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School letter grades are an exercise in intellectual dishonesty

(Baton Rouge – October 7, 2011) Saying that the recent release of letter grades for Louisiana public schools is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan called on the state’s leaders to stop playing politics, engage in an honest dialogue concerning our the health of our schools, our communities, and our families, and then provide the resources needed to provide every child an equal opportunity to succeed.

“Beyond the headlines, there is nothing new in the information released on Wednesday,” Monaghan said. “New, simple labels for complex problems may create a great opportunity for pithy political sound bites, but they bring us no new information.”

Before Wednesday, schools were rated by a system of stars and labels. The new system assigns grades of “A” through “F” to schools as well as to school districts.

"Based upon the headlines and the tables accompanying the release of the letter grades," stated Monaghan, "the general public can be left with the impression that an A school such as Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans and an F- school such as Valley Park Alternative High in Baton Rouge provide some valid comparison concerning the value of both or either school."

"While in truth, these institutions couldn't be more different in student population and mission," Monaghan said. “The former is a selective admissions school geared to high achievers and the latter serves students with behavioral problems.”

Monaghan said that assigning a single letter grade to a school oversimplifies complex issues and trivializes the numerous factors that contribute to the performance of a school.

“No one should be surprised that schools with selective admissions earned an ‘A,’ or shocked that alternative schools which take in troubled children for short periods are labeled with an ‘F’,” Monaghan said.

“What is lost in the media frenzy over the new labels is the fact that most schools are improving, and that teachers continue to extraordinary lengths to help all students succeed,” Monaghan said.

These gains are underway even though resources for public education have shrunk dramatically. The main funding source for schools, the Minimum Foundation Program, has been frozen for three years, even as costs to local school boards skyrocketed.
School funding outside the MFP has been cut by the Jindal administration, Monaghan said.

“Over $76 million for after school tutorial programs, classroom technology, reading and math initiatives and stipends for nationally certified teachers, was cut by Governor Jindal,” said Monaghan. “These are the very programs that help schools succeed.”

“Many may view the timing of this announcement as an attempt to further the campaign on behalf of a handful of well financed, hand-picked candidates for the legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education more than willing to wear the crown of self-anointed reformer,” Monaghan said.

“While the administration and those who have spent little real time standing before real children in a real classroom continue to lament the ‘unacceptable,’ Louisiana teachers continue to teach and continue to await a clear description of, much less than evidence of a real commitment to, administration's vision of 'world class' schools’."