Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post-vacation catch-up edition

The world kept turning while EdLog was on brief hiatus. Here are some of the nuggets we missed:

Jindal's response to the Red Tape Act being declared unconstitutional: While educators celebrated Judge Mike Caldwell's decision ruling the "Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Act" unconstitutional, Gov. Jindal's PR team went into spin mode.

A spokesman told AP reporter Melinda Deslatte for this article that it is "ironic that the unions would obstruct the very reforms that will help teachers."

The reforms he is talking about would allow school boards to ignore laws concerning tenure, class size, curriculum, discipline, certification, special education and a host of others.

What is really ironic is that the governor's office needs a lesson in civics from the union.

BESE candidate wants to abolish teacher tenure: It is a shame that any serious candidate for the state education board would campaign on a platform of abolishing teacher tenure. When that candidate used to be a teacher herself, it verges on the bizarre.

Yet that is what former Teacher of the Year Holly Boffy told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, reported here by Will Sentell of The Advocate.

Boffy is running the District 7 BESE seat currently held by Dale Bayard of Sulphur. She is currently working as a functionary for the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana , also known as A+PEL.

Higher education faculty layoffs: If education is the engine that will drive our economy out of the dumpster, why are we firing so many higher education faculty? Is this what politicians mean when they say we can do more with less? Advocate reporter Jordan Blum spoke with some very upset professors.

Charter school scandals erupt (part 1): Teachers at Baton Rouge's Capitol High Academy charter school were nonplussed when they found out that they won't be paid on schedule, as reported here by Charles Lussiere of The Advocate.

The charter is held by a non-profit organization, 100 Black Men. However, the organization outsourced the operation of the school to a for-profit education corporation called EdisonLearning. Last February, 100 Black Men severed their connection with EdisonLearning, citing the company's failure to provide an appropriate audit.

Charter school scandals erupt (part 2): This one is complicated, and includes hints of charter school connections to an Islamic movement, rape, bribery and the firing of two education department officials, one of whom tried to warn about the problems a year ago.

Start your journey into this twisted tale here, with Times-Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore's story about the firing of Folwell Dunbar, who reported to his superiors a year ago that there were problems at Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans.

According to Vanacore, "Dunbar concluded last year that Abramson, which has connections to Turkish-run businesses and charter schools in other states, was at the very least 'terribly mismanaged' and recommended that the state board of education take away its charter."

Vanacore reported that Dunbar was offered a bribe to ignore problems at the school. According to this Associated Press report, those problems included inappropriate sexual contact between kindergarten students, a potential rape, unstaffed classrooms and "potential cheating in science fair competitions."

Abramson has been closed while the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education conducts a thorough investigation, and Dunbar's boss, Jacob Landry, has also been fired.

But the story doesn't end yet. The Pelican Education Foundation, which operates Abramson, also runs the Kenilworth Science and Technology charter school in Baton Rouge. That school is now also being investigated, according to Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

And what of the Islamic angle? Vanacore followed his Abramson story with this report about the Pelican Education Foundation's connection to the Gulen movement, a Turkish group that takes its inspiration from Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.

While spokesmen for Pelican deny any connection with Gulen, Vanacore's article is loaded with subtle hints connecting the school to the Turkish movement. Hints like one school board member saying, "I'm on the advisory board of the schools -- the Gulen schools in Louisiana."

By coincidence, this article, originally posted in the Church of England newspaper, provides some background into the Gulen movement, whose founder has variously been described as the "world’s top public intellectual" and as the "world’s most dangerous Islamist."

All things considered, it's fair to say that July has not been an auspicious month for Louisiana's charter schools.

Jindal touting education in reelection bid: In this column, Advocate bureau chief Mark Ballard explored Gov. Bobby Jindal's claim that he is "strengthening schools" in the state.

The governor's volunteers are handing out door hangers touting the governor's accomplishments, but ignoring the cuts to education that have left the Minimum Foundation Program frozen for three years, decimated higher education and required local school boards to pick up some $83 million worth of programs formerly funded by the state.

As LFT President Steve Monaghan told Ballard, the governor's "reality hasn't kept pace with the rhetoric."

Jindal protects his secrecy and punishes his enemies: Veteran Lake Charles journalist Jim Beam watched as Gov. Jindal "used his veto pen to protect the secrecy of his administration’s operations and to punish his enemies."

In this column, Beam took the governor to task for vetoing a bill by Sen. Butch Gautreaux that would have helped put the state teacher retirement system on a sounder financial footing, calling it "a perfect example of how the governor punishes his enemies even when others get hurt in the process."

The governor also vetoed a good bill by Sen. Robert Adley, a lawmaker who has tried to push for more transparency in Jindal's official records, according to Beam.

"Jindal should be above this kind of petty politics, but it has become a characteristic of his administration," wrote Beam. "You would think a public official with the popular support the governor enjoys would be more open in his operations and more magnanimous toward his critics. "

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