Monday, November 12, 2012

Evaluation law to be tested in court

LFT challenge to Act 1 will be heard December 17

One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s most controversial education initiatives will be tested in court on December 17, when the Louisiana Federation of Teachers asks a Baton Rouge judge to toss out Act 1 of the 2012 legislature.

The law links virtually every aspect of a teacher’s professional life to a new evaluation system. In a lawsuit filed last June, the Federation charged that Act 1 violates the state constitution.

According to LFT President Steve Monaghan, Act 1 bundles what should have been a number of separate bills into one instrument. By rushing the bill through the legislature in the opening days of the last session, Monaghan said, Gov. Jindal treated the constitution “like little more than a list of inconvenient suggestions.”

In a motion for summary judgment to be heard in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court, LFT is asking that the new law be tossed because it conflicts with Article 3 Section 15(A) of the state constitution, which clearly states that bills “shall be confined to one object.”

Act 1 radically changes at least eight different existing laws “which have no reasonable relationship with, nor natural connection to, each other…” according to the LFT’s plea.

“By cramming so many objectives into the bill, public comment and debate were stifled,” Monaghan said. “Legislators were given little information about the bill, and appeared intimidated into passing it without adequate debate and oversight.”

Some of the LFT’s specific challenges to Act 1’s bundled objectives, each of which should have been a separate bill, include:
  • It changes the contractual relationship between local school boards and their superintendents.
  • It strips the authority to hire and fire teachers from school boards and gives it to superintendents.
  • It gives superintendents sole authority to determine reduction in force policies.
  • It creates a new section of law regarding how teacher salaries will be determined.
  • It changes due process rights that teachers have under law.
The Federation filed the lawsuit on June 7, at the same time as a suit challenging Act 2, the governor’s “choice” or school voucher bill.

Other organizations, including the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of Educators, later joined the Federation’s suit challenging the “choice” act. It is slated to go to trial on November 28.

LFT remains the sole organization with a lawsuit pending against Act 1.

Click here to read the LFT plea for summary judgment.
Click here for the original reports about the Federation's lawsuits.
Click here for recent news about the Act 2 lawsuit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where do they find these jewels?

First there was the spin person hired out of Florida to help the State Department of Education manage communications (that’s PR-speak for obfuscating the disaster that our education policy has become). Without having to even move to Louisiana, Dierdre Finn, a veteran of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s political machine, has joined the ranks of high-paid DOE apparatchiks.

Then we discovered that the department’s new director in charge of teacher evaluation – which now governs every aspect of a teacher’s career, from tenure to compensation to termination – is Molly Horstman, a 27-year old, non-certified, two-year veteran teacher who did not pass PRAXIS.

Third in this sad clown car of questionable employment decisions is DOE’s new promoter of “course choice” options, motivational speaker Lefty Lefkowith. His chief claim to fame, aside from association with the aforementioned Gov. Bush, seems to have been huckstering for schemes to deregulate energy and manipulate water rights in Florida.

Now into the center ring stumbles newly appointed Deputy Superintendent for District Support Mike Rounds, who will be paid $170,000 per year (hat tip to Tom Aswell for uncovering the story).

Rounds left his last position as chief operating officer for the Kansas City school system under somewhat of a cloud. Aswell’s post describes the sleazy dealings that were uncovered by investigative reporters in KC.

Rounds and Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White have something in common. Both “earned” their superintendent’s credentials by attending the Broad Academy.

The Academy's Web site claims that it takes "executives who have experience successfully leading large organizations and a passion for public service" and, after six weekends of training over a 10-month period, "places them in urban school districts to dramatically improve the quality of education for America’s students."

White taught for two years as a Teach for America volunteer, then went to work as executive director of Teach for America in Chicago. From there, he served a stint as deputy chancellor for New York City schools, where his passion was in closing down public schools and converting them to charters. That wealth of experience bought him passage to Louisiana, where he briefly headed the Recovery School District before, at age 35, he was picked by Gov. Bobby Jindal to replace Paul Pastorek as superintendent.

There is an emerging trend in Louisiana’s education bureaucracy: Minimal professional credentials, little or no experience as an educator, allegiance to an ideology of privatization, disdain for professionals who have chosen education as their life’s calling. And salaries higher than any classroom teacher dare dream of ever earning.

Where do they find these jewels?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Panel thwarts Jindal's privatization scheme

Thanks in part to the thousands of signatures gathered by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a legislative committee refused on Thursday to approve the privatization of health care services provided by the State Office of Group Benefits.

At the end of a four-hour meeting, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff realized that they did not have enough support on the Legislative Joint Committee on the Budget to approve selling OGB’s Preferred Provider Network to Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Acting on behalf of the governor, Commissioner of Administration Kristi Nichols asked the committee, which comprises the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees, to pull the item from its agenda.

LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray has won well-deserved credit for her testimony opposing privatization of the health plan, which serves some 60,000 current and retired public employees. Included in that number are teachers and school employees in a number of school systems.

After presenting the committee with nearly 4,500 signed petitions opposing the sale, Wray told the committee, “Policy makers keep finding more and more creative ways and more and more sorry excuses to support corporate tax avoidance over public good, privatizing over restoration and feel-good initiatives over real solutions for our very, very valuable public institutions.”

Nichols pulled the item from the agenda following a contentious hearing that revealed a deep lack of trust in the Jindal administration’s motives for privatizing OGB’s PPO. While she cited a study claiming that selling the PPO could save money for local school systems, several lawmakers said they can see no benefit to privatizing the office.

Most of the savings would come from the firing of some 177 employees who handle claims for the office. Opponents feared that the state workers might be replaced by telephone call centers anywhere in the world.

Testimony has shown that the Office of Group Benefits, which has amassed a $500 million surplus that is available to pay claims, spends only about three percent of its income on management costs. The industry average for management costs ranges from 10 to 15 percent, experts say.

The governor is not expected to give up n his plan to privatize the insurance plan. In a prepared statement, Nichols said the issue will come before the committee again.

“We asked to come back to the committee because there were questions about school board savings and some confusion about voting procedure. We feel confident about the support for the measure,” her statement said.

If you have not yet signed the LFT petition opposing privatization of the health plan, please click here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hypocrisy in high places

The State Department of Education raises issues of hypocrisy in this story by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, in which vows are made to ensure that every pre-kindergarten school that takes public tuition money will be held to rigorous standards.

“Every program that takes public dollars will be held to a common standard,” Superintendent of Education White told the reporter.

Thanks to the superintendent’s deep concern for the well-being of our state’s smallest learners, schools that provide pre-K instruction will all be assigned letter grades similar to the labels pasted onto public elementary and secondary schools.

Standards and letter grades are important, Supt. White indicated, as parents make choices about their children’s education.

“There are a lot of different choices out there, but children and their families do not have equal access and quality varies widely,” White told the reporter.

But what’s good for the little-bitties apparently does not work for their K-12 siblings, according to Supt. White and his colleagues on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being diverted away from public schools to pay tuition in private and religious schools and for “course providers” that come nowhere close to the standards demanded of public schools.

Last week, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers forced BESE to hold a hearing to accept suggestions for improvements to the totally inadequate standards promulgated for voucher schools last July.

The accountability standards touted by Supt. White do not impose letter grades on voucher schools, do not require them to hold a common curriculum, do not require their teachers to have even the most basic certification, and do not adequately oversee their stewardship of public funds.

Even those vague standards can be waived by Supt. White – and there are no guidelines governing his ability to waiver.

Supt. White did not even bother to attend the hearing. BESE’s executive director limited most of those who appeared to a two minute presentation. Supt. White’s allies at the hearing cavalierly dismissed concerns about the accountability of voucher schools.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said the hearing “sent a very clear signal: the mission of the department of education is to champion vouchers and privatization by any means necessary, and any rules that get in the way of that agenda will not be tolerated.”

Absolute common standards for all pre-K programs that take state dollars. Not so much for the private and religious schools that Supt. White and Gov. Bobby Jindal seem to have come to favor over public education. That is hypocrisy in the highest places.