Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Teacher and Principal Evaluation Proposals

Principal and teacher organizations are hoping to improve the teacher and principal evaluation systems.

In what I believe is a very comprehensive effort to truly improve the seriously flawed Act 54 teacher and principal evaluation system, the Louisiana Association of Principals with support from the two teacher unions (LAE and LFT) has made six proposals to improve the teacher and principal evaluation system. The following is the summary of the six critical changes as they are described at the LAE CAPWIZ website.

1. Remove the override provision mandating a teacher be declared ineffective if either the qualitative or the quantitative part of her/his evaluation is rated as ineffective.

2. Suspend the VAM for the quantitative component of the teacher evaluation, indefinitely.

3. Require student learning targets (SLTs) be developed only between the teacher and her/his immediate supervisor.

4. Remove all quotas for various levels of teacher ratings.

5. Revamp COMPASS to allow for different education specialties, as well as different teaching styles and techniques.

6. Reduce the amount of time principals must spend evaluating teachers who achieve effective status in their first observation.

Note: My blog post of January 6, gives the exact language of the six proposals.

The Louisiana Association of Educators CAPWIZ website (click here) also provides educators with a very efficient contact system for sending their recommendations on to the Act 240 subcommittee of the Accountability Commission, which is charged with making proposals to BESE and the Legislature for changes in the evaluation program. Any educator can participate in the LAE contact system which will also notify participants when this and other proposals go to BESE. You will then have an opportunity to send an email to BESE members.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers website (click here)   provides educators with an opportunity to fill out a survey on all the various proposals being considered by the Act 240 subcommittee at their February Meeting. I assume the results will also be communicated to the subcommittee members.

Important Warning! LDOE Has a Very Bad Proposal it Wants Adopted

The LDOE has what I believe is a very restrictive and counterproductive proposal for which it is seeking subcommittee approval. This proposal is described in the post below dated Jan 13. This proposal if adopted would pretty much limit all school goal setting by the principal to improving the school SPS every year. The proposal would allow the LDOE to provide "guidance" to principals on how to set such goals. This is a blatant move by John White to base every principal's evaluation almost totally on the new PARCC test scores. If adopted, this would mean that most educators would spend practically all their time in the future in preparing kids for tests. Other subjects, such as the arts, PE, electives, and even social studies, and science . . .  other than English and Math would get almost no emphasis because Common Core testing focuses on Math and ELA.  In my opinion this new rule would turn all public schools into boring, creativity killing, test prep factories. Please ask the subcommittee to oppose this proposal.

If you are an educator who really cares about improving the evaluation system, please go to the web sites given above and express you opinion. If you prefer, you can simply send you own email message directly to the subcommittee members. Here are all their email addresses:;;;;; burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; 

The subcommittee will probably be voting on these issues at their meeting on Feb 10. Right now may be your best opportunity to make a real positive change for your profession.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teacher Retirement System Under Attack

The teaching profession has been under attack for several years now by the Jindal/White administration. Thousands of excellent teachers have retired before they had planned to because of the punitive, impractical, evaluation system, the insanity of constant standardized testing and test teaching and the inappropriateness of Common Core for many of our students.

Now it looks like the enemies of public education on BESE, in the LDOE and the various school privatization forces are itching to dismantle the teacher retirement system. (See this article in the Advocate and read the comment by former school board president Noel Hammatt) Even though the constitution stipulates that the legislature is responsible for the funding of the retirement systems, for years now the legislature has passed on much of the unfunded liability it created to local school boards. The local school boards have no say in curtailing excessive benefits granted by the legislature to privileged individuals such as overpaid college presidents and former legislators who get jobs in the retirement systems near the end of their careers just to milk the retirement systems of excessive benefits. Yet the legislature is now passing on these extra costs to school boards and other non-state agencies. Last year school boards were forced to pay almost one third of their payroll for benefits that should cost about 8% of payroll. That’s because school boards are being required to pay for abuses the legislature approved for fat cats.

But the situation is even worse.  At the same time the legislature was assessing local school boards an outrageous penalty for unfunded liability, they were exempting all charter schools from having to pay anything toward the unfunded liability by giving them the option to exempt their employees from the retirement system. This gives these privately run for-profit groups a 25% gift, which they can use to pay their managers exorbitant salaries or return a bigger profit to shareholders. In 2008-09 Charles “Mickey” Landry was paid $186,000 for being principal of a charter school in New Orleans.  He is probably getting a lot more now. The Choice Foundation can easily afford such a salary because they save about $12,500 in retirement contributions for every teacher they hire. Meanwhile for every new teacher that is pulled out of the retirement system, the unfunded liability burden gets greater on our local school boards. They don’t have the option (and they don't want) to pull out of the retirement system.

If the drain on the retirement system continues as privatization grows, at some point our anti-public school BESE will propose a reduction in retirement benefits for public school teachers. LABI and CABL have been itching for years to see teacher retirement benefits reduced (Just like the Group Benefits overhaul). This is the opposite of what we should be doing if we want to build a dedicated effective, professional teacher force in Louisiana.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LDOE Tightening Screws on Principals and Teachers

Superintendent John White claims that during the transition to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, he does not want to denigrate educators or humiliate schools. He is however hell bent on putting a lot of pressure on all school principals to constantly raise student test scores. This month at the Act 240 subcommittee meeting, (the committee that is tasked with recommending revisions to the teacher and principal evaluation system) Jessica Baghian, the TFAer who heads up the teacher evaluation division, suggested that all principals should set a goal of improving their school’s SPS every year. The only problem with such goals is that the deck is stacked against principals.  The only way one school’s SPS can go up is for another school’s SPS to go down.

In one of his memo’s to local administrators (Dec. 4, 2013 Ed Connect) announcing the transition to PARCC testing, White said that for the first two transition years, school SPS scores would be graded on a curve. The new curve grading would guarantee that the relative numbers of schools rated A,B,C,D, and F would remain the same for the transition years. This means that school grades, as a whole would not go down, as the tests get tougher. But it also means that they would not go up. If principals are coerced into setting goals for constantly raising their school SPS, most will fail because the scores are being kept artificially stable. But things will only get worse for principals after the transition, because White has announced that he plans to “raise the bar” in future years to try to get a much higher percentage of students performing at the mastery level. The only way a school could get an A in the future would be for a majority of its students to achieve a rating of “mastery” on the new PARCC tests. That goal did not work so well with New York state schools, where 70% of their students are failing to get to mastery. This problem is aggravated for Louisiana because our students have been performing at a much lower average than New York state students. But principals shouldn’t worry since White has proclaimed that Louisiana students are “just as smart and just as capable as any in America”. Whew, that’s a relief! I suppose John White has some kind of credentials qualifying him to rate our student’s abilities relative to all other students in the country.

White is under terrific pressure by his LABI and CABL bosses to raise student test scores statewide. Many observers were shocked that when it came to the common core issue that White would buck Governor Jindal, who had engineered his appointment as Superintendent. The answer is simple. His real bosses are the leaders of LABI, CABL and the big chambers of commerce. And those real bosses love the Common Core.

You see, the whole school reform movement in Louisiana and most other states is based on an incessant drive to raise standards and at the same time to raise our student test scores. Nothing else really matters to the big business promoters of school reform.  The big business bosses at the legislature have chosen to ignore the real causes of low student achievement because fixing poverty and parent neglect is hard and may cost big business lots of money.

White is beginning his fourth year in Louisiana, and the latest ranking of academic performance by Education Week Magazine’s Quality Counts rating system still rates Louisiana second to last among all states and the DC system. White is in trouble, so he intends to put the squeeze on school principals. At the very least he wants to see if he can get them to fire more teachers. Or they could raise student test scores by hook or crook like they did in Atlanta and El Paso and DC. Not to worry, . . .  you only go to jail if you get caught.

The pressure is being applied to the members of the Act 240 subcommittee right now to recommend a policy that would require all principals to set goals of raising test scores and their school's SPS every year. By law, principals would then be rated on how well they succeed in meeting their goals of raising school grades. All of this would be in an environment that makes it almost impossible to succeed.

Jessica Baghian said that principals should not be allowed to get away with setting non-testing related goals such as improving student discipline for their school performance goals.  Principals may remember my blog post of Oct. 25, pointing out John White’s dissatisfaction with the high number of highly effective principals even in schools with low performing students. If you reread that post you will see his plans for principals.

White is determined that no school with low student achievement will have good evaluation scores for their principals and teachers. But he does not intend to denigrate our educators and humiliate our schools, as standards get tougher. Right!