Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Will our schools take another budget hit?

What does this year's looming $250 million state budget shortfall portend for the coming legislative session?

According to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, the governor says it is too early to tell if ongoing budget woes will force yet another freeze on public education's Minimum Foundation Program.

The MFP, the funnel through which state aid flows to public school systems around the state, has been static for the past three years. Just once in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal has the MFP received its traditional 2.75% inflation factor boost.

In The Advocate's article, Gov. Jindal repeats his claim that public education spending has increased by better than nine percent during his administration.

Some of that increase came before the big freeze, but the bulk of it is simply because the number of public school students has risen. The MFP is based on the number of students in our schools, and and must be raised as the student count goes up.

Outside the MFP, Gov. Jindal has sliced some $80 million from vital programs like after school tutoring, literacy and numeracy initiatives, early childhood education and stipends for nationally certified teachers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's deja vu all over again...

They're saying that Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to cut another $250 million from the state budget "could be worse" according to this article by Gannett reporter Mike Hasten.

Of course, they've been saying that for the past three years, as our colleges and universities fall apart, roads and bridges crumble and health care shrinks.

So higher education will lose another $50 million, and all UL System President Randy Moffett has to say is that cuts will be made with a "careful and conscientious approach."

Not to beat a dead horse, but Louisiana still has over 400 tax loopholes on the books, that add up to a staggering $7 billion in lost revenue. Couldn't we take a closer look at just a few of them, and stop strangling our state's quality of life?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Coalition: Search for the best superintendent

The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education is calling for a nationwide search to find the most qualified candidate to be the next State Superintendent of Education, as reported here by Debbie Glover of The St. Tammany News.

But as Will Sentell of The Advocate reports here, Governor Bobby Jindal and Board of Elementary and Secondry Education President Penny Dastuge have made up their minds. There will be no search for a candidate more qualified than current recovery School District Superintendentent John White.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Estimating conference right to reject salary estimate, LFT says

How can anyone figure that the average teacher salary in Louisiana has gone up by $2,000 over the past year? Yet that is what the Education Estimating Conference was told on Tuesday, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

The committee decided not to accept the estimate, part of a much broader report on the state of public education's finances. That was the right decision, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers:

The state’s Education Estimating Conference was right to reject the portion of the report guessing that Louisiana’s average teacher salary has climbed to more than $51,000 per year, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

“In too many of our school systems, it is not possible for a teacher who has advanced degrees and is at the top of the salary schedule to ever earn that much money,” Monaghan said. “I believe it is fair to characterize this report as chatter, as noise that distracts us from inequities in the way we compensate educators.”

The LFT was responding to a report that consultant Mark Brantley presented to the estimating conference on Tuesday, in which he estimated that teachers this year earn an average of $51,560, an increase of nearly $2,000 over last year’s estimate, which Brantley pegged at $49,614.

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

Lottie Beebe on selection of a new superintendent

Lottie Beebe, Member-elect of the District 3 seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has written a letter to the editor of newspapers around the state, making the case for a real search for the next superintendent of education. In case your local paper doesn't print the letter, here it is:

Dear Editor:

BESE’s first order of business will occur in January. With the announcement of Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler’s resignation effective January 31, 2012, BESE members will need to find a replacement. I strongly advocate the search for a state superintendent of education who can offer leadership to the education profession.

BESE’s action in January is critical to school improvement and education reform. It will set the stage for success or failure. Consequently, it is imperative that BESE fulfills its responsibility to Louisiana’s citizens. There should be a national search for a superintendent who has a proven record of success relative to school improvement.

The individual should be one who has no political obligations and can make sound, responsible decisions independent of Governor Jindal, or Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and others outside of Louisiana who may have contributed to the campaigns of BESE members. He or she should possess credentials required of district superintendents.

To deviate from such standards is irresponsible and confirms the adage, “It is not what you know; it’s who you know.” This is the wrong message to communicate to our students. On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, BESE’s student representative voiced his support of a state superintendent who has the credentials expected of local district superintendents. I commend this young man for recognizing the importance of standards.

According to my research, the individual who is being embraced by Governor Jindal as the next state superintendent of education is one who has only a BS Degree in English (most superintendents have a Masters plus 30 hours with many years of academic leadership), has served as a Teach for America Executive Director, and deputy superintendent in a New York School System. My understanding is that he has completed the BROAD Academy for Superintendents—a ten-month program requiring weekend attendance. This is insulting to educators who have worked two or more jobs to financially aid themselves in the pursuit of higher credentials and positions of leadership.

There are numerous issues and challenges that await BESE during the next four years. Again, I reiterate that the first order of business for BESE will determine the future of public education and our state for years to come. BESE needs to conduct a thorough national search for the best candidate for state superintendent before a decision is made.


Lottie P. Beebe, BESE Member Elect
District 3

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tom Aswell's challenge to our leaders

Louisiana is fixin' to get tougher on our kids, with plans in the works to replace the current high-stakes LEAP test with a new, and so far acronym-less test that will be aligned with the "national drive to make public school courses more rigorous."

The implementation of the new test will probably make hash of the new Value Added Model of teacher evaluation, a fact that doesn't seem to faze the State Department of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education or Gov. Bobby Jindal (but was recognized by Sen. Eric LaFleur at last Thursday's Joint Education Committee meeting).

Note that even as we make schools "more rigorous," we are freezing public education's budget, and cutting appropriations for after-school tutoring, technology initiatives and literacy and numeracy programs. Let's see how that works out.

And what are we really measuring with all these rigorous tests? A child's chance at future success?

If that's the case, all our elected officials should read this post by Tom Aswell over at Louisiana Voice.

He tells the story of a Florida school board member - a successful man who holds a Bachelor's degree and two Masters' degrees - who took that state's high-stakes math test.

Writes Aswell:

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he said. “The math section had 60
questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess 10 out of
the 60.” He got 62 percent on the reading test. “In our system,” he said,
“that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of
reading instruction.

Which got Aswell to thinking: Could our own test-happy bureaucrats and politicians pass the LEAP, much less its more-rigorous replacement?

At the risk of great personal embarrassment to myself (as if that would be
a precedent), I would like to issue a challenge to Gov. Jindal, each of his
cabinet members, every other statewide elected official (including the
congressional delegation), each member of the legislature, and especially to
each member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, school board
members from all 64 parishes, and members of the Louisiana Board of Regents for
Higher Education...

I would like to challenge the aforementioned public officials to prove that
they are smarter than an eighth-grader. And to put my money where my mouth is, I will also volunteer to take the Louisiana eighth-grade LEAP test in the same
room, at the same time, as any public official who will take my dare. I’m
certain we can secure a room of sufficient size in the Claiborne Building that
houses the Department of Education.

Aswell lists some sample questions from Louisiana's test. It's worth a visit to his blog to read them, and ask yourself, honestly, how you would fare on the test used to judge our children's academic progress.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

And then there was one...

After the November 19 election, it seems that there is only one reliable voice against knee-jerk, questionable "reforms" on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But if this letter to the editor from newly minted District 3 BESE member Lottie Beebe is any indication, that voice will be loud, clear and independent.

In just a few paragraphs, Beebe rankles at the implication that she is against "real education reform," expresses reasonable reservations about the incoming Value Added model of teacher evaluation, and calls for a nationwide search for a new, high-qualified state superintendent of education.

It looks like there may be a lot of 10-1 splits on BESE over the next four years. But never underestimate the power of one, if that one happens to be right.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

VAM promises a long and bumpy road

As expected, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rammed through, with very little debate, a new teacher evaluation system heavily skewed toward a Value Added Model on Tuesday.

Not that there wasn't objection. As this Associated Press article points out, there were plenty of reasonable objections made by expert teachers and their organizations. The lack of debate was on BESE's side - like obedient children, they did as they were told and approved the new model.

As LFT President Steve Monaghan said, there are significant reasons to question the evaluation tool and its scoring methods, as well as the grievance procedure approved by BESE. Those will be revealed in detail in the coming weeks and months.

But just as a pre-Christmas appetizer, consider these issues.

The algorithm used to determine teacher scores has not been revealed. But based on reports from other VAMs, it is possible that one in three evaluations will not be accurate because the margin of error is extraordinarily high.

No procedure has been produced for a teacher to appeal a VAM score.

The Value Added Model will only apply to one-third of all teachers, those who teach courses measured by standardized tests. All others - two-thirds of our teachers - will apparently be evaluated by a double set of subjective evaluations, which are still to be determined but will go into effect next school year.

Even the new system's supporters agreed that there will be significant problems with the new system. That may prove to be the understatement of the month.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Jindal's BESE dominance enough?

How much did Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies spend to stack the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with members simpatico with his idea of eduction reform? We won't know for sure until the next round of election finance reports is released, but it will be a big number, well into the millions.

What they will get for their investment is the subject of this column by Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte.

The gist of it is this: Despite the governor's near-total control of BESE, a "sweeping overhaul" of public education is not necessarily a "done deal."

The governor's faction will have their way in matters of policy, including his choice for superintendent of education, Deslatte concedes: "Jindal's got three appointees to the board, and most of the eight elected members espouse his support of vouchers, charter school expansion, school takeovers and teacher evaluations tied at least partly to student test scores."

But while policy is under the jurisdiction of BESE, law is another matter, and that is in the purview of the legislature.

"The new and re-elected BESE members can't just sweep in at the start of the January term and make all those changes on which they campaigned," writes Deslatte. "They can elect a superintendent who agrees with them. Then, they'll have to lobby lawmakers and keep their fingers crossed."

"I expect there to be a robust debate, but in the end, I expect in the House and in the Senate to get these proposals through," Deslatte quotes the governor as saying. Jindal has not revealed just what those proposals will be.

Deslatte notes that most members of the legislature were not elected on platforms of education reform that mirror Jindal's. They will be hearing from others who want to improve education, but may not believe the governor's path is the right one.

Deslatte concludes that the governor will "still have to get majority support in both chambers and overcome the opposition of the unions, school board leaders and other traditional public school supporters to win final passage of his bills."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Report: John White a done deal as superintendent

This story from Gannett reporter Mike Hasten predicts it plainly: John White will become Louisiana's new superintendent of education when the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets in January.

Despite this plea, printed in The Advocate, from newly-elected BESE member Lottie Beebe, there will be no search for a superintendent, no question of qualifications, no scrutiny of record. Governor Jindal wants White to be superintendent, and he will be. QED.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving catch-up

The education world did not stop turning just because teachers and school employees had a few days off for Thanksgiving. Here, briefly, are a few things you might have missed:

BESE election: Following the November 19 general election. Governor Bobby Jindal is in complete command of the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Eduction. Candidates favored by the governor and others who believe in his style of "reform" swept all three BESE runoffs: Kira Orange-Jones won District 2, Chas Roemer took District 6 and Carolyn Hill won District 8.

According to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, that means the governor "could have the support of nine or 10 members after months of 6-5 votes on key school topics."

The governor's only disappointment in the BESE races came in District 3, where St. Martin Parish School Board Human Relations Director Lottie Beebe defeated long-time incumbent Glenny Lee Bouquet in the October 22 primary.

In this article by Gannett's Mike Hasten, Gov. Jindal reports that he is happy with the new, right-leaning BESE. The new members seem to be struggling to maintain their own identity, but will that last when the governor applies pressure?

Expensive charter school: One charter school in Jefferson Parish spends $87,500 per student, according to this article by Times-Picayune reporter Barri Bronston. The school, which was established to serve students who have been expelled from middle schools for various offenses, has seven teachers and eight students.

That news prompted the Monroe News Star editorial writer to question, in very understated fashion, the wisdom of spending that much money on one school: "it's important to note that even charter schools require some close supervision."

"Within our local systems," the editorial notes, " you could ask Ouachita Parish Superintendent Bob Webber or Monroe City Schools Superintendent Kathleen Harris what they could do with $87,500 per student, and we are quite certain either one of them would respond that an investment of that much public money per student would result in a world-class school system."

Teach for America: The growing influence of Teach for America was explored in this article by Times Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore.

Once seen as a sort of Peace Corps that brought idealistic young college graduates into hard-to-staff schools, Teach for America has become a political as well as educational force to be reckoned with.

Best known is John White, currently the superintendent of the Recovery School District and Gov. Jindal's pick to replace Paul Pastorek as State Superintendent of Education. But newly minted BESE member Kira Orange-Jones is also a TFT alum, along with the new executive director of BESE and Gov. Jindal's new policy advisor.

A little justice for some Filipino teachers: The Caddo Parish School Board has done the right thing and settled with the U.S. Department of Labor, awarding Filipino teachers in the parish some $1,300 each because of their entanglement with a crooked recruiting firm.

It is a small step to correct a much larger injustice. The settlement only applies to a specific charge brought by the U.S. Department of Labor against the Caddo school board. It leaves open U.S. allegations against other school systems, and does not deal with the LFT complaint, filed with the State Workforce Commission, that Filipino teachers were forced to pay fees that should have been paid by school boards under Louisiana law.

Value Added Model: As the state tests a new teacher evaluation scheme called the Value Added Model, questions are popping up about how fair it will be.

Reporter Sue Lincoln filed this story for the Southern Education Desk, in which LFT President Steve Monaghan questions how well the new system will actually measure teacher effectiveness.

The privatization of public education: In an epic article for The Nation, reporter Lee Fang exposed the "quiet but astonishing national transformation" of public education into a cash machine for big business.

Lobbyists, he writes, have "combin(ed) the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations."

Focusing on virtual schools, he writes, "This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion."

Local Federation chapters grow together: Educators in Caddo and Bossier parishes can expect to see their influence grow with the creation of the new Red River United Federation.

As reported here by Mary Nash-Wood of the Shreveport Times, the new organization combines the power of the Caddo Federation of Teachers and Support Personnel and the Bossier Federation of Teachers and School Employees.

"It will essentially be a super group over the two organizations," said CFT President Jackie Lansdale.

Friday, November 18, 2011

You're not paranoid - they really are coming to get you

Teachers, school employees, parents and supporters of public education have a lot to worry about. Not to sound paranoid, but they really are coming to get us.

In today's Advocate, reporter Will Sentell has a story about the speech that Lane Grigsby gave to Volunteers in Public Schools yesterday. Grigsby is the moneybag tycoon behind the Alliance for Better Classrooms. That's the group that poured tons of money into BESE and legislative races, demanding in return a pledge to oppose teacher tenure.

Grigsby's group is working closely with the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana and others to take the "public" out of public education. As the article puts it, "ABC favors a wide range of steps in the name of school choice, including tax credits and major changes in how public schools are funded."

Grigsby's isn't the only deep-pocketed, corporate-aligned organization to paint a target on the backs of public educators, however. On December 12, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy will hold its "policy orientation" for the Louisiana legislature.

Featured speakers at the conference will be Sen. David Vitter and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who says he'd like to shrink government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.

Panelists on the agenda include a laundry list of right-wing activists and legislators who are pushing a radical "reform" agenda aimed at privatizing, voucherizing and charterizing our schools.

The upshot of it all is this: Louisiana is now squarely in the middle of a national fight over public policy, with an emphasis on public education. After Saturday's general election, it promises to be a long and perhaps bloody four years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reasons to oppose Amendment 1

The Louisiana Budget Project has published the best reasons to vote against Amendment 1 in this Saturday's election: it "would damage the ability of state and local governments to provide revenue needed to support health care, education, and other essential services."

Aside from the simple fact that a constitution should comprise the broad values that define a state, not a laundry list of issues that would be better addressed in law and policy, this amendment is a bad idea.

It would prohibit local governments from assessing a transfer fee when real estate is sold. But there is only one parish where such a fee now exists, and there are no plans elsewhere to establish a transfer fee.

The amendment's proponents want to make sure that there never will be, and are willing to clog up the constitution with more micromanagement to accomplish that end.

Its supporters tend to be the same people who say they want smaller government, yet they are willing to tie the hands of the smallest level of government. Limiting local authority to raise revenues makes local government more dependent on state and federal resources, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letter: Jindal fails schools on two counts

A reader's letter to the editor of The Advocate points out two issues that demonstrate Gov. Bobby Jindal's lack of concern for public services such as education, especially as they affect lower income citizens.

The reader cites the governors "possibly intentional" failure to win an $80 million grant to expand broad-band services to portions of the state that lack high-speed information technology, and his "certainly intentional" failure to apply for $60 million in federal funds to expand pre-kindergarten education.

The comments that follow the letter are enlightening, and demonstrate that both the governor's supporters and detractors are following these issues.

Governor playing reform close to vest

What's next? Gov. Jindal was handily re-elected, but is reticent to announce his plans for the future, other than to say "education reform" looms large on his agenda.

As Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon writes here, details are lacking. The governor's supporters apparently expect to have their own ideas of reform implemented. Those include abolishing teacher tenure, expanding vouchers for private and religious schools, scaling back on local authority and handing much more control of schools over to the state department of education.

The governor himself is mostly silent, leaving LFT President Steve Monaghan to comment, “To me, it’s almost like you have a gift box and inside you have another gift box. When do you get to what it is?”

Friday, November 11, 2011

They're catching on...

Gov. Jindal may have just won a re-election landslide, but that does not mean his programs and goals are all popular.

In fact, if this column by the publisher of the Livingston News is any indication, people are starting to catch on to the governor's real agenda for public schools, and they don't like it one bit (free registration is required to see the full article).

Jeff David starts his column in terms as stark as any you're likely to see: "Let's be very clear about it. The primary stated goal of the Bobby Jindal administration during its second four years will be the elimination of the public school systems in the state of Louisiana, including the public school system in Livingston Parish."

These are fighting words in Livingston Parish, a reliably Republican, middle-class community that is very proud of its excellent public school system.

"The Governor of the state of Louisiana," David writes, "the one you voted for three times in droves, is about to drive a knife into your back and twist the handle for good measure."

Like Paul on the road to Damascus, the scales have fallen from Jeff David's eyes. He understands what the governor is up to, and he's appalled.

"Why would Jindal turn his back on the very people who elected him?" asks David. "So that he can run for President, that's why."

And he seems to understand that Jindal's road to the White House will be paved with contributions from very big businesses - ones that expect to profit from the privatization of Louisiana's schools.

In order to carry through with his commitments, however," David writes, "Jindal needs both the Legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to go along with the plan. Both have a shared constitutional say in where state funds for education are spent.

"That is why you have seen funded PACs, many with outside Louisiana money in them, come into the state this year and get involved in legislative races as well as BESE races."

As the people catch on to the governor's agenda, and as newspapers like the Livingston News start reporting what's really happening to our state, Jindal might have tougher sledding in his second term than he did in the first.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ethics issues dog Chas Roemer and Kira Orange-Jones

Two candidates strongly supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, big business and even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are facing ethics issues in the waning days of the 2011 election season.

Kira Orange-Jones, candidate for the District 2 seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, is the subject of a cease-and-desist order signed by a New Orleans judge.

According to the online publication New Orleans Agenda, "Orange Jones had claimed in her
campaign advertising that she had voted for President Obama in November, 2008, but the
plaintiffs provided the court with a sworn statement signed by Orange Jones on August 17, 2011, that she had never before been registered to vote in Louisiana or any other place."

The order says that Orange-Jones must "cease and desist from misrepresenting her voting record or her registration in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1463." It is illegal for candidates to make statements that they know to be false or misleading, according to the article.

Chas Roemer, in a runoff for re-election to his District 6 BESE seat, has run afoul of the Louisiana ethics code and must return some $10,000 worth of contributions, according to this article by Mikhail Zinshteyn in The American Independent.

It seems that when the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry pumped $20,000 into Roemer's campaign, the cash infusion lifted him way over the legal limit for PAC contributions.

Gov. Jindal recently sent a fund-raising letter on Roemer's behalf, and his campaign fund for the District 6 seat - which pays no salary - now holds over $220,000. His opponent, former Ascension Parish Superintendent of School Donald Songy, has raised less than $14,000.

Songy's campaign chest is about par for BESE elections. The really curious question is why all the big money is pouring into Roemer's campaign. It is an unprecedented expenditure for the state school board.

But that's not the only ethics question dogging Roemer. His sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. Because of her relationship with Chas, she is prohibited from speaking at BESE meetings, and does not do so.

As this article by Louisiana Voice reporter Tom Aswell points out, ethics laws also prohibit elected officials from voting "on any matter in which a member or his immediate family has a substantial economic interest."

The ethics board has never made a specific ruling in his case, but it would seem that Chas Roemer should abstain from any vote involving one of his sister's schools.

Instead, Aswell writes, "In December of 2010 alone, he made motions to approve charter school contracts of $50,000 and under, made motions to approve Crescent City School, the NET Charter High School, the Collegiate Academy Charter School, the Sarah T. Reed Charter Middle School, the ReNEW K-8 Charter School, The ReNEW Alternative High School, and in one case, made the motion to deny an application to commence operation of Joseph A. Craig Charter School in New Orleans."

Value Added's epic FAIL in Tennessee

New York Times reporter Michael Winerip has written this expose of Tennessee's failed Value Added Model for teacher evaluation.

It's a devastating story of what happens when well-meaning politicians meddle in areas they know nothing about. We will soon see similar stories reported in Louisiana when our own politician-driven Value Added Model goes into effect.

As in Tennessee, our version of the VAM requires teachers to be judged according to their students' test scores. And as in Tennessee, a majority of our teachers have classes that are not subject to standardized tests.

Louisiana is in the process of devising a way to apply a VAM to non-core teachers that will probably wind up looking much like Tennessee's model.

Here's what reporter Winerip says: "Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores."

The result of Tennessee's bad experiment? Low morale, ill-will, micromanagement and loss of faith in the state's political leadership.

This story should be required reading for Governor Jindal, BESE members and the legislature.

Monday, November 7, 2011

BESE runoff elections are underway!

Early voting started Saturday!

Click here to find early voting locations in your parish

Nov. 5-12, 2011 is the early voting period for the Nov. 19, 2011 General Election (except Sunday and November 11, 2011-Veterans Day).

Early voting hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Early voting takes place at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes.

LFT supports Louella Givens in District 2

Click here to download a flier supporting Louella Givens.

District 2 BESE incumbent Louella Givens is in a tough fight to retain her seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Because she has often opposed the governor’s education agenda, she has been targeted for defeat by big-business interests and out-of-state meddlers.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has personally contributed $5,000 to her campaign, aside from the $100,000 he contributed to a new PAC committed to defeating pro-public education candidates.

“Louella Givens has been vilified for her pro-public school positions,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan. “She is a fighter for real education reform, and is a true advocate for all the children of the state.”

District 2 includes St. Charles Parish and parts of Orleans, Jefferson, St. John, St. James and Assumption Parishes.

Donald Songy is the best candidate for BESE District 6

Click here to download a flier supporting Donald Songy.

Donald Songy has a long record of success as a classroom teacher, administrator and superintendent of one of the state’s fastest growing, most successful school systems.

His opponent, Chas Roemer, spent the last four years blaming teachers for our problems and building a bureaucracy of high-paid State Education Department officials.

Here’s what you need to know before you vote:

Donald Songy:

  • Retired classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, personnel director and superintendent of Ascension Parish Schools.

  • Opposes state seizure and privatization of public schools.Supports fair, consistent evaluation of teachers.

  • Believes that resources should go to the classroom, and that public education’s Minimum Foundation Program should be fully funded.

  • Endorsed by teacher organizations, school boards, and the coalition for public education.
Chas Roemer

  • Managing partner of an investment corporation. One-term BESE member, elected without opposition in 2007.

  • Conflict of interest—consistently votes for taking schools and issuing charters, even though his sister is the executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

  • Asked legislators to sign a pledge to abolish teacher tenure. Major supporter of former Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s “Value Added Model” of teacher evaluation.

  • Helped Pastorek stack the State Department with over 40 new bureaucrats making more than $100,000 per year. Opposed restoring the MFP’s 2.75% growth factor.

  • Benefits from a $100,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Supported by an anti-public school coalition of big businesses.
District 6 covers Livingston and Washington Parishes, and parts of East Baton Rouge, Tangipahoa and Ascension Parishes.

Federation urges vote for Jimmy Guillory in BESE district 8

Click here to download a flier supporting Jimmy Guillory.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has endorsed Jimmy “Dr. Jim” Guillory in the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s District 8 runoff election.

“Dr. Jim” is a strong, independent supporter of public education. A former member of the Avoyelles Parish School Board, he understands the needs of a district that includes some of the most challenged urban and rural schools in the state.

His opponent is supported by the cabal of big-business and out-of-state meddlers, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who want to seize control of public education in Louisiana.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan urged voters to overcome divisions and vote for the candidate whose educational background and unquestioned support for public education make him the best-suited person for the job.

“The stakes are high this year, and the future of public education hangs in the balance,” said Monaghan.

District 8 covers Avoyelles, East and West Feliciana Parishes, and parts of East and West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry Evangeline, St. Martin and Lafayette Parishes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Advocate editorial: Jindal selling our kids short

Add Baton Rouge's own Gray Lady to the list of those perplexed by Gov. Bobby Jindal's refusal to apply for a $60 million grant to expand pre-kindergarten services to the thousands of eligible children in our state.

This editorial in The Advocate probes the governor's claim to be focused on education, while at the same time rejecting money for a strategy proven to help children succeed.

"We hope," the Advocate's editorial writer says, "this isn’t a case of Republican Jindal dismissing a promising source of help for Louisiana’s schoolchildren just because the help is being offered by the Democratic Obama administration."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Columnist gets it right on tenure

Hammond Daily Star columnist Lil Morando gets it exactly right in this journal entry. It should be read by every member of the Louisiana Legislature, because they will be barraged with bills aimed at abolishing teacher tenure next spring.

It should also be required reading for voters in Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 6, where incumbent member Chas Roemer has made an obsession of his crusade to get rid of tenure.

With politicians like Roemer banging the drum about tenure, Morando makes an important point: "The reason tenure exists is to keep politics out of the system, to make sure that when teachers are fired it is because they are incompetent. At a time when we should be working to keep politics out of our school system, 'getting rid of tenure' would do just the opposite."

She revisits what educators already know, that tenure is not lifetime job security, nor does it prevent administrators from firing poorly performing teachers. Tenure simply guarantees that there will be a fair, open process to ensure that a teacher's rights are respected.

Morando's conclusion is one that all of us should take to heart: "Yes, Louisiana education needs reforms, but the goal of all reforms must be to improve education for all our children. Getting rid of tenure and laying off teachers will not accomplish that goal."

Monday, October 31, 2011

School discipline's Catch-22

There have recently been a few disturbing, highly publicized incidents of teachers physically attacking students.

While no one condones it when a teacher loses control like that, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan explained to WAFB-TV that a changing culture in our classrooms has led to increased frustration in the teacher corps.

"If that teacher is dealing excessively with discipline, discipline, discipline all day long - we're all human beings," Monaghan told reporter Kelsey Davis. "At some point there is a breaking point."

Louisiana has tough laws on the books that ought to guarantee an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. But all too often, those laws are not enforced.

One reason for that is a "Catch-22" built into our state's school accountability laws. Disciplinary actions such as expulsions and suspensions must be reported, and can help lower the letter grade reported to the public. Doing the right thing can lead to bad results for the school.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why is the mayor of New York buying Louisiana elections?

Why is so much money being funneled into an election to a board that pays no salary? And why is the mayor of New York City so interested in Louisiana's public schools that he donated $100,000 to a group that is dedicated to stacking that same board?

Those are just two of the questions swirling around the 2011 election to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. As EdLog has noted before, BESE has risen higher than ever before on the political radar screen.

At the heart of the issue is Gov. Bobby Jindal's desire to have complete control of the state school board, and the ability to name the next superintendent of schools. That requires eight votes on an 11-member board.

The governor appoints three members. The rest are elected. And the person chosen by the governor to be the next state superintendent is a former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system.

Mayor Bloomberg's donation was to the Alliance for Better Classrooms. It was formed by multimillionaire Lane Grigsby in order to elect BESE members who would adhere to a rigid corporatist ideology and support the governor's agenda.

Which helps to explain why a state school board race is being shaped by forces from far outside the borders of Louisiana, from all the way to the halls of power in New York City.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The foolish inconsistency of Bobby Jindal

"Foolish consistency," Ralph Waldo Emerson once sniffed, "is the hobgoblin of little minds." But what is there to be said about the foolish inconsistency of the Jindal administration's refusal to apply for $60 million in federal funds for pre-kindergarten education?

That's the topic explored by Associated Press pundit Melinda Deslatte in this column, in which she explores an inconsistency that crosses the line into hypocrisy.

The governor had no qualms when he denounced federal stimulus funds for other purposes, then accepted the tainted money and presented huge cardboard checks to local officials as if they were personal contributions to the welfare of the communities.

So what's the big deal about the pre-K program? We all know that early childhood intervention is the best guarantee of future academic success. This sudden, foolish inconsistency will do actual harm to thousands of children who could benefit from pre-K services.

And congratulations to Sen. Mary Landrieu for pointing out the damage that Gov. Jindal's decision can cause.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Livingston issue proves union value

If teachers and school employees ever wonder why a union is valuable to them, they need look no further than this article by Advocate reporter Faimon Roberts.

The Livingston Parish School Board had adopted a policy requiring employees to complete an overly intrusive medical history form just in case they are ever injured on the job and need to apply for worker's compensation.

They would have been forced to complete the form, which included numerous questions about very personal issues, and have every page signed by their principal or supervisor.

Unions complained. At a school board meeting, LFT Field Representative Mona Icamena said the information required on the form went far beyond what principals ought to know about their employees.

Thanks to the unions, the board agreed to change the way information required by workers' compensation is collected, keeping sensitive information away from prying eyes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stretching the numbers and the truth

Across the political spectrum, Gov. Bobby Jindal's agenda is being exposed as an exercise in spin aimed more at political gain than the good of the state.

As Mark Ballard, The Advocate's capitol bureau chief, lays out in this column, Jindal's claims of fiscal success ring very hollow.

First, C.B. Forgotston, a right-leaning economic analyst, lays bare the deception in the governor's claims that he has “reduced the state budget by a stunning total of $9 billion..."

In fact, the reduction claimed by Jindal is the result of comparing estimates, according to Forgotston, and not because of any real reduction in the budget.

As the Louisiana Budget Project has demonstrated, when federal funds are subtracted, Louisiana's general fund budget has remained virtually flat since 2005.

Then there is the administration's claim to have actually increased education funding through the Minimum Foundation Program, a claim debunked by the LFT in Ballard's column.

The governor did not increase education funding. Per-pupil funding for the MFP has been frozen for three years, thanks to the governor, the legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

While the total amount of money in the MFP has gone up, that is because of increases in student enrolment and other automatic triggers that the governor does not control. He is taking credit for something he did not do.

Outrage du jour: Jindal turns down millions for pre-K

Shocking many in the education community, Gov. Bobby Jindal and his underlings refuse to apply for some $60 million in federal early education funds, as reported here by The Advocate's Will Sentell.

Despite a wealth of data proving beyond doubt that pre-K intervention is the best way to ensure future academic success, the Jindal administration has already frozen LA4, a nationally respected program. The result is that tens of thousands of children remain on waiting lists for this service.

Now the administration doesn't even deign to ask for the available federal grant, claiming that it comes with "strings." All that means is that the state has to prove a need - no heavy lift there - and that we have proper organization for our pre-K services.

Just another shameful episode for a state that lags the nation in just about every positive measure.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Truth in advertising: Chas Roemer edition

To see Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Chas Roemer's TV re-election ad, you'd think he is shocked - shocked, I tell you - by Louisiana's "bloated" education bureaucracy.

Standing with the wife and kids, he says of Louisiana's $9 billion education budget, "we should put that money into the classroom not into the pockets of bureaucrats.”

And yet, as part of the Jindal administration's majority on the BESE board, Roemer voted to make former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek the highest paid education superintendent in the nation at over $300,000 per year, and Roemer voted to pay Recovery School District Superintendent John White some $250,000 per year.

The state department of education, which Roemer's board oversees, now has 45 staff members who make more than $100,0000 per year.

Bloated bureaucracy? Take a peek in the mirror.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

School letter grades become BESE issue

In this Advocate article, District 6 BESE member Chas Roemer says of the recently released school letter grades, "For the first time we are getting a real sense of how our schools are doing.”

How can that be possible? There are two things that we know about the letter grades: they tell us absolutely nothing new about schools because they simply repackage existing data; and they lump so many key components together that the effect is to slap a meaningless label on schools.

But for Roemer and the other Jindal allies on BESE, letter grades have become a defining, bright-line issue in this year's election. Roemer's two opponents, Democrat Donald Songy of Ascension Parish and Republican Elizabeth Meyers of Livingston Parish, both oppose the way letter grades have been imposed. Both Meyers and Songy have been declared favorable candidates by LFT.

In District 8, the article notes, LFT-endorsed candidate Domoine Rutledge opposes the letter grades while other major candidates are in support.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Educator gives state "I" and "D" for grading schools

Educator and researcher Dr. Andre Perry says the State Department of Education's letter grades for schools is a "gross, inexact measure that does not reveal the very important details of how a school is performing" in this article from The New Orleans Agenda.

"The State," he concludes, "must add letter grades that separately measure key components of school performance as part of a school report card. In the meantime, the State and individual school leaders must now explain the inaccurate grades without sounding like they're offering excuses for them. Therefore, the State should be given an 'I' for its incomplete efforts to measure school performance. But, following the their own practice, we'll give them a 'D' for their efforts."

Friday, October 7, 2011

School letter grades are intellectually dishonest

Letter grades have an important function in schools. In each subject, children receive grades as indicators of their progress and to identify areas that need improvement. Letter grades have become so ingrained in our culture that everyone understands "A" means excellent and "F" means failure.

But no child ever comes home from school simply labeled "A", "F" or anything in between. The letter grades indicate levels of progress in a range of subjects.

Which is one reason why the letter grades issued to schools this week are so intellectually dishonest. They simply slap a label on a school without explaining anything. School letter grades take advantage of a common understanding in order to create an impression that can be very misleading.

A second reason why this week's exercise is intellectually dishonest is that the school letter grades tell us nothing that we don't already know. Before Wednesday, schools were rated by a system of stars and labels. The new system assigns grades of “A” through “F” to schools and school districts. There is no other difference in the way that school data is collected or analyzed.

Governor Jindal and his political cohort simply repackaged what we already know about schools in the most negative light possible, then held a press conference to bang the drum for their own idea of reform just weeks before an election.

The news media took the bait, as this article, which occupied most of The Advocate's front page on Thursday, demonstrates.

The media frenzy validated the Louisiana Federation of Teachers' concern that "assigning a single letter grade to a school oversimplifies complex issues and trivializes the numerous factors that contribute to the performance of a school."

It should be no surprise, for example, that magnet schools with selective admissions policies earned an "A," and no one should be shocked that alternative schools which take in troubled children for short periods are labeled with an "F."

What is lost in the hoopla over the new labels is the fact that most schools are improving, and that teachers are going to extraordinary lengths to help their students succeed.

These gains are underway even though resources for public education have shrunk dramatically. The main funding source for schools, the Minimum Foundation Program, has been frozen for three years, even as costs to local school boards skyrocketed.

Over $76 million for after school tutorial programs, classroom technology, reading and math initiatives and stipends for nationally certified teachers - the very programs that help students succeed - was cut by Governor Jindal.

The governor called Wednesday's press conference and touted these questionable labels to further his campaign on behalf of his hand-picked candidates for the legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Their agenda is clear. They want to abolish teacher tenure, turn more schools over to private operators and seize authority over schools from locally elected school boards.

If the governor and his allies are really concerned with improving education, they will fully fund the Minimum Foundation Program and restore the programs that work to achieve student success.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

LFT Marches in Solidarity with Shipyard Workers

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers marched October 1 in solidarity with workers at Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans, which is under threat of closing. LFT leaders from around the state made the trek to New Orleans to show support for the shipyard.

It was a true Second Line parade, with marchers stepping out behind the Treme Brass Band and a grand marshal replete with umbrella, all members of the musicians' union. Hundreds of workers and community supporters met at the Superdome and marched down Poydras Street for a rally at the federal building.

The shipyard workers live in Jefferson Parish and surrounding communities, and their children attend local public schools. Educators already are seeing the ravages of past rounds of budget cuts and the effect they have on students. If the shipyards close, this dire situation will become even worse, so AFT members are doing their best to be there for the workers and their families. (More information about the fight to save Avondale is available online .)

"We all need Avondale, and American business needs more ships," said United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter. "We want to know what elected leaders and the Avondale owners are doing to keep the shipyard open. Our community, our students and our jobs depend on it."

Teachers and school support personnel alike realize that the shipyard's closing would hit the New Orleans area economically and harm the public schools, said Laura Harper, PSRP chair of the Jefferson Federation. "Many of our members have spouses who worked at the yard and have already been laid off," she said. "They can't find other jobs, so they are living on unemployment and the salary of the PSRP member, which tops out, for a paraprofessional, at $23,500.”

See more photos of the march in our Facebook album. Please click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Man bites dog story: Forbes article supports teacher unions

Malcolm Forbes named his yacht "Capitalist Tool," so the last place you'd expect to find an article supporting teacher unions and questioning the validity of market-based "education reform" is the Web site that bears his name.

Yet here it is. Writer E.D. Cain opens with this riff on conventional right wing wisdom: "Teachers' unions are often portrayed by their opponents as standing in the way of efforts to reform our schools. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing."

Cain acknowledges that attacks on teacher unions and support for privatized reform come from both the left and right wings of the ideological spectrum. Both sides, he says, have fallen for a neoliberal scheme to disempower teachers and their unions while funneling vast amounts of public money into private coffers.

About reforms, he says "Vouchers have been met not only with public disappointment, but with few if any real benefits. Most charters haven't fared much better. And for-profit schools come packaged with all sorts of other troubling implications for our public - or should I say "public" - education system."

About the horde of non-educator experts who devise schemes like high-stakes testing "which seeks....to boil down education to learning by rote," he writes, "When technocrats and businessmen take over the hard work of designing a system of education is it surprising that the result of a complex labyrinth of testing schemes aimed at only those subjects that can be measured, quantified and pasted into spreadsheets? Is it any winder that professionals who care about education might see this as a threat?"

And about the unions which defend professional educators, he writes, "I support teachers' unions because they are the best chance this country has to improve and strengthen public education for the long haul. No other organization will step in to protect teachers from political blowback and the reform-trend-of-the-moment."

It's a good read, with important ideas, from an unexpected source.

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Banned Books Week!

Happy Banned Books Week!

Between now and October 1, read something that someone else will find offensive. It's important.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

March planned to support Avondale shipyards

For over 70 years the Avondale Shipyard has been an economic engine for New Orleans, the West Bank and the entire Gulf Coast. Avondale was, and still is, central to the area’s economic, cultural, social and political life.

Avondale was once one of many industrial enterprises in the New Orleans region that created well-paid jobs and prosperous and stable communities. Now it stands virtually alone, and even that may soon change. The very existence of Avondale is being debated in corporate boardrooms and Congressional hearings, in newspaper columns and the corridors of the Pentagon.

Avondale Shipyards is owned by Northrop Grumman, which plans to close the shipyard next year.

Nearly 5,000 Avondale workers stand to lose their jobs. That will cause the loss of 7,000 additional jobs in the region, according to Louisiana Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret. Avondale pumps literally billions into the local economy. It is Louisiana’s largest private employer. It is a central pillar of the New Orleans regional economy.

According to reports, Avondale is not losing money, but Northrop Grumman figures it can make more money by closing the shipyard, sacrificing thousands of jobs and sending a shock wave through the local economy.

On Saturday, October 1, Avondale Shipyard workers, elected officials, labor, business and faith leaders and members of the New Orleans-West Bank community will sponsor a march and rally to Save Our Shipyard. Participants will assemble at 10:00 A.M at the Superdome on Poydras Street in New Orleans, and start marching at 10:30 A.M. down Poydras Street to the Federal Building, at 500 Poydras.


Friday, September 16, 2011

A crucial year for BESE elections

Races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education generally bring few thrills to a campaign season. The board that develops education policy is not exactly sexy, and its issues are hard to distill into eight-second sound bites.

Members of BESE get no pay, and membership on the board is not considered a steppingstone to higher office.

But for several reasons, BESE races have made it to the media radar screens this year.

For one, the news media are looking for some excitement, and there is very little of that in most races this year. No major candidates oppose Gov. Bobby Jindal at the top of the election ballot, there’s little controversy emerging in the other statewide races, and dozens of senators and representatives are returning to office without opposition.

But it’s not just the media ginning up expectations for bloody confrontations in BESE races this year. With little competition in other races, campaign contributors are looking to races that usually don’t garner much attention.

Contributors with the big money come with agendas, and they’re not necessarily pro-public education. As we’ve documented in EdLog before, some of the money people want to abolish due process rights for teachers.

Others may have an eye on the state’s education budget. As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein, “follow the money.” For example, unknown to most citizens, the State Department of Education hands out half a billion dollars in private contracts every year, for everything from professional development workshops to writing and scoring standardized tests.

And there is money to be made in the charter school movement. State law prohibits for-profit agencies from holding school charters. But it’s perfectly legal, and standard operating procedure, for a non-profit to be granted a charter, and then sub-contract school operations to a private provider.

That little subterfuge has created a huge, nationwide industry. Several multi-state corporations operate hundreds of charter schools and collect billions of dollars in public funds. They hire lobbyists and create PACs to elect candidates who will make it easier for them to expand their operations.

All of which leads to news reports like this one from the Times-Picayune’s Andrew Vanacore, who writes, “Once relatively obscure, BESE has drawn close attention as the debate over education reform has shifted into a higher gear and grown ever more polarized on issues such as charter schools, tenure for teachers and the role of local school boards.”

Or this story from Advocate reporter Will Sentell, who observes that “The winners will decide key policies for the next four years, including whether Gov. Bobby Jindal gets his choice for state superintendent of education.”

More than in any previous BESE election, serious issues are at stake this year. Among them are teacher tenure, privatization of public services, funding for public education and the state seizure of local public schools. LFT will provide information about these issues in the coming weeks. Before you vote, be sure to ask candidates where they stand. Support those who want strong, accountable public schools under local control and who believe that teaching is a vital, honorable profession that deserves respect and dignity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Does privatization save the taxpayers' money?

The biggest justification for selling the jobs of public employees to private corporations is that it will save money for the taxpayers. From school custodians to health insurance professionals, the story is that corporations can somehow hire employees for important public services and still make money for their shareholders.

The obvious ways to accomplish this feat are by reducing the salaries and benefits of the employees, and by shortcutting the public on the services for which the corporations are being paid.

Then there are the inevitable cost increases when time comes to renew the contract.

Even so, many people are willing to go with privatization because they are convinced that it does save money.

Now comes this report in the New York Times about a new study showing "that the government actually pays more when it farms out work."

That's right. As reporter Ron Nixon puts it, "The study found that in 33 of 35 occupations, the government actually paid billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost government employees to perform comparable services."

The study, produced by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight, focuses on contracts issued by the U.S. government. Today, though, an article appeared on POGO's Web site saying that states are overpaying for privatization as well.

In the article, Dana Liebelson wrote, "state governments faced with budget pressure are making mistakes similar to the federal government, privatizing and contracting for services on a large scale without determining whether the decisions make fiscal sense."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Labor's Story Left Out of High School History Textbooks

The nation has just celebrated Labor Day, yet few Americans have any idea why. A new report on how the history of labor is treated in high school history textbooks offers an explanation—most Americans never got any education about the labor movement's proper place in our country's history and its many contributions to the nation's development.

"American Labor and U.S. History Textbooks: How Labor's Story Is Distorted in High School History Textbooks," sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, in cooperation with the American Labor Studies Center, surveys four major textbooks that together account for most of the market in U.S. history textbooks. The report notes that these textbooks often present labor history in a biased, negative way; for example, focusing on strikes and strike violence while giving little or no attention to the employer abuse and violence that were usually at the root of such actions. Their persistent focus on conflict overrides any attention to labor's central historical role in bringing generations of Americans into the middle class.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day message: Get out and vote!

Here's an appropriate Labor Day message, courtesy of News-Star reporter Barbara Leader: build coalitions and fight for a better future!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor champion Victor Bussie dies

Services will be held on Friday, September 9, for longtime AFL-CIO President Victor Bussie, who passed away in his sleep on Sunday, September 4.

“In his 41 years as president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, ‘Mr. Vic’ championed public education and was an unflinching advocate for children and the men and women who work on their behalf,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan.

Louis Reine, current president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said that Bussie was a tireless advocate for working people.

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So-called education "reform" is a failure and scam

If the proper goals of education reform are the privatization of public schools, the enrichment of education corporations and the de-professionalization of teaching, then Louisiana's effort to remake public education is a screaming success.

But if the goals are to educate children and create a more knowledgeable citizenry, then not so much.

That is the conclusion drawn by Diane Ravitch in this Reuters blog entry. "The reformers," she writes, "believe that the way to 'fix' our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers."

Those are the wrong prescriptions for what ails education in America. The single best way to improve education in our nation is to reduce poverty.

The so-called reformers scoff at that, saying that public education supporters are simply trying to shift the blame onto society at large.

But the facts do not support that viewpoint. In the most recent international comparisons, Ravitch writes, "low-poverty U.S. schools (where fewer than 10% of the students were poor) had scores that were higher than those of the top nations in the world. In schools where as many as 25% of the students were poor, the scores were equal to those of Finland, Japan and Korea. As the poverty rate of the schools rose, the schools’ performance declined."

Citing research with unquestionable pedigrees, Ravitch demonstrates that the nostrums prescribed by the current crop of reformers don't work. Charter schools do not perform any better than their fully public counterparts. Family life plays a greater role in student achievement than even the best teachers.

"Typically," Ravitch writes, "economists estimate that teachers account for 10-15% of student performance; non-school factors influence about 60%."

Her conclusion, and her sad prediction for the current wave of reform, is here:

If we are serious about improving education, we would work to improve both
schools and society. We would invest in the recruitment and preparation of
career teachers and make sure that every child has a curriculum that includes
the arts, history, civics, foreign languages and other subjects. We would also
invest in prenatal care so that every child is born healthy and invest in
high-quality early childhood education, so that children arrive in school ready
to learn. We would stop the budget cutting that is now increasing class sizes
and reducing needed services to children.

Unfortunately, such research-based strategies are not part of today’s
reform movement, which is why it will most assuredly end up in the dustbin of
history, like so many others.

Game on: Gazillionaire PAC opposes teacher tenure

A new political action committee, bankrolled by multimillionaire businessman Lane Grigsby, has been formed with the express purpose of changing the face of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, the Alliance for Better Classrooms PAC is intended to give Gov. Bobby Jindal the votes he needs to completely dominate public education in the state.

Previously, Grigsby announced that he would be active in this year's election campaigns. His overriding issue is eliminating teacher tenure.

With all the problems facing public education in Louisiana, do you believe that abolishing tenure should be the litmus test by which candidates are judged? Click here to complete a short LFT survey about issues that matter in the 2011 BESE races.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Report: OGB sale could cost consumers higher premiums

Now we know why it took a legislative subpoena to pry a report about privatizing a State Office of Group benefits insurance plan from the Jindal administration.

Selling the OGB's preferred provider organization "may result in higher insurance premiums to state employees under a private insurer because of an increase in marketing costs, premium taxes, necessary profit margin, and reinsurance costs," in the words of a 17-page report prepared for the administration by Chaffe and Associates.

In this article by Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater replies that insurance premiums regularly increase anyway, without explaining how a private company can make a profit and cover other costs that don't apply to OGB.

Legislative Auditor Paul Purpera provides his own caveat to the privatization scheme in this Associated Press article.

Aside from an increase in premiums, Purpera warns, the state legislature would no longer be able to protect employees from reductions in benefits and insurance plan changes.

"These issues," Purpora's report states, "would have to be addressed in the contract."

An interesting aside to the workings of the Jindal administration: any contract that costs $50,000 or more must undergo statutory review. The Chaffe and Associates report had a $49,999,99 ceiling.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Should the one with the gold make the rules?

Should multimillionaires decide who represents us on the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education?

Should they define the issues and determine the outcome of any election?

One wealthy individual plans to commit over $1 million to electing the BESE members of his choice. His issue is simple: the elimination of teacher tenure.

Do you believe that getting rid of tenure should be the main issue of the upcoming BESE campaign? Do you believe that the power and wealth of a very few people should determine who sits on the state education board? Or do you believe there are other, more important issues?

LFT wants your opinion!

Please click here and take LFT's BESE Survey 2011. Help us make this election about more than abolishing teacher tenure!

Second National Teacher Town Hall Set for Sept. 25

The AFT is encouraging members to participate in a nationally televised Teacher Town Hall, which will be broadcast live on MSNBC Sept. 25 as part of NBC News' second Education Nation national summit.

In addition to hundreds of teachers—including many AFT members—who will gather in person for the town hall at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, members can participate in a live chat during the event and add their comments to an online "teachers lounge" forum that will open in early September. Register online to participate.

For teachers who are a bit more ambitious, this year's event also includes an essay contest in which teachers write about the biggest challenges they face in their jobs. Three winners will have their essays published on the Education Nation website, and NBC will bring them to New York City to participate in the town hall meeting. The contest closes Sept. 2.

Education Nation will broadcast education reports and programming across NBC shows and platforms during the week of Sept. 25. AFT president Randi Weingarten and other of the union's leaders and members will be participating in various ways.

Friday, August 26, 2011

AFT President Randi Weingarten talks reform

Even though she's wedged between a conservative moderator from the Fordham Institute and an even more conservative spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute, AFT President Randi Weingarten more than holds her own in this You Tube discussion.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Articles reveal rich and powerful forces behind "reform"

When the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoked the charter of the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans, it started a nationwide chain reaction of news coverage, mostly focused on the shadowy Gulen movement that inspires charter schools across the country.

The Washington Independent, for one, published this story about the Pelican Foundation, which operated Abramson and still holds charter for Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge. The foundation has, the story notes, "been hit hard with allegations of inappropriate use of school space for religious processions, concealing student-on-student sexual harassment and intimidating teachers."

On the heels of that story came this one by USA Today education reporter Greg Toppo, who connected the Pelican Institute schools to more than 100 other charter schools "established over the past decade by a loosely affiliated group of Turkish-American educators," all said to have ties to Turkish nationalist Fethullah Gulen.

Toppo says that Gulen, who fled Turkey and gained political asylum in the United States, is "Described by turns as a moderate Turkish nationalist, a peacemaker and 'contemporary Islam's Billy Graham.' Fethullah G├╝len has long pushed for Islam to occupy a more central role in Turkish society."

On this Web site, Parents Across America charge that "Gulen schools constitute the nation’s largest network of charter schools."

A founding member of PAA says, "Our primary concern is not the national origin or religion of the group running the schools but the facts that they operate in secrecy, are not accountable to the public, and are not open about the nature or extent of the movement behind the charter schools in which unsuspecting parents are enrolling their children.”

All of which tends to call into question the process by which the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves charters.

And it's not just the Gulen movement that we should be concerned about. In this article from the Louisiana School Boards Association journal, Don Whittinghill documented the intrusion of free-market profiteers into the charter school movement.

As Whittinghill wrote, "Free-market zealots (with riches) realized that over $600 billion is spent in the U.S. on public schools. A whole new frontier leading to stable profits was recognized. Everyone knows 'it takes money to make money,' and the faces behind the voucher/charter 'reform' movement are not bashful in stepping up to the bar."

The LSBA journal names some of the mega-rich corporate types who fund anti-public education "reforms" and back the political candidates who implement them.