Sunday, October 19, 2014

Now is the Time to Recommend Changes to the COMPASS/VAM Evaluation System!

Important Reminder!

Representative Frank Hoffmann of Monroe, who was the author of Act 54 which originally created VAM and COMPASS has had second thoughts based on numerous accounts of problems with VAM and COMPASS. As a result, he authored Act 240 this last legeslative session which mandated that the Accountability Commission with the addition of practicing teachers would form a subcommittee to  conduct a review of the entire evaluation system and report their recommendations to BESE and the legislature.

Rep. Hoffmann has requested that any teacher or administrator who has experienced problems or knows of examples of how the system has malfunctioned or incorrectly rated teachers should communicate those examples directly to this special subcommitte. Senator Appel has also requested to hear about the successes of the program. The subcommittee meets in Baton Rouge on November 3rd. (the meeting date was changed from November 7). This is probably your best chance to have your concens heard if you have been unairly burned by VAM or COMPASS.

That's why I am listing for you the email addresses of all the subcommittee members as a group so that you can compose one email and use the group in your address line and send it to all of them at once. Don't expect someone else to carry the ball for you on this. I am hopeful that the subcommittee members will hear from real educators who are working in the trenches. Please refer anyone you know who has a legitmate gripe about the evaluation system to this blog so that they can also use the email list below to contact the subcommittee members.,,,,,,,, burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Rep. Hoffmann and Senator Conrad Appel are also voting members of this subcommittee and it is critical that they receive your recommendations. They are included in the group of emails above.  Knowing the attitude of BESE, our best chance for meaningful change is for the legislature to take action.

Please click here to review my post of September 27 which will give you more details about the problems with VAM and COMPASS.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Louisiana Recovery District: Still Failing

This article in the Times Picayune reports on a major retraction of a flawed study by the Tulane based Cowen Institute claiming that the New Orleans Recovery District was “Beating the Odds” in educating the at-risk students in the New Orleans area.  In its retraction of the entire study the Cowen Institute apologized for the report and admitted that its methodology and conclusions were wrong. This is no surprise to those of us (The Louisiana Educator, Crazy Crawfish, Mercedes Schneider, and Research on Reforms) who for years now have been reporting that the claims of amazing success by the RSD and their Charter schools are a complete fraud.

This blog has posted three different reports in the last 10 months exposing the following: (1) The dismal results on ACT scores by the RSD even though the publicized goal of most RSD schools is college prep. (2) The fraudulent misreporting of dropouts as transfers for years by the RSD, resulting in a highly inflated graduation rate. (3) The accurate comparison of RSD charters with other public schools in Louisiana showing that RSD charters consistently perform in the bottom third of all schools.  So why has the Louisiana Recovery District been touted across the nation as the miracle model for school reform and for the turnaround of low performing schools? That has happened because supposedly prestigious groups like the Cowen Institute in the past had issued glowing reports of progress by the RSD using carefully selected data, much of which was bogus and covered up the truly poor performance of the RSD.

The sad part of this education reform hoax, is that thousands of students and teachers have been harmed in the process. Dedicated teachers were unfairly fired; thousands of students have been pushed out into the streets while the new charter managers cooked the books, and the charter operators made off with huge profits from our tax dollars. This is what the Cowen Institute and charter advocacy groups like Educate Now have promoted to the public, our state legislature, and even to the "do gooder" national news shows like Morning Joe, where both conservative and liberal opinion makers touted the New Orleans RSD school “miracle”.  

So several other states have created their own Recovery Districts and Achievement Zones patterned after the New Orleans model, only to produce disastrous results, because they were fooled by the corporate reformers and privatizers of public education. Politicians in some states are including in their platforms privatization plans based on the New Orleans Recovery District model. Never before have I seen both a local and national news media more complicit in the proliferation of false propaganda that benefits con-artists like the privatizers and charter promoters portrayed in the RSD model. Yet the retractions of these bogus reports are rare and the hoax goes on.

The most recent Cowen report has been totally removed from the web site so it is impossible to fully analyze it in detail for its methodology, and the Cowen Institute is not eager to discuss the reasons for their retraction. But here are a few key flaws in the report: (1) The report continued to use inaccurate and inflated graduation rates for RSD schools and concluded that many of the schools had “Beat the Odds” in graduating a higher than expected percentage of at-risk students. The truth is that these schools had pushed out the lowest performing students and called many of them transfers so they would not be counted in the calculation of the graduation rate. The LDOE recently reported that the overall graduation rate for the RSD in New Orleans was now a dismal 59.5%. And this does not even count the students forced out before they get to 9th grade. (2) The Cowen study used an inaccurate value added calculation for students which produced the conclusion that even though the at-risk students in the RSD were performing poorly on state tests, they were still doing better than their socioeconomic status would predict. This conclusion is easily discredited when one observes that the report admits that RSD at-risk students on the whole still perform below similar students in our regular public schools across the state. (3) The inclusion of more advanced placement courses in the RSD has demonstrated the utter failure of the charter schools in preparing students for college. The pass rate of only 5% on the AP tests is the lowest in the state. An appallingly low percentage of these students are being adequately prepared for college even though college prep has been the primary stated goal of the RSD charters.

The entire structure of the RSD and its charter schools is a house of cards built upon an obsessive drive to privatize schools and enrich the operators at the expense of the students and the taxpayers. But now there are so many legislators "on the take" from charter operators, who are still protected by the compliant news media, that it will take some time to clean up the mess and get back to solid basic education practices that really focus on the students and take into account the real issues in dealing with high poverty communities.

Take notice, Lane Grigsby and Baton Rouge Area Chamber! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Defenders Sends Out School Board Questionnaire

Our Defenders of Public Education Sent Out a Questionnaire to School Board Candidates in EBR and Baker Today

We may be underfunded underdogs in these critical elections but we are going to do our best to inform school employees and the general public about the efforts underway to dismantle our public education system!

The upcoming school board elections in several Parishes are being used by certain education reformer groups to further their agenda of corporate reform and more privatization of our public school systems. We saw it happen a couple of years ago when pro-reform groups gave generous contributions to BESE candidates for the purpose of expanding school vouchers and charter schools. As a result the new majority on BESE now supports vouchers and what I call predatory charter schools that intend to attract the higher performing students away from traditional public schools so as to insure more profits for the charter operators.

Why would predatory charters have an advantage over traditional public schools, and even so, why would such a process not be good for improving public education? What if we didn't care whether or not the charter operator makes a profit, or worry about the charters stealing students away from the traditional schools, just as long as the students in question get the best education possible?

But it's a little more complicated than the scenario described above. Most charter schools save big bucks for their operating expenses by not participating in the teacher retirement system and other benefits, and they hire many uncertified teachers. This pullout from the retirement system severely damages the financial stability of the system and puts a bigger and bigger financial burden on traditional schools. In addition, some of the new charter schools purposely try to recruit the most capable and most motivated students. Some also counsel out the low achievers or the discipline problems (often those are the same students). Over time they can reallocate students in a school system so that the traditional schools, who cannot refuse to accept any students no matter how challenging, will serve mainly the low achievers. Such traditional schools that end up with more handicapped students, more discipline problems, more slow learners and low motivation students are often doomed to be seen as failing schools or as low achieving schools. In our system of blind test-based accountability, that means traditional schools may see deteriorating public support and funding. It also means that the dream of equal opportunity for all students will be further eroded.

I have studied the results of the charter and voucher schools in Louisiana and have concluded that almost no one benefits from this so called "choice" system except for the charter management owners and a few slick operating voucher school owners.The latest statistics available today show that the privatization of schools through charter schools and voucher schools in Louisiana have resulted in a net loss in academic achievement. There is no valid academic argument for charters and vouchers!

For example, a very recent study by the pro-charter Cowen Institute out of Tulane, found almost no difference in the achievement of at risk students in the New Orleans Recovery District compared to the same socioeconomic group in traditional schools. In fact the at risk students are still performing better in traditional schools. Also, the graduation rate in the RSD schools is clearly inflated by the use of bogus transfer coding to hide a disastrous dropout rate of these takeover schools. (Read about the 100% error rate in coding for some transfers in the RSD)  In some areas the takeover charter schools are complete failures. One such area is the EBR region of RSD. All the RSD schools but one in the Baton Rouge area have declined so significantly in performance and parents have pulled so many of their children out of the RSD schools that some of the schools have shut down or been returned to their original school boards.(St Helena and Pointe Coupee).

Yet a new Political Action Committee called Better Schools for Better Futures led by businessman Layne Grigsby, former LABI president Dan Juneau, and the Greater Baton Rouge Area Chamber, intends to  elect a new school board in EBR that will give us more school choice whether we want it or not and whether it works or not. And they want to give our principals site based budgeting whether they want it or not.

That's why our Defenders of Public Education has sent out our own questionnaire to try to find out where the candidates for EBR and the Baker School Boards stand on the key issues of privatization. We also wanted to know how the candidates stand on improving discipline in the classrooms which has become the major issue interfering with instruction in EBR and Baker. There are questions about using our public schools for profit, about charters using our tax dollars to advertise and attract students from regular schools and the use of public tax dollars to pay for school buildings that end up being owned by the charter management companies. We just want to know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to students, parents, and teachers.

The Defenders of Public Education is a non-partisan group formed from the readers of this blog for the purpose of keeping parents and educators informed about critical issues in education. This allows individual "Defenders" to make their wishes known to their elected officials. You can join our Defenders by just sending an email to and include your zip code and your preferred email address. You will then receive timely emails on critical education votes before they happen so you can contact your elected representatives.

Watch for a follow up report on the critical elections in EBR and Baker soon.