Wednesday, September 11, 2019

BESE Election Guide, Part II; Find Out Which Candidates Deserve Our Votes

An unholy alliance of non-educators now controls BESE
I believe my previous posts on this blog have made it clear that the takeover of BESE by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)  and out-of-state billionaires, who have chosen to experiment with our school children, has been nothing short of a disaster. These captive BESE members are the ones who appointed John White, a non-educator from New York who implemented a plan stripping our teachers of all autonomy and ability to teach in any creative manner and imposed a system of constant test prep in all our schools. 

Basically all of their so called "reforms" have failed. Almost no practicing teacher today would recommend that her/his own children go into the teaching profession, and many of our best teachers are retiring early. The teaching profession has been demoralized and stripped of all decision making authority. The ability of teachers to maintain discipline in their classrooms has been undermined by pressure to coddle misbehaving students so they can be graduated without regard to performance. Our students are performing at the lowest level ever on the national comparative tests (NAEP: Dead last among all states in  math and just one or two places above last in reading), despite the fact that many of our classrooms have been converted into boring test-prep factories. Our graduation rate has been artificially inflated by promoting all students to the next grade with little or no evidence of learning and by handing out diplomas to functional illiterates. All done to create a phony image of success.

John White and the other reformers "believed" that if we just focused all education on standardized testing designed by college prep elites, that our kids would dramatically improve their performance. But just the opposite has happened. The raw scores on state tests have steadily declined. Then in desperation to show false progress, John White and his expensive testing companies lowered the underlying raw cut scores to produce apparent improvement. That's why the true passing scores on math, and English LEAP tests for grades 3-8 now average about 30%, and the graduation test passing scores are averaging about 20%. That's the real secret to the improvement of our graduation rates.

So if you think that these so called reforms are good for our children, then by all means you should vote for the LABI endorsed and controlled slate of BESE candidates. Unfortunately many voters may unknowingly vote for the LABI controlled candidates because of the huge campaign contributions that these controlled candidates will get. With this lavish funding, slick radio and TV ads will promote their candidates to the unknowing public. It will be very difficult for good solid candidates who recognize the need to change this disastrous course to get elected. But we must do our best to get the message out about these destroyers of public education, and help to elect good positive replacements for the present BESE members.

It is my firm opinion that none of the present BESE members seeking reelection deserve our votes. In addition, none of the candidates endorsed by LABI and their allies to open positions deserve our votes.
So if you agree that education under the control of LABI is on the wrong track, you should consider voting for any reasonable alternative to the LABI controlled BESE. Here are my recommendations by BESE district. You can check my research on candidates by reading this article in The Advocate which lists the candidates endorsed by LABI as well as what I consider good educational choices endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Educators and LFT. I disagree with LAE in only a couple of cases, but their choices are still much better than the incumbents or other LABI endorsed candidates.

Here are my recommendations for BESE by district.

If you are not sure which BESE district you live in, just click on this link to the maps of BESE districts
District 1: (Includes St. Tammany and Jefferson Parishes) I am enthusiastically recommending Lee Barrios, a Republican and a retired teacher, who has attended numerous BESE meetings and legislative committee meetings and recommended much better alternatives to the LABI revisions to education. Ms Barrios has done her homework and deserves your consideration. LAE and LFT are endorsing Marion Bonura, an Independent and also a retired teacher. Either of these candidates are by far preferable to the incumbent, James Garvey, who is endorsed by, and will always do the bidding of LABI and John White without question.

District 2 (Includes much of New Orleans, parts of Jefferson and Assumption parishes and St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes): I am recommending Dr. Ashonta Wyatt.  Dr Wyatt is a Democrat and an experienced educator who wants to restore sanity to education. She is opposing the LABI endorsed incumbent, Kira Orange Jones, who in my opinion has a serious conflict of interest by being an employee of Teach for America, which gets huge contracts from BESE to supply temporary teachers who have no real training in eduction to our schools. LAE and LFT are making a dual endorsement of both of the challengers to the incumbent. I believe that any vote against Kira Orange Jones is a good choice.

District 3 (Includes parts of Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin and Iberia parishes, and Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes): I am enthusiastically recommending Janice Perea, a Republican, and a practicing teacher in Houma. I had a great telephone conversation with Ms Perea and found that she and I agree on the need to overhaul the highly inefficient teacher evaluation system, greatly reduce standardized testing and test prep, and change the parts of the new curriculum that are not age appropriate for our children. Both LAE and LFT are endorsing Ms Perea. The incumbent, Sandy Holloway, is endorsed and controlled by LABI in my opinion.

District 4: The LABI endorsed incumbent, Tony Davis is unopposed.

District 5 (Includes much of central and northeast Louisiana down to Evangeline parish): This is an open seat with no incumbent. I recommend Dr. Stephen Chapman, a Republican and a dentist who has been serving on the Rapides Parish school board. I believe that Dr. Chapman is well informed on the issues and the problems with our current education policies and he is independent-minded. LAE and LFT are supporting Dr Chapman. LABI is endorsing an educator from the City of Monroe, Ashley Ellis. I am very much afraid that this educator will be totally controlled by LABI just as has happened with former teacher of the year, Holly Boffy, who is still serving in District 7.

District 6 (Includes much of EBR, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes) : This is an open seat with no incumbent. I am recommending Gregory Spiers, a Republican, a former Navy Seal, and a former teacher. I had a great telephone conversation with Mr Spiers and was amazed at how well informed he was about present reform flaws and the takeover of BESE. He is very practical and will try to restore dignity to the teaching profession. He believes it is time for John White to move back to New York. LABI is endorsing Ronnie Morris. I have no information on him but again, I do not trust any LABI candidate. LAE and LFT  are also endorsing Gregory Spiers.

District 7 (Includes most of Southwest Louisiana): I am enthusiastically recommending Ms Timmie Melancon, an Independent and a retired teacher. I have spoken to Timmie on the phone and found that she understands thoroughly the flaws in the present system of "test teaching" a curriculum that is wrong for our children. She also wants to restore the autonomy and dignity the teaching profession. Timmie is also endorsed by the LAE and LFT. The incumbent, Holly Boffy is a former teacher who is endorsed by LABI and who has worked for organizations that helped adopt the new badly designed Common Core standards. In my opinion Ms Boffy is totally controlled by LABI.

District 8 (Includes much of EBR, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, the Felecianas and up to Avoyelles Parish): i am enthusiastically recommending Ms Vereta Lee, a Democrat and a long time educator who now lives in Baton Rouge. I have known Ms Lee for almost 40 years and know that she is a practical educator who totally understands the flaws in our current "reformed" system. She was defeated from her recent position on the EBR school board by a massive infusion of contributions from the reformer groups who are in the process of privatizing the entire EBR school system. However, she is still determined to fight for the survival of our public school system. LAE and LFT are also supporting Ms Lee. LABI has endorsed Mr Preston Castille, a Democrat and an attorney. I believe Mr Castille is another captive of LABI who will religiously vote to continue the privatization and the failed reforms implemented by LABI.

Three at-large BESE positions are appointed by the Governor
There are three other, at-large, positions on BESE that are not elected but appointed by the Governor. I believe all of these are solid supporters of our efforts to restore sanity to our public school system, but they can't do it alone unless we elect several good candidates to BESE.

All of the LABI endorsed candidates will probably be very difficult to defeat because of the shear volume of money these "reformers" have available to spend on their "captive" endorsements. I urge all educators, parents, and others who care about our public schools to look up the candidate from your area, to get involved and help them with contributions if you possibly can. If you type in their names with the words BESE candidate into Google you will probably get a web site or Facebook page with information on their platform and how to make donations. Otherwise we will continue to be doomed to these ineffective and harmful reforms. Why not just trust our teachers do do what they have been trained to do and are quite willing to dedicate their careers to? Our children need to be motivated, and thrilled to the joys of learning by creative teachers, not made slaves to these poorly designed tests that prepare our kids for almost nothing of real value.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Guide to BESE Elections, Part I

Why BESE is the most critical, yet least understood body affecting public education in Louisiana 
The average Louisiana voter does not know what the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education does and most do not even know who represents them on BESE. BESE members historically have been low profile persons who were dedicated to public education. The BESE elections used to attract very low political contributions and were not seen as a stepping stone to higher office. BESE members get no pay for their service and very little news coverage. Thats why in the past, most voters were not very well informed about the huge impact BESE can have on our schools.

But now, almost everyone complains about the very bad decisions being made affecting our children's schools. Almost everyone who has a child in public schools complains about the excessive time spent on standardized testing and test-prep each year. Many parents of school children are alarmed when their children, who once looked forward to attending school, come home crying about the frustrating and incomprehensible material their teachers are forced to teach and test. And recently we learned that our school system has fallen to its lowest level ever in the various rankings of the states on education. We are now tied for last place on the national comparative NAEP test. The Quality Counts rating system which was released last week, covering a wide range of measures rated Louisiana 4th from the bottom of the states, below even Mississippi. These frustrating and damaging changes have happened because our BESE elections have been taken over by a coalition of out-of-state billionaires and the dominant business organization in Louisiana.  

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and super wealthy education reformers from out-of-state decided about 14 years ago that with a concerted effort and a huge infusion of contributions to hand picked candidates, the so called "reformers" could literally take over public education in Louisiana. At the same time a group of mega-wealthy individuals and foundations were looking for laboratory states to experiment with implementing a complete overhaul of public education. Massive contributions came from New York tycoon Michael Bloomberg, the Eli Borad family, the Walton family, and even Bill and Melinda Gates. They then spent millions, on political contributions and a new curriculum to guarantee implementation of all the latest fads in education reform. Bill Gates decided to fund the implementation of the Common Core standards nationwide, sight unseen. Louisiana's BESE adopted the Common Core standards before they were even written. None of these had been field tested. Louisiana and Florida became huge laboratories for education reform.

With the help of Governor Jindal, who also was determined to overhaul education, LABI and their billionaires literally took over 7 out of 8 of the elected positions on BESE. They were then able to bring in an out-of-state non-educator (John White) as the new reformer minded State Superintendent. Republicans and some reformer oriented Democrats in the legislature helped Jindal pass major legislation stripping teachers of tenure, seniority, and every bit of decision making about teaching and implementation of educational standards. They gave the new LABI controlled BESE full authority to take over low performing schools and turn them over to minimally regulated charter school operators. The legislation also allowed vouchers using our school taxes to go to private schools, and to implement the new Common Core State Standards with the accompanying standardized testing and the grading of schools based on this testing.

The education reformers won total control of our schools. Have they succeeded in boosting our children's educational achievement?
The reformers got absolutely everything they wanted with this massive overhaul of our Louisiana schools. The promise of these reforms was to produce much improved performance of our students in reading and math, closing of the achievement gap between underprivileged and middle class children, and a major improvement of Louisiana's ranking of education compared to other states. 

Now after 10 years of operating our schools based on this reform agenda, multiple measures of our education system reveal serious declines, not improvement. We are now awarding diplomas to students who are functional illiterates, and our educational ranking among the states is the lowest ever!

Now that the reform is sputtering, can we take back our schools?
It's sad to say, but it would be almost impossible to take back BESE in the coming 2019 elections, because the reformers still have the ability to control most of the money being spent on the BESE elections. And they are not about to admit that they were wrong about any part of their so called "reforms". The best we can do in this election cycle is to begin the process of educating our parents and taxpayers about the damaging results of the current reforms and at least begin the process of taking back the control of our schools and the use of our school tax dollars.

All of the five incumbents running for reelection to BESE are invested in retaining the reforms no matter what. 
These incumbents are James Garvey, District 1; Kira Orange Jones, District 2; Sandy Holloway, District 3; Tony Davis, District 4; and Holly Boffy, District 7. Tony Davis has no opposition and the other incumbents are seen as front runners. If they get only a fraction of the contributions spent on previous elections by the reformer PACs they have a tremendous advantage. In part II on the BESE elections I will attempt to give some guidance on candidates that are willing to challenge the status quo of the present reform movement in Louisiana.