Thursday, March 31, 2011

KIPP schools failing to match hype

Knowledge is Power Program schools come highly recommended in documentary films like Waiting for Superman. KIPP schools are touted by charter advocates as success stories in raising academic achievement among low-income and minority students.

But all too often, studies reveal that schools promoted by ideologically blinkered education "reformers" tend to cover up their failures and fudge their successes.

Such a study now raises questions about claims made for the KIPP franchise. In this article, Education Week reporter Mary Ann Zehr writes that 40 percent of the black male students enrolled in KIPP schools drop out in between grades six and eight.

That figure comes from a study out of Western Michigan University. The author of the study, Professor Gary J. Miron, says, “The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking. KIPP is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come.”

The study acknowledges KIPP's successes, but also explores reasons why KIPP schools, like other semi-public schools, has advantages that cannot be replicated in traditional public schools, and probably cannot be translated into a larger universe.

KIPP schools, for example, spend about $6,500 more per student than other public schools in the same districts. Most of the extra comes from private donations and grants. That is funding which is simply not available to traditional public schools which, if similarly resourced, might show similar academic achievement.

KIPP schools, the study notes, serve fewer students with limited English or who are disabled. The report concludes that “The limited range of students that KIPP serves, its inability to serve all students who enter, and its dependence on local traditional public schools to receive and serve the droves of students who leave, all speak loudly to the limitations of this model.”

"Red Tape" sponsor won't support changes

The chief sponsor of the so-called Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Act won't support changes that may encourage school boards to actually apply for the waivers of law and policy, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

The act, which was Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature education legislation in the 2010 legislative session, has been touted by Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek as a way for school systems to circumvent "burdensome rules and laws" that "stifle student gain."

Those burdensome rules include teacher tenure, class size, instructional time and curriculum.

Thus far, not a single school board has requested a waiver as permitted by the act. One reason may be a requirement, added at the last minute by legislators as a way to blunt criticism of the act, that teachers in affected schools be allowed to vote on whether the board should seek a waiver.

Some friends of the Jindal administration have suggested an amendment to the act removing the requirement that teachers vote on proposed waivers. In the Advocate article, Rep. Smith says she is not interested in amending the law, however.

A former school superintendent in Bossier Parish herself, Rep. Smith told the Advocate, “If I am a superintendent and believe strongly in something and can’t get the support of the teachers, I guess I am going to have to examine what I am asking."

Another problem for the Red Tape act is its dubious constitutionality. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has challenged the act in 19th Judicial District Court on the grounds that lawmakers cannot give the state education board the authority to waive laws passed by the legislature.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Virtual school will take real money from public education

As Louisiana continues its headlong rush to dismantle public education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is gearing up to accept students for the state's first online charter school.

As Will Sentell of The Advocate reports here, the Louisiana Connections Academy is a virtual school with no campus, library, lunchroom, gym, classroom or school bus. Yet it will collect 90 percent of the state Minimum Foundation Program allocation for each of its students.

So even as Gov. Jindal continues his bogus claim that public education funding has been saved from the budget axe, he and his allies in public education's Claiborne Building are conspiring to funnel more funds away from public schools and into dubious enterprises.

Daily Show hits corporate tax breaks

The Daily Show's John Stewart lampooned General Electric for paying no U.S. taxes, after business lobbyists complained that taxes on corporations are too high. Stewart noted that public employees are catching the blame for the nation's economic woes while GE enjoys a "corporate tax rate of negative 60 percent." Watch the video here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Big companies avoid federal taxes

Louisiana isn't the only place being stiffed by big corporations, with the responsibility of paying for public services shifting to middle class families. As this New York Times article shows, the nation's biggest companies are shirking their duty and avoiding their fair share of taxes.

General Electric, billed in the article as America's largest corporation, paid no corporate income taxes at all last year. In fact, GE managed to wangle a $3.2 billion tax benefit out of the federal government. General Electric's worldwide profit last year was $14.2 billion; in the U.S. alone, GE's profit was $5.1 billion.

It hasn't gone unnoticed in Washington. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in this article, "We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed, but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We've got to talk about shared sacrifice."

It must be noted that what GE is doing is not illegal. The company is simply taking advantage of laws passed by Congress at the urging of lobbyists who are paid handsomely by corporations. The same is true in Louisiana.

As the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has noted before, more than three-fourths of the corporate taxes on the books are not collected because various tax breaks - legal loopholes that shift the responsibility to fund our government onto middle-class taxpayers and working families.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rapides schools to feel the axe

Rapides Parish is joining the list of school districts that will lay off teachers and cut educational programs because of the budget crisis, according to this article by Alexandria Town Talk reporter Warren Hayes.

Included in the cuts are are 27 teachers with temporary certifications, alternative education and special education programs, paraprofessionals and extracurricular activities.

Also on the block are elementary school guidance counselors. Their loss could jeopardize the system's SACS accreditation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Group of Wisconsin Faculty Vote for the Union

Despite ongoing political attacks on unions and public employees by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin faculty members across the state continue to vote for union representation. The latest organizing victory came on March 24, when faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls voted 148-16 in favor of union representation by the AFT and AFT-Wisconsin.

"This landslide election, along with the four other recent University of Wisconsin campus union victories, demonstrates that workers—in this instance, UW-River Falls faculty—will not let Gov. Walker's anti-democratic, anti-worker ideological agenda deny them their right to form a union," says AFT president Randi Weingarten.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

School budgets slashed "all over the state"

From Advocate reporter Will Sentell, confirmation of what LFT has been saying for weeks. School systems all around Louisiana are on the brink of disaster.

Panel dissects Superman

LFT President Steve Monaghan, left, makes a point during a panel discussion of the documentary Waiting for Superman. Monaghan described the film as a dishonest, partisan attack on public education and the dedicated teachers who work in our schools. With Monaghan on the panel are Lafourche Parish Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Matthews, moderator Barry Erwin, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and Albemarle Corp. Assistant Treasurer Lorin Crenshaw.

To read a flier handed out by members of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers at the screening, please click here.

Advocate reporter covered the screening of the film for this story.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A preemptive strike on Superman...

On Tuesday night, Governor Bobby Jindal and leaders of the legislature will host a screening of the documentary film Waiting for Superman, as dishonest an attack on public education as has ever been committed to celluloid.

Don't take our word for that. Education historian Diane Ravitch wrote a devastating critique of the film for the New York Review of Books last November, in which she said "The message of the film is clear. Public schools are bad, privately managed charter schools are good."

As a piece of anti-public school propaganda, the film succeeds nicely. But it only does so by skirting or ignoring inconvenient facts that don't fit its preconceived agenda.

As Ravitch puts it, "Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film's quiet acknowledgement that only one in five charter schools is able to get the 'amazing results' that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic."

Here is that statistic, from the well researched CREDO study. After surveying math tests in half of the nation's 5,000 charter schools, the report found that:

  • 46% had academic gains no different than those of a similar public school
  • 37% were worse than a similar public school
  • Only 17% were superior to a similar public school

The dishonesty of Superman goes beyond willful ignorance, all the way to deliberate distortion and, the ultimate sin of a documentary film, a faked scene. Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss revealed the quackery in this article, which gives the likely reason why Waiting for Superman was not nominated for an Academy Award.

Strauss wrote, "The snub to Davis Guggenheim’s tendentious film was well-deserved, given that classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did Superman, fake scenes for emotional impact."

In another column, Strauss reprinted a point-by-point refutation of Waiting for Superman's anti-public school agenda.

There is no doubt that public education has its problems. Those problems are overwhelmingly associated with poverty and lack of opportunity in too many of our urban and rural school districts.

The solution to these problems does not lie in demonizing teachers and their unions, or in funneling public school funds to entrepreneurial enterprises that have captured the fancy of billionaire dilettantes.

If there is a silver lining to Superman's cloud, it is that the film may motivate people to support real solutions to help all children - not just those lucky enough to win a lottery - receive the education they deserve.

Those solutions include:

  • Developing great teachers through revamping preparatory programs for teachers and overhauling teacher development and evaluation programs.
  • Ensuring supportive educational leaders
  • Creating robust curricula
  • Creating conditions that promote learning for all children
  • Ensuring shared responsibility and mutual accountability that holds everyone responsible for fixing our schools, not just teachers.

(You might also be interested in this article, "Inside Job or Superman: Which one better explains the School crisis," by Kevin Welner. Inside Job, which did win the Oscar for best documentary, explains how Wall Street greed, deregulation and the inequality of wealth in the nation led to the great recession of 2000. Those same issues, Welner argues, play a big role in the "bleak educational future" faced by too many American families.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Louisiana a state in decline?

Just the FAX is a newsletter sent to state legislators each Friday from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. Issues are available online here.

Governor Jindal released his budget plan last week, and it does not bode well for Louisiana. The $24.9 billion proposal sacrifices education, health care, and the quality of life that could provide a bright future for the families of our state. While promising to “do more with less,” the plan guarantees that there will simply be less of everything that makes a state attractive.

Communities are already in crisis as a direct result of fiscal policies over the past few years. In recent weeks, school systems in Livingston, Tangiphoa and Webster Parishes declared financial emergencies. In the past few days, school boards in St. Martin and East Baton Rouge parishes announced that they will lay off employees.

The loss of those jobs will have a ripple effect that is felt throughout local economies, as former teachers and school employees cut back on their spending, trying to make ends meet. Local businesses will suffer, and sales tax collections will go down. It seems like the beginning of a death spiral for communities across the state.

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

More school districts announce layoffs

The East Baton Rouge School Board has now announced that there will be a reduction in force (story here by Advocate reporter Charles Lussiere), and so has the St. Martin Parish School Board (reported here on Lafayette's KLFY-TV).

Three other school systems - Webster Parish, Tangipahoa Parish and Livingston Parish - have declared financial emergencies, and may lay off teachers and school employees. (Click here for more information on declarations of exigency or crisis).

These job losses make a mockery of Gov. Jindal's glib assertion that he has protected K-12 funding. Truth is, we've lost millions, and now people will lose their jobs. That will ripple through local economies when teachers and school employees lose their ability to spend.

This is not an economic crisis that can be solved by cuts alone. Revenues must be part of the solution. More information is available on the LFT Web site here, and from Better Choices for a Better Louisiana.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Report: LSU falls in rankings

The $300 million cut from higher education budgets over the past few years is having an effect. US News and World Report says our flagship, LSU, is dropping in national comparisons of graduate schools.

As reported here in The Advocate, LSU's graduate programs in law, business, and education all lost ground; only engineering advanced in national rankings.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jindal's budget shifts burden to working families

The $24.9 billion state budget proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal places more of the responsibility for funding public services on middle-class tax payers and working families, while continuing to give big advantages to large corporations and the energy industry.

In addition, members of the Joint Budget Committee pointed out on Friday, the governor’s plan relies on one-time revenues and “imaginary dollars” to balance the budget.

What are imaginary dollars? That’s revenue that will not be available unless the legislature approves some of the administration’s plans in the upcoming session, and unless voters approve constitutional amendments that Jindal is counting on. That means it could be next October before we know for certain whether or not the money in the governor’s budget will even exist.
Here are the sources of the “imaginary dollars”:
  • The sale and privatization of two state prisons, which requires legislative approval.
  • An increase in employee contributions for most members of the State Employees Retirement System from eight percent to 11 percent, which requires legislative approval.
  • The redirecting of dedicated funds to TOPS, a constitutional amendment which requires both legislative approval and approval by voters.

When considered in combination with a recent report from the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference, it’s clear what is happening in Louisiana.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

AP: Jindal budget hits the poor and at-risk

Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte explains Governor Jindal's budget in this article, published in Bloomberg Businessweek:

"Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's $24.9 billion budget would close outpatient pharmacies for the poor, scrap at-risk youth education programs and cut funds for charity hospital care, parks and museums, and state employees."

Read the rest of the article.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Legislative FAX weekly: March 11, 2011

While much of Louisiana was celebrating Lundi Gras on Monday, the states’ Revenue Estimating Conference met to offer one last revision before Governor Jindal announces his budget plan.

Reporters covering the event focused on the addition of $112 million to the current revenue forecast, and another $65 million to next year’s forecast. Any additional revenue is welcome during this fiscal crisis, but let’s face it: With a $1.6 billion deficit looming, $178 million is little more than a hoot in a hurricane.

Much more important to our budget, but almost ignored by the media, was the Revenue Estimating Conference’s report on the effect that some tax exemptions are having on state revenues.

To read more, click here and visit the Legislative FAX page on the LFT Web site.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Duncan: No Child Left Behind is unworkable and must be changed

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has finally come to the same conclusion that teachers around the nation reached years ago: the No Child Left Behind Act is a recipe for disaster. It is set up to guarantee that schools appear to be failing and that teachers are at fault.

As reported here by the Washington Post's Nick Anderson, Duncan told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that the flawed law will soon stigmatize three quarters of American schools as failures.

Said Duncan, "This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it, and fix it this year. The law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible and focused on the schools and students most at risk."

The act, passed in 2002 as former President George W. Bush's signature education initiative, has been heavily criticized for overemphasizing standardized tests and for its unreachable goal requiring all children to become proficient in math and reading.

What will Jindal cut?

What will Gov. Jindal say when he addresses the joint budget committee tomorrow morning? As Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon notes in this article, very few hints have been dropped by the administration.

Jindal has said that he can keep higher education cuts in the 10% range, but how is that possible, what with a $1.6 billion shortfall looming. The part of the budget that lawmakers can easily cut - the nondiscretionary portion of the general fund - is just $2.6 billion, so we're talking about a cut on the magnitude of 62% for the budget to be balanced. Higher education and health care constitute two-thirds of that.

Thus far, the governor is sticking to his resolve not to raise taxes or tighten any of the state's generous tax loopholes. The upcoming fiscal legislative session won't be fun for anyone.

Post Mardi Gras catch-up

A few items we may have missed during the revelry...

Diane Ravitch: It all started with "No Child Left Behind." In this New York Times opinion piece, the feisty education historian traces the roots of the "campaign of vilification directed at our nation's more than three million teachers" to the passage of NCLB in 2002.

Ravitch persuasively argues that the act mandates an unreachable goal and effectively dooms all public schools to be labeled failures. And while the act was a product of the Bush administration, the Obama crowd "took the attacks on teachers to a new level" by holding "teachers alone accountable for student effort."

Shreveport Times: Union sticks up for battered teachers. The Caddo Federation of Teachers is up in arms after three middle school students were arrested after an on-campus rumble that resulted in a teacher being knocked to the ground.

Caddo Federation President Jackie Lansdale told The Times that the incident was just the tip of an iceberg, and that the administration does little to protect educators from student violence.

"They don't feel safe and they don't feel they have the administrative support to back them up," Lansdale said.

Obama warns against education budget cuts. Education Week carried this Associated Press story, in which President Barack Obama "characterized any reductions in money for education as irresponsible and harmful to the long-term health of the nation's economy."

The story notes that the president will go to bat for education this year, "linking educational excellence to jobs and private-sector competitiveness."

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's getting serious: Your LFT Connection, March 2011

It’s getting very serious. This month, Governor Bobby Jindal will reveal his budget proposal, which must somehow accommodate an expected $1.6 billion shortfall in state general fund revenue.

The problem spreads farther than Louisiana. Across the country, politicians are trying to balance budgets by cutting the salaries, benefits and even the jobs of teachers and other public servants.

Ultra-conservative politicians are trying to blame the crisis on public employees, instead of the Wall Street profiteers who drove our economy over a cliff in 2008. Some are trying to divide public opinion by calling teachers, firefighters and police officers, social workers and park rangers “tax eaters” who don’t deserve decent salaries, health insurance and retirement pensions.
To read the rest of this article, please click here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

True story

A public union employee, a tea party activist and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it.

The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, "Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Poll: Public supports unions, public employees

A new poll published by the New York Times and CBS says that most Americans support public employee unions and collective bargaining rights.

And rather than see public employees such as teachers lose salaries and benefits, more Americans would agree to a tax increase.

The poll, published on February 28, includes these results:
  • More Americans have a favorable opinion of unions (33%) than unfavorable (25%), with 19% undecided and 20% needing more information.
  • The percentage of Americans who believe labor unions have too much influence over our life and politics is shrinking dramatically.
  • A solid majority of American believe that public employee salaries and benefits are either about right or too low: 36% believe the salaries and benefits are about right, 25% believe they are too low, and 26% believe they are too high.

Stewart to teachers: Do you think those apples grow on trees?

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart hilariously takes on the right-wingers who've demonized teachers in this Daily Show clip: