Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bad choices land Louisiana in a crisis

As LFT President Steve Monaghan pointed out at the Black Monday press conference, much of Louisiana's current fiscal crisis is a result of choices made by our leaders over the past several years.

Billions of dollars worth of tax cuts were granted while the price of oil kept rising. Lawmakers undid the Stelly reforms which, for the first time, had freed us from dependency on the petroleum market.

Then came the double whammy. The national recession hurt us, but the damage was compounded by the collapse of oil. Just as in the 1980's (have we learned nothing?), we were left with gaping budget holes and dwindling revenue streams to fill them.

And things aren't getting any better in Baton Rouge: true tales from the legislature

Example one: On Monday, a bill that would tie the state gasoline tax to the inflation rate was aborted with the help of the Jindal administration. The bill, sponsored by Republican Hollis Downs of Ruston, was a good-faith effort to chip away at our $14 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs.

According to this article by Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler, Jindal advisor Chris Gillot brought the governor's anti-tax message to the committee. When asked just what plans the administration has to deal with road construction, Gillot admitted that there is no plan.

Downs voluntarily deferred his bill, so that it may be resurrected later in the session. As a parting shot at Jindal's ideological dogmatism, Downs said, “I call on leadership to step forward and be leaders, not just philosophers.”

Example two: The governor led the charge against Rep. Karen Carter-Peterson's (D-New Orleans) failed effort to raise the cigarette tax. The two-fold benefit of the tax: it would have reduced smoking and it would have enabled the state to gain hundreds of millions of federal health-care dollars (remember that health care is one of the areas slated to be slashed by the governor's budget).

As blogger Stephen Sabludowski reports here, that led another Republican, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Hunter Greene of Baton Rouge, to blast the governor for once again valuing ideology over reality. Greene's request for suggestions about how to curb the state's smoking habit was answered with the simple statement that the governor opposes taxes.

Capitol insiders mostly agree that the governor's presidential aspirations motivate his insistence on tax cuts. For a critical segment of his political party, tax cuts are a litmus test. But for a state floundering on the brink of disaster, leadership requires thinking beyond the narrow interests of the political base. As Rep. Downs put it, the governor needs to exercise leadership that transcends political philosophy

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

BESE flip-flops, endorses school board attacks

Little over a month ago, the EdLog headline read "BESE asserts independence, rejects legislative agenda."

It was a story that caused ripples in the political world, because the state's top school board - including all three members appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal - voted against a package of bills largely seen as an attack on the authority of local school boards. The bills are heavily supported by Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and the governor.

On Monday, BESE flip-flopped and voted to endorse the four bills by Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge). This time, the governor's appointees - John Bennett of Port Allen, Penny Dastugue of Mandeville and Tammie McDaniel of Oak Ridge fell into line behind the bills. They were joined by Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma, Jim Garvey of Mandeville and Chas Roemer of Baton Rouge (Roemer was the sole board member to endorse the package on the previous vote).

Opposing the bills were Dale Bayard of Lake Charles, Louella Givens of New Orleans, Keith Guice of Monroe, Linda Johnson of Plaquemines and Walter Lee of Shreveport.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers opposes the package of bills because they intrude on local authority, place too much power in the hands of the superintendent of education, and could damage employee rights.

Here is the LFT view in a nutshell:

HB 851 would forbid school board members from "micromanaging" day-to-day school issues. That could limit teachers and school employees' ability to appeal disciplinary actions by administrators.

HB 664 would impose term limits on school board members. LFT believes that term limits should be local issues decided by voters, not imposed by the legislature.

HB 808 would limit school board member pay to a maximum of $200 per month, a reduction from the current $800. LFT believes this would mean that only the well-to-do could afford to run for school board seats.

HB 371 would strengthen anti-nepotism laws. LFT believes there are already sufficient safeguards against nepotism.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell covered the BESE meeting for this article.

Black Monday in Alexandria

Here's a report from the Town Talk: "McCoy said she decided to wear black Monday after learning about Black Monday through a letter from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Rapides Federation of Teachers. "

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mourning for education on Black Monday

(Left: LFT President Steve Monaghan talks to the news media at a capitol press conference opposing cuts to public education.)

As the Louisiana Legislature opened its regular session, thousands of teachers, school employees, students and friends of education across Louisiana were in mourning for public schools.

Around the state, "Black Monday" was observed by the wearing of black clothing. In Baton Rouge, a coalition of education organizations kicked off the session with a press conference urging lawmakers to reconsider drastic education cuts proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana School Boards Association, sponsors of Black Monday, put aside organizational differences and pledged solidarity in their fight to save public education.

To read more, please click here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

LFT President: State budget fails education at all levels

Looming budget cuts to public education, from kindergarten through college, threaten to derail Louisiana's educational progress and darken our state's economic future, according to Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan.

The proposed budget includes $219 million in cuts to colleges and universities, and nearly $200 million in cuts to elementary and secondary education.

"This budget is a study in unfortunate choices," Monaghan said. "It puts public education at all levels on the wrong side of a clearly drawn line."

In funding for K-12 schools, the LFT president said, "More money is earmarked for vouchers for religious schools, and princely sums flow to consultants and contractors of every ilk. However, minimal funding for Louisiana's public school systems is apparently not a priority of this administration. Otherwise, the budget would not shortchange education's Minimum Foundation Program by $64 million in critical support to local school systems.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Education coalition: Wear something black on Monday!

If things look somber in schools across Louisiana on Monday, April 27, it’s for a reason. Teachers, school employees and higher education students around the state will spend the day – the opening day of the Louisiana Legislature’s session – in mourning for public education.

Supporters of public education, from pre-kindergarten through college, are being asked to wear something black to school or work to protest proposed $219 million in cuts to higher education, and almost $200 million in cuts to elementary and secondary schools.

A broad coalition of organizations dedicated to our state’s educational future have organized the event, called Black Monday, a day of mourning for public education in Louisiana.

Sponsors of Black Monday, including the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana School Boards Association and college students across the state, say the cuts will cause irreparable harm to our schools, colleges and universities.

To read more, please click here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chicago charter school teachers choose union

It's a growing trend in charter schools: as the private, for-profit companies that operate charter schools proliferate, faculty and staff seek the protection of union membership.

Charter schools were originally envisioned as laboratories for new educational strategies that could be used in other public schools.They have become, for some, the preferred method of reforming public education.

The idea was that many of the rules of the education bureaucracy would be suspended so that the charter schools could experiment with new techniques. In Louisiana, charter schools must be under the auspices of school districts or non-profit organizations, but the holders of the charters are free to subcontract the operations of the school to for-profit providers.

This has led, as previously reported in EdLog (here and here), to a proliferation of for-profit schools masquerading as public, charter schools.

As this article by Angela Caputo in Progress Illinois demonstrates, a "lack of accountability and transparency has generated mistrust among teachers, parents, and school reform advocates alike" in Chicago's charter schools.

As the current recession demonstrated, it is necessary to place reasonable regulations on private enterprise - with just a couple of keystrokes, "private" can become "pirate." That is as true of education as it is of finance.

And one of the best safeguards of human dignity and workers' rights is the union. Which explains the trend toward unionism in charter schools.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mourn for public education on Black Monday, April 27!

Join thousands of educators, students and friends of our schools, colleges and universities in mourning for public education on the first day of the legislative session.

Wear something black to school or work on Monday, April 27.

Please click here and download a Black Monday flyer to share with friends and colleagues.

Please click here to visit the college students' SOS blog.

In an almost unprecedented display of solidarity, the state's most influential education organizations are joining with students around Louisiana to protest planned cuts to public education.

The Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana School Boards Association have jointly announced their cooperation for the event. The student coalition Save Our Schools is bringing students from Louisiana's universities, colleges, trade and technical schools into the event.

What's the reason for the outrage among educators and students?

This year, Gov. Jindal’s budget will cut nearly $200 million from elementary and secondary education, and $219 million from our colleges, universities trade and technical schools. These cuts show a clear bias against public education.

The governor wants to spend more money on vouchers for religious schools, more money for consultants and contractors, and more money for a new accountability system. But his proposed cuts to public education are disastrous.

His $219 million cut to higher education will slash important programs in every college, university, community college and technical school in the state. The permanent damage these cuts will cause to the economic development of the state is incalculable.

The governor also plans deep cuts that will affect teachers, school employees and the students we serve in elementary and secondary schools. Money for professional development, instructional programs and some salary supplements will disappear.

On top of that, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a Minimum Foundation Program that, for the first time, does not include a 2.75% growth factor. Pay raises and programs that depend on growth in the MFP will suffer.

Mourning for our schools on Black Monday will send lawmakers and the governor a message. Public education, from kindergarten through college, is important to Louisiana's future.

Education is economic development. Cutting school funds will cause permanent damage to our state.

Please wear something black to school or work on Monday, April 27 and mourn for our schools!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

True words from a school employee advocate

Laura Harper, who is an organizer for paraprofessionals and other school employees, got it right in this article by Times Picayune reporter Barri Bronston: "Teachers are the cornerstone. But support people are the mortar that holds the cornerstone together. They're the ones (who) make the hot lunches, keep the schools clean and assist with special students."

Often unappreciated, usually underpaid, but vital to the running of a school system. Last year, the state gave support workers a $1,000 salary supplement. Since it was not a permanent part of their salary, though, the legislature will have to find about $48 million to continue the supplement. It should be a permanent addition to their salaries. We'll be asking for help to get the money appropriated by lawmakers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tell the House Appropriations Committe: Don't cut education!

What is at stake?
  • $219 million to colleges and universities
  • Almost $200 million in total cuts to elementary and secondary education
The House Appropriations Committee is the first stop for Governor Bobby Jindal's proposed state budget. If we want to make education the state's top priority, this is where we must start.

We believe the governor made very unfortunate choices when he wrote his budget.

The governor wants to spend more money on vouchers for religious schools, more money for consultants and contractors, and more money for a new accountability system. But his proposed cuts to public education are disastrous.

His $219 million cut to higher education will slash important programs in every college, university, community college and technical school in the state. The permanent damage these cuts will cause to the economic development of the state is incalculable.

The governor also plans deep cuts that will affect teachers, school employees and the students we serve in elementary and secondary schools. Money for professional development, instructional programs and some salary supplements will disappear.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

ULL students in fight to save higher education funding

The fight to save Louisiana's colleges and universities from the budget axe is spreading like wildfire. Media and technology-savvy students are taking a lead role in telling Governor Jindal and the legislature that our state's future depends on the way we fund public education.

The latest entry comes from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, where a Web site is closely following the budget controversy. An online petition is available there asking lawmakers to send voters a Constitutional amendment that will give higher education funding the same protection that elementary and secondary education already enjoys.

Please click here if you'd like to sign the petition for a Constitutional amendment.

At LSU, students have started their own Save Our Schools blog, which also has a link to the Constitutional amendment petition.

As other higher education institutions enter the fight, EdLog will post links to their efforts as well.

Duncan: All school, all the time

School should be open six days a week, eleven months a year. That's what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told an audience of high schoolers in Denver on Tuesday.

"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan said to the students. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short."

Monday, April 6, 2009

U.S. education secretary setting a bolder, broader agenda

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan brought an uncomfortable message to the meeting of the National School Boards Association in San Diego over the weekend: he supports the idea of mayors seizing control of troubled urban school systems.

As San Diego Union-Tribune writer Maureen Magee reports here, he also wants to "recruit top teachers to underperforming campuses through incentives, reinvent schools as community centers, and increase collaboration among school districts, businesses, nonprofits and mayors."

There's a lot to digest in the new secretary's approach to public education. He's been at the forefront of some important reforms in Chicago, where he sometimes came into conflict with the Chicago Teachers Union.

LFT is impressed with his concept of schools as centers of their communities. That is the prescription the Federation had in mind in our call for a bolder, broader agenda for public education.

Poll: Teachers say DON'T teach to the test!

An editorial in last Friday's Advocate quoted State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek as saying, “Teaching to the test is a good thing, because what students need to learn is on the test.”

That comment raises some eyebrows at the LFT office - we felt that most teachers believe teaching to the test is not the best way to impart knowledge, develop critical thinking skills and imbue in students a lifelong ambition to learn.

So we posted a one-question survey that simply asked, "Do you believe that "teaching to the test" is an appropriate way to improve student performance in Louisiana?"
Very quickly, some 633 teachers responded. Five hundred twenty-one, or 82%, said "no"; 112, or 18%, said "yes."
That response was so encouraging that LFT decided to establish an ongoing, non-scientific survey of teacher and school employee opinion during the upcoming legislative session. Each week, we will post a question about issues at the capitol. We're calling it the "Pulse Poll." Be on the lookout for the new Pulse Poll every week of the legislative session!

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.”

"Teaching to the Test" and Merit Pay

Baton Rouge's own Gray Lady, The Advocate, published an editorial today supporting the concept of basing teacher pay on the results of standardized tests taken by students.

In a recent EdLog post, we described that particular version of merit pay as a "well intentioned bad idea," based on available research. In order to get maximum results on standardized tests, it is necessary for teachers to focus on the answers to the questions printed on bubble sheets.

The Advocate editorial quotes State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek as saying “Teaching to the test is a good thing, because what students need to learn is on the test.”

That comment is certain to raise eyebrows in the education profession, where "teaching to the test" is a controversial subject.

If you are a classroom teacher, we'd like to know what you think. Please click here and give us your answer to a one-question survey: Do you believe that "teaching to the test" is an appropriate way to improve student performance in Louisiana?

Results will be published in an upcoming EdLog post.

No takeover required- Delhi turns it around

A year ago, Delhi High School was on the verge of a state takeover. This year, all of the school's seniors passed the high-stakes exam and are on target to graduate. This turnaround was accomplished without the state taking over the school or making it a charter school.

As Monroe News-Star reporter Barbara Leader writes here, credit goes to the dedicated faculty and staff of the school, smart parish administrators, and to the students who decided not to let the "academically unacceptable" label stick.

One big difference? Resources were poured into the school.

Another big difference? The entire community wanted the school to succeed and prosper.

A lesson to be learned? Schools do not exist outside and apart from their communities. With proper resources and community involvement, any school can succeed. You don't need to spend millions on consultants to understand that. Put the money into the schools and their communities.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Arts cuts hurt economic development

In a state with a cultural heritage as deep and rich as Louisiana's, you'd think the people in charge would think hard about cutting funding for the arts. Especially since so much of our economy depends on sharing our culture with tourists.

And yet the budget proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal would cut funding for the arts by 83 percent.

In this post on the Bayou Buzz Web site, writer Stephen Sabludowski explains just why that is such a terrible idea.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pastorek and Guice split the sheets over school board legislation

In what Advocate reporter Will Sentell calls an "unusual split," the president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is openly opposing Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek's plan to overhaul the rules governing Louisiana's local school boards.

As reported earlier in EdLog, the state board declined to endorse Pastorek's package, opting instead to open a dialog with the Louisiana School Boards Association about the proper role of school board members.

Pastorek continued without the support of his own board, working with State Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) on bills that would:

  • Impose term limits on local school board members
  • Ban board members from influencing employment decisions
  • Require a two-thirds supermajority vote before boards can hire or fire superintendents
  • Prohibit school board members from participating in district health insurance plans
  • Reduce the pay that board members can receive

Today's news widens the breech between Pastorek and his board. BESE President Keith Guice of Monroe told the reporter that he personally opposes each and every one of the proposals.