Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ravitch says Obama and Duncan are wrong about charters

Education gadfly/watchdog Diana Ravitch has this to say about "education reform" in her blog: "The Obama administration is using its unprecedented billions to advance a strategy of deregulation and deprofessionalization. This strategy will push American schools into untested waters, with thousands of untried leaders, and with results that are far from certain. This is not a reform strategy, but a risky strategy."

And this: "Overall, public schools continue to outperform charter schools. The public schools' performance is significantly better overall and in cities, and among students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (the federal measure of poverty in school data). Among other groups—those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, whites, blacks, and Hispanics—the test scores of public schools and charter schools are not significantly different."

She doesn't like the fact that the federal government is violating the promise of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which morphed into the No Child Left Behind Act under President Bush): "the federal government would never interfere with state and local control of schools."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LFT director sticks up for education professionals

Alison Ocmand, legislative director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, alerted lawmakers to a serious problem: the State Department of Education has neglected to pay nationally certified guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers the $5,000 annual supplement ordered by the legislature.

Legislators are not amused. The revelation caused a back-and-forth between State Sen. Jack Donohue and Deputy State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux. Donohue said money was appropriated for the supplements and they should be paid; Scioneaux said the department was ordered to pay the supplements from "available discretionary funds," according to this article by Advocate reporter Michelle Millholon.

The upside is that educators will get the money they are due. The downside is that Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin apparently believes that, since these professionals aren't in a classroom, they don't have an impact on student achievement.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Race to the Top rules becoming clearer: less emphasis on test scores and charter schools

Reacting to suggestions from teacher unions, the U.S. Department of Education has modified the teacher effectiveness requirements in the Race to the Top competition. Instead of centering on test scores, RTTT is asking competitors to include "multiple measures" of teacher effectiveness. Student achievement remains a "significant part" of the evaluation, but can include measurements other than standardized test scores. Education Week's Teacher Beat looks at the teacher requirements here.

Modification of the teacher effectiveness component was enough to get the American Federation of Teachers to give the department kudos for striking "the right balance between what it takes to get systemwide improvement for schools and kids, and how to measure that improvement." AFT's comments on the departments effort are here.

A second major change in the final draft of RTTT rules is a lessened emphasis on charter schools as the main drivers of reform: "While the Department believes that charter schools can be strong partners in school turnaround work, it does not believe that charter schools are the only or preferred solution to turning around struggling schools..."

Still slightly unclear is the role that local school systems will play in the state's ability to win RTTT funds. The Louisiana School Boards Association maintains that local buy-in is necessary for the state to win funding.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, though, seems to believe that local systems' input will be limited to opting out if they disagree with the program's requirements. As this state department press release puts it, "Districts have the option of whether to participate in the state application, and participating districts are not required to volunteer all of their schools."

State applications for the $4.35 billion fund are due on January 19, 2010. There is a lot of money at stake, and numerous stakeholders who need to be satisfied that the funds will be used to really improve education.

As EdWeek's Teacher Beat puts it, "Fasten your seatbelts... "

Friday, November 13, 2009

Power-tripping rep slaps Lafayette board

For the first time since the Louisiana Educational Excellence Fund was started in 1988, a state representative has blocked a local school board's grant application for the funds.

Rep. Rickey Hardey (D-Lafayette) is miffed because the Lafayette Parish School Board didn't consult with him about the $746,000 grant, used to assist at-risk students.

The LEEF money comes from 1988's 8(g) settlement of offshore oil revenues. Under rules established by law, school boards apply to the State Department of education, which vets the applications and recommends funding. The legislative education committees are then supposed to approve the funding.

Until now, that has always been as procedural a move as approving the last meeting's minutes.
But Hardy, who was a member of the Lafayette Parish School Board for 13 years, apparently has deep and longstanding gripes with the board. This week, he used his power as a representative to thump his erstwhile colleagues.

Lafayette Advertiser reporter Tina Marie Macias has the story here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can Louisiana hit the new graduation target?

Last spring, the legislature adopted a new law requiring the state to raise its high school graduation rate from the current 66.6 percent to 80 percent by 2014.

State Sen. Ben Nevers of Bogalusa chairs the Senate Education Committee, and he says the goal is attainable. State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek says ti will be "difficult" to hit that target.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell covers the exchange in this story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kennedy and Pastorek clash on vouchers

State Treasurer John Kennedy burnishes his right-wing credentials, and says Louisiana should pour more money into voucher schemes that siphon funds away from public education to pay the tuition of students at religious schools.

Interestingly, his comments come at a meeting of the streamlining commission. Its function is to find ways to make government less expensive, not to spend more money on non-public education.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek responds, defending the progress of public schools and noting that there is no evidence that vouchers improve student achievement.

Gannett reporter Mike Hasten has the story here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Virtual school committee bickers over makeup

Are online charter schools the heralds of a new era in public education, or a scam to fleece local school boards out of per-pupil money while promising students they can earn that high school diploma without taking off their jammies?

A Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committee might resolve that issue, but not before members stop bickering about the makeup of the committee.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, some committee members are complaining that the panel is "too narrow and not what the board envisioned."

If these preliminaries are any indication, the real fight over virtual charter schools ought to be a humdinger.

The ultimate question is a serious one. Should we really encourage charter schools in which children from all over the state log onto their computers for classes, with no need to ever meet with other students?

And should local school boards be forced to turn over 100% of per-pupil funding for schools that exist only in cyberspace, and that don't require transportation, classrooms, libraries, gyms, athletic facilities or administrative offices?

It looks like there could be a big profit margin there for the operators of these virtual schools. The committee should stop bickering and start investigating.

How the career diploma can work

There's been a lot of huffing and puffing about how the new career diploma will dumb down education. But if it works right, career education can save kids in danger of dropping out and put them on the path toward rewarding and fulfilling occupations.

That's the hopeful note sounded in this article by Associated Press reporter Doug Simpson.

As one mother of a high school junior who is taking a small engine repair course puts it, "College is my plan for him. But I'm glad that he'll have skills, that he'll be ready for the work force, if he doesn't go to college. This is not dumbed-down school, it's not easier. It'll just be different, more practical."

Speaking of practical, the reporter observes a student in a welding class who is learning, along with the metalworking skill, how to calculate angles, estimate costs, and write invoices and estimates.

These are the same academic skills the student would be learning in a traditional classroom, but with real-world applications that shift education from the abstract and toward the concrete. It might not be what all students crave, but certainly could be part of a healthy diversity in the way we approach raising our state's dismal dropout rate.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stakeholders wrangle over Race to the Top funds

Wrangling over Louisiana's participation in a planned $4.5 billion federal education program called Race to the Top continues as local school boards and State Supertinendent of Education Paul Pastorek vie to see who will decide how the state's share will be spent.

The stakes are high, as Gannett reporter Mike Hasten writes here. About 130 schools across the state could get up to $500,000 per year for four years under a plan favored by Pastorek.

Not so fast, say the school boards, represented by Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Nolton Senegal. The LSBA is concerned about ongoing costs of new programs once the federal funds run out.

Sources say the LSBA is on the verge of recommending against local school boards applying for any of the funds. If that happens, Pastorek says, he is willing to divert all of the money to the state-run Recovery School District.

Unions like LFT also have a part to play in the application process; the federal guidelines suggest that all stakeholders should agree on how the money would be spent. LFT President Steve Monaghan says the union is not opposed to accepting the money, but wants to be sure that it is not used to undermine traditional public education:

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the
final federal guidelines will dictate how his organization will react, "but no
one wants to stand between kids and cash. We want to make sure the cash goes to

"Right now, we would oppose it if the only turn-around is
reconstitution" of a school, replacing the administration and teachers, Monaghan
said, or if a school in the program has to be a charter school.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pastorek, school boards at loggerheads over Race to the Top

While other states hurry to play catch-up with Louisiana's pace to win federal Race to the Top funds, educators here are saying, "Not so fast!" The dispute now pits State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek against the Louisiana School Boards Association.

In an interview with Advocate reporter Will Sentell, a Louisiana School Boards Association spokesperson says that most local school leaders around the state don't want a piece of the $4 billion federal pie.

Various organizations, including the LFT, have expressed concern about mandates that will come with the new federal funds. Those include a major expansion of charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student progress as measured by test scores.

Speaking on behalf of LSBA, consultant Don Whittinghill says that Race to the Top will mandate new programs that will require significant funding when the federal money runs out after four years.

According to the article, LSBA polled its 658 members about accepting Race to the Top funds. Of the approximately 100 who replied, 77% said they oppose taking Race to the Top funds.

In a press release, Pastorek urges LSBA to "not dismiss this unprecedented opportunity," which would grant about $2 million to some 130 schools across the state.

Pastorek's press release states, "We are convinced that Louisiana’s public education system can clearly benefit from Race to the Top, enabling us to effectively support schools, and at the same time, build the institutional structure to continue statewide school improvement beyond the life of the grant."

LSBA Executive Director Nolton Senegal issued a press release affirming his opposition to “mortgaging the future of local public schools for an experimental program that is not based upon any significant body of research.”

Pastorek: state needs policy on foreign teacher recruiters

Responding to the scandalous treatment of Filipino teachers by the firm that recruited them to work in Louisiana, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek now says the state should have a policy governing the use of such recruiters.

As reporter Karina Donica writes here for the Alexandria Town Talk, several local school districts and the state Recovery School District have hired upwards of 300 Filipino teachers through a company called Universal Placement International. These districts, she writes, "could be facing significant penalties if it's found the firm broke federal law."

In the Town Talk report, Pastorek tells the reporter that the state has also recruited teachers from Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France and Canada. Those teachers have been hired through international trade agreements, and not through recruiters like Universal Placement.

Universal and its president, Lourdes Navarro, are the subjects of official complaints filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers.

To see a complete list of EdLog entries about the Filipino teachers and the story of their abuse, please click here.

Add "Bridging Differences" to your reading list

Bridging Differences is an ongoing discussion between education researchers Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. It's engaging, insightful and all-around excellent to read.

The two often disagree, but have found common ground in a couple of important issues that are of immediate concern.

They agree that basing teacher salaries on student scores is absurd. As Meier puts it, "Even the most renowned of testing experts argue that we're nowhere near being able to produce tests that can do the job of pay-by-score that folks want. I do wonder at times what 'they' think they are doing?"

Meier also has unkind words for the educational fad du jour, charter schools: "The charter schools have also become I fear another name for vouchers. Operated by private chains with public funding, they offer a kind of distorted marketplace, controlled by test scores standing in for profits. Thus, they kill two birds with one stone: public education and human judgment."