Friday, January 29, 2010

Bogus think tank at it again

The Associated Press is all over a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality claiming that the states "are holding tight to policies that protect incompetent teachers and poor training programs..."

Despite its fancy name, the NCTQ is little more than a right-wing think tank aimed at discrediting public education. EdLog has called out the council for its inaccurate screeds in the past.

In this case, the council again harps on one of its favorite bugbears, teacher tenure, claiming that tenure is awarded "automatically." Teachers know better, but this kind of tripe often works on an easily swayed public.

In an article released last March, LFT President Steve Monaghan blasted the NCTQ for misrepresenting teacher tenure in Louisiana:

In the words of the (NCTQ) report, "Louisiana's probationary period
for new teachers is just three years and the state does not require any
meaningful process to evaluate cumulative effectiveness in the classroom before
teachers are awarded tenure."

“That is just as false as saying a student automatically earns a
college degree after four years,” Monaghan said. “The tenure process is a
rigorous one. Teachers must first pass a national exam, earn certification, and
undergo years of mentoring and evaluation by local administrators.”

Before a teacher earns tenure, Monaghan said, it is easy for
administrators dismiss those who fail to meet expectations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama: budget freeze won't apply to schools

President Barack Obama's plan to freeze domestic spending won't apply to public education, according to this article by CNN reporter Ed Henry.

The president recently announced that he plans to freeze most non-security related spending in order to rein in the federal deficit, which is about $1.4 trillion this year. That left educators wondering about the future of Obama's education plans.

In tonight's State of the Union address, according to Henry, the president will announce that education spending by the federal government will increase by $4 billion in the coming year.

Included in that amount is an additional $1.34 billion for Obama's Race to the Top program, and another $1 billion to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Charter school boss absconds with cash

Remember when most of the schools in New Orleans were taken over by the state and turned into charter schools because the old Orleans Parish School Board was so corrupt?

The business manager of the Langston Hughes Academy charter school in New Orleans was arrested and charged with stealing $650,00 from the school.

Times-Picayune education reporter Sarah Carr has the story here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Private foundation picks up science fairs

Since LSU won't be sponsoring science fairs any more, a private foundation that operates charter schools will hold the regional and state fairs this year. Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere has the story here.

State phasing out GEE

As part of the move toward a "value added" system of evaluating student progress, the state is phasing out the Graduate Exit exam in favor of a new end-of-course exam.

As WAFB-TV's Tyana Williams reports here, students will now be tested at the end of each course, giving teachers a better grasp of the student's real performance.

In order to graduate, students will have to pass English II or English III, algebra I or geometry, and biology or American history.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weingarten shakes up the establishment

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten shook the education establishment last week when she announced to the national Press Club that AFT is launching its own massive school reform effort.

She laid out a new approach to teacher evaluation, saying that a strong teacher
development and evaluation system is crucial to improving teaching, and is
essential for a fair and efficient due process system. Weingarten said the union
is prepared to work with any district willing to take both steps: to create and
implement a real evaluation system, and to establish a due process system
aligned to it.
Critics immediately pounced on Weingarten's speech. From the right, union bashers decried her initiative as a fake reform aimed at appeasing reform advocates.

But even teachers reacted with concern when the news media portrayed her speech as an admission that teachers should be evaluated based on their students' test scores.

That was an oversimplification that undervalued Weingarten's effort. Leave it to an actual reformer, Diane Ravitch, to put Weingarten's speech in context and explain what it really means:

She laid out a far-ranging plan for evaluating teachers, which I suspect most
teachers would find fair and reasonable. Here is what she said:
First, states should set out clear professional standards that describe clearly what teachers should know and be able to do. Then, to determine whether teachers meet these standards, districts should use "multiple means of evaluation," including
classroom observations, self-evaluations, portfolio reviews, appraisal of lesson
plans," and a variety of other tools, including student test scores. But the
scores should be based on "valid and reliable assessments" and they should not
be derived "by comparing the scores of last year's students with the scores of
this year's students, but by assessing whether a teacher's students show real
growth while in his classroom."
In her speech, Weingarten gave a nod to the "value added" approach to evaluation that is favored by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek.

Thanks to efforts by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, our state's Race to the Top application describes multiple means of evaluation. Those include a value-added model as well as a Learning Environment Index that considers conditions outside a teacher's control, such as student poverty and school resources.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Science fair and student teacher funds cut

Governor Bobby Jindal's plan to cut LSU's budget by some $12.6 million at mid-year will hurt K-12 schools as well as the state's flagship university.

Notice has gone out to principals that popular programs will be sacrificed to the governor's budget axe.

First to go is the stipend that LSU's School of Education pays to K-12 teachers who supervise student teachers. As Dean M. Jayne Fleener, Ph.D. put it in an e-mail to principals:

Because of the current 6% budget cut to the College of Education, we cannot
offer your teachers who are supervising student teachers in their schools
the $200 stipend we have in the past. We truly value our partnership with
your teachers and schools and regret we cannot honor your teachers in this
way. However, these budget cuts prevent our continuing to provide this token
of our appreciation at this time.
The bad news continues for employees of the college. Writes the dean, "in addition to other cuts, we will not be able to offer our own university supervisors travel money to defray their expenses for supervision. Given the wide range of placements across several school systems, this is a significant cost to each supervisor."

Students in middle and high schools will also feel the pinch from the governor's refusal to use Tax Amnesty Program funds to prop up higher education. Two popular events sponsored by LSU's Continuing Education department, the 2010 Region VII Science and Engineering Fair and the 2010 Louisiana Science and Engineering Fair, are being cancelled.

Writes program director Gail Hawkes in a memo to principals, "We know that these events are of great educational value to our community and to the state of Louisiana. LSU Continuing Education will explore alternative long-term funding mechanisms that might permit LSU to
resume hosting the fairs in the future."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

LFT President Steve Monaghan on Race to the Top

In a letter to members of the state's largest education organization, LFT President Steve Monaghan explains why the Federation has chosen to participate in applications for federal Race to the Top funds.

As with any big change, Race to the Top has opposition. In deciding to participate, Monaghan had to carefully balance concerns about the $4.4 billion program against the potential benefits.

In the end, LFT decided to participate in Race to the Top negotiations because, as Monaghan said, "engagement is far better than disengagement, and dialog is better than silence."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Column notes Jindal's hypocrisy

Governor Bobby Jindal wants to have it both ways - on one hand, decrying federal spending, but on the other depending on federal largess to maintain vital state services.

The Advocate's capitol bureau chief, Mark Ballard, calls the governor for his hypocrisy in this column, quoting a recent fundraising appeal: “While the federal government spends (and spends some more), our state continues to outperform the national and Southern averages.”

As Ballard notes, one big reason for the state's economic performance is that Louisiana receives a much larger share of federal aid than most states. Those ginormous checks Jindal is fond of handing out in front of photographers are generally courtesy of the federal government.

The truth, Ballard says, is that Louisiana receives $1.78 back from the feds for every dollar in taxes our citizens send to Washington. Over half of our state budget is funded by the feds.

Why do we get a disproportionate share of federal funding? It's because our state is so very, very poor. As are most of our Southern state neighbors.

What's most interesting, as Ballard makes clear, is that these states all have "widespread poverty and a leadership prone to macho posturing. The low-income people among us still need health care, their children still need education. They just can’t afford it. Luckily, the federal government is there to pick up much of the tab, so that Jindal and fellow Deep South governors don’t have to."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shouldn't the Department of Education fight against budget cuts?

Grim news from the State Department of Education: pressured by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the department is cutting more than $16 million from the budget in the middle of the fiscal year.

Much of the money is being cut from early childhood education, literacy and numeracy initiatives. These are the very areas that need bolstering if the state is to meet its ambitious education accountability goals.

These cuts, like those imposed on higher education by the governor, are not necessary - there is more than enough money, some $450 million, coming in from a tax amnesty program to avoid any cuts to education.

While the governor burnishes his right-wing credentials in anticipation of a run for the White House, our K-12 and higher education systems fall farther behind the other states.

Here's a question. State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek is well known for his prickly personality and willingness to fight for most any reason. So why isn't he challenging the big boss over budget cuts that most assuredly will harm our schools, our children and our state?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Minority and low-income students are public school majority

Public schools in Southern states now enroll a majority of non-white and impoverished students, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

A new study from the Southern Education Foundation reports that in Louisiana, 51.2% of public school students are minority, mostly African-American. Sixty-six percent of our public school students come from low-income families.

The study, which is online here, notes that the South has always had"a disproportionately large number of low income children to educate," dating back to the end of the Civil War.

The message of the study is stated in its preface: "Poverty and lack of a good education beget poverty and inequality. The South is in the throes of a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. "

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grim news for higher education

The state's colleges and universities are being asked to absorb yet another round of budget cuts, according to this article by Advocate reporter Jordan Blum.

Last month, state economists declared a shortfall of nearly $250 million this budget year, and Gov. Bobby Jindal is adamant that no new revenues will be dedicated to filling the hole. So even though the state is enjoying a $450 million windfall because of the Tax Amnesty Program, colleges and universities will lose almost $84 million before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Classes will be cancelled across the state, and LSU's flagship status will be endangered, but Jindal will keep his national bragging rights as a strict fiscal conservative. That won't help Louisiana, but may boost the governor's presidential aspirations.

Is R2T the model for education's future?

As Louisiana rushes to get a piece of the big new federal education pie, the national perspective on the $4.4 billion Race to the Top program is becoming clearer. Education Week reports that the direction taken by R2T will soon be reflected in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

EdWeek reporter Alyson Klein says the Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan plan to make R2T "the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s plans for a new ESEA. "

Klein quotes administration spokesperson Carmel Martin as saying, “I think some of our big-picture goals are, first, to carry through the reform agenda that we see in Race to the Top and other [recovery act] programs, to carry that forward through ESEA.”

Educators - including the LFT - are dubious about sections of R2T that encourage expanding charter schools and basing teacher evaluations in part on student achievement.

But in Louisiana, Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek has been willing to listen to Federation concerns and modify the state's R2T application in response to them. Notably, Pastorek scaled back the percentage of evaluations that depends on test scores, and included a "learning environment index" that takes factors beyond a teacher's control - such as poverty and school resources - into account.

This press release from the State Department of Education recognizes LFT's role in shaping Louisiana's response.

As EdWeek points out, R2T's coming influence concerns some states because of its emphasis on common standards. That could work to Louisiana's benefit.

While our accountability standards have earned the state much praise from reformers because of their rigor, we've been at a competitive disadvantage with other states with lower academic standards. Our high standards make it look as though our children aren't performing at the same level as those in other states, when the reality is that we are simply demanding more of our students.
Common standards would level that playing field.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Despite windfall, Jindal wants to cut education and health care again

The state's hugely successful Tax Amnesty Program has raked in nearly $450 million thus far, and that's more than enough to forestall the $248 million worth of cuts Gov. Jindal is projecting, mainly for higher education and health care.

Clearly, the governor has chosen to follow a radical conservative ideology instead of working to bolster education and provide adequate health care for the people of the state.

Read more here at the LFT Web site. Click here for a preliminary list of budget cuts, provided by Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome Back!

EdLog has been on hiatus. We welcome all Louisiana teachers and school employees back for the second half of the 2009-2010 school year!