Friday, July 29, 2011

Teachers March is underway

The four-day Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is underway in Washington, D.C. Education Week has an article about the march here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The hurrier we go, the behinder we get

The State Department of Education has announced that the number of "Academically Unacceptable Schools" in Louisiana has risen dramatically, but assures the public that it does not mean our schools are getting worse.

In fact, according to a press release from the department, "more students than ever are grade-level proficient."

How to resolve that seeming paradox? The culprit is statistics. This year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education raised the minimum School Performance Score from 60 to 65. And next year, it will rise 10 more points.

The Associated Press is reporting that the number of AUS schools skyrocketed from 48 last year to 135 this year.

Under a new state letter grade policy, any school rated AUS will be slapped with an "F" in October. The threat of a state takeover will loom over schools that just a couple of years earlier would have been academically acceptable.

To some observers, it may seem that there is a deliberate effort to create the appearance that public schools are failures.

Acting Superintendent Ollie Taylor is sanguine about the increase in AUS schools, saying "I have no doubt that we will see schools quickly overcome this status, given the history of our districts and schools in responding to tougher standards."

BESE President Penny Dastugue also oozes confidence, saying, "Our commitment and challenge now at the state level is to work with schools and districts to get every school in the state over the bar."

"Raising the bar" is a popular metaphor with education reformers. They like the sports analogy, with its implication that every challenge can be met with just a little more effort.

But an athlete who is popped in the kneecap with a stick can't very well jump over a higher bar, and that is what's happening to public education in Louisiana.

The legislature, Gov. Jindal and BESE just agreed to freeze public education’s Minimum Foundation Program for the third straight year, even as the costs of providing education keep rising.

On top of that, some $83 million was cut from the education budget. That included money for nationally certified teachers, classroom technology, student remediation, and reading and math initiatives. Those are the very programs that are crucial to meeting the higher standards.

Increases in student achievement are a testimony to the hard work by teachers in the classroom. But they cannot be expected to keep improving with fewer resources. And it certainly doesn't help to have a system that seems set up to ensure the perception of failure.

Popped in the kneecap, indeed.

Report: N.O. charters "dumping" students

A new report from Dr. Barbara Ferguson's Research on Reforms organization documents ways in which charter schools practice selective admissions in spite of legal requirements for open admissions.

It's called "dumping." According to Dr. Ferguson, some charter schools in New Orleans find creative ways to legally remove students that they consider undesirable. Traditional public schools, on the other hand, must follow strict state laws regarding the expulsion of students.

That can have a very negative, two-fold effect on public education: it makes charter schools look more successful with the same student population than they really are, and at the same time, place more of the most disruptive students back into traditional public schools. That, in turn, creates the impression that traditional public schools are less successful than charters.

Here's one of the ways dumping works:

Lafayette Academy charter school, for example, can expel students for sleeping
in class, failing to report to the office as directed, disobeying a teacher,
cheating, lying, or for any other conduct that is disruptive, disrespectful
or disobedient, as determined by the principal. Lafayette was taken-over
because its 2005 performance score was 44.4, and now Lafayette has
a score of 77.3. At the time of its takeover, Lafayette could only expel students for
the offenses listed in Louisiana law, now it can expel students for just
about anything.

Dr. Ferguson's article offers several other examples of dumping and its negative effects on public education. Here is her conclusion about the practice:

Dumping kids out is a misuse of the charter school concept. Louisiana law
requires charter schools to address the “best interests of at-risk” students.
Yet, many New Orleans charter schools are allowed to dump out the at-risk.
This practice causes many ills. First, it becomes impossible to determine the
effectiveness of charter schools by comparing them with traditional schools,
because traditional schools cannot employ the dumping out policy.
Next, dumping kids out shifts the burden of educating the at-risk; it does
not address the issue for which charter schools are intended; thus,
diminishing the charter school movement. Also, dumping kids out of a public
charter school violates public law. Most importantly, dumping kids out of
public charter schools burdens the community. For the community to thrive
and prosper, the public schools must provide for the education of all
children and youth. Charter schools are public schools, but, when they dump
kids out they become more like private schools. Private schools are privately
funded; whereas, charter schools are publicly funded. And, all publicly
funded schools should be for the public purpose of educating all students.

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. "

Monday, July 18, 2011

LFT wins: "Red Tape Act" declared unconstitutional

Score one for the rule of law! Today Baton Rouge Judge R. Michael Caldwell declared Gov. Bobby Jindal's so-called "Red Tape Reduction Act" unconstitutional.

The law was the governor's signature education legislation in 2010, and it would have allowed the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to waive virtually any state law upon request by a local school board.

LFT opposed the law when it was in the legislature, on the grounds that the legislature does not have authority to cede its lawmaking authority to any other body.

"Insofar as the act grants this right, it is unconstitutional in my opinion,” the judge said. “Allowing BESE to waive or suspend law is a violation of Article 3, Section 12(b) of the constitution.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

There really is something about Mary...

Is Sen. Mary Landrieu hearing Bobby Jindal's footsteps sneaking up on her upcoming 2014 election, or does she really believe the nonsense she spouted at the center for American Progress recently?

As quoted in this American Independent article, Landrieu sounds as reflexively opposed to public schools as any of the governor's pro-charter minions.

The senator has long supported charter schools, but her rhetoric has never risen to the obnoxiously anti-public level revealed in this statement: "If traditional teachers and principals can rally themselves and admit that they failed … they can be part of turnaround. If not, they can leave.”

Not that there is really all that much to brag about in the charter schools that Landrieu champions. In fact, according to an April 2011 report from Research on, improvement "for the vast majority of the (Recovery School District) schools is at best pathetic."

If we really want to go there and talk about pathetic performance, the U.S. Senate might be a place to start. Imagine the senator's consternation if a potential rival would say, "If senators and congressmen can rally themselves and admit that they failed … they can be part of turnaround. If not, they can leave.”

One of the least educated, unhealthiest, and poorest states in the nation

The legislature did its work and went home. Louisiana has a budget - that was the main goal of this year's fiscal legislative session - but it ain't pretty.

The political posturing and crowing aside, Louisiana's $25 billion state budget leaves us "as one of the unhealthiest, least educated, and poorest states in the nation," according to this new report from the Louisiana Budget Project.

Chief among the victims of this year's budget are those least able to fend for themselves. The LA Budget Project reports that "funding for families and children that suffer from incapacitating poverty, abuse, and homelessness " was cut by some $53 million for the coming fiscal year. That means Governor Jindal has sliced the Department of Children and Family Services by 40 percent since coming into office.

Higher education has borne the brunt of Louisiana's budget problems for the pat few years, having been cut by $491 million during Jindal's term. This year, in order to claim that funding for higher education has been protected, lawmakers and the governor raised tuition and fees for students. This, they claim, does not amount to a tax increase.

Then there's K-12 education. The governor and his allies like to claim that they did not cut funding for public schools, but that is a prevarication at best.

Public education's Minimum Foundation Program base per-pupil amount has been frozen for three years, while costs have risen dramatically. That amounts to a cut all by itself.

But cuts outside the MFP have strained some local school board budgets close to the breaking point. The governor cut $5.5 million for nationally certified teacher stipends, and $7.2 million more for the transportation of private and religious school students. The governor also cut nearly $70 million in state funding for classroom technology, student remediation, and reading and math initiatives - programs that local school systems will either have to eliminate or fund themselves.

LBP's report further slams state leaders for reductions in health care and youth services.

But the worst news in the report is that lawmakers and Jindal once again cobbled together a budget that depends on one-time money and millions "swept" from existing funds. So without facing the real issue and identifying revenues that can fill the recurring budget gap, we will all be in the same leaky boat when the legislature convenes again next spring.