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."