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Policy won’t punish schools where students opted out

BESE Report - December 2015
Policy won’t punish schools where students opted out

It’s a conflict that has frustrated parents and school administrators ever since a protest movement last spring prompted thousands of students to opt-out of taking PARCC tests. Federal law requires schools to report test scores and be graded based on them, but no law forces students to take the tests.

In a compromise that was vetted by the Parish Superintendents Advisory Council, but not the Accountability Commission, BESE approved an emergency rule that allows schools in which students to avoid penalties, at least for one year.

In 34 of the state’s 1,156 schools, over 10 percent of students opted out of testing last spring; their letter grades will remain unchanged for 2014-15. In other cases, the state will base school letter grades on the 2013-14 LEAP results instead of PARCC.

The decision was welcome to Central Community Schools Supt. Michael Faulk, where almost 12 percent of students did not take the exam. But Principal’s Association President Debbie Schum was concerned that the policy was not discussed by the Accountability Commission.

“Why even bother to have an Accountability Commission that doesn’t have an opportunity to study policy revision,” she asked.

State Supt. John White responded that he believed the Superintendent’s Advisory Council adequately vetted the policy.

The board rejected a suggestion by District 8 Member Carolyn Hill to defer the decision until January, and then approved the revision as an emergency rule that does not have to be promulgated for public comment.

New rule: All seniors must file financial aid requests

In a new rule that will add to the workload of high school counselors, but also increase financial aid to Louisiana students by millions of dollars, BESE proposes requiring all students graduating in 2018 and beyond to complete either the FASFA or LOSFA forms.

“We hope that financial aid will become the norm instead of an option,” said Superintendent of Education John white.

White said he is creating a $1 million grant to assist schools in the added paperwork expected by the proposed rule.

Currently fewer than half of graduating seniors complete applications for higher education financial assistance, meaning they are not eligible for TOPS or tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, state opportunities and other funding opportunities.

The revision to Bulletin 741 will require all students to complete the FAFSA or LOFSA forms, submit a parent’s signature on a non-participation form, or receive a district hardship waiver.

Bleeding of teacher ranks continues

The troubling rate of teacher retirements since implementation of punitive new rules in 2012 continues, despite official protestations that there is no correlation.

The fact is that prior to the adoption of Act 1 of 2012, pushed by Governor Bobby Jindal and Superintendent John White, retirements hovered in the 3,000 range most years. Since those reforms were adopted, however, retirements have spiked to over 6,000 in 2012-13 and 2013-14, and came down only slightly this year to about 5,500. White has steadfastly maintained that the rush to retirement has nothing to do with the new evaluation procedures, due process changes and merit pay requirements widely seen as unfair and inaccurate.

The annual teacher exit survey is a result of legislation originally proposed by the LFT to help determine why teachers leave the profession. Here is a link to this year’s annual retirement report.

BESE accepted the retirement report, along with another document listing teacher shortages in each of the state’s school districts.

BESE approves seven New Orleans charter renewals

The fairness of grading alternative schools with the same set of labels given to regular schools played a part in the debate as BESE voted to approve renewals or extensions of charters for seven New Orleans schools.

The board had little problem with four of the schools, but balked at renewing or extending charters for ReNEW Accelerated High School, Crescent Leadership Academy and The NET Charter High, each of which were graded “F” on the state report card.

Superintendent of Education John white admitted that the state scoring system is inadequate for judging alternative schools, which enroll students who have dropped out or been expelled from other schools.

“We need to get away from one-size-fits-all labeling for alternative schools,” he said.

One other school on the list came under scrutiny. G.W. Carver Preparatory Academy’s charter was extended for a year even though only eight percent of the school’s students scored “proficient” in math.

Superintendent of Education John White said that all of the schools met state requirements, and told members that if they deny the renewals, “You’re voting against the law.”

Despite White’s admonition, District 3 Member Lottie Beebe, District 8 Member Carolyn Hill and Jindal appointee Jane Smith voted against the motion. None of the three will be returning when a new board takes office in January.

BESE overrules Baton Rouge to charter two schools

Over the strenuous objection of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, BESE voted to approve two charter schools that local leaders say are unnecessary and do not offer any programs not available in the district schools.

Both Apex Collegiate Academy and the Laurel Oaks Foundation had previously been denied charters by the local school board. They appealed to BESE to charter them directly as Type 2 schools.

EBR Superintendent Warren Drake, along with three school board members, opposed the action to no avail. Drake pointed out that charter schools are supposed to offer innovative programs unavailable in district schools, but that neither of the candidates fit that description.

“You should not continue to disrespect the wishes of local school boards,” Drake said.

District 8 Member Carolyn Hill moved to delay the charter until January so that the community could weigh in on the need for the two schools, but her motion failed on a 3-7 vote; BESE then vote 7-3 to approve the charters.
Iconic Baton Rouge high school is closer to local control

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board got a step closer to reclaiming the boarded-up Istrouma High School, which has been shuttered since its failure as a charter school over a year ago.

The local school board, with a big boost from the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, has been trying to regain control of the iconic North Baton Rouge school for months. EBRFT launched a 10-day rally to gather thousands of petitions and aimed a media spotlight on the school.

State Superintendent of Education John White said that since the state has been unable to find a suitable operator for the school as a charter, it should revert to local control.

EBR Superintendent Warren Drake said the system is “ready, willing and able” to reclaim the school and prepare it for an August, 2016 reopening. He said the district is prepared to undertake a $15 million renovation project on the school, which has deteriorated since its abandonment.

District 6 Member Chas Roemer brought up the only stumbling block to returning the school to local control, saying there are disagreements over who is responsible for repairing some of the damage suffered by the school.

To facilitate the return, Roemer moved that BESE give White the authority to enact the transfer without further board action as soon as details of the repair costs are resolved; the motion was approved.

Spanking may disqualify Lafayette charter school

A procedural error by District 2 BESE Member Jim Garvey opened up a controversy over the board’s decision to deny approval of a Lafayette charter school.

Garvey, who chairs the board’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee, neglected to hear witnesses who wished to speak before the board denied a charter application by the Kingdom Academy of Excellence.

When the board voted to reopen the matter, the discussion went down “a road I’d rather not travel,” in the words of Superintendent John White.

In official documents, the Department of Education said the denial was recommended because of "a mismatch between the proposed school location and the target student population."

But school leader Aleashia Clarkston argued that the denial was based on her appearance on a TV reality show, “America’s Supernanny.”

Questioned by Garvey, White admitted that he based the denial on scenes in which Clarkston spanked her children. White said he was “appalled” that she “chose to engage in the behavior you did on national television.”

Clarkston responded, "I stated that I believe in whipping my children, as a Christian…What does that have to do with my charter?"

She said she had previously been awarded leadership grants by the Department of Education even after the TV episode aired; White said she would not have received any money had he known about the spanking at the time.

The committee overruled its pervious decision, and voted to defer the matter until the January meeting. White said he will being additional information to the meeting, but will not change his recommendation against granting the charter.

BESE defers vote on new officers

In most years, the December meeting of BESE includes a vote on officers for the coming year. But because this was an election year and there will be a major turnover on the state’s top education board, members voted to defer election of officers until the new board is inaugurated in January.

Leaving the board this year are current President Chas Roemer (District 6), Lottie Beebe (District 3), Mary Harris (District 4), Jay Guillot (District 5) and Carolyn Hill (District 8). Those are elected members who either lost their bids for re-election or chose not to run again. Also leaving will be Gov. Bobby Jindal’s three appointments, Connie Bradford, Dr. Judith Miranti and Jane Smith. They will be replaced when Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards’ choices are approved by the Senate.

Beebe and Hill recently were honored at the LFT convention as the union’s Friends of Education, the highest award the Federation presents to non-members. They were recognized for being the only elected members of the board to consistently uphold the values of public education over the past four years.