Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Atlanta Cheating Scandal is Just A Small Part of the Real Story

This article by John Thompson of the Huffington Post references an earlier story in the New Yorker Magazine that does an excellent job of reporting an accurate picture of the Atlanta school cheating scandal. The whole nation was shocked by the cheating for which teachers have now been sentenced to harsh prison terms. No one can ever excuse the collapse of ethics and morality that happened over several years in Atlanta schools as test answers were changed and a host of other methods were used to falsify student achievement. But the real story revealing the foolish polices that led to this scandal is much more important.

The Baton Rouge Advocate editors should have read these stories before writing their editorial on the same subject.  The Advocate editorial is very shallow in its conclusions and is written mostly to defend the insane standardized testing culture that has been forced on public education (but not on private schools). The sad truth of this sequence of events beginning with the impossible demands of the No Child Left Behind law and then Obama's Race to the Top is that when politicians set impossible goals and then blame and shame educators who do not meet those goals, horrible things happen to our educational system. These new laws have caused plenty of other potential scandals in Washington DC schools and in several states including Louisiana that have been covered up to avoid scandals like the one in Atlanta.

But the value of the reporting by the New Yorker and the Huffington Post is that these articles reveal the many complex layers of deception that are still occurring across the U.S. as our school systems are forced by bad laws to attack the wrong problems and blame the educators when these strategies fail. These stories point out that there never was a magic formula for reversing the academic problems caused by the many manifestations of neglect of children in our high poverty neighborhoods. Those who led the charge against schools with the battle cry of "no excuses" are guilty of educational and policy malpractice but they will never pay. Atlanta and the Washington DC systems had been held up as proof that poverty does not matter and that good teachers and high expectations can cure anything. It was a lie, and only these rare pieces of quality reporting reveal the truth.

I responded to The Advocate editorial with a comment including a short list of other forms of educational distortions in Louisiana that could easily be equated to the Atlanta scandal. These serious abuses have been overlooked by a media intent on promoting magic solutions to our education problems. Several investigators have revealed that in Louisiana, in addition to instances of cheating similar to Atlanta which have never been brought to court, our education authorities have found other creative ways of falsifying student progress. Here are a few of the ways the public is deceived:

  • Some charter schools have developed effective methods using parent counseling and disciplinary procedures to transfer disruptive and low performing students to the real public schools so that their school scores can be inflated.
  • Some schools abuse the use of credit recovery courses in high schools to allow students who have failed courses to get credit by doing only minimal work. I had one person who responded to this comment pointing out that her students had achieved good results on credit recovery courses. This may very well be true but since the LDOE no longer monitors such courses, serious abuses can and have occurred.
  • Student dropout statistics have been falsified by some schools by reporting dropouts as transfers to other states where the records cannot be traced. The LDOE has not insisted on transcript requests from the receiving schools to document the transfers allowing this fraud to go on mostly unchecked.
  • The LDOE and their testing companies can and have lowered the passing scores on state tests to insure that the public is led to believe that students are succeeding on the new Common Core aligned tests. How could a score of 38% on a 7th grade math test possibly be considered passing when a student can get 25% of multiple choice questions right just by guessing. When I published these scores (that were only obtained as a result of a public records lawsuit), one educator pointed out that he did not see any difference between this manipulation and the Atlanta cheating scheme.
  • The state no longer enforces promotion standards for passing to the 5th and 9th grades, again encouraging schools to pass students who may not have minimum knowledge. Yet local educators are blamed if students cannot succeed in college or meet basic standards for employment.
This is the point: Simply passing a law that mandates that all students must be proficient in math and English does not make it happen. Simply punishing teachers and closing schools where large numbers of at-risk students attend does not insure that they will get a better education elsewhere. Turning over students to privately managed charter schools and voucher schools that are poorly monitored does not solve the problem, but it makes some managers a lot of money. The highly touted New Orleans Recovery District schools as a whole are performing at the 16th percentile level in a state that is ranked near the bottom of the 50 states. Yet the biased, totally inaccurate reporting about the Louisiana RSD has led to the adoption of the same disastrous model by several other states. All of these efforts are also dismal failures.

Ironically, Georgia where this cheating scandal occurred, is now in the process of adopting the fraudulent Louisiana RSD model.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why are Big Business Lobbyists Still Attacking Teachers?

When you review the list of bills below, you will notice that there are bills this session that will attempt to further dismantle the minimal job security of teachers, and to discourage teachers from joining and speaking through their teacher unions or professional associations. See this Advocate story.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, recently wrote this letter to the editor of The Baton Rouge Advocate about LABI and their A+PEL lapdogs latest effort to ban payroll deduction for teacher union dues. I thought the following comment by State Rep. Jerome Richard does an excellent job of describing the LABI disrespect for teachers:

"I ask this question since this legislation is targeting teachers instead of ALL public employees (fire and police): what group has affected this state in a more negative way; the teachers uniions who get few teachers to join their political agenda even w this government give away, or a group like LABI who spends its members dues on crushing our public schools for the sake of sending taxpayer dollars to private and charter schools? I ask you why does the measley costs involved in allowing teachers to choose to have their dues deducted from their paycheck even bother such a group the size of LABI?" 

Continuing these attacks on teachers is totally without merit. Teachers should not be blamed for problems they did not create and cannot change. But these are the same big business bosses that use their muscle in the legislature to insure that certain industries continue to receive multi-billion dollar exemptions from state taxes while public schools are underfunded and the state financial support for higher education is cut to the bone. Their agenda suggests that if they can just totally silence the voice of teachers, and place teachers in constant jeopardy of losing their jobs, and mandate that all students be spoon-fed the Common Core that public education will somehow magically prepare all students for college. Good luck with that one, because so far such efforts have only done damage to public education. These highly paid lobbyists know full well that they are trying to make teachers the scapegoats for the real problems hurting our schools which they refuse to help tackle. Poverty and neglect of school children will not go away without concerted effort by our society and our business community. Continuing to just blame teachers will soon result in Louisiana not being able to find enough qualified persons to stand and deliver in our public school classrooms.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry leaders know almost nothing about education.  These individuals would probably not last a day in the classroom as a substitute teacher because they have no concept of the very serious challenges facing teachers today. They have not met with teachers to discuss what is really needed in public education, but they somehow have convinced themselves and their big industry clients who mostly don't send their children to public schools, that they know the secrets to improving education. They are determined to use their influence though contributions to legislative and BESE candidates to get their schemes put into law without research or field-testing. Public education and our school children are apparently considered fair game for experimentation with the latest fads of the so-called “education reform movement”.

In the 2012 legislative session big business lobbyists allied themselves with Governor Jindal and passed the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) model bills in an attempt to make the employment and retention of all teachers and school principals dependent almost totally on the test scores of public school students. These amateur education reformers were convinced that if they could just make educators totally responsible for the attainments of students, that dramatic progress would soon be made. Some of their legislative leaders even told stories about how the "good teachers" in our schools were longing for the day when their expertize and dedication would finally be rewarded with merit pay based on student test scores. Supposedly the good teachers believed that teacher tenure and seniority were just union schemes to keep lazy and incompetent teachers employed. Act 1 was rammed through the legislature with minimal discussion of the half-baked plan to nullify tenure, remove seniority rights and institute merit pay.

We have now had several years to test out these efforts and here are the preliminary results:

  • The merit pay scheme based on VAM was so poorly designed that it often classified excellent teachers as failures. Now our amateur State Superintendent is not at all anxious to continue VAM because it drives the best teachers out of the basic skills subjects, and produces no measurable results. Passing scores on state LEAP tests have been lowered to as little as 40 to 45 percent correct answers equating to a rating of basic on some tests just to give the appearance that our students are doing just as well as before.
  • Since the new law did not provide funding for the mandated merit pay, school systems have cut step raises that had been an incentive to retain good teachers in the profession.
  • BESE, based on the recommendation of John White, has basically dropped all standards for promotion of students. In some school systems, teachers are encouraged to let students retake all unit tests until they pass. Those who still can’t pass at the high school level are allowed to take greatly condensed credit recovery courses so they can “qualify” to graduate. Sure, the graduation rate has increased a bit, but what about the quality of those graduates? Was the improvement of the quality of our graduates not the original purpose of all this to begin with?
It is quite clear that the Act 1 reforms have been nothing short of a disaster. Yet instead of valuing advice from the professionals in education, LABI  has announced that its top priority for education reform this session is to remove the right of teachers to pay their union dues using payroll deduction! Another bill, (HB 505) proposes to do away with tenure altogether for new teachers. What a remarkably repressive approach to education reform! At least some of the previous reforms gave lip service to “empowering” teachers while basically reducing their status to that of teenage grocery store shelf stockers. (These business lobbyists think that education consists of simply pouring knowledge into the heads of compliant students)

The original and correct reason for the tenure law was to give teachers a hearing process so that attempts to fire them based on politics or favoritism could be exposed. A good example of why educators need due process occurred last school year when a principal at a charter school was fired because the child of a charter Board member was appropriately disciplined for a serious  infraction. But because there was no due process, and because Charter Board members are appointed rather than elected there was no opportunity to expose the  unfairness. If HB 505 passes, there will be more opportunities for good teachers to be unfairly fired.

My message to teachers and parents is this: Don't let the use of the term "Union" in reference to the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers mislead you. The LAE and LFT are no different than the American Medical Association or the BAR Associations. They value the teaching profession and are willing to speak for teachers effectively and defend their rights just as these other organizations do for their members. If you conducted a poll of public opinion right now in Louisiana you would find that most citizens respect and appreciate teachers. This lobbying group called LABI is just as much a "Union" as are the groups described above. The main difference is that they have huge financial resources with which to bribe legislators and BESE members to do their bidding.

These latest proposals reveal an amazing disrespect for teachers and the teaching profession by these big business lobbyists. LABI puts forth these teacher hater proposals  partially to conceal their own lack of responsibility and support for our public schools as was described by Representative Richard. Thank goodness we still have legislators with the courage to speak out for teachers.

Please join with me and the Defenders of Public Education in our efforts to stop these plans to further humiliate our dedicated teachers. Just send me an email to and include your zip code so that I can place you in the correct legislative districts. You will be notified by email when these bills come up for a vote in committee or on the floor so that you can send emails to your legislators expressing your concerns.