Friday, January 30, 2009

Bogus study gets it wrong on teacher retention

A new report says that Louisiana is falling down in efforts to attract and retain high quality teachers. While that conclusion is correct (and you could say the C-minus given the state is overly generous), the report's approach and recommendations are flawed and border on laughable.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the Washington, D.C. based National Council on Teacher Quality ripped Louisiana in a report entitled "What States Can Do to Retain Effective New Teachers."

Unfortunately, the report bears little resemblance to the reality of life in the classroom.

As LFT President Steve Monaghan told Sentell, "he would give Louisiana no better than a 'D minus' for teacher retention but not for the reasons cited by the Washington group."

Apparently, the group's research did not involve asking teachers about their classroom experience. The report centers on issues that have little to do with retaining teachers, and in fact is little more than a regurgitation of familiar right-wing attacks on teachers: take away their tenure, give them merit pay and privatize their retirement system.

These are the things that will keep teachers in the classroom?

Last spring, the LFT surveyed teachers about reasons why they would leave the profession. Not one of the issues mentioned by teachers matched the ones in the NCTQ report.

And nothing in the NCTQ report matched the answers given by real teachers.

Real teachers said they are frustrated by learning conditions in our schools, a lack of resources provided for our teachers, disciplinary problems and a dearth of parental involvement with their children’s education.

The attraction and retention of teachers is a an issue that deserves better than the patently ideological claptrap in the NCTQ report. As the American Federation of Teachers put it in this press release, "We are disappointed that a group calling itself the National Center on Teacher Quality would overlook so many of these crucial elements that make teaching and learning work."

To see what a serious approach to the issue of teacher retention looks like, please click here.

LSU and Southern faculty leaders fight budget cuts

To their great credit, faculty leaders at Louisiana universities are fighting the budget cuts proposed by Governor Bobby Jindal. As Advocate reporter Jordan Blum writes here, LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope and Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi are protesting teh goverbnor's plan to cut between $212 million and $382 million from higher education's budget this year.

LFT President Steve Monaghan agrees with the profesors, saying the state's failure to properly fund eduation at all levels contributes to our loss of productive citizens moving in droves to other states;

Here is the text of Steve's letter:

Dear Editor

Louisiana State University Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope and Southern University Sudhir Trivedi are to be applauded for their leadership in opposition to devastating cuts to higher education.

Their outrage is not unwarranted, particularly when one considers these cuts in the context of the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, tax deductions, and credits that have been provided for dubious purposes and often with little demonstrated need over the last few years.

While Louisiana’s coffers swelled as a result of rising oil prices and the infusion of billions of dollars in post-hurricane reconstruction, the LFT warned against the expansion and acceleration of enormous tax breaks for big business. We opposed the repeal of earlier tax reforms that had helped to diversify the state’s revenue base. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions in revenues were forfeited while a very long list of unmet and deferred needs continued to be deferred and unmet.
Professors Cope and Trivedi and the faculties of both institutions are wise to react swiftly and forcefully to possible cuts of $212 to $382 million dollars. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers stands with them in opposition to such draconian cuts to higher education.

In fact, the LFT has urged our governor to articulate a bolder, broader vision for Louisiana, particularly in the area of public education. We believe that this vision must include a recognition that Louisiana continues to suffer an outmigration of its best and brightest because of its historical failure to invest in its people and its infrastructure. Our state failed to embrace public policies that contribute to a higher quality of life for all citizens.

Let us move our public discourse beyond administrative nostrums to “learn to do more with less.” That prescription has led us to ignore pressing needs for far too long. Certainly, every tax dollar must be spent responsibly, strategically, and to build a better Louisiana. But the state must have enough of those dollars to conduct the people’s business.

Leaders must encourage us to dance to forms of music yet to be heard. Educators and many of citizens have heard a sad symphony for far too long. We’re ready to dance to something a bit more upbeat and much bolder.

Steve Monaghan, President
Louisiana Federation of Teachers

Lafayette Advertiser acknowledges bolder, broader approach

The Lafayette Advertiser printed excerpts of LFT President Steve Monaghan's recent op-ed article calling for a bolder, broader approach to public education. Our message is starting to spread! As the legislative session approaches, look for LFT to take a leadership roll opposing education budget cuts and proposing a new vision for our schools and our communities.

Steve's full article is available here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Picayune publishes editorial reply

Last week, the Times-Picayune ran an editorial critical of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers because of our continuing quest for properly resourced schools. Today, LFT President Steve Monaghan's reply is on the editorial page.

Here's a sample:

"We offer no apology for pushing for nationally competitive teacher salaries. Such a commitment has already been made to many of those in top leadership positions, and that commitment is without respect to a 'Southern regional average.'

"During the best of times, teachers had to fight for
funding for their students and fair compensation for themselves. Even during such good times, we could count on some to argue that now was not the time. During these difficult times, we must fight harder for a bolder vision. We owe it to our children, our profession, and to a Louisiana yet to
be born."

LFT President calls for bolder, broader approach to education

This is a condensed version of LFT President Steve Monaghan's most recent LeaderLetter. To read the whole document, please click here.

On December 19, 2008, in anticipation of the daunting fiscal challenges before us, I wrote to Governor Jindal to share the Federation’s grave concerns and to urge that he embrace a bolder, broader vision for the education of all children...

I explained that a bolder, broader vision and approach to public education would compel all stake-holders to work together to secure the funding necessary to deliver that which is eloquently and nobly promoted in the Preamble of Article 8 of the Louisiana State Constitution: “The goal of the public education system is to provide learning environments and experiences, at all stages of human development, that are humane, just, and designed to promote excellence in order that every individual may be afforded an equal opportunity to develop to his full potential.”

As I shared with our governor and I am confident that you will agree: We certainly have not delivered on the promise of our constitution. And, until we do, we should examine every tax break, deduction, exemption, and abatement through an educational prism. We should ask how much each will cost the children of our state in lost opportunity? How much will lost revenues cost all of us in quality of life?

Finally, I concluded my communication to our governor with a critical question that we must ask until it is answered. What would it really cost to provide what Superintendent Pastorek has referred to as a “world-class education?” Until we ascertain that cost, we’ll continue to provide something far less than a world class educational opportunity to most of Louisiana’s children.

In March, Governor Jindal will release his executive budget. It will signal a direction and suggest a vision. On April 27, 2009, a forty-five day legislative fiscal session begins, and so will our fight will be to either support a bolder, broader vision or to present one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reich: Economy needs unions

Economist Robert Reich has a prescription for what ails the American economy: stronger unions that guarantee decent salaries, health insurance coverage and comfortable retirement for the great middle class.

He makes a compelling case, tracing the decline of middle class incomes - our median income is now less than it was in 2000 - to the decline of private sector union membership.

When unions were at their strongest, in the 1950s, even non-union employers had top pay top wages, Reich writes:

In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave
them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the
economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled
over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match
union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.
But that was then, and this is now. With union membership at a record low among private sector workers, the median income of most households is lower than it was in the year 2000. And although many workers would like to unionize now, there are serious roadblocks:

Most of the time, employees who want to form a union are threatened and
intimidated by their employers. And all too often, if they don't heed the
warnings, they're fired, even though that's illegal.
For that reason, and for the sake of the economy, Reich supports the Employee Free Choice Act:

The American middle class isn't looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people
just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to
prosper. Making it easier for all Americans to form unions would give the middle
class the bargaining power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong
and prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Forgotston: State employee rolls increase after hiring freezes

Crusty curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston says the hiring freezes instituted by Gov. Bobby Jindal since he took office are a "snow job."

Two hiring freezes have resulted in a net increase of state employees, Forgotston says. The number of state workers has risen by 4,202, or 4.2% since Jindal took office.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Study: Recess is good

As we try to cram ever more instructional time into the school day, it is refreshing and instructional to see this countervailing point of view, as reported by Michael Conlon of the Reuters news agency.

Studies show that children who get at least 15 minutes of recess during the day exhibit better classroom behavior.

"The available research suggests that recess may play an important role in the
learning, social development, and health of children in elementary school," the
research team said in a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the
American Academy of Pediatrics.

By the way, breaks are a good idea for teachers and school employees, as well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Memo to the T-P: We want more

The Times-Picayune's uptown Brahmin's have their knickers all in a twist because the LFT wants our teachers to be paid as well as any in the nation.

Just wait until they find out what else we want.

Improved school buildings, advanced technology and lower pupil-teacher ratios, for starters, ought to give the editorial writers apoplectic sticker shock. And that's not all.

This year, the Federation will press lawmakers to determine how much we should be spending on public schools. What does it cost to educate our children, to provide each of them with what Superintendent Paul Pastorek refers to as a “world-class education?” Do we have the texts, technology, facilities and personnel that are necessary? What do these components cost?

Once we know that figure, that is what the LFT will ask for. It will probably be a lot.

Just as it was not the fault of the people of New Orleans that substandard levees failed and must be rebuilt at huge cost, it is not the fault of Louisiana's teachers that public education has been shortchanged for years. And it certainly is not our fault that the legislature and Gov. Jindal handed out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax breaks just as oil revenues tanked.

We are not naive enough to believe that the legislature will fund all our requests this year. But we have to ask. We have to ensure that the real needs of our schools, our educators and our children do not fade from the public discourse.

When the huffy potentates of his day asked labor hero Samuel Gompers just what unions wanted, he replied:

“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”

For the teachers and support staff in our schools, for the children they serve, and for the future of our state, we want more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What is average, and is that what we'll settle for?

The discussion about teacher salaries has devolved to this: How much will it take to keep our salaries at the Southern regional average? The easy answer provided by the state's Education Estimating Conference yesterday is, $1,700 each.

But the easy answer is not always the correct one, and statistics are all too manipulable when used to reinforce a predetermined outcome.

Just for starters, the concept of a statewide teacher average salary is bogus. The starting salary for a new teacher in the Zachary school district is almost $43,000; in Union Parish it is closer to $31,000. The fact that they average $37,000 is meaningless.

Then there is the deliberate manipulation of data for political reasons. In this article by Times-Picayune reporter Ed Anderson, a consultant told the conference that if you exclude the salaries paid to teachers in Maryland and Delaware, Louisiana teachers are the fourth-highest paid in the Southern region.

But those states are part of the Southern region. You can just as easily say that if you exclude Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, no one in the State Department of Education makes over $300,00 per year.

The report given to the Education Estimating Conference does not list all the reasons why our teacher salaries have risen in comparison with other states. To begin with, there was a rally on the capitol steps two years ago that opened the way for the first major raise in several years. Without the actions taken by thousands of teachers and school employees, it's doubtful that the current administration could post such a glowing report.

But it is also true that Louisiana has an ageing teacher corps, with many close to the top of their salary schedules. Their steps up the ladder raise the state salary average without any legislative action. As they begin to retire, we will see a drop in the state average as younger, lower paid teachers take their positions.

Finally, we should stop making a fetish out of the Southern region, which is the lowest paid part of our nation. Should we be satisfied that our teacher salaries are in the middle of the lowest paid tier of states?

When the legislative session opens, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will ask lawmakers to take a much bolder, broader view of education than we have in the past. We believe that our teachers should be paid nationally competitive salaries. The state should come up with a long-range plan that will not only get us where we should be, but sustain that level over the long haul.

Otherwise, we will stay in the cycle that requires educators to call off school and make the trek to Baton Rouge every few years for a rally on the capitol steps.

Associated Press reporter Melinda DesLatte covered the conference meeting for this report.

(Sidebar question: Whose bright idea was it to schedule the Education Estimating Conference meeting for 10:00 A.M. Tuesday morning, just as the inauguration festivities were getting underway in Washington?)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The high (paid) and the mighty

Journalism at its best points out contradictions, and Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollen points well in this article about the salaries paid to the highest ranking members of state government.

If you want, skip the first few paragraphs that talk about the $70,000-plus paid to college professors and researchers at facilities like the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Or at least compare their salaries to the earnings of others in their fields around the nation. Louisiana does not stack up well.

The contradictions begin to show when we get to the salaries paid to political appointees close to the governor's office. The well-connected include 20 of the governor's closest aides, who earn more than Bobby Jindal's $130,000 salary, and the 56 people in the Division of Administration who earn more than $100,000.

At the top of the totem pole are folks like Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, whose $319,999 salary is among the highest in the nation, or Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, whose $341,170 tops all others in the South.

When the governor bumped their salaries last year, he said it was because you have to pay the top salaries to get the top people in the posts. That is a concept that does not trickle down to the ranks of educators and other public servants in Louisiana.

As some lawmakers point out in the article, the biggest contradiction is still to come. Because of the current economic crisis, layoffs are under consideration on the lower rungs of the state employment ladder, but none in the rarefied atmosphere of the administration's highest levels.

To see who in state government earns more than $70,00 per year, please click here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unions have a role in rebuilding the middle class

In the past few years, household expenses for average Americans have grown by some $4,600. In the same period, the overall productivity of American workers grew by 20%. But real income actually fell by $2,000.

With those statistics, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern begins to make his argument that labor unions - which once included a large number of American employees but have declined in recent decades - are essential to maintaining the standard of living enjoyed by American workers.

Judging by the responses to his op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, there is a passionate opposition to his argument. But there is little doubt that the middle class has been shafted in recent years, and Stern's arguments may catch on among the American public.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pastorek fires shot over school boards' bow

If the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's meeting room was filled to capacity with angry citizens about this, just wait until hearings begin on Superintendent Paul Pastorek's plan to gut the authority of local school boards.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, a scheme is afoot that would cede most school board members' power to local superintendents, take away the salaries for board members, put limits on their terms of office and establish educational requirements for elected board members.

Each of these issues could be debated on its merits. But taken as a whole, this push will be seen as nothing less than a declaration of war on local school boards by the state superintendent.

As the story develops, it will be interesting to see who takes sides in the fight. The only BESE member interviewed in Sentell's article is Tammie McDaniel of Oak Ridge, who supports Pastorek's initiative. She is one of three members who are appointed by Governor Bobby Jindal, and not elected from a district. That would tend to indicate that the plan has the governor's approval. And As Sentell reports, a powerful business lobby and public interest group have lined up in favor of changing the rules for school boards.

What about the elected BESE members? Some of them have strong ties to local school boards, and there is little to indicate that they will fall in line behind their superintendent. Thus far, Pastorek has been able to get a majority to support his agenda. Can he keep that edge, or will members see this move as an overreach?

Don't think that the state's 70 school boards will give up their power without a fight. In many parishes, the school board is the largest employer, with the biggest budget. Board members are closer to their constituencies than BESE members, and may be able to generate a grass-roots opposition that will bring considerable clout to the fight.

The statewide organization representing board members, the Louisiana School Boards Association, has been little heard from in recent legislative sessions. This is the kind of issue that could reawaken LSBA and make a player once again in capitol politics.

Then there is the legislature, which will have to vote on Pastorek's proposals. A good number of them are former school board members and are loyal to their political roots. Relations between lawmakers and BESE have often been strained in the past, and this is an issue that could easy inflame old wounds even as it opens new ones.

Factor in the fact that some legislators are laying in the gap for Governor Jindal because of his bungled handling of last year's pay raise, and the stage is set for a class-A donnybrook. Sad thing is, the fight will have much less to do with good education policy than with score settling and power grabbing among the political class.

Friday, January 16, 2009

School board may sue over school takeover

Following a decision by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to assume control of eight local schools, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is considering a lawsuit to prohibit or limit such school takeovers.

On Thursday, BESE voted to take the Baton Rouge schools, as well as two in Caddo Parish. Later that day, the EBR board met to consider its options. Advocate reporter Charles Luissiere covered the issue for this report.

EBR Parish suspends rule requiring drug tests

Until now, if a Baton Rouge teacher was attacked by a student, slipped on a wet floor, was clobbered by an errant baseball or otherwise hurt on the job, that teacher had to pee in a bottle before being treated for the injury.

Thanks to the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, that insult is over.

Courts around the country have ruled that drug testing a teacher without probable cause is unconstitutional, but but school boards and administrators must occasionally be reminded by a judge.

In Baton Rouge, the case was brought by a teacher who was beaten by a student and then forced to undergo a drug test before she could be treated for her injuries. Her union filed suit, and on Thursday the school board agreed to suspend its drug testing policy until a federal judge rules on the suit.

A school teacher's first action after being attacked by a student will no longer be to fill a bottle with urine, thanks to the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.

Advocate reporter Bill Lodge covered the story in this report.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Charter school teachers tell of student violence

All is not well in charter school land. As Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere writes here, at least three teachers fired from Prescott Middle School are telling horror stories about conditions in the school, one of three taken over by the state and run by non-profit Advance Baton Rouge.

The teachers speak of violent, out-of-control children, and administrators who turn their backs on the outrages. That doesn't sound too much different than when the school was under parish jurisdiction.

The difference is that, unlike in the past, teachers who complain about conditions in the school can be summarlily fired. Educators in charter schools have no guaranteed due process rights - they cannot file grievances and challenge authority as teachers in regular public schools can.

State moves to take over 10 public schools

As expected, the Board of Elementary and Secondary education today approved the state takeover of 10 public schools, despite the fact that many of those have been improving, and have test scores higher than some which were not taken.

As Associated Press reporter Melinda DesLatte writes here, the takeover did not go as smoothly as some might have wished.

Weapons of mass distraction

Illusionists - from the rich and famous like David Copperfield to the 3-card monte scammers on the corner - know that the secret of their trade is distraction. Get the mark looking away for an instant while the switch is made.

That surely must be what Gov. Bobby Jindal has in mind with his new attack on educators, reported
here by Monroe News-Star reporter Ken Stickney. With all that's going wrong in the state, the governor declared that making new laws about teachers abusing children is a major legislative priority.

Don't get us wrong, sexual abuse of a child is awful, no matter who does it, be it teacher, preacher, scoutmaster, parent or relative (and in this case, Jindal's only focus is on public school teachers). But the fact is, we have an abundance of laws, both state and federal, to deal with sexual predators, including teachers. And those who are caught pay a heavy price, including prison, loss of teaching credentials and huge civil settlements.

The truth is that more laws won't stop predators, who do what they do because of an overwhelming compulsion. The focus should, instead, be on increasing awareness, improving methods of detection, and better education about the importance of reporting abuse.

Those have no value to a demagogue, however. For whatever his real reason, whether to distract attention from real problems, or to further demonize public education, we should understand that the governor's proposal has little to do with the protection of children.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Charter school teachers demand union contract

Fed up at the loss of their professional rights, teachers in a New York charter school are asking to create a union with a collective bargaining agreement.

A super-majority of teachers in Brooklyn's KIPP-AMP school petitioned for a contract to be negotiated by the United Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

According to this article in the blog edwize, teachers wrote in a letter to administrators that "they had decided to unionize in order to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their school:"

The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly connected to the
teachers’ commitment to their students. “[A] strong and committed staff,” the
teachers wrote, “is the first step to student achievement.” Unionization, the
teachers believe, will help create the conditions for recruiting and retaining
such a staff.

With charter schools becoming a permanent part of the education landscape, teachers are taking a closer look at the tradeoffs they must make to work in the schools. In Louisana, for example, teachers surrender their tenure to work in a charter school. They might not be included in the teacher retirement system, and may not have the same health insurance, sick leave and associated benefits as other public school teachers.

In addition, laws protecting teachers from abuse by administrators - like grievance procedures - are not applicable in charter schools.

Writing in The American Prospect, reporter Ezra Klein noted that opponents of teacher unions wrongly assume that they only exist to protect bad teachers:

But it's often the opposite. Here, you have a bright, young teaching staff
advocating for a union. They clearly don't think it will detract from their
professionalism. But they do think it will give them more of an occupational
voice and allow them put in place structures that will ease the burnout and calm
the rapid turnover rate, which isn't good for the school or the students.

Pastorek: State will take over 10 schools; 23 others on watch list

Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek today released a list of so-called failing schools that will be taken over by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Out of 33 schools that Pastorek says are eligible for takeover, 10 will be taken by the state – eight in East Baton Rouge Parish and two in Caddo Parish.

Pastorek said that Requests for Proposals have been issued for charter organizations interested in running the schools. If suitable charter organizations cannot be found, he said, the department of education will operate the schools itself.

The 23 remaining schools will operate under local board authority, Pastorek said, but will have a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the state department. If the local school board does not live up to the requirements of the memorandum, he said, BESE will then move to take over the schools.

For more information, including a list of schools involved, please click here.

Creationists swarm BESE meeting

Religious fundamentalists swarmed a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting today, hoping to ensure that new guidelines for teaching science meet their approval.

The board met to implement guidelines mandated by the legislature, ostensibly to guarantee open debate of scientific issues, but believed by many to be an effort to bring religious beliefs into the classroom.

When the issue was debated in the legislature, it was clear that the objective of the bill's supporters was to offer religious explanations alongside scientific theories of human evolution.

Under pressure from the religious activists, the board deleted proposed language that specifically forbade “creationism or intelligent design or (theories) that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.”

Courts - including the U.S. Supreme Court - have ruled that teaching religious explanations for natural phenomena in science class violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

Supporters of the bill disingenuously claimed that their plan is not about religion at all, but is intended to make sure that all scientific viewpoints are heard by students.

That prompted LFT President Steve Monaghan to call the guidelines “a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist” because teachers are already encouraged to use alternative materials and present competing theories (as long as they are scientifically valid).

Gannett reporter Mike Hasten covered the meeting for this story. Steve May, editor of The Independent in Lafayette, authored this editorial in opposition to the teaching of religion in science classes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

LA lower in "Quality Counts" survey

Despite Louisiana's efforts at education reform, Education Week's newest Quality Counts survey actually shows that we have slipped a bit in relation to other states, as Monroe News-Star reporter Barbara Leader reveals in this article .

Unlike other comparisons, Quality Counts looks at intangibles like students' chances for success (our state gets a D-plus). It also takes a gander at the adequacy of state funding for education, a category in which we slipped from last year's C-plus to a D this year - not a good sign in light of the state's looming $1.1 billion deficit.

For more about the Quality Counts survey and comparisons with other states, click this link.

Diane Ravitch slices and dices No Child Left behind

Historian/educator Diane Ravitch took off the gloves in today's Washington Post, and left no doubt as to what she thinks about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its absurd reliance on standardized test scores.

Asked what advice she would give incoming Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Ravitch minced no words:

Signed into law in 2002, this law has turned our schools into
testing factories, narrowed the curriculum to the detriment of everything other
than reading and math, and prompted states to claim phony test score gains.
Demonstrating that, if Duncan doesn't work out, Ravitch herself should be considered for the post, she concluded by endorsing a bolder, broader approach to public education:

And when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized, as it must be, insist that schools are accountable not only for educating their students in history, science, literature, civics, and the arts, but for safeguarding their health and development.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Looking back, looking ahead

As Times-Picayune reporter Jan Moller puts it in this article, Gov. Bobby Jindal was at the center of a whirlwind in the first year of his term:

Since taking office a year ago this week, Bobby Jindal presided over three legislative sessions, weathered two major hurricanes, was courted to run for vice president on the Republican ticket and endured the public furor that ensued when the Legislature voted to more than double its take-home pay.
The part about the legislature and the pay raise wasn't the lowest point in Jindal's first year (although that is probably the bit that will make his relationship with lawmakers the most difficult in the coming session).

The worst was his support for the orgy of tax breaks that left our state vulnerable to the economic collapse now looming. After voters decided in 2000 to make our tax code a bit more progressive and less dependent on the petroleum industry, Jindal willingly gave in to the demagogues and helped undo the reforms of the Stelly plan.

Interviewing LFT President Steve Monaghan for the story, Moller came away with this nugget:

Monaghan faulted Jindal and the Legislature for repealing the 2002 "Stelly" income-tax increase, which will cost the state an estimated $360 million next year. Combined with other tax cuts ushered through by Jindal, the move will exacerbate the budget shortfall and will make it harder to finance public education, Monaghan said.

"All of these tax credits went hastily through the process when
Louisiana looked at itself as being flush," Monaghan said. "Now we're looking at the state in the position that perhaps it wouldn't have had to be in if it hadn't been so cavalier with its resources."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Department of Education postpones takeover notice

From a Department of Education press release:

"Public comment around 33 failing schools and their possible placement into the State's Recovery School District has heightened substantially over the last several days. To provide individuals and organizations in these communities as much time as possible to express their opinions, Department of Education officials will not be announcing recommendations for the 33 schools until next week. "

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Governor announces dropout prevention pilot

Governor Bobby Jindal is exploring a program that will help reduce the school dropout rate by providing job training and internships for students who are struggling in school. He announced the plan at a meeting of business and industry executives, as Robert Travis Scott of the Times-Picayune reports here.

A big question that will play out over the coming months: How will this pilot program square with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's contention that the way to curb dropouts is to make the high school curriculum more academically rigorous?

The comments that follow the article are also worth reading.

Pioneer Norma Matthews passes

Condolences to the family of Norma G. Matthews, one of the pioneers of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. She was a charter member of the Rapides Federation of Teachers and School Employees, and an active, involved member of her union. Here is her obituary in the Alexandria Town Talk.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fooling the people

When Abe Lincoln said the thing about how you can fool all of the people some of the time, he might have had the Louisiana legislature in mind. During the last session, not one of the solons voted against an ill-conceived bill that abolished most of the reforms adopted by voters in 2000.

Yes, we’re talking about the Stelly plan, which lowered sales taxes on food and prescription drugs in exchange for higher income tax rates on wealthier citizens. It was viewed at the time as a good step toward making our tax system fairer and reducing our dependence on petroleum revenues. But when it started to work as planned, the demagoguery began.

Last year, while we were flush with oil money and hurricane reconstruction funds, the anti-tax crowd bullied lawmakers into turning back the Stelly reforms. Now, with petroleum in the tank and reconstruction money almost exhausted, the state budget is facing a huge shortfall.

But at least the average citizen has more of his own money to spend, according to the zealots who frothed against Stelly. Said one, "I think taxpayers can rejoice. For once, we've done something about cutting taxes. This time, the people get it back."

Not so fast. As Gannett reporter Mike Hasten notes in this article
, the new tax structure does very little for most citizens. Joint filers with incomes of $50,000 or less get nothing back. For joint filers at $81,000, the payoff is $355. The maximum benefit of $1,000 doesn’t kick in for joint filers unless their income is $161,000 or more.

In return, we get bad roads, crumbling schools, a disappearing coastline, inadequate health care, polluted air and a moribund economy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Grasshoppers, ants and Louisiana

Better than 2,500 years ago, Aesop wrote the fable of the grasshopper and the ants. While the grasshopper frittered away the abundance of the day and saved nothing for the future, the industrious ants planned for the coming winter. Long story short: the grasshopper died cold, wet and hungry. And even though the ants had sacrificed a bit of comfort in the good times, they were well-prepared for the bad.

With that in mind, check out Associated Press reporter Melinda DesLatte’s column about the Louisiana Legislature’s (and Governor Jindal’s) recent irresponsibility. Big tax cuts and giveaways are fun when the state treasury is flush, but now we’re facing that cold, wet winter like a bunch of shivering grasshoppers.

What value is added?

Value added” is a new buzzword floating around the education bureaucracy, and it is at the heart of this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell. The idea is that by tracking the careers of teaches from various educational backgrounds, the value that is added to the system by their experience can be measured.

Beware the bearer of statistics. This is a new concept that needs thorough vetting before it becomes the model for hiring teachers. The report says the study has “factored in” differences in demographics, attendance and previous student achievement, but what does that mean? We know that new teachers are usually assigned to the most challenged schools – how does the study account for that?

Does this study actually mean, as the article says, that “school principals will soon be able to shop around for math, science and other teachers by comparing those from LSU with other colleges and universities.” Or is this a potentially promising concept that needs some critical review?