Friday, January 18, 2013

New procedures, partnerships will aid school safety, LFT says

Public schools should be made safer without turning them into armed camps, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan told a legislative committee meeting in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting in Connecticut.

The union leader told members of the House Committee on Homeland Security that commonsense measures, including doors that lock and strong partnerships with law enforcement agencies, can be a big step toward ensuring the safety of students and the adults who work in schools.

Monaghan rejected the notion put forward by one lawmaker that teachers should be armed in order to face threats from outsiders like the man who burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six adults.

Citing his own experience as a Marine veteran, Monaghan said that the training available to most teachers would not be adequate to deal with a determined shooter.

“We have to be realistic about what the role of an educator is versus the role of a security enforcer,” Monaghan told the committee.

“I was an English teacher,” he said. “You don’t want me having a gun.”

Monaghan reported some of the preliminary results of an LFT survey in which teachers and school employees were asked to describe their school’s security measures.

The vast majority say that their school does have a crisis management plan as required by law, Monaghan said, but that some report deficiencies in the plans. Many reported that their classroom doors cannot be locked from the inside or without a key.

School officials have cited the cost of retrofitting schools with locking doors and safety features like “panic buttons,” an issue that Monaghan said needs to be addressed.

“We need to seek partnerships with appropriate state and federal agencies to fund the required modifications. If necessary, a request should be made to the congressional delegation asking for funds,” the survey report says.

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

WWL-TV op-ed: Jindal plan shows disdain for teachers

Check out this op-ed by LFT President Steve Monaghan on the WWL-TV Web site!

When cultural historian Jacques Barzun wrote "Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition," he could have been describing the education “reform” movement pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies in Louisiana. Jindal’s approach to education is typified by an apparent disdain for those who have made the profession their life’s calling.

The governor’s attitude about teachers emerged in a speech before the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry a year ago, in which he first outlined the radical overhaul that would become the hallmark of his education agenda. Jindal inaccurately and unfairly asserted to those influential business leaders that teachers “are given lifetime job protection…and short of selling drugs in the workplace or beating up” their students, teachers couldn’t be fired.

“Not only is this not a factual statement,”I said at the time, “but evoking images of those specific behaviors in reference to educators is unjust and insulting.”

The governor has often been quoted as saying that, prior to his overhaul, Louisiana teachers retained their jobs simply because they “keep breathing.” As proof, he and his supporters said that only a small percentage of teachers had been found incompetent and fired.

That ignored the fact that about half of all teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it. What other profession suffers such an exodus? One would naturally expect a higher level of competency among those who survived past their fifth anniversary.

As part of this assault on public school teachers, Act 1 (2012), a hodge-podge of policies that all but abolished teachers’ due process rights and tied their professional futures to an unproven new evaluation system, was steam rolled through the legislative process.

Simultaneously and in the same manner, Governor Jindal pushed Act 2 (2012), through the legislature. This bill comprises the most overreaching efforts at privatizing public education ever conceived in the United States.

Act 2 was so big, so bloated with various unrelated schemes, and was rushed through the system with so little scrutiny, that few paid much attention to its details.

The act is best known for funneling public education dollars to private and religious schools. Some of those have been shown to be woefully inadequate in curricula, facilities and, ironically, teacher quality.

But Act 2 encompasses much more than vouchers, and provides public funding for all manner of private and quasi-public education alternatives, without appropriate safeguards to assure the instructional quality of the programs.

Under these so called reforms, public tax dollars flow to largely unregulated voucher schools and other so-called “course providers.” (Those can be any individual, business or institution that has an idea for providing an academic course and receives approval from the governor’s education department.)

Act 2 is replete with examples of disdain for teachers as well as for public education in general. For example, the act deletes any requirement that teachers in charter schools be certified, but grants automatic certification to anyone who is approved as a “course provider.”

If non-traditional schools are to be part of the reform mix, then there should be ways to compare their achievement with that of public schools. The governor and his allies steadfastly refuse to consider measurements on privatized education that allow the public to accurately assess the academic results in those schools.

That coincides with a second hallmark of the Jindal agenda: a blind faith that private is better than public, and that profit is a guarantee of quality.

Across the United States, some $500 billion a year is spent on public education. In Louisiana, our Minimum Foundation Program budget is $3.41 billion. The privatizers want a big piece of that, and have donated millions to politicians who support this agenda. They have been rewarded with an astoundingly lax system of accountability.

The purpose of any real reform should be to guarantee all that children have equal access to high quality, well resourced public schools regardless of geography or economic circumstances. The reforms should be based on research which demonstrates the efficacy of the program or policy. No such research was presented to support these reforms as they were pushed into law.

So there you have it. An apparent lack of respect if not outright disdain for the profession of education, in combination with extreme ideological and profit motives have spawned these misbegotten reforms.

Fortunately for parents and the taxpaying public, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ constitutional challenges to this agenda have served to heighten public awareness and to encourage greater scrutiny.
Even though appeals are pending, there is a growing awareness that this agenda is not the right direction for education reform to take in Louisiana.

Our message to lawmakers is simple: these laws are terribly broken, and we're depending upon legislators to fix them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tell BESE to protect public education for all children!

On January 16, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on allowing school districts to choose poorly and continue the push to privatize public education in Louisiana. 

BESE will consider another in a series of radical assaults on our schools and the teaching profession. It's time to say NO!

Click here to send a message to BESE!

Proposed changes to Bulletin 741, the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators, will:
  • Eliminate requirements for school counselors and librarians
  • Allow students to earn Carnegie units without attending class
  • Encourage school districts to privatize even more public education services.
Superintendent White’s proposed changes are so far-reaching and numerous that BESE members voted to delay action on the proposal last November. Now members are under heavy pressure by the Jindal administration to approve changes that will harm students, minimize teachers and diminish accountability in our schools.

The changes are touted as ways to enhance flexibility by local school districts. The truth is that they serve to mask the damage done by the continued underfunding of our schools.

To learn more and send a message to BESE, please click here!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dumpster diving for compliments

So State Superintendent of Education John White went dumpster diving for compliments, and emerged from the pile waving this affidavit from former Washington, DC school superintendent Michelle Rhee. It certifies that Louisiana is the best state in the nation at punishing public school teachers for all the faults of a society that ranks last in nearly every indicator of a decent quality of life.

Not in so many words, of course. Rhee’s press release actually ranks Louisiana first in the nation for what she calls “policies that prioritize the interests of children.” Those happen to include the punitive new rules that link nearly every aspect of a teacher’s professional life to the results of standardized tests.

Louisiana and Florida rank the highest in the nation, according to Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst. States that rank beneath Louisiana include every state with higher student achievement and standards of living.

That prompted education curmudgeon Diane Ravitch to tweet, “Does anyone move to Louisiana or Florida for their schools?”

As Ravitch put it, “Rhee wants teachers to be evaluated and fired by test scores; she wants schools to be closed by test scores. But when she ranked the states, she didn’t look at test scores. If she had, her number-one state—Louisiana—would have been at the bottom of her rankings.”

No state in the StudentsFirst survey received a grade of A – Louisiana earned a B+. Among the 11 states to be graded F was California. That state’s chief deputy education superintendent, Richard Zeiger, called Rhee’s rating a “badge of honor.”

Zeiger told the New York Times that StudentsFirst “is an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing. I would have been surprised if we had got anything else.”

He is on to something. One Web site pointed out that among the states rated by Rhee’s organization, “the higher the StudentsFirst grade the lower the students’ performance.”

As it turns out, StudentsFirst is not so much an education organization as a right-wing, anti-tax group dedicated to privatizing public education.

Which explains Gov. Jindal’s glowing response to the big wet kiss from Michelle Rhee. “This report confirms that Louisiana is now leading the nation in education reform,” Jindal wrote in the prepared statement that he provided instead of talking to reporters, “because of our commitment to put a great teacher in every classroom and give every child the opportunity to get a great education.”

That’s the same Gov. Jindal who loves children so much that he is slashing a mental health program for children with behavioral health problems. In the same state whose commitment to children earned us a D from the Pew Center on the States because we don’t “provide crucial dental care to low-income children,” according to this story by reporter Laura Maggi.

For lots more on Michelle Rhee and her faux-grassroots organization, check out Tom Aswell’s Louisiana Voice post on the subject: “The report confirms nothing and it validates nothing and it’s highly doubtful if the people of this state are truly excited at what this administration passes off as reform. The courts certainly are not as three separate courts have knocked down various aspects of the education reform measures.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jindal slashes mental health program for children

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal irresponsibility is causing real damage to people most in need of assistance from the state. For the fifth straight year the governor’s budget requires mid-year cuts to avoid a deficit, and he is inflicting the pain on children with behavioral problems.

Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon pays attention to the irony of the governor’s actions in this story, which begins “At the same time Gov. Bobby Jindal is launching a study committee on school safety, his administration is cutting a program that helps children with behavioral health problems.”

Millhollon writes that the 76 employees of the Early Childhood Supports and Services program will be fired, and the program will “stop providing assessment, counseling and case management to young children in low-income families…”

In a prepared statement for The Advocate, Jindal brushed off concerns about the at-risk children, saying they should seek help from “pediatricians, family resource centers or nonprofit groups.”

The program, which serves children in six parishes, is supported by federal funds which the governor will shift to other areas of the state budget to forestall a looming $166 million shortfall.

Children who took part in the program were there because of “aggressive behavior, anxiety issues of post traumatic stress disorder,” Millhollon writes. Those are widely considered as danger signs that a child could grow up to become the kind of person who would go on a violent rampage like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.

If Jindal’s statement about seeking alternative sources of help seems insensitive, a comment from his Secretary of Health and Hospitals Secretary, Bruce Greenstein, is positively bizarre.

“My interest is to be able to provide the services not just to six parishes but across the state,” Greenstein told the reporter. This after cutting services to those six parishes without providing any more protection for children anywhere in Louisiana