The Educational Fix – Lies We Cannot Believe

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Management of crisis in America has many universal truths, but historic success in American management  of crises has some notable successes. From the Roosevelt record of struggling through the economic disaster of the Great Depression, the Reagan success with the economic woes he inherited and the current struggle to work through the financial and management chaos prior to the 2008 meltdown we find a pattern that can be labeled as insightful and successful in forcing our institutions to adapt to prevailing conditions. Louisiana is facing a crisis in educational management greater than any we have ever seen.

When Franklin Roosevelt took office he feared that if he failed he may be the last American President, the nation was in such dire straits. Banks were failing, companies were closing their doors and Americans had lost hope in the system. It was the leadership of the President and his staff that gave light and led the way for a nation that had lost hope. People needed to be told what to do, and leadership gave the needed words and actions to dig out from the hole that took years for poor management and lack of safe guards within the system to dig. A sense of success  allowed people to have some belief that there was a chance to move in a better direction.

Louisiana citizens, as citizens in many states, have fears and doubts about our educational system.  There is no question that we are experiencing failures in ways that are often difficult to understand. These failures seem  beyond the power of boards of education to address. Recent bills passed by the Louisiana legislature seem to take a slash and burn attitude concerning current school district structure, teachers, and curriculum issues that will extend far beyond the classrooms that most adults will understand. It is necessary that we compare these coming changes to the manner in which corporations address economic or political challenges they encounter, particularly those of the 2008 meltdown.

In the corporate world, if manufactured goods don’t meet expected standards, the prevailing management model is to examine all sectors of the company to determine where weaknesses exist and the best way to improve the company’s condition. Workers often lose jobs because demand has dropped, and this often is the best immediate solution to a short-term problem of hemorrhaging resources. However, long-term issues require more drastic modification of the corporate structure. Turnover in management, marketing and even the very organizational structure often evolve slowly , but they may become part of the trash heap in short order. Solutions such as outsourcing, or shipping jobs overseas, allow corporations to lower production costs, yet they undermine the US workforce that has been the backbone of American success in the past.

In the educational model Louisiana appears to be adopting, changes that come out of the new legislation may be compared to many corporate policies that attacked the failure of the workforce to keep the competitive advantage that existed for American industry. In the analogy of of outsourcing, the “Brave New World” of assembly-line computer-aided education is on the immediate horizon as proposals for Charter schools in imaginative formats are being proposed by for profit organizations as a means of finding new methods to milk the system and our children’s future.

Some of the proposals seem to have the best of intentions to advance educational values of special-interest groups, yet the groups have no educational background or record to justify the experiments the State is about to permit them to undertake. From church based unique curriculum programs to boarding schools manned by the Teach for America college graduates, who have little or no education background. The State Department of Education officials said Wednesday night they will launch an investigation of Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School. This  Baton Rouge school is operated by the Pelican Educational Foundation.

The foundation also runs Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans, which was closed last week amid allegations of sexual abuse and other problems. The fact that both schools are run by Pelican means that operations at Kenilworth need to be reviewed, according to Ollie Tyler,, former Caddo Parish Superintendent and acting state superintendent of education. Tyler went on to state, “We cannot afford to have a charter school operator in Louisiana that is putting our kids in a potentially unsafe and unstable learning environment.”

Nearly 600 students started school from their homes this past Monday as Louisiana’s first online charter school for kindergarten through 12th grade opened. The school, Louisiana Connections Academy, is based on the second floor of a Goodwood Boulevard office in Baton Rouge. Only 100 of  the school’s students live in the Baton Rouge area. The students are supposed to be under the eye of a mom, dad, grandparent or guardian who serves as the student’s “learning coach” and has to sign a “contract” with school officials that spells out their commitment. The charter school qualifies to receive per-pupil benefits based on the legislature’s new programs and the public will not only pay the bill but be on the hook for the results.

approximately 33,000 students are enrolled in charter schools in Louisiana, representing about five percent of public school enrollment. Louisiana Connections Academy was approved in December by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE, in December, with a cap of 500 students, and the ability to rise by 100 if needed.

School officials are set to appear before a BESE committee on Wednesday asking for a new enrollment cap of 1,000 students because of heavy demand. Wade Henderson, president of the school’s seven-member board, said another 400 or so students have been approval for admission if BESE gives the go ahead this week. This also will set the school to be paid the additional funds made available by the legislature.

Private schools in the state will soon start taking public money in the form of education “vouchers” to educate low-income children transferring from schools earning a C, D or F. It’s a bonanza for existing private schools to upgrade and opens the doors for potential fraud that the State is not prepared to control until the cost to the state and students has been well documented.

Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, which opened last summer, has educators working from their homes to teach the 1,260 students it serves statewide. LaMont Cole, chief academic officer for CSAL Charter Schools Inc., oversees the online school and also is not responsible to report profits gained at the taxpayer’s expense.

In Baton Rouge the proposed THRIVE Academy would open in late July with just 20 sixth-graders, but would grow over the course of eight years to 420 students in grades six to 12 and a projected budget of almost $3 million a year.

THRIVE Academy is modeled after SEED, an inner-city boarding school in Washington, D.C., opened in 1999. The Baton Rouge version has been developed by Sarah Broome, a former Teach For America educator serving as THRIVE’s executive director. The school is already soliciting volunteers to help staff the boarding school in the evenings – “No Experience Required.”  It sounds like an invitation for trouble and corruption. They also are seeking donations for beds, tables and other equipment to outfit the program – meal supplies needed will be prepared by the students, who also will be assisting with maintenance. This also is more than suspicious.

“The 24-hour learning environment provided by the boarding allows students the chance to fully grasp concepts and push to higher levels of understanding while simultaneously being supported in social and emotional development,” according to the application.

The school system has so far released publicly only the terse, one-page rejection letter to THRIVE, signed on Feb. 6 by Superintendent John Dilworth.

Stay tuned to new and exciting ways that scam artists will be finding to fleece the state and rob our children of a chance to get an education. It’s true there are issues that schools must address, but this seems to be a classic case of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” We are as frustrated as all parents and many educators are with the damage that has been committed in the name of reform. But the Governor and his pack of alleged educators are no better than the school boards, scam artists selling snake oil or theorists in ivory towers who have little or no experience in the real world of education.

Committed educators and parents who care about the future for their children are now left to carve out a piece of the system they can control and monitor and use available resources to do the best they can in a bad environment the State has done little to resolve.

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