Those who know me personally know that I had a few setbacks, and this has caused me to fall behind on some of my labors of love. I haven’t followed up on my education reform series, and I intended to wait until all of the ESSA sessions had been held before writing about them; however, the statements made in this article, published by the Advocate, have compelled me to wait no more.
State Superintendent of Education, John White, would like for us to believe that the current accountability system is working and meets the new ESSA requirements. In the article linked above, White is quoted as saying, “after twelve hours of meetings in six cities, the top issue is student behavior.” This statement is about as far from true as it can possibly be.
It was expected that White would attempt to deflect the true issues and push through with his own agenda. It was predicted that he would lead the public to believe that they are participating and providing feedback that will help to determine the path; just like what was done in the standards review. The problem is…the path has already been determined. That is the very reason that Educate Louisiana coordinated events in all of the cities with our network of parents, teachers, activists and community members. After getting feedback and reports from all of the meeting held, thus far, I can tell you, the dominant topic is ACCOUNTABILITY.
Accountability is the major concern among all involved because the current system is wrong for the following reasons.
- It sets arbitrary goals for students and does not acknowledge progress unless that goal is met.
- It punishes teachers when their students don’t make the arbitrary goals, even when they have made significant progress.
- It assigns a single letter grade to a school based on the performance on a single assessment.
- The assessment used to determine performance are not valid and reliable.
All of these things dominated the conversations at each of the ESSA meetings held this week. So, why is it that White chooses to discount the true concerns of the public and focus on student behavior which was one small topic at one meeting? Because he wants to avoid any changes to the accountability system that currently serves his agenda so well.
Let’s take a look where the accountability system comes from. The system is designed, developed and recommended to BESE for adoption by the Accountability Commission. The Accountability Commission currently consists of the following members.
- Otha Anders-School Board member, Lincoln Parish
- Jeanne Burns-Board of Regents
- Laurie Carlton-Curriculum coordinator, Plaquemines parish
- Stephanie Desselle-CABL
- Kim Germany-Executive Director, School Improvement and Instructional Services
- Mickey Landry-Executive Director, Choice Foundation
- Bruce Langley-Zachary Chamber of Commerce, parent?
- Anna Larriviere-Superintendent of Catholic Diocese, Lafayette
- Sandra McCalla-Retired principal of Captain Shreve
- Debbie Meaux-LAE
- Steve Monaghan-LFT
- Kathy Noel, Chair-Director of C&I, DeSoto parish
- Brigitte Nieland-LABI
- Carol Price-High school Math teacher, Zachary Community Schools
- Debbie Schum-La. Association of Principals
- Judy Vail-Director of Accountability, Calcasieu Parish
- Lee Ann Wall-APEL
If you aren’t familiar with who these people are, then I will note that the commission leans heavily toward Choice (aka Charter Schools and Vouchers).
At the Lake Charles meeting, I pointed out my concerns about the system not giving credit for progress, and asked who made up the accountability commission and how could he guarantee that every person in the room would be represented at the table with the accountability commission? He opened his response saying that the Accountability Commission had been established by law many years ago. He started to continue, and I stopped him to ask which law established the commission? I already knew the answer. He said he wasn’t sure, but could look it up, then babbled something about BESE appointing members and then moved quickly into addressing the “progress” issue. I let him continue because he seemed to agree with me on the issue, and I wanted to hear what he would offer.
The Accountability Commission was established in 1997 by R.S. 17:10.1 (Act 478). Superintendent White knows this because he references it on page 7 of this Accountability Commission Presentation from January 2016. If you want to look at the commission structure as outlined in law, you can read it using the link above, but I will save you the time. The Accountability Commission should consist of:
- Eight members appointed by the governor.
- The governor or his designee.
- Eleven members appointed by the state superintendent of education, including one member of the Louisiana Association of Educators, one member of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one member of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, one member of the Louisiana School Boards Association, one member of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, one member of the Louisiana Association of Principals, one member who is an elementary school principal of a nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” school, one member who is a middle school principal of a nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” school, and one member who is a high school principal of a nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” school.
- The state superintendent of education or his designee.
- The chairman of the House Committee on Education or his designee.
- The chairman of the Senate Committee on Education or his designee.
- One member of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
- Three members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
As you can see, the current Accountability Commission is lacking in membership; mostly gubernatorial appointees and a chairperson jointly selected by the governor and the superintendent. Why is that? Why is the Accountability Commission so small and slanted toward the school choice agenda?
In April 2013, at the regular meeting, BESE voted and approved the consolidation of the School and District Accountability Commission and the Committee of Practitioners into a new Accountability Commission. You can click here to see some of the original appointees and the list of choices. There are a couple of problems that I have with this action. First, BESE does not have the authority to restructure, redesign or consolidate a commission that has been established by law. Things just don’t work that way. The second problem that I have is John White has been manipulating an Accountability Commission since his arrival and citing R.S 17:10.1 as his authority to do it. What he apparently doesn’t know is that the School and District Accountability Commission was abolished in 2001 by Act 1137. The language in statutes can sometimes be confusing, so if you are interested in seeing it, just scroll to the end where you will find the bill digest which lists all of the boards and commissions that were abolished by the act.
So, what we have is a BESE Board that gave itself the authority to change a commission that doesn’t exist, and a state superintendent of education who is manipulating, to no end, every aspect of our school accountability system. He alone has the ability to set cut scores on assessments that indicate whether schools are doing well, and with all of this at his hands, he is able to move along the “school choice” agenda with no barriers. We, the people of Louisiana, have got to step up and put an end to this before our public school system is destroyed, and we are left with no “choice.”