Archive for the ‘Vouchers’ Category

By guest columnist James D. Kirylo

It is said that education is the great equalizer.  Yet, we know when it comes to resources, opportunity, and the quality of a teacher, not all educational experiences are equal.  Then we react with a bevy of voices coming from a variety of corners on how to better equalize the great equalizer.  To be sure, when making sense of gray matter, complexity, and multi-layered challenges inherent in education, the solutions are not easy.

Yet, when it comes to navigating through this entangled web, a leading thread to direct that charge ought to have the name “teacher” at its pinpoint.  There are few absolutes when it comes to education.  And of those few, one is this: There is positive correlation between a high quality teacher and student success.

It is, therefore, logical that if we want to move toward educational transformation, we need to ensure that teacher education is right up there on the priority list.  It is no coincidence that high achieving countries, like Singapore, South Korea, and Finland are quite selective as to who teaches their youth, how they prepare those who are to teach their youth, and how they maintain ongoing development while teaching their youth.

That a common thread in high-achieving countries is an elevated priority on teacher education ought to raise our collective sensibilities, stirring movement toward embracing that model right here in Louisiana.  To that end, the following summarizes what we need to qualitatively do in our backyard if we expect to move toward long-lasting transformative educational change:

  • Entrance requirements and processes into teacher education programs need to be more rigorous and more selective.
  • Those who are accepted into teacher education programs should be provided tuition waivers, grants, and other incentivizing initiatives.
  • Teacher education programs across the state must be creatively innovative, systematic, and unified in which not only content knowledge is emphasized, but also concepts, practices, and theories related to human development, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning are thoroughly explored in light of the diverse country in which we live.
  • Field experiences and rich mentorships are emphasized that works to connect the thoughtful relationship between theory and practice.
  • Upon graduation, teacher candidates leave their programs with great expertise, expectation, and adulation as they move into the teaching profession.
  • Once in the classroom, teachers regularly engage in ongoing and meaningful professional development, with them at the center of facilitating that endeavor.
  • The school curriculum in which teachers teach is wide-ranging, with an inclusive priority on the various arts, physical education, and foreign language.
  • When it comes to curricula, assessment, and evaluation decisions at the school setting, teachers are integral members at the table.
  • At the school setting, a test-centric focus has to be abandoned and replaced with a learning-centric focus that is energizing, inspiring, and imaginative.
  • Students, teachers, and schools are not in competition with one another, but work to cooperate, collaborate, and lift each other up.
  • All schools, regardless of location and economic demographic have equal access to quality resources, material, and high quality teachers.
  • The teaching profession is viewed with great respect, indicative of the competitive salaries, the working conditions in which teachers are placed, and how teachers are professionally viewed, treated, and honored.
  • A top-down hierarchal structure needs to be replaced with a teacher leadership empowerment structure.
  • “Fast-track” teacher training programs, such as TFA and LRCE, are not acceptable routes to teach our youth.
  • The waiving of requirements for those going into administrative type roles are not acceptable routes to work in leadership positions in our schools, systems, and state.
  • Only well-prepared, qualified, and certified teachers from high quality teacher education programs must teach our youth.

While there are certainly some examples of good efforts occurring in teacher education programs in our state, we are not doing nearly enough. Without doubt, if we are to move toward educational transformation in Louisiana, the systematic prioritization of teacher education is a must, the fostering of the professionalization of teaching is vital, and ultimately education must be viewed as an investment in which the entire state can be richly furthered.  Indeed, our international friends have provided us with an outstanding model.

(James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com)

Read Full Post »

When State Fire Marshal Butch Browning isn’t busy defending his wearing of unauthorized military decorations and ribbons or trying to shift blame for a carnival ride that malfunctioned only seven hours after his office inspected it, injuring two children in the process, he apparently can play the political game as well as any state appointed official.

Remember the New Living Word School in Ruston? That’s the facility that had only 122 students in 2012, yet was approved for more than 300 vouchers by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) even though the school lacked teachers, classrooms, desks or other supporting facilities to handle the increased numbers.

In fact, construction was started on New Living Word’s school without anyone bothering to obtain the requisite building permits or to hire a licensed contractor. In fact, no zoning variance was even obtained to operate the school on property that was zoned for a church.

Moreover, the building itself had so many deficiencies that Ruston building inspector Bill Sanderson refused to approve the structure. Those shortcomings included partitions made of flammable materials and multiple electrical cords lying on the floor between wall outlets and computer equipment.

New Living Word, looking to lose tuition of $6,300 per student (an amount later determined by auditors to be excessive and all the vouchers for the school were pulled), could not afford to wait until all the requirements had been met.

Enter State Sen. Rick Gallot.

It certainly didn’t hurt that Gallot is a member of New Living Word Church and sits on the school’s governing board.

Suddenly, all those deficiencies and procedural violations went away after State Fire Marshal Butch Browning became involved.

Browning subsequently issued an amended approval letter, giving the school the green light to proceed with constructing classrooms in the upper floor of the church gymnasium. He said the school had not requested approval to build the classrooms but that “after further review and as a point of clarification, the upper floor…is included in the scope of the review and is acceptable.”


The late John Hays, then-publisher of the Ruston weekly newspaper the Morning Paper, wrote on Aug. 27, 2012:

“Lobbying never fails, especially when Louisiana’s controversial school voucher program is the issue. After the state fire marshal fell I line, so, to, did the City of Ruston, approving a jury-rigged private school after a quickie inspection.

“Inspections were scheduled for Monday morning. But with 167 state vouchers (the number by then had been reduced from more than 300—before those, too, were yanked) at $6,300 each, New Living Word wasn’t willing to wait—just as it was not willing to apply for a zoning permit or a building permit or to hire a licensed contractor.”

Hays, holding both Browning and Sanderson responsible for bending the rules, went on to say that Neither Sanderson nor Browning had bothered to explain “why they didn’t pull the plug after New Living Word started construction without the required building permit and without a licensed contractor. Under Ruston 21 master plan, New Living Word was also required to obtain a zoning variance to operate a school on property presently zoned for a church,” Hays wrote.

“What Sanderson cannot change to anyone’s satisfaction is the fact that (church minister Jerry) Baldwin renovated two buildings without the benefit of a land use variance or a building permit, with a complete set of plans by a licensed architect or engineer, and without the use of a licensed general contractor and a licensed trade contractors,” the acerbic Hays said.

“Contrast this treatment of a politically-connected entity to that of a business that dared to ask that it be allowed to put up a sign slightly larger than the rules allowed,” said Ruston’s Walter Abbott on his Lincoln Parish Online blog.

Abbott, also writing about the New Living Word building permit controversy, then attached a link to an earlier story about a local realtor named Brandon Crume who wished to install a 32-square-foot sign in a location where such signs are limited to 16 square feet.

Bound by the rules, since there were no state politicians or appointees to intervene, the Ruston Planning and Zoning Commission denied Crume’s request outright, prompting Abbott to observe that a new business recently announced for Ruston “is showered with incentives, grants and glowing press coverage” and the press conference announcing its coming was attended “by numerous political dignitaries” while an “established Ruston business is encumbered with endless red tape just to remodel a building and put up a sign.”

“Maybe Brandon Crume needed a state senator on his payroll instead of facts and logic in his argument,” Abbott concluded.

The immediate question is why did Browning become involved when the local building inspector had already moved to halt work on the building? The obvious answer is that his intervention was on behalf of Baldwin and the school and not to support the local building inspector. It is equally evident that political pressure was brought to bear upon Sanderson to get him to ease up on the school which at the time, was held in high favor by DOE and by extension, Gov. Bobby Jindal.

And just what did Gallot promise Jindal in return for support from Baton Rouge via Browning’s involvement?

Shortcuts with safety regulations and procedures often can come back to bite you.

We can only hope there will not be a New Living Word incident reminiscent of the horrific school tragedy from the Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, the thinly-disguised Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about Huey Long which became the basis of two movies of the same name.

Or of the very real 2011 accident with the carnival ride in Greensburg that injured two siblings only hours after a State Fire Marshal’s inspection failed to shut the ride down because of the removal of an emergency brake on the ride.

Read Full Post »




A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of America’s Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 404 pages) is a new book by St. Tammany Parish high school English teacher Mercedes Schneider that should be required reading by both proponents and opponents of the current drift in education from public to private, from non-profit availability to all students to for-profit institutions available to the select few.

Before we get too far into our review of this book, there are two things you should know about Mercedes Schneider:

  • The emphasis is on the first syllable of Mer’ Ce-deez; she’s not a car, nor was she named for one.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to schmooze her with B.S., especially when it comes to issues involving public education. She will call you out the same way she called out an ill-prepared Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President (BESE) Chas Roemer following his debate with Diane Ravitch in March of 2013. Ravitch had already run circles around Roemer in their debate and he was simply no match for Schneider in the question-and-answer session that followed. It would have been comical had it not been for the position of such serious responsibility conferred upon Roemer by voters in his BESE district.

And when she does call you out, that caustic and at the same time, delightful St. Bernard Parish accent comes shining through like a lighthouse beacon slicing through a foggy night.

The publisher of an education online blog called At the Chalk Fence, She has moved her debate from her ongoing fight with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to a national forum and is now calling out such self-proclaimed education experts as former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, whom she calls “the viral host of the corporate reform agenda,” Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp, disgraced Washington, D.C. school chancellor and later founder of StudentsFirst Michelle Rhee, vagabond school reformer and former Superintendent of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) Paul Vallas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “Big Three Foundations: Gates, Walton and Broad.”

A thorn in the side of Jindal, White, and Roemer of long-standing, she turns her attention to the national educational debate in Chronicle. With an appropriate nod to Ravitch as her mentor and the one who was always available when needed for advice, Schneider peppers her targets with a barrage of statistics that refute the unrealistic theories advanced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and TFA who insist meaningful education reform can be accomplished with inexperienced teachers and administrators, for-profit charters, vouchers, and the idea that throwing money at a problem is not the answer (despite their propensity to pour billions of dollars into their own idealistic agendas—at best, a philosophical oxymoron).

A product of the St. Bernard Parish public schools (P.G.T. Beauregard High School), Schneider’s attempt to drop out of school at age 15 somehow morphed into a B.S. in secondary education (English and German), a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the State University of West Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado.

She taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University. It was at Ball State that she first took on the task of challenging the issues related to No Child Left Behind, teaching students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.”

In July 2007, only months before the election of Jindal as governor, she returned home and began a new job teaching high school English in St. Tammany parish.

Her introduction contains a brilliant metaphor for the corporate destruction of public education: she describes what she calls a “detailed image” of an abandoned building being imploded and collapsing upon itself. She envisions the building (public education), “not ornate, not without need for repairs, but sturdy,” as men in yellow hard hats (corporate reformers, we are told) watch, knowing what is about to transpire “because they have orchestrated it from the inside.” She describes the men as “responsible for the impending structural failure” and “who have planned the failure but are removed from its consequences.”

In her blog, she recently launched a withering attack on White’s embargo of the LEAP summary public report, saying the state superintendent had “apparently found himself in an unfamiliar fix regarding his characteristic ‘water muddying.’” She accused White of “collapsing” categories within the LEAP grading system in order to conceal variation through report “groupings” that she said concealed the precision of the standard five levels of LEAP achievement (unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced).

“Collapsing ‘basic,’ ‘mastery,’ and ‘advanced’ into a single, generic ‘passed’ serves to conceal achievement nuances that might make Louisiana Miracle RSD appear to be ‘less than’ locally-run districts—the ones operated by those pesky, traditional local school boards,” she said.

“After all, a test-score-deficient ‘miracle’ is harder to sell,” she said. “If the data reflect poorly on privatization, then the troubled corporate reformer could alter the data, or alter the reporting, or alter access to the reporting, or employ some combination of the three. Gotta love corporate reform ‘transparency.’”

Jindal, White and Roemer may heave a collective sigh of relief that they have been spared the glare of the spotlight in Chronicle as she concentrates her argument on the glaring weaknesses of the major education reform movers and shakers at the national level.

But perhaps they should not be too comfortable at being spared just yet.

After all, certain matter, they say, flows downhill.

A Chronicle of Echoes is a must read for anyone who is or ever claimed to be concerned about the perpetual political tampering with public education in America—by those least qualified to do so.

Read Full Post »

“Overall, the proficiency rating for the Scholarship (voucher) Program is 41 percent. This rating is based on the percent of students who scored basic and above on standardized tests during academic year 2012-2013.”

—Report by the Legislative Auditor on the Louisiana Department of Education’s “Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.”  (Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge, which subjects job applications to an extremely personal questionnaire based on religious believes and sexual activity and orientation while receiving $1.4 million in state funding, and New Living Word School in Ruston which the audit report says overcharged the Department of Education by more than $395,000 before subsequently being removed from the program, had proficiency ratings of 41.2 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively.)

Read Full Post »

Give Gov. Bobby Jindal credit: He, along with a gaggle of Louisiana politicians, is all over A&E Network like…well, like a duck on a June bug over the Phil Robertson flak stemming from his comments about gays and blacks in that GQ interview. http://theadvocate.com/home/7889023-125/gov-jindal-responds-to-ae

Without going into the full story (you can get that from virtually any news source, from ABC-TV to local newspapers), suffice it to say Jindal has already spent almost as much time on this issue as on that sinkhole in Assumption Parish—or even staying at home to address other Louisiana problems, for that matter.

And while offering moral support for Robertson, Jindal has had little to say in defense of his boy-child State Superintendent of Education John White in the wake of a devastating state audit of the Jindal administration’s showcase school voucher program or of a controversial employment questionnaire required of applicants by a Baton Rouge private academy that has received more than $1.4 million in state funds.

Bernard Taylor, on the other hand, acted promptly and decisively to head off attempts by a local organization claiming connections to Jindal and White and headed by a man recently arrested for misuse of Baton Rouge city transit system funds to gain access to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest in one gulp so let’s take ‘em one at a time, beginning with Taylor and an outfit called Empowering Students for Success.

Empowering Students for Success http://www.educatingourfuture.org/, founded earlier this year to help prepare students for new Common Core standards, is headed up by one Montrell “MJ” McCaleb.

The organization’s web page features separate photos of McCaleb with Jindal and White and also contains an impressive list of corporate sponsors that includes Cane’s Chicken, Infiniti of Baton Rouge, Subaru of Baton Rouge, IBM, the Baton Rouge Advocate, Acura of Baton Rouge, Piccadilly Restaurants, Sprint, Coca-Cola, Kleinpeter Dairy, and the National Urban League.

The problem is McCaleb’s most recent gig was as a member of the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) board of directors until his resignation for health reasons and later arrested after being accused of using nearly $1,500 in bus system funds to pay his private satellite TV and cellphone bills over a three-month period earlier this year. http://theadvocate.com/home/7057877-125/former-cats-board-member-booked

An email sent to EBR school principals by Taylor assistant Jamie Manda, said, “It is our understanding that Montrell McCaleb may contact you or email you to request an appointment to discuss services he provides through his organization, Empowering Students.

“Dr. Taylor asked me to let all principals know that under no circumstances has he given permission for Mr. McCaleb to contact you on his behalf about his program.”

But…but…but he’s got photos of him and Jindal and him and White on his web site.

What more does a guy need to get a foot in the door?

Well, if you want to teach for Hosanna Christian Academy, you’ll need to provide quite a lot of potentially embarrassing personal information.

Besides the customary name, address, phone number, date of birth, and professional qualifications, the questionnaire also asks for the applicant’s marital status, general state of health, religious beliefs, if the applicant smokes or drinks alcohol, is sexually active, lives with a non-relative of the opposite six, and whether or not he or she engages in homosexual activity.

The application form then requires the applicant’s signature on a statement of faith based on Bible scripture. Here is the link to that questionnaire:HOSANNA EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONAIRE (Yes, we know questionnaire was misspelled, but it’s a pdf file and we couldn’t change it.)

Before we get too far into this thorny issue, let’s understand we have no objection to a church-affiliated school setting rigid standards for hiring personnel—so long as the school is completely self-sustaining and not reliant in part or in whole on public funding.

But Hosanna received more than $1.4 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year from the state’s scholarship (voucher) program for 284 voucher students, according to an audit of the voucher program released last week by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

That has prompted protests from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

LFT President Steve Monaghan said no public funding should be sent to schools “that pry into a person’s life.”

State regulations governing hiring practices of schools receiving voucher dollars are vague, perhaps deliberately so as to allow greater leeway for church affiliated schools to receive public funds but to still act like private schools.

Monaghan said he will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to look into Hosanna’s hiring practices as well as those of other private schools with voucher students.

Josh LeSage, headmaster of Hosanna, said the school is within its legal rights in asking the questions of job applicants. “We are not breaking any laws,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Vouchers are offered as state aid to students attending C, D and F public school so that they may attend the private schools.

The problem with that theory is that 45 percent of Louisiana’s voucher students still attended D and F rated schools last year, according to data released last month by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The figures are incomplete because the department only released data on 20 percent of the 118 schools in the program, raising concerns about the lack of accountability in voucher schools.

Those concerns were echoed in a 27-page report by the Legislative Auditor’s office that said, among other things, “…there are no legal requirements in place to ensure nonpublic schools that participate in the (voucher) program are academically acceptable.”

The report further said the DOE review process “lacks formal criteria to ensure that schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they requested.”

That would reinforce reports last year by LouisianaVoice that New Living Word School in Ruston had been approved for far more vouchers than the school could accommodate. Even after the initial approval of 315 vouchers was reduced because the school had no computers are desks, it still was approved for 58 vouchers for which it was paid a whopping $447,300 by the state.

The audit report indicates that New Living Word overcharged the state by $395,520 and was subsequently removed from the scholarship program.

New Living Word was not the only one. The report says that auditors found that DOE overpaid or underpaid 48 of the 118 participating schools (41 percent) in the 2012-2013 academic year, leaving us to wonder just who is running DOE.

But rather than belabor the details of the audit, here is the link to the report so that you may read it for yourself:00036AA0

The rank and file employees of DOE are doing their best under extremely trying circumstances. Many classified employees were laid off and replaced by highly paid unclassified (non-civil service) employees brought in from out of state and who knew little to nothing about running the state’s largest agency. As a result, programs have been started, halted, re-started, changed, amended and scrapped as the young, inexperienced administrative personnel flail about in an effort to cobble together a policy for the department.

Were their efforts not so pathetic and wasteful, it would be light comedy to watch. Instead, John White and his minions are nothing short of tragic, pitiful excuses of pseudo educators who know only how to drive Enterprise rental Escalades and Jeep Cherokees on the state dime 24/7.

And while White himself must ultimately shoulder the blame for the procedural morass the department has become under his watch, it is David “Lefty” Lefkowith who is the poster child for all that is wrong with the voucher system. That is, after all, his job at DOE: he is in charge of the program—when he’s not jetting back and forth between Baton Rouge and his home in Los Angeles.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,951 other followers

%d bloggers like this: