Monday, May 2, 2016

Bills Designed to Change Teacher Evaluations in Louisiana

This week: On Tuesday May 3, the House Education committee will consider several bills that could greatly improve teacher and principal evaluations in Louisiana. One bill could do more harm than good.

On the issue of teacher evaluation, the most important thing that can be done is to fix the defective VAM system for evaluating teachers. The Value Added Model was an attempt to link teacher evaluations to gains in student learning over a specified period of time.  However, the actual application of this system shows that VAM is a boondoggle that does more harm than good in evaluating teachers. The last studies done on VAM in Louisiana showed the results to be highly unstable from year to year. A huge percentage of teachers that received an "ineffective" rating using VAM for one year received an effective rating the following year even if they changed nothing at all in their teaching. This means that VAM is highly unreliable as a method for evaluating teachers. It can result in teachers being placed on a path to dismissal for no legitimate reason. That's why the VAM component needs to be removed or severely reduced as a part of teacher evaluation.

As part of Act 1 of 2012, Louisiana doubled down on the defective VAM system by requiring that a portion of each teacher's salary be based on their evaluations. The way the system worked is that in order to receive so called "merit pay" teachers had to be rated "highly effective" on their evaluation. In most cases since the state provided no funding for "merit pay",  the system was funded by reducing automatic step increases based on years of experience.

Amazingly, this system  created a huge disparity between the approximately one third of teachers who were rated using VAM, and teachers rated using Student Learning Targets. The "highly effective" portion of the VAM rated teachers were arbitrarily limited to only 20% of the whole VAM group. But there was no such limit on "highly effective" for the SLT rated teachers. This has resulted in teachers who teach state tested subjects being arbitrarily punished in the calculation of their salaries. My opinion is that no successful business would ever set up such an unfair system of paying employees. Fortunately VAM was used in the calculation of salaries for only one year in Louisiana, but it is scheduled to go back into effect as soon as baseline scores are set on our new state student tests. This highly unfair system must be corrected if Louisiana is to attract and retain teachers in the basic skills subjects.

Many education leaders agree that multiple measures of student progress could be more effectively used instead of VAM. Even then, the overall percentage of student progress measures as part of the teacher's evaluation should be limited. Several bills to be heard in the House of Representatives would attempt to make those changes. Click on the bill number to see the full text of the bill.

HB 650 by Price would remove the requirement that teacher salaries (merit pay) be based partially on student performance measures. In addition, each local school board or governing authority would be authorized to utilize student performance for between 15 and 25% of each teacher's overall evaluation. This change would significantly reduce the effect of VAM on teacher evaluations.  This bill would go a long way toward fixing the problems with VAM in Louisiana.

HB 723 by Price would require multiple measures of student progress to be used for 50% of each teachers' evaluation. Of that 50%, no more than half could be based on VAM. This is simply an effort to reduce the impact of VAM while allowing flexibility to principals in using other measures of student progress as part of a teacher's evaluation. This bill would also reduce the disparities between VAM rated teachers and all other teacher evaluations.

HB 479 by Ivey would further stigmatize the teachers teaching in schools that serve larger portions of at-risk students ("D" or "F" schools) by requiring that a larger portion of the teacher's evaluation (35%) of each teachers' evaluation be based on VAM. BESE would set a lesser percentage related to VAM in schools rated "C" to "A". The problem with this is that there is no evidence whatsoever that teachers in D and F schools are guilty of poor teaching. If you teach in an alternative school for example, you are just about guaranteed to be teaching in an F school even if you have been previously recognized as a superior teacher. To paraphrase James Carville: " It's the poverty stupid!"
This whole idea that teachers are almost solely responsible for the achievement of students has been soundly discredited by the American Statistical Association. This bill needs to be defeated.

See also my analysis of HB 833 in the two posts below this one. It is also scheduled to be debated on Tuesday.

Please consider calling or emailing your member of the House Education Committee now! Ask them to vote "yes" for the bills that in your opinion improve teacher evaluation and vote "no" on any that you believe will not work well. If you call their district office you can leave a message on how you want them to vote with their legislative assistant. The phone number for the House floor is 225-342-6945. The House will be in session at 2:00 P. M. today.

Name                          Parishes                    email              district phone
Nancy Landry (Lafayette, Vermil.)  337-262-2252
Ed. Price (Ascen., Iberv., St. James)       225-644-6738
Beryl Amedee (Terr. Asup. St. Mary) 985-858-2967
Joseph Bouie Jr. (Orleans)   504-286-1033
Chris Broadwater (Tangi.) 985-543-4900
Stephen Carter (EBR) 225-362-5305
Rick Edmonds (EBR) 225-295-9240
Julie Emerson (Laf., St. Landry) 337-886-4687
Reid Falconer (St. Tammany) 985-792-5185
Jeff Hall (Rapides)  318-487-5661
Stephanie Hilferty (Jeff., Orleans) 504-885-4154
Walt Leger III  (Orleans) 504-556-9970
Gene Reynolds (Bossier, Web.) 318-371-3092
Scott Simon (St. Tam., Tangi., Wash.) 985-893-6246

Pat Smith (EBR) 225-342-7106

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Possibly the two most important hearings on education bills

This week, Tuesday May 3 and Wednesday May 4, the House Education Committee will debate some of the most important bills of the legislative session relative to teacher evaluation and discipline. If you care about the teaching profession and its future in Louisiana you will review the bills and contact your State Representative to give him/her your recommendations on these bills. If you don't speak up, you should not complain later when bad decisions are made on education!

HB 833, (click on the bill number to see the amendments) the discipline bill by Leger that proposes to limit student suspensions is to be heard Tuesday, May 3. Please read the amended version of the bill carefully and decide whether it will help or hurt discipline in our schools. Let your legislator know how you feel they should vote on this. My personal opinion is that we have had too much interference by John White and his State Department of Education in the running of our schools. This bill would continue letting the Department second guess our teachers and administrators in the use of discipline. Click here to see the full agenda for the two days of hearings on the listed bills.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Suspension Repression Bill Exempts Most Charters

HB 833 by Rep. Leger is an effort to reduce suspensions of students in public schools. There is great concern by many well intentioned community leaders that students who are suspended multiple times from school often drop out and never get a high school diploma. All of this feeds into the narrative of a school-to-prison pipeline, because students who get in trouble in school and drop out often graduate instead to petty crime or drug dealing and then to more serious crime and inevitably to prison. Many well intentioned persons believe that a reduction in school suspensions will somehow end the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years alternatives to suspension have included programs such as Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). These usually involve positive behavior reinforcement and various counseling services that attempt to get at the root causes of misbehavior in school and in society.

What HB 833 in its original form attempted to do was to set limits on school suspensions for each school based on national and then state averages. Schools authorities would be required to devise plans to reduce suspensions. If the schools exceeded the limits set by the law and then failed in attempts to reduce suspensions over a 2 year period, a special master could be appointed and paid for by the school system to force the suspension rate down. All of this would be overseen by our State Department of Education with assistance of another special task force representing all kinds of stakeholders. The author of the bill is in the process of amending his own bill probably in an attempt to soften some of the mandates. The revised bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee this Wednesday. I will try to get advance copies of the amendments and explain the changes to my readers, but I fear that this is just one more opportunity for interference by the state in the operation of our local schools that will do more harm than good.

Unfortunately advocates of alternatives to suspension fail to realize that most schools do not have the funding necessary to send interventionists to every classroom where students act up and act out and disrupt orderly class activities. We can't have it both ways. We can't have a system where disruptive students know that school authorities have no power to remove them when they curse and disrespect their teachers and generally cause chaos in classrooms and still expect to somehow maintain good learning conditions. You just can't have effective classrooms without order, discipline and respect for the rights of other students. PBIS and Restorative Justice take time and extra staff, which in these times of budget problems in Louisiana, the legislature is not going to provide. But even if we had adequate staffing of guidance counselors and social workers in addition to security staff, we still can't tolerate one or two students disrupting educational activities for 25 other students, not even for one day. Because if one student is allowed to disrupt class today and does not even get a slap on the wrist, then 5 other students will be disrupting class tomorrow and the day after. Then our legislature will want to know why our students are not progressing satisfactorily in acquiring basic academic skills.

The last time a similar bill came up in the legislature, the strongest opponents were charter school administrators who have attempted to create reputations of running schools guaranteeing safe and productive environments for students. Their program has included policies that require all students to abide by strict and often regimented discipline codes. Any students who failed to cooperate were simply shown the door using either suspensions or by "counseling out". So the most disruptive students in charter schools inevitably showed up for services as the real public schools. This has been a major complaint of public school authorities who see their schools as a dumping ground for the problems that charter schools don't want to serve. This trend provides an extra bonus to charter schools because generally the biggest discipline problems in a school are the very same kids who drag down the test score averages and lower the school performance score.

The original version of HB 833 specifically exempted the type 1, type 3 and type 4 charter schools. This would insure that charters that were often formed as a way of avoiding difficult to educate students would have a guaranteed dumping ground for their rejects.

It is wrong to have a two tiered system of education where only a minority of students can attend orderly schools and the rest of the students are forced to attend schools that have no authority to discipline students who are often dangerous and habitually disrupt school.

In addition to the impossibility of running a good school without reasonable disciplinary authority, I can tell you that young teachers who are employed to teach in schools where teachers have little backing in maintaining order and respect often see each school day as their hell on earth. There is almost nothing more degrading for a teacher than to be forced to tolerate students who bully and humiliate teachers each day and deprive all others of their right to an education.

Suspension is just about the only disciplinary tool left to school administrators. There is no money to hire extra interventionists or monitors for detention and in-school suspensions. Students who are disruptive and disrespectful of their teachers don't do punish work, don't respond to loss of privileges, and often have no real parental guidance. Artificially preventing school authorities from using suspensions removes the last vestige of their ability to run an orderly and productive school.

It is my belief that mandatory reductions in school suspensions would do absolutely nothing to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. In fact, it may make matters worse. When students learn in school that they can bully and disrespect their teachers as well as other students and no real consequences result, they begin to think that they can go through life without boundaries. But that does not work when they get to adulthood and find that the criminal justice system does not have Restorative Justice and PBIS. At some point the coddling of rule breakers and law breakers will end. Most of these students will have no salable skills to fall back upon and will often become habitual offenders costing themselves and society terrible consequences.

Please use this link to the House Education Committee to look up the Representatives from your area. You can click on each name to get their email address and phone number. This is your chance to be heard by your Representative. Don't pass it up.

Please tell your House Education Committee member that HB 833 will not work and should be defeated!