Category Archives: Louisiana

All Public Schools in New Orleans will be Charters in 2014-2015 School Year

Something significant happened with the closing of the 2013-2014 school year in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board closed its remaining traditional public schools, for good. That means beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, all public schools operating in the city of New Orleans will be public charter schools. In scope, the change is not as grand as it initially sounds. There were only a handful of traditional public schools remaining in operation in New Orleans. Over 90% of children in New Orleans already attended charter schools, making public schooling in New Orleans the largest urban education reform experiment in the nation. But there is something incredibly significant about the fact that there will be no traditional public schools in a major American city next year. Charter schools had their beginnings in 1991 with the passage of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota, and the subsequent opening of the first charter schools in 1992. But I don’t believe school reformers in Minnesota  or the father of the charter school concept, Ray Budde, imagined that 13 years after the passage of Minnesota’s law, there would be a major American city where all public schools would be charter schools. Undoubtedly, the transformation of public schooling in New Orleans was sped along by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina which destroyed the vast majority of the city’s schools. But even prior to Katrina, the New Orleans Public Schools were in complete disarray; by many accounts the city’s school system was academically, financially, and ethically bankrupt. The state had already been busy devising plans for a take-over of the city’s failing schools. In many ways, Katrina just provided the opportunity for massive reform. And that large-scale education reform begun in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued even to today has fundamentally transformed public schooling in New Orleans.

Problems do remain, however. Much work remains to be done in New Orleans. Many kinks in the system have yet to be worked out. But the numbers are clear; current academic performance for students attending public schools in New Orleans has far exceeded performance levels for the city’s public school students prior to Hurricane Katrina. And according to a recent report by the Times Picayune, 45% of New Orleans voters say the schools are improving. I don’t remember seeing such a large percentage of New Orleanians who believed schools were moving in the right direction.

Choice is very clearly now a central tenet of public education in New Orleans. Parents have many more public school options than they have ever had before. What must continue now is a redoubled effort to ensure that the options available to parents are in fact high quality charter school options. Charter authorizers in New Orleans must hold their schools accountable for academic performance. Performance accountability is central to the charter school concept. That means, first, maintaining the highest standards for granting charters to applicants. Second, schools that fail to perform at or above the agreed upon levels of academic performance must be improved immediately or closed down, with no exceptions. We cannot allow charter schools to become the traditional public schools of pre-Katrina New Orleans; schools that failed generations of New Orleans families with no accountability. Finally, that means giving high performing charter schools and charter networks in the city the opportunity to expand, and recruiting the highest performing charter operators from around the country to New Orleans.

Efforts to ensure that parents’ school choices are in fact high quality choices are already underway. There are many individuals and groups in the city that are engaged in that work. One of those groups has been New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). NSNO has invested heavily in innovation in the New Orleans charter school sector and the expansion of charter school operators that have proven to be effective. That kind of work must continue with even greater intensity. New Orleans has the unique opportunity to be not just a grand experiment in urban education reform, but to become the model for large-scale urban education reform in America. The fate of New Orleans and its children are dependent on state and educational leaders’ resolve and commitment to get charter schooling right in New Orleans.

Louisiana: East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Understands Public Schooling in the Era of Parent Choice

Charter schools are expanding in East Baton Rouge Parish,
Louisiana. In the fall of 2014, new charters have been approved and are scheduled to open in the parish, other charter schools are expanding, and the East Baton Rouge
Parish School Board is bracing for a potential reduction in revenue as a result
of parents choosing to send their children to public charter schools over board-operated
public schools. According to Diana Samuels of the Times Picayune, the school district is bracing
for a potential reduction in revenue in the ballpark of $20 to $22 million, or
about 5% of the district’s general fund budget. The district’s Chief Business
Operations Officer is quoted in the article saying, “Our biggest concern (for
the next budget year) is money going out the door.” That statement isn’t one
that will inspire confidence in the parents of East Baton Rouge Parish. Nevertheless,
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say she probably didn’t mean it the way it came out.

But the East Baton Rouge Parish district superintendent’s
statement in response to the district’s revenue concerns is quite different.
Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor said, “We’re going to have to fight fire with
fire,” offering that the district must offer curriculum and programs that give district
schools a competitive advantage over charter schools. Dr. Taylor understands
that public education in the United States, and especially in the state of
Louisiana, is entering a new day. Traditional public schools can no longer rest
assured that children will walk through the doors simply because they live in
the neighborhood. In the coming era of parent choice, all schools, whether they
are private, magnet, charter, or traditional public, must compete to attract
and retain students. In the era of parent choice, all schools will become
schools of choice, and schools that refuse to or fail to compete will be forced
to close their doors. That means educational leaders, including
superintendents, school boards, principals, and school governing bodies, will
have to adopt the mindset of Dr. Taylor. If you want to continue to serve students,
you will have to compete for them. Schools will have to give parents reasons to
choose them. With neighborhood traditional public schools as just one of a
growing number of options available to parents, traditional public schools,
just as charter schools, will have to give families good reasons to enroll and
remain.

Depending on where you live, that era of parent choice in public education could be near. If you live in Louisiana, that era is already here.

North Carolina Charter Schools, Teacher Credentialing, and the Future of Teacher Licensure

North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things,
remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in
elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold
teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits
with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher
licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board
with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation
of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential
elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in
the state.

If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North
Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it
will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty
significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to
remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In
Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial
school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification
requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House
Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have
valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for
charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe
it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers
unions and traditional public school district superintendents.

In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the
vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of
public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s
public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for
teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of
teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in
none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as
charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of
Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure
requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana
represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate
credentials for public school teachers ought to be.

The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements
for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise
qualified aspiring content experts
who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to
teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in
traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not?
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there
is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and
states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of
credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High
School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter
High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.

Teachers unions and traditional public school district
superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the
argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional
public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t
think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in
requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure
requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen
overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where
this is heading.

The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher
education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…

Louisiana Teachers Union Challenges Law that Brings Flexibility to Traditional Public Schools

The Louisiana legislature passed legislation this summer that will allow traditional public schools to apply for waivers of certain state rules and regulations, including teacher tenure, in much the same way that charter schools in Louisiana can. The bill, Louisiana House Bill 1368, was framed as a measure to give local district and school officials the flexibility to make needed school-level changes.

Shortly thereafter, however, the Louisiana Federation of Teacher filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of of the measure. The union charges that the bill is “an unconsitutional delegation of authority to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education,” and that it is also unconsitutional “because it carves out special exemptions for individual schools” (Associated Press, 2010).

As you well know, I am unabashedly in favor of loosening bureucratic restrictions on local schools; and I am fully in favor of making concessions in state regulations that are available to charter schools also available to traditional public schools. So you know where I stand on this. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to follow. I can always, and I do mean always, count on my home state to keep things interesting!

 

Tying Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has received considerable attention over the last couple of weeks as a result of his voiced support for tying teacher evaluation in Louisiana to student test score growth. Jindal said recently that a system which evaluates and financially rewards teachers based on student test scores is a central component of Louisiana’s Race to the Top proposal for overhauling the state’s education system; but that regardless of whether the Race to the Top proposal is successful, the state will move forth with developing and implementing the new evaluation system. 

The system that Jindal is pushing for would evaluate teachers in part based on “value-added” measures of student performance. In other words, teachers would be evaluated on the amount of academic growth that students make over the course of the school year. Value-added measures differ significantly from absolute measures. In an evaluation system using absolute measures for evaluation, teachers might be evaluated on the percentage of students that meet a fixed or absolute standard. An example of such a standard would be the expectation the 80% of a teacher’s class scores at the level of “proficient” on end of the year standardized exams; or that all students in a teacher’s class are reading “at grade-level” by the end of the school year. The problem with such measures is that they fail to take into account students’ levels of performance when they enter a teacher’s classroom at the start of the school year. It is really pretty ridiculous to hold a teacher to the expectation that her eighth grade students will be reading at grade-level by the end of the year if he started the school year reading at the second grade level. Value-added measures, on the other hand, are measures of growth; so they do take into account students’ levels of performance at the start of the year and for extended periods of time. Value-added measures can also adjust for special student characteristics such as limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities.
Louisiana’s proposed use of such an evaluation system has garnered the state an unprecedented amount of positive attention for public education. This is not to suggest, however, that the proposal has not been criticized by some. In fact, the Louisiana School Boards Association’s Board of Directors is cautioning local boards of education to “evaluate very carefully before making final decisions” to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top proposal, charging that the “changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.” Also, the Louisiana Educators Association (LEA), Louisiana’s largest professional educators organization, has voted to not endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal, citing among other reasons, the State Superintendent’s and Department of Education’s unwillingness to work with them on the teacher evaluation process. LAE’s major dissatisfaction with the state’s proposed evaluation system is the percentage that the value-added measures would account for in teachers’ overall evaluation. The LA Department of Education has proposed that the value-added measures would account for one-half of teachers’ evaluation, while LAE leadership would prefer that the measures account for no more than one-third of teachers’ evaluations. Louisiana’s second largest teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), also has disagreements with some of the particulars of the proposed evaluation system, but has chosen to remain engaged with the state in the development and refinement of the Race to the Top proposal, with LFT president Steve Monaghan reasoning that “Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds.”
In the end, I have no doubt that Louisiana’s bid for Race to the Top funding will be successful and the state will probably go on to lead the nation in using student performance measures as a major component of teacher evaluation. While not perfect, the value-added measures represent not only a significant improvement over using absolute measures for teacher evaluation, but also a much more common sense approach to setting expectations for teachers. There is a widely-held misperception that teachers are flatly opposed to being held accountable for student performance. That is untrue for most teachers. What most teachers argue is that they should not be held accountable things that are beyond their control. A classroom teacher has no control over a students’ learning before coming to his or her classroom. Teachers also argue that special student circumstances such as disabilities and limited English proficiency must be factored into setting expectations. The use of value-added measures for teacher evaluation purposes moves us a step closer to being able to hold teachers accountable for student performance without making them the whipping children for factors that they truly have no control over.

Louisiana’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS)– Too Important to Lose!

The Louisiana State University (LSU) System’s president, John Lombardi, recently challenged the continuance of Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). Students graduating from Louisiana high schools who meet the program’s requirements, including completion of a prescribed core curriculum, gpa, and college entrance exam requirements, are eligible to attend state post-secondary institutions tution-free. Lombardi contends that given the state’s tight fiscal situation, the legislature should reconsider paying tuition for students whose parents can afford to pay it themselves. Lombardi’s issue is that state legislature has been less willing to approve significant tuition increases because they pay the tuition of TOPS students; increases in state tuition would result in significantly increased costs to the state for the TOPS program.

Lombardi recently made the comment that he has surveyed the parking lots at LSU and the cars don’t look too shabby; implying that many LSU students who the state if footing the bill for could afford to pay their own tuition. In all likelihood, he is right. Many of the students at LSU who get the TOPS award probably could afford to pay the $2500 in tuition and fees per semester. But Dr. Lombardi is missing something very important. TOPS is not merely a need-based financial aid program. I would argue that one of TOPS’ most important purposes is to keep some of Louisiana’s most talented students in the state. So yeah, Billy Davis’ mom and dad may both earn good salaries, and paying state tuition wouldn’t impose a financial hardship; but if Billy qualifies for TOPS, LSU probably isn’t his only option. TOPS may provide enough enticement for Billy to stay in-state instead of going to Flordia or Texas. As a Louisiana native I can say that we desperately need our most talented students to consider staying home. Talented young people staying in Louisiana is important for the future of the state’s higher education institutions, and the economic health of Louisiana as a whole.
While it does not appear that Lombardi’s challenges will have any impact on the future of TOPS, it is important to consider what his statements say to Louisiana students. TOPS doesn’t offer students a whole lot of money, but it says to them, “You are important, and we need you to stay home.” I contend that that is the message that Louisiana needs to continue to send to its best and brightest.

New Orleans Public Schools Teacher Accused of Extortion in Exchange for Passing Grade

A New Orleans Public Schools teacher has been accused by a former student of extortion in exchange for changing his failing grade to a passing one- www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2009/09/student_teacher_traded_cash_fo.html . The former student has turned over copies of a recording on which his former teacher agreed to change his grade in exchange for a “monetary gift”. He alleges that the teacher demanded cash gifts from him totaling $1,200 over the couse of a year. You have to hear this to believe it. Check out the link.

I am not only a former teacher, but a former New Orleans Public Schools teacher; and I consider myself as a strong teacher advocate. I understand firsthand the daily challenges that teachers face. But IF these accusations are true, this teacher’s actions were absolutely inexcusable. An extraordinary degree of public trust is given to teachers, and actions such as these only serve to erode that trust. I sincerely hope that there is more to this story than we’re hearing and that she will be vindicated. But if she is guilty, she should be punished. A strong message must be sent. This type of behavior is not the norm for teachers. Most teachers in New Orleans and around the country adere daily to the highest possible ethical and professional standards, and behavior like this threatens to scar their hard work, high standards, and dedication.

Change on the Horizon for Higher Education in Louisiana

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Louisiana’s new Postsecondary Education Review Commission convened for the first time week. The group meets with the charge of finding ways to streamline the state’s higher education system. Currently, three higher education systems operate in Louisiana, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, the Southern University System, the University of Louisiana System, and the Louisiana State University System. Amidst state budget woes, one clear priority for the commission will be to find ways of eliminating academic and administrative duplication. In all likelihood, the commission’s recommendations will have to include the elimination or merger of university systems. The operation of all three distinct systems is neither cost efficient nor fiscally feasible in the present economic climate. It’s also possible that the commission’s recommendations could include closing or merging university campuses. There have already been serious talks of a merger of the University of New Orleans with Southern University of New Orleans.

Whatever the outcome of the commission’s work, one thing is certain, its recommendations will mean significant change and change is never welcomed by everyone. We will keep an eye on this one. More likely than not, the debate will be pretty heated.

Lowering Standards in Louisiana (Senate Bill No. 259)

Louisiana’s Senate Bill No. 259 will create a high school career options program, giving students the option to pursue an “academic major” consisting mainly of core academic, college preparatory coursework, or a “career major” consisting of “academic courses and modern vocational studies.” Additionally, the new law will relax state testing standards for promotion to the 9th grade for students who will pursue a career major in high school. Currently, state testing standards require 8th graders to score at “basic competency” on either the English or mathematics portion of the LEAP Test (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program). That’s not a typo, I said either English or mathematics. Senate Bill No. 259 relaxes that standard and will allow prospective high school “career majors” to be promoted to the 9th grade if they score “approaching basic competency” in either English or mathematics.

Let me make this clear, testing standards in Louisiana presently say that students can go to 9th grade if they can do math and almost read, or they can read and almost do math. Senate Bill No. 259 will lower those pseudo standards even further to say that students can go to 9th grade if they can almost read but can’t count, or if they can use a calculator but may not be able to read a restaurant menu. The bill has already made its way through both chambers of the legislature and is on its way to Gov. Bobby Jindal who has said through a spokesperson that he will sign the bill.

Proponents of the bill defend it as a step toward lowering the state’s high school dropout rate (currently about 35%). However, critics including the State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, contend that relaxing promotion standards for 8th graders is a step in the wrong direction for a state that has made progress in raising education standards. Additionally, I am greatly concerned about the message that we send by lowering educational standards that are already too low. If minimum basic standards can be lowered at will then they aren’t truly standards; they’re meaningless, no more than an educational game that we’re playing. In one breath we say to children that proficiency at X level in reading and mathematics is the minimum that you will need to be prepared for what lies ahead of you. But then in the next breath we say, well it’s okay if you don’t have these skills, we’ll send you on anyway.

Lawmakers are absolutely right that something must be done about the high rate of high school dropouts, but what they propose will not fix the problem. At best it might mask it. A high dropout rate is not the problem. Dropouts are only indicators of the problem. The problem is that too many children are not learning and lowering standards will not in anyway help them to learn. Whether you keep a student in 8th grade or send him to 9th grade, if he doesn’t have basic skills he still won’t be able to read. He still won’t be able to compute. Lowering standards for children does not help them, it does more academic and emotional harm by telling them that nobody expects them to achieve. The answer is not lowering standards, it’s maintaining them, eventually raising them, and seeing to it that children reach them.

State Imposed Local School Board Term Limits

Both houses of the Louisiana state legislature have approved a bill (House Bill 504) that would limit Jefferson Parish School Board members to three consecutive four-year terms in office. Present members of the school board would be allowed to seek reelection three more times. Proponents of the bill contend that the measure is intended to bring new blood into the Jefferson Parish School Board. I find this bill intriguing for several reasons, but one stands out. The local school board has been heralded as the last bastion of direct democracy in America, with county/city residents having the opportunity every four years to choose which of their neighbors will make education policy for the local school district. The passage of House Bill 504, however slight, curtails that local decision-making power. It second guesses Jefferson Parish voters’ ability to choose school board members without the aid of additional state parameters. While it appears that the Louisiana legislature is within in rights to take the action that it has, let’s call their action what it is. House Bill 504 takes just a little bit more of Jefferson Parish residents’ power to make their own decisions about their children’s education.