Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making it up as they go along

Superintendent of Education John White is all a-twitter about the “Classroom Support Toolbox” touted in this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, but there is actually less here than meets the eye.

About all that is really new – aside from the public relations campaign designed to put a smiley face on the widely despised COMPASS evaluation system – is a series of videos intended to show best practices to teachers.

There is also the announcement that the State Department will train some 2,000 teachers to be experts in the details of the tool box, and to help their colleagues understand the new common core standards.

All of which just reinforces the impression that this department is making it up as they go along.

But while the department’s details are all squishy, tentative and subject to tweaking, the effects on teachers are concrete. New Web sites and self-help videos do nothing to help teachers who have already been observed and are well n the way to having their evaluations set in stone.

So here’s a suggestion for lawmakers preparing for the session that begins on April 8: Set all of this year’s evaluations aside. Use the experience as an example of what happens when radical changes are imposed without adequate forethought, preparation or transparency.

Go back to the drawing board. Work with real teachers to develop an evaluation system that is accurate and fair, and that truly reflects the value that teachers bring to their classrooms.

Field test it well, and work out the problems before it becomes the rule by which teachers live. That would go a long way toward rebuilding faith and trust in the legislature and in the Department of Education.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Panel rejects John White's special ed plan

Following what has become the standard playbook for the State Department of Education, Superintendent John White today surprised a committee with sweeping changes to the state’s special education program.

But the Special Education Advisory Panel refused to play patsy, and rejected White’s proposed special education funding formula on an 8-2 vote.

White told the panel that his plan for the $313 million spent each year on children with disabilities will not have a major impact on overall funding levels for school systems. It would, however, radically change the funding structure for special education programs.

Instead of allocating the same amount of money for all children identified for special services, White said, his plan would base funding on three categories into which children could be placed.

In addition, state funds to schools would be adjusted depending on the academic achievement of students, based on academic improvement targets.

A final adjustment of funding would be based on where a special needs child is educated, such as a residential facility, at home or in a hospital.

Panel members objected to the scope of the superintendent’s plan, saying that they did not receive proper notification of the changes and did not have time to study the proposal. Questions were raised about how White’s plan would be implemented, and whether or not it meets requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Members wanted to know why stakeholders were given no opportunity to play a role in developing White’s new policy.

Instead of approving White’s plan, the panel voted to create a task force to study the proposed changes and how they would affect school systems.

The vote may set up a conflict at the next meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state department expected BESE to approve his plan this spring and send it to the legislature for approval; but the panel recommended waiting at least until the 2014-15 before the changes go into effect.

The special education funding plan is also expected to be discussed at the next Parish Superintendents Advisory Council meeting on February 14.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

LFT president responds to higher ed budget cuts

Recently, Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) defended the Jindal administration’s five-year assault on higher education funding in Louisiana. Appel, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, seemed to be saying that the multi-year budget cuts, amounting to some $625 million, are the tonic that our colleges and universities need in order to produce a better product.

In an ironic twist, Appel’s letter to The Advocate included this gem: “…we must be able to provide a system of higher education that is high-performing, properly funded and aligned with workforce and economic development needs.”

Today, LFT President Steve Monaghan responded.

Dear Editor:

With all due respect to state Sen. Conrad Appel, his letter to the editor (Jan. 31) unfortunately reads as an apologia for the more than $625 million in cuts to higher education over the past five years, cuts that have left our state with the lowest overall level of college funding in the South.

Because of these budget cuts, many respected professors and academic leaders have left for universities in other states, and with them have reportedly gone millions of dollars in research grants.

In an effort to offset these budgetary cuts, tuition and fees have escalated. The escalation of costs to students and working families places the dream of a college education at risk.

These cuts have not been surgical. They have not been limited to the elimination of the duplications of programs, or the consequences of low graduation rates. Make no mistake about it, these cuts have affected students.

For at least five years, a cuts-only approach to fiscal policy has produced inadequate funding and mid-year cuts.

Real damage has been done to higher education and the future of our state. Literally hundreds of tax breaks, deductions and rebates have been promoted, passed and continued with little regard for their need or value to Louisiana citizens.

As a result, Louisiana is suffering disastrous consequences. Higher education stands as one of the more prominent victims.

Steve Monaghan, president,

Louisiana Federation of Teachers