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Governor Unveils K-12 Legislative Agenda Edwards Wants To Chip Away At Accountability and School Choice

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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.

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 Charters

One 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.

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.

As 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 Evaluations

For 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:

These 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.

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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Praying & Hoping for a Good, Productive and Enjoyable School Year :-)

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Praying & Hoping for a Good, Productive and Enjoyable School Year :-)

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Praying & Hoping for a Good, Productive and Enjoyable School Year :-)

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Praying & Hoping for a Good, Productive and Enjoyable School Year :-)

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Charles Barone

Governor Unveils K-12 Legislative Agenda – Edwards wants to chip away at accountability & school choice. @petercook peterccook.com/2016/03/18/jbe…

Charles Barone

Governor Unveils K-12 Legislative Agenda – Edwards wants to chip away at accountability & school choice. @petercook peterccook.com/2016/03/18/jbe…

Citizen Stewart

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Citizen Stewart

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Paul Pastorek

Why be surprised when people do exactly what you expect them to do.

Paul Pastorek

Why be surprised when people do exactly what you expect them to do.

Morgan Carter Ripski

RT @petercook: Governor Unveils K-12 Legislative Agenda, which seeks to limit #charters & #accountability: pcook.me/eUoB

Amiel Provosty

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Amiel Provosty

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/710825177240592384#favorited-by-467892232

Asa Craig

the #LA gubernatorial effort to undo policy begins; sad for #NOLA children benefiting from higher-quality schools. twitter.com/petercook/stat…

Charters

Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education

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On January 15th, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter Schools that have emerged over the past several months.

Last fall, the State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein to open a new charter school in Little Rock after Einstein officials assured board members that they would provide transportation to students. This was the same promise they made to the Orleans Parish School Board last year as part of their charter renewal agreement. As we now know, they cannot be be taken at their word.

For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I’ve decided to publish my original letter, which I’ve reproduced in full below.


Dear Board Members,

In September, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans to open a new K-3 school in Little Rock School District. Today, I am writing to urge you to reconsider that decision in light of a series of troubling revelations about Einstein that have emerged here in New Orleans in the intervening months.

On September 19th, just five days after SBOE approved Einstein’s charter application, the Orleans Parish School Board issued an official notice of non-compliance [see notice here] to Einstein’s CEO and board president for failing to provide bus transportation to students as required by the terms of their charter. District officials became aware of this breach-of-contract after a parent reported that Einstein had refused to provide yellow bus service for her two children (5 and 10 years old) and instead offered them public transit tokens. News reports subsequently revealed that Einstein had been refusing to provide bus transportation to dozens of students.

Six weeks later, on November 7th, Einstein was issued another notice of non-compliance [see notice here] by the Orleans Parish School Board for enrolling 26 students outside of OneApp, the city-wide enrollment system that assigns students to New Orleans’ public schools. In fact, the notice indicates that district officials previously investigated enrollment violations at Einstein in 2016 and had told administrators that the charter network needed to implement internal systems and procedures to ensure they were in compliance with the OneApp process.

These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children – regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status – have fair and equal access to our public schools. Since Hurricane Katrina, all of the city’s open enrollment schools – both charter and traditional – have been required to provide free bus transportation to children in pre-K through sixth grade, no matter where they live in the city. Moreover, the Orleans Parish School Board renewed Einstein’s charter last year on the condition that school provide transportation to its students.

In 2012, district officials launched OneApp to simplify the enrollment process by allowing parents to fill out only one application in which they rank schools in order of preference. These preferences are then fed into an algorithm developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which in turn, assigns students to schools. OneApp ensures that schools cannot engage in so-called “creaming” or turn away students with disabilities. All schools are required to participate in OneApp and all are prohibited from enrolling students outside of the system.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s leaders have responded to the school board’s warnings with outright defiance. As a result, the district is now seeking a court order to force Einstein to comply with the busing requirement. According to The Lens, a local non-profit news outlet, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto responded to the OneApp non-compliance notice with a letter stating they had “simply accepted children whose parents had chosen one of its schools — a hallmark of the charter movement.” She has also taken to the pages of the New Orleans Advocate in an unconvincing attempt to deflect criticism of the school, as if the rules should not apply to them.

Finally, I want to make something very clear: I am outspoken supporter of charter schools. As a former charter school board member and teacher, I have seen the impact that high-quality charters can have on the lives of children. At the same time, I also firmly believe that charter schools are only successful when they adhere to clear operational and academic standards. Given their blatant disregard for the terms of their charter contracts in New Orleans (and the possibility that they could lose their charter if they continue to defy the district), I would once again urge you to reconsider Einstein’s expansion to Little Rock.

If you would like to read more about Einstein’s charter violations:

Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA

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Charters

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.

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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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