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Is This The Best Louisiana Democrats Can Do? John Bel Edwards' anti-CCSS, anti-reform rhetoric at debate doesn't bode well for his gubernatorial ambitions.

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I’ll tell you, it’s pretty depressing being a Louisiana Democrat these days.

It’s hard to believe that when I moved to this state just 13 years ago, Democrats occupied six statewide offices, including Governor, as well as both U.S. Senate seats. Since that time, the GOP has proceeded to systematically demolish the Democrats’ once-dominate position in state and local government to the detriment of Louisiana’s poor and working families.

With the election of Bobby Jindal as Governor in 2008, Republicans set about dismantling our state’s already threadbare social safety net: shuttering public hospitals and mental health facilities, cutting programs for at-risk youth, blocking Medicaid expansion – and slashed higher education spending, for good measure. And, just when progressive-minded Louisianans thought they could begin weaning themselves off Prozac, Senator Mary Landrieu lost her reelection campaign in December, bringing the number of statewide offices held by the Democrats down to zero.

Team Blue Dat? More like Team Blue Period.

Given the drubbing they’ve received at the hands of the GOP, one would think Louisiana Democrats would be seeking to regroup behind a new vision and strategy that could reverse this sorry state of affairs. But instead of articulating a bold new message, Democratic leaders have opted to grouse about the Jindal Administration from the sidelines (and ineffectively, at that), while retrenching behind antiquated and unpopular policy positions aimed at appeasing the party’s traditional base.

It’s fair to say that no Democratic politician embraces this “appeasement strategy” like State Rep. John Bel Edwards, whose reactionary positions on public education are basically copied straight from the teachers unions’ playbook. As I’ve written previously, Edwards, who is running for governor, has long been an outspoken opponent of common sense education reform policies, and true to form, his edu-conservatism was on full display at a gubernatorial debate in Shreveport on Tuesday.

I’ll let Rep. Edward speak for himself below, but to briefly summarize: he ridiculed State Superintendent John White, claimed charter schools don’t support “high risk students,” and loudly rejected Common Core…all in all, a losing message.


POST-SCRIPT:

I just noticed that I’ve been blocked on Twitter by both John Bel Edwards‘ and LaDemos, no doubt because of my past criticism of the party’s (and LFT and LAE’s) embrace of anti-education reform policies.

The Ministry of Truth doesn't tolerate dissent from Outer Party members.

The Ministry of Truth doesn’t tolerate dissent from Outer Party members.

Nevertheless, it’s ironic (in addition to being…well, totally lame) because I’m a life-long Democrat – in fact, I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life and have no plans to break that record. On the other hand, I do think it speaks volumes about those currently at the helm of the Louisiana Democratic Party. (Aside: What does one do at the helm of a rudderless ship?) If they’re that threatened by someone like me – a critical, but ultimately loyal supporter – it’s no wonder they don’t know where to begin when it comes to mounting an effective campaign against the Republicans.

Yep, still a registered Democrat.

Yep, still a registered Democrat, and no, I’m not going to stop urging LaDemos to see the light.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Peter Cook

Posted on 18 March 201618 March 2016 by Peter Cook comment image?iv=54″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Ever since John Bel Edwards’ upset victory in the gubernatorial race last fall, education reform supporters have worried that the Governor would try to roll back many of the policies that have helped raise student achievement across the state.After all, during his tenure in the Louisiana House of Representatives, Edwards opposed Common Core and filed numerous bills to limit charter autonomy and accountability. Edwards also has strong ties to the state’s teachers unions – the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) – both of which threw their full weight behind his campaign for governor.

I get painted as a person who is close to the teachers unions. … I’m not going to distance myself. – @LouisianaGov #lalege #lagov— Julia O’Donoghue (@JSODonoghue) February 3, 2016

On Monday, reformers’ fears were realized when Governor Edwards issued his legislative agenda for the 2016 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, which includes proposals to stem the growth of charter schools in A and B-rated districts and water-down teacher evaluations.I. Limiting Type 2 ChartersOne of the proposals backed by Governor Edwards is Senate Bill 170, filed by Senator Blade Morrish (R-Jennings), which would prohibit the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from approving Type 2 charter schools in districts with a grade of “A” or “B” in the most recent academic year. The bill is nearly identical to one that Edwards filed last year – House Bill 21 – that died in committee.Graphic from the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.The Type 2 charter pathway was created to serve as an appeals process for applicants whose charter proposals were rejected by local school boards. BESE currently has the authority to approve Type 2 charters in any district in the state and the board has used that power to both approve and deny Type 2 charters based on the merits of their applications. In total, 35 of the 144 charter schools in Louisiana are Type 2 charters.Some superintendents have tried to challenge BESE’s authority to approve charter schools in their districts, pointing out that every student who leaves a traditional public school for a charter takes their per-pupil funding with them. In fact, the Louisiana Association of Educators and Iberville Parish School Board both filed lawsuits against BESE over the issue in 2014, although a state judge rejected those claims.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBK5a3Kj5Dw%5DAs a result, district officials and other charter school opponents are now trying to frame their argument as an issue of local control over education. Governor Edwards hammered this very message home in his State of the State remarks, saying:

“We must restore more local control over how children are educated and tax dollars are spent to local school boards that perform well under our accountability system…Parents and taxpayers should be able to hold their school board members accountable for these decisions, and Baton Rouge bureaucrats should not have primary responsibility over such decisions in these districts.”

But lawmakers should ignore the rhetoric about local control because they have 41,799 reasons to reject Senate Bill 170. 41,799 is the number of students currently attending D/F-rated schools in A and B districts across the state, as shown in the table below. 
Not surprisingly, most of the students in these schools are low-income students of color, a demographic that our public schools have often failed to adequately serve. Legislators should not take away BESE’s ability to provide these students and their families with the opportunity to attend high-quality charter schools.II. Weakening Teacher EvaluationsFor years, the state’s teachers unions have been making hysterical claims about Compass, Louisiana’s teacher evaluation system, and particularly its use of value-added measures (VAM), which use standardized test scores to measure student growth. At one point, LFT President Steve Monaghan even claimed that, “many of the state’s finest teachers will be labeled ‘ineffective’ because of a flawed rating system.”Of course, the evaluation disaster that Monaghan and others promised never materialized, but that hasn’t stopped the unions from railing against evaluations. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Governor Edwards’ legislative agenda includes three separate bills seeking to water down teacher evaluations:Senate Bill 279 filed by Sen. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans) Senate Bill 342 filed by Sen. Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette) House Bill 723 filed by Rep. Edward Price (D-Gonzales) & Rep. Jeff Hall (D-Alexandria) .u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f{padding:0px;margin:0;padding-top:1em!important;padding-bottom:1em!important;width:100%;display:block;font-weight:bold;background-color:#eaeaea;border:0!important;border-left:4px solid #E74C3C!important;box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-moz-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-o-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-webkit-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);text-decoration:none}.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f:active,.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f:hover{opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms;text-decoration:none}.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f{transition:background-color 250ms;webkit-transition:background-color 250ms;opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms}.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f .ctaText{font-weight:bold;color:#E74C3C;text-decoration:none;font-size:16px}.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f .postTitle{color:#000;text-decoration:underline!important;font-size:16px}.u6893ca908439ff018938db680db9170f:hover .postTitle{text-decoration:underline!important}RELATED:  The Backstory on Going BackwardsThese three proposals, which are virtually identical, would reduce the VAM component of teachers’ overall evaluation scores from from 50% to 25%.That would be a mistake. A recent study from researchers at Brown and Vanderbilt universities revealed that principals tend to inflate teachers’ scores on the subjective portion (i.e., classroom observations) of evaluations. The researchers interviewed 100 principals in an urban district about the evaluation process and later assessed the scores those school leaders assigned to teachers.Their findings were shocking. As the Washington Post reported:

“Principals estimated that about 28 percent of teachers in their buildings were performing below proficient, but they also predicted that they would assign low ratings to just 24 percent, openly acknowledging that they would inflate some teachers’ scores. At the year’s end, however, it turned out that fewer than 7 percent of teachers actually received ratings below proficient.”

This tendency to inflate scores is exactly why VAM counts as 50% of the overall evaluation score. If we cut the VAM component to 25%, we will essentially give ineffective teachers a free pass.In fact, that’s exactly what happened when BESE suspended the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations during the transition to Common Core. In the 2012-13 school year, teachers in tested subjects were evaluated using the 50% value-added/50% observation formula. When the Compass scores were tallied, 32% of Louisiana teachers were rated Highly Effective, 49% were rated Effective Proficient, 8% were rated Emerging Proficient, and 4% were rated Ineffective.The following year, VAM was temporarily replaced with teacher-created “Student Learning Targets,” or SLTs, which are a subjective measure of academic progress. As a result, Compass evaluation ratings rose and fewer ineffective teachers were identified in 2013-14, as shown below.III. The Question for Lawmakers: Kids or Adults?When lawmakers consider these bills in the coming weeks, they need to ask themselves a simple question: Are we going to prioritize the needs of children or the prerogatives of adults?In the upcoming debate over Type 2 charters, legislators are likely to hear sentiments like those of Lafayette Superintendent Donald Aguillard, who recently called on lawmakers to hit the “pause button” on BESE-approved charters in his district, “until we have the time to put our strategic plan in place and we can demonstrate to the community of Lafayette that we are very concerned about helping our schools.”Yet as we speak, there are eight schools in the Lafayette Parish School System that are failing to provide nearly 5,000 students with the education they deserve. Those students can’t hit a pause button in their lives and wait on school officials to get their acts together. Why would we keep BESE from offering those kids better educational options?Likewise, the Governor’s friends from the teachers unions will no doubt tell legislators that the sky is falling due to teacher evaluations. But it’s important to remember that an effective teacher can have a huge influence on the educational outcomes of children. That’s why we have an obligation to ensure that every public school student is taught by a teacher who belongs in the classroom.Lawmakers should always put the needs of children first and that means they should vote against these proposals. comment image?iv=54″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Related GET PE+CO UPDATES IN YOUR INBOXFill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive notifications of new posts by email. We will never share your information or send you unsolicited emails. Subscribe Please check your email inbox to confirm. Powered by&nbspRapidology

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Peter C. Cook

@JohnBelforLA Appreciate it & would encourage JBE to come to #NOLAed & see how #charters support high-needs kids: pcook.me/1d9Py


John Bel Edwards

@petercook oversight on our part. Thanks for your interest and commitment to education.

Peter C. Cook

@DebbieLHollis Since you are a supporter of women’s rights, here’s JBE’s record on a woman’s right to choose: pcook.me/NpfE


Peter C. Cook
Debbie Lynn Hollis

@petercook @LaDemos are a complete failure – @JohnBelforLA is too good a man to be endorsed by them. @LouisianaSupe can’t be fired fast enuf

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A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?

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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.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

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.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

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:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

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.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

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:

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All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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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 with 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.

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.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-02.52.38
Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

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…

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.

Missing absences?

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.

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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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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