Thursday, January 26, 2012


I just turned 46. That's the atomic number of palladium. The "discoverer" named it after the asteroid Pallas. That asteroid was named after the Greek god Pallas. According to myth, Athena killed Pallas who was the husband of Styx. Styx is a band that Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force thinks "rocks". Carl is my hero. And to be honest I don't believe that my 46-47 epoch will bring me any more happiness than my 45-46 epoch. I'll fight to keep my kids and students focussed on their education, fight to teach them to reject materialism, and try to install a investigative curiosity. I'll win some of these battles and lose some. My two main goals are to 1. finish a major book I've been working on with Eerdmans called Over, Under and Through the Bible, and to film the pilot episode of the soon to be famous TV reality show The Theologians Starring Mark Gstohl. So obviously if I have a blog post entitled "47" I'll be famous and I'll not have to type it, I'll just dictate it or outsource it or whatever Ashton Kutcher does. Happy birthday to moi.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Attacking New Orleans Teachers: A Math Problem for Bobby Jindal and the Media

So Governor Bobby Jindal has decided to make education reform the flagship of his second term. It's a smart political move. It plays well nationally. It's very pro-business for the companies making fortunes off of the charter school movement. It gives the impression that Jindal cares about youth and the intellectual future of this country. It perpetuates the myth that anyone can escape poverty through education and hard work. And if the grades don't improve, he has the teachers' union as a scapegoat.

What bothers me though about Jindal is his not-at-all-subtle attack on teachers. Consider his rhetoric. In rolling out his plan he made the following two statements about teachers:

1. "Short of selling drugs in the workplace or beating up one of the business's clients, they can never be fired."

2. "We are going to create a system that pays teachers for doing a good job instead of for the length of time they have been breathing."

Ugh. First teachers are easily fired. In fact, every teacher in New Orleans was fired after the flood. And my principal friends tell me all one needs to do is document the poor performance in yearly evaluation forms and the contract will be terminated. And notice in his business model he calls students "clients." Second, my wife is a public school teacher and I find this idea about her pay being based on simply living to be very offensive. My outrage is influenced by that fact that my kids and I all suffer due to the incredible work load placed on her shoulders. Ask anyone married to a public school teacher. Some of us call ourselves "teacher widows" and "teacher widowers." It's a major sacrifice. I look forward to June when I can have a wife again.

Besides the rhetoric, there is this myth being perpetuated in Louisiana education circles that we can all "vote with our feet." If we don't like the school in which our child is enrolled, we can switch schools. But entry into the best schools is extremely difficult if not impossible. For starters, you would need to have a parent with access to resources such as time, networking, and diligence. Louisiana Association of Educators Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones stated that many parents don't have these and other resources to make informed decisions about navigating these systems. This statement offended Jindal who argues that all parents want what's best for their kids and will be working on a level playing field in school choice.

So who is correct? I have a simple solution that a journalist could solve in about an hour. Let's take the two best performing charter schools in New Orleans, Ben Franklin and Lusher, and look at the average income for the parents of their students. Let's look at the demographics. Do these students come from houses where they have two parents? Perhaps one of these parents has time to volunteer at the school? Do they have a computer and an internet connection in their home?

Then lets compare these numbers to two of the lowest performing public schools in the city. I don't want to name names here, so choose any two RSD schools, or some of the lower performing BESE run charters. I think it's a reasonable hypothesis here that you will see a drastically lower income, far more single parents, no time to volunteer and fewer computers with internet in the home. I'm pretty sure that you will see a direct correlation between school quality and parental income.

But if the results are similar between these two sets then Jindal is correct and we all should be offended. I'm offended too, but for reasons that differ from Jindal's.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


One week ago I, like many, thought that LSU would win the BCS Championship game and that the New Orleans Saints would win their first ever road playoff game. Neither happened. Time to pack up my Saints shrine and put it in the attic until next August.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can You Teach Teaching? A Letter to John White & Bobby Jindal Fans

Can you teach teaching?

Yes you can. Ask my wife. She earned Bachelors degrees in Studio Art and Art History. Neither of these focussed on how to be an effective teacher. Therese decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of many in her family and become an elementary school teacher. In California they decided that there was value in learning how to teach. So Therese enrolled in an intensive year long program set up for people who had already earned their Bachelor's degrees. She worked very hard to become a qualified teacher. To this day she relies on the pedagogical theories and resources she obtained in those classes. Since then, Therese went on to get her Masters degree, and Therese will tell you, those classes made her a much better teacher. So in fact there is value in teacher education programs.

Today the Louisiana state education board will fulfill the wishes of Governor Bobby Jindal and elect John White as the new superintendent of Louisiana schools. He will be the boss of 50,000 teachers. Thing is though, John White never took the time to learn how to teach, nor do his policies suggest that he sees a need for a formal education in how to teach. White joined Teach for America after getting a bachelor's degree in English, and subsequently taught English in New Jersey schools for three years. He then took various jobs leading Teach for America offices, and wound up implementing Michael Bloomberg's controversial education reforms for five years in New York. As that "reform" was imploding, White got out of town and came to New Orleans where he has been running the Recovery School District for the past few months.

So why is this young man doing so well in the upper echelons of Louisiana education circles? It's because Bobby Jindal and the pro-charter school movement share the same ideals as Bloomberg and other Republican education reform folks. Their idea is this:

Public education is broken and can't be fixed by throwing money at it. The main problem is principals can't fire lazy teachers because of an outdated tenure/union system. So you close failing schools (their term for schools with low standardized test scores) and let private companies start opening charter schools. You call principals CEOs and quadruple their salaries. You get rid of more expensive experienced teachers who are burned out anyway and hire younger enthusiastic teach for America workers because youth and enthusiasm trump experience and higher salaries. You get school workers to do more work for less money so profits go up. The parents win because now they can vote with their feet: if you don't like the school your child is at, put them in a school that you like. Through competition and open capitalism we all win. Hooray!

Instead, I value teachers with experience and in-depth training in the legitimate academic discipline of teacher education. I also think the teachers I know are some of the hardest working people you'll ever meet. I believe the current charter system in New Orleans works well for parents with resources but those who suffer the most are those with learning disabilities and parents without resources because all of the assets go to high performing schools and they won't take students who might hurt their test scores. I also value collective bargaining, and think the education problem can in fact be solved by throwing money at it. But I live in "charter everything" Louisiana, so I'm certainly a minority. But ask an experienced teacher, and I'll wager they support my observations.