the bogus stories about Michelle Rhee's credentials as a teacher. At a recent forum on charter schools, Meyer supported the idea that charter schools should be exempted from the teacher retirement system. This is a move that allows them to receive the full MFP allocation and to pay their administrators lavish salaries. This group supports only new charter schools to replace the failed charters in the Baton Rouge area.

The growing Charter school and voucher lobby: Every time a new charter school is formed, the highly paid administrators take as their primary job the formation of a lobbying group for the benefit of charters. These administrators are able to suspend school to bring busloads of supporters to any legislative of BESE event where their interests are at stake. When teachers are shut out on the capitol steps because of fire Marshall rules, these folks get to enter the capitol by the back door and get the choice seats in the Education Committee rooms. More and more legislators and their family members are being given jobs in connection with these new special interest groups.

Campaign Contributions and favors: One thing the voucher/charter/privatization interests have is lots of money. As they milk more and more tax dollars for their for ventures, more and more contributions are available for politicians on the take. The Bloomberg group, Newscorp, Pearson, the wealthy foundations, ALEC all make big contributions to our legislators and BESE members.

What can the supporters of public education do? We have a loose knit organization called the Coalition for Public Education that includes representatives of school boards, superintendents, principals, parents, teacher unions and many others that truly believe in our public education system. There are 45 thousand dedicated public school teachers and about five thousand principals, assistant principals and administrators who work in an believe in public education. None of these enjoy lavish salaries. They do have a decent retirement system which also is under attack by the reformers. There are many parents who know their child is getting a good solid eduction in our public schools. There is a huge untapped political power in these numbers if we will just get better organized for political action.

That's why I've formed the Defenders of Public Education email system. This system works in cooperation with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education to support our public schools and public school educators in fighting off these attacks on public education.

If you have not yet done so, please consider participating in this email system. It will cost you absolutely nothing but your time and effort. Those efforts will be rewarded by the support we need for public education.

Just send your name, preferred email address, and your zip code to me at louisianaeducator@gmail.com. And I will add you to my legislative email list. (I need your home zip code so I can place you in the correct legislative districts) You will then get the information you need to communicate effectively with your legislator or BESE member. Please join the fight to save our public schools!
Michael Deshotels