Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Louisiana 'Turnaround Zone'

State Superintendent of Education Pastorek, New Orleans Recovery District Superintendent Vallas, and others made a presentation recently to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees on the progress of Louisiana's Recovery Districts. As if to emphasize the dramatic improvements of student performance in the schools taken over by the State Department, the report was titled “Louisiana's Turnaround Zone”. It seems that the State Department of Education is attempting to introduce a new catch phrase that may reenforce the impression that dramatic progress has been made by the schools taken over by the Recovery District.

The report selectively presented data and charts that seemed to show major improvements. For example there was a chart for the New Orleans Recovery District that showed dramatic improvements in the graduation of “eligible” students in that school system. The problem is that this is not the accepted way of presenting graduation rates. The appropriate measure, called the cohort graduation rate was not reported to the joint legislative committee for the Recovery District. The cohort graduation rate tells us what percentage of 9th graders graduate with a standard diploma in 4 years. That's the graduation rate that is used to rate all other public school systems in the state. The following are the Cohort Graduation rates for the two Recovery Districts compared to the state average for the 2009-2010 school year:

Recovery District (Louisiana) 41.50%
Recovery District (New Orleans) 47.7%
Louisiana average 67.4%

The State Department of Education also produced a chart showing gains in percentage of students in the New Orleans Recovery district scoring basic or above on LEAP English/Language Arts and Math tests, but there was no comparison of how the students in that district are doing compared to all other Louisiana students. The following is such a comparison with state average performance and also with the performance of all other students statewide with demographics similar to the students in the New Orleans Recovery District. (Click on image to enlarge it)

Notice that even the 4th grade students in the New Orleans Recovery District scored lower than minority students classified as high poverty students in all other public schools in the State. These are students that have had the benefit of Recovery District services for their entire school experience.

Finally, no comparison was made between schools recently taken over by the state Recovery District in other parts of the state and the performance of the schools before takeover. The following is such a comparison: (Click on image to enlarge)

It seems premature to classify either of the Recovery Districts as 'Turnaround Zones'.

Dispite the data to the contrary, the State Department continues to encourage the myth that the Dept. of Education and its favored charter schools can take over and correct poor student perfomance.  A recent Baton Rouge Advocate story describes a report made to the City of Baker School Board by representives of the State Department of Education. In this report the school board was warned that its schools were performing so poorly that all of them would be in danger of state takeover next year when the minimum acceptable school performance score goes to 75. The Dept. representatives informed the school board that student scores in two of the schools were so poor that the Department had determined that "potentialy half of the teachers in those schools were doing more harm than good." The Dept. representatives suggested that the school board should consider "personnel changes" in those schools. In addition to being insulting to the teachers and administrators of the two schools this assumption is obviously inaccurate and unfair. When we compared the student scores at the two Baker schools with Recovery District schools in the Baton Rouge area, the Baker schools far outperformed the takeover schools. Are the teachers in the takeover schools going to be informed by the State Department that they are doing "more harm than good" to their students?

Baker schools Superintendent, Ulysses Joseph, has expressed concern that the State Dept. report itself is damaging to the Baker school system. He said: "How can we expect parents to send their children to school and encourage them to participate in school when the State Department has announced that some of our teachers are doing more harm than good?"

This Baker schools incident is just a taste of what is to come as the State Department begins to apply the new value added model of teacher evaluation throughout the state. Somehow, without observing the Baker classrooms, the State Dept. representatives were able to determine that half the teachers were doing more harm than good and that the school board needed to make "personnel changes".


kathy said...

In other words....not even half truths.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pastorek's "turnaround" refers to the method he would use to close traditional public schools so that they can be replaced with charters. The turnaround approach began with Race to the Top and has wreaked havoc on school systems throughout the United States. Los Angeles public schools are a glaring example. It's time for the public and the legislature to hear the truth about the newest reform methods that make way for corporate takeovers.

Anonymous said...

In case no one is paying attention, Jindal, Pastorek, Vallas, and their "cohorts" are using the "rose-colored glasses" laced with "the broken-record" approach to propagandize the results of these so-called "turnaround schools" to brain-wash the public into believing that public schools are failing so that they can be taken over and given to the private sector. I believe governors and legislators around the nation want out of the public education business because it drains their state budgets (along with pensions and insurances for state workers--including teachers). They have to make their results seem like "gold at the end of the rainbow". It is the public they need to convince so that legislators will feel the pressure to fall into line with this scheme. And so they lie. I just hope that we won't take it all, "lying down" while they are lying to us. Thanks Mike for shedding light on the true results.

Debbie Meaux, LAE Vice-president

Sheryl Abshire said...

Mike....tell it like it is...for it appears few others will tell the truth...I believe this is much like the story "The Emperor Has No Clothes" one really wants to say what is glaringly apparent....such a sad commentary on our schools and school employees.....something I never thought I would see...our own state education leaders in the department seeking to destroy public education....I know our former State Supt Cecil Picard is aghast from his seat as he "looks down" on all of this.

Keep telling the truth, Mike...someone has to.

Karen said...

Sheryl, I agree with you. For quite some time, I have been saying, "The emperor has no clothes!" I am also amazed at the excellent educators that are just laying down, taking the abuse, and not speaking up. I was told that nearly half of our educators are not even registered to vote and therefore, the legislators are not afraid to vote against the voice of the educators, the professionals!
As one who worked with Mr. Picard and was part of his mission for TRUE school reform. I believe with all my heart that he is aghast from his seat as he "looks down" on all of this.
Shame on Pastorek for tearing apart the good schools in our education system in order to promote his ideas. Fix the broken parts, but don't ruin the whole system to gain media glory.