Saturday, May 28, 2011

Anti-public school bluster in Baton Rouge

A pro-charter school organization allowed a critic of public schools to make unfounded, inflammatory accusations against teachers and their unions, as reported here by Koran Addo of The Advocate.

Kevin Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, regurgitated the now-familiar claims that teacher unions are one of the reasons for an "across the board" failure of public education in the United States.

Seeing as how his speech was given to Advance Baton Rouge's Charter School Association and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, it is not surprising that Chavous' concluded that semi-public charter schools are the right prescription for education's ills.

He left out some important details, which reporter Addo picked up from an LFT spokesman.

For example, one of the highest performing school systems in Louisiana is in St. Tammany Parish, where every teacher and school employee is represented by a union contract.

The problem, as LFT points out, is not in middle and upper-class school systems which have broad community support and adequate resources. Students in those schools do well whether or not educators are unionized, and there is little groundswell of support for questionable fixes like charter schools.

Our educational challenge is in "underfunded urban and rural school districts plagued by poverty and crime."

Solutions to those problems go much deeper than state seizures of schools and wholesale charterization, as revealed by the failure of Advance Baton Rouge to make much headway in improving some of the schools over which it has control.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Coalition calls legislature on bad choices

The state is facing a $1.6 billion shortfall (raise that to $1.8 billion after lawmakers subtracted Gov. Jindal's imaginary dollars from the budget). Lawmakers are turning down every effort to raise new revenues at the same time that they advance new tax cuts.

What could make things worse in Baton Rouge? Slashing over $3 billion a year from the state's general fund, for starters.

That would be the ultimate impact of three bills making their way through the process. HB 633 and HB 634 by Rep. Hunter Greene, and SB 259 by Sen. Rob Marionneaux, would abolish all personal and corporate income taxes in the state.

That, of course, would make it impossible to provide even the most basic services to the people of the state.

Then there's House Resolution 27 by Rep. Brett Geymann, which would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature before any non-recurring funds could be used to plug budget holes.

Taken together, these pieces of legislation reveal a dangerous game of chicken underway at the capitol.

The Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition has called out lawmakers on what it calls "political theater" in this news release:

According to the Better Choices coalition, this radical and ill-timed
political maneuvering risks driving Louisiana’s budget over the cliff. At
a time of unprecedented state deficits, Louisiana needs a balanced approach to
resolving its fiscal problems. That includes additional sources of revenues as
well as prudent cuts in spending, spokespersons said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shoe on other foot: cuts pinch RSD, vouchers

The biggest story so far in this legislative session has been the disastrous budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jindal, reductions that affect health care, education, recreation, public safety and other important quality-of-life issues.

At the same time, legislators are proposing more and more expensive tax cuts, without asking for any new revenues to fill the budget gaps.

A sideshow in this disastrous legislative session has emerged. There is a budgetary tug-of-war underway between the governor's office and the legislature. In the process, some sacred cows are getting bled.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee slashed the Department of Education's budget, taking aim at programs favored by Governor Bobby Jindal.

In response, yesterday Gov. Jindal sent a couple of his minions out to defend his personal favorites.

Acting Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler made an impassioned plea to restore funding for nearly $10 million in public funds that are funneled to religious and private schools in New Orleans.

Tyler said that defunding the voucher scheme would force 1,600 New Orleans students "to return to failing schools."

That statement required an amazing reversal of logic. Only moments before, Tyler had told reporters that the state Recovery School District - which would presumably absorb the displaced voucher students - has made "remarkable" progress, and that "gains in the RSD are significantly higher than the state average."

Tyler also complained about a planned $11 million reduction in the RSD budget. The money would be used to pay for mandatory building insurance in the district. She said, "it's unreasonable and unfair to shift this burden to schools and students who are already struggling to overcome very difficult circumstances."

It seems that if there is one thing the governor and legislature agree upon, there will be no new revenues adopted during this session. The unfairness that Superintendent Tyler perceives is a direct product of that agreement.

Gannett reporter Mike Hasten covered the press conference for this story.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Business bigshot targets teacher tenure

Ultra-right wing businessman Lane Grigsby is pulling out all the stops in an effort to abolish due process rights for Louisiana's public school teachers.

Grigsby, one of the state's highest rollers when it comes to bankrolling conservative causes, says he will make repeal of teacher tenure a litmus test for candidates he backs in next fall's elections for state offices.

The chairman of Cajun Industries is quoted in the Baton Rouge Business Report's Daily Report as saying "During this next election cycle, every candidate that comes before every organization that I sit on is going to have to tell that organization how they feel about teachers’ tenure."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fired Orleans educators get their day in court

Thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina are finally getting their day in court. Virtually all of New Orleans' teachers and school employees were summarily fired after the storm, leaving the way open for the state seizure of schools and the wholesale chartering of public education.

But was the firing of those educators legal? That will be determined in a trial that begins today, according to this article by Times-Picayune reporter John Simeran. The trial could last a month.

The lead attorney in the case, Willie Zanders. Sr., will argue that the terminations violated state law because there was no due process afforded the nearly 7,000 teachers and school employees.

Zanders is asking or lost wages and benefits as well as damages for emotional distress. Defendants include the State of Louisiana, the State Department of Education, the Orleans Parish School Board and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

U.S. education secretary interfering in LA superintendent selection

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has apparently lent his weight to the cause of John White for State Superintendent of Education.

As Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte writes here, Duncan has approached at least two members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on White's behalf.

As reported previously in EdLog, White, a 35-year old Teach for America product with limited educational experience, was selected to run the State Recovery School District, even though he has never been a school district superintendent.

He is Governor Bobby Jindal's choice to replace Paul Pastorek as state superintendent of education, but apparently does not have enough support on BESE to be confirmed. White would need the votes of eight of the 11 board members, but reportedly has solid opposition from four of them.

The two BESE members who report being contacted by Duncan are Linda Johnson from Plaquemine and Louella Givens from New Orleans; both of them have said they oppose White's appointment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TP wet kisses Pastorek; researcher debunks claims

As Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek rides off into the sunset, opinionistas like the Times-Picayune's editorial writers are trying to beatify him on a faster track than Pope John Paul II.

Friday's editorial gushed that Pastorek's "legacy will reverberate for years to come."

That may be so, but in ways unintended by the Picayune's uptown Brahmans.

Pastorek was not only divisive and unwilling to compromise, which the Picayune counts as good things, but he presided over a department that acquiesced in an ongoing plot to privatize, charterize and voucherize public education in Louisiana to a unprecedented extent.

Again, there are some who count those as good things. Good for the big buck administrators making six-figure salaries, and good for the consultants who now suckle at the public breast, and good for the right-wing politicians planning political futures built on the wreckage of public education in our state.

For the children, parents, teachers and school employees who want a decent public education system, not so much.

To find out why, check out researcher Charles Hatfield's response to the Picayune editorial here.

Hatfield and the organization he represents, Research on Reforms, has consistently debunked claims by Pastorek and the Jindal administration touting the alleged success of the State Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Peruse the Research on Reforms Web site, and you'll find convincing evidence that the Jindal/Pastorek agenda was "to deceive the public in order to promote the market‐driven goals of the new public education entrepreneurs and to increase the number of failing schools turned over to privately run 'public schools' in Louisiana. This is really what the state is doing."

As Hatfield concludes, "it is unfortunate that The Times‐Picayune continues to be extremely myopic and biased with respect to its one‐sided reporting on the success of the current reform initiatives of the former state superintendent, Paul Pastorek. Instead, it continues its simplistic reporting of this extremely complex issue and continues to pander to the misinformation and propaganda generated by the proponents of this market driven approach to public education, even though no quantitative or qualitative evaluations exist after five years to justify the continued existence of the RSD."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Whither White?

Everybody now knows that newly minted Recovery School District head John White is Gov. Bobby Jindal's pick to replace Paul Pastorek as the state superintendent of education. But who is he, and does he have a realistic chance of becoming superintendent?

White is just 35 years old, and fresh from his last job as deputy chancellor for the New York City school system. His main duty there, according to blogger Mike Deshotels, was "to close down low performing schools and to convert as many schools as possible into charter schools. He was also working on a system to evaluate teachers using student test scores."

Prior to his New York experience, White taught for two years as a Teach for America recruit, and then went to work as the Teach for America executive director in Chicago, according to this New York Times article. Aside from his abbreviated teaching stint, White's academic credentials include certification from the Broad Superintendents Academy.

The Academy's Web site claims that it takes "executives who have experience successfully leading large organizations and a passion for public service" and, after 10 months of training on weekends, "places them in urban school districts to dramatically improve the quality of education for America’s students."

There is no indication that White ever led a large corporation. However, he does have a qualification that seems very important to the Jindal administration - he, along with the new executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the governor's education advisor, emerged from Teach for America.

That distinction does not impress a new coalition of education organizations, which includes the LFT.

As Monroe News-Star reporter Barbara Leader writes here, the coalition wants Jindal and BESE to follow state law, which says that when the state superintendent leaves, he is to be replaced by the deputy superintendent for the remainder of the term, unless it is longer than a year.

There is a deputy superintendent already in place, and there is therefore no need to hurry up and find an interim to fill the job until next January.

And if that's not barrier enough to the governor's wishes, it appears that enough BESE members have problems with White's credentials to block his appointment. This article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell reveals that four of the 11 BESE members would vote against confirming White, and since a two-thirds majority is required, it looks like his outlook is dim.

Not that any of that makes much difference if the governor really has his heart set on White as the new superintendent. Our whole form of government is set up to make Louisiana's governor the most powerful in the nation. There are many levers of power that Jindal can tweak to get his way.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

No need to rush Pastorek's replacement

Governor Bobby Jindal and the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should be in no hurry to appoint an interim state superintendent of education, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

Monaghan spoke in the wake of Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek’s surprise announcement on Wednesday that he will leave the department of education to accept a post with an aerospace company in Washington, D.C.

The governor has announced that he favors replacing Pastorek with 35-year old John White, who just three days ago was named to lead the state Recovery School District.

“Careful deliberation and a logical, transparent process vetting process will help to build confidence in the successful candidate. There is no need for a rush to judgment,” Monaghan said. “There are competent people in the state department of education who are capable of managing affairs until such a process has been completed.

Read the rest of this article: please click here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

LFT statement on the resignation of Superintendent Paul Pastorek

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers wishes Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek well as he returns to the private sector. As the search begins for a new superintendent, we call upon Gov. Bobby Jindal to use carefully this opportunity for a fresh start.

It should not be difficult to find qualified individuals for the job. Our concern is with the policies that a new superintendent will champion. We are hopeful that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the governor will search for a superintendent with proven experience as a classroom leader, and who is willing to listen to the concerns of teachers.

While Mr. Pastorek’s personal style often brought him into conflict with some in the education community, we understand that it is policy, not personality, that counts in the long run.

Governor Jindal now has an opportunity to meet with the stakeholders in public education, including those who have had policy differences with Mr. Pastorek. BESE’s choice for a replacement will speak volumes about the direction they expect to take for public schools and the children whose future depends on the jobs done by the teachers and staff in those schools.

Pastorek to resign as superintendent

Advocate reporter Will Sentell has the story here.

The big question now is...who will replace Pastorek?

The prickly Pastorek has been a good foil for Governor Bobby Jindal's radical education agenda. Pastorek has fostered the demolition of public education in favor of charters and other quasi-private schemes. His in-your-face persona became the focal point for opposition to an agenda that is, at bottom, the governor's.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Citizen lobbyists say they want better choices

LFT President Steve Monaghan speaks to hundreds of citizen lobbyists at the Better Choices for a Better Louisiana day at the legislature on May 4.

Hundreds of citizen lobbyists, representing the diverse Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition, met at the capitol on May 4.The coalition is urging lawmakers and Gov. Jindal to pass a budget that does not rely solely on cuts to important services to achieve balance.

The coalition wants lawmakers to look at the state's $7.1 billion in various tax loopholes and incentives, as well as new revenues from "sin taxes" such as tobacco, alcohol and gaming.

Hammond Daily Star reporter Heidi Rogers Kinchen covered the lobby day for this story.

Please click here to view LFT's Facebook photo album of the rally; to read the BCBL legislative agenda, please click here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New RSD chief to get $281K package

The new, 35-year old chief of the State Recovery School District will get a $281,000 pay package, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, who brokered the deal with former New York City school system deputy superintendent John White, said the high salary is justified because of the "incredible amount of personal sacrifice" required by the job.

Although White will be making less than current RSD chief Paul Vallas, who makes about $377,000 per year, his salary will be higher than the state's new higher education commissioner.

Right on schedule, apologists for the state's big business lobby justified the pay package, trotting out the old bromide about having to pay high salaries to get highly qualified people. That formula doesn't seem to apply to classroom teachers, where the strategy has been to hire new college graduates, who will work for approximately two years at the low end of the salary schedule.

In any event, the old bromide doesn't seem to have worked in the Recovery School District. Despite Vallas' princely salary, student performance has not improved in schools seized by the state, according to this study by Dr. Charles Hatfield, co-founder of Research on Reforms.

As Dr. Hatfield writes in the study's summary, "Whether assessing the 2010-11 status of the RSD schools using the current achievement performance labels or applying the new letter grade system that will be implemented this fall, it is clear that the SPS achievement status for the vast majority of the RSD schools is at best pathetic."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

LFT Weekly Legislative Digest - week 1

They’re off: session opens to grim fiscal news

Despite a looming $1.6 billion deficit, Governor Bobby Jindal opened the 2011 legislative session with a promise to allow no new revenues, saying that he would veto any bills that close any of the state’s 441 tax loopholes or call for new taxes.

Maintaining that curbing tax breaks would amount to a tax increase, the governor said “Tax increases kill jobs. Tax increases kill opportunities. Tax increases hurt economic development. Tax increases hurt our ability to attract new businesses into Louisiana.”

The problem is that it's just not true. If cutting taxes and slashing services was the right strategy for success, we would have high employment, low poverty, a healthy population and a robust, growing, well educated state.

To read more, please click here.

Better Choices coalition slates May 4 rally on capitol steps

In response to the governor’s speech, the Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition made a powerful case for raising new revenues for the state and announced a lobby day on the steps of the capitol at noon on Wednesday, May 4.

With Louisiana facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, coalition spokespersons said that Governor Bobby Jindal’s plan for more cuts without any new revenue cannot solve the state’s problems.

“Doing more with less” is a hollow promise,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said. “The state is not doing ‘more with less’; it’s doing less with less. The current budget proposal sacrifices education, health care and the quality of life issues that could provide a better future for the families of Louisiana.”

To read more, please click here.

Education coalition condemns Jindal’s education policies

Members of a public education coalition took issue with the Jindal administration's education policies at a press conference on Monday, April 25.

Following the governor's opening address to the legislature, members of the Coalition for Public Education said that Jindal and State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek are taking public education in the wrong direction, basing decisions on political ideology instead of good educational practices.

"After listening to the governor (in his address opening the legislative session) that the future is so bright, I had to put on my shades," LFT President Steve Monaghan said. "There's a different Louisiana out there. Class sizes are going up and salaries have been frozen."

To read more, please click here.

Jindal budget calls for selling the Office of Group Benefits

Lawmakers appear hesitant to endorse Governor Jindal’s plan to privatize the State Office of Group Benefits, one of the elements of his budget plan.

OGB, as it is known, handles health insurance coverage for about 250,000 current and retired state employees. That includes teachers and school employees in a number of school systems. The office, one of the best run and scandal-free operations in state government, has built up a $500 million surplus over the past few years. If the office is sold to a private company, insiders say the surplus could become available for appropriation into the state general fund.

Opponents say that privatizing OGB would hike insurance premiums for state employees and retirees. The office currently spends about three percent of its income on management costs. The same costs for a private company could be in the 10% to 15% range.

To read more, please click here.

Roemer calls for abolition of tenure

Chas Roemer, who represents the Baton Rouge area on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, sent lawmakers a letter requesting that they support the abolition of teacher tenure.

Roemer said that tenure “protects poorly performing teachers” in public schools.LFT President Steve Monaghan quickly responded, saying that Roemer’s statement shows an alarming ignorance of the facts on teacher tenure.

To read more, please click here.