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.

Monaghan defends the teaching profession

When Advocate reporter Will Sentell wrote this story about teachers who enter the profession through alternate certification, it was followed almost immediately by a letter from the right-wing Heartland Institute think tank.

That letter, from Heartland's Joy Pullman, created a context that did not exist in the original article, equating teaching to 19th century factory-style jobs. We now live in an age where young workers "switch jobs five times in their first 10 years in the workforce, " she wrote.

But as LFT President Steve Monaghan pointed out in this rebuttal, there is a difference between professions and jobs.

"Teaching, like law, medicine and engineering, is a profession," Monaghan wrote. "We can’t believe that Pullman would make the same assertion about physicians — that the idea of switching professions 'five times in their first 10 years' is a good one. "

For too many so-called reformers, it has become an article of faith that teaching need not be a true profession or calling - that teaching is something anyone can do for a couple of years before going on to a "real" job. All teachers really have to do, they reason, is prepare children to fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests.

That idea has been taken to cynical lengths by some politicians who see it as a way to create education systems on the cheap. No need for salary schedules, expensive health insurance coverage or pension plans as long as schools are revolving doors for idealistic young folks operating on a peace corps model.

Which should not be the point of alternative certification. As Monaghan wrote, "Of course, we appreciate the opportunities and advantages associated with making it possible for people trained in other disciplines to come into our classrooms. They can bring fresh perspectives and specialized information that can serve our students well."

Whether teachers enter our profession through traditional routes, or make a commitment to education through alternative certification later in life, they deserve the respect due to professionals.

"(W)e reject Pullman’s apparent belief that better education for children will be the outcome of a transitional teacher corps' Monaghan concluded. "Pullman’s letter is frankly insulting and does a disservice to honorable members of a most honorable and critical profession."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Budget cuts threaten pre-K program

A very successful pre-kindgergarten program in one of the state's top school districts is being reduced because of state budget cuts, according to this article by St. Tammany News reporter Suzanne LeBreton.

Data show that early education programs are very important in helping students succeed in school. That is increasingly important because the state keeps raising the standards for schools that are considered academically acceptable.

Members of the St. Tammany Parish school Board are plainly upset that the state is cutting funding at the same time that standards are being raised.

Said board member Mike Dirmann, "This is one of the best program the state has come up with, and for them to start cutting our funding I think is just ludicrous.”

Board member John Lamarque added, "This program was started by a school superintendent that cared about educating the children. Since (Former Superintendent of Schools) Cecil (Picard) passed away, we don’t have anybody up there that is putting forth the effort for the La4 program and all of the other programs that are important to educating the children of this state.”

PBS Teacherline offers CLUs

Enrollment is now open for the Fall 2011 PBS TeacherLine online professional development courses!

Start the new school year by checking out two new courses on STEM—Global Climate Change Education for Middle School and Inspire Elementary Students with Engineering for PreK-6th grade.

Receive CLUs and graduate credit for courses to go towards recertification or your 30+. Fall courses begin October 26th and end December 6th.

To browse the Course Catalog and to register for a course go to For more information contact Nancy Thompson at

Friday, August 19, 2011

AFT President Randi Weingarten talks reform

In this interview with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Truthout blogger Amy Dean gets the union leader to talk about a back-to-school season in which teachers "are preparing to meet a new wave of attacks on public education and on themselves personally."

Dean begins the interview with the observation that across the country, teachers and their unions are under assault by politicians whose number one goal is the privatization of public education.

"Little would you know, from this assault," Dean writes, "that some of the states with the best public schools in the country are those with the strongest teachers' unions. "

Weingarten's passionate defense of teachers and the teaching profession is bracing.

"Teachers and kids are totally and completely interconnected," says Weingarten. "Teachers advocate for things that they need that are in the interest of kids and vice versa. Trying to divide teachers from kids is only a way of hurting what parents and students need to create
opportunity in this country."

When the subject of teacher accountability comes up, Weingarten notes that AFT "has worked to introduce a system of evaluation and professional development that goes beyond superficial 'snapshot' evaluations of teachers and that also allows them to engage curriculum more substantive than mere rote teaching for a standardized test."

The union, she says, developed "a framework for a comprehensive and meaningful evaluation system that...measured teachers' performance in multiple ways that included teacher practice as well as student learning."

Around the nation, Weingarten says, over 150 school districts are using all or part of the AFT model for evaluating teachers.

The full interview is worth a read. Check it out here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Louisiana students improving on key tests

High school students in Louisiana are showing improvements in key tests, according to reports issued by the State Department of Education this week.

The state's average composite score on the ACT test rose by one-tenth of a point in the past year, matching the national gain.

Even better news for the state came when the scores are disaggregated: minority populations in Louisiana out performed their peers in four out of five categories on the ACT test, according to the State Department.

"The steady growth Louisiana has achieved in our composite ACT score confirms that we’re indeed doing a better job of preparing our students to succeed in their college and career pursuits," Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said.

A day earlier, the State Department released a summary report on high school end-of-course tests, announcing dramatic gains in achievement.

"Comparing student scores on the English II test from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, the percentage of students performing at the levels of Excellent, Good, or Fair increased from 80 to 89 percent. Additionally, the statewide percentage of students scoring Excellent, Good, or Fair on the Algebra I exam rose from 71 to 79 percent between 2010 and 2011. In fact, the percentage of students receiving a score of Excellent, Good, or Fair has risen 15 percentage points (23 percent) since 2007-2008, the first year EOC exams were administered for Algebra I. Geometry results have likewise risen, from 66 percent scoring at the passing level in 2010 to 75 percent in 2011," the report says.

Jindal a no-show at privatization debate

LFT President Steve Monaghan addresses the League of Women Voters.

Even though thousands of public employees are wondering how they will be affected by the proposed privatization of a state health insurance plan, Gov. Bobby Jindal and his advisers skipped a League of Women Voters forum on the subject Tuesday.

That left only opponents of the privatization scheme, including Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan, to talk about the issue.

Privatizing the PPO plan offered through the State Office of Group Benefits is one of the main goals of the Jindal administration. That office provides health insurance for teachers and school employees in 44 school districts, as well as for state retirees. In all, some 62,000 employees and their dependents are members of the PPO plan.

Read the rest of this story here. Gannet reporter Mike Hasten covered the debate for this story, and Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon had this report.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Poll shows strong support for teachers and school funding

The public gives high marks to public school teachers, respects the teaching profession, supports investments in education, and rejects tax-funded vouchers for private school tuition, according to the 2011 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

"At a time of breakneck change in what students need to be successful in this economy, sandwiched between years of school budget cuts and economic turmoil, Americans' respect for public schools and teachers is strong and growing stronger," AFT president Randi Weingarten says.

"The public thinks more highly of teachers than they do of principals and school board members. Further, when asked about the attacks by some governors on teachers' collective bargaining rights, the public sides with the teachers.

"Americans' strong support for teachers and public schools is all the more heartening given that more than two-thirds of respondents say they hear more bad news about education than good news. This suggests media coverage of education, at odds with the experiences and impressions of parents and the public, needs to change.

"No doubt a question last asked in 1976 and repeated in the latest survey will get some attention. It asks about general opinions on teacher unions, framed in a way that implies union work is limited to narrow issues of compensation and working conditions. The wording doesn't reflect the current work of the AFT and our quality education agenda, which focuses on what students need to succeed and what their teachers need to facilitate success. We look forward to every opportunity to educate the public about the work we do to help teachers teach and children learn—something that has been hard when the media's coverage is so negative. But, at our core, we hope the enduring goodwill the public has for teachers will grow as we continue our work to improve public schools."

Monday, August 15, 2011

State skimps on erasure analysis

Louisiana's Department of Education is willing to spend $44 million to the company that "prints, issues, writes, grades and analyzes Louisiana’s No Child Left Behind-compliant state tests."

But when it comes to paying for the erasure analyses that can keep the system honest, the state balks at paying a bit more than $58,000.

Reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn writes about it here, in The Washington Independent.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Roemer running on anti-tenure platform

An incumbent candidate for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has announced that the biggest plank in his campaign platform is the abolition of teacher tenure.

Chas Roemer was elected to his first term without opposition in BESE District 6. He quickly established himself as the member who is most disdainful of public schools, public school teachers and the unions they choose to represent them.

Roemer is now the second BESE candidate to take direct aim at one of the most basic rights that educators have. The first was Holly Boffy, a director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, who will challenge incumbent Dale Bayard for the District 7 seat.

Tenure is essential to guarantee academic freedom and to protect teachers from favoritism, abuse and political meddling. Before you vote this fall, be sure to ask candidates about their position on teacher tenure!

Superman explains it all for you

The rest of this 1952 cartoon is here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Failure to reauthorize NCLB may lead to waivers

One result (or lack thereof) of the deadlock in Congress is a failure to reauthorize the federal No Child Left behind act. Because of the legislature's inaction, President Obama has announced that states may apply for waivers of the act so long as they "agree to adopt a prescribed set of education reforms," according to this Education Week blog post by Michele McNeil.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last June that the administration would proceed with a waiver plan if Congress fails to reauthorize NCLB by the start of school.

Duncan said waivers would be offered as long as states meet other requirements, which will not be spelled out fully until next month. Areas likely to be considered in waiving the 2014 proficiency deadline are: raising standards for achievement, new strategies to help low-performing schools, and implementing educator evaluation systems that are tied to test scores.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had a cautious response to Duncan's announcement.

"We understand and feel the frustration with No Child Left Behind, and we support changing it in a comprehensive way to better assist teachers and students," Weingarten said. "Time will tell whether moving to a waiver plan that bypasses the full legislative (and public comment) process is the right approach."

"Waivers, if issued, should be informed by what works to improve teaching and learning," she continued. "We will continue to encourage Congress to get the education law right to ensure that students in this country have a fair, equitable, high-quality public education system."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Teacher tenure is under attack

No doubt about it, an orchestrated attack on teacher tenure is underway in Louisiana.

As previously reported in EdLog, a staff member of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) is running for the state board of education on a platform of abolishing tenure. "We need to get rid of it as soon as we possibly can," says Holly Boffy, a former teacher of the year and A+PEL's director of professional development and university programs.

Then there's business bigshot Lane Grigsby, who promised financial support to candidates who will oppose teacher tenure.

Now comes this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, who lays out the basic argument that tenure opponents will use: Not enough teachers have been fired to suit them; therefore, tenure must be abolished.

Not surprisingly, the abolition of tenure is also being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a corporate-dominated lobbying group that opposes worker rights and supports privatizing public services.

Sentell's article focuses on the fact that "only 52 tenured teachers were fired statewide in connection with their evaluations over a 10-year period starting in 2000."

LFT President Steve Monaghan sarcastically asked the reporter, “What would be the number I need in terminations that would make people think that the system is working?”

In all seriousness, we should hope that there would be few terminations of tenured teachers. Tenure ought to be considered a guarantee of teacher quality. Here's why.

In order to earn tenure, a teacher must have college degree and pass a rigorous national examination called Praxis. For the next three years, the teacher undergoes constant supervision and professional development. In those three years, a teacher can easily be terminated for any legitimate reason. It is the responsibility of administrators to ensure that teachers who make it through the process deserve tenure.

During that time, about half of all prospective teachers leave the profession. This weeding-out process is the real reason that so few tenured teachers are found to be incompetent.

Once it is earned, tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. Teachers must still undergo regular professional development and periodic evaluations. Tenure merely guarantees that a teacher cannot be fired unless a fair process is followed.

In Sentell's article, one principal whines that tenure hearings are "tedious" and that "I felt like I was the person on trial."

Well, yes. The purpose of a tenure hearing is to determine the facts. If a principal alleges that a teacher is incompetent, the teacher has a right to question the accuser. Otherwise, we would return to the bad old, good-old-boy days when who a teacher knew was much more important that what a teacher knew and could bring to a classroom.

BESE yanks charter from troubled N.O. school

Faced with allegations of rape, sex between kindergarten students, cheating on science fair projects, a lack of resources for special education students and a host of other infractions, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoked the Pelican Educational Foundation's charter to operate Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans.

According to this article by Times-Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore, Acting Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said that her investigation revealed "a threat to the safety, health and welfare of students at Abramson."

The school is expected to open under the management of the state Recovery School District, and the Pelican Educational Foundation may file suit to regain the charter. The revocation of the charter does not affect another school operated by Pelican, Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge.

That school has its own problems with investigations, reported here by Joe Gyan of The Advocate.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

LFT leader exposes corporate agenda for education

A corporate funded organization that writes model legislation for state lawmakers was exposed for its anti-public education, anti worker and anti-democratic agenda at a press conference in New Orleans Wednesday. LFT Vice President Jim Randels, who is a member of the United Teachers of New Orleans, was one of the speakers at the press conference.

Randels was joined by Orleans Parish School Board member Brett Bonin and several others, each of whom brought to light a part of the agenda espoused by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is holding its national convention in New Orleans this week. Bonin, along with LFT and others, is a member of the Coalition for Louisiana Public education.

One of ALEC's stated legislative priorities is to privatize public education, making education a profit center rather than a public good. That, Randels noted, "is dangerous to the American way and to the education of our children."

“The ALEC way turns parents into consumers shopping for schools rather than citizens building high quality public schools,” Randels said. “ALEC’s privatization, profit model wants parents to be consumers. But America needs parents to be citizens.”

“Education policy must be based on best practices and what is in the best interests of children not a profit driven corporation and a legislator meeting in secret,” Randels said.

The profit motive behind ALEC’s agenda for public education thwarts the ideals of public education and democracy, Randels said.

“In ALEC world, schools would become private entities funded by public money. As a taxpayer, I would have no voice in the way public schools are run. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to return to an era of taxation without representation.

“We should be working together to do away with separate and unequal schools, to ensure that taxation without representation does not return, to nurture citizens rather than create consumers, to work for the public good rather than for private profit,” Randels concluded.

Read the rest of this story - click here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Exposed: How big business brings bad ideas to the legislature

When protesters greet members of the American Legislative Exchange Council at their annual convention in New Orleans on Wednesday, it will probably be the first time that most Louisianians have heard of the organization.

ALEC probably likes it that way. Despite the non-threatening sound of its name, the group is behind some of the worst public policy initiatives ever introduced in state legislatures.

Vouchers for private and religious schools, attacks on teacher tenure, watering down special education rules and stripping local school boards of authority to charter schools are all ideas promulgated by ALEC.

But its not just education. From privatizing prisons to stripping worker rights, ALEC has a bag full of model legislation that it pushes in state legislatures across the nation.

As it turns out, ALEC is funded by huge corporations that have a vested interest in changing state laws to siphon public money into corporate pockets. To read more about ALEC's nefarious schemes, click here to access the Center for Media and Democracy's "ALEC Exposed" Web site.

The current president of ALEC is Louisiana State Representative Noble Ellington. He, along with a handful of other Louisiana lawmakers, are being treated to the convention by Louisiana taxpayers.

That's right. Our tax dollars are paying for state lawmakers to attend a convention where they will learn how to send more of our tax dollars straight to the corporations that sponsor the convention.

As the Lafayette Advertiser pointed out in this editorial, we are paying for our legislators to be lobbied on behalf of big business: "ALEC represents the expenditure of private money to influence the political and legislative process, and that makes it lobbying. And the state government has no business picking up the tab for it, whether it's lobbying from the left, the right, corporations, unions, up, down, backwards or forwards."

Commenting on the corporate greed that can warp a capitalist system, former Soviet Union Premier Nikita Kruschev once said, “You will sell us the rope that we will hang you with.”

In Louisiana, it appears that citizens are paying for the scissors that will be used to shred the fabric of our society.