Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Guess Who Has Been Empowered by the Jindal Education Reform?
A guest blog from our friend Mike Deshotels aka The Louisiana Educator.
Governor Jindal and his state superintendent, John White, love to talk about how the Jindal education reforms embodied in Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session will “empower” teachers, parents, and administrators. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the approval of this legislation amounts to the greatest stripping of educator power and job security in the history of Louisiana public education. It is also a full-fledged attack on all public schools.
This historic revamping of almost all major components of our K-12 education system was rammed through the legislature at an unprecedented speed. Some critical portions of the legislation received almost no public scrutiny. Many legislators apparently knew little about the ramifications of their votes.
Even though the Governor's plan for pushing through the legislation was designed to catch educators off guard, LAE was able to rally thousands of teachers to the steps of the Louisiana Capitol, and into overflowing committee rooms with only days notice. Teachers wearing red protest shirts flooded the entire bottom floor of the capitol for both the House and Senate committee hearings on House Bills 974 and 976 and Senate versions of the “reform” legislation. Record numbers of red cards were filled out by teachers indicating opposition to the bills in committee and requesting to speak in the committee hearings. Most of those teachers were denied the right to testify as the time for discussion of the bills was limited. Teachers tried desperately to get their legislators to meet with them and hear their professional opinions about the damaging impact of this legislation, but the majority of legislators had already committed their votes to the Governor on this poisonous legislation sight-unseen and were bound and determined to vote for it no matter what teachers wanted. Their decision was purely political and was done only to curry favor with the governor and his allies or to avoid the reprisals that the Governor was quite willing to inflict on all opposition.
Many legislators tried to reassure teachers from their districts that the legislation was only meant to affect the low performing schools and teachers, most of which were to be found outside their districts. Over and over again legislators said they were proud of the public school teachers and schools in their districts and that the legislation would have practically no impact on their teachers and administrators! Nothing could have been further from the truth. Educators who were active members of the LAE knew better because they took the time to read the analysis prepared by their Association and to read the bills for themselves. Nothing about the legislative process or the substance of this legislation had anything to do with teacher empowerment!
Not a shred of evidence was presented by the Governor and his allies to show that these major revisions of education law would improve the education of any students whatsoever. In fact, there was ample evidence to the contrary. The data resulting from the initial steps of privatization of education in Louisiana through the use of charter schools and vouchers show more of a negative impact on education of children than a positive one. All so-called failing schools taken over by the Recovery District keeping the same student body before conversion to charters in Louisiana are now performing at a lower level than before the takeover. The majority of children who had utilized the limited public to private vouchers have performed worse than before transferring to the private schools.
On the issues of teacher employment, evaluation, and reduction in force, not one bit of evidence was presented to the legislature to indicate that the changes in Act 1 would improve instruction and retain the best teachers. The new value-added teacher evaluation system has not yet produced one positive result in all the states where it has been tried, but it has produced many horror stories for teachers and students. My blog at louisianaeduator.blogspot.com contains numerous posts over a two and a half year period to document the failures of charters, vouchers, and value-added efforts. These posts cite actual statistics and studies that demonstrate, over and over, the lack of success of such programs. The truth is there for anyone who is interested in the truth.
But this legislation was not really about trying to improve education; it was about privatization of education, and the stripping of job security and the professional status of all public school teachers. I pointed out in one of my blog posts that Act 1 has reduced the job status of a typical teacher to that of a teenage grocery store clerk. That's the kind of teacher empowerment that has been produced by the Jindal education reform.
In answer to those legislators who assured their local educators that none of this legislation would adversely affect them, I want to point out just a few results of the legislation. Starting this school year, there will be a large number of private schools--some of them operating in our highest performing public school systems--that will be able to draw students from public schools and place them in substandard buildings with no adequate materials for instruction or qualified teachers. So far, the state has done almost nothing to insure that there will be adequate instruction in such schools. Their students can be promoted from one grade to another or even given a diploma without passing any of the LEAP or graduation tests. Also, to the amazement of some legislators who voted for the Jindal reforms, it is quite possible for a Muslim school, or even a school operating as one of the dreaded Medrassas, to demand voucher funding from our taxes as long as they meet the same minimal standards met by the rag tag “Christian” schools that have already been approved!
Act 2 also provides for the approval of new charter school authorizors that will be allowed and encouraged to approve new charter schools in all parishes that can compete directly with all public schools (not just the ones rated as low performers) for students. The law has now dropped all certification requirements for teachers in all so called “public” charter schools. These schools will be allowed to use our tax monies to advertise in the media for the purpose of attracting students and their share of the MFP funding from public schools. Over time the transfer of funding could financially cripple even our higher performing public school systems.
Finally, on the issue of teacher job security; there now is none. The legislation in Act 1 has amended the teacher tenure law to the point that all teachers will now be “at will” employees. They can be fired any time the principal and the local superintendent agree that they want to fire a particular teacher. The so-called tenure hearing will be held before a hearing committee where two of the three members will be appointed by the principal and the superintendent. In the case of layoffs, if a 20-year, tenured teacher has the misfortune of teaching a class where students perform below the expectation predicted by the value-added formulas, that teacher must be the first to be laid off no matter how good his/her evaluations have been for the past 20 years.
All public education employees are very much at risk. If a principal or a superintendent does not produce his/her quota of value-added success over a period of time, he/she must be dismissed. Theoretically, even a principal of a high-performing school is at risk if the students there do not perform according to the value-added formula expectations. Local educators have absolutely no input into the development of the value-added formulas by which they will be judged. Local voters have no say at all in the educator evaluation system.
So let's review: We have parents who can send their children to voucher schools, but they cannot choose the school, and they will never know how much their child is learning using the Louisiana accountability standards. We have teachers who can be fired at-will, or if they have the misfortune of having a class that performs below the expectations set by the state experts. We have principals who can be dismissed because their students do not perform according to value-added expectations, or because they refuse to fire teachers who do not meet value-added expectations. We have superintendents who can have their contracts voided by the state superintendent if they do not meet value-added expectations. And, we have school boards who now cannot make employment decisions for anyone but the local superintendent even though they can be overruled by the state superintendent in that employment decision. We have taxpayers who have absolutely no say in anything having to do with education, and a Governor with no training in education,and a state superintendent with two years teaching experience and questionable certification who rule over it all. Who do you think has been empowered?
The only way educators will be empowered is if they take action now to empower themselves! LAE is a strong, well-run professional education association. Because of the expertise of its leaders and staff, and its affiliation with the National Education Association, it is also a powerful union, but it needs to be made much more powerful if educators are to triumph in this critical battle. If you are already a member, please start recruiting other educators who had not yet joined. If you are not yet a member of LAE-NEA, and you believe in the education profession and public education, please join today and get active in the association as it goes into battle for the children and their teachers.
Michael Deshotels, retired educator