Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Over LFT objection, panel okays evaluation plan

LFT President Steve Monaghan explains the union's position to the House Education Committee.

The science that underlies a proposed new teacher evaluation plan may have merit, but the jury is out on whether it is ready to become law, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today. Nonetheless, the House Education Committee approved the bill without objection, and sent it to the House floor for further action.

Testifying before the committee, Monaghan said that HB 1033 by Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe) is based on a promising but untested science called a Value Added Model, or VAM.
“This young science has both advocates and doubters in the academic community,” Monaghan said. “We believe it is problematic to build a value-added model into law without the benefit of an adequate field test.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe) credited Monaghan with helping to create amendments that made the bill more palatable to teachers. Changes included a guarantee of teacher confidentiality, a process to challenge unfavorable evaluations, and a requirement that charter schools also be subject to the law, among others.

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Here's how it's done right

Higher Education Commissioner Sally Clausen has given the state's high-paid poohbahs a lesson in how to handle an economic crisis. She cut her own salary in half.

Here's a shout-out to all the contractors, department heads, commissioners and assorted leeches who deserve their high-flying salaries because hey, you have to pay top salaries to get the top people: Do what Sally did.

And while you're considering which nationally certified educators can do without their stipends, or which school support employees can work for less because you've decided to privatize their jobs: Do what Sally did.

While you're deciding which potholes can go unpatched, which bridges can rust, which parks can be padlocked: Do what Sally did.

That's all. Do what Sally Clausen did.

Jindal one of the worst?

Is Gov. Bobby Jindal the source of our nation's new "gold standard" in governmental ethics (oxymoron, anyone?), or is he one of the worst governors in the United States?

The Citizens for responsibility and Ethics comes down solidly on the side of "worst," with a little assist from the governor's co-Republicans, State Sen. Robert Adley and State Rep Wayne Waddell.

As Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler puts it in this article, CREW named Jindal " of the worst governors in the nation, citing his poor record in ethics and government transparency."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Panel acts to dismantle teacher salary schedule

The House Education Committee took a step toward dismantling the state's teacher salary schedule today when it approved House Bill 739 by Rep. Frank Hoffman of West Monroe.

The bill represents a true race to the bottom, as it allows school districts to pit retired teachers against current teachers in a contest to see who will work for the lowest salary.

If the bill becomes law, retired teachers who return to the classroom will not be allowed to enter the system at their former place on the salary ladder. Instead, school boards will "negotiate" their salaries. Testimony revealed that the intent is to pay them the same salary as beginning teachers.

Neither will the returning teachers ever be allowed to earn tenure or advance on the salary schedule - they will be year-to-year employees.

LFT President Steve Monaghan was the only person to present arguments against the bill, and he did it passionately.

"This is a direct affront to the salary schedule," Monaghan said. "Teachers should be paid for the service that they bring to a school."

"There will be unintended consequences to this legislation," he said. "It represents a disincentive for school boards to hire younger teachers if they can get veterans for less money."

The committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation, and then referred it to the House Retirement Committee for further action.

Times-Picayune explains it all for you

The Times-Picayune starts out doing what it does best in this Cindy Chang story - bashing New Orleans schools, praising the state-seized Recovery School District and going on about how much better off people are in Houston.

But then things get hazy.

Could be they're not better off in Houston: “Meanwhile," Chang writes, "New Orleans public school students have also made academic progress, though the results in each location involve different exams and cannot be directly compared."

So there has been improvement among New Orleans students. According to the Picayune's mythology, that must be because of the RSD, "which took over most of the city's schools after Katrina, (and) a combination of factors, including the post-storm prevalence of charter schools."

The article fawns over RSD chief Paul Vallas, and quotes him as saying, "Clearly, the kids we have in this district now are doing far better than they did prior to Katrina."

Then, in a true feat of journalistic dissonance, comes the very next sentence in the story. Read it slowly, and savor the contradiction: "According to Tulane's Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, which consolidated data from the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, the city logged a 10-point improvement in district performance scores from 2005 to 2008 -- a gain roughly equal to that posted during the years prior to the storm."

The Picayune continues in that vein in the editorial of the day: "The progress shown here and in Texas involves different tests and cannot be directly compared. But clearly New Orleans children are doing much better now than they were before the storm."

As our favorite barrister explains it, "So, the kids are doing far better in Houston than in New Orleans, except they aren’t. And the kids are doing far better now because of charter schools, except they’re doing the same."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Committee defers sick leave and sabbatical bills

LFT President Steve Monaghan explains the Federation's opposition to HB 399 and HB 400, which threatened sick leave and sabbatical benefits.

Two pieces of legislation that educators feared would harm their sick leave and sabbatical leave benefits were deferred by the House Education Committee today.

Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) voluntarily sidetracked his HB 399 and HB 400 when it became apparent that the committee would not approve the bills. In just the past week, nearly 1,500 people sent messages to the Education Committee urging them to vote against the bills. The messages were coordinated by the LFT Action Center.
HB 399 would have allowed school boards an exemption from granting sabbatical leave if the state fails to fund a 2.75% growth factor in public education’s Minimum Foundation Program.

HB 400 would have granted school boards the same exemption for teachers and school employees applying for extended sick leave.
LFT President Steve Monaghan said the bills would encourage school systems to take away hard-won rights from teachers and school employees. Monaghan told the committee that the bills amounted to "death by a thousand paper cuts" for teachers and school employees.

LFT President defends teacher tenure

LFT President Steve Monaghan discusses the Federation's support for teacher tenure, and talks about ensuring tenure's role as a professional distinction and mark of excellence.

To read more about the issue, please click here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More bad budget news – $319 million deficit announced

Louisiana is reeling from the latest bit of bad budget news: on Wednesday, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference announced that the state faces a $319 million deficit which must be corrected in the next 10 weeks.

In a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Bobby Jindal said that he hopes to avoid further cuts to higher education, which has borne the brunt of budget cuts thus far this year, and added that he hopes to avoid layoffs of furloughs of state workers.

The governor did not outline specific measures, but told reporters that he may free up money that has accumulated in various funds around the state.

Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon has the story here.

Workforce Commission backs LFT and Filipino teachers

Universal Placement International to repay $1.8 million in illegally charged fees

Additional resources:Click here to read the Workforce Commission findings and determination
Click here to read the initial press release and official complaint filed by the Federation

A Louisiana Workforce Commission administrative law judge has ruled in favor of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers and Filipino educators who were victims of an illegitimate California-based recruiting firm.

“This is more than just a victory for the Filipino teachers who were abused by the company,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan. “It is a validation of the rule of law, and a commitment by the State of Louisiana to protect the rights of all working people”

Responding to allegations filed by the American Federation of Teachers and the LFT, Administrative Law Judge Shelly Dick has ordered Universal Placement International to repay Filipino teachers an estimated $1.8 million in illegally charged placement fees, as well as a $500 fine and $7,500 in attorney fees.

The Commission will also refer the case to appropriate authorities for criminal sanctions against UPI and its owner, Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro.

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

News-Star: Jindal plan is "passing the buck"

The Monroe News-Star has weighed in on the dispute over reserve funds held by local school boards.

Just a few weeks ago, school boards belatedly responded to the Jindal administration's allegation that the billion-plus dollars in school board kitties could go a long way toward solving public education's funding problems. That was when the governor suggested that locals pay for items, including teacher stipends and private school busing, that have traditionally been the state's responsibility.

The News-Star has it right when it says, "As a short-term fix it only shifts an imminent burden from one level of government to the next. That's passing the buck, not a well-conceived solution."

Problem is, the administration steadfastly refuses to consider revenue solutions for the state's overwhelming budget problems. As long as that's the order of the day, buck passing is the only arrow in the governor's quiver.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rationality in the teacher evaluation debate

One of the touchiest subjects in all of education right now is the evaluation of teachers. It's easy to understand why. Teachers have been the victims of curious instruments in the past - does anyone have fond remembrance of LaTIP/LaTEP in the late 1980s? That disastrous instrument scored teachers by how many "benchmarks" they were able to hit during observations scored by evaluators with checklists. Teachers aren't trained monkeys, but LaTIP/LaTEP treated them as if they were. It failed miserably.

Yet there are few who could honestly say that the current evaluation method, which depends on subjective judgments by administrators, is the best possible way to judge a teacher's effectiveness.

So how to proceed? Education Week reporter Susan H. Fuhrman has made an effort to cut through the fog and smoke and come up with a rational article about teacher evaluation.

Fuhrman starts with the observation that "value added" is the flavor of the moment, and likely will play a role in future instruments promoted at both the national and state levels. And the idea that teachers can be evaluated in part by measuring the progress of students in their classrooms is attractive.

The idea is not to base the evaluation on the outcome of a single test, but to determine how much student improvement is made. Thus a teacher whose students begin two years behind but end up just half a year behind could be considered a star.

But there are pitfalls, as the EdWeek article points out. That means we should tread carefully. And the political process, which can be very clumsy, has a way of highlighting flaws and codifying poorly thought-out processes along ideological fault lines.

We've been there before, and it didn't work. The right solution is to let research lead the way, with allowances for failure and missteps, and permission to change when necessary.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Retirement system responds to criticism

The Teachers Retirement system of Louisiana has responded to a Greater Baton Rouge Business Report article claiming that TRSL appears on “a list of the most risky public retirement funds.”

In a press release, TRSL Public Information Director Lisa Honore says the study mentioned in the newspaper “is not based on a widely accepted methodology.” Another study which does use industry standards says that TRSL’s portfolio is actually “less risky than the median public pension fund with assets greater than $1 billion.”

“TRSL has a highly diversified investment portfolio structured to perform well over the long term and achieve a target return of 8.25 percent,” says the press release. “In fact, the System has exceeded its target rate with a 25-year return of 8.68 percent for the period ended June 30, 2009. Furthermore, TRSL’s seven-year investment return ranks in the top third (32 percentile) of the Wilshire Public Plan Greater than $1 billion Peer Group.”

Study: National certification has measurable benefits

A new study by the State Department of Education shows that teachers who earn national certification produce students with measurably higher achievement, but it is not clear that the certification can be credited with the results.

Researcher Dr. George Noell released the results of his study at Thursday’s meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Educational Excellence. The study was requested after State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek told a Senate committee that certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards does not necessarily enhance classroom teaching.

Pastorek’s statement was largely seen as cover for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to halt state funding of a $5,000 annual stipend for teachers who earn national certification. The superintendent later apologized for his comments.

Dr. Noell said that his study is the largest ever done on the effectiveness of nationally certified teachers, and that it confirmed other studies that “suggest there are advantages” to the certification. The study was limited to measuring improved outcomes on standardized tests, and included test data for about 250,000 Louisiana students over a three-year period. There are more than 1,500 nationally certified teachers in the state.

The researcher cautioned commission members about limitations of his study. “We know how much more effective (nationally certified teachers) are,” he said. “We don’t know if it is because of national board certification.”

The positive results could also be explained because those teachers are more motivated than others, he said. The study did not include a measure of test results before and after teachers earned national certification.

Dr. Noell said the survey results will probably not be very helpful in the debate over payment of the stipend to nationally certified teachers. “It is complicated,” he said, “because we made a promise and passed a law.”

The underlying issue is the state of the economy, according to Dr. Noell. “If it weren’t for the current budget crisis,” he said, “I wouldn’t have been asked to do this work.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

“Bondage and harassment” alleged against Philippine recruiter

AFT Attorney Dan McNeil, left, grills Universal Placement International director Jack Navarro in a Louisiana Workforce Commission hearing.
(Baton Rouge - April 6, 2009) Filipino teachers in Louisiana saw the wheels of justice take a turn on Monday when the state’s Workforce Development Commission held a hearing on the validity of contracts that allegedly violate state and federal law.
In the next two weeks, an administrative law judge will rule on complaints filed against Universal Placement International by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. The company recruited Filipino teachers for Louisiana classrooms.
Testimony by teachers revealed shocking details of company practices that one called “bondage and harassment.”
“The alleged behavior of this recruiter and the treatment of these teachers is quite frankly disgusting and an affront to basic American values,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan.
Penalties that could be assessed against the California-based UPI include the voiding of all contracts with Filipino teachers, refunds of the thousands of dollars in fees paid by the teachers, and fines.
A director of the company, Jack Navarro, admitted under oath that the company does not have a license to act as an employment agency in Louisiana and does not maintain an office here, as required by law. Since the complaints were filed, he said, UPI applied for a license and was denied.
To read more of this story, please click here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Post-holiday catch up edition

Much has happened during the short Easter break. The legislature is back in session, but unlike previous years, the opening was marked by dissension.

Leadership issues: Because former Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson was elected to the Senate, the House had to choose a new pro tem. Normally, that's not a big deal. The guys gather in a back room, agree with the governor's pick for the post, and hold an election to make it official.

But as Times-Picayune reporter Ed Anderson writes here, this year there were actually two candidates: Independent Joel Robideaux of Lafayette, who had the nod from Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, and Democrat Noble Ellington of Winnsboro. Surprisingly, Ellington came within a handful of votes of beating Robideaux.

Retribution from Speaker Tucker was swift and harsh, as reported here by the Picayune's Jan Moller. Ellington and some of his supporters lost plum committee assignments, and Ellington was threatened with the loss of his digs at the prestigious Pentagon Barracks near the capitol.

Jindal losing his luster? A poll from LSU's Public Policy Research Lab revealed that Governor Jindal's direction for the state may no longer be supported by a majority of residents.

As reported here by Advocate bureau chief Mark Ballard, a solid majority oppose the governor's rigid opposition to taxes in the face of the state's economic crisis, and 51% say the repeal of the Stelly tax reforms was a mistake "because it cost state revenue and contributed to the current budget shortfall." Nearly 60% say the Stelly reforms should be reinstated.

College shake-up in the works? Higher education in Louisiana probably won't look the same after this legislative session. As Bill Barrow of The Advocate reports here, several plans are floating around the capitol that would restructure governance of colleges and universities. The most drastic would replace the state's four college boards with one 15-member board of trustees. college shakeup Jindal plan unpopular