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Teachers, not formula, deserve praise, LFT says

(Baton Rouge – October 24, 2013) Today’s release of so-called school report cards by the State Department of Education affirmed what should have never been in question: Louisiana students reap the benefits provided by teachers dedicated to the education of children.

On the other hand, as to the value and validity of this political gimmick initiated by Jeb Bush, the report card evokes a quote from Shakespeare. The report card itself is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That is the verdict issued by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

“These school letter grades won’t and will never tell us what we need to know about our schools,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan. “When Superintendent White said in his press release that changes in the formula used to compute the grades ‘have led to real increases in student achievement,’ he spoke the simple truth. He who controls the formula controls the fate of our public schools.”

In the past, Monaghan said, low-graded school report cards were used to justify seizure of schools by the Recovery School District and to make more children eligible for vouchers at private and religious schools.

“This adjustment to the formula to grade our schools is just the latest in a series of tweaks to the so-called education reforms of the last several years. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; this airplane is being built while fully loaded and in flight.”

Monaghan said that the imposition of a single letter grade on schools ignores the vast differences in school missions, populations and priorities.

“We use the same measuring stick for all schools, whether they are selective admission magnet schools rated among the best in the nation, or alternative schools for our most challenged students,” he said. “Note that these letter grades don’t distinguish among schools that are technology-oriented, language immersion, college prep or career-readiness.”

Just as student report cards reflect achievement in a variety of subjects, school report cards should tell the whole story of an institution’s standing by multiple measures, Monaghan said.

“A child comes home from school with grades in English, math, science, social studies and other subjects,” he said. “That gives parents an idea of where the student is doing well and where improvements are needed. This single grade stamped on a school tells the public very little.”

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has pushed for the creation of a learning environment index for each school. The index would not simply reflect test scores, but would assess and inform the public of the condition of school facilities, whether the school is safe and orderly, the health and economic vitality of the surrounding community, the availability of instructional materials in the school, teacher and staff retention, and the physical and emotional health of the student population.

“Stamping a label on a school does nothing to improve education,” Monaghan said. “Schools with a high letter grade learn nothing about their achievement. In those labeled F, children are stigmatized, teachers are frustrated and communities are defamed.”

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