Things are bad everywhere but nowhere is it worse than in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White threaten to annihilate the state’s public schools with budget cuts, vouchers, the expansion of virtual charters, the erosion of teacher rights, and other forms of noxious corporate reform. The following is by Don Whittinghill , a consultant to the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), a non-profit service organization representing local school board members in 69 local systems.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has an agenda for K-12 education in Louisiana.
He says it is about change. Several elements of his legislative initiatives contribute to a downward spiral of fiscal support adequate to meet rising student achievement expectations.
Not only is the Minimum Foundation Program adopted by the Jindal-dominated Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over $11 million short of its stated requirements; but for the first time in history open-ended checkbooks for a proposed statewide expansion of vouchers, and virtual charter schools expansion are to be included in the MFP instead of separate line items. Even without an expanded virtual charter the MFP includes $14,045,635 for existing enrollment in the two virtual charters.
In December K-12, Inc. sought to increase enrollment by 1,000 students. At $8,156 per student that alone raises the cost of virtual school enrollment by $8,156. So far there is NO accountability record—either fiscal or academic achievement—for either virtual charter.
Has anyone addressed how the virtual schools meet the legislative requirement that 70% of general fund expenditures must be spent at the school building level? Local districts now spend 88.724% at the school building level.
Gov. Jindal’s agenda to starve local education agency budgets flies in the face of a growing national movement to add dollars for K-12.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is one of several governors, including Gary Herbert in Utah, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Dannel Malloy in Connecticut, who called for funding increases for education in their State of the State addresses this year, weeks before President Barack Obama chided governors at the White House for not adequately funding education.
“Budgets are about choices,” Obama said last week. “So today I’m calling on all of you: Invest more in education.”
Gov. Jindal proposes to weaken the current power to authorize new charters. He would empower parents who simply gain 51% of parent signatures in a school to form a charter. All national research reveals that the charters that appear to be successful are likely found in locales that have strong charter administration programs. Louisiana’s is already weak. In December of 2011, a dozen charters were extended in spite of the fact that all 12 failed to meet contract requirements for student achievement, and 11 failed to meet fiscal reporting goals in their contracts.
In addition, Gov. Jindal proposes to give charter schools the same right to use public facilities as the local school districts which obtained, by popular vote, the tax revenues with which to build them. In many cases the local school boards are still paying debt service on those buildings but Gov. Jindal would turn them over to a for-profit company.
The Jindal voucher experiment in New Orleans fails miserably in academic achievement. The Godmother of the Louisiana Standards-based Reform, Leslie Jacobs, reports that in each of the first two years of student achievement records student achievement in all but two of the private schools failed to even do as well on state tests as the lowest performing Recovery School District direct run schools—the worst performing group of schools in the state.
Beyond the academic two year failure of the voucher program, fewer than 1,700 students were served at a cost of $26.28 million over four years. Only 15% of voucher supported students were tested in 2010-2011 despite state requirement that the all should be tested in the same way as are all public school students.
The Jindal change in schools will continue to face moral dilemmas in the short term, making tough choices from a set of imperfect options. Teacher evaluations dictated by Act 54 were, under the 2011-passed legislation, to be piloted for a year. They have not been piloted to this date. The 69% of teachers working in non standardized tested classrooms will be evaluated on a method never before used ANYWHERE in the world.
States that received Race to the Top grants requiring the new evaluations are seeking delays in which to de-bug their own system that range from 12 to 24 months. Tennessee, the top recipient of Race to the Top, is struggling with logistical and philosophical problems in implementing its evaluation system. It has used value added for over 10 years!
The Tennessee evaluation contains more than 100 reference points for evaluators. In one Louisiana school participating in the pilot it consumed 17 hours of a principal’s time to do a single teacher evaluation.
Delaware, the second highest performing RTTT grantee backed away from assessing teacher performance based on how much growth students showed because insufficient data was available.
Data files used to evaluate teacher performance must be of the highest quality and the base data needs to be available to third party analysts if the system is not to become a legal quagmire. Access to the Student Information System files for the past two years has been withheld by the state department.
Tenure may as well be abolished in the event Jindal is successful in the coming legislative session. Louisiana’s teaching corps now ranks 15th highest nationally in the total number of National Board Certified Teachers.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, not a single state has even partly developed a meaningful tenure-granting process. Gov. Jindal would refuse tenure unless a teacher is rated positively for three consecutive years. A tenured teacher failing to meet those same qualifiers would lose tenure. Clearly there s not much chance that teachers, who don’t control the makeup of their classes from year to year, will remain in the top quartiles that many years.
His proposal makes the Principal and District Superintendent an unchecked authority to hire and terminate at will.
Gov. Jindal has an agenda for K-12 education in Louisiana all right: a death-wish agenda for our public schools.