Monday, December 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

EdWeek commentary: Is merit pay the answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

R2T will change the teaching profession

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Louisiana called value-added "model"

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LFT following Race to the Top revisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

RSD salaries make senator sick

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Philippine government shuts down recruiter

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Post-convention, post-holiday catch-up

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

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

Advocate reporter Will Sentell has the story here.

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

Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr has the story here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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