Saturday, September 29, 2012

Uncertified, inexperienced teacher is state director of teacher evaluations

Hot on the heels of the revelation that the State Department of Education has employed a $12,000 per month spin doctor, another report has surfaced about a questionable hire by Superintendent of Education John White.

This time, focus has landed on the department’s 27-year old director of the new state teacher evaluation program.

According to Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Will Sentell, Molly Horstman spent two years in a New Orleans classroom as a Teach for America volunteer before being drafted into the State Recovery School District in New Orleans as an administrator.

She’s following in the footsteps of several other TFT alums, including the former and current executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It appears that replacing seasoned DOE veterans with young TFAers has become a hallmark of the Jindal and White administration.

According to some reports, Horstman – who did not teach in Louisiana ling enough to even earn tenure – did not pass the PRAXIS exam, which is required for teachers to earn certification in Louisiana. Her ACT scores were accepted instead.

In Sentell’s article, Horstman admits that she allowed her Louisiana teaching certificate to lapse, saying “My job does not require that I go into the classroom to teach right now.”

In short: the person in charge of the state teacher evaluation program is a 27-year old, non-certified, two-year veteran teacher who did not pass PRAXIS and will earn $77,000 per year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney tells teachers: Just shut up

So now Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that teacher unions should not have a political voice. In an interview with NBC host Brian Williams, Romney said, “I believe that we simply can’t have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians…”

Romney apparently believes it is wrong for unions to donate to politicians if there is a chance that the union will ever negotiate with officials they have supported. He called it “an extraordinary conflict of interest.”

The republican nominee has no such qualms about taking donations from the likes of billionaire casino czar Sheldon Adelson, who pledged $100 million to Romney’s cause. In an interview with a reporter, Adelson called his campaign contribution “self defense.”

Adelson is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the activities of his gambling empire.

As Huffington Post contributor Ryan Grimm wrote this week:

The top reason Adelson gave for backing Romney and opposing President Barack Obama is "self defense," as Allen put it, referencing the probe into Las Vegas Sands Corp… Adelson's casino empire, the bulk of which is based in Asia, is being investigated for bribery and money laundering. …In other words, Adelson is spending millions of dollars to curry political favor in the United States, hoping to fend off charges that he spent millions of dollars to curry political favor in Asia.
In candidate Romney’s world, it is perfectly acceptable for his side in an election to take millions from those under criminal investigation. Teachers and school employees who want to have a say in an election, however, must keep their mouths and their wallets shut.

But what Romney considers a conflict of interest, the United States Supreme Court has ruled is freedom of speech. When educators form a union and pool their resources to endorse political candidates, they are simply doing what Americans have a right to do.

What Romney is attempting is to silence the voices of those who may disagree with him.

Teacher unions are not alone in contributing to political campaigns. The Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Business and Industry, the doctors, the lawyers, the drug companies all make contributions that vastly outweigh campaign spending by our teacher union.

Each of those donate in the hope that the candidates they support will win the election and then make decisions favorable to the contributor. It might not be pretty, but it is the way politics has always been conducted in the United States.

Here is a hard fact from last year’s election for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Our union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, contributed a total of about $20,000 to all of the BESE candidates we endorsed. Contributions to those candidates from all sources amounted to less than $348,000.

Business and political interests aligned with Gov. Bobby Jindal poured over $2.8 million into the same races. The result is a BESE board solidly aligned with the governor. This BESE board overwhelmingly approves of Jindal’s agenda to privatize public education, to support vouchers for private and religious schools, and to expose teachers to a harsh and unfair new evaluation system.

The truth is that money speaks in American elections, and the loudest voice is often the one that is best funded. To deny that voice to unions is to tape the mouths of teachers and school employees and ensure that our concerns are never heard.

Would we all be better off if there were a fair way to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns in our country? That is a legitimate discussion to have, but it is not at the heart of Romney’s complaint to Brian Williams.

In the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Candidate Romney is attempting to tilt the playing field by removing the “and unions” from that balance.

In short, Romney’s fear is that a political contribution by a teacher union will color a decision by an elected official.

His is the wrong prescription for what ails the American political system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BESE member decries reform "trickery"

In a letter sent to newspapers across the state, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 8 Member Carolyn Hill writes about her disappointment in the "school reform" agenda being pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White.

After running an election campaign based on reform, Hill writes, she is disappointed in "the deceptive practices that are being used to disparage our traditional schools and educators."

"What is being offered up as reform," she writes, "is nothing more than trickery."

Here is the full text of her letter to the editor, which should be appearing around Louisiana soon:

Dear Editor:

As a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), I am writing to express my disappointment in the deceptive practices that are being used to disparage our traditional schools and educators.  I ran for the BESE position because I wanted to be an integral part of reforming schools in Louisiana.  My campaign was based on reform.  Shortly after being elected to the state board of education, I realized what is being offered up as reform is nothing more than trickery.  

I am reminded of the biblical story relating to Adam and Eve.  God warned Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit; yet, Eve manipulated Adam and evil arose from the eating of this fruit.  I use this example to inform my constituents and the public that everything that glistens isn’t gold.  Many so-called reformers are trashing traditional public schools while many parents are facing real discrimination.  

Choice is being sold to many parents as the silver bullet.  However, many parents have reported their concerns and confusion regarding the responses they have received.  Some students are being denied access to schools of their choice.  I want to appeal to parents to exercise caution with their choice options.  The virtual learning opportunities, if not monitored, may have far reaching implications regarding student success. Be wise and proactive in your choice decisions and don’t accept less than was promised.  

I recall growing up and revering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  However, as an African American, I am concerned that there is silence regarding the future of our children.  Where are our leaders? Why do we want out of state vendors to come to Louisiana to educate our children?  Where are the standards?  Why do we promote certification in traditional schools and don’t require the same standards for charter schools?   Why are we operating under different standards?  Why does a state board of education and legislature make a distinction between education providers?  Why would any board of education not require certification and testing when education is all about the attainment of standards?  

I did campaign on education reform--a responsible reform-- where there is an equitable playing field. The education reform that exists in Louisiana today consists of irresponsible education policies and laws. Again I am saddened that many have forgotten the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King and others who have taken a stand for all people.  Are we going to abandon this legacy?  I am also reminded of all the elected officials who were in opposition to the education reform legislation during this past legislative session.  I want to say thank you.  I also say we must not abandon our responsibilities. We must rise to be the voices for our children, parents, and educators. If we don't stand openly and vocally for our children, then it may be said we are as guilty as if we had eaten of the forbidden fruit.

Carolyn Hill
BESE District 8

Friday, September 21, 2012

The legislative branch should assert itself

(Baton Rouge – September 21, 2012) Concerned about the Jindal administration’s apparent "complete disregard" for the legislature and the separation of powers, Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) this week became the second legislator to ask his colleagues to convene in special session. Senator Karen Carter Petersen (D-New Orleans) had already called for a special session over the Jindal administration’s handling of health care issues in the state.

"For democracy to work, it cannot be a spectator sport," said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. "We have an obligation to express our understanding and support for a legislative intervention.
While Rep. Richard focused on the billion dollars of cuts ordered by the Jindal administration after the last legislative session ended, Federation President Steve Monaghan said he believes lawmakers should also revisit and address the so called bold education agenda which was steamrolled through the 2011 session.

“Representative Richard’s sentiments are shared by educators, but their concerns are not limited to fiscal matters only,” Monaghan said.

“At the governor’s urging, the legislature rushed through and rubber-stamped two poorly drafted, fatally flawed bills,” said Monaghan. “They have fueled confusion and spawned litigation that could drag on for years. The best course for lawmakers is to reconsider them before public education suffers irreparable harm in our state.”

According to the LFT president, the education agenda that Gov. Jindal pushed through in the first weeks of the session has led to mass confusion in the education community, and has made Louisiana a national laughingstock.

To read more of this article, please click here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

John White doubles down on vouchers

Evidence mounts that Superintendent of Education John White and his liege, Gov. Bobby Jindal, are bent on minimizing public education and advancing the cause of private, religious and for-profit schools.

Their preference is on display in this press release, which crows about how successfully the governor's voucher scheme has started down its path to supplant traditional public schools.

Along with its declaration of favor for privatized education, White's press release takes an eye-poke at St. Tammany, a parish still stinging from Gov. Jindal's decision to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital. What is it about the state's most reliably Republican district that urges the governor to treat it so shabbily?

And to those who say there is no slap at St. Tammany in the press release: Of course there is. In this case, the worst insult is in the praise withheld. They knew what they were doing.

Back to the press release. Perhaps the most interesting part is where White drags up a discredited piece of "research" which he uses to bolster a claim that "enrollment in college increased 24 percent for African-American students who received a scholarship to attend a private school."

Even the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, a strong editorial supporter of the Jindal agenda, calls bullhockey on that one. Reporter David Jacobs writes that the data cited by White "actually does not support the authors' conclusions."

Writes Jacobs: "The review by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison argues the evidence shows 'school vouchers did not improve college enrollment rates among all students or even among a selected subgroup.' In fact, the Brookings/Harvard report 'convincingly demonstrates that in New York City a private voucher program failed to increase the college enrollment rates of students from low-income families,' the critique says.

There's a reason for White's heavy lean on the bogus report. News about the voucher schools has been almost universally bad for White and Jindal. First came the report from New Orleans that public schools were outperforming voucher schools in Jindal's initial foray into privatization. Then came stories about the state's woefully inadequate vetting of proposed voucher schools. Not to mention the pro-KKK and creationism curricula favored by some of the voucher academies.

As White and Jindal double down on vouchers, they will have to deal with mounting evidence that their scheme is not only unconstitutional (court date rapidly approaching), but that it is educationally unsound and intellectually bankrupt. That means we can expect more glowing - and inaccurate - press releases in the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's criminal in Florida is OK in Louisiana

The company that bills itself as the nation's largest provider of online education services is in trouble in Florida.

According to this article in the Orlando Sentinel, K12 Inc. "uses uncertified teachers in violation of state law and has asked employees to cover up the practice."

The story is of interest to us because K-12 Inc. is one of the course providers interested in siphoning Louisiana's public education funds, courtesy of Gov. Bobby Jindal's scheme to privatize our schools.

In Florida, reporters Trevor Aaronson and John O'Connor say, "K12 officials asked state-certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn't taught."

The allegations, if true, are very serious and ought to result in stiff fines and perhaps jail sentences for the perpetrators. The misdeeds alleged in the story go far beyond any simple mistake: "In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students...She only recognized seven names on that list."

The perps, in this case, might include K12 founder William Bennett, who served as President Ronald Reagan's education secretary. Since K12 was founded in 2000, the reporters say, K12 has grown into an $864 million company whose stock has doubled in the past year.

One reason for that spectacular growth just might be the violation of Florida's education laws. K12 "can pay uncertified teachers less than certified teachers while collecting the same amount per student from school districts," the reporters say.

The company won't have to worry about breaking certification laws here, because our governor made sure that companies like K12 Inc. don't have to hire certified teachers.

One of the many objectives of  Jindal's Act 2, known as the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, was to remove any certification requirements for teachers in the for-profit schools favored by the governor.

So we know that if K12 Inc. is approved as a "course provider" in Louisiana there won't be any pesky  teacher certification issues to clog up the money funnel.

But will the Florida investigation prove to be a hindrance to K12 Inc.'s approval to provide courses in Louisiana? Thus far, whenever State Superintendent of Education John White is asked questions about that sort of thing, his answer is that such information is protected from a prying public by a "deliberative process exemption" to the state's sunshine laws.

We will certainly have an answer by January, at which time the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will release its list of approved course choice providers.

Irony note:
A favorite high school Latin teacher used to say that certain miscreants had "more Gaul than Caesar conquered." Check out the paid advertisements on this story's Orlando Sentinel Web page. Without a hint of shame, K12 has an ad posted: "Learn From Home At Your Pace With K12 Accredited Online High School."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why are Chicago teachers on strike?

Today the 29,000 teachers and school employees in Chicago – the nation’s third largest school system – went on strike. It is the first time in 25 years that a job action like this has been called in the Windy City.

Their reasons for shutting down schools will sound disturbingly familiar to Louisiana educators.

No pay raises: The city school system, which is run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, last year promised teachers a four percent pay raise. This year, the city cancelled the raise and refuses to discuss the broken promise in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.

(In Louisiana, teachers haven’t received a state raise since 2008. Gov. Jindal, the legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have all agreed not to raise the Minimum Foundation Program by the traditional 2.75% per year. That starves local systems of money that could be used for local pay raises.)

Teacher evaluation: A new evaluation system is being imposed on Chicago teachers that relies heavily on how well students perform on standardized tests. The union says the new system ignores important  factors like poverty. Because Chicago has a collective bargaining agreement, the evaluation system should be determined collaboratively between teachers and the administration.

(In Louisiana, the  Louisiana Federation of Teachers has sued to halt a new law that bases virtually every aspect of a teacher's professional life, including pay raises, termination and tenure, on evaluations that rely too heavily on standardized testing.)

Longer school days: While gutting salaries, the city is demanding longer school days.

(In Louisiana, Gov. Jindal’s new law – which is under legal challenge from the LFT – gives superintendents the right to demand more work without remuneration.)

Overcrowded classrooms: Illinois does not have a law limiting class size. CTU wants to negotiate limits on class sizes in its contract, but the city is refusing to discuss it.

(In Louisiana, which does have laws limiting class size, testimony has been given at BESE meetings and in the legislature to the effect that class size does not affect student achievement.)

Radical expansion of charter schools: The mayor is laying the groundwork to create as many as 250 new charter schools, or about half of the school system, in five to 10 years, despite the fact that studies show charter schools delivering about the same results as traditional public schools.

Teachers in Chicago charter schools earn about eight percent less than public school teachers and have no union representation. They have fewer benefits than traditional public school teachers.

(In Louisiana, the expansion of charter schools is accompanied by a de-professionalization of the teaching corps. No certification is required, and benefits can be far smaller than those in traditional public schools.)

Chicago teachers have long been protected by one of the strongest collective bargaining agreements in the nation, while very few Louisiana school districts even have collective bargaining agreements with educators.

That Chicago’s teachers and school employees have been pushed into a strike shows just how strong the movement to destroy traditional public education has become.

Even without collective bargaining, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has fought to protect the rights of teachers and school employees as well as for education reform that is research-based, transparent and effective.

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Chicago. If they lose their fight for professional dignity, it will embolden anti-public forces in Louisiana and other states.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Biased teacher study does not stand up to scrutiny, LFT says

A study purporting to support a new teacher evaluation system is the product of a biased, pro-business think tank and should not be taken seriously by education reformers in Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

“If this study were to be taken seriously, it would have been published by a peer-reviewed journal instead of by the Manhattan Institute, which prides itself on promoting ‘market-oriented policies’ aimed at privatizing public services,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan.

In a conference call to reporters, Manhattan Institute Fellow Marcus Winters said that his new report validates the use of the so-called Value Added Model to evaluate teacher performance. Winters said that his research is based on the results of value added data collected in Florida public schools.

The Baton Rouge Advocate quoted Winters’ report as saying that value added models “can be a useful piece of a comprehensive evaluation system” and that “claims that it is unreliable should be rejected.”

Sections of Winters’ report not quoted by The Advocate appear less confident: “VAM is not a perfect measure of teacher quality because, like any statistical test, it is subject to random measurement errors. So it should not be regarded as the ‘magic bullet’ solution to the problem of evaluating teacher performance.”

To read more, please click here.