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Long meeting, disappointing results

At a marathon BESE meeting, members punted the Common Core controversy to local school boards and teachers, ignored educators’ requests for help with curricula and resources, and promised little relief from a flawed and unaccountable Value Added evaluation model.

October BESE meeting an endurance trial

The October meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was an endurance trial. Ever since BESE reduced its monthly meetings from two days of committee hearings to one, the agenda has been very crowded. The board’s current practice is to hold committee meetings on a Tuesday, during which all testimony is heard on agenda items. A full board meeting is then held on a Wednesday, when the full board votes on recommendations made by committees. The full board meetings generally conclude within a couple of hours, while committee meetings have been stretching late into the night. The October committee meetings strained everyone’s patience. A meeting on the controversial Common Core State Standards that was supposed to begin at 2:30 P.M. was three hours late getting started. Citizens who came expecting to speak were not allowed to begin their testimony until about 6: 30 P.M., and were limited to two minutes apiece. Even so, the meeting did not end until nearly 11 P.M. Parents who had traveled from as far away as Shreveport and spent the night in Baton Rouge waiting to speak were disappointed to learn that they would only be allowed to make brief comments. BESE President Chas Roemer said that board members travel the state and hold public meetings on issues, and voiced no support for a meeting schedule that is more convenient for the public.


Heated debate, little change on Value Added evaluation model

Several hours of sometimes heated discussion, the board decided to seek a new opinion on the validity of the Value Added Model formula and to increase training offered to educators about the model, but took no action on a request to investigate changes apparently made to some teachers’ value added scores. On the agenda was a request from BESE Member Lottie Beebe to create a panel of statisticians and mathematicians to determine if Louisiana’s Value Added formula is reliable and credible. LFT President Steve Monaghan asked, “Is the Value Added Model a valid instrument for measuring teacher effectiveness? Some respected mathematicians believe that Value Added formulae have margins of error better than 30 percent. If that is true, then it is simply wrong to judge our teachers, our schools and our students by such a shaky instrument.” The formula has been frequently criticized, and there have apparently been several behind the scenes adjustments made to the formula and to individual teacher’s scores. While Dr. Beebe recommended three qualified individuals to look into the formula, the board approved Roemer‘s substitute motion to instead seek a “third party” review of the formula. Dr. Beebe’s motion would have incurred no additional expense by BESE; it is unclear whether Roemer’s substitute will require a contract, or how much the review will cost. The board declined to act on Dr. Beebe’s request for a look into waivers of VAM scores that may have been granted to some teachers. Monaghan said that no written policies have been developed by the Department of Education to guide the issuance of waivers by anyone on either the state or local level. “Teachers evaluated under VAM have no way to legally challenge the scores imposed on them, and yet an unknown number of scores have apparently been either waived or otherwise adjusted,” Monaghan said. Even after LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray pointed out that alterations to Teacher Effectiveness Ratings made by the state superintendent of education may violate the law, the board took no further action on the matter. On the agenda’s final Value Added item, Superintendent of Education John White conceded that more stakeholder training is needed. The board unanimously approved a motion to conduct more training in the future.


BESE shifts Common Core responsibility to local school boards

Turning a deaf ear to complaints that controversial Common Core State Standards are not being properly implemented in Louisiana, the state education board tried to deflect criticism by shifting responsibility for the standards to local school systems. The BESE action was contained in a hastily contrived agenda item that was not properly advertised, and will probably have to be reconsidered in order to be legally adopted. The board’s tweaks to Common Core rules were aimed at angry parents who fear that a national curriculum is being imposed. BESE members reaffirmed their commitment to Common Core, but did nothing to satisfy educators who said the state has been derelict in its duty to prepare teachers and students for more demanding curricula. “We believe that the ideas behind Common Core have merit,” LFT President Steve Monaghan said, “but like so many other education reforms that have been imposed recently, there has been a failure to prepare and provision our teachers, our children, and communities for the changes.” At a committee meeting Tuesday, BESE members listened to hours of testimony. Much of it came from parents who fear federal intrusion into schools. Comments favoring Common Core were given by corporate sponsors and some teachers who were asked leading questions by pro-CCSS board members. At Wednesday’s meeting of the full board, a new agenda item was introduced in response to the parental concerns. Part of that resolution says no curriculum can be forced on a local school system, “including any that may be recommended, endorsed or supported by any federal or state program or agency.” Instead, BESE intends to give local districts and teachers more autonomy in choosing textbooks and learning materials. That did not sit well with educators like Monaghan, who said from the start that BESE and the department of education have shirked their duty to prepare for more demanding course work. The LFT president pointed out that the state had promised to provide curriculum information as part of an agreement to waive some sections of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. BESE, he said, is “passing the burden on to teachers and schools.” The motion also guaranteed the public the right to review textbooks and other materials, and promised that student social security numbers won’t be used as test identification numbers. When audience members objected to a new agenda item being adopted without proper notification or a committee hearing, BESE President Chas Roemer said he believed the item was “germane” to the issues under discussion.


Charters approved over parental objections

Two charter school organizations that currently operate in Louisiana were given permission to open schools in Lafayette, East Jefferson and East Baton Rouge Parishes, despite parental and school board opposition. Lafayette parents and concerned citizens voiced opposition to decision, after the parish school board voted 8-2 to reject the charter applications at the local level. Lafayette Superintendent of Schools Pat Cooper spoke against his board’s decision. Cooper said the need for new facilities in Lafayette convinced him to support the charter expansion. Some Lafayette parents, however, said that voters are ready to pass a tax to cover the cost of new construction. The charter schools, they argued, will exclude the most needy children because of their geographic location and their “first come, first serve” enrollment style.


New rule favors private voucher schools

A new rule approved by BESE will allow non-public tuition organizations to advertise in ways that promote particular private schools. If the change goes into effect, it will overturn a current regulation prohibiting the promotion of a particular school over other qualified schools. The tuition organizations allow Louisiana taxpayers to get a 95% rebate on donations, which are sent to non-public schools on behalf of parents and students. The rebate has been controversial because of its cost to the state, and because the governor vetoed a similar measure that would have allowed rebates for donations to public schools. The new rule must still be published in the Louisiana Register and opened for public comment before it can go into effect.