Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving catch-up

The education world did not stop turning just because teachers and school employees had a few days off for Thanksgiving. Here, briefly, are a few things you might have missed:

BESE election: Following the November 19 general election. Governor Bobby Jindal is in complete command of the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Eduction. Candidates favored by the governor and others who believe in his style of "reform" swept all three BESE runoffs: Kira Orange-Jones won District 2, Chas Roemer took District 6 and Carolyn Hill won District 8.

According to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, that means the governor "could have the support of nine or 10 members after months of 6-5 votes on key school topics."

The governor's only disappointment in the BESE races came in District 3, where St. Martin Parish School Board Human Relations Director Lottie Beebe defeated long-time incumbent Glenny Lee Bouquet in the October 22 primary.

In this article by Gannett's Mike Hasten, Gov. Jindal reports that he is happy with the new, right-leaning BESE. The new members seem to be struggling to maintain their own identity, but will that last when the governor applies pressure?

Expensive charter school: One charter school in Jefferson Parish spends $87,500 per student, according to this article by Times-Picayune reporter Barri Bronston. The school, which was established to serve students who have been expelled from middle schools for various offenses, has seven teachers and eight students.

That news prompted the Monroe News Star editorial writer to question, in very understated fashion, the wisdom of spending that much money on one school: "it's important to note that even charter schools require some close supervision."

"Within our local systems," the editorial notes, " you could ask Ouachita Parish Superintendent Bob Webber or Monroe City Schools Superintendent Kathleen Harris what they could do with $87,500 per student, and we are quite certain either one of them would respond that an investment of that much public money per student would result in a world-class school system."

Teach for America: The growing influence of Teach for America was explored in this article by Times Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore.

Once seen as a sort of Peace Corps that brought idealistic young college graduates into hard-to-staff schools, Teach for America has become a political as well as educational force to be reckoned with.

Best known is John White, currently the superintendent of the Recovery School District and Gov. Jindal's pick to replace Paul Pastorek as State Superintendent of Education. But newly minted BESE member Kira Orange-Jones is also a TFT alum, along with the new executive director of BESE and Gov. Jindal's new policy advisor.

A little justice for some Filipino teachers: The Caddo Parish School Board has done the right thing and settled with the U.S. Department of Labor, awarding Filipino teachers in the parish some $1,300 each because of their entanglement with a crooked recruiting firm.

It is a small step to correct a much larger injustice. The settlement only applies to a specific charge brought by the U.S. Department of Labor against the Caddo school board. It leaves open U.S. allegations against other school systems, and does not deal with the LFT complaint, filed with the State Workforce Commission, that Filipino teachers were forced to pay fees that should have been paid by school boards under Louisiana law.

Value Added Model: As the state tests a new teacher evaluation scheme called the Value Added Model, questions are popping up about how fair it will be.

Reporter Sue Lincoln filed this story for the Southern Education Desk, in which LFT President Steve Monaghan questions how well the new system will actually measure teacher effectiveness.

The privatization of public education: In an epic article for The Nation, reporter Lee Fang exposed the "quiet but astonishing national transformation" of public education into a cash machine for big business.

Lobbyists, he writes, have "combin(ed) the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations."

Focusing on virtual schools, he writes, "This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion."

Local Federation chapters grow together: Educators in Caddo and Bossier parishes can expect to see their influence grow with the creation of the new Red River United Federation.

As reported here by Mary Nash-Wood of the Shreveport Times, the new organization combines the power of the Caddo Federation of Teachers and Support Personnel and the Bossier Federation of Teachers and School Employees.

"It will essentially be a super group over the two organizations," said CFT President Jackie Lansdale.

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