Archives for category: Louisiana

Rodolfo Espinoza reports that Lafayette, Louisiana, is experiencing a major exodus of teachers who have resigned because of confusing and conflicting directions from the state bureaucracy. Espinoza is president of the local teachers’ association.

He writes:

Lafayette is in a crisis of employee resignations and early retirements. Changes in state policies spearheaded by unqualified state leaders, combined with the failure of our local district to advocate for its employees have left teachers overwhelmed and frustrated.

Since 2012, 556 teachers have left our system. Resignations are far outpacing retirements with 343 teacher resignations compared with 184 retirements since 2012. In 2012 alone, teacher resignations doubled from 81 to 164.

Bureaucracy created by the current data-driven accountability system is a major source of teachers’ frustrations. The state and districts are consumed by a school letter grade, the formula for which constantly changes under State Superintendent John White and BESE. For example, high schools are now judged on the ACT scores of all students, regardless of whether or not they are going to attend college. We now require students to take not only the ACT but also the “Practice ACT” plus hours of ACT test prep. This numbers game does little to help struggling students academically or emotionally. It is yet another mandate that allows adults sitting in offices to say they are helping “the kids” and holding schools accountable, while Johnny still can’t comprehend what he’s reading. This year in Lafayette, a typical sophomore will take 25 district and state standardized tests, consuming 25 percent of the school calendar for the sake of “data.”

The outcome: A predictable school letter grade that punishes schools and the personnel who serve at-risk populations.

 

At some point, even Louisiana has to worry how they will replace the teachers who have retired and resigned. And who will want to become a teacher when working conditions are so poor and teachers are treated so poorly by the state education department.

Auditors are supposed to audit, but when the auditor for the voucher schools said they had some serious problems, the voucher advocates said he had overstepped his bounds. They don’t want no stinking audits. They just want to keep diverting public money to unaccountable schools.

Once again, the Louisiana legislative auditor’s December report on the state’s school voucher program has come in for criticism.

At a hearing last week, state Sens. Mike Walsworth, R-Monroe, and Robert Adley, R-Benton, said Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera had wandered into the area of proposing policy rather than simply determining if a government agency is complying with state law. Similar objections to the audit were raised last year.

Purpera was criticized because he suggested legislators consider revising the voucher program to include a requirement that nonpublic schools participating in it be academically acceptable.

It didn’t seem to matter to Purpera’s critics that he was within the bounds of the state law that created his office. It says audits may include “evaluations of the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness” of the programs being audited.

Though public schools may take part in the voucher program, their participation is just about non-existent. Public schools that want to accept voucher students have to be rated A or B by the state, but no similar rules apply to private schools.

John White, the TFA-trained State Superintendent said he would be the judge of quality.

The auditor’s report was not reassuring.

Last year, 30 percent of the 118 participating schools overcharged the state, asking for more money than the school’s regular tuition. Five schools had voucher students who were not economically eligible for the program. Auditors were unable to perform all of their audit procedures at a whopping 97 percent of schools because the schools had failed to keep a separate account of the use of voucher funds.

Here’s the real eye-opener: 18 private schools have student bodies where voucher students make up more than 50 percent of the enrollment — 13 in New Orleans, four in East Baton Rouge Parish and one in Jefferson Parish. Voucher enrollment at one New Orleans school is at 87 percent; another six of those 18 schools have more than 70 percent of their students on vouchers.

Vouchers are supposed to give parents an alternative by letting them choose schools that have proven themselves in a competitive market. But it’s not hard to conclude that many of the participating schools might have been crushed by market pressures if it weren’t for voucher money keeping them afloat.

A judge tossed out a significant part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s law denying due process for teachers. The judge said the teacher did not have a fair hearing.

GOOD NEWS!

After reading the tragic story of Ethan Rediske, the boy dying in hospice who could not be excused from taking the Florida state test without documentation, this principal wrote about a student in her school. Bear in mind: Nothing is more important to the State of Louisiana than the tests: Not the boy’s health, not his life: Just his test score. If the state didn’t have his test score, how would they know how to rate his teachers and his school? How would they develop the data for his cradle-to-grave record? What would it do to the state’s data warehouse if his data were missing? Data-data-data-data-data-data matter more than anything.

I have a similar story from Louisiana! I am the principal of a middle school in south Louisiana. Last year, while I was still the assistant principal, one of my 8th graders had to leave for Memphis to go to St. Jude for treatment of his Osteosarcoma, which had spread. In Louisiana, 8th graders must take and pass the LEAP test to move to high school. This child has his leg AMPUTATED to save his life.

I was unable to find anyone at the department of education who could help me with this child’s special circumstance. As a matter of fact, for him to have the option to move to high school, I had to complete a form that allowed me to administer the test to him in an alternate testing environment. I went to Memphis, LEAP test in hand, and administered his test over a four day period. He took his test while working around his chemotherapy and radiation appointments. He was a total champ about this absurd and offensive situation! And, to all of you who are wondering, he PASSED his test and is in 9th grade now. Although he is still in Memphis receiving treatments, when he returns he can go straight to high school.

Our community was so outraged by this story and the lack of human dignity attached to this insensitive requirement for this child to take the test, that the entire community came together. My trip, which was initially going to be self-funded, became entirely covered with the help of the local fire department, who drove me to Memphis, and generous donations from various businesses. Our student body was so supportive of their classmate that they raised and donated almost $10, 000.00 to St. Jude.

When I had the honor of handing the check to Richard Shadyac, the CEO of ALSAC (the organization that fundraises for St. Jude), even he was apalled that the child had to take the test. From what my very famous student tells me (you’ve seen him announcing the Saint’s first round pick at the NFL Draft, you’ve seen him on Kelly and Michael, and he is a always speaking on behalf of St. Jude), when he and Richard speak at fundraising events for St. Jude, Richard still mentions my trip to Memphis and what an entire community did to fight the good fight against wearhousing education!

Here are two of my favorite bloggers in conversation. Jennifer Berkshire–aka EduShyster–went to a bloggers’ convention in New Orleans and stayed with Mercedes Schneider. Jennifer spent a day with Mercedes, then interviewed her here. As it happened, they were meeting on the first anniversary of the start of Mercedes’ blog.

In 2012, Governor Bobby Jindal rammed through the legislature his compleat program of privatization of public schools and dismantling the teaching profession.

But things have not gone well since then because of the judiciary.

The funding if the voucher program was held unconstitutional and so was the act that outraged teachers.

The latter was overturned a second time.

The courts continue to be the guardians of due process. They have a habit of sticking to the state and federal constitutions.

It is always astonishing to be reminded that the rule of law still exists in Louisiana, despite the authoritarian command of Governor Bobby Jindal.

But it does! Louisiana courts found the funding of the voucher program, using money dedicated to public schools, to be unconstitutional. The courts found Jindal’s law stripping teachers of all legal rights and protections to be unconstitutional because it included too many subjects in one bill.

And now, miracle of miracles, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that 7,000 teachers who were fired after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina were wrongfully terminated and entitled to back wages. The judgement could bankrupt the Orleans Parish Board.

“In a lawsuit that some say could bankrupt the Orleans Parish public school system, an appeals court has decided that the School Board wrongly terminated more than 7,000 teachers after Hurricane Katrina. Those teachers were not given due process, and many teachers had the right to be rehired as jobs opened up in the first years after the storm, the court said in a unanimous opinion.

“The state is partly responsible for damages, according to Wednesday’s ruling from Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. However, its five-judge panel did reduce the potential damages certified by the District Court: Instead of five years of back pay plus fringe benefits, the appeals court awarded the teachers two to three years of back pay, with benefits only for those employees who had participated in them when they were employed.

“During the appeal, lawyers said the damages could amount to $1.5 billion.

“The class-action case applies to all School Board employees who were tenured as of Aug. 29, 2005, the date that Katrina blasted up the Louisiana-Mississippi line and New Orleans levees failed, flooding much of the city. Many employees were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans, but the appeals court ruled that an earlier settlement with the union did not prevent this case from being tried.

“The decision validates the anger felt by former teachers who lost their jobs. It says they should have been given top consideration for jobs in the new education system that emerged in New Orleans in the years after the storm.”

But wait!

Didn’t Arne Duncan say that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the schools of New Orleans? Didn’t he celebrate the abrupt firing of all these teachers and their replacement by TFA? Well, yes.

The courts say he was wrong.

The law was upheld. You don’t wipe out the livelihoods of 7,000 people just because you want to. The court said that these men and women were entitled to due process. Justice prevails.

Governor Bobby Jindal and John White are determined to keep protecting and expanding charter schools, as they press for the transfer of public funds to private entities.. That may explain why the state board of education renewed the charter of a Gulen-associated school that was under FBI investigation.

“The state Department of Education showed little interest in an ongoing federal probe into a Baton Rouge charter school even as the agency completed its own lengthy but much different examination to see if the school deserved to have its charter renewed, according to department records.

“The records were released to The Advocate in response to a public records request.

“The federal probe, which the state learned of by late spring 2012, is barely mentioned in the dozens of records the state has released about Kenilworth Science & Technology Charter School. The probe, which seemingly had been quiet for months, re-emerged Dec. 11 when the FBI raided the school six days after the agency renewed the Baton Rouge school’s charter through the year 2019.

“The search warrant, which The Advocate first disclosed Sunday, revealed that federal authorities have been seeking financial records from Kenilworth relating to nine companies. Most of these companies are owned by individuals of Turkish descent, and seven of them have done business with the school.”

Bobby Jindal thought he could launch the nation’s most sweeping privatization program in Louisiana but he has run into unexpected obstacles. First, the Louisiana courts struck down the funding for Jindal’s voucher plan, then they struck down Jindal’s multi-faceted plan to destroy the teaching profession. Then, The results from the voucher schools were disappointing–their scores were worse than the allegedly failing public schools. Of course, it didn’t help Louisiana’s image when some of the fundamentalist texts at the voucher schools made the state an international laughing stock.

Now parents are getting angry as they see Jindal’s charters move into their local school district. In Lafayette Parish, two moms have started a group to support public schools.

“LAFAYETTE — Two Lafayette Parish public-school parents, who fought last year against for-profit charter operators opening schools here, have organized a new watchdog group called Power of Public Education Lafayette.

“Parents Kathleen Espinoza and Ann Burruss organized the watchdog group Swamp BESE last year in protest of two charter groups’ applications to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to open charter schools in Lafayette Parish.

“After the Lafayette Parish School Board rejected the applications, the groups then applied to the state board, which approved the applications.

“Three of the five new charter schools planned for the parish are set to open in August.

“The new group formed by Espinoza and Burruss is policy-focused and has an interest in advocating for public policies that promote public education free of privatization.

“There needs to be an alternative voice to that movement,” Espinoza said.

“Espinoza said while the charter school issue served as a catalyst for the group, its focus is on advocacy to ensure all students receive an equitable education.

“It’s about empowering teachers in the classroom and protecting the democratic engine of public education,” she said.”

Parents get it. They get that there is a movement to destroy what these moms eloquently call “the democratic engine of public education.”

The tide is turning.

According to a local report, almost half the students enrolled in Louisiana’s voucher program are attending failing schools. Most voucher schools, however, did not release accountability data. This runs contrary to Governor Bobby Jindal’s claims that vouchers would allow students to escape failing public schools and choose better schools.

The story says,

“At least 45 percent of students in Louisiana’s controversial voucher program last year attended schools with performance scores in the D to F range of the state’s grading scale, according to data the state released Wednesday.

“The full impact of the program cannot be assessed, however, because the state released scores only for one-fifth of the 118 schools in the program. The schools for which data was provided served 2,888 of the nearly 5,000 students who used vouchers last year.

“The limited data raises questions about how the high-profile program can be held accountable to taxpayers. Voucher schools are only lightly vetted on the front end, with state Superintendent John White promising in 2012 that he would hold schools accountable based on academic results. The average voucher costs $5,245, meaning possibly $11 million in state dollars went to schools with no publicly released accountability score.

“The state released the scores in a report Wednesday, several days after a federal judge ruled the U.S. Department of Justice had the right to monitor the program to ensure it does not worsen racial segregation. In the political fight over the case, Gov. Bobby Jindal has said vouchers gave underprivileged children a shot at a better education.”

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