Saturday, May 28, 2016

Excellent reporting on education legislation

Ganey Arsement has once again done a great job of summarizing the latest actions of the legislature on education issues. I highly recommend the Educate Louisiana blog to my readers!

The small amount of progress made recently in correcting some of the major mistakes made during the Jindal administration in "deforming" education demonstrate how important it is that educators band together through their professional unions (LAE, LFT, and LAP) to insist that the voice of professional educators be heard.

The runaway destructive attacks on our public schools will only be corrected by a concerted effort by educators and public school parents.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Long Awaited Career Opportunities Being Expanded

State Superintendent John White deserves credit for working hard recently at expanding opportunities for our upcoming high school graduates. This story in highlights White's recent push to invigorate the career diploma program in Louisiana and New Orleans in particular. White understands that the first step in making needed change is to admit that we have a problem. His announcement in New Orleans that most students there are not even close to being prepared for the job market is that important first step. Yes, New Orleans faces a crises in workforce readiness, and many of the K-12 schools there have been going in the opposite direction with little success for the last 10 years.

White came to that understanding over two years ago when he announced the launch of the Jump Start program. Jump Start includes the nuts and bolts that were needed to build a viable and effective career education program in Louisiana.

Take a look at this article in Bloomberg News that highlights how Germany has developed options in their education system that appeal to the interests of over 50% of its students while supplying Germany's economy with the most highly skilled workers in the world.

When the Career Diploma law was passed in Louisiana in the 2009 legislative session, Louisiana was right in the middle of promoting a college prep-for-all initiative. I want to give special credit to then Representative Jim Fannin and State Senator Bob Kostelka for being ahead of their time in recognizing the need for a modern career training program in our schools that would prepare the majority of our students who don't want or need a 4 year degree.

The state superintendent at that time, Paul Pastorek did not want anything to do with Career education. He considered vocational careers to be second class, low expectation goals not worth pursuing for our Louisiana students. Pastorek had been pushing for more and more students to take an option that BESE had recently adopted for high school graduation called the Core 4 curriculum. The Core 4 had been developed partially in response to Louisiana Board of Regents recommendations for the kind of high school curriculum that would prepare a student to enter our 4 year colleges without the need for remediation. Sound familiar? Sure, that's the same argument now being used for the Common Core State Standards. What Pastorek did not know and what John White did not know initially is that college prep-for-all does not work. Sure you want to challenge all students with high expectations, but not all high expectations involve a 4 year college degree. Some of the best high expectations for many of our young people include the development of workplace skills that are more effectively focused in the vocational technical or service categories than in higher education. That's what our employers are looking for in most employees today, of course along with a minority of workers that do need 4 year degrees.

Now the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and LABI, some of the biggest advocates of college-prep-for-all, just recently decided they want to do something about the shortage of skilled labor as the region gears up for major expansions of the chemical industries.  But the problem is these groups have still not figured out that the Common Core curriculum is not suited to career options other than those that require 4 year degrees. There is also no evidence whatsoever that the CCSS will prepare students for college. Our only salvation for the true college prep students in Louisiana is that Advanced Placement courses are now taking the place of the watered down courses that used to be our college prep curriculum. Superintendent White has also been instrumental in pushing for more AP courses. The idea is to expand opportunities for all students recognizing that our student population will not respond well to a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

With all the hoopla about the headlong rush to implement the Common Core Standards so that we can "make our schools great again", one very large group of students was forgotten and neglected. That would be the over 50% of our graduating students who need real, useful career training. What we are finding now of course is that it is foolish, impractical and counter-productive to try to get all graduating seniors ready to tackle 4 year college degrees. Nationwide, and world-wide in the most industrialized countries the average percent of the population who want and need 4 year or higher degrees is still less than 50%. So why so much emphasis on getting all students ready for college? Here in Louisiana, it was thought that it could do no harm to push almost all students through the Core 4 curriculum just in case they decided to go to college. But what resulted was that we ended up almost killing vocational/technical Education in our schools while at the same time watering down the college prep curriculum so that almost all students could pass. Right now a student in Louisiana can pass the Geometry end-of-course test with only 32% correct answers on a mostly multiple choice test.

Our education reform culture in Louisiana and in this country has created a stigma that is attached to all students who do not go on to college. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and LABI did much to create that stigma for the non-college bound. Now they want to remove it so that our schools can scramble to fill the huge gap that is developing in the skilled workforce.

What most employers who are actually hiring young people in our state want are healthy young people who have, or are willing to acquire skills in both high-tech and low-tech careers. One personnel manager of a large employer recently announced at one of the forums on workforce development that what he is looking for in new employees is relatively simple: They need to be able to pass the mandatory drug test, they need to show up on time at the job every day, ready to work, and they need to be committed enough to their work to learn the skills needed for the job. That same employer said that it would be a tremendous bonus if he could find high school graduates who had actually attained a few critical job skills while in high school. But he knew that this was too much to ask in this environment. He would be satisfied with getting people who were dependable and willing to learn and work at the jobs he had available. Right now our schools are just not geared up to produce such workers, but White seems to be determined to greatly expand opportunities for our graduates in the coming years.

Superintendent White has just released data indicating that because of Jump Start, our number of career diplomas awarded in Louisiana has already grown from just 2% to 12% in just 2 years! Part of the key to success is the partnering with local employers and regional community and voc-tech colleges. Most of the career diplomas being awarded now either lead to immediate employment or to a maximum of only 2 years of additional training in job specific skills.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Can VAM be Fixed? Judge Throws Out VAM Eval. in New York

This Washington Post article reports that A New York judge has ruled that an "ineffective evaluation" of a  teacher because of the use of the Value Added Model (VAM) was arbitrary and capricious and invalided the evaluation. This case could have implications for Louisiana teachers because a very similar scheme is used as part of the Louisiana VAM evaluation system.

The Louisiana legislature is now in the process of considering legislation that would modify the Louisiana teacher evaluation plan by reducing the VAM portion of a teacher's evaluation from a weight of 50% to a new weight of 35%. Senate Bill 477 (click on bill # to see text)  by Senator Boudreaux has passed the Senate and is headed to the House Education Committee for consideration next. This bill is supposed to be a compromise agreed to by the hard line proponents of VAM (The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry or LABI) and the Edwards administration and teacher organizations. But even if this change in the weight of VAM is approved by the legislature, there are still other matters not yet settled that are similar to the New York case that could still derail VAM in Louisiana.

The major problem still remaining with VAM in Louisiana is because of the arbitrary ratios of teacher performance levels in the VAM calculation. The use of a Bell Curve to arbitrarily rate a certain percentage of teachers (10%) as ineffective each year and then a certain percentage (20%) as highly effective regardless of overall student performance will not hold up in court in my opinion. (See this video by Herb Bassett) The judge in New York specifically ruled that there was no justification for using a bell curve to determine a certain percentage of teachers ineffective. That was part of the reason for his "arbitrary and capricious" ruling against John King who was state commissioner of education in New York at the time of the evaluation in question. Some critical flaws in the VAM system were obvious from the start.

Within a few months of John White being appointed as State Superintendent of Education in Louisiana, I was granted a meeting with him to discuss certain issues I wanted to bring to his attention. The plan for the new Louisiana teacher evaluation system which included VAM had just been released but had not yet been approved by BESE. I wanted to try to convince White that two parts of the plan were flawed and should be changed. By the way, the draft of the teacher evaluation plan had actually been written by a non-educator (Rayne Martin) who was serving on the State Department of Education staff for a brief period. It was partially based on an observation system developed by Charlotte Danielson, who later disavowed any support for the Louisiana system because it did not effectively adhere to her program. In the course of my meeting with White, I asked what was the rationale for the 10% ineffective rating each year for all teachers who teach state tested students? He could not give me a rationale except that he felt that this was a reasonable percentage. I posed to him the following scenario: Assuming that the purpose of VAM is to encourage overall improvement in student performance by evaluating teachers using the Value Added Model, what would happen to teacher evaluation results if Louisiana actually produced better overall performance over a period of several years? The VAM system requires that the bottom 10% of the teachers get a rating of "ineffective" each year. But if student performance goes up all over the state and suppose that 98% of the teachers have more growth in their students scores than the year before, why would the evaluation system still find 10% of teachers ineffective? But that's what it does every year without regard to overall student growth. White did not make the change in the Louisiana plan when he should have. This is part of the reason the New York judge ruled that state's evaluation system arbitrary and capricious.

The reduction in the percentage of a teacher's evaluation based on VAM reduces the impact of an "ineffective" VAM component on the final evaluation after figuring other student growth factors and the observation component, but it could still put VAM rated teachers at a disadvantage compared to other teachers rated using Student Learning Targets. Also, it should still be expected that a smaller percentage of VAM rated teachers would be able to qualify for a highly effective rating and benefit from merit pay as compared to teachers of non-tested subjects.

Important notice: I reviewed my notes on the recommendations of the special subcommittee of the Accountability Commission that was required by a law passed by Rep. Hoffmann to make recommendations to BESE for changes in the evaluation system. I found that the subcommittee recommended that the "override" provision of the evaluation system be removed from the evaluation plan. The override provision mandated that when a teacher got an "ineffective" VAM score, the qualitative portion (the principal's evaluation) of the evaluation was overridden and the teacher received an "ineffective" overall evaluation. It is my understanding that this provision has been removed. Also, an official of the LDOE has informed me that the latest revision of the evaluation plan allows the principal to raise or lower the VAM by one level of performance based upon other measures of student progress.

My point is that the so called "compromise legislation" in SB 342 still leaves important issues in the teacher evaluation system unresolved. John White, in a letter to district superintendents has praised the VAM compromise. Now John White has another opportunity to try to fix the VAM system. Will he do his part in fixing the rest of VAM? But the real question is Can VAM be Fixed?