It’s 87 pages long and typical of last year’s education reform package rushed through the legislature by Gov. Piyush Jindal, the proposed changes to Bulletin 741, otherwise known as the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators, was first introduced to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee.
BESE member Holly Boffy of Baton Rouge offered a substitute motion at the time to defer committee action until January because, she said, she was hungry. The committee report, however, was approved and on Tuesday, Jan. 15 (tomorrow) the full board will take up the proposed changes that, among other things, will:
• Not require school systems to participate in a school accreditation program every five years and receive a certification classification (The proposals, in fact, call for the scrapping of Section 311 of the bulletin, which deals with accreditation, in its entirety.);
• No longer require certification of teachers;
• Strip Section 2313 for Elementary Program of Studies of its suggested outline of content areas, meaning any school can design any curricula it deems appropriate (so much for uniformity);
• Gut summer schools of their requirements, including minimum instructional hours and class size limits;
• Allow a single person with no valid teaching certificate to teach hundreds of students in one class taught for one week;
• Allow local educational agencies to use state money to purchase textbooks not approved by BESE;
• Do away with the requirement of taking roll for virtual (course choice) classes, thereby eliminating any assurance of a student’s attending the course;
• Allow for the elimination of the positions of school counselors, physical education teachers and school librarians.
Allow for the elimination of the positions of school counselors, physical education teachers and school librarians.
Board member Lottie Beebe of Breaux Bridge said there will be no public hearing per se on the proposed changes. Instead, if the proposals are adopted by BESE the legislative auditor must attach a family impact statement (statement of family values) and fiscal note (cost). Following that, the proposed changes are uploaded in the State Register which then triggers a 90-day public notice. Citizens beginning at that point, have 30 days for public (online) comment before the new rule becomes final after 90 days.
Beebe said many of the proposed changes are rationalized by State Superintendent John White and department staff as offering flexibility to school systems.
But at a time of increased focus on school bullying (both physical and electronic) and concerns about student mental health and safety, “cutting counselors and replacing them with untested teams is contrary to good public policy and a danger to our kids,” Beebe said.
She said because counselors are needed for college preparation, cutting those positions is also contrary to White’s stated goals of promoting college readiness.
“I have never before received so many emails,” Beebe said. “The LDOE is proposing the elimination of many of the structures we have had in place in traditional systems. Some will say this is good because it gives districts autonomy. I disagree,” she said. “I believe in having a framework, or structure.
“It appears (that) traditional systems have been given a lethal injection and will slowly expire unless our legislators derail this train. If you want to see what the state takeover of schools looks like, visit the Recovery School District in New Orleans and interview parents and students.
“I attended a meeting in New Orleans in November where students appealed to BESE for assistance. Students voiced concerns relative to the lack of certified teachers, lack of textbooks, etc. If you visit the DOE website to check on the RSD school report cards, you get a diagnostic comment: ‘This page is not available for display.’”
Mike Desehotels, a retired teacher and retired executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said he has several concerns about the proposed changes to Bulletin 741 but that he is most concerned with the potential for abuse and fraud in the Course Choice program.
Course Choice is a new program whereby students are allowed to take online courses from providers approved by BESE. The Course Choice allows operators to set their own tuition and to provide their own curricula but are not required to take roll to ensure that students are attending the virtual course.
Moreover, Desehotels said, Course Choice providers are allowed under Act 2 of 2012 to be paid 50 percent of their tuition upon a student’s registering for a course and the remaining 50 percent upon the student’s completion of the course.
“Since there is no provision for taking roll, I wanted to know what safeguards were in place to assure…that the proper instruction had been provided,” Desehotels said. “The answers I got from DOE can be summarized as follows: the provider can confirm that the student has completed the course by just stating that either the student has passed or has completed the required portfolio of work.
“Apparently the discretion for awarding course credit is totally in the hands of the providers and they have every incentive to do so because they get paid in full as soon as they say the student has completed the course. So the provider can be paid and the student can get credit for a course when he may not have received adequate instruction.
“I believe this is fraud and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Desehotels said he posed that question to White several months ago. “He promised to review the matter and get back to me. He never did.
That should not be too surprising given the mindset of this administration.
BESE President Penny Dastugue of Mandeville instructed St. Tammany teacher Mercedes Schneider to cease emailing her with concerns about BESE policy and BESE member James Garvey of Metairie emailed White relative to a public records request from a Louisiana citizen, “…try to find some way to charge her for the cost of responding.”
Garvey attempted to explain his email which was inadvertently sent to the individual requesting the public documents by saying he had been informed that DOE has not been recovering the costs of documents. “I was focusing on the part of the job that they have not been doing well.”
It’s generally outside the scope of BESE members to micromanage day-to-day department operations by counting paper clips and making sure citizens are charged for information—even information transmitted electronically by a simple keystroke of a computer.
Had he simply been watching out for the fiscal well-being of DOE, he might well have said something along the lines of “Be sure that the costs of responding are recouped” instead of “Try to find some way to charge her.”
Garvey tried again to say he had heard complaints about the large “chunks of time” dedicated to responding to public records requests.
With John White and DOE, however, the biggest “chunks of time” are dedicated to denying information and withholding records from the public under the guise of “deliberative process” or by simply ignoring the requests.
Apparently there is no charge for those services.