Thursday, March 24, 2016

Most Important Issues on Education Survey Left out of News Story

Will Sentell, in this article continues his campaign to filter and manipulate the news to fit his pro-corporate reform agenda. Sentell focuses on the public's lukewarm support for charter schools instead of reporting that the survey found that most citizens really like their public schools and do not agree with the present system of blaming teachers for student performance. In fact, teacher quality was one of the least of citizen's concerns revealed by the survey. (Click here for the full survey report by the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication) The survey of 1,000 Louisiana citizens showed that most  want teachers to have better salaries and to have more support on discipline instead of being harassed based on student test scores.

When asked what was their most important concern about public schools, the largest number of citizens responded that school funding and teacher salaries was their number one priority. Their second priority was student discipline and a safe school environment. That's the same thing we find when we survey teachers. Yet our department of education, in their continued zeal to punish teachers over student test scores never does a single thing to help teachers with discipline and to protect students and teachers from dangerous individuals. Studies have shown that the disrespect of teachers by students and some parents is one of the major factors in teachers leaving the profession.

Advocates of corporate reform such as state superintendent, John White, continue to focus instead on issues that the public does not care about! Those include privatization of schools using charters and vouchers and the assumption that some children do not perform in school as well as expected because they are being held back by lazy or incompetent teachers. For years they have predicted that if we could just put excellent teachers in every classroom, that all students would start performing on grade level and above. Unfortunately no one has been able to prove this theory even on a limited basis. Somehow, no matter how many TFA miracle workers we place in front of our classrooms, students who come from struggling low income families on average, still continue to perform at the bottom of the rankings. So maybe reformers need to readjust their ideology?

It looks like the average citizens have a much better grasp of the real problems in education than do the highly paid gurus of reform. Instead of trying to shame and blame teachers for all the ills of society, the general public would like instead for us to support them on classroom discipline and pay them a salary at least closer to their value to society.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LABI Meddles in Government and Education; Avoids Price Tag

Who really controls the Legislature?

 School boards and many district superintendents want to change some of the more onerous provisions of Act 1 of 2012. This is Governor Jindal's law that attempted to strip educators of due process rights, seniority benefits and even step salary increases and establish merit pay based on student test scores. Act 1 also attempted to give the state superintendent maximum control over the employment contracts of district superintendents. This legislation was one of the top priorities of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

The Louisiana Association of Buisness and Industry (LABI) was formed in Louisiana about 50 years ago primarily to pass the anti-union "Right-to-work" law. The purpose of this law was to prevent labor unions from negotiating higher salaries for construction workers through union contracts that required union membership. By banning agreements that required union membership, the law allowed big business to hire non-union labor at much lower wages, resulting in a higher profit margin. The law is often referred to as the "Right to-work for less" law. There are 22, mostly southern states that have passed such laws. Non Right-to-work states generally have higher average wages and a higher standard of living.

LABI got Right-to-work passed on Louisiana and thereby succeeded in weakening most private sector unions.

Right-to-work laws were part of a nationwide effort by big business in this country to pay less to workers and allow top executives and shareholders to keep more of the profits of corporations. All of this push has resulted in the huge and growing disparity between the incomes of the super rich and the working people. Many economists agree that part of the present economic stagnation of our nation results from this growing income disparity. Trickle down economics was a myth invented during the Reagan administration that still persists today as part of the platform of many conservative politicians.

In the recent Louisiana special session LABI urged conservative legislators to continue tax incentives for big business even while average workers were having their taxes increased and vital state services were cut. LABI was successful in crafting the tax package to include mostly added sales taxes and cigarette taxes with continued exemptions for big business. The trickle down theory assumes that when the super-rich bosses of industry are allowed to keep more of their profits, they will then help the working people by providing more jobs at higher pay. This bogus theory championed by LABI and the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) explains why Louisiana ended up with the most regressive tax structure in the country after the special session even though the state budget is still way out of balance and our state colleges are crippled.

So when you see news stories that reveal that the end result of the special session was pretty much dictated by LABI bosses, be aware that these guys are really controlling much of the legislation in Louisiana. The majority of our legislature do not represent the average person. They represent LABI because that's who finances their campaigns and that's who will defeat them if they dare to vote "wrong". That's why big businesses actually got more in tax incentives last year from the Louisiana government than they actually paid in state taxes!

As it gained influence in the legislature, LABI decided it would be a good idea to control public elementary and secondary education. After all, since the minimum foundation formula amounts to a major portion of the state budget, maybe there were ways to reduce the cost and shift more savings to big business. Surely business leaders could run education better than educators!

The Jindal legislation, Act 1 of 2012, which was supported by LABI was an all out attack on the teaching profession in Louisiana

LABI has not been satisfied with simply destroying unions in Louisiana and in profiting from state government. They have also chosen to dictate how we should run our public schools. LABI leaders decided long ago that local school boards elected by the people to manage our schools are just obstacles to their more elite ideas about how schools should work. LABI feels that privately run charter schools and voucher schools should have full access to our school taxes even though they are not governed by our elected school boards.  LABI believes Louisiana should cut public education costs by paying the least possible salaries and benefits to the teachers.  It is cheaper to hire persons without education credentials so that's why LABI supported the legislation that allows non-educators to teach in charter schools. In addition, Act 1 of 2012 attempted to strip teachers of all seniority rights and step increases and to make district superintendents answer primarily to the state superintendent. Act 1 also included a merit pay scheme for teachers and administrators based on student test scores without providing any extra funding from the state. Funding the merit pay was accomplished by cutting the teacher step increases. The merit pay plan based on state test scores was in effect for only one year and created chaos and many resignations by teachers. LABI wants to restart that disastrous merit pay plan as soon as possible.

One of the big claims of the proponents of Act 1 was that doing away with tenure, seniority rights and step increases was going to empower individual teachers who produced better results in the classroom to demand higher salaries. You know, the same way that construction workers were "empowered" by the loss of their union representation by the Right-to-work law.  I ask my teacher readers of this blog: Have you been empowered by Act 1 of 2012?

LABI mostly controls BESE because of the huge political contributions to BESE elections by the likes of the Broads and the Waltons and the Bloombergs and the Lane Grigsbys. BESE is pretty much dictated to by State Superintendent John White. White likes the idea of also dictating to local superintendents how to run their schools and how to hire and fire educators. Did you know that the most recent changes in the principal evaluation system requires that the school performance score go up each year in order for the principal to receive a satisfactory evaluation? Act 1 of 2012 included a section that required that district superintendent contracts must be submitted to the state superintendent and that all superintendents of school systems rated "C" or below must include certain performance targets approved by the state. All of this so that LABI could more and more dictate how school employees could be hired and fired using student test scores or any other crazy idea the bosses at LABI came up with.

Educators and parents, you need to know your enemies! Be aware of the attacks on our public schools and the teaching profession that are coming from a bunch of elites who don't pay their taxes but who want to tell us how to run our schools. The sad thing is that these bosses are so incompetent and arrogant that they are steadily damaging our education system with testing, test prep, and by driving away the very best teachers. Tell your legislators that you are keeping a report card that shows how many times they vote with LABI and against our public schools!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Charter Network Protects Top Leader Jobs and Salaries. . But Not the Rights of Students

Another excellent investigative report by The Lens reporter Marta Jewson follows an earlier report by Danielle Dreilinger and further exposes an apparent effort to protect the jobs and salaries of top executives of the ReNEW Charter Network who dragged their feet in correcting wrongdoing at one of their charters. The two executives may have attempted to cover-up of major policy violations at Sci Tech Academy. When it was discovered that then ReNEW CEO Gary Robicheaux had tried to cover up fraud and abuse at the school relative to bilking the state and federal government of special education funding and various other violations, he was simply transferred to another administrative position at the same salary. But Jewson found out using a public records request that the new CEO who took his place was apparently just as guilty of the cover-up of wrongdoing. The mid-level administrators who had actually committed the fraud were forced to resign, but the big bosses got to keep their high paying jobs. Colleen Mackay who was informed first of the wrongdoing by an email from a brave special education supervisor, got promoted to Robicheaux's job as CEO and Robicheaux got another bureaucratic job with ReNEW at the same upgraded salary of $154K. Pretty sweet! And their role in the cover up was kept secret by John White's DOE by redacting their names from the report of wrongdoing.

This is where Jewson's investigative efforts really shine in turning over this pile of steaming dung! She filed a public records request to demand that the full emails and reports of the Department on the incident be revealed including the redacted names of participants in the cover-up. No one has explained yet why John White's Department of education chose to protect the top executives by redacting their names from the report while seemingly sacrificing the middle managers who were force to resign from the school system. But the protected executives simply exchanged job titles to make it look like a shake-up had also happened at the top. But both executives were actually rewarded by having their salaries bumped up to a higher level while their part in the cover-up was also covered-up by the redaction of their names from the incriminating report! Oh yes, and those two seemingly fired managers. . .  Their future prospects for jobs were apparently protected by being allowed to resign instead of being fired. It they had actually been fired, their credentials as educators would have been canceled.

Jepson's report also points out the similarities between ReNEW's violations and violations at the less influential Lagniappe Academy which actually got closed down because of similar violations. But it looks like the ReNEW group had more pull with the LDOE and were able to not only keep their school open, but also get shielding of their top executives from appropriate sanctions. Also, the LDOE gave the ReNEW group a six year extension of their charter right at the time they were still being investigated for the very serious violations of law and policy.

This incident illustrates of the main differences between the real public schools and these government protected charters. They are run by self appointed boards, not elected boards. So if there is wrongdoing or individuals who are abusing our taxes and denying children services to insure that they can get exorbitant salaries, we the taxpayers can't do anything about it. We can't elect new school board members as a way of correcting the problems. They get to self-investigate violations. They can intimidate employees because there are no unions allowed to protect employees, and they can run off whistleblowers. The employee at Sci-Tech who revealed the violations has left the school. Meanwhile our tax dollars pay the high salaries of the executives even though many students are neglected.

If you are a taxpayer or a parent or a real educator please take the time to read the entire article by Jewson and the previous article by Drelinger here. This story shows just how crooked and self-serving these vaunted charter operators are at the expense of students they are supposed to be serving. Send this story to the legislators in Georgia and other states that are in the process of setting up  "Recovery Districts" or "Achievement Zones" patterned after the Louisiana Recovery District. Do you remember when we were told that these new charter schools would do away with wasteful bureaucracies that were siphoning money away from the students? Instead we have a self protecting double bureaucracy under the RSD and the Renew administrators protected at the very top by John White's charter/voucher incubation machine.