Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Defenders Sends Out School Board Questionnaire

Our Defenders of Public Education Sent Out a Questionnaire to School Board Candidates in EBR and Baker Today

We may be underfunded underdogs in these critical elections but we are going to do our best to inform school employees and the general public about the efforts underway to dismantle our public education system!

The upcoming school board elections in several Parishes are being used by certain education reformer groups to further their agenda of corporate reform and more privatization of our public school systems. We saw it happen a couple of years ago when pro-reform groups gave generous contributions to BESE candidates for the purpose of expanding school vouchers and charter schools. As a result the new majority on BESE now supports vouchers and what I call predatory charter schools that intend to attract the higher performing students away from traditional public schools so as to insure more profits for the charter operators.

Why would predatory charters have an advantage over traditional public schools, and even so, why would such a process not be good for improving public education? What if we didn't care whether or not the charter operator makes a profit, or worry about the charters stealing students away from the traditional schools, just as long as the students in question get the best education possible?

But it's a little more complicated than the scenario described above. Most charter schools save big bucks for their operating expenses by not participating in the teacher retirement system and other benefits, and they hire many uncertified teachers. This pullout from the retirement system severely damages the financial stability of the system and puts a bigger and bigger financial burden on traditional schools. In addition, some of the new charter schools purposely try to recruit the most capable and most motivated students. Some also counsel out the low achievers or the discipline problems (often those are the same students). Over time they can reallocate students in a school system so that the traditional schools, who cannot refuse to accept any students no matter how challenging, will serve mainly the low achievers. Such traditional schools that end up with more handicapped students, more discipline problems, more slow learners and low motivation students are often doomed to be seen as failing schools or as low achieving schools. In our system of blind test-based accountability, that means traditional schools may see deteriorating public support and funding. It also means that the dream of equal opportunity for all students will be further eroded.

I have studied the results of the charter and voucher schools in Louisiana and have concluded that almost no one benefits from this so called "choice" system except for the charter management owners and a few slick operating voucher school owners.The latest statistics available today show that the privatization of schools through charter schools and voucher schools in Louisiana have resulted in a net loss in academic achievement. There is no valid academic argument for charters and vouchers!

For example, a very recent study by the pro-charter Cowen Institute out of Tulane, found almost no difference in the achievement of at risk students in the New Orleans Recovery District compared to the same socioeconomic group in traditional schools. In fact the at risk students are still performing better in traditional schools. Also, the graduation rate in the RSD schools is clearly inflated by the use of bogus transfer coding to hide a disastrous dropout rate of these takeover schools. (Read about the 100% error rate in coding for some transfers in the RSD)  In some areas the takeover charter schools are complete failures. One such area is the EBR region of RSD. All the RSD schools but one in the Baton Rouge area have declined so significantly in performance and parents have pulled so many of their children out of the RSD schools that some of the schools have shut down or been returned to their original school boards.(St Helena and Pointe Coupee).

Yet a new Political Action Committee called Better Schools for Better Futures led by businessman Layne Grigsby, former LABI president Dan Juneau, and the Greater Baton Rouge Area Chamber, intends to  elect a new school board in EBR that will give us more school choice whether we want it or not and whether it works or not. And they want to give our principals site based budgeting whether they want it or not.

That's why our Defenders of Public Education has sent out our own questionnaire to try to find out where the candidates for EBR and the Baker School Boards stand on the key issues of privatization. We also wanted to know how the candidates stand on improving discipline in the classrooms which has become the major issue interfering with instruction in EBR and Baker. There are questions about using our public schools for profit, about charters using our tax dollars to advertise and attract students from regular schools and the use of public tax dollars to pay for school buildings that end up being owned by the charter management companies. We just want to know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to students, parents, and teachers.

The Defenders of Public Education is a non-partisan group formed from the readers of this blog for the purpose of keeping parents and educators informed about critical issues in education. This allows individual "Defenders" to make their wishes known to their elected officials. You can join our Defenders by just sending an email to louisianaeducator@gmail.com and include your zip code and your preferred email address. You will then receive timely emails on critical education votes before they happen so you can contact your elected representatives.

Watch for a follow up report on the critical elections in EBR and Baker soon.