BESE District 1 Map - Get Out The Vote!

I am posting here the newly reapportioned BESE Districts Map link which includes street maps and voting precincts. PLEASE NOTE: The districts have changed since the last election. Also note that you have to scroll down near the bottom of the above linked document to see the maps.

District 1, for which I am a candidate, includes the entire Parish of St. Tammany, a substantial portion of Jefferson Parish and a newly included section of Orleans Parish. Please study these maps to determine the district IN WHICH YOU LIVE so that you can learn as much as possible about the candidates before the election OCTOBER 22. If you are unsure of your voting precinct, you can call the Registrar of Voters for your parish.

It is so important for all taxpayers to get out and vote in this election. Whether your interest is as a parent, an educator, a student (register to vote if you're 18), a taxpayer, or a business owner, the success of our children, the maintenance of our public school system, the quality of the educational experience we offer, and the effective and efficient use of our tax dollars are vital to the welfare of our communities and our economy.

I suggest you ask these questions when trying to determine the candidate for whom you will vote:

1. Is he/she qualified?

BESE is the highest education policy making body and authority in the state. Don't you want someone with considerable experience and expertise as an educator making that policy?

2. Has that candidate been a long time participant in promoting the growth and improvement of public education and equitable opportunities for all children at the local, state and national levels?

There is no "silver bullet" or quick fix for the most difficult obstacles that face our public schools and communities. There are tested and proven successful education principles along with innovative practices being demonstrated in schools throughout Louisiana and the United States. But you have to "know one when you see one" and be able to recognize those that will best serve the needs of each individual community.

3. Does the candidate have a record of seeking input from the communities and educators he/she serves and then satisfactorily responding?

Education is NOT a business that can be operated exclusively through a top-down hierarchy. Education happens in the classroom, not the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge where the LDOE and BESE too often isolate themselves. A quality education system requires collaboration with all stakeholders in order to serve a diverse citizenry.

4. As in all political campaigns, what is the source of support for each of the candidates? By whom are the candidates endorsed?

Where Are The Teachers?

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is navigating the process of selecting a new superintendent.

According to recent reports by the Advocate, a "strategic subcommittee" has been formed which conspicuously includes: Michael Tipton, a TFA executive director; Chris Meyer, former TFAer and DOE special adviser to former state Superintendent Paul Pastorek; and Kimberly Williams, legal director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (the exec. director of LAPC is Caroline Shirley Roemer, sister of BESE member Charles Roemer). Not only is there conflict of interests here, but community input and control of their public schools is, once again, being subverted by these special interests with a very focused agenda to privatize our public schools.

I noted that one of the comments following the article made by a writer identified as TRAVELER, suggested that teachers were not interested or concerned enough in the public school "transformation" to pack the chambers of the Capitol or to march in huge numbers to protest. This is my response to his comment:

Comment by lbarrios - Saturday, August 27, 2011

Traveler and others: As a teacher and avid participant in the legislative process for the last two years, your perception that teachers are disinterested in the process is off base.

Teachers are no different from any other "special interest group." In order for their voices to be heard, they have selected representation. Unions, like any other lobbying group, are paid for their expertise, ability to negotiate the complicated legislative system, and the reality of power in numbers. Their ability to inform, influence, and advocate for members and their position that the democratic governance of public schools must be maintained for the benefit of all children, society and the economy has, of course, been undermined by the corporate interests and so-called free enterprise educrats because they are a threat to their privatization efforts and profit motives.

As a teacher, I know firsthand the futility of trying to influence legislators. I have bit my tongue when some have commented openly that they haven't heard from their teacher constituents on issues when I am inundated with copies of forwarded correspondence from teachers to them and I spend full time collaborating with educators at all levels in the state about their concerns regarding the takeover of our public school system.

Teachers are not in the business of politics and most are ill equipped professionally or emotionally to "negotiate" with their representatives in that specialized process. By the same token, legislators (and many of our unqualified education policymakers) lack any conceptual, pedagogical or real life understanding of education and the process of learning. Our attempts to reason with them fall on deaf ears.

School boards represent the democractic process in action and their members and committees should not be lead or unduly influenced by special interest groups with an agenda that is counterproductive to their mission - maintaining a community and culture that promotes and supports equity and excellence in the education of their youth and our future.
The seemingly innocent but pernicious infiltration of and influence on our public education local governance structure by the Teach for America "Corporation," free-enterprise-for-all enthusiasts, and even misguided or misinformed but sincere advocates for much-needed reforms in education threatens to destroy a stable, child-centered, education structure (public education) that has grown and improved so much over the years and is now available to all children regardless of race, socio-economic status, or intellectual/physical ability.

The public needs to understand the importance of maintaining the local elected governance structure of our school system, full and equitable funding, accountability and transparency, meaningful, innovative and effective reform based on proven education principles and teacher, family and community leaders forming public school policy and curriculum.

Standardized Tests and Cheating

The Times-Picayune today published an editorial "Investigate cheating claims" that addressed charges made in the spring of 2010 that Miller-McCoy Academy staff was providing questions from the state's high-stakes test to prepare students.

This is my comment in response to the story and another comment by Oh-Really?

lbarrios August 27, 2011, 12:09AM

Oh-Really? said: "The schools now seem to only be teaching the answers to the test questions without regard for the actual learning process."

Your statement is so masterfully worded that it shows clearly the problem with using standardized tests to measure learning, the dichotomy between teaching and testing, and the hypocrisy of expecting teachers to teach and students to learn answers for questions they are not allowed to see. Makes no sense does it? If you want a student to learn a specific body of material, then tell them what the material is and let them show they have learned it by testing them on that body of material. They material has got to be limited if the test is to be valid. In so doing, we narrow the curriculum and limited the material learned.

I learned as a teacher that without a doubt any child with a normal range of intelligence can memorize as much or as little as he/she decides to memorize given a reasonable amount of time. A teacher has no way to know which 30 of the thousands of relevant facts will be a standardized test, so it's a crapshoot when prepping for a test. So what's fair or reasonable for teacher or student about that? I NEVER gave multiple choice/true-false tests to my students because, as I explained to my students - "Why would I give you a test with all the answers on it?"

On the other hand, a teacher can teach a student to THINK (real learning) and then no matter what questions are asked on a test, the student will have a good chance to come up with the correct answer using critical thinking skills like synthesis and analysis combined with the store of information he/she was able to gather at any given time. That is - if the test questions measure LEARNING and THINKING rather than how many facts the student memorized.

Standardized tests are not about standards - they are about standardizing children. We can't and shouldn't be trying to do that! There is no justification for teachers and/or administrators cheating, but when livelihoods are threatened and teachers and students perceive that they have no control over their fate, human nature's will to survive kicks in.

No reputable research shows that standardized tests are valid or reliable for high stakes purposes. They are only useful as benchmarks for teachers and parents to determine strengths and weaknesses of individual children for which to provide an appropriate curriculum. Why are we labeling our children as FAILURES by virtue of competitive test scores? In every competition there are winners and losers. Education is NOT a competition.

If qualified educators were making policy at the Dept. of Educ. our public schools would be engaged in meaningful, innovative true reform without their hands being tied to the status quo system of test and drill. ELECT an EDUCATOR this fall for the BESE board!

New Watchdog for Charter Schools

The Lens, the first non-profit journalism venture in New Orleans, was launched by co-founders Ariella Cohen and Karen Gadbois in 2009.

Last night, August 25, the on-line newspaper hosted a gathering called the Summer Salon Focus on NOLA Charter Schools at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities building on Lafayette Street to announce their newest investigative venture. They will assign a corps of reporters to cover every Charter School Board meeting in New Orleans.

The Lens admitted that their first hurdle will be obtaining schedules from the schools, which has been a bone of contention for parents and anyone else attempting to lift the "veil of transparency" that hangs over most of these independent charters. Charters are public schools and subject to the Freedom of Information Act, Public Meetings Law and other regulations for public entities. The information should be filed with the Secretary of State's office and The Louisiana Association of Public Charters should have the information regarding their membership, but . . .

The Lens entertained questions from the audience last night. The host commented that some charter board members have told him they are learning how complex it is to run a school. One guest commented: "Some are 'baby' boards, just learning - will they be held to the same standard (by The Lens) as experienced boards?" The response was that if the board has been operating for four years and they aren't doing something they are supposed to - we will say, "Can I show you state law?"

If a charter operator opens a school, they should be thoroughly informed about state law and how to educate children. Unfortunately that expectation is not shared by some of the public and the Department of Education. The children enrolled in these schools don't have four years for the operators, administrators or teachers to get their acts together!!! Perhaps the accountability that BESE claims to have for their charters will include some up close and personal participation after the October elections. They do, after all, have responsibility for overseeing the RSD schools.


The Lens says they are particularly interested in public input on all issues. You can become a source.

Broken Promises: New Orleans Public School Reform

A new Facebook Page has been posted announcing the following community meeting sponsored by four important local community organizations. You can communicate through the page at Save Our Schools Six Years Later for more information.


Students, teachers, parents, community members and the press are invited to join
the John McDonogh Alumni Association, Parents Across America NOLA, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, and the Esplanade Ridge/Treme Civic Association in front of John McDonogh High School, 2426 Esplanade Avenue, at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2011 to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Hur
ricane Katrina, to review the state of public education in New Orleans six years later, and to set a course to save our schools.

Taking the fate of John McDonogh Senior High as an example of the failed policies and broken promises of the Recovery School District, advocates for children, teachers and community schools will gather to pray and to demonstrate our investment in our children and our schools. We will be asking hard questions about the ways charter schools have negatively affected our children and about the scandals and failures of charter schools and RSD-run schools. Together we will assert our right to a democratic voice in how schools are rebuilt, what schools are rebuilt, and who runs the schools in our communities.

We will look at the betrayal of public trust in the past six years as the RSD has held community meetings, promised public engagement and then disregarded the wishes of parents and stake-holders again and again. We will examine the false choices that the school district has offered parents and children and the way school choice has divided schools from their communities and from parental oversight and involvement. We will condemn the political influence, waste and lack of foresight that has characterized the rebuilding and renovations of schools thus far and demand a fair, equitable and transparent process going forward. We will expose RSD’s deliberate and systematic neglect of certain schools to justify takeover and closure. We will stand up to save John McDonogh and all our schools from autocratic decisions made by unelected, out-of-touch and out-of-town administrators.

Please join with us on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:30 PM in front of John McDonogh High School to advocate for the right of every New Orleans public school child to real recovery, real reform, real improvement and real choice in their schools.

What Will It Take? RSD Newest New Plan

RSD Superintendent John White and the Dept. of Education just released an announcement introducing the new RSD "Executive Team." The Times-Picayune noted that Mr. White refused to reveal the salaries of his new hires - even though this is public information and taxpayer funded.

The strategic plan will be released September 6 during a public event at Loyola University's Louis J. Roussell Hall at 6:00 p.m. The following is the News Release.

It is important for everyone concerned about the direction that public education policymakers have taken to attend this meeting and to satisfy any questions or concerns you may have. The last thing that the citizens of Louisiana need are MORE EMPTY PROMISES!! One of my major goals as BESE member will be to not only DEVELOP POLICY that will maintain absolute accountability but will GUARANTEE IT.



Contact: Siona LaFrance, (504) 373-6200 ext. 20084, Fax: (504) 309-3647 Executive Director of Communications, Recovery School District


NEW ORLEANS, La - Over the past 100 days, Recovery School District (RSD) Superintendent John White has looked inward and outward to develop a set of strategic commitments to ensure the success of
students in the district. This week marks the conclusion of the 100-Day strategy. And today, Superintendent White announced the development and release of a strategic plan, entitled What Will It Take?

The strategic plan, which will be released September 6 during a public event at Loyola University's Louis J.
Roussel Hall, outlines the RSD's goals and commitments for the next three years, focusing on three core principles: Excellence, Equity, and Community. "These goals and commitments are notjust words on paper. We want to be held accountable for what we say we're going to do," Superintendent White said. "We plan to come back to the community periodically to get an assessment of how we're doing."

The 100-Day strategy began May 16,after Superintendent White convened four task force committees, comprised ofrepresentatives of four distinct groups: educators, parents, community members, and students. Eight leaders in the community were selected to serve as co-chairs of the task force groups. Over the last three months, these groups and the RSD have sought input through public meetings, comment cards, online surveys, and posts to the website:

"This has been an exciting and enlightening process, and I'd like to thank everyone who attended these meetings and took the time to make their voices heard," Superintendent White said.

"During this process, I've attended numerous public meetings, met with community and religious leaders, and talked to parents and students," Superintendent White said. "My staff has also closely examined school data and enrollment systems and developed new systems and processes to ensure our schools are providing every child with the very best chance to succeed."

White Appoints Five Deputies and Executive Team

Additionally, Superintendent White announced a new team, which will be tasked with helping execute the goals and commitments in the strategic plan. As part of the restructuring and to create a more efficient framework for serving students, the number of staff positions in the RSD central office has been reduced by 35 percent.

The team reflects a new organizational structure designed to more effectively manage a portfolio of schools based on their various stages of turnaround and to maximize impact on student achievement. The result of a thorough organizational assessment, the reorganization creates a network-based school-improvement strategy for immediate and long-term work. Five deputy superintendents have been recruited to lead five new divisions:

  • Community and Policy:
    Patrick M. Dobard
  • Services: J. DeLano Ford
  • Operations: Ramsey Green
  • Portfolio: Chris Meyer
  • Achievement: Amy B.

Superintendent White's executive team includes Kunjan Narechenia, Chief of Staff, and Monica Boudouin, Executive Director of New Orleans Achievement.

"We've assembled an outstanding and energetic leadership team to execute the goals and commitments set forth by the community through our strategic planning process," Superintendent White said. "They are eager to raise the bar for academic achievement, ensure that all children have access to great schools, and ensure that the community's voice is heard in the process. And in fact, they are already hard at work."

Event Details:

Release of What Will It Take?

Loyola University, Louis J. Roussel Hall

(Corner of St. Charles Avenue and Calhoun Street)

September 6, 2011 6 p.m.

I Heard it By the Grapevine . . . not the Picayune

Now, more than ever, the public needs to be fully informed about education policy and the governing body that makes it in Baton Rouge. The Times-Picayune has not been forthcoming with complete coverage of the education reform debacle so here's a story from another source.

A lawsuit filed in Orleans Parish Court by three fired school principals - Annette Hagan, Olga Walters and Sean Goodwin - claims that the Recovery School District, administered by the Louisiana Department of Education and loosely overseen by the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE), is "arbitrarily and capriciously converting an indefinite number of public schools to charter schools to be controlled by quasi-private boards without protecting the statutory employment rights of public school employees." This isn't the first time this claim has been made, but it may be the first time it is heard as part of a lawsuit.

The plaintiffs point out that RSD Superintendent John White, Deputy Superintendent Patrick Dobard and facilities director Ramsey Green were unqualified to serve as hearing officers. It is interesting to note that although the BESE board and former Supt. Paul Pastorek can make a waiver for the statutory requirement that the Superintendent have a masters degree, that waiver may not hold water when it comes to John White's authority to take this action. Although Mr. White claims to have completed a masters degree several weeks after he was appointed by Supt. Pastorek, plaintiffs dispute that.

It would be good form for Mr. White to produce his diploma - much like the production of a presidential birth certificate - to satisfy the public's curiosity about his qualifications. Or he can wait for the court to require it.

Reform Idol - Truth or Fiction? 

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which claims to be ". . . the nation's leader in advancing educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio," has in fact reached an all-time low in its latest Hollywood style production of Reform Idol: The Reformiest State 2011."

The YouTube production of Reform Idol can be viewed at:

The Fordham Institute is one of hundreds of self-proclaimed experts in education excellence exerting undue influence in the corporate education market that is investing heavily in its new education investment opportunity. The impressive names and grand proclamations of expertise don't belie their pernicious participation in the destruction of our nation's democratic system of public education. As a colleague of mine who likes to give the Bible modern-day relevancy says, "It may look like a duck, quack like a duck and walk like a duck, but honey, it's a wolf with tail feathers!"

This production of Reform Idol is an example of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) in action. ALEC is an organization that has recently been criticized as writing model legislation that its members introduce in their states. Its model for the privatization of public education continues to become a reality in most states. You need to watch the entire performance, but just to give you an idea of the types of reform that these Idols are touting:
Florida - They really clarified the meaning of Value-Added Assessment - Everybody's effectiveness is based on somebody else's effectiveness." That makes perfect sense doesn't it?
Next great reform, they increased their "scholarship program" (vouchers) for students with disabilities and ADDED 504 students (these are students who do not qualify for special education services but have legitimate obstacles to learning that need to be addressed). This is a flagrant method to get rid of low performing students so as to raise test scores for charters.
The Florida spokesperson said, "There are two things that drive behavior - money and measurement." They brag that ". . . parents will drive the market s they are the consumers and now they are empowered."

Ilinois gained points in the competition bragging that they "passed a bill that took away all accreditation for all principal training programs in the state and every program had to re-apply with tougher standards." Is it possible that those standards were aligned with The Broad Academy for Principals?

Indiana won the competition with points given, even by some of the other competitors, to its leader, Dr. Tony Bennett, on account of his "good looks." Will BESE interpret this as a necessary part of their criterion for a new state superintendent? I'm counting on the voters producing some new members of BESE before the next appointment and that the new board will count education expertise and experience as most important.

New Orleans Charter Testing 101

Times-Picayune journalist Sarah Carr published this story today
My comment posted on as a response to BayouBud follows:
comment will appear.
lbarriosAugust 20, 2011, 11:28AM

BayouBud: Outside, independent auditing of testing administration will not solve the SOURCE of the problem of unreliability and invalidity of the use of high stakes standardized tests. A majority of members of BESE, the former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and Governor Jindal have made it abundantly clear that their goal is to privatize public education - not a trend but a MISSION that has caused havoc in public schools systems nationwide.

As long as these scores come from LDOE, there are endless opportunities for misrepresentation. Some of these misrepresentations have been identified and published by reputable watchdogs like Research on Reforms ( But the numbers they have available for analysis can only come through Freedom of Information requests to the LDOE. Not an audit, but an investigation, of the LDOE and their handling and oversight of tests scores needs to be conducted.

How prevalent is the practice of suspending, expelling or transferring students after they fail the test but before their 120 day attendance "window of opportunity" expires thus enabling the school to eliminate the test score but retain funding for that student? Where do these students go? How is their departure officially categorized on school records? How do attendance numbers at the beginning of school, day of test and after the test correlate? This is only one of many problems that need to be exhumed from LDOE.

A test score represents nothing more than a number on a piece of paper unless that test is returned for analysis by the student's teacher to determine strengths and weaknesses and to design individualized curriculum to address that student's needs. When will parents STOP ALLOWING this destructive mislabelling of their children as FAILURES? High stakes standardized testing has got to stop. Student learning cannot be measured by a single standardized test.

The next step in destroying our public school system may come next spring if a bill that requires teacher effectiveness to be measured based on these student test scores receives permanent status. The determination that "everybody's effectivenss is based on somebody else's effectiveness" is absurd.

Because the next wave in the tsunami of "reform" will target teacher certification, educators and the public can expect FAILURE to continue to be a mantra to support the "reformers" contention that teachers are bad. The former "highly qualified" designation of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation will be replaced by "highly effective" and the notion that experience, specialized education and expertise are factors in teacher quality will go out the window. Teachers who are deemed "ineffective" based on their student test scores will not only lose their jobs and their certifications but will be lose their ability to practice their profession. With that prospect on the horizon, certified teachers will continue to migrate out of low-performing, high poverty schools in hopes of landing jobs in schools and districts where they have a prayer of a chance. And that's just another part of the scheme to replace teachers in the high needs areas with unqualified, untrained, non-certified and licensed temporary instructors like Teach for America personnel.

In the meantime, teachers will continue to be characterized as cheaters and lazy union thugs with these test scores to back that up. Students will continue to be poorly served or cast out of the very schools that promised them CHOICE. AUTONOMY of charters will continue to build its smokescreen against accountability. Voters needs to identify and support candidates for the Board of Education who understand the process of education. They need to support candidates who will pledge to bring true accountability to all levels of the education system. There needs to be MEANINGFUL reform and an end to the status quo of test and drill. There needs to be full and equitable funding for public education DEVOID of the misappropriation of funds to out-of-state consultants, testing companies and charter providers.

A Real Life Case for . . . Tenure

Revelations continue to surface regarding Pelican Educational Foundation since its charter contract was revoked by the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE), and governance of Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in New Orleans was turned over to the Recovery School District (RSD). Kenilworth Charter in Baton Rouge also operates under a charter with Pelican.

Turkish connections to Pelican and other charter consortiums associated with it throughout the United States, along with the employ of Turkish administrators and teachers, have led to numerous questions regarding the operations of these schools.

One such question posed by New Orleans parent Karran Harper-Royal particularly caught my attention. Karran has worked for over 10 years through the Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center for parents of students with disabilities. She is also a founding member of a rapidly growing and hugely influential parent advocacy group called Parents Across America headquartered in New York.

Karran wondered why, in light of evidence of alleged eggregious infractions by the school, so many parents and students showed up at the BESE special called meeting in Baton Rouge recently to voice their support for their school and its chartering organization. This link was found that addresses that and many other questions surrounding the backers of not only this chartering organization, but many others with similar modus operandi. Check it out before you continue.

Being a teacher, my question is why or how an experienced, state certified teacher, if there were any serving in this school, would remain in the employ of a school under the conditions that reportedly existed at Abramson. The following excerpt from the pages cited above, along with my commentary that follows, not only partially answered that question, but also added to my list of reasons why the much-maligned tenure provision offered teachers in Louisiana public schools serves not only to protect teachers, but to provide a safe and secure learning environment for their students.

* * * *
9) Unhirables
These are teachers and subordinate administrators who absolutely could not be hired in any other network or normal school, either because of incompetence, or lack of psychological fitness to teach, or because of some past infraction that would prevent their hiring in a normal school. They support the school administration unconditionally, remain silent regarding any questionable practices of the administration, and in return are allowed to retain their positions. Parents at Gulen charter schools are often baffled at the unresponsiveness of the administration when they complain about these teachers. They do not understand that the administration carefully cultivates such teachers as part of their support network.

(10) Desperately needing job security
These are employees who for various reasons place a very high premium on job security, and are willing to keep silent and tolerate the working conditions in Gulen charter schools in exchange for it. They are not necessarily unhirables; some may even be excellent teachers. Their great need for job security may stem from understandable factors such as, for example, severe financial pressures, illness in the family or other personal stressors. The current dismal job market for teachers is another contributing factor. These employees will never speak up about the administration as they know that remaining silent is the only way to retain their positions.

* * * *
On the surface, this may not seem to support/justify tenure, but read between the lines and put yourself in the place of any employee whose job has no such due process provision in place, a provision that also creates a certain amount of "psychological job security."

Now consider the very "fragile" position that teachers are inherently placed in under the microscope of literally hundreds of parents every school year who understandably "want the best for their children." The reality is that teachers can be perceived as easy targets when anything goes wrong that the parent perceives as injurious or unfair to his/her child - offenses as simple as poor grades, consequences for unacceptable behavior, or failure to qualify in an extracurricular activity such as cheerleader, team sports or even academic competitions.

Tenure requires employers/administrators to know their teachers intimately through observation and accountability, gives them the responsibility of providing appropriate professional development as needed, and through documentation of these and other activities, provides evidence for teacher, administrator and a parent so that the teacher can be confident she/he will receive the appropriate support in working with the parent to resolve problems and provide for an appropriate and quality educational experience for all children. When teachers feel they can question or report questionable activity or shortcomings, schools are most likely to provide safe and secure refuges for the children who attend them. When job security is an issue, it is human nature to withdraw or to ignore even glaring offenses.

Just as tenure serves to protect children, it also provides a measure of protection from demotion or loss of position for teachers if they complain about or report questionable activities of any nature that might arise in an educational setting.

The Terrible Trio?. . Choice, Vouchers & Tenure

This is a response to a comment posted by Anonymous on my blog Stepping on Up!!

Dear Anonymous:

Thanks for finding my blog, and kudos for being the first to comment. I'll respond for clarification even though you chose to post anonymously. As I learned in Journalism 101, there's obviously a loss of credibility for your part, but that's your CHOICE. . .

The blame game is easy to play. If there is any agreement between us, it may be that all players share "blame" in some way, shape or form. Now the requisite blame card has been played. . . let's get on with the discussion about improving educational opportunities for children.

Choice is a nice concept in its purest form - a form that doesn't exist except in your mind - for you, or my mind - for me. In the RSD mind, choice means you can choose which school you want to APPLY to. Few parents are happy with the application process that is part of the choice maze. The reality is that many students are not accepted to their school of first, second or even third choice.

I just returned from the RSD100Days Parent Task Force Meeting at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School. Out of the 30 or so attendees, maybe two were parents. Most were Teach For America instructors. Most were white. I'm guessing that all, except me, were twenty-something. If you've ever been to Langston Hughes you know it's a new state-of-the-art facility near the City Park area. After the meeting, RSD Superintendent John White shared with me his dismay that there weren't more parents representative of the student population in attendance. His further comment that he expects there to be more parental representation at the next meeting Saturday at the Dryades YMCA (are you familiar with the demographics?) was telling. I predict the make-up and tenor of the group will be a contrast also.

In spite of the idyllic surroundings of the school and accolades by parents and staff, you will find that the 2010-11 school performance scores rated a "D" by the LDOE. Last year an office employee was convicted of stealing over $600,000 in CASH from the school coffers. Now ask yourself - what's wrong with this picture? Now don't count me in that number who might say that the school is "failing" or that the students and teachers are "failing." I would say that this is a pretty clear example of the chartering company failing, the governing body - RSD/BESE - failing, and the system of accountability that labels the majority of its students and schools as "D" or "F" as failing the students and the community.

The voucher system may, on its surface, seem "eminently equitable and fair to all concerned." Consider that it's only "fair" to the parent that can afford the balance of the tuition and the attendant additional costs of a private school, can provide transportation to and from the school, and can satisfy any personal commitments or academic requirements for the child to attend. Again, you can see how "choice" is limited. Former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, a promoter and supporter of the state takeover of low-performing schools, recently completed a study that showed voucher students generally scored below their peers still attending RSD direct run schools. So the CHOICE is there, but what about the results?

Tenure is a another weapon of education privatization advocates that is so easily used because it plays on the disdain by many of unions. One of many examples of the misuse of statistics is your claim that "in 10 years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were actually terminated from New Jersey's schools." Even if one accepts those figures as being accurate, they bear no direct correlation to the value or failure of tenure. Tenure is a subject I'll address individually in a separate blog, but here are a few arguments. The attrition rate is high for teachers, many of whom leave the profession either before they reach tenure or after for a variety of reasons: relocation, childbirth, change professions, fired before reaching tenure, laid off, and sadly just not cut out for the rigors of teaching. Those numbers are aside from the number of those you cite who are "terminated" after reaching tenure.

One might expect that the "100,000" left were pretty seasoned and had been mentored, trained, and held accountable as they should be prior to reaching tenure. It makes sense to me that there would not be mass terminations of teachers because of incompetence. Tenure not only provides DUE PROCESS, something I'm sure every private and public employee would like to enjoy, but it is a system that makes it incumbent upon administrators and supervisors to provide new teachers with mentors, quality professional development, supervision and support during the years leading to tenure. It would be a rare teacher who would survive high expectations and rigors of the first few years of teaching and then turn rogue. Accountability is an issue that needs to be addressed for all levels in the field of education, but surely you can imagine that no one is held more accountable than a teacher who answers to a minimum of one parent per child (130 average) every single day. If a bridge collapses, is the CEO of a construction company the only one to be held accountable?

We may disagree on a few specific issues regarding public education, but I feel your pain and the need to design and enforce accountability systems that work for educators at all levels, equitability in the distribution of resources, accessibility to quality schools for all children, reduction of waste in the expenditure of taxpayer money, and an elected local/community governance system for public schools that addresses the needs and hears the voice of the local community that has some responsibility and power to hold it accountable. It is my hope that before there is a voucher system that can GUARANTEE all recipients receive a better education in their private school of choice, that the public school system will be a viable choice.

Since vouchers alone will not replace or correct the public system of education, I hope you'll reconsider your vote and choose a candidate who is capable of providing innovative, meaningful and effective reforms that will provide a CHOICE for ALL CHILDREN who are the future of our economy and our democracy.

By the way - why did you refer to the Tea Party as "meanie terrorists"? I made no reference to them in my blog.


Stepping on Up!!

Independent journalist, John Maginnis, has initiated the dialogue leading up to the BESE elections in October. His OP-ED piece, Education leaders need to step up, was posted in the Times-Picayune 08/10/2011:

Here is the comment I posted in response - this reader is answering the call to Step Up!!

Governor Jindal's effort, through BESE, to privatize public education through charter schools, vouchers and tax credits will derail sooner or later because the business model that has worked so well lately in banking and the corporate world is not a viable model for education.

Students are not human capital; they are human beings. Anyone who has invested in one knows they are as unpredictable as the stock market. Parents are not customers looking for the best bargain when making their choices for school enrollment. Hence the need for full and equitable funding and redirecting many of the tax dollars now squandered on out-of-state contracts for testing, consulting, charter management companies, supplements for unqualified Teach for America personnel, inflated salaries for Superintendent and administrative staff, and ineffective programs that don't address the educational needs of our local communities.

Teachers know that pay for performance based on someone else's performance - their students' - is not an incentive because too many factors are beyond their control. Teachers don't teach because of the potential to make an extraordinary salary if their students churn out the state-prescribed answers on a standardized test.

Principals and administrators know that while the maintenance and control of hundreds of children in the confines of one building may appear to the public to be like herding cats, there is method to the madness. It takes not only a hefty dose of child psychology but a good bit of experience and expertise that comes along with a few bruises and, most importantly, a love for children and a desire to educate them. Hiring unqualified college grads who come and go while labeling state certified, highly qualified teachers as failures on the public dole and playing on public sentiment against unions just could be the straw that breaks the back of charter schools who are allowed to engage in that practice.

I would submit that few public-spirited citizens are willing to run for a seat on the Board of Education because they understand that the state's chief education policy-making body and its superintendent must be qualified, knowledgeable and experienced in the field of education. They should be made aware that several BESE members along with their overpaid appointed superintendent are not in any way qualified. Where is the accountability and responsibility at the highest level of public education in our state?

Additionally there appears to be conflict of interest for several who are personally associated with or have relatives who are associated with charters, charter boards and private schools - all of which benefit from policy and proposed legislation supported by BESE. Former Ascension Parish School Superintendent Donald Songy should be a shoe-in to replace Charles Roemer, whose sister, Caroline, is Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. The ethics board previously ruled that she could not appear before BESE on behalf of charter school matters pending before the board. She also was prohibited from interacting with the staff and Department of Education on matters under BESE jurisdiction. I supposed she and her brother are estranged?

On the other hand, current BESE member Dale Bayard of Sulphur has a proven record of support for public schools and has resisted the political pressure to advance the Governor Jindal's design for schools because he has seen the failure of the administration's so-called "innovation." Although his opponent, Holly Boffy, has taught for a few years and understands the argument for protecting tenure, she says she is no longer teaching and is evidently pinning her hopes on public sentiment against that tenure to garner votes, a position that may come back to bite her.

Education leaders have stepped up on a number of fronts. The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education is vying for a voice for educators at all levels from highly qualified, certified teachers to local school board members to district superintendents. Community grass roots efforts to hold back the rising tide of privatization and its attendant reduction of services for special education students, gifted and talented students and the low income population are gaining ground.

We have all had long enough to be convinced that the culture of failure produced by this iteration of reform needs to be replaced with researched, tested, and proven effective education policy that can bring along with it meaningful innovation and progress to our system of public education to meet the needs of all children. The chances for our economy to flourish are much greater with a diverse and educated citizenry.