This post was originally published on PE+CO: Louisiana Education Legislation Update
In one of the most shameless acts of political pandering in recent memory, Governor Bobby Jindal released a statement on Monday calling on legislators to withdrawal from the consortium of states developing the Partnership of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.
Just two weeks ago, the House Education Committee soundly rejected two bills – House Bill 381 and House Bill 558 – that sought to derail the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). House Bill 381, sponsored by Rep. Brett Geymann and Rep. J. Rogers Pope, sought to delay the full implementation of CCSS while a 30-person commission developed new state standards and their accompanying tests over the next two years. House Bill 558, filed by Rep. Cameron Henry and Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, would have prohibited the administration of the Common Core-aligned PARCC exams.
Representatives from a broad coalition of the state’s leading business, civic, and education organizations came out to testify in support of the standards. Thanks to their efforts, the House Education Committee voted down both bills, even though Governor Jindal surprised everyone by submitting “green cards” in support of the measures.
Following their defeat, CCSS opponents vowed to continue their irrational fight against the standards, and on Monday, eight anti-Common Core lawmakers renewed their assault by sending the following letter to Governor Jindal:
April 14, 2014
Governor Bobby Jindal
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
RE: Louisiana Opt Out of PARCC Testing.
Dear Governor Jindal,
We want to thank you for publicly expressing your concerns with Common Core and PARCC testing, in your statement on March 17th.
We too, support high academic standards that help ensure Louisiana students are able to compete with every state and every country in the world. We also do not support federal, one-size-fits-all testing that potentially breaches student privacy.
We share your concerns with Common Core and PARCC, and that’s why we are working to address these issues in this year’s legislative session and in conversations with BESE.
That’s why your stated position is so important. We have reviewed the MOU carefully and sought the advice of counsel, including the Attorney General’s office staff and House staff. We believe you have the authority, as Governor, under the 2010 PARCC Memorandum of Understanding, to opt out of the Consortium.
What we have discovered is that, in short, the MOU is fatally defective. It is incomplete, vague and missing key elements of a legally binding agreement. It likely conflicts with Louisiana’s procurement laws. It also appears to be completely unenforceable by virtue of having no enforcement section and no penalties for non-compliance other than withdrawal.
If nothing else, participation is explicitly subject to availability of funding. We are facing a projected $940 million deficit for 2015-16. There have been no public hearings and discussion on the costs of CCSS and PARCC. Since we believe they may be significant, we have all the reasons we need to stop PARCC implementation now.
The consensus is that a simple announcement by the Governor that Louisiana will not comply with the ongoing commitments required to remain a “Governing State” under the Consortium, is sufficient.
Please let us know when you’d like to take this action so that we can be on hand to support you and stand with you in support of what’s best for our people and our children.
State Representative Brett Geymann
State Representative Cameron Henry
State Representative Jim Morris
State Representative Bob Hensgens
State Representative “Dee” Richard
State Representative Rogers Pope
State Representative Barry Ivey
State Representative Kenny Havard
Jindal’s statement in response is at the center of the current controversy. In it he stated:
“We share the concerns of these anti-Common Core legislators and also of parents across Louisiana. We’re hopeful that legislation will move through the process this session that will address the concerns of parents or delay implementation until these concerns can be addressed.”
The Governor also had the audacity to claim he has the power to unilaterally withdrawal the state from the PARCC consortium, stating, “We think this course of action outlined in the legislators’ letter remains a very viable option if the Legislature does not act.”
Jindal’s response marks a complete reversal of his steadfast support for Common Core during his tenure as Governor. Jindal had been a strong advocate for CCSS ever since Louisiana committed to adopting the standards in 2010 – so much so, in fact, that Jindal was recently featured in a pro-Common Core video released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as seen below:
However, in the past several weeks, Jindal has changed his tune on Common Core for no other reason than political self-interest. As it has become apparent that Jindal’s attention has shifted from Louisiana to his presumed run for President in 2016, his popularity among voters has plummeted. A poll conducted in late February put his approval rating at a dismal 35% – which, if accurate, would make Jindal one of the least popular governors in the country. Thus, his sudden turn against Common Core is widely considered to be little more than an attempt to curry favor with hardcore conservatives who turnout in droves for Republican primaries. As political columnist, James Varney, accurately remarked in the Times-Picayune:
“Politics makes strange bedfellows, to use a well-worn phrase. But the only one jumping from bed to bed here is Jindal. Regardless of what one thinks about those under the respective covers, it’s not a pretty picture.”
Jindal’s statement drew widespread opprobrium from CCSS supporters, including many of the Governor’s heretofore political allies. Chas Roemer, President of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), dismissed both Jindal’s remarks and the broader effort by anti-Common Core lawmakers to make an end-run around the legislative process, saying, “They are going to resort to parlor tricks to try and stop it.” BESE went one step further on Tuesday when it gave State Superintendent John White high marks in his annual evaluation. As the Times-Picayune‘s Danielle Dreilinger pointed out, the board’s “resounding” endorsement of White “strengthens the unified front White and the board have upheld against bills that would end the state’s participation” in Common Core.
While White sought to downplay the rift between himself and the Governor over CCSS, he nevertheless strongly rejected Jindal’s claim that he has the authority to pull Louisiana out of PARCC and gave no sign of backing away from Common Core. As Politico noted in an interview with White on Tuesday:
“The memorandum of understanding committing Louisiana to the PARCC consortium was signed three years ago by the state superintendent, the governor and the president of the state board of education. The document clearly states that the current officeholders in all of those three posts must sign off on any move to withdraw from the consortium. And White, for one, has no intention of signing.”
Although Superintendent White’s decision to stick to his guns certainly puts him in an uncomfortable position, as he said to Politico, “My job is not to think about my own job security. My job is to think about what’s right for the kids. This is right for the kids.”
In his column on Tuesday, James Varney stated, “White has taken more than a few arrows over the years on behalf of the Jindal plan. This time it seems he got a knife in the back.” However, I would argue just the opposite. White’s resolve in defending CCSS will only raise his standing among those of us who care deeply about improving public education. On the other hand, Bobby Jindal’s about-face on Common Core has only demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his principles, his loyal allies, and the hard work of thousands of teachers and students across Louisiana in a self-serving attempt to get ahead. In short, this whole episode has shown that Jindal lacks character and he ultimately feels no obligation to anyone other than himself.
If Bobby Jindal thinks duplicity will get him to the White House, he’s in for a rude awakening.
A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?
On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.
Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.
Some background on H.B. 568
The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.
Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.
Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.
The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).
Read more about how researchers use student data:
Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.
So what’s with the veto?
Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:
“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”
The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.
When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.
Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.
Read House Bill 568:
Read the Governor’s Veto Message:
All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers
For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.
Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.
Louisiana is ready for a new direction. https://t.co/eDLPMl5tEC
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) April 12, 2017
Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.
Unethical and possibly worse
Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.
According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.
In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…
- Although he called out sick on February 23rd, he noted in a blog post that he actually went to Baton Rouge to attend the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council;
- He took sick leave on March 29th, but again mentioned on his blog that he was in Baton Rouge at a BESE meeting;
- The same goes for May 18th (he also missed May 17th), when he was “sick” in Baton Rouge to introduce House Bill 536 with State Rep. Vincent Pierre, as he wrote in a blog post ironically titled, “HB-536: Who really puts children first?”
What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.
— LAE (@LAEducators) November 16, 2016
If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.
Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.
The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) November 17, 2016
Exactly why reform is needed
When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.
In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.
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