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James Kirylo: We Saw the Teacher Shortage Coming.

The following is a guest post by friend and colleague James Kirylo. I know Kirylo from his many years as an education professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. He is the author of The Thoughtful Teacher: Making Connections with a Diverse Student Population. Kirylo currently resides in South Carolina.

James Kirylo

We Saw the Teacher Shortage Coming: Here’s Why

James D. Kirylo

We saw it coming. Despite educators repeatedly sounding the proverbial school alarm bell about the possibilities of a teacher shortage crises, these warnings were often ignored or dismissed by policy-makers. As a result, the alarm alerts came to a palpable head in 2018-2019, captured in the book Slaying Goliath by Diane Ravitch.

A historian of education and former assistant secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration, Ravitch highlights an unusual moment in the history of the U.S. when tens of thousands of teachers across the country took to the streets and marched to respective state capitols.

As former long-time K-12 teacher and currently a professor of education with a research focus on teacher education, I was in that number in Columbia, SC.

What were we protesting? The obsession with a test-centric schooling environment, punitive evaluation systems, low pay, overcrowded classrooms, school buildings wrought with neglect, outdated textbooks, poor working conditions, ill-informed attacks on tenure, the ongoing defunding of public education, the undermining of teacher professionalism, and the constant assault on public school teachers, among other concerns, which Ravitch captures in her text. In short, the profession finds itself in unprecedented space with teacher satisfaction at an all-time low.

And despite that worrisome space, many teachers have heroically pressed on, even during the most difficult dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, still numerous others have understandably called it a day and have left the profession, coupled with a significant drop in applicants to teacher preparation institutions. Hence, the teacher shortage is real. But make no mistake, this shortage is a symptom, a manifestation of a metastasized malignancy: the eroding of the profession itself through a political climate that disrespects educators.

Instead of attentively responding to the alarm bell and working toward building up the profession, policy makers all over the country have intensified the problem by questioning whether educators actually need a college degree; have relaxed state certification requirements; have long encouraged speedy, minimal training before one enters the classroom, exacerbating the attrition rate; have allowed for dictatorial, mayoral control of school systems; have appointed unqualified, unprepared, and unfit individuals for U.S. Secretary of Education; have allowed the persistence of overcrowded classrooms and outdated facilities to persist, disproportionally affecting the poor; and have fostered the politicization of education in such a way that attacks teachers, ultimately threatening the future of public education.

I often wonder of those who have worked to decay the teaching profession if they would rationalize having an underqualified, and-not-yet an MD performing major surgery on one’s child, or employing a non-licensed, inexperienced attorney to take the lead in a grave legal proceeding, or requesting the services of a fast-track-schooled, unproven mechanic to work on the faulty brakes of an automobile.

Consider the upcoming November general elections in South Carolina when voters will elect a new state superintendent of education, one of few states in which this is an elected position. Ellen Weaver, who appears to be a leading candidate, holds no degree in education, has never been a teacher or school administrator, and does not possess an advanced degree that is required by law to be SC state superintendent. She is literally unqualified. Enter in historically controversial Bob Jones University where she hurriedly enrolled in April and just a few short months later, Ellis purportedly will have a master’s degree in hand by election time.

Weaver’s campaign coffers run deep with support from very wealthy philanthropists. She refers to herself as a “Rush Baby,” meaning as a child she listened to the late conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh, who influentially indoctrinated his large audience by manipulating truth, spreading disinformation, and irresponsibly promoted conspiracies.

As part of her platform, however, if not ironically—with a fear-mongering tone—Weaver aims to make sure schools are not places of indoctrination, rejected mandated mask wearing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ardently supports the public funding for private education, and purports a desire to listen to the voices of educators.

While all politics is local, national implications always hover. Educators across our country have spoken loudly—for years. Time after time, whether it is in South Carolina or any other state, educators are tired– very tired– of the hubris that rationalizes, whitewashes, and make excuses for the non-qualified, non-credentialed, inexperienced, unproven, and unprepared to teach our youth, to lead our schools, and to lead entire systems.

It is that hubris that has led us to the teacher staffing crisis our nation faces today.

Wanted: Teachers. No Training Necessary.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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What a Contract with Ed Staffing Solutions (ESS) for Subs Looks Like

In its September 08, 2022, board meeting, Louisiana-based St. Tammany Parish Public Schools (STPPS) introduced the idea of contracting to a third party, Education Staffing Services (ESS) to provide substitute teachers to St. Tammany’s schools.

ESS’s main office is in Knoxville, TN, but it has branches in several states.

Some details from the September 05, 2022, Nola.com on the issue:

School administrators want to bring on an outside company, Educational Staffing Solutions, that would recruit, vet, and train new subs who would be employed by them rather than the school system. ESS would provide health care insurance and retirement benefits as well as incentives that include $100 referral bonuses. After an onboarding process, current subs would transition to the new employer. 

“They can offer benefits that we cannot,” said Steve Alphonso, the school district’s supervisor of human resources. “This is going to help our employees if they need to take off, if they get sick. We’re trying to get the kids covered in the classroom, that’s the ultimate goal.” 

Terri Prevost, the school district’s chief financial officer, said the projected cost for substitutes without using ESS is $3.6 million annually. Bringing in the agency would cost the district $4.2 million, which includes the salaries and benefit packages for a larger pool of substitutes.

Prevost added that overall it would be an increase of $582,000. But if the district kept the status quo and tried to grow the number of subs itself, it would cost the district about $900,000, she said. 

Jabbia reiterated that in addition to the benefits and incentives an outside agency can provide, subs will want to come to work because they will be treated like a full-time employee, rather than a part-time employee.

Jabbia has to draw up a contract that will be vetted by the district’s legal team. The board will vote on the motion at a later date.

Of course, what matters are the details in that ESS-STPPS contract that does not yet exist.

It is all about the contract.

Since St. Tammany has no contract yet, I searched online to find an example of a contract with ESS for substitute teacher services, and I found this one between ESS and Thomasville City Schools (NC) for 2021-22.

Even though the document is not St. Tammany’s contract with ESS, the ESS-Thomasville contract does provide a glimpse into what might be in a future contract between STPPS and ESS, so let’s just say it provides a furrowed-brow heads-up, if you will.

I encourage readers to pore over the entire document.

Some issues that stand out to me:

  • All subs are employees of ESS.
  • Sub training for this particular district will be provided by ESS and billed to the district at “a fee equal to the actual cost.”
  • District is still responsible for notifying ESS of “all Substitute staff on-site changes.”
  • District is responsible for assisting ESS in the “process the daily record keeping and other tasks necessary for the Company to administer and track Substitute Staff.”
  • Here’s something notable and certainly not like “being treated as a full-time employee”: “The Company normally hires Substitute Staff as part time employees who will work on average less than 30 hours per week such that they are not eligible for healthcare benefits under the ACA.” Continuing: “However, should the LEA in its discretion employ Substitute Staff to work directly for LEA in addition to the hours worked for Company (example: after school program director or coach), and the combined work hours of the Substitute Staff cause the Substitute Staff to be deemed eligible to receive healthcare benefits under the ACA, the LEA agrees to reimburse the Company’s cost of providing the minimum plan healthcare insurance coverage under the ACA.”
  • Here’s another: If ESS (Company) provides a so that district (LEA) hires full time, then district owes ESS a fee: “If LEA hires Substitute Staff as a full-time employee of the LEA during the term of this Agreement, LEA shall pay to Company the sum of $2,500.00. This payment is to reimburse Company for recruitment expenses and lost revenue. This fee shall not be due if the Substitute Staff was a ‘district original’, i.e. previously working for the LEA at the start of this Agreement, or if the Substitute Staff has worked Sixty (60) or more days of assignments as Substitute Staff for the LEA.”

Know what is not in this contract?

Any guarantee that ESS will resolve any substitute staffing shortage.

Will Frank Jabbia and his board include such language in an ESS-STPPS contract?

Isn’t that the point of this attempted sell to the St. Tammany public– to contract with ESS to resolve the sub shortage?

Now, we could first try something sensible, like ridding St. Tammany of this convoluted non-process of having would-be subs first find a STPPS school principal willing to sign off and submit names to HR and instead create an online portal for subs to apply directly to HR and not be restricted to sub in certain St. Tammany schools at the exclusion of other St. Tammany schools.

ESS recruits online.

Before the rush to toss half-a-mil-plus at a non-guaranteed outsource, couldn’t STPPS first create an efficient means for subs to apply online directly to HR?

Just asking for someone with basic critical thinking capabilities.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Banning Books Also Bans Critical Thinking.

If you’re looking for something to read, you might want to consult the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books by year. The ALA has been tracking this information since 1990.

If you are a reasonably educated person, and especially if you are an avid reader, you will have likely read a number of these titles already.

And yes, the bible did make the top 10 in 2015 for “religious viewpoint,” though I am surprised that other issues, including violence, incest, and sexually explicit content, were not cited. (Genesis 19:30-38 and 38:11-30 are two eye-openers for would-be book banners who mistakenly believe the bible is sterile reading.)

Some titles that have made the list repeatedly include the following, with reasons for the ban:

George by Alex Gino

  • Reasons (2020): Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  • Reasons (2019): challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure.”
  • Reasons (2018): banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.
  • Reasons (2017): Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  • Reasons (2016): challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  • Reasons (2021): Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.
  • Reasons (2020): Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  • Reasons (2014): sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”
  • Reasons (2013): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
  • Reasons (2006): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • Reasons (2020): Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  • Reasons (2017): This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  • Reasons (2011): offensive language, racism.
  • Reasons (2009): offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group.

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

  • Reasons (2009): nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  • Reasons (2007, 2006, 2005): offensive language, sexually explicit, violence.
  • Reasons (2004): offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
  • Reasons (2002): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Other likely-familiar titles included in the ALA’s annual top 10:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

For those who would ban books, here is something to consider:

Developing critical thinking skills requires that human beings are confronted with the unfamiliar and (perhaps therefore) uncomfortable and that we intellectually wrestle with that which does not fit readily and neatly into our current world schemas. To not allow students to be exposed to a variety of reading materials– and to insist that developing minds be “saved” from what others deem unpleasant– is to stymie the growth of the human mind and, ultimately, maturity of the human will.

Rather than rush to ban, a far better option would be to cultivate cross-generational relationships (e.g., parent/guardian-to-child) in which open, nonjudgmental, respectful communication is the norm and to develop a habit of reading and discussing books together.

If you feel a book that interests your child is age-inappropriate, consider setting a date in the future to read and discuss.

Besides, the surest way to prompt a young people to read a book is to vehemently campaign for a book to be off limits. Social media thrives on such undesired popularity.

Food for thought.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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What Teachers Do on Labor Day

Wonder what teachers do on Labor Day, or on other holidays, for that matter?

The answer is that teachers work on Labor Day, or, if they want to have that particular day to themselves, they have already worked on the previous weekend, or on Friday before or after school (or both), or earlier in the week, to make room for having a holiday.

Some will go in early on the day after Labor Day to make up for taking a holiday as a holiday.

Many teachers begin their school year the day after Labor Day, and many of them have made similar adjustments, using their own, unpaid time to be ready to have students on Tuesday, September 6th, 2022.

The time allotted to us to set up classrooms and prepare for students is like an algebraic equation in which x is the paid time we have to prepare for z, what is necessary to be prepared:

z = x + “yeah, you know,”

where “yeah, you know” is however many additional, unpaid hours it takes.

Note that in our profession, the equation is never z = x.

In my case, our district started school a month ago, with teachers reporting August 1st and students, August 8th. So, I am a month into 2022-23. The way I handle my extra, unpaid-time contribution is by reporting to school an hour and a half earlier each day than the school day begins.

In other words, I put in six days for every five for which I am paid. Many of my colleagues district-wide do more.

But today, today for me is a holiday. I slept in and already took a nap because of exhaustion; I forced myself to take care of all responsibilities for my life (including school) in the days leading up to today so that I might purposefully rest– in order to put in an extra-long day Tuesday– for the usual school day plus Open House tomorrow evening.

I know I am running a marathon and must pace myself.

Happy Labor Day, teachers. I hope that you can squeeze in a nap.

Yeah, you know.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter (don’t be scared) @deutsch29blog

Student Debt Forgiveness Sounds Good to Me.

I attended Louisiana State University for my undergraduate (1985-91). When I graduated, I had no debt. A combination of scholarships, Pell grants, and both campus and freelance jobs kept me from having to take out any student loans. Given how the cost of college has ballooned since my time at LSU, I consider myself fortunate.

Former Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, made it his business to slash funding for public entities, including Louisiana’s hospitals and universities. From the 2015 Advocate:

Since 2008 — the year Jindal took office as governor — tuition at four-year public universities in Louisiana has increased by an average of 67.2 percent, the fourth-highest rate in the country, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In that same period, Louisiana’s state government cut per-student support for the schools by $4,931, the largest reduction in the nation, the study showed.

After choking public support for postsecondary education in Louisiana, in 2019, Jindal opened the door for those choked entities to annually raise tuition and fees. From 2019 Nola.com:

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed legislation that ends Louisiana’s status as the only state to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.

The GRADAct does not grant Louisiana schools complete autonomy, but it will let campuses raise tuition by as much as 10 percent as early as this fall, provided they commit to improving graduation rates and other performance measures.

The plan, House Bill 1171 by House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, was among Jindal’s top legislative priorities and moved through the process with strong support from higher education leaders.

The Legislature already authorized tuition increases of 5 percent for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, independent of the parameters spelled out in Tucker’s bill.

The first increase would be automatic, but all subsequent increases — the additional 5 percent in 2011-12 and 10 percent annually thereafter — would be contingent on improving performance.

The regents would have the final say over whether a campus could increase its rates. All schools besides Louisiana State University’s main campus would be barred from raising its fees beyond the average charged by peer institutions in the 16 states that make up the Southern region. LSU’s limit would be the national average of flagship public universities.

When I was a freshman at LSU (1985-86), tuition was approximately $1300 a year (fall and spring semesters). My dorm room cost $1100.

By 2003-04, average tuition for a full-time undergraduate rose to $3,970 per year (fall and spring semesters). The average for a dorm room was $3,150.

In 2022-23, LSU’s average tuition is $11,954, and the average dorm room, $9,130. If half of this annual amount for tuition and dorm is somehow paid for without using loans, and if all other expenses (books, transportation, food) are also somehow paid for without resorting to loans, an undergraduate student who manages to graduate in four years (attending only in fall and spring and not adding additional fees for summer classes) could still be saddled with student loan debt to the tune of at least $40K. (Note that it is likely that tuition and fees will continue to rise while the student is a sophomore, junior, and senior. Too, this projection assumes that the student loans are subsidized and are not accuring interest while the student is still in school.)

Otherwise, based on 2022-23 rates, the cost of four full-time years at LSU has a price tag of $150,000.

The idea of facing that kind of debt for my bachelors degree takes the wind out of me. (Note that I did my bachelors in six full-time years, not four; at today’s rate, the cost would have been at least $225K.)

As it is, for my PhD, I graduated in 2002 with $53K in student loan debt. Roughly $10K was purely interest accruing on an unsubsidized loan. I had half-tuition paid for my first year (I was an out-of-state student attending school in Colorado) and full tuition paid for the remaining three years (I filed for Colorado residency once I had been living there for a year). I was a research assistant one year, and I taught part-time at the university the remaining three years. That’s why my loan debt for four years was only $53K.

Even so, that $53K has been like a car note for me every month for the past 20 years. As of this writing, my student loan debt from my doctorate is just below $14K. It is a 25-year note scheduled to end in 2028.

I realize that I qualify to have $5K of that debt forgiven via the US Department of Education’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. I plan to submit my application this week. If approved, my balance would be reduced to roughly $9K.

(I also borrowed $3800 to buy a computer when I was working on my masters. I bought it in 1996 because I learned that trying to subsequently complete a PhD using only a typewriter was no longer realistic. Once I graduated with my PhD, I paid this loan off first.)

If President Biden’s Student Debt Relief Plan of forgiving $10K of student debt for those making less than $125K a year proceeds, then I could become one of the individuals whose student loan payments will come to an end. (The plan also includes forgiving $20K for those making under $125K and who received Pell grants in college, but I am not sure if this means who received a Pell grant in undergrad and who have grad-degree, not undergrad-degree, loan debt. It may. I haven’t yet seen any language that rules out such a situation.)

There are some who believe Biden’s debt forgiveness plan could be held up in court even though the Heroes Act has already been used to forgive student loan debt that former US ed sec and billionaire, Betsy DeVos, wanted students who had been conned by for-profit colleges to remain on the hook to pay. (in 2021, DeVos was required to show for a depostion in a class-action suit on the matter.) From the August 25, 2022, Slate:

Biden’s secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, already relied upon the Heroes Act to forgive $10 billion for public service borrowers. Now the administration is using the law as its basis for a much bigger, less targeted student debt relief program. This idea is not new: At the end of her tenure, Trump’s education secretary Betsy Devos tried to stop Biden from embracing it. She solicited a memo arguing that the Heroes Act does not permit “mass cancellation” of student debt. (In a twist, the memo was issued four days after DeVos resigned in protest of Jan. 6, and it violated basic procedural requirements.)

Under Biden, the Department of Education concluded that DeVos’ eleventh-hour memo was wrong, and that the agency can provide mass student loan cancellation because of the ongoing pandemic. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel agreed. It pointed out that under the Heroes Act, the secretary gets to decide when relief “may be necessary,” deferring to his view of who, exactly, needs financial help because of the emergency. And because this help need not be provided “on a case-by-case basis,” OLC found that the secretary can “proceed by categorical rules.”

Going by the plain language of the law alone, Biden’s plan is likely legal. Sure, it’s probably not how Congress envisioned the Heroes Act functioning. But the program fits into the text that Congress actually passed.

Concerning the Biden student debt relief plan, there’s another important piece that is not getting as much press as the $10K forgiveness, and it has to do with federal efforts to ease payment of student debt:

Income-based repayment plans have long existed within the U.S. Department of Education. However, the Biden-Harris Administration is proposing a rule to create a new income-driven repayment plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower- and middle-income borrowers.

The rule would:

Require borrowers to pay no more than 5% of their discretionary income monthly on undergraduate loans. This is down from the 10% available under the most recent income-driven repayment plan.

Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 minimum wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.

Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with loan balances of $12,000 or less.

Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

Even though the above concessions do not address the profane cost of attending college, they demonstrate a notable, practical effort on behalf of the federal government to ease the financial strain that many Americans face due to student loan debt.

Any forward movement on this front sounds good to me.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter (don’t be scared) @deutsch29blog

The Quantification Shuffle: La. BESE Looking to Change School Grading Formula in 2025-26

In October 2011, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) began labeling Louisiana schools using letter grades, a Jeb-Bush idea featured by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in December 2010 and considered the “lynchpin” of test-based ed reform.

Also in December 2010, then BESE president, Penny Dastugue promoted the idea, saying “People can relate to grades.”

A. B. C. D. F. So clear, right?

Not so. The devil is in the formulas and scoring (shifting formulas and scoring, at that; see here and here, for example), which leaves sensible individuals wondering what it all means, anyway.

Here we go again.

Proposed for the August 23, 2022, meeting of BESE’s Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee:

In August 2021, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) passed a motion to convene a working group of BESE members to explore how the state measures, values, and rewards growth in the accountability formula. Subsequently, the board expanded the role of the study group to study the entirety of Louisiana’s K-12 accountability system and provide BESE with considerations for adopting changes to the state’s accountability formula. 

The report is a culmination of those meetings and the recommendations of the study group. In addition, it includes a summary of feedback that has been shared by stakeholders.

Per BESE Accountability Study Group direction at the August 8, 2022, meeting, proposed revisions to Bulletin 111, The Louisiana school, District, and State Accountability System, have been drafted and included for board discussion and consideration.  Included in the proposed policy is an update to the measures identified by the work group.

The LDE recommendation is to approve, as a Notice of Intent, revisions to Bulletin 111, The Louisiana School, District, and State Accountability System, regarding accountability.

BESE has yet to make a final decision on the matter, but its looking like they will take a vote on August 23, 2022.

On May 25, 2022, the Accountability study group (membership includes Kira Orange-Jones, chair when present; Belinda Davis, Sandy Holloway, Michael Melerine, Ronnie Morris) produced this 26-slide report of its investigation of Louisiana’s school grading system. Note that “accountability” is narrow by nature since the focus is on “student academic growth and measurable outcomes” (slide 5). Therefore, if one cannot put a number on a quality or concept, no matter now desirable such a quality or concept may be, it cannot figure into a school rating. What does not lend itself to quantification is disregarded by design.

But it must work. It simply must work because, numbers.

Another iteration of the ALEC lynchpin.

Here is the link for Bulletin 111 (Louisiana School, District, and State Accountability System), including both text of the current accountability document as well as proposed changes, which are underlined. It is too long to post verbatim in its entirety, so I’ll present some of its *new-and-improved* key points and encourage all to examine Bulletin 111 for more.

First of all, the changes are proposed to be instituted in the 2025-26 school year. The scale is proposed to change from 150-point to 125-point. (Not being 100 points would guarantee interpretation complication right out of the gate.) Grades K-8 would get an additional component connected to “shifts made to improve measurement of growth.” Ninth grade would going to get a “success measure.” Data from 2024-25 would be used to set point ranges for the 2025-26 scale “that would result in the same distribution of A-C letter graded elementary schools and D and F graded elementary schools under the new scale as existed under the previous scale,” with subsequent annual adjustments to point ranges to be made “until such time as A=100, B=85, and C=70, or BESE takes other action to stabilize the distribution.”

Surely all readers *intuitively understand* these proposed adjustments.

Let’s go for more:

Something for K-8 embedded with K-2:

Beginning in the 2025-2026 school year (2026 SPS), the kindergarten through eighth grade assessment index will also include a measure of K-2 literacy and growth on student literacy. In addition, no earlier than the 2024-2025 school year (2025 SPS), the department will develop and establish an assessment or a screener to measure numeracy for students in K-2.

With the establishment of the K-2 literacy screener and baseline scores, the department will recommend how to incorporate K-2 literacy results in the school assessment index. The calculation of the kindergarten through eighth grade assessment index will always ensure that the weight of student scores on LEAP in grades three and above will always be weighted more than that of the K-2 results.

As for eighth grade, welcome to the weeds, folks:

Through the 2024-2025 school year, when eighth grade students only participate in the Algebra I test but not the grade-level math assessment, the Algebra I test results will be used in the middle school assessment index (80 for basic, 100 for mastery, and 150 for advanced) and will be weighted by content as noted in the table above. Middle schools will also earn incentive points for all high school LEAP 2025 scores of mastery or advanced earned during the same year in which the test was administered.

Incentive points will be awarded as follows: advanced = 50; and mastery = 25.

Beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, when eighth grade students only participate in the Algebra I test but not the gradelevel math assessment, the Algebra I test results will be used in the middle school assessment index (80 for basic, 100 for mastery, and 125 for advanced) and will be weighted by content as noted in the table above. Middle schools will also earn incentive points for all high school LEAP 2025 scores of mastery or advanced earned during the same year in which the test was administered, [with] advanced = 25; and mastery = 15.

The policy outlined in Subsection G of this Section will also apply to combination schools. The high school LEAP 2025 score will be used in middle school results for the year in which the assessment is taken, incentive points may be awarded, and the score will be banked for use in the high school score once the student arrives in ninth grade….

I’ll leave you with that. For more detail on these proposed alterations, see Bulletin 111 linked above.

If you are uncomfortable with these changes, the good news is that remedying perceived formulaic errors is so important that BESE proposes to continue to grade schools for three more years using formulas determined insufficient, thereby avoiding the perils of completely foregoing grades in the interim and rushing into correction.

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Yep. Class Size Matters.

When it comes to the number of students in a K12 classroom, size matters.

This is not a new revelation for me but a fresh one after last school year, when I had the largest class sizes ever for the first semester of 2021-22 in my senior English classes: 28-30 students to kick off the year.

To accomodate so many students in my room (which is a good size and has no bookcases along the walls), I had to swich to smaller desks, which made the 53-minute experience each day similar to flying economy class for my students’ physical discomfort.

Desk number 30 had to be moved to the side and taken out only during my 4th period because that lucky student protruded into the walkway in front of the door. Fortunately, our helpful senior counselor was able to shift a student schedule so that 30 became 29, and in another class, 28 became 27.

I workshop writing with my students, which means I consult individually with each student multiple times if necessary for writing assignments, especially when working on seniors’ major research paper.

With 27, 28, 29 students in a class, I was not at my best as a teacher, not because I was not trying, but because I was spread too thin.

I did not teach as well. There was no professional development that could have helped me. No professional consultation, or study.

I had too many students.

Nevertheless, according to Louisiana’s education law, Title 28, Section CXV-913 – Class Size and Ratios, I could have had larger classes– up to 33 students per class in my high school classroom:

A. The maximum enrollment in a class or section in grades K-3 shall be 26 students and in grades 4-12, 33 students, except in certain activity types of classes in which the teaching approach and the materials and equipment are appropriate for large groups.

B. No teachers at the secondary level shall instruct more than 750 student hours per week, except those who teach the activity classes. (1. When a number of staff members are involved in a cooperative teaching project, the amount of each person’s involved time may be counted in computing the individual teacher’s load.)

C. The maximum class size for health and physical education in grades K-8 and in physical education I and II shall be 40. No class may be combined with physical education I or II if the total number of students taught is more than 40.

D. The system-wide, student classroom teacher ratio in grades K-3 shall be a maximum of 20 students to one classroom teacher. (1. An LEA may request a waiver of this requirement from the state superintendent of education provided that the teacher has demonstrated effectiveness as defined by BESE in Bulletin 130-Regulations for the Evaluation and Assessment of School Personnel.)

NOTE: Refer to Bulletin 1706-Regulations for Implementation of the Children with Exceptionalities Act for pupil/teacher ratios for special education.

La. Admin. Code tit. 28, § CXV-913

Pack ’em in.

You would think that lawmakers would stop and consider what they are really asking teachers to do by setting those state maximums so high. Effective, individualized instruction becomes a farce even before the max is reached.

For me, this year has begun better.

We are only a week into the 2022-23 school year, but so far, my class sizes are considerbly smaller than last year: 20 to 21 students per class.

A refreshing contrast to last fall.

I can successfully workshop writing with 20 to 21 students per class. With such class sizes, I can devote quality time to help my students improve their writing. If the numbers hold steady, in 2022-23, I will not be spread too thin.

Many thanks to my colleague and senior counselor who has helped balance my class sizes.

Based on my experience, 23 students in a class is the point at which I struggle to help each student with writing. It would be nice if the state took such information from seasoned teachers into consideration when determining maximum class sizes.

Thirty-three students would not even fit into my room, but if they did, my teaching would be diluted, and my seniors would pay the price with a substandard education that has nothing to do with my professional capabilities.

If lawmakers and other officials want Louisiana students to learn to write well, setting class size maximums with successful teaching and learning in mind is a good place to begin.

Admin, just say no.

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Georgia Professor Shoots and Kills Incoming Freshman

I am a West Georgia alum (MEd 1998).

I never worried about this idiocy when I was a student.

Then again, I attended prior to Georgia’s 2014 gun law expansion.

University of West Georgia educator charged with murder in death of incoming student

NBC News

August 01, 2022

A teacher at the University of West Georgia who has since been fired is accused of fatally shooting an incoming student, school officials said.

Richard Sigman, 47, was arrested and charged with murder shortly after Anna Jones, 18, died in a shooting Saturday at a parking deck in Carrollton, Georgia, Carrollton police said.

Jones planned to start the University of West Georgia this fall, according to school spokesperson Colton Campbell.

Jones was pronounced dead at the medical center, and Sigman was arrested and charged with murder, three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of crime, police said. … He remains at Carroll County Jail, and his next court date is set for Sept. 2.

11Alive adds this detail:

47-year-old Richard Sigman is in custody in connection with her death. According to Carrollton Police, Sigman got into an argument at Leopoldo’s Pizza in Adamson Square. Police said security asked him to leave and he made his way to a nearby parking deck. 

Sigman then started shooting in the area and struck Jones who was sitting in a parked vehicle, authorities said. Friends quickly drove her to the hospital where she died.

Anna Jones planned to become a teacher.

So sad to read this news.

It’s the guns, folks.

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Teaching in Florida: 5-Year Cert, No Degree Necessary.

Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, and the Florida legislature are happy to hand over five-year teaching certificates to veterans. Not teaching veterans. Military veterans.

As NBC-2.com reports, this plan is an attempt to address Florida’s teacher shortage of approximately 9,000 teachers. Veterans who served a minimum of 48 months (4 years) are eligible.

The article opens as follows:

School is just weeks from starting in Southwest Florida and there is a chance your child’s new teacher may not have a teaching degree.

One edit is needed: The word “teaching” should be changed to “college.” Allow me:

School is just weeks from starting in Southwest Florida and there is a chance your child’s new teacher may not have a college degree.

No college degree necessary.

I am a supporter of the military. I have many family members who have served in the US Army, and my sister is an Air Force veteran. I appreciate their service to our country.

That noted, it is quite the stretch to count military service as experience logically connected to the K12 classroom. And in this case, it is the only experience necessary to be granted Florida teacher certification.

Below is the criteria for Florida’s Military Veterans Certification Pathway, as noted on the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) website:

For some reason, as noted above, Florida is also excusing veterans who wish to teach in Florida’s K12 classrooms from holding a college degree in any area at all, much less in education. Current enrollment in a degree program is also not required. No coursework on pedagogy, or human development, or classroom planning, or education policy/law, or special populations necessary.

One simply needs at least 60 college credit hours in any courses, taken at any time, and not necessarily centered on any course of study.

These folks would be certified to teach for five years– longer than it takes to earn a bachelors degree in education but without the requirement that college attendance continues at all.

Interested individuals do have to pass a subject-area test to “demonstrate mastery of subject area knowledge.” However, other Florida teacher candidates must also pass examinations on general knowledge and professional education. Not so for those on the military-veteran fast-track.

So, military veterans who do not hold a bachelors degree and who need not have any experience in the K12 classroom are excused from being tested on the following (from the professional education exam):

No need to know about “appropriate student-centered learning environments,” or “instructional design and planning,” or Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession in Florida,” or “research practices appropriate for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs).”

No need to even know what an “English Language Learner” is.

But surely, surely, one must know something in order to be able to pass a subject area test.

Yes. But knowledge of subject matter does not automatically translate into legal, age-appropriate delivery of that subject matter in a well-managed classroom environment conducive to learning.

This idea has *litigation* written all over it.

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Uvalde and Teaching in the Age of the School Shooting

On July 17, 2022, the Texas House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary (Uvalde) Shooting released this interim report regarding the horrific events resulting in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers at the school on May 24, 2022.

I include excerpts from the committee’s findings at the end of this post, but I must say, in the terrible aftermath of yet another school shooting, as a public school teacher, I am tired of being expected by the greater society to also fill the role of safety super hero in my classroom and school.

I have a Louisiana friend who was raised in Uvalde, Texas, and who recently commented to me that what is needed is for all schools have only a single entrance and exit with security akin to that at airports.

Just increase security and have a single entrance and exit. It seems so simple, so easy to suggest.

I responded that our campus is not laid out like an airport; that we haven’t the money, personnel, time, and psychological energy to scan all who enter and exit throughout the day. There would be no teaching, which is frankly where I feel we are headed as I reflect on the increased burden for saving society that has been added to school day and school year since I began teaching three decades ago, in 1991.

More and more of my time and energy go into strategizing how I might actually be able to work around all that takes time away from instruction in order to effectively educate my students to some modest degree. School safety protocols appear to be an ever-increasing part of that demanding mix.

I am not advocating for a sloppy attitude towards professional expectations, or secure school campuses, or reasonable safety preparedness. However, I am a teacher, not a ninja warrior. Not James Bond. Not a security command center. Not a bullet-deflecting force field.

And yet.

And yet, I feel critically responsible for the safety of the students in my care precisely because I care for them.

When it comes to school safety issues coupled with the ready availability of firearms in America today, society has placed me and my teaching colleagues nationwide in the position of Sitting Duck, and I know it all too well.

I thought of further discussing the physical safety of my own classroom and school particularly in conjunction with certain report findings presented below, but I will refrain because I do not think it wise to divulge such information in a public setting.

On July 26, 2022, the principal of Robb Elementary, Mandy Gutierrez, was placed on administrative leave with pay apparently in association with some of the Texas legislative interim report findings regarding school security and facilities issues.

The report includes a dedication to the 21 victims who lost their lives; preface; background and history of the investigation; the attacker; law enforcement response; information flow, and factual conclusions.

Without further comment, I offer excerpts from the preface and background/history. I invite readers to read the entire document.

PREFACE
This is the interim report of the Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting of the Texas House of Representatives.

Conscious of the desire of the Uvalde community and the public at large to receive an accurate account of the tragedy at Robb Elementary School, the Committee has worked diligently and with care to issue this interim report of its factual findings. The Committee’s work is not complete. We do not have access to all material witnesses. Medical examiners have not yet issued any reports about their findings, and multiple other investigations remain ongoing. The Committee believes this interim report constitutes the most complete telling to date of the events of and leading to the May 24, 2022, tragedy.

This Committee has prioritized factual accuracy, as will be evident from our attention to conducting our own interviews and documenting our sources of information. Still, based on the experiences of past mass-shooting events, we understand some aspects of these interim findings may be disputed or disproven in the future.

The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency.

DEDICATION
The Committee submits this report with great humility and the deepest respect for the victims and their families. It is the Committee’s sincere hope that this brings some clarity for them as to the facts that happened. This report is meant to honor them.

You will notice the name of the attacker is not mentioned. We also will not use his image, so as not to glorify him.

INTRODUCTION & EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Of necessity, this report will describe shortcomings and failures of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and of various agencies and officers of law enforcement. At the outset, we acknowledge that those same shortcomings could be found throughout the State of Texas. We must not delude ourselves into a false sense of security by believing that “this would not happen where we live.” The people of Uvalde undoubtedly felt the same way. We must all take seriously the threats to security in our schools and the need to be properly prepared to confront active shooter scenarios.

Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any “villains” in the course of its investigation. There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making. We recognize that the impact of this tragedy is felt most profoundly by the people of Uvalde in ways we cannot fully comprehend.

The School
With hindsight we can say that Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus.

The school’s five-foot tall exterior fence was inadequate to meaningfully impede an intruder. While the school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and internal classroom doors, there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. At a minimum, school administrators and school district police tacitly condoned this behavior as they were aware of these unsafe practices and did not treat them as serious infractions requiring immediate correction. In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys.

The school district did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency. In particular, staff and students widely knew the door to one of the victimized classrooms, Room 111, was ordinarily unsecured and accessible. Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.

Another factor contributing to relaxed vigilance on campus was the frequency of security alerts and campus lockdowns resulting from a recent rise of “bailouts”—the term used in border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions. The frequency of these “bailout”-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.

Other factors delayed the reporting of the threat to the campus and to law enforcement. Low-quality internet service, poor mobile phone coverage, and varying habits of mobile phone usage at the school all led to inconsistent receipt of the lockdown notice by teachers. If the alert had reached more teachers sooner, it is likely that more could have been done to protect them and their students.

In violation of school policy, no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter. Once inside, the attacker continued into the adjoining Rooms 111 and 112, probably through the door to Room 111, and apparently completely unimpeded. Locking the exterior and interior doors ultimately may not have been enough to stop the attacker from entering the building and classrooms. But had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers.

The Responders
Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy, the law enforcement community has recognized the critical importance of implementing active shooter training for all officers, regardless of specialty. Also, all officers must now acknowledge that stopping the killing of innocent lives is the highest priority in active shooter response, and all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation.

At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.

The first wave of responders to arrive included the chief of the school district police and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team. Despite the immediate presence of local law enforcement leaders, there was an unacceptably long period of time before officers breached the classroom, neutralized the attacker, and began rescue efforts. We do not know at this time whether responders could have saved more lives by shortening that delay. Regardless, law enforcement committed numerous mistakes in violation of current active shooter training, and there are important lessons to be learned from each faulty assumption and poor decision made that day.

The Uvalde CISD’s written active shooter plan directed its police chief to assume command and control of the response to an active shooter. The chief of police was one of the first responders on the scene. But as events unfolded, he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan mentioned above, yet it was not effectively performed by anyone. The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.

A command post could have transformed chaos into order, including the deliberate assignment of tasks and the flow of the information necessary to inform critical decision making. Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in Rooms 111 and 112, and had called out for help. Some responders outside and inside the building knew that information through radio communications. But nobody in command analyzed this information to recognize that the attacker was preventing critically injured victims from obtaining medical care. Instead of continuing to act as if they were addressing a barricaded subject scenario in which responders had time on their side, they should have reassessed the scenario as one involving an active shooter. Correcting this error
should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to surviving victims. Recognition of an active shooter scenario also should have prompted responders to prioritize the rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders.

An effective incident commander located away from the drama unfolding inside the building would have realized that radios were mostly ineffective, and that responders needed other lines of communication to communicate important information like the victims’ phone calls from inside the classrooms. An offsite overall incident commander likely could have located a master key more quickly—several people on campus had one. An offsite overall incident commander may have suggested checking to see if officers could open the door without a key—in hindsight, they probably could have. An offsite overall incident commander who properly categorized the crisis as an active shooter scenario should have urged using other secondary means to breach the classroom, such as using a sledgehammer as suggested in active shooter training or entering through the exterior windows.

Uvalde CISD and its police department failed to implement their active shooter plan and failed to exercise command and control of law enforcement responding to the tragedy. But these local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy.

Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies—many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police—quickly arrived on the scene. Those other responders, who also had received training on active shooter response and the interrelation of law enforcement agencies, could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.

Yet in this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post. Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance. Several will suggest they were misled by false or misleading information they received as they arrived; however, the “chaos” described by almost all of them demonstrates that at a minimum, responders should have asked more questions. This suggests a training deficiency, in that responding officers failed to adequately question the absence of command. Other responders failed to be sufficiently assertive by identifying the incident commander and offering their assistance or guidance, or by assuming command in the absence of any other responder having expressly done so. In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.

Robb Elementary is slated to be razed.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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