Tuesday, August 21, 2012

National Education Expert Diane Ravitch Features LAE Member Letter!

Sending a big CONGRATS to Elizabeth Walters For Scoring National Recognition on Diane Ravitch's Blog!


See the full post below...
August 18, 2012

In Louisiana, Private Schools Can Get an F and Public $$$

Academically Unacceptable? Not If It’s A Private School.

Nobody wants a doctor who scored an F in medical school. Nobody wants a plumber who scored an F in training courses.

Conventional wisdom holds that nobody wants her kid to attend a school that scores an F.

But what about a private school that scores an F? According to the state of Louisiana, private schools that score an F are A-OK.

If there was any question of whether Louisiana’s much-publicized school voucher program is an effort by State Superintendent John White and the rest of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to overtly favor private schools over public schools, the recently released “accountability” requirements for private schools in the voucher program should clear up any doubts. The requirements trumpet “a common standard for student performance across the system of traditional public, charter public, and nonpublic schools,” yet the standards for private schools receiving vouchers are far lower than those for public schools–so low that public schools meeting those standards are considered failures.

Louisiana evaluates its public schools using a 150-point scale, which is then converted into letter grades of A, B, C, D and F, based on students’ scores on standardized tests, as well as measures such as attendance and graduation rates. If a public school scores below a B on the accountability index, students from that school whose household income does not exceed 250 percent of poverty level can apply for vouchers.

Despite White’s own assertions about the importance of accountability to the voucher program, he has chosen not to hold voucher schools to the same standards. Private schools receiving vouchers will be able to continue receiving tax money previously earmarked for public schools–more than $8,000 per pupil–while scoring in the F range.

Yes, that’s right, an F. Private schools can score an F and continue receiving public funding.

Specifically, private schools receiving vouchers, whose voucher students will take the same standardized tests as public-school students, will be required to score only a 50on the scholarship cohort index–which the documentation states will be “substantially similar” to the public-school scoring matrix–in order to be eligible to receive more voucher students, and the money that comes with them. Judging by the public-school matrix, such a score places a school squarely in the F category. In fact, with just 60 schools out of 650 in Louisiana scoring below a 51 in the most recent round of grading, such a score would place a school in the ninth percentile of all tested schools. A similar score in a public school would lead the state to deem that school academically unacceptable and would render its students eligible for vouchers.

Given the emphasis that Louisiana officials place on test scores as incontrovertible measures of school (and teacher) quality, it is fair to ask under what logic one ninth-percentile school is considered superior to another ninth-percentile school, simply because one is private and the other public. That question is unlikely to be answered anytime soon, as is the question of how schools were chosen to receive vouchers in the first place; White and the Jindal administration have refused to release the records of the voucher-program deliberations.

Indeed, many people are beginning to wonder whether the state used any criteria at all, as stories of legal troubles, schools without teachers and self-proclaimed prophetsemerge among the institutions chosen to receive vouchers, to say nothing of the overtly religious agendas of the program’s legislative supporters or the disturbing claims found in textbooks used by some voucher schools.

White has previously proven sensitive to bad press over vouchers, but apparently he is not sensitive enough to the state’s citizens to give them the clarification they deserve. He did announce earlier this week that the state would be tightening the rules for voucher applicants because, according to the Times-Picayune, “this process now has greater importance.” White apparently did not elaborate on why he did not find the process greatly important to begin with.

Besides demonstrating the state’s prioritization of funding private schools over funding public ones–a prioritization that may be unconstitutional–Louisiana’s differing standards for public and private schools raise another interesting question: What do test scores really mean, and what do they really mean to policymakers? The “school accountability” and “school reform” movements–both of which have gained significant ground in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina seven years ago–take for granted the fact that standardized tests are the best way to measure learning and to hold schools accountable. Louisiana’s low test-score standards for private schools, however, trumpeted concurrently with calls for improved education, complicate the narrative. Could White, Jindal and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education possibly believe that factors other than test scores can be indicators of student learning? Or do they believe that private schools are just inherently better, no matter what the test scores say?

One thing’s for sure–when it comes to evaluating White’s own accountability, Louisiana’s leaders are apparently not that eager to find out whether the superintendent scores an A, a B, a C, a D or an F. The state just postponed his first performance review.

Elizabeth Walters teaches in southeast Louisiana.

Friday, August 17, 2012

LAE Moves Forward With Legal Challenge

*On June 22nd, 2012, leaders from LAE affiliates across the state gathered in Baton Rouge to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 of the Louisiana Legislature's 2012 Regular Session. On July 12th, Baton Rouge judge Tim Kelley ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to grant LAE an injunction which requested a delay in funding for the two new, Jindal-backed education laws. LAE attorneys asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to review this decision. On Wednesday, August 15th, LAE attorneys were notified that they were once again denied their request for an injunction. The following news release was distributed to Louisiana media outlets on Thursday, August 16th, in response to this decision.

LAE Moves Forward With Legal Challenge

Ruling Only Denies Request For Spending Halt
Constitutionality of Education Laws Still In Question

BATON ROUGE, LA – August 16, 2012 – LAE say they will move forward with a lawsuit seeking a declaration that Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 99 are unconstitutional, despite the Louisiana Supreme Court’s denial of a request to put voucher spending on hold pending the outcome of a decision on the constitutionality of the laws.

“The courts only denied our request for a spending halt; the merits of the case have not yet been determined,” said LAE President Joyce Haynes. “The constitutionality of these laws is still very much in question. Until a final decision is made on the merits, we will continue our appeal to the courts. We stand behind our commitment to make sure that every child in Louisiana has access to a quality public school education.”

On July 12th, Baton Rouge judge Tim Kelley ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to grant the injunctive relief requesting a delay in funding for two new, Jindal-backed education laws. LAE attorneys requested review of that decision.

“Through our request, we were hoping to prevent the recipients of funds from having to pay back the money when the courts hear the case and rule that Act 2 and SCR 99 are unconstitutional,” said LAE Attorney Brian Blackwell. “If Superintendent White and members of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education were so confident in the legality of these laws, they should have agreed to litigate this case quickly, rather than have it go beyond August 1st.”

Blackwell went on to point out that state education officials could have also agreed to delay funding until the issue surrounding the constitutionality of the funding of non-public education under the new laws was resolved. President Haynes said her association's focus remains on protecting the interests of the 99% of Louisiana students whose families chose to keep them in the public schools.

“This is about protecting the constitutional rights of all Louisiana’s school children—not just a select few,” she said. “Our state constitution promises that every child in Louisiana will be provided with an educational setting that will give them the opportunity to develop to their full potential and that’s exactly what we’re trying to protect.”

The trial will proceed on October 15th before Judge Tim Kelley of the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

LAE Leaders Leave Annual Summer Leadership Conference Ready to Take on a New School Year!

New Local Presidents, Emerging Leaders, & Other Association Members Spend a Week Learning about How to Become Stronger Advocates for the Education Profession!

July 22nd through 26th was a busy week for LAE as more than 70 association leaders gathered in Marksville for LAE's annual Summer Leadership Conference. The focus of this year's event centered around learning and understanding the new education laws--Acts 1 & 2-- that will be enacted for the 2012-2013 school year. Participants also attended workshops on how to be a stronger advocate for the association, government relations and legislative action, communications, and professional development. The conference culminated with the naming of Sherry Thompson as president of the 2012 Emerging Leaders class.

Here are a few memories from this year's event...