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."