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6.2.11

Results show Caddo Plan failure, big changes needed


The initial year of the brainchild of Caddo Parish School District Superintendant Gerald Dawkins, the Caddo Plan, is in the books. Hyped as the solution to turn around a school system in decline, it instead has turned out to be a bandage – a big, impressive, expensive one, but a bandage nonetheless that has done little to address the problem of decline because, as noted in this space previously, it merely rearranges the deck chairs on a sinking ship. And the expense is putting the system into financial crisis, according to the state.

Confirmation of this poor plan and use of funds came with school accountability scores released by the state last year. Across the entire state, Caddo had the honor of having a majority of the few new schools declared academically unacceptable. Further, no parish schools that were on the list exited even as the overall number listed statewide shrank. And it gets worse, as an increase in standards in the next two years probably will push even more schools into the unacceptable category; if scores remain the same over the next two years, 17 more will be added to the 11 already there, giving around a third of the district schools this dubious honor.

Those already on the list and those likely to be there soon contain most of the schools presumably “reinvented” by the Caddo Plan.
It sought to create a theme at each subpar school (typically utilizing some already-developed education system), to clear all present positions of their occupants and invited open hiring into them, and added instructional and development time among other things. The hope was to attract students from other attendance zones in the district interested in theme areas which can increase the school’s test scores, as well as to attract better teachers to get students to achieve more.

However, the plan treats more the symptoms of the problem of insufficient educational attainment than it does the disease. The malady’s causes in Caddo are several: insufficient discipline in the classroom, teachers who are incompetent in knowledge in the subject areas in which they teaching, teachers’ unions with too much power in the system that are far more interested in job creation and protection for and transfer of wealth to its members than with educating, too many managers and too much bureaucracy, and an infusion of politics from the top down to bottom, from some meddling school board members all the way to individual school administrations where in some cases favoritism counts for more than merit.

To demonstrate why these festering conditions make the Caddo Plan a nonstarter, consider the rehiring piece of it. Not surprisingly, the schools with the lowest academic achievement tend to have the worst discipline problems, aggravated by an unwillingness to impose discipline because then it makes the school’s retention numbers look worse. So higher quality teachers avoid them, no matter how many times your “fire” and look for new “hires” into these schools, the very schools that need higher quality teachers the most. Instead, they probably get a disproportionate amount of teachers who are incompetent (everybody around these parts has an anecdote about this: mine is the Caddo fifth grade math teacher who couldn’t balance her own checkbook).

So, complete systemic change is needed. Some has been coming at the state level, such as timid legislation passed this year to marginally increase accountability of quality of instruction. But it has to be much bolder at the local level, such as has appeared in this space before (and explicitly rejected by Caddo attendant to “Race to the Top” grants) about testing for teacher subject knowledge and pedagogical ability on a regular basis.
Yet the biggest problem competent teachers have is lack of disciplinary enforcement. As a chilling Shreveport Times article indicated, the system’s reaction to disciplinary problems is weak and ineffectual. Behavior that would land people in prison outside the schools is met with, at worst, expulsion and reassignment to another school.

Were Caddo serious about discipline, it would create a zero-tolerance policy to violent and disruptive behavior. With plenty of schools to be closed in the near future, one or more could be set up as disciplinary centers where disruptive or dangerous students immediately after the incident are sent to them, in a lockdown atmosphere to prevent any acting up, and stay there until the disciplinary proceedings concerning them are concluded. If guilty, their next stop would be at in a school with prison-like regimentation and discipline for at least a semester, unless their incident broke the law which then they could go through the juvenile (or, if very severe, even adult) court system and receive punishment that way.

For awhile, this reform would create big logistical problems and a high cost. But as these punks experienced the new system, some would straighten out and others tempted to misbehave will learn of the severity of the system and be deterred from doing so. It won’t solve all problems and there will those unreachable miscreants that will forfeit any chance at education, but it will save the educational chances of the vast majority of students suffering from the behavior of these few, and give competent teachers the tools and peace of mind to better educate.

To do these things and to solve for the problem of excessive bureaucracy and politics in the system, which also will shore up the district's financial position, takes just one thing: will – the will to create and these kinds of programs through despite some special interests exerting enormous pressure to keep what exists that doesn’t work for children but does for them, willpower to ignore politics and to focus on merit and efficiency. Unfortunately, this seems to be in short supply among a majority of the School Board and Dawkins seems clueless enough (wondering publicly why the failing schools rearranged by his plan should be on the list) that instead of saving the ship, they’ll just scamper around the deck some more.

Unfortunately, fall elections brought little change to the composition of the Caddo Parish School Board, with just a couple of new members that don't seem willing to challenge the orthodoxy that too few continuing members have shown any inclination to do so in any event. While the Vision 2020 plan offers some improvement at the margin in creating more efficiencies out of a leaky system, until the root causes that hamper the system as noted above are addressed, it's still more deck chair shuffling causing a waste of precious money.

1 comment:

Good said...

Of the 55% of parish property taxes going directly to the school board, over 70% is applied to teachers and administrators salaries, health care, retirement, etc. I would agree there is little if any evidence that the level of compensation in the name of “education” has any relationship to the quality of education. School board representatives must tighten the budget and end the madness of ever increasing expeditures in the name of "education." The people have forgotten that we are the government. We are the school board. We are allowing the financial crisis to happen to us by voting "for" bond proposals and increased taxes and by continuing to support board candidates who refuse to insist on tightening the budget. As the number of persons employed in public education increases with increased pay, benefits, retirement, etc., there will be no end in site. It is time to stop the madness.

Though, we are all appreciative of the efforts of good teachers and administrators, it is time for the taxpayers to be good stewards of the money we agree to pay into the system or reduce the funding we provide. Historically, the best and brightest do not go into teaching but are driven towards much more challenging academic callings or toward higher risk callings in businesses that ultimately create wealth and jobs. It is these movers and shakers that understand finance and should be leading. However, it is those initially attracted to teaching for teaching sake that are now decision makers at the CPSB administrative level that are calling the shots without any training, eduction or experience in running such a large "company." More spending is not the answer.