Thursday, December 30, 2010

History you can dance to

What happens when a history teacher and a flash animation teacher team up to produce music parodies that inform and amuse with a beat you can dance to?

Find the answer on YouTube's historyteachers Channel, where out can see the products of Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona's collaboration.

In dozens of videos, the pair tell Cleopatra's story by way of "Fergilicious" by Fergie, recount the French Revolution through the lens of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and, for lovers of rock classics, explain the greatness of Alexander via The Knack's "My Sharona."

And if you've ever been stirred by Shakespeare's "Band of Brothers" speech in Henry V, you'll love their retelling of the Battle of Agincourt as imagined through Marianne Faithful's "As Tears Go By."

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss tells the story of the duo, and the effect their collaboration has on students, here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good cop, bad cop in the Jindal house

You have to admire the public relations machine behind the Jindal administration. Remember how the governor polished his conservative creds by knocking the federal stimulus program while at the same time building local support with staged photo ops featuring huge cardboard checks backed by stimulus dollars?

The same strategy is now at work on the education front. First Lady Supriya Jindal is featured in The Advocate for her initiative stressing technology in public schools. As reported by Michelle Millhollon in this story, Mrs. Jindal's admirable objective is the installation of computerized white boards to replace chalk boards in elementary schools.

Thus far, the article says, the First Lady's educational foundation has placed the $6,000 technology in about 160 classrooms across the state, at a cost of about $960,000. The very ambitious goal, Millhollon writes, is to wire up 4,000 classrooms.

That would cost some $24 million, to be raised by Mrs. Jindal's foundation. In comparison, the governor's frenetic nationwide quest for campaign funds has raised about $8 million over the past few years, making it seem unlikely that the 4,000 classroom goal is reachable during Gov. Jindal's tenure.

But the airy promise held out by one hand has already been trumped by the stark reality clenched in another: Gov. Jindal's budget cuts have led to a $30 million decrease in the Department of Education budget - the part of the budget dedicated to classroom technology.

And while the distaff side of the Jindal household upholds the "support our schools" banner, it looks like deep cuts might be on the horizon in the governor's budget.

That's the impression one gets from this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

Ironically posted in the same edition as the Supriya Jindal article, this one quotes Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue as saying that it will take a fight to keep education funded at the same frozen level as the past two years.

Despite rising costs and new mandates on local school boards, the Minimum Foundation Program has not received the usual 2.75% inflation factor, much less any new funding, in the last two fiscal years.

“I think we will have to fight (to keep the level funding),” Dastugue told Sentell. “I don’t know what the Legislature wants.”

Which is sort of a disingenuous comment. The legislature is only one of the three players to determine MFP funding. Gov. Jindal, whose executive budget plan will be released in a couple of months, will say how much he expects to spend on education next year.

Dastugue's own BESE board has a crucial role to play - it is BESE's responsibility to decide how much money should be in the MFP in the first place. BESE has not fought very hard for the MFP over the past couple of years, and don't expect the board to buck the governor this time, either. Dastugue is one of Jindal's three appointments to BESE.

The legislature does have to approve funding for the MFP, so it is disappointing that Dastugue says she has no idea what lawmakers have in mind. Shouldn't they be communicating about something this important?

So as BESE dithers while education burns, the governor's PR machine grinds relentlessly on, expertly positioning him for a brighter future than our state can anticipate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ravitch versus the corporatists

In this Washington Post interview with Valerie Strauss, education historian Diane Ravitch takes on billionaire Bill Gates' corporatist approach to education reform.

It's an important exchange of ideas. Gates is representative of a group that apparently wants to support public education, and has the appropriate liberal credentials, yet winds up siding with right wingers whose goal is the privatization of our schools. It's an area explored by Strauss in an October column discussed in EdLog.

In her interview with Strauss, Ravitch demolishes several of Gates' canards about public education, teachers and their unions.

Answering the argument that opposing corporate reform is tantamount to endorsing the status quo, Ravitch succinctly criticizes the business model's bean counting approach:

"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the
way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent
thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and
originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up
ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them
putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to
play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test
scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is
not going to improve education."

Ravitch is an important truth-teller and diagnostician. The real problem with so-called "failing schools" lies in the growing gap between rich and poor in American society:

The single biggest correlate with low academic achievement (contrary
to the film Waiting for Superman) is poverty. Children who grow up in poverty
get less medical care. worse nutrition, less exposure to knowledge and
vocabulary, and are more likely to be exposed to childhood diseases, violence,
drugs, and abuse. They are more likely to have relatives who are incarcerated.
They are more likely to live in economic insecurity, not knowing if there is
enough money for a winter coat or food or housing. This affects their academic
performance. They tend to have lower attendance and to be sick more than
children whose parents are well-off.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Survey puts educational blame where it belongs

"Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home."

That's the opening line of an Associated Press story covering the AP-Stanford Poll on Education, and it has some results that teachers may find surprising.

Not the one that says 68 percent of Americans believe parents are more to blame for educational failure than teachers, their unions or school boards - most teachers already know that. A majority of those surveyed also said that the education in their local public schools is either excellent or good - most teachers already know that, as well.

And while many believe that the U.S. is falling behind other countries educationally, "a majority of parents see improvement in the system since they were in school: 55 percent believe their children are getting a better education than they did, and three-quarters rate the quality of education at their child's school as excellent or good. Most say their child's school is doing a good job preparing students for college, the work force and life as an adult."

Again, most teachers probably know that education is really improving, mainly because research is better and more targeted, and serious efforts are underway to improve both professional development for those in the classroom, and teacher education for those planning to enter the profession.

The result that may surprise teachers is in the ideological breakdown of respondents. Those who self-identify as conservative are much more likely to blame parents for educational shortfalls than teachers.

Why is that surprising? Because among the political classes, it's been the conservatives who hammer hardest at so-called "bad teachers," and it is legislative right-wingers who have been most likely to introduce bills seen by teachers as punitive.

Although that has shifted somewhat in the very recent past. Propagandized documentaries like Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, which lean heavily on teachers and unions as villains for poor performance in impoverished urban school districts, were financed and produced by liberals.

To see the full results of the AP-Stanford poll, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Like a junkie selling the radio and televsion for his next fix...

That's how Treasurer John Kennedy describes Governor Bobby Jindal's scheme to sell of state property in this column by Gannett reporter Mike Hasten.

School letter grades are "messy and confusing"

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education passed a new rule assigning letter grades, from A+ to F-, to all Louisiana schools, beginning next October. Supporters said it would make it easier for parents to understand how successful their schools are.

But what will a single letter grade tell you about a school? When little Johnny brings home a report card, he has a grade for each of his subjects, not one lone mark to sum up his whole educational experience.

As Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte writes here, the process for assigning letter grades to schools will be "messy and confusing," not the simple process described by BESE President Penny Dastuge, who defended the new system by saying, "People can relate to grades."

Well, yes. But a grade is a symbol with a deep context, and unless people understand everything that the symbol stands for, it can be very misleading.

In her column, Deslatte raises the issues that the legislature and Gov. Jindal should have considered before passing a law requiring the letter grades:
  • Should a school be rewarded for how much it improved its students' achievement rates and given a better grade even if its overall results still show a large percentage of students performing below their grade level and the state's standards?
  • Is it fair for a school in a poor neighborhood where many students don't have parental support and don't get basic reading training before they enter school be graded against a school in a wealthier neighborhood where more students start off with greater advantages?
  • If you curve the system, will it really provide any useful information to parents and will it meet the intent of what lawmakers and the governor wanted out of the grading scale?
  • Does a letter grading system in some cases discount the strides a school is making or the hard work its teachers are doing? Could it damage morale and make it more harder for a lower-graded school to attract strong teachers and education leaders to help improve it?

In their haste to show that they are committed to anything that can be labeled "school reform," our leaders have saddled schools with yet another bureaucratic layer that won't improve anything, but could contribute to unfair perceptions of public education.

Which just might have been the goal in the first place.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Judge derails anti-bargaining effort in Jefferson Parish

Efforts to derail the collective bargaining agreement for school employees in Jefferson Parish were thwarted on Friday when a district judge refused to grant a restraining order that would have halt the process.

More than 3,000 paraprofessionals and school related personnel in the parish won the right to negotiate a contract last Wednesday, when the Jefferson Parish School Board voted 5-3 to grant bargaining rights to the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union Local 21. The board agreed to negotiate with the unions after JFT and SEIU presented petitions signed by an overwhelming number of employees asking for collective bargaining.

On Friday, an anti-union cabal comprising Frank Morales, Glen W. Hayes, Sr., incoming school board member Glenn W. Hayes, Jr., The Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and The Jefferson Business Council asked District Judge Patrick McCabe for a Temporary restraining Order that would have prohibited the school board from recognizing JFT and SEIU are bargaining representatives for the employees.

To read more, please click here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

St. Martin educators charter a new Federation chapter

The St. Martin Federation of Teachers and School Employees received its charter at the 46th annual Louisiana Federation of Teachers convention on November 22 in Lake Charles.

Shown at the ceremony are, from left, American Federation of Teachers Regional Director Al Squire, St. MFT/SE Secretary-Treasurer Jonathan Royer, St. MFT/SE Vice President April Benoit and LFT President Steve Monaghan.
Efforts to organize the St. Martin Federation began small, with 16 potential members meeting in December of 2008. That nucleus grew into the new chapter’s 360 members, and the St. Martin Federation is already the largest organization for teachers and school employees in St. Martin Parish. Membership in the Federation is limited to teachers and school employees; administrators and others who supervise or evaluate educators are ineligible.

Officers of the St. Martin Federation of Teachers and School Employees are President Latonia Cretian, Vice President April Benoit and Secretary-Treasurer Jonathan Royer.

The new union local is affiliated with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. With more than 20,000 members in 36 local chapters around the state, LFT is the largest teacher and school employee organization in the state. Nationally, the St. Martin Federation is affiliated with the 1.5 million member American Federation of Teachers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jindal kicks the can down the road

Governor Bobby Jindal told a group of lawmakers on Thursday that he may propose selling off state assets and privatizing some services as a stopgap measure to deal with a looming $1.6 billion budget shortfall next year.

This is the same Gov. Jindal who used to say that it is a bad idea to use one-time funds to pay for recurring costs, but that is exactly what he is proposing. Skeptics say the governor is just kicking the can down the road, using whatever desperate measures he can conjure to keep the state afloat long enough for him to make his next job move.

Of particular concern is the idea of privatizing the PPO portion of the Office of State Group Benefits employee health plan. Many school districts use Office of Group Benefits to provide health insurance to their employees. Selling off employee benefits might raise some fast cash to further the governor's political ambitions, but could put the future health care of teachers and school employees at risk.

Jindal's new scheme was widely covered in the state's news media. Michelle Millhollon's story in The Advocate is here; Mike Hasten covered it for the Gannett chain here, and Jan Moller wrote it up for the Times Picayune here.

This Associated Press story in Gambit says that senators are already expressing concern over the governor's idea to sell state penal institutions: "Gov. Bobby Jindal’s idea to sell state property to offset budget gaps drew complaints Friday from state senators who said it doesn’t make sense to generate short-term cash relief for long-term money woes."

Science wins textbook debate

The great textbook debate is over, at least for this year, and science won.

This story from the National Center for Science education sums it all up as well as can be done, with a quote comparing religious opponents of Darwin's theory of evolution to Holocaust deniers:

"To suggest we need to teach both sides is like saying we should be
teaching the opinion that the earth is flat because there are some people who
believe the earth is flat and they claim they have evidence the earth is flat,
so we should give equal time to these people. Or we should give equal time to
people who say there was no Holocaust. ... It’s an attempt to make it seem like
there are two sides that have similar weight when in fact that isn’t the case at

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jefferson Parish school employees win bargaining rights

Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch presents petitions signed by thousands of school employees asking for the right to bargain a contract with the Jefferson Parish School Board.

In a historic vote Wednesday night, the Jefferson Parish School Board granted collective bargaining rights to the district’s 3,000 paraprofessionals and school related personnel. The 5-3 vote marked the greatest expansion of bargaining rights in the parish since teachers won a collective bargaining agreement in 1977.

The board vote marked the climax of a campaign by the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union Local 21 to win dignity and respect for school board employees. By gathering an overwhelming number of employee signatures on petitions, the unions convinced the board to grant the long-sought prize.

“This is a great victory for our support employees,” said JFT President Meladie Munch. “This opportunity will provide support employees the long needed dignity and respect that they deserve. These employees work hard and are essential to the success of our school system. We are excited to have the opportunity to represent school employees and help them have a voice in our school system.”

According to the board vote, JFT will negotiate on behalf of paraprofessionals, clerical employees and school crossing guards. SEIU will represent transportation workers, custodial and maintenance employees and child nutrition workers.

While Wednesday’s vote was a crucial step toward collective bargaining for the employees, the process is not over yet. Contracts must be negotiated and ratified by employees and the school board. Both sides are hopeful that the process can be completed this month, making it a great Christmas present for school employees in Jefferson Parish.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Penny Dastugue's bag of bromides

Newly-elected Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue dug deep into the right-wing bag of bromides for her appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.

Reporter Will Sentell of The Advocate picked up on her desire for radical change in this article, but did not go into the details of her agenda.

For teachers and school employees who may be curious about what the Dastugue era will mean for public education, here are a few clues.

As far as the budget is concerned Dastugue said she wants to "tackle inefficiencies and impose fiscal discipline" on our schools. She warned against allowing local school systems to do the discipline, however, noting that districts "do more harm than good" when left to their own cost-cutting devices.

Dastugue said she's fairly sure that once again there will be no increase in the Minimum Foundation Program formula, but was vague about whether or not Gov. Jindal will impose cuts on the school formula (as one of Jindal's three appointees to the board, will she buck cuts if they come?).

As far as "reform" is concerned, she stuck to the predictable conservative formula. That means we can look forward to attacks on teacher tenure, battery pay, extended sick leave, retirement benefits and salary increments for advanced degrees and experience in the classroom - at least those are the ones she mentioned by name.

She followed the strict conservative line in calling for "student based budgeting," which is thought by true believers to empower individual schools by giving principals almost complete control over the budget.

Dastugue's timing was unfortunate, however, coming just a few days after every principal in Livingston Parish - no liberal bastion, that - signed a letter opposing student based budgeting.

As Advocate reporter Faimon A. Roberts tells it here, the principals believe the scheme "would divert the current predominant focus on classroom instruction and put it on school finances instead."

According to the article, school leaders in Livingston Parish believe that "giving principals the responsibility of determining salaries and making other financial arrangements would harm the quality of the education at their respective schools."

On Monday, Dastugue made it obvious that lines are being drawn. She represents the pro-Jindal faction on BESE, which has been balanced by a succession of presidents who did not always kowtow to the governor. Pundits will be watching closely to see how far to the right her election tips that scale.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pastorek dares to differ with Jindal on school cuts

This is big news. Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, who has marched lockstep with Gov. Bobby Jindal thus far, now dares to differ with his patron on the threat that Jindal's budget cuts pose to public education.

While the governor's mantra has been along the we-can-do-more-with-less line, Pastorek has gone public with the damage the governor's budget is doing to our kids.

After providing the Senate Finance Committee a list of the state's educational improvements, Pastorek ventured into territory the governor may consider treasonous, as reported by Will Sentell for this article in The Advocate.

"I’m telling you I am very concerned about where we are,” Pastorek told the committee. “When I tell you there aren’t many programs left in the Department of Education I mean it.”

Pastorek's report to the Senate Finance Committee laid bare the governor's disingenuous claims that K-12 education has not been cut over the past three years. Pastorek's department has been cut by $6.3 million, and has lost some 65 employees.

Future cuts, Pastorek told senators, would make it difficult, if not impossible, to implement the changes that the legislature has mandated.

Among funding cuts that have a direct, negative impact on the learning of children are these:
  • Teacher stipends for national certification went from $5.5 million to zero.
  • The budget for classroom technology went from $30 million to zero.
  • Public school awards went from $4.6 million to zero.
  • The K-3 reading and math initiative went from $6.7 million to zero.
  • The student remediation budget went from $18.9 million to zero.
“That is a very serious problem,” Pastorek told the committee. “That is a lot of kids counting on adults to get them to grade level.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Avoiding the ideological divide

When former Florida governor and presidential aspirant Jeb Bush convened his annual Foundation for Excellence in Education summit in Washington, D.C. , ideological fault lines trumped education reform. The evidence is in this article by Tom Marshall in the St. Pertersburg Times.

In part, the line fell along a pro- and anti- teacher union divide. As one of Bush's Florida colleagues put it, "There is no way in our state right now that the dadgum unions are going to agree with this kind of stuff. So you either bring them to the table and tell them what you're going to do, or you run over them."

The speaker, State Sen. John Thrasher, was the author of a "reform" bill that was universally despised by teachers and was ultimately vetoed by Bush's successor.

His comment might be great for red-meat conservatives, but the more reasonable tone was struck by an actual educator, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who said of her district's new teacher evaluation plan, "This entire plan was developed with our teachers union. I can tell you that we work very hard and very collaboratively with our teachers."

It is, of course, better to work collaboratively with teachers and their unions than to try to "run over them." That's a lesson already learned in Louisiana, which is in the midst of an experiment with value-added teacher evaluations.

This EdLog post from last May, followed by this one, demonstrates how lawmakers and the union can work together if they are willing to ignore the ideologues and look for better solutions to real problems.

Jindal may cut K-12 funding

Gov. Bobby Jindal is so in thrall to his "no taxes" fetish that he's now admitting there could well be cuts to K-12 education next year.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the governor told a room full of "education leaders" (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members and legislators, but no representatives of classroom teachers) that next year's budget, with its anticipated $1.6 billion shortfall, that budget cuts could well be on the table when the legislature convenes in April.

The governor repeated his oft-stated prevarication that there have been no cuts to K-12 education during his administration. Unless, of course, you're counting his veto of funding for national certification stipends, or his reduction of funds for private and religious school transportation. Those costs must now be borne by local school boards.

And while funding for public education's Minimum Foundation Program has remained level, costs of retirement, health insurance and other expenses have risen dramatically. As far as local school systems are concerned, that, too, is a cut.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Monaghan tells convention: "Better choices for a Better Louisiana!"

Addressing some 200 delegates to the 46th annual Louisiana Federation of Teachers convention in Lake Charles on November 22, LFT President Steve Monaghan called upon Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state legislature to make “better choices for a better Louisiana.”

In his State of the Union address, Monaghan said that much of the financial crisis facing the state was caused by decisions made over the past few years. Unless better choices are made, he said, the state faces a bleak future.

“If we don’t stand up and demand other choices, the governor is telling you that the future is less,” Monaghan said. “It is not sustainable. Your retirement is not sustainable. Your way of life is not sustainable. And if yours isn’t, then those who are coming behind you have no chance.

“You owe it to them to provide the same quality of life,” he said. You have a civil, moral and cosmic responsibility to do that.”

To read more, please click here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coalition touts better choices

Visit the Better Choices for a Better Louisiana Web site. Please click here.

Baton Rouge – November 18, 2010) A new coalition of concerned organizations today urged Governor Bobby Jindal and the legislature to take a balanced approach to meeting Louisiana’s short-term and long-term needs, rather than continuing a cuts-only strategy that will cost jobs and hurt the economy.

The Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition comprises a growing number of business, faith, labor, health, education, community, and consumer groups throughout the state that favor a balanced approach that includes revenue to maintain crucial services and invest in Louisiana’s future.

At a press conference prior to tomorrow’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, Coalition members said the cuts-only approach that Louisiana’s elected officials have taken to the economic crisis is seriously compromising services that Louisianans rely on, and is leading toward a decline in the state’s quality of life. That in turn hurts state efforts to attract new industry and residents.

To read more, please click here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tell Gov. Jindal that you are outraged at the EduJobs fund diversion!

Click here to send Gov. Jindal a message!

Gov. Jindal has decided to divert $147 million from the purpose Congress intended: saving the jobs of teachers and school employees.

Instead, the governor wants to use half of the money for higher education, and half to plug next year’s general fund budget hole.

It is shameful that the governor is pitting education communities against each other, instead of adequately funding all of education, from kindergarten through college.

Please click here to tell Gov. Jindal that you expect him to make better choices for the people of Louisiana!

(On the Action Center page, just enter your ZIP code to access the message to Gov. Jindal. If you live outside of Louisiana, please enter the ZIP code for your school district or another valid Louisiana ZIP code.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Outrage as Jindal redirects school funds

A decision by the Jindal administration to redirect $147 million in federal education funds is the latest outrageous example of failure to make reasonable, responsible choices on behalf of the people of the state, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

On Thursday, district school superintendents were notified that they will not receive money allocated by the U.S. Congress in order to preserve the jobs of teachers and school employees in elementary and secondary schools. Instead, according to Jindal’s commissioner of administration, some of the money will be used to shore up funding for state colleges and universities, and some saved to plug next year’s anticipated budget hole.

“School districts around the state have based their budgets on the promise of this funding,” Monaghan said. “This action will cause real pain and loss in every school district in Louisiana.”

When Congress passed the EduJobs act, guidelines required states to spend the funds on salaries and benefits for teachers, school administrators, and other essential staff. The money was to be distributed to school districts according to the Minimum Foundation Program formula, which allocates state education funds.

“It is already shameful that we were forced to rely on Congress to save the jobs of critical teachers and school employees,” said Monaghan. “But for the governor to pull the rug out from under our schools at this late date is unbelievable.

By diverting funds dedicated to elementary and secondary education to colleges and universities, Monaghan said, the governor is unfairly pitting education communities against each other.

“The governor should be making sure that there is enough money to fund education appropriately at all levels,” Monaghan said. “Instead, he is forcing us to fight over crumbs from an ever-shrinking pie.”

To read more, please click here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

LFT weighs in on anti-public school documentary

LFT President Steve Monaghan participates in a panel discussion of "The Lottery."

Yet another documentary film promoting charter schools over traditional public education was screened in Baton Rouge Thursday. LFT President Steve Monaghan sat on a panel of educators who discussed "The Lottery" after the showing.

Like another new entry into the genre, "Waiting for Superman," this movie takes liberties with the facts, exaggerating the success of charter schools and ignoring the great strides made by many public schools.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell attended the screening for this report.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Teacher salary report: Teachers "will be scratching their heads"

Financial crisis could wipe out gains made over the years, says LFT president

(Baton Rouge – October 30, 2010) A recent announcement that average teacher salaries in Louisiana have risen by 85% over the past 15 years may be a tribute to the accomplishments of the past, but says little about the challenges of the future, according to Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan.

In a report that was heard Thursday by the state’s Education Estimating Conference, consultants said the average Louisiana teacher salary rose from $26,461 in 1994-95 to $48,903 in the 2009-10 school year.

Members of the commission refused to officially adopt the report, perhaps indicating dissatisfaction with its methodology and confusion over its meaning.

“Many teachers who see this report will be scratching their heads and wondering how this average was derived,” said Monaghan. “It seems to depend heavily on experienced teachers moving up into the top brackets in higher-paying school systems.”

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Increase in average teacher pay doesn't tell the whole story

Yesterday's announcement to the Education Estimating Conference that Louisiana teacher salaries have increased by 85% over 15 years doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, the Conference was informed that the average Louisiana teacher salary rose from $26,461 in 1994-95 to $48,903 in 2009-10.

Tellingly, the conference refused to adopt the report. Members questioned its methodology and meaning.

LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand also had issues with the report. In some school districts, it is impossible for teachers to earn over $48,000 because their salary schedules just don't go that high.

So the question arises: is the salary average skewed because veteran teachers with advanced degrees in higher-paying school earn much more than newer teachers in lower-paying districts? The report doesn't answer that question.

And there is no doubt that the gap between high and low paying districts is increasing. For example, in 1995, a beginning teacher in East Carroll Parish would have earned about $3,800 less than the same teacher could earn in East Baton Rouge Parish. This year, the difference is over $12,200.

There has been no statewide teacher pay raise since 2007, when freshman Gov. Bobby Jindal approved a $1,019 across-the-board pay raise. According to the conference's consultants, there will be no more teacher pay raises for at least two years.

Instead of self-congratulation for barely reaching the regional average a couple of years ago, we need to focus on paying teachers professional salaries in the years to come. Unless Gov. Jindal and the legislature get serious about dealing with the state's financial crisis, that goal will be mighty hard to achieve.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jindal to Louisiana: Stop whining!

On Friday morning, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater told the legislature's Joint Budget Committee that there was no decision yet on what must be cut to offset a $108 million budget shortfall that must be balanced by June 30.

Not long after, while the committee meeting was still in progress, Gov. Bobby Jindal called a press conference to lay out the cuts his administration expects from state agencies. Higher education and health care will bear the brunt of the new cuts.

Lawmakers were predictably upset over what they saw as the administration's calculated deception over the cuts, as Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon wrote here.

Even worse was the governor's cavalier attitude about the state's budget crisis. "We don't need whining," he said, "we do need leadership." Then our leader flew off to yet another state to raise funds for yet another Republican candidate.

What effect will the cuts have? Reporter Jordan Blum documents the approximately $35 million to higher education in this story. More details about LSU's loss are reported by Blum here.

And in this press release from the Department of Education, some $6.3 million in cuts to K-12 are laid out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The rich man's burden

Wealthy philanthropists have found a new cause: public education. And as the old saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

So as blogger Valerie Strauss writes here, the course of school reform is now being charted by billionaires who can afford to impose their preferences on cash-strapped and desperate schools. Even if their ideas don't work.
That none of their projects is grounded in any research seems not to be a
hindrance to these big donors. And they never try to explain why it is
acceptable for them to donate to other causes -- the arts, medicine, etc. --
without telling doctors and artists what to do with the money. Only educators do
they tell what to do.

Billionaire dilettantes have the capacity to dump huge sums on their quirky plans, then walk away from failure and still be welcomed when their fancy and cash stream turns to yet another school improvement scheme.

Thus, as Strauss reports, Bill Gates can spend $2 billion on an airy confection, the idea that simply building smaller schools can cure the dropout problem, bag the project when it doesn't work, and still be welcomed in the education community when he shows up with a new conceit and a sack of gold.

Meanwhile, schools trying to build success on research-based strategies that can work have to hold bake sales and other fund raisers to buy paper for their copiers.

LFT President tells BESE: We need better choices for funding our schools

As the state’s top school board begins grappling with the prospect of even more cuts to public education, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan urged board members “to see that the crisis we are in is real” and to embrace choices that strengthen communities and schools.

“We should be partners in setting priorities, and making sure that when this economic crisis ends Louisiana is positioned to enjoy prosperity,” Monaghan told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board must present its plan for funding public education to the legislature next March.

"We will not be in that position if we fail to invest in education now and identify and fund other vital public services," Monaghan noted.

For the past two years, basic funding for public education has been frozen. At the same time, lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal have shifted costs previously borne by the state to local school boards.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek admitted that the frozen MFP has been inadequate to pay for public education in the state, saying that schools could not have stayed afloat without the $377 million in federal stimulus funds granted to the state over the past 18 months.

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Senator: Raise taxes for education

Senator Ben Nevers, the Bogalusa Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, took a brave stand at the Baton Rouge Press Club meeting on Monday, saying that the state must find more money for education or else “the dismantling of education will be the coffin that we bury Louisiana in for decades to come.”

Sen. Nevers suggested a temporary reinstatement of the Stelly plan, which would raise income taxes on the highest earners in the state, and taking a look at the billions of dollars in tax breaks and loopholes that the state offers to big business.

LFT President Steve Monaghan, who joined Sen. Nevers at the luncheon, said “The senator is taking a brave and principled stand. While some are saying that we must make do with less, Sen. Nevers understands the long-term harm that more cuts to education will cause our state.”

Read the full story here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deficit announcement makes budget cuts inevitable

Last week’s bombshell announcement that the state ended the previous year with a $108 million deficit is about to bring more pain to suffering state agencies. This time, the victim list could include public education’s Minimum Foundation Program.

A requirement of state law makes further budget cuts this year inevitable, according to LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand. The law requires any deficit from last year to be balanced by the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2011.

Soon, the deficit will be reported to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. That meeting will trigger Governor Bobby Jindal’s authority to make one of those dreaded mid-year budget cuts.

In each of the past two years, the Jindal administration has cut the budget at mid-year. The brunt of those cuts has fallen on higher education and health care. To date, our colleges and universities have sacrificed some $270 million to the budget axe.

Higher education is already bracing for another cut. Officials say that as many as eight institutions could be closed if the direst of predictions prove true.

Thus far, K-12’s MFP has been spared from cuts. That doesn’t mean public education hasn’t been hurt, however. The failure of the legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to increase the MFP by the traditional 2.75% in each of the past two years has brought pain to local school boards. While state funding stood still, retirement and insurance costs rose significantly, along with other costs of operating schools.

On top of that, Jindal vetoed funds to pay the supplements for nationally certified educators, and cut funding for transportation of private and religious school students. Those burdens must be picked up by local school boards.

But with other budgets cut to the bone and beyond, how safe is the $3.3 billion MFP? Public education’s main funding source does have constitutional protection, but it is not completely immune from cuts.

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

People to Pastorek: Give our schools back!

Next month, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on what to do about New Orleans schools that were taken over by the state after Hurricane Katrina and put under control of the Recovery School District.

While State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek does a shuck-and-jive over his department's plans, the people of New Orleans are making their wishes clear.

Last night, there was a public hearing at McDonogh 35 school in New Orleans to gauge community sentiment on the issue. As TV8 weekend anchor Shelley Brown reports here, the crowd at McDonogh wants the schools handed back to the control of the Orleans Parish School Board.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And now, a bit of perspective

1891, Harvard Overseers Report: "Only four percent of students who applied for Harvard admission could write an essay, spell, or properly punctuate a sentence."

1909, Plain Faces About Public Education (Atlantic Monthly): "Instruction has been displaced by "every fad and fance" and...the curriculum resembles "the menu card of a cosmopolitan restaurant."

1938, Walter Lippman: "Teachers...conspire against pupils in their efforts to learn."

1943, New York Times article: "Students...have virtually no knowledge of elementary aspects of American history."

1950: Quackery in the Public Schools, Atlantic Monthly: "If you find your child cannot read half as well as you could at that can do what other worried parents have done: send them to a private institution."

1955: Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About it: "We have decided to forget that we write with letters, and instead learn to read English as if it were Chinese."

1961: Reader's Digest article: "Teachers have been brainwashed with slogans like: "There are no eternal verities," "Everything is relative," and "Teach the child, not the subject."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Charter movement blinded by free-market ideology?

There is a gathering pushback to the idea of charter schools as some sort of magic bullet that can fix the troubles of public education. In this new post, education curmudgeon Diane Ravitch states it as plainly as it gets: "Charters are not a silver bullet. They are a lead bullet. Their target is American public education."

Ravitch begins with yet another criticism of the documentary Waiting for Superman, the cinematic wet kiss to the charter movement that she pegs as "a one-sided, propagandistic attack on public education which echoes the prescriptions of those who have devoutly wished for the privatization of education."

Then Ravitch describes a laundry list of recent charter school failures. Two recurring themes emerge in the list: charter schools are susceptible to financial shenanigans, and they tend to marginalize students who would pull down their scores. One of her examples is the recent Newsweek article about New Orleans charters' discrimination against special needs students.

Ravitch is right on target about fiscal mismanagement. Most of the charters in Louisiana that were forced to close failed because of shoddy bookkeeping.

Which leads us to this post in The Lens, an investigative journalism blog in New Orleans. The article is most critical of charter school boards that violate the state's open meetings and public records laws, making it difficult if not impossible for parents and the public to know how the schools are being run:

In response to three months of requests from The Lens, a surprisingly large
number of New Orleans charter school boards failed to comply with even basic
requests for information. Many didn’t respond at all. Of the officials who did
answer, some provided only partial information – and still others claimed they
aren’t public officials or required to do their work in public, even though
state law says otherwise.

Even if a charter school is on the up-and-up, transparency is an issue. Because each charter school has its own board, it's just not possible for the news media to cover them as they do traditional public school boards. That makes charter schools less accountable to the public, even though the schools are funded by the same public dollars as other schools in the district.

And that is just an invitation to mischief.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Your LFT Connection: Better Choices for a Better Louisiana

Dear Colleague,

As I began this letter, word came out that the state budget is $100 million in the red because last year’s revenues came in less than projected. To make up for the loss, this year’s budget will reportedly have to be cut at mid-year.

I also learned that if a court decides the legislature was wrong to use the state’s “rainy day fund” to plug holes in this year’s budget, the administration will have to trim another $200 million before next June.

That’s $300 million, on top of the hundreds of millions already cut from the budget. And next year, experts predict a shortfall of as much as $2 billion. No one can seriously argue that Louisiana can absorb those kinds of cuts without crippling education, health care, transportation, and other vital services.

Already, higher education officials are talking about closing as many as eight institutions. And while Gov. Jindal says that K-12 education has been spared budget cuts, we know that state funding was slashed for national certification stipends and student transportation, shifting those costs to local school boards. Educators have been laid off in some districts. In others, teachers must give up planning periods because their systems cannot afford substitutes.
Read the rest of LFT President Steve Monaghan's letter: please click here.

Newsweek article tarnishes New Orleans' charter image

In a devastating new report, Newsweek magazine alleges that New Orleans' charter schools, widely touted as the solution to the city's "failed" public school system, discriminate against children with disabilities.

"What good is the charter revolution," the headline asks, "if it doesn't reach the students who are most in need?"

Part of the Newsweek article focuses on a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Louisiana Department of Education. The lawsuit claims that charter schools in New Orleans violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, "particularly in terms of excessive punishment of children with emotional and behavioral problems."

Newsweek says the expulsion rates for special education students in New Orleans charter schools are "shockingly high."

One apologist for New Orleans charter schools tells Newsweek that the problem is "not enough resources," and that in New Orleans "such a great percentage of students are considered special needs."

But anyone who follows the news knows that New Orleans schools, particularly in the Recovery School District, receive much more per student than other public schools in the state. And Newsweek demolishes the argument about the number of special needs students in the city:

Actually, the percentage of public-school students in New Orleans considered
special needs is pretty low: just 8 percent. In Baltimore, the percentage of
special-needs students was 15.3 percent in the school year 2008–09, while in St.
Louis, the percentage was 17.4.

The Newsweek article raises an important issue: "does the much-touted academic progress of New Orleans’s post-Katrina charters come in part because special-needs students are being weeded out? "

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Double whammy hits state budget

Much more bad budget news. Two separate reports this week make up a possible $300 million double whammy for the cash-strapped state budget.

First, state officials learned this week that the last fiscal year ended with a constitutionally prohibited $108 million deficit. That means the administration of Gov.Bobby Jindal must cut this year's budget to balance the books.

In this story by Times-Picayune reporter Jan Moller, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater says that corporate income tax returns are lower than anticipated. Rainwater says he is meeting with heads of state agencies to decide what can be cut by the end of this fiscal year next June.

Second slap: According to this story by Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon, a recently filed lawsuit may force the state to trim nearly $200 million more from this year's budget.

Rainwater says that in the next two weeks he'll give agency heads marching orders on the cuts that may come about if the state loses the lawsuit.

That suit, filed by former State Rep. Ron Gomez, challenges the state's use of "rainy day funds" to plug the budget gap in the current budget. If the suit succeeds, it will create a $198 million hole in the state budget.

Get in the Game: The LFT Louisiana Budget Contest

How much do you know about Louisiana's state budget? Answer five questions, and you could win a prize!

We’ve created a simple, five-question test about the state budget. Knowing the answers to these questions will get us started down the road to a secure future for our schools and our state.

Please take this short quiz, and if you get all five questions right, you will be entered in a drawing for an LFT briefcase loaded with school supplies. In an EdLog update, we’ll print the correct answers and name the winner.

Click here to take the LFT "Get in the Game" quiz!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Backlash: Critics see problems with Superman

Waiting for Superman, the current darling of the talk show circuit, passionately advocates for children but unfairly trashes public school teachers as it paints a simplistic, black-and-white picture of the state of public education in America today.

The film rehashes some predictable right-wing talking points, blaming teacher unions for protecting "bad teachers" and making overinflated claims for charter schools as the way to salvage public education. If the documentary has a villain, it is American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

But if Superman is guilty of promoting erroneous dogma, it also opens the debate and provides an opportunity for public education to defend itself against detractors, as the AFT has done in its Not Waiting for Superman Web site. Here one can find examples of the many public schools and teachers who have great success stories to share.

Fortunately, reviewers are noticing some of the documentary's shortcomings. National Public Radio's Claudio Sanchez notes in this article that the film's "blistering attack on teachers' unions is unfair and counterproductive."

Sanchez gives Weingarten a forum to say, "the fact that the movie does not portray one great public school, does not portray one great public school teacher," calls the film's credibility into question.

Even more critical of Superman is this article in The Nation by Dana Goldstein, who calls it "a "moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality."

Goldstein points out that, while the film portrays charter schools as the best solution for poorly performing schools, it ignores "the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse)..."

Neither does Superman acknowledge "the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren't engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can't turn away."

Goldstein doesn't let the movie get away with blaming unionism for the ills of public education:

(I)n the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the
world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit
from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare,
preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children
achieve better results at school.

The Nation article also recognizes that, under Weingarten's leadership, AFT is engaged in teacher-driven school reform that includes forging relationships with formerly anti-union advocates such as Bill Gates, who has "embraced (teacher unions) as essential players in the fight for school improvement."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A wrong turn down the road to merit pay

Now that the U.S. Department of Education has announced that eight Louisiana school districts will split $36.5 million to experiment with merit pay for teachers, does that mean it's already too late to talk about whether or not merit pay really makes a difference in the classroom?

Hopefully, not. Because the data, while not yet conclusive, tends to show that there is little if any connection between performance-based pay and student achievement.

As Sarah Sparks writes here, the Department of Education is spending money before there is evidence that it is well spent. Says Sparks, "More than ever, the department needs a large, rigorous, comprehensive evaluation to dig into the details of whether and how performance-pay programs work."

Within a week of the Department's announcement of the grants, she notes, two different studies in Chicago and Nashville "have found few benefits for student achievement in merit-pay programs."

Despite a lack of evidence that these incentives accomplish their goal, the U.S. Department, as well as state and local education agencies around the country, are bound and determined to ram them down the throats of classroom teachers.


Education curmudgeon Diane Ravitch hits on an answer to that question in this article.

The problem is that merit pay has been touted loudly and long, albeit without evidence, by conservative advocates. After some 30 years, it is taken as an article of faith that it must work.

Ravitch says that the almost religious belief in merit pay is based on a business model: "They believe in competition, and they believe that financial rewards can be used to incentivize better performance, so it seems natural for them to conclude that merit pay or performance pay would incentivize teachers to produce better results."

While that may seem a rational conclusion, it is not empirical - the data just don't back it up.

So the conservatives rely on another article of faith, based on their generally low opinion of people in general. As Savitch puts it,

(T)hey assume that most people—in this case, teachers—are lazy and need a
promise of dollars to be incentivized to get higher scores for their students.
It never seems to occur to them that many people are doing their best (think
people who play sports, always striving to do their best without any expectation
of payment) and continue to do so because of intrinsic rewards or because of an
innate desire to serve others. Teachers should certainly be well compensated,
but not many enter the classroom with money as their primary motivation.

Her conclusion? "Ideology trumps evidence. The enduring puzzle is why the Obama administration clings so fiercely to the GOP philosophy of incentives and sanctions as the levers for change, despite lack of evidence for their efficacy."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Help the Demons win the Hawaii Five-O band contest!

Which college band performs the best rendition of the Hawaii Five-O theme? If the answer is Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, the school will win $25,000 and have a video of the band performing the piece on the CBS network this fall.

All that NSU has to do to win is get more votes than the other 17 colleges in the competition. That's where you come in.

Click on this link, and vote for the Spirit of Northwestern band. You're allowed to vote once each day until the CBS Hawaii Five-O Marching Band Mania competition is settled on October 4. Go Demons!

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Merit pay" may not raise student achievement

Giving teachers incentive pay for raising student test scores does not result in student achievement, according to a new study from Vanderbilt University's Peabody School of Education.

The study, authored by the National Center on Performance Initiatives, was conducted in partnership with the prestigious RAND Corporation. It followed 296 Tennessee middle-school math teachers as they prepared students for the state's high-stakes exam.

Half of the teachers were in control groups, and half were eligible for bonuses if their students scored higher than expected on the test.

The study found that students whose teachers were eligible for the bonuses "progressed no faster than those in classes taught by the 146 other teachers."

Here is a story about the study by reporter Christopher Connello in Politics Daily.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Inconvenient facts mar "Superman"

The education community is abuzz about the new documentary from the makers of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." Called "Waiting for Superman," the movie has a distinct and disturbing bias against traditional public education and the teachers in our schools.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is painted as the villain in the piece. She was interviewed extensively for the documentary, and has appeared in panel discussions to rebut its conclusions since its release.

As Weingarten says in this article, the film's producers have a deep concern for children, but completely missed the mark by vilifying teachers and promoting charter schools as the answer for public education's woes.

Writes the AFT president, "the film casts two outliers in starring roles - the 'bad' teacher as villain, and charter schools as heroes ready to save the day. The problem, of course, is that these caricatures are more fictional than factual."

By focusing on a few identifiably bad teachers and a few high-achieving boutique charter schools, the film skews reality. That's the problem with an ideological, anecdotal approach to documentary film making.

"It is insulting and counterproductive to suggest, as the film does, that the deplorable behavior of one or two teachers is representative of all public school teachers," writes Weingarten.

The reality, she writes, is that many charter schools "perform worse than or just about as well as regular public schools."

The real answer, says Weingartern is to redouble our efforts to make sure that all schools work for all children.

"This film," she writes, "misses a crucial point: We think about all kids, not only some of them. And reforms that affect small numbers of students, even when they live up to their promise, still leave that promise unfulfilled for others. Every child should have access to a great education - not by chance, not even by choice, but by right."

For another viewpoint about "Waiting for Superman," click here to read a blogger's suspicion that the documentary is a stalking horse for business interests that want to privatize public education.

"Yes, public schools have big problems," writes Susie Madrack. "Selling them off to unregulated private bidders will only make things worse."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In defense of the indefensible

What do you do?

Your client is a convicted felon who's been found guilty of violating Louisiana's labor law, and has been ordered to repay victimized foreign teachers some $1.8 million in illegally charged fees.

The foreign teachers who were ripped off by the client joined a union which brought the case that resulted in the judgment.

That same union unearthed evidence that your client is guilty of violating Racketeering Influenced Organized Crime statutes, and is assisting in a federal suit to claim damages on behalf of the foreign teachers.

You appear in district court to ask a judge to overturn the ruling against your client.

What do you do?

If you are the attorney for the disgraced and disreputable Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro and Universal Placement International, you claim that the union actually hates the foreign teachers on whose behalf these actions were filed. You claim that there is a secret union plot to get rid of the teachers.

And you hope that you've made enough noise to deflect attention from the uncomfortable facts of the case.

Advocate reporter Joe Gyan covered the story for this report; the LFT Web site has more information here and here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

LSU could lose thousands of students, hundreds of employees under Jindal plan

Last Sunday the Baton Rouge Advocate published a report about how school systems can go about firing teachers because the state is facing yet another budget crisis - a $2 billion shortfall is looming for the coming fiscal year.

Today, the state's newspaper of record has this frightening headline: "LSU predicts massive layoff, loss of students if budget cut."

Reporter Jordan Blum writes that the flagship university will lose about 700 employees and close to 8,000 students if LSU is forced to trim its budget by another $62 million.

That number wasn't just drawn from a hat. The Jindal administration is requiring the university to write a budget plan that includes the cut. All told, the state is asking Louisiana's colleges and universities to write budget estimates with cuts amounting to $437 million next year.

And that's on top of the $270 million cut from higher education by the legislature and the Jindal administration over the past two years.

As The Advocate report notes, the cuts are seriously eroding higher education in our state. LSU is planning to shutter the School of Library Information and Science, and eliminate degree programs in German and Latin. These are not steps that should be considered by a major university.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

National History Day contest open to students in grades 6-12

Students in grades 6-12 are encouraged to enter the National History Day contest sponsored by the WWII Museum in New Orleans. Louisiana regional competitions will be held on March 12-26, 2011.

History Day in Louisiana is part of National History Day, a research program for students in grades 6-12 that promotes research, literacy, and inquiry. Students who participate have the opportunity to display their research projects at a series of contests at the regional and state level that lead to a national contest held in June at the University of Maryland.

All types of students participate in History Day—public, private, parochial, and home school students; urban and rural students; academically gifted and average students; and students with special needs.

Students select and research a topic, which relates to the Annual Theme. The theme for 2011 is Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences. After analyzing and interpreting their findings, students present them in one of five ways: documentary, exhibit, performance, paper, or web site. Students may enter as individuals or in groups of two to five students. The paper category is for individual students only.

To download a flier with more information about National History day, please click here.

The National History Day contest Web site is here.

Louisiana wins $147 million to save educator jobs

Louisiana has been awarded a significant share of the $10 billion EduJobs plan adopted by Congress in an effort to save the jobs of teachers and school employees. In this press release from the Department of Education, it was announced that our share will be $147 million.

The press release says that funds will be divided among school districts according to the Minimum Foundation Program funding formula. At today's meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Superintendent Paul Pastorek said a chart will be prepared by Friday or Monday outlining how much each district will receive.

More information is available in this report on the LFT Web site.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In defense of public sector salaries and benefits

In some political circles, it's popular to attack teachers and other public employees. We saw it in the last legislative session, when lawmakers sought ways to reduce retirement benefits that seem overly generous in comparison to the desultory performance of private sector workers' 401(k) plans.

It's part of a larger, nationwide assault on public service. To some politicians, the current recession is seen as permission to denigrate the decent salaries and benefits earned by those who made the career decision to serve the public.

As writer Daniel Morris puts it in this New York Daily News article, "Now pundits and politicians across the country are getting in on the action by claiming that public-sector employees must sacrifice more and act like private sector employees who supposedly feel blessed and thankful to get a paycheck, any paycheck."

In what he calls a "new race to the bottom," Morris says that the woes of private sector employees are being used to "stir up rage" at public sector employees and, more specifically, at the unions that have worked to win those salaries and benefits.

The better solution is to ensure private sector employees' rights to the same decent salaries and benefits as those in the public sector. That didn't seem like such a strange concept a generation or two ago. But in an age that offers golden parachutes to top executives and the shaft to everyone else, the idea of basic fairness is sloughed off as quaint or, even worse, socialist.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why are we asking about the best way to fire teachers?

Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere is telling the wrong story in this Sunday article, with the subhead, "Budget woes tighten focus on how to lay off teachers."

We should be asking how many teachers we need to give our children an adequate education. We should be asking what we need to do to attract and keep the best educators in our classrooms. We should be asking how much it costs to educate our children, and then do everything possible to make sure that much money goes into our schools.

But instead, the front page is asking about the best way to fire teachers. And there are elected officials willing to plug into that frame. Shameful.

Friday, September 10, 2010

LFT cheers state's application for education jobs fund

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers cheered Thursday’s announcement that Louisiana has applied for part of the new $10 billion federal Education Jobs Fund. The state is eligible to receive approximately $147 million through the federal allocation.

"This funding is a critical lifeline for school systems already faced with difficult budget choices," LFT President Steve Monaghan said. "We are grateful for the president's initiative and Congress' intent to make sure that Louisiana children do not suffer the unnecessary loss of vital educational resources while we work together for more permanent solutions to the financial crisis plaguing our state and nation." Please click here to read the rest of this story.

First Lady visits Louisiana on anti-obesity campaign

First Lady Michelle Obama was in Slidell this week to commend Louisiana schools for their effort in fighting childhood obesity. Visiting Brock Elementary School, one of 59 schools in the state to earn the Department of Agriculture's Gold Award of Distinction, Mrs. Obama announced an ambitious goal: to "solve the problem of childhood obesity so that kids born today reach adulthood at a healthy weight."

"We're beginning to better understand the magnitude of this crisis," said Mrs. Obama. "We're seeing it all over. Everyone is talking about it now. And we know the threat that it poses to the health of our children. So it's simply not enough to solve this problem halfway or to do it incrementally. This is a national problem and it's affecting every single child in every single community in this country."
The First Lady spoke about her signature program, "Let's Move," which she launched in conjunction with the National Football League, in an effort to get youngsters more physically active.Special guests at the Slidell appearance included the principals and food service managers from schools that earned the Department of Agriculture award.
Following the Slidell appearance, Mrs. Obama went to New Orleans, where she and football stars were joined by singer Taylor Swift to promote a healthier lifestyle for children.
Louisiana AFL-CIO President Louis Reine, left, and St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees President Elsie Burkhalter, who is also a Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers, were guests at the First Lady's appearance in Slidell.