Filed Under:  Education, News

Competence, agenda of state education officials questioned

8th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

(Shreveport, La.) —With all the talk of accountability, it seems there’s a lot the public does not know about education in the state of Louisiana, in general.

As a result, a growing number of people are starting to call for more accountability and transparency at all levels, not just the classroom level.

Among the concerns at the top of their list is the fact that BESE, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has ordered Head Start and ECE programs to drastically reduce the time spent teaching children to prepare them for school in favor of increasing the time spent in “student-directed” play.

Reportedly state monitors go to schools and use a stopwatch to ensure that teaching time is limited. This, according to those questioning the practice, forces teachers to either find creative ways to “cheat and teach” or participate in dumbing-down little children.

Also of concern, is that BESE has instituted a system of stu­dent/ school assessment that is so flawed, principals are getting orders to alter or reverse procedures nearly every week, adding to an already gargantuan workload.

While many seem to be frustrated with local schools and school districts such as Orleans and Caddo, rarely is the lens of criticism focused on the top decision making bodies and officials in the state, the ones responsible for creating policy: the BESE Board and the State Superintendent of Education. Now people across the state are beginning to question who is accountable or responsible for making state policy that makes sense and produces real results without juggling figures or hiding bad scores as has been the case.

Outspoken Caddo Parish School Board Member Curtis Hooks says that more transparency and accountability are needed at every level, not just the low-performing schools. “People need to know what is happening with their tax dollars,” said Hooks. “This is their money. I don’t understand why so many people in positions of authority want to keep the people in the dark.”

While Hooks has sometimes been a lone voice crying out against certain policies and practices, others are coming forward with some strong statements about the overall situation.

In response to recent talk about a state takeover of Booker T. Washington and other schools that could happen this year, Caddo Parish School Board member Carl Pierson has called a public meeting at the school to make their own game plan.

Pierson, candid about what he perceives is going on, says, “It does not appear to me that he (the governor) has student achievement at heart. I’ve spent a lot of time in education, in teaching and in classrooms. You are trying to keep not just the achievement level, but the aspiration levels of these students high, so that they will feel good about what they are doing. All of these schools have offerings where a kid can get all kinds of good help. Right now those students at Green Oaks and Booker T are feeling good.” Both schools have made dramatic progress in school scores and in discipline in recent years.

He disapproves of the unstable process for evaluating teachers and students. “Now they can arbitrarily add an ACT score of 18 as a do-or-die measure. Tomorrow they can arbitrarily change it to 20 or higher. It’s not right and it’s not sound education policy.” The state refers to the shifting targets and requirements as Rigor, which many say is a euphemism, if not code word, for something far less honorable.

“You have not given teachers increases in 5 years,” Pierson continues, “They are disheartened but they are so resilient that they keep on going in spite of that. Then they come up with a new evaluation system to make teachers feel worse. There is so much change at one time that it’s difficult to address it all.

“I believe that Bobby Jindal and those who support him want our public schools to fail just so he can be known nationally as a guy who has reformed education in Louisiana, whether it works or not. I think it’s to that point.”

Pierson believes that if parents approach BESE, Jindal and John White to demand change something could give. As for approaching state senators and representatives, the elected officials who should be able to affect the process, Pierson is less hopeful, “A lot of those have been sold out already, especially some of them that look like me and you.”

On radio station KSYB AM 1300 earlier this week board member Dottie Bell acknowledged that there were problems at the local level but boldly declared, “The root of the problem is in Baton Rouge. They won’t let teachers teach.” Bell, like others is now openly criticizing the entire process, beginning with the policy of centering and basing everything on testing.”

Martin Luther King CDC president and business owner Irma Rogers sounded a similar tone.

Asked who is to blame for the accountability system that does not work, she answered “To my understanding the BESE has always been the bottom line or the determining factor in terms of what happens in our public schools.” Asked if tests should be the sole criteria for progress Rogers answered a resounding, “No! If you look at 13 years of teaching, testing is not the primary goal. The primary goal is to make sure that child meets the set amount of standards to pass that grade and go on to the next level.”

MLK CDC has been heavily involved with schools in that area, offering resources and helping with tutoring and other needs. “Community leaders should be calling their legislators. Talk with your school board members. Find out what your new school score is. Find out how your legislators arrived at the new target. And ask why does this target keep moving.”

Local realtor and Booker T. Washington Alumni President, Tahira Abdul Rahman seems to be on the same page with Rogers and others, “They need to re-evaluate the criteria they are using for determining whether a school is failing. This is not working.”

This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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