Friday, April 3, 2009

A tale of two commissions

Most people are probably not even aware that Louisiana has one commission called the Blue Ribbon Commission for Education Excellence, and another one called the Accountability Commission. They have no power to make law or set policy, but they are factories for ideas that can eventually become part of the state’s education laws and policies.

The two commissions don’t always know what the other is up to, and since the news media rarely cover meetings of either one, the public is usually unaware of their activities.

A lot of mischief can be achieved in the dark.

Recently, the Blue Ribbon Commission decided to apply for a $25,000 grant from the National Governor’s Association to fund the search for a “new model for teacher compensation.” The Department of Education will kick in another $25,000 to complete funding for a seven-member research team. Part of the charge to the team will be to develop "policies or identify laws that need to be added or changed and present them to the boards and/or governor."

By May of 2010, this new model will be presented at a joint meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, by the way, no longer includes members from any of the state’s professional teacher organizations. We can expect little, if any, input from classroom professionals in the creation of this “new model for teacher compensation.”

And just what sort of new model might be envisioned by the project?

This is where one of the budget items in the Department of Education’s consultant wish list comes into play. Superintendent of Education Paul; Pastorek wants to spend $580,000 on exploring the frontier of “Value Added Assessments.”

That’s code for paying teachers based on how their students perform on standardized tests.

Which brings us to the other commission, the Accountability Commission. This one does include representatives of the teacher organizations. The Accountability Commission members have been asked to recommend “growth models” and “value added assessments.”

But the Accountability Commission was not aware of the Department of Education’s request for a $580,000 consultancy fee to find the same information.

And where to all these seemingly unconnected threads of story weave together? Check out the editorial in today’s Advocate. As far as the capital city’s newspaper of record is concerned, the fight over basing teacher pay on test scores is over, and test scores have won: “The reality,” says the editor, “is that an anti-testing agenda, from unions or others in education, is dead.”

Well, as Mark Twain once famously observed, “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

No comments: