Thursday, January 9, 2014

We Must Support Rather Than Bash the Teaching Profession

Congratulations to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers for their victory yesterday in once again having Act 1 of 2012 declared unconstitutional. Judge Caldwell made the right decision in ruling again against this poorly conceived and executed law.

When we couple this legal victory with the decision last year on the teacher tenure case pursued by the Louisiana Association of Educators and decided in Judge Jones' court, we find some hope for the teaching profession as a respected profession. In that case, Judge Jones ruled that the state had no right to strip teachers of all due process by stacking the tenure hearing panel in favor of the administration. These two decisions have restored some of the dignity of the teaching profession that Jindal sought to destroy.

In my opinion this law was Jindal's attempt to reduce the status of teaching to nothing more than that of a teenage grocery store clerk. It was an abominable attack on the entire teaching profession. The only thing the different parts of the law had in common to tie them together was a general contempt for everyone in the teaching profession from the first year teacher to the 30 year Parish Superintendent with a Phd. Jindal still believes that if he crushes all the professionalism out of every segment of the teaching profession and makes every job in education totally dependent on student test scores that our student test scores will rise.

Jindal and his supporters have totally missed the true causes of the problems in public education. Instead of stigmatizing teachers and schools where students are struggling, we should have given them support. Teachers who commit to working with at risk students should not have to constantly worry about their job security. We can only improve student performance when we respect and support our teachers.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Education Issues for 2014

Many of the posts on this blog in the past year have been critical of recent education policy, and as a result have repeatedly struck a negative and somewhat pessimistic tone. I believe that tone was dictated by the fact that practically all the Jindal/White “reforms” have been extremely destructive to our educational system. That goes for higher education which has had its state funding cut to the point of seriously damaging college programs and running off some of our best professors. But it particularly goes for K-12 education, where it was concluded by our non-educator leaders that teachers were the primary cause of low academic performance of some of our students. Starting with that incorrect assumption, they launched a war on teachers and public education in general. This shotgun attack on public education has had an extremely demoralizing effect on teachers and has caused the early retirement of many of our best teachers. Thus the negative tone of most of my blogs this year where I have defended public school teachers and have attempted to identify the real causes of poor student performance.

In this post of the new year, I would like to present an assessment of the current status of K-12 education and the prospects for positive changes in public education. I want to look at the national trends in education and their impact on our Louisiana schools and the teaching profession.

I believe we are seeing a change in the attitude of the news media and many of our politicians from their initial unreserved embrace of all the corporate inspired “deforms” of education. More and more respected leaders are speaking out against the Michelle Rhee methods of “test and punish” for educators and schools. The national media has finally become aware of the cheating scandals in Washington DC, Atlanta, and El Paso caused by such misguided policies. Charter schools that had been portrayed as ideal replacements for the traditional “status quo” schools are losing some of their luster. One state superintendent was found to have rigged the school grading system in favor of greedy charter operators. Most student test results stubbornly refuse to be improved by the so called miracle charters. The Turkish Gulen charter chain which has had one of its schools in Louisiana closed and the other under investigation by the FBI is having its ugly underbelly of bribery and corruption exposed across the country. Here in Louisiana, some of the largest voucher schools that were supposed to help students escape “failing” public schools have been exposed for having almost non-existent academic programs at the same time that their curriculum made a mockery of science education. More importantly, as data is grudgingly provided and the results of audits made public, it has become evident that the children were probably much better off in their original public school classrooms than in the voucher schools.

Unfortunately the new Common Core curriculum was adopted by Louisiana and many other states sight-unseen. None of it was tested before being mandated. As a result, we are finding many flaws in the program relating to early childhood education, English standards that seem to be too narrow, and math standards that require unorthodox and impractical methods. Now many parents are finally demanding accountability from the reformers! They are objecting to their kids being guinea pigs for untested math and ELA methods. They are siding with teachers against the abuse of standardized testing and the use of their childrens' private data to create profit opportunities for multinational corporations, and to prejudice future employers against their children.

Teachers are finally talking to their elected legislators about the abuses of VAM and Compass and the lack of support from the state Department of Education as officials mandate untested curricula and expect the teachers to fend for themselves while remaining vulnerable to firing based on student test scores. One legislator commented at a recent hearing on the botched Common Core implementation in Louisiana, that he had visited all schools in his district and had found almost all teachers considering either leaving the state or taking early retirement.

Close to a thousand educators and parents so far have joined my Defenders of Public Education email system so that they can help to defend our schools against further attacks by the misguided and self interested corporate education reformers. (Anyone can still participate by sending an email to with your name, email and zip code.) Many of our “defenders” are school principals who are sick of having their schools and their teachers serve as the whipping boy for non-educators and privatizers. I have visited dozens of schools this past year and have found administrators and teachers who are very proud of their work who have made a decision to fight back for their schools.

Here are some of the hopeful signs:
  • The newly elected mayor of New York, Bill De Blazio, has already started replacing the corporate reformers in that city with real educators. (Remember this is where Louisiana got its superintendent). De Blazio wants to eliminate the destructive school grading system that stigmatizes and destroys the very schools that are working diligently with the most at risk students.
  • This past legislative session, the Louisiana legislature refused to continue passing new laws designed to expand vouchers and to continue the attacks on teachers.
  • At a recent hearing on Common Core, many legislators made it clear that they no longer intend to be rubber stamps for the Jindal attacks on education. (Unfortunately our rubber stamp BESE is still firmly under Jindal control)
  • Superintendent White recently suspended the VAM evaluations of teachers for two years and promised to provide a curriculum for the Common Core.
  • Many parents are still demanding a thorough reconsideration of all aspects of Common Core implementation.
  • So far, court decisions relative to Jindal's Acts 1 and 2 have nullified some of the most draconian measures which have prohibited the use of MFP for vouchers, and have upheld the rights of teachers to due process. An important new decision on Act 1 is expected from Judge McDonald on Jan 8, 2014.
Remaining Critical Issues for Louisiana Education
  • The most damaging threats to our public schools in Louisiana are what I call predatory charter school management organizations. These are mostly out-of-state for-profit companies that can now use the Jindal reform laws to bypass locally elected school boards to set up schools in any part of the state. These organizations are predatory because they are using loopholes in the law to avoid hiring certified teachers, contributing to the teacher retirement system, and providing proper insurance coverage. This results in a financial advantage over public schools and profits and high salaries for the administrators and owners. These schools use misleading advertising in an effort to recruit the most promising students thereby boosting their state performance scores. Many of these schools dump their disruptive and low performing students back into the regular public schools, again as a way of improving their own performance. This is not an even playing field. These school operators are often not interested in providing real opportunities for students, they are interested in using our taxes to get rich. These are unethical practices that can cause serious damage to our public schools and bankrupt our teacher retirement system. We must insist that all public schools in Louisiana be operated under the direct control of our elected school boards. Only then can we insure that the taxpayers and parents have proper control of education. We must insist that all teachers be properly certified and professional and that school administrators be qualified and that they have a commitment to all students, not just their selected ones. Some of Jindal's so called reform laws need to be amended to restore voter control of education.
  • We must work to restore dignity to the teaching profession in Louisiana. That means providing reasonable due process in dismissal of teachers and recognition of solid teacher credentials. Due process is more necessary than ever before because we now are struggling with highly impractical and often inaccurate methods of evaluating teaching performance. We have tremendous pressure being put on everyone to teach to the tests. These new pressures and evaluation methods often blame teachers for factors over which they have no control. We must work to rebuild the morale and prestige of our teaching profession.
  • We must implement a more varied curriculum in our middle and high schools that will better prepare all students for careers as an alternative to strict college prep. Louisiana has been attempting to use a one-size-fits all curriculum, often neglecting to educate students for the many job opportunities that are developing in our booming Louisiana economy. The industries expanding in Louisiana as a result of new technologies in oil and gas and the unique qualities of our state could offer thousands of Louisiana students great careers. It would be very sad if all we could do is to provide graduates who serve fast food to the highly skilled workers we may soon be importing from other states and foreign countries to work in these new industries. We must provide our students opportunities by expanding our curriculum to focus on practical and skills development education as well as college prep.
These are the challenges in Louisiana education. I hope that this time our educators will participate as partners with elected leaders and our business communities in adopting practical and effective reforms.