Monday, December 21, 2009

LFT to be “fully engaged” in Race to the Top

LFT President Steve Monaghan spoke to the news media at a press conference announcing the state's plans for Race to the Top.

The state’s largest teacher union intends to be fully engaged in how a new federal education program’s funds will be used in Louisiana’s classrooms, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

“Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds,” Monaghan said.

“What brought LFT to the table is our belief that engagement is far better than disengagement and that dialogue is better than silence,” said Monaghan. “What kept us at the table and engaged in the discussions was willingness of all parties to entertain every part of the proposal as organic. That means we can try properly resourced reforms, and if they don’t work, we can modify them, and even change directions if necessary. Our conversations centered on the possibilities and not on any entrenched position.

“To be very frank, we do not necessarily agree with all the ideas and policies in the proposal,” Monaghan said. “But we do agree that all children and all teachers deserve much better and much more than they’re receiving now. We understand that there remain details to be resolved and unknowns to be discovered. The LFT intends to act as a partner as long as we are treated as such.”

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

EdWeek commentary: Is merit pay the answer?

Educator/author Kim Marshall has some food for thought about teacher merit pay in this Education Week commentary.

The piece offers good reasons to slow down on the lurch toward performance-based pay for teachers. It creates an understanding of why the organic approach favored by the Department of Education's Race to the Top application is better than Gov. Bobby Jindal's intent to pass laws mandating performance based pay (in this context, organic simply means that the concept should be allowed to grow and, if necessary, change and adapt if it does not work as planned).

One important argument offered by Marshall is that standardized tests can be "instructionally insensitive" or, as he puts it, "better at measuring students’ family advantages and disadvantages than the school’s or the teacher’s value-added effect."

The Department of Education's resident testing expert, George Noell, admitted as much when he told a joint Senate and House Education Committee last week that our current high-stakes tests are not well suited to a value-added evaluation system, but that they can be tweaked to suit the purpose.

To help resolve that issue, LFT insisted on including a "learning environment index" in the state's Race to the Top plans. That index takes factors outside of a teacher's control into account then measuring student achievement.

What is Marshall's alternative to test-based measures of value-added accountability?

In many of America’s most effective schools, principals make frequent
unannounced visits to classrooms and give informal feedback on what students
are learning and how instruction can be improved. Teacher teams in these
schools collaboratively design curriculum units, give common assessments to
their students every four to six weeks, immediately huddle to discuss what
worked and what didn’t, share best practices, reteach what wasn’t mastered, and help struggling students.

By frequently checking for understanding and fixing learning problems
before they snowball, these schools draw on teachers’ and administrators’
collective wisdom and keep everyone’s focus on the most important questions: Are
students learning, and, if not, what’s our next move?
In schools which operate on that model, Marshall says, "...students in these schools are making dramatic gains, and achievement gaps are being closed. Small wonder that teachers in these schools are continuously improving their craft."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

R2T will change the teaching profession

As the deadline approaches for applications to the $4.4 billion federal Race to the Top program, educators are paying close attention to the ways their profession will change.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the first effects of what is called R2T will be felt in school systems that actually receive part of the grant money. Eventually, though, the reforms that come about in response to R2T are expected to be implemented statewide.

For that reason, LFT is determined to play a significant role in the development and implementation of R2T in the state. To get the money, districts must agree to changes in the way teachers are evaluated and compensated.

The union is working to ensure that teacher evaluations and pay are not based solely on test results, but on a range of criteria that can take into account factors that are beyond a teacher's control. Those issues can range from the physical condition of the school to discipline issues, to adequacy of resources such as textbooks and educational materials.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Louisiana called value-added "model"

According to the Washington Post, Louisiana is among the first states attempting to link student performance to their teachers and even to the education schools attended by the teachers.

As reporter Nick Anderson puts it, "Louisiana has become the first state to tie student test scores into a chain of evaluation that reaches all the way to teacher colleges. Those that fail to perform on this new metric someday could face shake-ups or, in extreme cases, closure."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LFT following Race to the Top revisions

As the January, 2010 deadline approaches, education leaders are scrambling to fine-tune the state's application process for federal Race to the Top funds. As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, a major sticking point has been over how teachers will be evaluated and compensated in the future.

While the state could receive as much as $300 million from the fund, a much larger issue will be the permanent structural changes that public education will undergo in order to apply for the money. Initially, only school districts that accept the federal money will be required to make what Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek calls "sea changes" in operating procedures, but it is clear that those changes will be the model for all of public education in years to come.

R2T, as it is called, requires participating districts to "use student performance growth data to inform decisions regarding compensation, retention and release." That could mean many different things. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

LFT has been meeting with Pastorek and his staff, and we believe that important concessions are being made in order to answer some of our concerns. Chief among these is the inclusion of a learning environment index in measuring the success of teachers and schools.

This learning environment index includes language suggested by LFT, and was a part of our legislative agenda last year. It means that conditions which may not be under the teacher’s control must be included in the evaluation – issues ranging from the physical condition of the school to discipline issues, to adequate resources such as textbooks and educational materials.

“Performance-based compensation” is clearly part of the federal mandate for R2T, but what form it will take has not been determined. Broadly speaking, we know that some portion of teacher salaries will be based on the evaluation process described above.

LFT believes that the current teacher salary schedule, including lanes and steps, should be retained, and that any performance-based compensation should be a supplement to that salary. This is one of the issues that may be determined in negotiations between stakeholders and school districts. These deliberations are crucial because the result will be the model for teacher evaluation and compensation in the future.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

RSD salaries make senator sick

State Senator Ben Nevers is sick to his stomach because so many high-ranking education officials in Louisiana make over $100,000 per year, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

Nevers launched a tirade at State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek after learning that 38 of the superintendent's employees make such grand salaries. Half of the high paid administrators work in the Recovery School District.

Pastorek trotted out the old bromide about having to pay that much to attract the best people for the job. It would be nice if that theory could be applied to all the teachers in every school in the state.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Philippine government shuts down recruiter

Thanks in large part to complaints filed by the Louisiana and American Federation of Teachers, the Philippine government has shut down two companies that recruited Filipino teachers for Louisiana school districts.

The companies, Universal Placement International and PARS, are accused of
extracting huge fees from teachers in The Philippines, and continuing to drain their paychecks after they are hired by Louisiana school systems. LFT President Steve Monaghan characterized the companies' practices as "disgusting and an affront to basic American values."

News of the Philippine government's action is here; EdLog's complete coverage of the issue is here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Post-convention, post-holiday catch-up

EdLog has been on hiatus during the LFT annual convention and Thanksgiving holiday, but the news didn't' stop. Here's a brief rundown on events of the past two weeks:

Like father, like son: a generation ago, gubernatorial candidate Buddy Roemer campaigned on a pledge to brick up the top three floors of the Department of Education. Now his son, Chas, sits on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and he wants to do the old man one better: overhaul the department from top to bottom, and give the governor more authority over education (is he thinking of running?).

Advocate reporter Will Sentell has the story here.

Deja Vu all over again: The old, pre-Katrina Orleans Parish School Board was notorious for keeping such sloppy pay records that many people wound up collecting much more than they were entitled to. But now that the state Recovery School District has taken control of most of the city's records are so sloppy that many people wound up collecting much more than they were entitled to.

Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr has the story here

Deja Vu all over again, Part 2: Under the old, corrupt pre-Katrina school board in New Orleans, there was always some scandal or another brewing, often involving the use of public property like vehicles. But now that the state Recovery School District has taken control of most of the city's schools...there's a scandal about State Superintendent Paul Pastorek allowing RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas to illegally use a state vehicle for personal use (and wreck it in Chicago!).

Advocate reporter Jordan Blum has the story here; Times-Picayune reporter Jan Moller covered the story here.

Paul Pastorek's very bad week: As if unmonitored salaries and questionable use of vehicles weren't enough, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek was at the center of this news article by Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte. The rest of the state is reeling from economic setbacks and a "streamlining commission" is recommending furloughs for state workers, but the payroll at the Department of Education has jumped by some $8 million during Pastorek's tenure.

There are fewer workers at the department than before, but they are making much more money. Writes Deslatte, "Pastorek says the pay is needed to attract and keep the best talent. But with huge state budget shortfalls predicted for several years, the salary boosts have irked some lawmakers, already bristling about Pastorek's own hefty pay increases."

Four N.O. charter schools on probation: Four charter schools overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board have been put on probation because of financial issues or problems with student performance, Times Picayune reporter Cindy Chang writes here.

Shockingly, one of the schools on probation is Ben Franklin High School, one of the highest performing schools in the nation. Prior to the wholesale takeover and chartering of schools post-Katrina, Ben Franklin was a shining jewel in the Orleans Parish system.

Randi Weingarten at LFT convention: AFT President Randi Weingarten's speech to the 45th annual convention of the LFT was covered by Times Picayune reporter Barri Bronston for this story.

The meat of her comments was this: "Until teacher evaluations are no longer based primarily on test scores, teachers will continue to get blamed for everything from the high dropout rate to the poor economy..."

Convention recognizes Joe Potts: Reporter Bronston also covered the LFT's recognition of Joe Potts. The former Jefferson Federation president (and current LFT executive vice president) received the Pioneer Award for his trailblazing service to the union. Also mentioned are legislative awards for Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite and Harold Ritchie of Bogalusa.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ravitch says Obama and Duncan are wrong about charters

Education gadfly/watchdog Diana Ravitch has this to say about "education reform" in her blog: "The Obama administration is using its unprecedented billions to advance a strategy of deregulation and deprofessionalization. This strategy will push American schools into untested waters, with thousands of untried leaders, and with results that are far from certain. This is not a reform strategy, but a risky strategy."

And this: "Overall, public schools continue to outperform charter schools. The public schools' performance is significantly better overall and in cities, and among students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (the federal measure of poverty in school data). Among other groups—those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, whites, blacks, and Hispanics—the test scores of public schools and charter schools are not significantly different."

She doesn't like the fact that the federal government is violating the promise of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which morphed into the No Child Left Behind Act under President Bush): "the federal government would never interfere with state and local control of schools."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LFT director sticks up for education professionals

Alison Ocmand, legislative director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, alerted lawmakers to a serious problem: the State Department of Education has neglected to pay nationally certified guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers the $5,000 annual supplement ordered by the legislature.

Legislators are not amused. The revelation caused a back-and-forth between State Sen. Jack Donohue and Deputy State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux. Donohue said money was appropriated for the supplements and they should be paid; Scioneaux said the department was ordered to pay the supplements from "available discretionary funds," according to this article by Advocate reporter Michelle Millholon.

The upside is that educators will get the money they are due. The downside is that Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin apparently believes that, since these professionals aren't in a classroom, they don't have an impact on student achievement.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Race to the Top rules becoming clearer: less emphasis on test scores and charter schools

Reacting to suggestions from teacher unions, the U.S. Department of Education has modified the teacher effectiveness requirements in the Race to the Top competition. Instead of centering on test scores, RTTT is asking competitors to include "multiple measures" of teacher effectiveness. Student achievement remains a "significant part" of the evaluation, but can include measurements other than standardized test scores. Education Week's Teacher Beat looks at the teacher requirements here.

Modification of the teacher effectiveness component was enough to get the American Federation of Teachers to give the department kudos for striking "the right balance between what it takes to get systemwide improvement for schools and kids, and how to measure that improvement." AFT's comments on the departments effort are here.

A second major change in the final draft of RTTT rules is a lessened emphasis on charter schools as the main drivers of reform: "While the Department believes that charter schools can be strong partners in school turnaround work, it does not believe that charter schools are the only or preferred solution to turning around struggling schools..."

Still slightly unclear is the role that local school systems will play in the state's ability to win RTTT funds. The Louisiana School Boards Association maintains that local buy-in is necessary for the state to win funding.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, though, seems to believe that local systems' input will be limited to opting out if they disagree with the program's requirements. As this state department press release puts it, "Districts have the option of whether to participate in the state application, and participating districts are not required to volunteer all of their schools."

State applications for the $4.35 billion fund are due on January 19, 2010. There is a lot of money at stake, and numerous stakeholders who need to be satisfied that the funds will be used to really improve education.

As EdWeek's Teacher Beat puts it, "Fasten your seatbelts... "

Friday, November 13, 2009

Power-tripping rep slaps Lafayette board

For the first time since the Louisiana Educational Excellence Fund was started in 1988, a state representative has blocked a local school board's grant application for the funds.

Rep. Rickey Hardey (D-Lafayette) is miffed because the Lafayette Parish School Board didn't consult with him about the $746,000 grant, used to assist at-risk students.

The LEEF money comes from 1988's 8(g) settlement of offshore oil revenues. Under rules established by law, school boards apply to the State Department of education, which vets the applications and recommends funding. The legislative education committees are then supposed to approve the funding.

Until now, that has always been as procedural a move as approving the last meeting's minutes.
But Hardy, who was a member of the Lafayette Parish School Board for 13 years, apparently has deep and longstanding gripes with the board. This week, he used his power as a representative to thump his erstwhile colleagues.

Lafayette Advertiser reporter Tina Marie Macias has the story here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can Louisiana hit the new graduation target?

Last spring, the legislature adopted a new law requiring the state to raise its high school graduation rate from the current 66.6 percent to 80 percent by 2014.

State Sen. Ben Nevers of Bogalusa chairs the Senate Education Committee, and he says the goal is attainable. State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek says ti will be "difficult" to hit that target.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell covers the exchange in this story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kennedy and Pastorek clash on vouchers

State Treasurer John Kennedy burnishes his right-wing credentials, and says Louisiana should pour more money into voucher schemes that siphon funds away from public education to pay the tuition of students at religious schools.

Interestingly, his comments come at a meeting of the streamlining commission. Its function is to find ways to make government less expensive, not to spend more money on non-public education.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek responds, defending the progress of public schools and noting that there is no evidence that vouchers improve student achievement.

Gannett reporter Mike Hasten has the story here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Virtual school committee bickers over makeup

Are online charter schools the heralds of a new era in public education, or a scam to fleece local school boards out of per-pupil money while promising students they can earn that high school diploma without taking off their jammies?

A Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committee might resolve that issue, but not before members stop bickering about the makeup of the committee.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, some committee members are complaining that the panel is "too narrow and not what the board envisioned."

If these preliminaries are any indication, the real fight over virtual charter schools ought to be a humdinger.

The ultimate question is a serious one. Should we really encourage charter schools in which children from all over the state log onto their computers for classes, with no need to ever meet with other students?

And should local school boards be forced to turn over 100% of per-pupil funding for schools that exist only in cyberspace, and that don't require transportation, classrooms, libraries, gyms, athletic facilities or administrative offices?

It looks like there could be a big profit margin there for the operators of these virtual schools. The committee should stop bickering and start investigating.

How the career diploma can work

There's been a lot of huffing and puffing about how the new career diploma will dumb down education. But if it works right, career education can save kids in danger of dropping out and put them on the path toward rewarding and fulfilling occupations.

That's the hopeful note sounded in this article by Associated Press reporter Doug Simpson.

As one mother of a high school junior who is taking a small engine repair course puts it, "College is my plan for him. But I'm glad that he'll have skills, that he'll be ready for the work force, if he doesn't go to college. This is not dumbed-down school, it's not easier. It'll just be different, more practical."

Speaking of practical, the reporter observes a student in a welding class who is learning, along with the metalworking skill, how to calculate angles, estimate costs, and write invoices and estimates.

These are the same academic skills the student would be learning in a traditional classroom, but with real-world applications that shift education from the abstract and toward the concrete. It might not be what all students crave, but certainly could be part of a healthy diversity in the way we approach raising our state's dismal dropout rate.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stakeholders wrangle over Race to the Top funds

Wrangling over Louisiana's participation in a planned $4.5 billion federal education program called Race to the Top continues as local school boards and State Supertinendent of Education Paul Pastorek vie to see who will decide how the state's share will be spent.

The stakes are high, as Gannett reporter Mike Hasten writes here. About 130 schools across the state could get up to $500,000 per year for four years under a plan favored by Pastorek.

Not so fast, say the school boards, represented by Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Nolton Senegal. The LSBA is concerned about ongoing costs of new programs once the federal funds run out.

Sources say the LSBA is on the verge of recommending against local school boards applying for any of the funds. If that happens, Pastorek says, he is willing to divert all of the money to the state-run Recovery School District.

Unions like LFT also have a part to play in the application process; the federal guidelines suggest that all stakeholders should agree on how the money would be spent. LFT President Steve Monaghan says the union is not opposed to accepting the money, but wants to be sure that it is not used to undermine traditional public education:

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the
final federal guidelines will dictate how his organization will react, "but no
one wants to stand between kids and cash. We want to make sure the cash goes to

"Right now, we would oppose it if the only turn-around is
reconstitution" of a school, replacing the administration and teachers, Monaghan
said, or if a school in the program has to be a charter school.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pastorek, school boards at loggerheads over Race to the Top

While other states hurry to play catch-up with Louisiana's pace to win federal Race to the Top funds, educators here are saying, "Not so fast!" The dispute now pits State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek against the Louisiana School Boards Association.

In an interview with Advocate reporter Will Sentell, a Louisiana School Boards Association spokesperson says that most local school leaders around the state don't want a piece of the $4 billion federal pie.

Various organizations, including the LFT, have expressed concern about mandates that will come with the new federal funds. Those include a major expansion of charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student progress as measured by test scores.

Speaking on behalf of LSBA, consultant Don Whittinghill says that Race to the Top will mandate new programs that will require significant funding when the federal money runs out after four years.

According to the article, LSBA polled its 658 members about accepting Race to the Top funds. Of the approximately 100 who replied, 77% said they oppose taking Race to the Top funds.

In a press release, Pastorek urges LSBA to "not dismiss this unprecedented opportunity," which would grant about $2 million to some 130 schools across the state.

Pastorek's press release states, "We are convinced that Louisiana’s public education system can clearly benefit from Race to the Top, enabling us to effectively support schools, and at the same time, build the institutional structure to continue statewide school improvement beyond the life of the grant."

LSBA Executive Director Nolton Senegal issued a press release affirming his opposition to “mortgaging the future of local public schools for an experimental program that is not based upon any significant body of research.”

Pastorek: state needs policy on foreign teacher recruiters

Responding to the scandalous treatment of Filipino teachers by the firm that recruited them to work in Louisiana, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek now says the state should have a policy governing the use of such recruiters.

As reporter Karina Donica writes here for the Alexandria Town Talk, several local school districts and the state Recovery School District have hired upwards of 300 Filipino teachers through a company called Universal Placement International. These districts, she writes, "could be facing significant penalties if it's found the firm broke federal law."

In the Town Talk report, Pastorek tells the reporter that the state has also recruited teachers from Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France and Canada. Those teachers have been hired through international trade agreements, and not through recruiters like Universal Placement.

Universal and its president, Lourdes Navarro, are the subjects of official complaints filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers.

To see a complete list of EdLog entries about the Filipino teachers and the story of their abuse, please click here.

Add "Bridging Differences" to your reading list

Bridging Differences is an ongoing discussion between education researchers Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. It's engaging, insightful and all-around excellent to read.

The two often disagree, but have found common ground in a couple of important issues that are of immediate concern.

They agree that basing teacher salaries on student scores is absurd. As Meier puts it, "Even the most renowned of testing experts argue that we're nowhere near being able to produce tests that can do the job of pay-by-score that folks want. I do wonder at times what 'they' think they are doing?"

Meier also has unkind words for the educational fad du jour, charter schools: "The charter schools have also become I fear another name for vouchers. Operated by private chains with public funding, they offer a kind of distorted marketplace, controlled by test scores standing in for profits. Thus, they kill two birds with one stone: public education and human judgment."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Will there be winners in Race to the Top?

A lot of education money will be flowing to the states when the federal Race to the Top program kicks in later this year. As Times Picayune reporter Sarah Carr notes here, and Advocate reporter Will Sentell notes here, Louisiana stands to win a big share of the fund.

Conventional wisdom says that you should never turn down money for education. But we need to understand how the money will be used and determine if those uses are in the best interests of our schools and our children.

EdLog has covered the Race to the Top since it was first announced last summer. Click here to see the whole string of RTTT entries.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

USA Today slams Filipino teacher recruiter and local school officials

USA Today reporter Greg Toppo and Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez collaborate in this story to bring readers the most complete account to date of the ordeal faced by Filipino teachers in thrall to an unscrupulous recruiter.

They are among the first reporters to get an interview with one of the teachers, who have been reticent because they fear retribution from Lourdes Navarro, the notoriously litigious recruiter at the heart of the scandal.

Navarro declined to be interviewed for this story, as she has for all the others that appeared after LFT filed complaints with the Louisiana Attorney General and Workforce Commission.

Aside from the personal interest angle documenting the trauma experienced by the Filipino teachers, Toppo and Fernandez explore the possibility that some Louisiana school officials were complicit in Navarro's scheme:

If they violated state or federal labor laws, the districts could face
substantial penalties: Federal law says they could be on the hook for millions
in fees. Already, the Caddo Parish school district in northwestern Louisiana has
agreed to pay $1,660 to each of the district's 43 teachers recruited by
Universal — and has reserved $400,000 for "reimbursement for any potential
claims sustained" by teachers.

Clearly, this will not be the last story about the unfolding scandal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bad data interpretations make bad policy

A bad interpretation of an LSU study makes for a poor conclusion in this article by Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr.

Most of the article is about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's unabashed praise for Louisiana's "value added" analysis of student achievement. The model, according to the article, "links the success of educators in the classroom to their teacher preparation program."

There are arguments to be made for and against the value-added model, but that's grist for another mill (although it's a shame that the article uncritically accepts Duncan's premise). Where this article really fails is in its assertion that "novice Louisiana teachers trained through an alternative program called The New Teacher Project on average outperformed experienced teachers in helping their students progress in math, reading and language arts."

If true, that bolsters arguments that teachers don't really need the specialized training provided in schools of education, and that it is not educationally sound to reward teachers for earning advanced degrees.

But the data reported in the article don't really support that conclusion.

The comment is based on a study that LSU did on graduates of The New Teacher Project, which puts prospective teachers on a fast track to certification. Most of Louisiana's Teach for America participants have been certified through a TNTP-like program called the Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Program.

But the problem, as this AFT critique of the study shows, is that the TNTP teachers surveyed in the study were not novices at all, but were in fact veterans of at least two years in the classroom:

This is a critical detail. This means that the TNTP teachers who were labeled
new teachers” were usually third- and fourth-year teachers. They should not
have been considered “new” because they already had been working in the
classroom for roughly two years while they were completing their 18-month
certification program. For this reason, comparisons to other new teachers in
Louisiana are not valid.

The point is that TNTP teachers are not necessarily more effective because of their training, but because of their classroom experience. It's simply wrong to draw conclusions about the relative worth of experience or degrees from this LSU study.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Charter schools = unfunded mandates?

The Louisiana Legislature seems to have no problem holding two contradictory positions at the same time.

On one hand, lawmakers recently condemned "unfunded mandates" - requirements that local governments pick up the tab for programs required by the state.

But on the other hand, the legislature adopted a law that forces local school boards to pay for charter schools approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education once the local denies the charter application.

School superintendents are launching a campaign against this particular unfunded mandate, as Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere writes here.

It's going to be a hot issue, especially now that statewide "virtual" charter schools loom on the horizon.

The Race to the Top, Microsoft connection

Does Microsoft founder Bill Gates exercise too much influence over U.S. education policy simply because of the millions he is able to spread around? And does that influence fly in the face of what experts know to be the right path to education reform?

This article by Associated Press reporters Libby Quaid and Donna Blankinship raises those questions, saying that Gates' foundation "is taking unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools."

If teachers wonder why the federal Race to the Top program is heavily slanted toward charter schools and teacher evaluations based on student test scores, they need look no farther than Gates. Two of his former employees are inner circle advisers to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and have received special ethics waivers so they may continue their close association with Gates' foundation.

LFT is asking for teachers' opinions of the Race to the Top program. Please click here to answer a short survey about the issues.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Next shoe drops in Filipino teacher scandal

Adding to the troubles faced by Filipino teacher recruiter Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, the American Federation of Teachers has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. The complaint alleges that Navarro's company, Universal Placement International, violated federal laws when it exploited, intimidated and threatened the teachers.

The federal complaint follows closely on the heels of charges filed with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and Attorney General, alleging that Navarro violated state laws when she recruited over 200 Filipino teachers to work in school districts across the state.

The AFT complaint, at 141 pages long, includes allegations that some Louisiana school districts "submitted false statements to exceed the cap for work visas," according to this article by Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez.

AFT President Randi Weingarten pledged the union's support for the aggrieved Filipino teachers, saying "The allegations, backed by the facts, show these teachers to be victims of worker abuses like the ones in our students' history books: indentured servitude, debt bondage and labor contracts signed under duress. at makes these allegations especially heinous is that the victims are good teachers, that school districts and tax dollars are involved, and that all this is taking place in 21st-century America."

To read more, please click here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Times-Picayune: Let retirees eat cake

It's two months until; Christmas, but the Grinch is already at work at the Times-Picayune. In this editorial, the state's largest newspaper fulminates against public employee retirement pensions as "reckless and unsustainable."

They are not reckless, but come from a carefully devised formula based on an employee's earnings and years of service. And they have been sustainable for generations, surviving even the most recent stock market crash without plunging Louisiana into the bankruptcy predicted by critics.

True, the state is obligated to pony up if there is a shortfall, but that is what any decent employer ought to do in defense of those who spent their working lives on its behalf.

But in siding with Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, the TP is adopting a "let them eat cake" attitude befitting its Brahman heritage.

LFT President Steve Monaghan has responded to the editorial with this letter:

Dear Editor:

The Times-Picayune and Rep. Jim Tucker couldn't have picked a worse time to endorse a scheme that would subject retired state employees, including teachers, to the not-so-tender mercies of the marketplace.

While millions of Americans saw their retirement hopes shrivel along with their 401(k), individuals fortunate enough to have a defined benefit plan – a genuine pension – were spared financial devastation. Rep. Tucker’s plan would eliminate retirement security for future teachers and other public employees and make them targets for the next Ponzi scheme.

The Times-Picayune acknowledges the sad fact that far too many Louisiana workers have little or have no retirement plan. But rather than demanding fair pensions for all workers, the newspaper supports the Tucker proposal.

Here is the flawed logic implicit in the first sentence of your October 20 editorial: If many Louisianans do not have sustainable pensions, then none should. The Times-Picayune and the Speaker of the House are endorsing a great race to the bottom, and seem to be comfortable with a world in which only the privileged few can expect a sustainable post-employment future.

On behalf of the teachers and school employees we represent, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers rejects that vision of the future. We believe that after a lifetime of work, all employees deserve the security of a fair, guaranteed pension. No American's retirement security should be subject to the vagaries of the stock market or the manipulations of a few unscrupulous insiders.

We hope that Speaker Tucker and the Times Picayune rethink their position, and join in a greater struggle for fair, decent retirement security for all workers.

Sincerely yours,
Steve Monaghan, President
Louisiana Federation of Teachers

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The Pauls" blasted over slow RSD achievement growth

Orleans Parish School Board member Thomas Robichaux levels some pretty damning accusations at the state Recovery School District in this blog post. And he has some evidence to back it all up.

Robichaux begins by pointing out that the much-touted RSD is improving schools at a slower clip than the much-maligned Orleans Parish School Board. Even though the RSD spends nearly twice as much per student as the parish school board, it "is achieving one-fourth the result."

The school board member lists three reasons why RSD achievement is disappointing: RSD's "shell game" opens, closes and shuffles schools around too much; the masterminds behind RSD are too intent on taking over schools and changing the state's "governance paradigm in education," and not concerned enough with real, meaningful reform; and there is in RSD "a disregard for experienced educators, favoring less expensive, and less experienced, younger teachers."

The devastating conclusion reached by Robichaux is this:

While the Pauls (LA Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and RSD
Superintendent Paul Vallas) are busy letting out hundreds of millions of dollars
in contracts and giving power and authority to their friends and political
allies, they have not come up with a comprehensive plan to break the cycle of
bad education that we have had in this state and city for 50 years. In
short, the Pauls are doing just like so many other politicians have before them:
working to consolidate their own power (or that of their friends) and ignoring
the real problem of education.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Experts say retirement changes would cost the state

If Speaker of the House Jim Tucker was expecting overwhelming support for his scheme to put public employee retirement at the mercy of the marketplace, he might have been disappointed by the result of the first hearing on the subject.

The emerging consensus seems to be that changing state retirement systems to a defined contribution plan would cost more than the current defined benefit plan, according to experts cited in this story by Advocate reporter Sarah Chacko.

Opinions vary on why Tucker is so bent on taking away one of the good things about public service in Louisiana - the promise of a retirement plan that is not subject to the whims of the stock market.

Whether his zeal is out of disdain for the people who work in public positions - including teachers and school support staff - or it is out of allegiance to the private fund managers who stand to be the real winners in a defined contribution plan, or even out of a misguided belief that his idea would truly be good for the state, one thing is certain. His plan would not be in the best interest of the people who've made public service their life's work.

Is Race to the Top a bum's rush with no basis in research?

Before U.S. Secretary if Education Arne Duncan and our own Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek wax too enthusiastic about the charter schools and merit pay that comprise too much of the federal Race to the Top plan, they should read this article in Education Week (free registration required).

The main thrust of the article is that, for leaders who pride themselves on basing programs on facts and research, Race to the Top comes up short on both counts:

“What is extraordinary about these regulations is that they have no credible
basis in research. They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by
the people in power,” writes Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New
York University, in her blog, Bridging
, which is hosted by

Ravitch and several other experts quoted in the article all agree that "two priorities at the heart of the program...lack research evidence: evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores and promoting the growth of charter schools."

Before Louisiana's schools get hustled into yet another bureaucratic bum's rush, shouldn't we ask the intelligent questions, and then base policy on real research and data?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Committees study retirement "reform"

If you like the way the stock market tanked in the past couple of years, you'll love Speaker of the House Jim Tucker's ideas about changing the state's public employee retirement systems.

During the last legislative session, Tucker passed a resolution calling for a study of defined contribution retirement systems versus the defined benefit systems now enjoyed by state employees, including teachers and school support staff.

Under the current system, retirees get a pension based on their income and years of service. A defined contribution plan would put retirement income at the mercy of the stock market. Purveyors of 401k and other retirement plans strongly support the defined contribution option.

As this article by Advocate reporter Sarah Chacko notes, Tucker's plan would go into effect next year, and would affect newly hired teachers and other public employees.

Today, a joint meeting of the House and Senate Retirement Committees began the study required by Tucker's resolution.

Contented Disheartened Idealists

American teachers can be divided into groups broadly defined as Disheartened, Contented and Idealists, according to a new survey conducted by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates.

This EdWeek article by reporter Andrew L. Yarrow describes the study as "a comprehensive and nuanced look at how teachers differ in their perspectives on their profession, why they entered teaching, the atmosphere and leadership in their schools, the problems they face, their students and student outcomes, and ideas for reform."

The study, called "Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today," is based on interviews with nearly 900 teachers, who were asked about 100 questions.

The plurality of teachers described as disheartened characterize their jobs as “so demanding, it’s a wonder that more people don’t burn out.”

Those identified as contented say that “teaching is exactly what I wanted to do.” The study says they are most likely to be veterans who believe they have adequate time to prepare lesson plans, and teach in middle-income or affluent schools.

The study reports that idealists have "the strongest sense of mission about teaching." They believe that, given good teachers, all students can learn. A majority think that all their students "given the right support, can go to college."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pastorek and Union Parish head to court October 29

A court date has been set to determine whether or not Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and his Department of Education can hand over some of Union Parish's education funds to a charter school.

The federal suit was born last summer, when Pastorek admitted that he goofed in not informing Union Parish officials that the D'Arbonne Woods Charter School would be on a meeting agenda, and that the result could be the taking of parish money to fund the school.

If Pastorek prevails on October 29 and the district must hand over some $500,00 to the charter school, the Union Parish School Board will have to consider shutting down some programs or closing schools, according to this article by Monroe News-Star reporter Barbara Leader.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Most school districts show improvements in state scores

The Department of Education today released state, district and school performance scores for 2009. Statewide school improvement scores are somewhat short of the goal set 10 years ago, but still show marked improvement over past years.

In 1999, the arbitrary goal set by education leaders for this year was 100; this year's composite score came in at 91. In the first year that scores were kept, the state goal reached just 69.4. Last year's score was 86.3, so there has been an upward trend since the beginning.

The top five districts were the Zachary Community School District (116.8), West Feliciana Parish (110.9), St. Tammany Parish (109.6), Ascension Parish (105.9) and Central Community Schools (105.8).

Coming in dead last was the State Recovery School District, with a District Performance Score of 54. At that, the RSD showed a 2.4 point growth over the previous year.

All but three districts showed improvement this year; in 2008, 13 districts did not improve over the year before.

For a complete rundown of district and school performance sores, please click here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some teachers in state not certified

Houma Courier reporter Daniel McBride schools readers on teacher certification in Terrebonne Parish for this article. Statewide, he writes, about seven percent of teachers are not properly certified; in Terrebonne, that figure rises to 10 percent.

Friday, October 9, 2009

EdWeek: Experts worry about Race to Top

The U.S. Department of Education should tread lightly in the way it connects test scores, teacher evaluations and compensation to the $4 billion Race to the Top initiative. That's the opinion of the Board on Teaching and Assessment, which is part of the National Research Council.

As Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell puts it in this article, the testing experts believe the Department of Education should examine "multiple indicators of what students know and can do" instead of focusing narrowly on a single high-stakes test.

LFT has already sent its concerns to the Department of Education about the $4 billion Race to the Top program, and has notified members about the problems we see. We'd like to know what you think - click here to take a short survey about the Race to the Top program.

Pastorek: I know noth-eeeng...

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek does his best Sgt. Schultz impression for this story, telling Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez that he didn't know his office had cancelled a contract with a recruiter of Filipino teachers.

Also in The Times - which has covered the Filipino story better than any other news outlet in the state - is an editorial reminding us that the Filipino teachers are victims, and that their qualoifications and abilities should not be tainetd by the scandal.

Many of the Filipino teachers are members of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. We filed the complaints on their behalf because that is what we do. It is who we are. We exist to represent teachers and school employees, and we do it better than anyone else.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Louisiana is the least brain-healthy state

This could explain a lot. U.S. News and World Report writer Zach Miners has a report on a new study that ranks Louisiana dead last in an Index of Brain Health.

Caddo looks at foreign teacher policy - what about the others?

The Caddo Parish School Board is working on a policy to control the district's relations with third-party recruiters such as Universal Placement International, the source of an ongoing scandal involving Filipino teachers.

As Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez writes here, the Caddo board already has a first draft of a policy that "would require that administrators submit documents to support their recommendation of a particular recruiter or recruiting company."

When will other school boards involved in the scandal - East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, the State Recovery School District and others - take action to avoid future problems?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Watch the LFT's Filipino teacher press conference

There is now a video online to view the LFT's press conference about Universal Placement International and the plight of Filipino teachers who were recruited by the company.

Please click here to watch the video.

Editorials condemn Filipino recruiter, demand action

Demand is mounting for full-scale investigations of the abuses perpetrated by Filipino teacher recruiter Lourdes Navarro and her company, Universal Placement International.

From the Shreveport Times:

Solving our teacher shortages is critical if we are to ensure the best education
for our children. But what was once viewed as a resourceful answer to filling
these gaps has now become a huge embarrassment. It deserves now a full
investigation. And wherever fault lies, let's hope hard lessons have been

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Filipino workers have helped fill a shortage of teachers after Hurricane
Katrina, and the exploitation they allege should be intolerable. If the
accusations are true, officials need to stop this abuse before more foreign
workers are victims of it.

This is a story that won't be disappearing from the news any time soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vallas: Filipino recruiter should be prosecuted

The superintendent of the state Recovery School District says the RSD has severed its connection with the company that recruited Filipino teachers to work in Louisiana.

Paul Vallas told WWL-TV reporter Paul Murphy for this story that Universal Placement International and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, were awarded a $47,500 contract to recruit Filipino teachers for hard-to-staff positions in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"We weren't comfortable using a for profit company to help us recruit teachers," Vallas told the reporter. "So, after that summer, we had no further use for them."

Vallas told Murphy that he believes the Filipino teachers should sue the recruiter to recover their losses, and that criminal charges should be filed against Navarro.

Board member's shocking, cruel reaction

"If they've got buyer's remorse and don't like what they have, then they can go back."
-Caddo Parish School Board member Barry Rachal

So here we have a what seems to be a clear-cut case of illegal activity: an unlicensed recruiter scams hundreds of Filipino teachers out of thousands of dollars, and keeps those teachers in what amounts to servitude.

And what does Caddo Parish School Board member Barry Rachal have to say about the victims?

"They signed an agreement, a contract," he told Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez for this article, "and they were all thrilled to death to have a job in America and now they want to gripe about it. If they've got buyer's remorse and don't like what they have, then they can go back."

Except some of them can't go back, even for the Christmas holidays, because the recruiter is holding their work visas until the teachers cough up the vigorish they owe.

Rachal's comment might sound shocking and cruel, but it is also a symptom of what's wrong with American capitalism these days. If it's in the contract, it's OK. Whether or not the contract is with a corporation that operates legally, whether or not it violates principles of human dignity, whether or not any public agency has properly investigated the contract.

Get out of the way of business, and let business do what it wants. If people get hurt, so what. As Rachal puts it, "...sounds like they (the teachers) are not honoring their agreement."

That is the common thread running through the health care industry and the securities market that nearly brought us to financial collapse and the human trafficking at the core of our so-called immigration problem. Without regulation, oversight and prosecution of abuses, an unfettered "free market" can be very wicked indeed.

As any sports fan can tell you, all games need rules, referees and penalties. Otherwise chaos reigns. That's what happening in the case of these Filipino teachers. Politicians who can't see that are likely part of the problem.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Outrageous, offensive abuse of Filipino teachers

(From left, AFT Attorney Daniel McNeil, LFT President Steve Monaghan and East Baton Rouge Federation President Carnell Washington discuss allegations against foreign teacher recruiter Universal Placement International)

"Disgusting and an affront to basic American values." That's how LFT President Steve Monaghan characterizes the treatment of Filipino nationals teaching in Louisiana. The villain in this case is the recruiting agency that extracts huge fees from teachers in The Philippines, and continues to drain their paychecks after they are hired by Louisiana school systems.

(Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch, left, and United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter explain how Filipino teachers recruited by Universal Placement International are faring in their local school systems.)
The charges involve multiple violations of state and federal laws. Attorneys for AFT and LFT said the union is asking that the teachers’ contracts with the California-based recruiter be voided, and that the recruiter be criminally prosecuted under state law.
Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, the president of recruiting firm Universal Placement International, is a convicted felon who has served jail time in California and was also convicted of crimes in New Jersey. After treating some Louisiana school officials to Philippine Island junkets, she was allowed to recruit more than 200 teachers for Louisiana schools.
Each teacher recruited to work in Louisiana was charged about $15,000 by Navarro to obtain a job, and was then required to sign over 10 percent of the monthly salary to UPI for two years. The total amounted to some 37% of the teachers’ salary.

Teachers who could not afford to pay the fees up front were directed to loan companies by Navarro, and were charged exorbitant interest rates.
The story, revealed by LFT at press conferences in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is available on the Federation Web site.
LFT's revelations were widely reported by the news media, including this story by Advocate reporter Will Sentell; this one by New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr; and this story by Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez.
Video reports are available here from WAFB in Baton Rouge; here on WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge;
here on WDSU-TV in New Orleans.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New law targets "improper communication"

Does the threat of "improper communication" between teachers and their students justify the kind of state law discussed in this article by Houma Courier reporter Daniel McBride?

For the record, it is already illegal for teachers to have improper relations of the sort this new law implies. But it's always good politics for lawmakers to demand new laws whenever teachers make the news over abusing their authority over youngsters.

Given the spate of legislative proposals aimed at teachers over the past couple of years, it does seem teachers are being singled out as prospective abusers. We haven't seen similar legislative remedies aimed at other occupations that have contact with children.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not quite right at The Advocate

The first paragraph in this story by Advocate reporter Will Sentell doesn't get it quite right, although the rest of the article accurately portrays LFT's response to the report that a consultant recently gave the Blue Ribbon Commission studying teacher pay.

That consultant suggested cutting the teacher salary schedule by 10 percent, and claimed that teachers' advanced degrees and years of classroom experience don't improve student achievement.

The reporter's error is in equating our opposition to pay cuts to opposing supplements for teachers who take on additional tasks or agree to work in especially challenged schools. That's a distinction LFT simply has not made. Additional pay for such work can be a good idea, provided teachers have a voice in creating the plan.

Our beef was with consultants who claim that a) teachers stagnate after five years and b) there is no value in advanced degrees.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tulane institute is charter school hotbed

In yet another report about the charter school experiment in New Orleans, USA Today reporter Rick Jervis spotlights Tulane University President Scott Cowen as a "leader of the redesign of the city's public schools."

"We're going through a cultural transformation right now," Cowen is quoted as saying. "I think we're on the road to a much better system of schools than we ever had before the storm."

The story tromps over some old ground, noting how troubled the city's school system was before Hurricane Katrina. It begins with a very positive portrayal of one charter school. But it then veers away from the standard meme and characterizes the city's public schools as "a perplexing network difficult for parents to decipher, particularly those still struggling to return to their homes post-Katrina..."

Jervis reports on one family's problems with the system - their children have attended five schools in the past two years. Says the parent, "They were straight-A students. Now they're struggling. It's a new set of friends, a new group of teachers, a new set of hallways. Children can't learn like that."

Cowen admits to the reporter that the system can be confusing, and says, "We ultimately have to figure out what's the right governance model for the entire system of schools."

Here's what's NOT in the USA Today story. Cowen isn't just the president of Tulane University, he also runs the Cowen Institute for Education Initiatives, which was established "to lead the systemic reformation and transformation of the public education system," according to its Web site.

The Cowen Institute is much more than a cheerleader for public education reform, it's home base for a number of proposed charter schools in the city. Sharing a street address (200 N. Broadway, Ste. 108) with the Cowen Institute are New Schools for New Orleans, Inc., Firstline School, Arise Academy, Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School, Pride College Preparatory Academy, Success Preparatory Academy, Xanadu College Preparatory Academy, Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business and Sojourner Truth Academy.

Two of those schools, New Schools of New Orleans, Inc. and Firstline School, are represented by Stephen Rosenthal, brother of former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, an early and ardent supporter of charter schools.

AFT not in lockstep with Obama on education

Citing serious concerns with the proposed federal Race to the Top program, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten characterizes RTTT as "little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago " by President George Bush, according to this article by Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson.

Says Weingarten, "It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement. That's Bush III."

The AFT endorsed President Obama in the 2008 campaign, and has praised the president for his support of public education. But support does not mean subservience, and the Federation will stick to core principles regardless of who is in the White House.

To the Post reporter, Weingarten says the union is in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the Obama administration.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teachers don't like linking pay to student test scores

ASCD, a professional education leadership organization, posted a back-to-school survey on teacher opinions about education issues.

The report that over half of teachers do not believe it is fair to link teacher pay to student test scores; better than 50% of teachers support the idea of national curriculum standards; and over 40% believe that "pressure on students and teachers to improve test results" is the biggest obstacle they face going into the new school year.

The survey results are posted here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boston study: charters push out low-performing students

Do some charter schools appear to outperform traditional public schools because they slough off lower performing students? A new study from Boston implies that is the case.

In this story, Boston Globe reporter James Vaznis writes that the study gives credence to the supposition that "...charter schools systematically push out academically weak students in an effort to boost their college acceptance rates and MCAS (standardized state test) scores."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Smell test: proposed contract not up to sniff

Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek's former law firm will have to wait a bit longer to see if it will get some $650,000 in state contracts, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

A bevy of officials, including legislators and members of the state education board, complained that a no-bid contract about to be awarded to the Adams and Reese law firm did not pass what one member called the "smell test."

The contracts in question involve the state Recovery School District in New Orleans. One of them, for $500,000, is to help the RSD "obtain construction funds through state and federal tax credit programs."

Another contract, for $125,000, is for legal advice associated with construction.

As a rule, no-bid contracts can be awarded if only one vendor is capable of providing the requested services. Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education say there are probably firms other than Adams and Reese capable of doing the work.

RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas told Sentell that bids will be sought for the work, and that the three best proposals will be submitted to the BESE.

Those bids could be considered in November. Adams and Reese will also probably be under scrutiny at the October BESE meeting - the firm represents Louisiana Connections Academy, a "virtual school" that is attempting to become the first statewide charter school to operate almost exclusively on the Internet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Monaghan defends public education at luncheon

LFT President Steve Monaghan, at lectern, represented public education on a panel for the Baton Rouge League of Women Voters. Other panelists spoke on behalf of parents, school boards, charter, private and religious schools.

LFT President Steve Monaghan defended public education as vital to the future of America at a recent meeting of the Baton Rouge League of Women Voters.

“If we want to save democracy in our country, we need to pay attention to where 88 percent of the children in our country get their education,” he said, “and that’s in public schools."

Sitting on a panel that represented the gamut of education choices from religious schools to home schooling, Monaghan said that public school is the only choice in which “every child is welcome, every child is received, and every child deserves the best education possible.”

Speaking after an advocate for religious school vouchers, Monaghan said studies show that children who attend private or religious schools on vouchers are not more successful than their public school peers.

“The private schools that accept voucher students are not the exclusive, expensive schools in the popular imagination,” he said. “They are schools on par with the public schools they compete against.”

“We all have choices about where we want our children to be educated,” Monaghan said. “The issue is who pays for the choice.

“We do not believe the public should pay for private school choice,” he said.
Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere covered the League luncheon for this story.

BESE clamps down on unexcused absences

Students will have to spend more time in class or face the prospect of failing a class, according to new rules adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday.

Teachers are supportive of the change, LFT President Steve Monaghan told Gannett reporter Mike Hasten for this story.

"The fact that we're asking students to be in school is very reasonable," said Monaghan. "If a child is to learn, that child needs to be in school."

Students are expected to be in school a minimum of 360 minutes per day, or 63,720 minutes per year. Under old rules, a student could have unexcused absences that add up to 15 days worth of minutes before suffering any consequences. The new rules reduce that to 10 days worth of minutes, or six percent of their instructional time.

RSD chief says schools will return to district control

In a meeting with the superintendent of the state Recovery School District, members of the Baton Rouge School Board made it clear that they want schools taken over by the state to be returned to the local system.

Shirl Gilbert responded, “I’m telling you we’re going to turn these schools around, and when we give them back, they will be better off than they were before.”

Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere has the story here.