Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want my readers to know that I am very thankful for having had such a rewarding career in the field of education. It is wonderful to meet some of my former students in stores, on the street or in church and to have them tell me that they enjoyed my classes and that they feel they feel fortunate to have taken science courses under my direction. I must say to all of them, that it is I who is honored to have been part of their lives.

To the many good friends I made while working in service of teachers as a staff member of the Louisiana Association of Educators, I can only say thank you for helping to make my career such a rewarding one!

Now that I am retired, I hope that by writing this blog I can keep educators and parents better informed and can help spread the word that education is a wonderful, noble profession that serves our children in a unique and extremely important way. Educators, you deserve to be very proud of what you do!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How Charter School Operators Bilk Taxpayers and Shortchange Students

Predatory charters are being allowed to circumvent or ignore state laws and BESE policies to accomplish their goals of culling and selecting students for the purpose of artificially rigging the performance of charter schools. In other cases charter operators are given specific exemptions from laws that allow them to pocket huge profits. There is actually very little concern by those for-profit charter managers for students that are cast aside. I call these schools predatory because they are preying on our tax dollars, using our children as feedstock for their profit schemes and draining funds and higher performing students from the true public schools.

The Bounty System
How does the predatory scam work? Crazy Crawfish has reported and documented bounty flyers designed to pay parents and friends for getting citizens to fill out applications to send children to charter schools. A greater quantity of feedstock allows more selection and more units of desirable achievers. Since the main source of revenue for the charter operators is our per student MFP allocation, it is clear that some of our tax dollars are being diverted from education to bribe people to get them to apply to send their children to certain charter schools. Why does our legislature allow our tax money to be used for profit and to draw students away from the real public schools? Do you think maybe there is money diverted to their campaign contributions? As Noel Hammatt loves to say: "Follow the Money."

Forced Parent Work Policies
BESE Bulletin 126 which defines charter school guidelines apparently prohibits forced parent work contributions but in the same sentence allows waivers. Read this charter policy now in effect in several Louisiana charter schools managed by out-of-state for-profit management companies. Such a policy allows a way for charter managers to dump students whose parents are not willing to cooperate with the rules requiring this type of parent involvement. Here is the contract parents are required to sign as a prerequisite to their child's acceptance to the charter school.

Lets be clear. Positive parent involvement with their child’s school is a very good thing and may be critical to a child’s success in school. In fact there is a state law that encourages public schools to ask parents to sign contracts with the schools similar to those signed by charter school parents to get a commitment from parents to attend parent conferences, respond to homework assignments etc. The only problem is that the real public schools have no enforcement mechanism for parents who refuse to cooperate. The charters on the other hand can literally throw the student out of school or prohibit him/her from enrolling for the next school year.  The low performers whose parents refuse to cooperate with the forced work requirement will find themselves being sent back to the real public schools. Of course those that are doing well academically and helping to boost the charter’s performance score will never have to worry about being kicked out.

Rejection for Discipline Infractions
The real public schools are severely limited in their right to suspend or expel disruptive and uncooperative students. In fact some school systems have been subjected to mandatory regulation of their suspension practices by outside masters appointed by the LDOE.  State law requires public school systems to continue to provide full educational services even to students expelled for major discipline infractions and for dangerous behavior. The charters however are routinely allowed to dump their disruptive and uncooperative students right back to the real public schools. Most of these extremely disruptive students are the lowest performers on the state accountability tests, so this process allows the predatory charters to shift some of their lowest performers to the real public schools.

Culling Out Students with Severe Academic Disabilities
Many charters don’t bother to hire special education teachers who are qualified to work with severely handicapped children who often have disabilities that greatly lower academic performance as measured by accountability tests.  That way they can counsel parents of severely disabled students to send them somewhere else. Just a two or three percent restriction or exclusion of special education students will have a huge positive impact on charter school performance scores.  This gimmick has not worked so well for the charter schools of the New Orleans Recovery District because there are no longer real public schools in which to dump their rejects. This story in demonstrates how splitting up the New Orleans school system into independent charters has destroyed the economies of scale that would have allowed a larger system to better serve students with disabilities.

Legislative Exemptions Allow Charter Operators to Pocket MFP Dollars
This blog has already described how predatory charters have been allowed by law to avoid participating in the teacher and school employee retirement systems.  This exemption allows predatory charters to save a huge chunk of payroll related costs that are being assessed to the real public schools to pay for the unfunded liability of the retirement systems that were created by bad legislative policies.  Some charters save lots of money by not providing bus service to school. This also helps to cull more undesirable students whose parents cannot afford transportation to school. These huge savings allow the charter managers to convert millions of MFP dollars into rental charges, management fees, and sheer excessive profit to the out of state profiteers. Yet statistics consistently show that students in those charters enjoy no improvement of services or performance compared to the real public schools.

Another huge money saver goes to the two state approved virtual charter schools that are allowed to recruit students statewide. Chas Roemer, the BESE president whose sister runs the Louisiana Charter Association, made the motion that allocates 90% of the regular MFP dollars per student to these charters that avoid transportation costs, building costs, food service costs, library costs, janitorial services etc. and can pocket the huge savings.  Also the students are exempted from the mandatory attendance laws, so no one can monitor how many of the students actually attend classes every day, even though the schools receive funding as though all students are attending.

All of these tactics and special exemptions make running charter schools in Louisiana a highly profitable business..

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why the COMPASS and VAM Failed Our Teachers and Students

I have been reading dozens and dozens of comments and suggestions made to the Act 240 subcommittee which has been assigned the task of revising the teacher evaluation program. My conclusion is that VAM and COMPASS are a total failure. The new evaluation is a failure for our teachers and also for our students because it is hurting teaching and learning  rather than improving teaching and learning.

The original plan of this evaluation system was to help school administrators to figure out who are the bad teachers and either fix them, fire them,  or convince them to find another career. It was also supposed to help us find out who are the very best teachers and to reward them for their skill and effort. Neither of these objectives have been attained. In fact the opposite has happened, and so far nothing has been done by the LDOE to make the situation better.

Let me give you some examples:
  • ·      Teachers are leaving the profession all right, but it’s mostly the best ones. Dr Lottie Beebe, Superintendent of St. Martin School and BESE member, told the Committee at their first meeting that we are losing large numbers of our best teachers because of the flaws in this evaluation system and it is impossible to fill their positions with qualified persons. Colleges of Education are reporting drops in enrollment of students choosing to go into teaching.
  •      I just analyzed the teacher salary schedule in one parish and found that because of revisions of the teacher salary schedule in response to the teacher merit pay requirements of Act 1 of 2012, teachers who are rated highly effective every single year end up getting lower salaries than they would have gotten using just the step increases in their old salary schedule. All other teachers are getting paid far less then they would have gotten under the old plan.  One school board recently voted to completely change their teacher salary schedule because of the dissatisfaction of most teachers with the new merit pay system based on COMPASS and VAM.
  •      Teachers who have their quantitative evaluation determined by VAM are one third as likely to get a highly effective rating as teachers who are evaluated using Student Learning targets. So the teachers who are teaching the most critical subjects (according to our accountability system) have the lowest chance of getting a good evaluation and the lowest chance of getting paid merit pay.  How is this going to help us attract the best and brightest to teach basic skills subjects?
  •       One school principal wrote to the Act 240 committee that the best teacher at her school went from having the greatest success in teaching math for years to an “ineffective” VAM in only one year because of a flaw in the VAM formula.  That top teacher is now placed on a mandatory remediation plan, has her salary frozen, and has lost tenure just because of one set of student scores that were mostly at the mastery level but still did not meet the VAM requirement.
  •       Teacher after teacher has written in to the Act 240 committee to explain that the new COMPASS rubric is just not at all effective in measuring what they do in their teaching specialty. For example, special education teachers, most of the early childhood teachers, PE teachers, ESL teachers, alternative school teachers, etc.  are reporting that the new COMPASS is not compatible with their every day jobs.
  •       The data collected by the LDOE each year is proving every year that the VAM is totally unreliable in identifying bad teaching and in falsely rating good teachers as bad.
Do you wonder why such a highly anticipated attempt to fix our teacher evaluation system has turned out to be such a train wreck? Here is one clue.

The person who designed the entire evaluation system including how VAM and COMPASS are to be implemented was a person who had never taught a day in her life and had never served as a principal and had never actually used a teacher evaluation system!

What an insult to the teachers who dedicate their careers to real teaching instead of to being part of the education bureaucracy!

Here is a direct quote from one of the teachers writing to the Act 240 Committee:

“We are told as teachers to let the students know the game plan, give them a stake in the lesson, get their buy in, yet we are not treated that way as teachers. Our opinion is never asked, our votes don’t count, and our ideas are not sought . . .”

Maybe the Act 240 Committee will change that!