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."