Tuesday, September 29, 2009
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
So-called virtual schools have a poor track record educating students, and are attractive targets for money-grabbing vendors, according to reports that LFT President Steve Monaghan shared with the state board of education on Wednesday.
His presentation contrasted starkly with information provided by Department of Education staff and a spokesperson for virtual charter schools, who pretty much promised rainbows and ponies if Louisiana allows the creation of schools that exist mainly on the Internet.
Next month, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider requests to open three virtual charter schools. The schools will have no campus. Instead, children will log onto their computers and take all their courses online. One of those schools, Louisiana Connections Academy, is represented by Adams and Reese, the law firm where Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek used to work.
Department staff told BESE that they looked hard for studies about virtual charter schools. They provided four glowing reports for board members. Apparently they could not locate the RAND Corporation study that Monaghan talked about in his presentation.
The RAND study said that students in California's virtual charter schools had lower test scores than other students.
Other studies cited by Monaghan raised questions about funding. One characterized virtual charter schools as "a back-door voucher program for home schoolers and other students who have opted out of public education but still want access to the system’s funding..."
To read more about Monaghan's presentation, please click here.
In other business on Wednesday, a BESE committee discussed a $1 million dollar contract to train new teachers, even though, as reporter Will Sentell wrote for The Advocate, some say there is already a "glut of teachers."
A BESE panel also discussed the controversial Science Education Act, which opponents say could open the door to teaching religious dogma instead of science. The panel approved a set of guidelines to be followed if people "object to materials that challenge the teaching of evolution kin public school science classes," according to a report by Will Sentell.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
As Times-Picayune reporter Jan Moller puts it in this article, Louisiana's children are "too fat, don't get enough exercise and watch too much TV..."
There is no doubt a correlation between the health of our children and their success in school. When LFT calls for a bolder, broader approach to education, this is one of the things we mean. Demanding more accountability from our schools is fine, but success also depends on a determination in the community at large to do better by our children.
The full Pennington report can be viewed here.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
If only all reform efforts would flow from that simple formula, our schools would be in much better shape. Unfortunately, CFT President Marty Hittleman says, that's not the model being followed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In the laundry list of mandates required to win federal Race to the Top funds, Hittleman writes, "many are controversial because they have never been shown to improve student learning. One would force states to adopt teacher performance evaluation procedures that would include reliance on individual students' standardized test scores. Another would compensate teachers based on those scores. Both have been shown by research to be ineffective."
Hittleman accurately characterizes those as simplistic quick fixes that will not work. Judging a teacher based solely on standardized test results ignores too many factors, he says. Citing Education Testing Service studies, Hittleman says that much of what students learn "is correlated to what happens in homes and communities."
Hittleman rejects the argument that opposition to Duncan's plan is just reflexive union posturing:
We are for reforms that work, which include standards-based and common curricula that have multiple source assessments; student data available for classroom teacher use based on a comprehensive approach; smaller class sizes; new teacher mentoring; and peer assistance and review. What we oppose are reforms based on the latest bright idea that has caught the eye of a politician or pundit with no experience teaching.
Hittleman's comments are intended for a California audience, but they resonate in Louisiana as well.
Monday, September 14, 2009
-Education consultant Tabitha Grossman
If this is the best consulting the state can come up with, teachers and their students are in trouble.
The Blue Ribbon Commission for Educational Excellence is supposedly exploring better ways to, as this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell puts it, "pay teachers to make them more effective and to aid students."
What sort of great ideas did the state-paid consultants come up with? Here's one: cut the state teacher salary schedule by 10% in order to give some teachers bonuses of between $3,000 and $6,000.
And how can we justify such a radical reordering of the salary schedule? According to the consultant, advanced degrees mean nothing, and after five years in the classroom teachers stagnate and don't do anything different.
Those are extremely radical propositions that are very difficult to defend. Other consultants might have come up with other, proven solutions, like smaller classes, extended school days and years, placing the most qualified teachers in the most challenged schools, etc.
But you get what you paid for. And the people who paid for these consultants definitely got what they paid for - an assault on the professional educators who are dedicated to the children in their classrooms.
Fortunately, LFT President Steve Monaghan is a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Steve responded with this comment:
"We will never tell teachers who have invested time, money and effort in
earning advanced degrees that they labored in vain. And we simply reject the
contention that teachers stagnate after five years. Teachers are by nature
life-time learners. Good teachers continuously learn new skills and approaches
that they can bring to their classrooms.
"We hope that over the next few months the commission will hear from
other experts who can provide very different perspectives."
A second consultant told the commission about the success of a performance-based teacher pay plan in Denver, Colorado.
But as Monaghan pointed out in this press release, there are big differences between Denver and Louisiana.
A state (Louisiana) comprises many school districts with varying needs and resources, while a single urban school system (Denver) can focus more narrowly on its specific needs.
But the more important difference is that Denver has a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers. Every change in the way teachers are paid was negotiated, and teachers voted on the plan before it could go into effect.
A plan like Denver's won't work until Louisiana has a statewide collective bargaining law.
The Blue Ribbon Commission has until May to prepare a report for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Board of elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Regents. Let's hope some better ideas emerge before then.
Shreveport Times reporter Icess Fernandez has the story here.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
How else to characterize his comment in this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell: “Charter schools are now a threat to a jobs program called public education.”
Know what? Charter schools are also jobs programs, because they hire people to work in them. So are hospitals, law offices, universities and every other place where people go to work.
The problem, as LFT President Steve Monaghan explains in the article, is that Roemer doesn't seem to get the fact that, as employees, teachers ought to have certain rights. Among them are decent salaries, health insurance, retirement benefits and the protection of due process.
“If Mr. Roemer’s idea is to lower the wages for educators, to deprive them of benefits, then we are definitely going to oppose those kinds of initiatives," says Monaghan.
For ideologues such as Roemer, the issue has gone far beyond the establishment of charters as components of a healthy public education system. As reported by Sentell, "(Roemer) said the battle boils down to 'a system that does not work and those who want to protect it,' a reference to traditional public schools."
But as any number of serious studies demonstrate, there is simply no evidence that charter schools do a better job of educating our children than well-run, properly resourced public schools.
Judging from comments by Roemer and others at the charter school conference covered by Sentell, it is apparent that some charter school supporters are determined to create a backdoor, privatized education system. They have a blind faith that what they want is better than what we have, but there is precious little evidence to back them up.
Friday, September 11, 2009
This is from a statement issued by a five-member committee of the Faculty Senate:
“In recent years, the voice, power and morale of the faculty have been eroded by
unilateral actions regarding curriculum, research priorities and initiatives,
and university reorganization by an increasingly imperial upper administration.”
The article quotes a committee member as saying that organizations like the Faculty Senate and American Association of University Professors just aren't firm enough in standing up to administrators in defense of faculty rights.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The statement comes as part of an an endorsement for charter school proposals: "It's particularly encouraging that two groups are applying to take over traditional Recovery School District campuses with low test scores and turn them around."
Roll that thought around in your head for a minute: RSD campuses with low test scores must be turned around. Wasn't the Recovery District supposed to be the agent of change that would bring "failing schools" up to an acceptable standard? And by the way, RSD schools are funded at a much higher per-pupil rate than other public schools - so why are they failing?
Where is the outrage on the TP's editorial page that, four years after Katrina, the RSD schools still have low scores and must be turned around?
And why is the city's paper of record only touting charter schools as the right fix for the RSD's failure? New Orleans has a public school board that has been completely revamped and scandal-free since the storm, and has proven its bona fides.
Even before Hurricane Katrina - and this is the little secret that reformers conveniently ignore - New Orleans schools had improved by 10.5 points over a four-year period. In the four years since the storm, RSD schools have improved by 9.5 points.
So why not let the school board take back the failing RSD schools? Unless you really have a bias in favor of charter schools, there's no reason not to go with the Orleans Parish school Board.
As this article by Monroe News-Star reporter Greg Hilburn makes clear, consolidation is not the only remedy under consideration. Speaker of the House Jim Tucker - for whom the commission is named - is quoted in the article as saying the closure of college campuses is possible.
The big problem, of course, is funding. Money for higher education could shrink by 40% over the next couple of years, panel members say. If that happens, they don't believe that across-the-board cuts would be the best way to handle the crisis. So they are planning now to make the deepest cuts in places that would cause the least harm.
Speaking of the overlapping curricula in North Louisiana, Tucker says:
"All five (northeastern Louisiana schools) have nursing programs,"
referring to the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Grambling State University,
Louisiana Tech University, Louisiana Delta Community College and Louisiana
Technical College campuses. "Is that reasonable? I don't know, but it has to be
We've got those covered, what else do we need to know? The American Federation of Teachers has created a Web page for people in the education and health care professions. Click here to visit.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Take this interview with John Merrow from Learning Matters, posted in his Taking Note blog.
Here's what she has to say about No Child Left Behind: "I would say, sorrowfully, that NCLB has failed. It did nothing to raise standards, because it left decisions about standards to the states."
About the type of "reform" embodied in the charter school movement: "Deregulation nearly destroyed our economy in the past decade, and we better be careful that we don’t destroy our public schools too."
About President Obama's $4 billion Race to the Top program: "What if Washington doesn’t know best? What if the 'reform' ideas are wrong?...There is a ton of evidence that evaluating teachers based solely on student test scores is a bad idea"
About U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: "If Arne Duncan knows exactly how to reform American education, why didn’t he reform Chicago’s schools?"
Friday, September 4, 2009
Plenty, if you fall into the camp that sees it as a Communist plot, fascist exercise, socialist overreach or Nazi subterfuge. Or all of the above rolled into one.
Here are just a few of the articles in today's media about the (largely manufactured) controversy:
Education Week: Officials Move to Quell Furor Over Obama Speech
USA Today: Planned Obama speech to students sparks protest
New Orleans Times Picayune: Obama's upcoming speech to schoolchildren has some parents worried
Los Angeles Times: Banned from schools: first Huck Finn, now Obama?
Note: When President Reagan and the first President Bush made televised speeches to schools, there was nothing like the controversy that this spech has engendered.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Bruce D. Baker, the Rutgers University author of the study, made the point in a recent Education Week article (not available without a paid subscription). Barton wrote about the voucher crowd's argument that poor children deserve the same quality of education that President Obama's children get from the famous Sidwell Friends School, where tuition runs upward of $30,000 per year.
Barton said his study demolishes that argument by fairly comparing private and religious schools to public schools. Which is to say that the resources of a school matter very much.
The schools in Washington, D.C.'s waning voucher experiment did not allow poor children anything near to the Sidwell Friends experience, he wrote, because there will never be enough money in voucher schemes to buy the kind of education that top business leaders and politicians can afford.
Two important points emerge from the study of about 1,500 private and religious schools across the nation:
1. Money is important to education. In private schools as well as in public ones, "Low per-pupil expenditures typically translate into poorer teacher undergraduate preparation, lower teacher salaries, higher pupil-to-teacher ratios, and, ultimately, to weaker student proficiency."
2. The voucher schools that cater to poor children aren't necessarily any better than their local public school: "With per-pupil spending varying so widely by private school type, and with so many voucher students being funneled to those schools at the low end of the spending pool, we continue to deny students the “better” choice promised to them."
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Even though rules for RTTT won't be finalized until October (public comments were accepted up until last Friday), rural communities worry that guidelines might favor urban school systems. As Education Week assistant editor Michele McNeil reports here:
Rural school advocates say the federal priorities emerging under (Secretary
of Education Arne) Duncan—a former chief executive officer of the
408,000-student Chicago public school system—favor education improvement ideas
that are best suited to urban settings.
Critics point to RTTT's heavy emphasis on charter schools as evidence of an urban bias. Districts with few students would be hard put to justify establishing a charter school, and could be eliminated from consideration for the federal funds.
Others say that the Department of Education's requirement that school districts embrace merit pay for teachers might not have the desired effect in rural school districts.
The idea was to create an impression of mass resistance to the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for employees to win the protections of a collective bargaining agreement.
But the "sparsely attended event" apparently fizzled even as LABI mouthpiece Jim Patterson characterized the proposed law as "a coercion of workers into the union fold."
As Louisiana AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Julie Cherry accurately stated, workplace coercion is generally a function of management, not labor.
Said Cherry about the failed effort to picture workers as bogeymen, “There’s a lot of fear out there about what (employee free choice) means to the employer. We see it as an incentive to sit at the table and bargain reasonably.”
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
But before the competition can begin, the DOE must write rules. Up until last Friday, the department was collecting comments and suggestions about those proposed regulations. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers is one of thousands of organizations, individuals and governmental bodies that submitted comments.
You can read LFT's press release about the comments here, and the comments themselves are posted here.
In the document. LFT President Steve Monaghan warns about the danger of unintended consequences:
“Too often in the recent past, school reform has meant no student left untested
and no teacher left unblamed. We hope that Race to the Top can open a new
chapter in the school reform movement, one that values the professionalism
of teachers and embraces a whole-community model for change.”
LFT's comments are a product of our state's experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and grounded in the Federation's core values. Monaghan says that true education reform requires a bolder, broader approach than in the past, one which treats the school as an integral part of a larger community:
That means any long-term evaluation must include components that measure
the contributions of parents, administrators and school boards to student
success. Broadened further, the process should include the roles played by
systems of health care, juvenile justice, higher education and all the other
elements of community that have an impact on the growth and development of
an individual student.