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Hear the Echoes #15 - Friday, April 29, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 15


Where laws are manipulated, rewritten and broken…



          Louisiana’s public education is, as Superintendent Paul Pastorek pronounced in Denver recently, on the cusp of great change.  The end, in Pastorek’s view, justifies the means.  The end in his view is breaking a 100 year monopoly of public education.


          He touts his Recovery School Districts as a model to be emulated anywhere in the world.


          It matters not that the Recovery School District law pointedly registers the legislature’s intent that the RSD is not viewed as a permanent education agency.


          It matters not that the RSD law pointedly mandates return of state-takeover schools to the district from which the so-called failing schools came.


          It matters not that charter contracts approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education call for the charter schools to meet certain academic and fiscal reporting requirements before their expiring contracts can be renewed.  The Administration renews them in violation of their standing contract.


          Why it doesn’t matter is because the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal has built a one vote majority on the BESE, and backed a state superintendent of education thereby enabling a shredding of conventions and traditions to create a glorious "world class education system” that, if the truth be known, is based upon a string of fallacies.


          Bubble testing, letter grades, student based budgeting, obscuring the real facts that take-over strategies still maintain schools at the bottom of the Department of Education’s rank ordering of school performance scores, are all strategies that conspire to ruthlessly finesse the facts that are seen in a growing improvement of Louisiana public school performance.


          A growing list of outside researchers sees that the real accomplishment of the state takeover of lower performing public schools is creation of a permanent underclass school system that receives its under-performing students from upper class charter schools.  As the failures mount for-profit charter management operation companies renounce their charters, or schools reconfigure so as to begin operating under a revised charter that allows forgetting about a few years of failure.  Perhaps that is why 21 RSD charters that have been in operation for more than three years still have no school performance scores.


          With one in eight lowest scoring New Orleans RSD student tests purged (its referred to as scrubbing the data) the RSD schools still do not make the DOE’s own list of high poverty/high performing schools.


          The Jindal administration chases a glittering rainbow avowing that K-12 education appropriations have been increased, while the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General points out that the Governor’s Office used AARA funds to bolster 2010 K-12 spending to reach 2008 levels.  Also not mentioned in the administration claim is that part of the increases in state funding are because of enrollment increases and a constitutional mandate that they be paid for by the state. 


          Local districts, meanwhile, are forced to assume costs that have always been borne by the state.  Paying for private and parochial school student transportation, paying the state-promised $5,000 reward to teachers meeting the strict requirements of National Teacher Certification, absorbing ever-increasing cost of state retirement which the Constitution says is the legislature’s responsibility, and a bevy of other formerly state costs amount to even greater cuts in local school operation budgets.


          Pastorek, in testifying before a Senate Education Committee hearing on the need to remove the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, said that he saw no big rush to create more charter schools.  He maintained the change was needed to enhance the state application for Race to the Top grants.  The RTTT grant proposal was rejected, and more than a dozen new charter applications have visited the BESE agenda since his testimony.


          The governor apparently feels that stakeholders in public education are unworthy of his attention.  He has never sought an opportunity to speak to their conventions or to invite more than a handful to have a discussion with him about how to improve public education.


          Pastorek, perhaps mindful of a steeply declining reputation among public educators, appears to spend more time courting a friendly media and its editorial boards than in meaningful discussion with parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members.  His New Orleans RSD suffers through endless charges by parents that his schools need to open lines of communication, listen and act on parent complaints. 


          Meanwhile, he mounts a continuous verbal assault on school boards and more importantly on teachers.  While pronouncing that excellent teaching is the key to improving student achievement, he advocates policy that leads to a more dispirited teacher corps than ever in the history of public education in Louisiana.


          Educators are traditionally "go along, get along” folks who labor often in harsh climates.  Historically being a public school teacher has been thought of as a "special calling.”  Now, however, the business interests, the hedge fund managers, and the political leadership of education have put teachers into the uncomfortable ethical position of daily lying to their students.  Teaching to the test, according to Leslie Jacobs, is OK so long as the test covers grade level expectations.  Of course the tests are mere selected samples of the curriculum.  But, teachers are expected to convince their students that their education is well served by such teaching.


          The current education climate in Louisiana has improved because of concerted efforts by stakeholder’s concerted efforts.  Overall EdWeek grades Louisiana as a C+ program.  However, when it comes to spending it is a D minus.


          The newly-created Coalition for Louisiana Public Education has stepped into the battle to prohibit the administration from its purpose to privatize public schools.  Perhaps the Governor’s offer to guarantee business a certain number of classroom seats, and membership on charter boards if they would provide charter school facilities was a step too far in telegraphing his privatization message.


          A galvanized stakeholder coalition that is widely connected to the grass roots of Louisiana citizenship is a political shot across the bow of this administration’s ship of state.


          Attempts to characterize the new coalition as a few discontented, and to meet the coalition charges with additional half-truths are not likely to go unchallenged.  Children are, under the Louisiana Constitution, guaranteed the opportunity to gain an excellent education.  Clearly the current RSD New Orleans schools are, after 5-years, not providing that and stakeholders can be expected to continue to focus a floodlight on the lack of real transparency in administration education policy.


Don Whittinghill    

LSBA Consultant

April 29, 2011


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