Saturday, May 10, 2014

Discipline, Cheating, Deteriorating Morale. . . The Real Threats to the EBR School System

The paper containing the Teacher Bill of Rights is "mostly useful in the bathroom". That's the conclusion of a demoralized teacher in EBR who was questioned by a reporter about enforcement of state discipline laws. My conclusion after reviewing the reports by Crazy Crawfish and the WAFB Channel 9 report called Classrooms of Fear, is that the biggest threat to the future of the EBR school system is an internal one based on incompetent and uncaring management. The Crazy Crawfish blog is titled EBR Teachers are Under Seige and Need our Help!

The EBR school system has been preoccupied with fighting off takeover efforts by the LDOE and by citizens in the Southeast wanting to form their own breakaway school district. But the biggest enemy of the EBR system is its own management. This is new management that was brought in by a new school board with a majority elected with the help of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce. The goals of this new management has been to raise school performance scores at all costs, to prevent additional school takeovers, and to get the LDOE off its back for supposedly excessive student suspensions. In my opinion, that new management has ignored some of the most basic principles of school management and is presiding over the deterioration and eventual collapse of the school system.

Crazy Crawfish recently published a post detailing the collapse of discipline in many classrooms and the pressure by administrators to cut down on suspensions, and to graduate as many students as possible with little regard to actual student achievement.

More recently WAFB television aired an investigative series titled Classrooms of Fear, also containing the testimony of several teachers who are being driven to resign from their teaching jobs in EBR because of intolerable student disruptions and even threats of physical harm. Several of the teachers testified in both reports that they had personally suffered physical and verbal abuse by students. These teachers are actually powerless to correct misbehaving students and are expected by the school administrators to keep disruptive students in the classroom and give them passing grades even if they fail test after test and never do assignments.

As I explained in my email to all EBR school board members over a week ago, there are some excellent, well run schools in EBR but the appallingly poor management of some EBR schools is threatening the future of the entire system. Superintendent Taylor has either encouraged or allowed a management system that tolerates rampant disobedience of teachers by some students and even physical threats to teachers. School administrators are so concerned about preventing high student suspension rates and maintaining a high graduation rate that they are apparently willing to sacrifice the physical well being of teachers and students and to promote various forms of grade inflation to promote and graduate students. This poisonous atmosphere is sure to drive away the best and most conscientious teachers and do irreparable damage to the system. This ironically will just speed the takeover and privatization of more schools in EBR. I doubt that the Chamber, the breakaway supporters and the privatizers planned it this way, but it looks like the EBR administration is playing right into their hands.

Teachers interviewed on condition of anonymity by WAFB produced the following story:

More than a dozen teachers are ready to call it quits at just one local public school in East Baton Rouge Parish. Educators are saying the main reasons they're throwing in the towel are a lack of discipline and increasing violence inside the classrooms.

"It makes me wonder why I even got into this profession, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else," said a teacher we will call "Jane."

"If I see something better along the way, in the near future, I will be out of there," said another teacher we'll refer to as "Bob."

They're veteran teachers at their wits end with some of them simply dealing with the conditions trying to make it to retirement and in one case, literally counting the days until the end of the current school year so he can quit.

"I'm willing to risk going unemployed in order to leave this system," said a third teacher "Joe."

"Joe" is a rookie educator simply living out a dream to teach, but he has already had more than enough with the East Baton Rouge Public Schools.

Kiran: How long have you been with the school system?
Joe: This is my first year.
Kiran: ...and you're already ready to quit?
Joe: Absolutely. I turned in my letter.
Kiran: Why?
Joe: Because I am being asked to give grades that are not earned. I am afraid for my safety.

All three sat down with the I-team on the condition of concealing their identities, saying they fear retaliation. When asked if the teachers had ever been verbally abused by a student in their classroom, all three answered, "Yes." All three also said they had been physically assaulted by a student in their class.

"Joe" is calling it quits saying instead of him grading students on how they should be graded, administrators are dictating what grades he needs to hand out.

"Told me it was my fault that he has a failing grade, and that I should give him a "C," said Joe. "I was told that I had too many failing and not to fail their seniors."

When asked why, Joe said, "It looks bad on the school, and it goes against our school score."

Another teacher said those school performance scores take top priority and trump everything else.

"Well, when you talk about administrators, I think it's important to note that it comes from the top. It doesn't always come from our principals at our schools. They're handcuffed. They're puppets to Dr. Taylor, Dr. Ramos and Dr. Haggen," said Jane.

When the I-team asked Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor whether school statistics were more important than student performance, he walked off without answering the question.

Meanwhile, Jane said Dr. Taylor and his staff are giving the direction.

"They're the ones that call the shots, put the pressure on the principals, threaten their jobs and then we have faculty meetings that dictate to us what we have to do," said Jane.

Several teachers said they're told to try to keep students in the classrooms and reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions because that can affect the school's performance score.

Kiran: The teachers bill of rights, do you feel those mean anything for you?
Jane: You can take it to the bathroom with you.

This lack of discipline enforcement is in violation of state law and of the teacher bill of rights.  Unfortunately the state law carries no penalty for a school system that fails to enforce the discipline law or the teacher bill of rights. So teachers have little recourse. If they file a grievance against administrators for failure to enforce discipline, they put themselves in danger of being fired. Jindal has done away with most teacher job protections.

Along with the breakdown of discipline there is also a demoralizing breakdown of teacher authority. Some students know that they will be promoted and graduated even if they refuse to do assignments and fail most of their tests. They are allowed to insult or even to curse the teacher without repercussions.

Is this what teaching in some classrooms has become? Teachers are forced to teach to the state tests every day, they are cursed at by students who are noisy and unruly and who fail every test, and then they are expected to "give" passing grades to students who do not deserve them.

How long would you last in the classroom under those conditions?

Friday, May 9, 2014

CURMUDGUCATION: Charter$ & Ca$hing In

CURMUDGUCATION: Charter$ & Ca$hing In: Since the President has declared this week National Charter School Appreciation & General Ain't Charters Swell Week, you are probabl...

Why Louisiana Needs HB 703

House Bill 703 was approved recently by the Louisiana House of Representatives. Now it must be approved by the Senate Education Committee in order to be considered by the full Senate. This bill would prevent BESE from overruling local school boards of school systems rated "C" or higher in the approval of charter schools. Please help to send a large number of emails to the members of the Senate Education Committee requesting that they vote "yes" for HB 703. This bill is vital to the continued health of our public education system. I have listed the contact information for the Senate Education Committee members in one of my posts below.

A very disturbing trend occurring in Louisiana is the adoption of predatory charter schools. See this article in These schools have the potential of wrecking our public education system along with damaging our teacher retirement system. I have written about this in my previous posts.

The blog above by Peter Greene from another state that is experiencing the same problem describes how these charter operators can abuse the system. Just click on the highlighted section of the post above to read the blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Relentless Drive to Mislead Citizens About Common Core

Superintendent White, the Baton Rouge Advocate, LABI and CABL are pulling out all the stops to sell the Common Core to Louisiana, yet there is not one in the bunch that really knows what it is like to teach to those standards or to get kids ready to pass the PARCC test. These folks are on a crusade to sell us a product they really know little about.

Breaking news: HB 953 passed the House floor Wednesday May 7. This bill would delay the effects of the Common Core testing on school letter grades and teacher evaluations through the 2015-16 school year. White and his allies will surely try to kill this bill in the Senate Education Committee where proponents of Common Core seem to dominate.

The Advocate just printed two more slanted stories, here and here, suggesting that Republicans and K-12 students think the standards are great. But close inspection of the two surveys reported on does not show any real support for the Common Core. In the first story, only a  minority of the Republicans surveyed say they think the Common Core standards are a good idea, and 40% did not know enough to give an opinion. One of the questions asked found that a significant minority support the standards, but that is only after they are told in the introduction that 75% of teachers believe the Common Core will improve student achievement. 

Our survey on this blog had 71% of our respondents opposed to CCSS and PARCC. I am well aware that a voluntary survey such as we conducted is not considered a scientific survey, but at least the majority of the respondents were educators who were  well versed on the standards because they are actually in the middle of implementing the standards.

The Advocate article reporting on the survey of students taking the sample PARCC test this Spring had the headline: "Students Give High Marks to Common Core Test" yet the press release about the survey results does not indicate whether the students think the test is good or bad. The main issue the students responded favorably to is that the computerized test is just as easy or easier to take than a paper and pencil test. But only half of the 25,000 students tested even filled out the survey. We have no idea how the other half felt about the test. In the comments section to the article, a few gifted students from the school for Math/Science in Natchitoches said that the material covered in the test was a good bit more difficult than the course work they are now taking. I would assume these young people know what they are talking about.

Of course the supporters of Common Core would say that it is great that some students think the test is difficult. They would say that this more rigorous medicine is just what our students need. In New York state, the supporters of CCSS cheered the fact that over 70% of the students of that state failed the first year of the test. They said in effect: "You see, we told you our students had not been getting a good education. That's why they failed this better, more rigorous test!" I fully expect our state education leaders to blame Louisiana teachers if our students do not fare well on the new PARCC test next year.

Educator and fellow blogger, Lee Barrios who writes the Geaux Teacher blog has a regular comment on her blog about the theory that raising standards produces higher achievement. It goes like this:
"If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a "world class" jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled "jump higher," or if her “poor” performance is used to punish her coach." - - Common Sense

Nothing about these new standards is based on a logical scientific approach. Diane Ravitch, pointed out recently that the development of the standards did not follow proper procedures for the adoption of standards.  We also know that the director of the Common Core project, David Coleman, has no qualifications whatsoever as a K-12 educator. I suggest my readers also read the two part series by Mercedes Schneider on the development and selling of the Common Core, here and here.

It is also becoming very clear that the CCSS development was based much more on seriously flawed ideology than on any systematic and scientific approach. In my opinion the biggest mistake made by the developers is the assumption that all children can and should learn their reading, writing and math at the same rate and at the same achievement level. You know, the one-size-fits-all approach. This assumption violates everything we know about the highly varied learning styles and abilities of children. Remember the disaster of "No Child Left Behind" which expected all children to be proficient in English and math by the year 2014?  The application of that standard would have failed almost 100% of all the schools in America. That's why the U.S. DOE allowed states to seek waivers to the requirements of that law. Now we are going to go through it all over again with the even more "rigorous" CCSS. (Did you read that the State Superintendent of Education in Washington state predicted that all the schools in that state will be classified as failing this year because the U.S. DOE canceled their waiver over Washington State's refusal to evaluate teachers based on student test scores?)

House bill 953 does nothing to stop the immediate implementation of Common Core in Louisiana, but it would provide some protection for schools and teachers from the harmful effects of the PARCC testing. (White has already decreed that all students can be promoted to the next grade even if they fail the PARCC in the 4th and 8th grades.) One amendment which was added on the House floor by Rep. John Bel Edwards would prevent any public school's grade from being reduced through the 2015-16 school year by the PARCC testing. This legislation would at least give Louisiana public schools some protection from the erratic results of Common Core seen recently in Kentucky and New York.

Both HB 953 and HB 703 (which stops predatory charters in most school systems) will be strongly opposed in the Senate Education Committee by the public school haters.