Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teacher Retirement System Under Attack

The teaching profession has been under attack for several years now by the Jindal/White administration. Thousands of excellent teachers have retired before they had planned to because of the punitive, impractical, evaluation system, the insanity of constant standardized testing and test teaching and the inappropriateness of Common Core for many of our students.

Now it looks like the enemies of public education on BESE, in the LDOE and the various school privatization forces are itching to dismantle the teacher retirement system. (See this article in the Advocate and read the comment by former school board president Noel Hammatt) Even though the constitution stipulates that the legislature is responsible for the funding of the retirement systems, for years now the legislature has passed on much of the unfunded liability it created to local school boards. The local school boards have no say in curtailing excessive benefits granted by the legislature to privileged individuals such as overpaid college presidents and former legislators who get jobs in the retirement systems near the end of their careers just to milk the retirement systems of excessive benefits. Yet the legislature is now passing on these extra costs to school boards and other non-state agencies. Last year school boards were forced to pay almost one third of their payroll for benefits that should cost about 8% of payroll. That’s because school boards are being required to pay for abuses the legislature approved for fat cats.

But the situation is even worse.  At the same time the legislature was assessing local school boards an outrageous penalty for unfunded liability, they were exempting all charter schools from having to pay anything toward the unfunded liability by giving them the option to exempt their employees from the retirement system. This gives these privately run for-profit groups a 25% gift, which they can use to pay their managers exorbitant salaries or return a bigger profit to shareholders. In 2008-09 Charles “Mickey” Landry was paid $186,000 for being principal of a charter school in New Orleans.  He is probably getting a lot more now. The Choice Foundation can easily afford such a salary because they save about $12,500 in retirement contributions for every teacher they hire. Meanwhile for every new teacher that is pulled out of the retirement system, the unfunded liability burden gets greater on our local school boards. They don’t have the option (and they don't want) to pull out of the retirement system.

If the drain on the retirement system continues as privatization grows, at some point our anti-public school BESE will propose a reduction in retirement benefits for public school teachers. LABI and CABL have been itching for years to see teacher retirement benefits reduced (Just like the Group Benefits overhaul). This is the opposite of what we should be doing if we want to build a dedicated effective, professional teacher force in Louisiana.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LDOE Tightening Screws on Principals and Teachers

Superintendent John White claims that during the transition to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, he does not want to denigrate educators or humiliate schools. He is however hell bent on putting a lot of pressure on all school principals to constantly raise student test scores. This month at the Act 240 subcommittee meeting, (the committee that is tasked with recommending revisions to the teacher and principal evaluation system) Jessica Baghian, the TFAer who heads up the teacher evaluation division, suggested that all principals should set a goal of improving their school’s SPS every year. The only problem with such goals is that the deck is stacked against principals.  The only way one school’s SPS can go up is for another school’s SPS to go down.

In one of his memo’s to local administrators (Dec. 4, 2013 Ed Connect) announcing the transition to PARCC testing, White said that for the first two transition years, school SPS scores would be graded on a curve. The new curve grading would guarantee that the relative numbers of schools rated A,B,C,D, and F would remain the same for the transition years. This means that school grades, as a whole would not go down, as the tests get tougher. But it also means that they would not go up. If principals are coerced into setting goals for constantly raising their school SPS, most will fail because the scores are being kept artificially stable. But things will only get worse for principals after the transition, because White has announced that he plans to “raise the bar” in future years to try to get a much higher percentage of students performing at the mastery level. The only way a school could get an A in the future would be for a majority of its students to achieve a rating of “mastery” on the new PARCC tests. That goal did not work so well with New York state schools, where 70% of their students are failing to get to mastery. This problem is aggravated for Louisiana because our students have been performing at a much lower average than New York state students. But principals shouldn’t worry since White has proclaimed that Louisiana students are “just as smart and just as capable as any in America”. Whew, that’s a relief! I suppose John White has some kind of credentials qualifying him to rate our student’s abilities relative to all other students in the country.

White is under terrific pressure by his LABI and CABL bosses to raise student test scores statewide. Many observers were shocked that when it came to the common core issue that White would buck Governor Jindal, who had engineered his appointment as Superintendent. The answer is simple. His real bosses are the leaders of LABI, CABL and the big chambers of commerce. And those real bosses love the Common Core.

You see, the whole school reform movement in Louisiana and most other states is based on an incessant drive to raise standards and at the same time to raise our student test scores. Nothing else really matters to the big business promoters of school reform.  The big business bosses at the legislature have chosen to ignore the real causes of low student achievement because fixing poverty and parent neglect is hard and may cost big business lots of money.

White is beginning his fourth year in Louisiana, and the latest ranking of academic performance by Education Week Magazine’s Quality Counts rating system still rates Louisiana second to last among all states and the DC system. White is in trouble, so he intends to put the squeeze on school principals. At the very least he wants to see if he can get them to fire more teachers. Or they could raise student test scores by hook or crook like they did in Atlanta and El Paso and DC. Not to worry, . . .  you only go to jail if you get caught.

The pressure is being applied to the members of the Act 240 subcommittee right now to recommend a policy that would require all principals to set goals of raising test scores and their school's SPS every year. By law, principals would then be rated on how well they succeed in meeting their goals of raising school grades. All of this would be in an environment that makes it almost impossible to succeed.

Jessica Baghian said that principals should not be allowed to get away with setting non-testing related goals such as improving student discipline for their school performance goals.  Principals may remember my blog post of Oct. 25, pointing out John White’s dissatisfaction with the high number of highly effective principals even in schools with low performing students. If you reread that post you will see his plans for principals.

White is determined that no school with low student achievement will have good evaluation scores for their principals and teachers. But he does not intend to denigrate our educators and humiliate our schools, as standards get tougher. Right!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Preparing Students for the Wrong Test

Education reformers have claimed that the PARCC test would allow Louisiana to compare its students' performance to all other states and would insure that our students would be prepared to compete effectively for jobs with students everywhere.

Now with only 12 states out of 50 planning to require the PARCC test, and with our LDOE designing its own PARCC "imitation test", it looks like we will be compared to no one!

Louisiana has been spending more and more of our scarce tax dollars on purchasing and administering state tests. Our local school systems have been forced to purchase more testing technology and more test prep materials for a test that compares us to no one. Yet there is a test being given that compares Louisiana to all other states and it is free! The test is called the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and has been given to representative samples of students from all states since the 1970s.

The NAEP test results for each state are used by the editors of Education Week Magazine to produce the annual Quality Counts report. The most recent Quality Counts report issued last week ranks Louisiana 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in academic achievement. So after all this effort to adopt and teach Common Core and to convert our testing to the PARCC test, Louisiana still ranks second to last in student achievement on the test that really counts for the rankings. It looks like we were sold a bill of goods in adopting CCSS and PARCC. We should be preparing our students for NAEP not PARCC.. . . . No not really. We should not be spending valuable school time preparing our students for any standardized test! Louisiana should simply adopt a curriculum that provides a sound education in basic skills as well as addressing the varied career needs and interests of our students, and teach that curriculum. Teachers and students should not be slaves to standardized testing.

It is Foolish and Counter Productive to be Spending all this Effort and Money in Preparing Students for Standardized Tests

In my third post of this blog on January 29th 2010, I suggested that our education system was preparing our students for The Wrong Future. For several years at that time our education leaders had pushed more and more of our students into pursuing the Core 4 college prep curriculum for high school graduation.

In that January 2010 post I pointed out that some of the best jobs in Louisiana, require a technical education, not a college prep education. The college prep push has resulted in the near elimination of our career and technical education courses in high schools and the layoff of most experienced voc-tech teachers. It turns out that the Core 4 college prep curriculum has prepared the majority of our students for absolutely nothing. Pressuring all students to take Core 4 ended up watering down the curriculum for the true college prep students and did not result in more students attending college.

Now after 10 years of emphasis on college prep for every student, our State Superintendent has finally started to promote his Jump Start program which is designed to prepare some students for good career alternatives to the 4 year bachelor's degree.  However his system of school grading and the adoption of Common Core still rewards mostly college prep efforts.

It is clear from their own statements that the designers of the Common Core State Standards totally ignored career and technical education in designing the CCSS. It is strictly a college prep program, and it is a poor one at that. CCSS is a huge mistake for early childhood education. It is a huge mistake for the teaching of basic math, which is what is needed by the great majority of students, and it is a huge mistake for the teaching of reading and language arts. By focusing on close reading, non-contextual analysis, and academic themes, the CCSS ignores the needs of most of the students in Louisiana. 

With the adoption of the CCSS, our curriculum has become the test! Nothing else matters to John White and his staff. They are moving now to focus all Student Learning Targets and the evaluation of every principal on preparing kids for the PARCC test (or the Louisiana imitation PARCC test). This new standardized test-based curriculum is continuing to prepare most Louisiana students for the wrong future. Our amateur "education leaders" have learned nothing about education in the last five years.