Thursday, February 26, 2015

White Changes Teacher Evaluation Reform Recommendations

State Superintendent John White and his staff have now released their recommendations to BESE based primarily on the Act 240 subcommittee that was originally set up to correct major problems with the teacher and principal evaluation programs. The legislation in Act 240 by Rep. Hoffmann was originally intended to address serious complaints from the field by teachers and principals relative to VAM and COMPASS. Unfortunately the whole process for improving the evaluation system has been hijacked by White to do almost the opposite of what hundreds of teachers and principals recommended in emails to the Act 240 committee. Click here for the Baton Rouge Advocate story.

Instead of reducing the reliance on student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals as was recommended by large numbers of educators, the recommendations going to BESE actually enslaves teachers and principals to do almost nothing but teach to the annual tests.
White added his own new recommendations to the report from the Act 240 subcommittee (without consulting the subcommittee) and even ignored some of what was actually proposed by a unanimous vote of the subcommittee in the actual recommendations going to BESE.
This is an insult to the teachers, principals and other educators who served on the subcommittee.

Far from entirely removing VAM as was recommended by the subcommittee for at least one more year, White's recommendations would require the use of a combination of VAM and Student Learning Targets (SLTs) in teacher evaluations starting in 2015-16. (This even though the state testing is constantly changing)

Every principal's evaluation from now on would be absolutely tied to increasing the School Performance Score (SPS) every year. Since the school SPS for every grade from K-8 is totally dependent on student test scores, both principals and teachers will be slaves to annual testing and will be forced to do almost nothing but test prep all year long.

White refers to the new rules as a way of "empowering" school leaders to do their job better. But make no mistake about it, these new rules are really about enslaving all educators to test teaching!
The plan is this: Starting in 2015-16 White and his staff will divide all schools into similar groups and will "recommend" Student Learning Targets and a resulting SLT target for each school. (The Act 240 subcommittee had voted to change BESE rules so that Student Learning Targets could not be dictated to principals. This motion is nowhere to be found in the Act 240 report) These LDOE designed learning targets will become mandatory if a school fails to improve its SPS consistently. The LDOE wants to overrule local superintendents in the supervision of local schools by imposing these targets for each school. (One reporter at the LDOE press conference asked it this was interfering with local authorities to manage their own employees. White simply said that BESE had power to set these rules).

This process is cheerfully referred to by White as "empowering" principals.

Here are the key items in the report going to BESE next week. Each school will be mandated to have:

  • One learning target based on overall school performance improvement in the current year, as measured by SPS
  • One learning target based on a component of school performance improvement (e.g., ACT improvement for high school, math achievement for an elementary school)
  • To insure the above happens, the LDOE will "support and guide" school leaders by recommending targets based on historical performance of similar schools.
  • For teacher evaluations, leaders will consider multiple measures, including value-added (where available) and student learning targets for the student growth score (note that VAM is not optional but must be used in conjunction with SLTs. This is not what the subcommittee intended)
  • The override provision that required that a teacher be rated "ineffective" based only on VAM would be removed. (Comment:This is a good step recommended by teachers and principals)
  • For value-added data, leaders may adjust student outcomes scores by plus or minus one level from the VAM based on learning targets. (again this underscores the continued use of VAM)
Now here is how pressure will be applied to principals. (This part was never submitted to the subcommittee for its consideration) These two recommendations come directly from White.

  • If the school performance score (SPS) declines for two consecutive years for any principal, the local superintendent shall provide justification, in writing, to the Department in order for the principal to set learning targets lower than the LDE recommended targets beginning in the third year. (I believe this is an attempt to embarrass local superintendents into doing White's bidding)
  • If the SPS declines for three or more consecutive years by any principal, the principal's learning targets shall be set at or above the LDE recommended targets beginning in the fourth year.
Here is the problem I see with the above rules:
For all recent years, the LDOE has totally controlled the overall school performance scores by setting the cut scores on the annual standardized tests and by allowing bonus points to schools based on constantly changing rules. The principals are totally at the mercy of changing rules over which they have no control. For example, in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 years, according to White, schools are being graded on the curve with the LDOE insuring that the number of A,B,C,D, and F schools remain constant. This makes SPS scoring a zero sum game. The only way for one school to improve its score is for another school to go down. So for these two years at least, White is insuring that approximately half the schools will have a lowered SPS. We don't know how he will manipulate the school performance scores for 2015 and beyond. He could choose to let the average scores trend upwards or downwards.

My opinion is that this entire scenario where all educators, instead of being empowered, are being enslaved to the highly questionable annual testing (PARCC will probably be junked by the legislature and an equally onerous test will take its place) is being dictated by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). The bosses at LABI, who have no experience in education whatsoever, have determined that the lack of high test scores by some students is because of laziness and incompetence of educators. If enough pressure is put on principals, if more teachers and principals are fired based on test scores, and teachers are forced to get off their lazy a_ _ _ _, student scores will finally go up and education reform will have succeeded. If not, then LABI and their allies on BESE and the Legislature will mandate more charters and vouchers to receive more public school students.

All of this, even with clear statistics and reports from the legislative auditors, that such schools do not improve performance and squander our tax dollars!

Educators and parents do not need to accept these atrocities to our public education system. We must tell BESE and the legislature that these rules are insane and will only harm children. How would you like for your child to be subjected to constant test prep just to appease a bunch of rich business lobbyists who do not even send their children to public schools?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Breaking News. . . Our Public Schools Are Not Failures!

The latest accurate news about public schools is described in this editorial in the Charlotte Observer.  The article cites two important studies. Please click on the link and take the time to read this short article and send it to your colleagues, school parents and friends. Here is the summary:

Our public schools are not "broken"!

Public schools are not "failing"!

When our public school students are compared by socioeconomic status with other countries, they are rated at the top of the rankings!

I also want to state the following for the record:
  • Our public school teachers are dedicated and competent, not lazy and uncaring
  • Most teachers and local school administrators work longer hours than other comparable professions because they care about children
  • All children have a real opportunity to succeed in our public schools
The two studies described in the Charlotte Observer article point out that the problem is not with our public schools but with too many children who come to school not ready to learn. Students from high poverty homes start school with only half the vocabulary of middle class students. Many children in U.S. public schools are so deprived, so ill fed, so transient, and so influenced by negative role models, that it is a wonder they can concentrate on school work at all.

Education reformers in Louisiana and in the rest of the country have been attacking the wrong imaginary issues, and not the real problems. By attacking the teaching profession and blaming teachers for some major problems they can't even come close to addressing, the reforms are doing a lot more harm than good. Meanwhile some of our best teachers have taken early retirement and cannot really be replaced.

School privatizers have seized the opportunity of our alleged "broken public schools" to steal funding and to promote predatory charter and voucher schools.

If you are a public school parent, a teacher, or a school administrator, please join the fight to take back the initiative in favor of public schools. 

Just send me an email at louisianaeducator@gmail.com and tell me you want to participate in our Defenders of Public Education email system. All I need in addition to your favored email address is your zip code so that I can place you in the correct legislative districts.

When legislation is proposed, or BESE policy is considered, or Federal laws are proposed as in the post below, I will send you an email with all the facts so that you can in turn write emails to your representatives and tell them what will really improve education.

Thanks,
Mike Deshotels

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Help Defeat H.R. 5

Dear Louisiana Educators:
There is an effort in the U.S. Congress right now to use the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind to promote vouchers, and further expand charter schools with our tax dollars. But in addition, H.R.5, The Student Success Act, would continue to mandate standardized testing in each grade from 3 to 8 and once in High School. This would pretty much guarantee that practically all teachers in every state would be further pressured to teach test prep almost year round every year!

The Network for Public Education is a group very similar to my Defenders of Public Education, except that it is a nationwide group that supports our public schools and the teaching profession. I am asking that you simply click on this link to the NPE web site that will help connect you to your Congressperson so that you can send an email or letter in opposition to H.R.5. They have a sample letter which you can send, or you can write your own unique letter using some of the talking points at the web site.

I promise you NPE a very legitimate and sincere group that exists only to support you the public school educator and public school parents and to help mobilize your efforts to oppose the privatization of our public schools and the de-professionalization of the teaching profession.

Please act today because the vote in Congress will probably happen this week! 

Thanks,
Michael Deshotels