Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Need for Educators to Unify

I was very pleased this week to accept an invitation by my professional organization, the Louisiana Association of Educators to write a guest blog for the Association web site. I am now a retired member of LAE but I find that the Association has welcomed me to participate in education issues just as much as if I were still an active classroom teacher. I have enjoyed renewing old friendships with teachers and administrators in our common fight for public education, and my blog has brought me many new friends who encourage me every day.

I hope my readers will click on this link to the LAE Blog site and read what I had to say to both members of LAE and to all other public school educators and even parents of public school children. I believe that public education in Louisiana is in serious crisis created by the actions of our Governor with his so called education reforms.

Yes, public education in Louisiana has been struggling for years partly because of court ordered desegregation, the accompanying white flight, federal interference and a serious lack of support and motivation particularly of our high poverty students. Many teachers have been reporting for years that they are appalled by the lack of respect for teachers exhibited by students and parents of all socioeconomic levels. Education seems to be the only profession where everyone thinks they know just as much or more about how to run the system as the professionals who have devoted their careers to educating children. People who would never question what their doctor or lawyer or even their auto mechanic prescribes think they should second guess every homework assignment, every report card grade and every disciplinary action taken by a teacher or school principal. In some public schools basic classroom discipline has broken down and disruption by a relatively small number of students interferes almost daily with proper instruction. Yet our state and federal education authorities have imposed rules that interfere with the use of proper disciplinary measures in those schools.

This environment of frustration by members of the public with our schools and a general feeling by many that our education system is not putting enough critical knowledge into our children's brains and not preparing them well enough to compete for a good future in worlwide job competition has set the stage for this radical revamp of our public education system.

The sad thing, as I have pointed out many times in this blog is that education reform is attacking the wrong problems and making scapegoats of the very persons who should be most trusted in working on the problems of education. The only thing some of the charter schools have proven in Louisiana is that if you carefully cull out the low performers and classroom disruptors, a school can produce higher overall student achievement. We already knew that. Good examples of this strategy have been demonstrated by the excellent performance of our public magnet schools such as the one attended by Governor Jindal. Those schools have been labeled as “A” schools as though such performance was not a foregone conclusion. I am in no way minimizing the dedicated efforts by teachers in magnet schools. They deserve the high rating.

On the other hand if you require a school in a high poverty neighborhood to take all students, even those that are not interested in school, and you tie the hands of teachers and administrators in implementing effective disciplinary policies, students will exhibit low overall performance. That school is then labeled by our so called accountability system as a “D” or “F” school and the teachers and administrators are considered by our State Superintendent as “ineffective” educators. No matter that the teaching environment and the policy makers have stacked the deck against them; all of a sudden, its the teachers who are to blame. Then the Governor and his supporters can lament about the students “trapped” in failing schools who need to be given a voucher to escape these ineffective teachers.

As many of us have tried to explain to the legislators and to the news media, the letter grading system implemented in Louisiana schools is a deceptive abomination! It wrongly accuses teachers of failing our students and encourages less cooperation by parents who should have been involved in intensive efforts to produce better parent-teacher cooperation. Our Governor has branded thousands of dedicated teachers and many struggling schools as failures instead of giving them the support they needed to improve their school's environment. If the teachers were so bad in those D and F schools, why is it that for years many of the ethnic Vietnamese students attending some of the low rated schools in their neighborhoods have received some of the highest academic honors in their school systems? I guess those “ineffective” teachers were only good at teaching Asian students who start school with poor English skills. Obviously the home environment was a huge influence for those students. Why have we not tried to learn why some home environments make students more successful and tried to implement programs that encourage positive parental involvement?

Instead the Governor and his allies have chosen to take over schools and convert them to charters. This strategy has been a huge failure. (see my post of  Feb. 19, 2011) Now the legislature has added a law implementing a statewide voucher system to allow students to “escape” often to substandard religious schools that use video lessons and teach Creationism while the preacher/principal stands to rake in a huge salary and rental fees from our tax contributions to his little enterprise. We also have a major potential for other “out-of-the-mainstream religions” to use our taxes to promote their causes through the unregulated schools promoted by our new education laws. Louisiana could soon move from being simply a low performer in education to a laughing stock of the nation with potential businesses shunning our state as though it had a plague in K-12 education. Take a look at this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to see what I mean.

That's why in my guest blog for the LAE and on this site I repeatedly encourage teachers to join and become very active in their professional organizations/unions such as the LAE and LFT. Forget about APEL. They are on the other side. I also encourage administrators to join either the LAE (LAE does not limit its membership to non-administrators) or an administrator group that is willing to advocate for and fight for public education. I would encourage parents to join their parent organizations and advocate for support rather than dismantling of our public schools. Finally, I hope that school board members through the LSBA will begin a renewed effort to defend our democratic system of public school management which allows every citizen to elect their school board member who answers to the voters rather than to a corporate, religious or private group. All of the groups mentioned above are participating in the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. This unified effort of many individuals working for common goals is the only hope we have for survival and true improvement of our public education system.

PS: If you have not already done so, please send me an email today at and join my Defenders of Public Education data base. It is free and totally confidential. The “Defenders” data base does not take the place of a real professional organization or union which I strongly urge all my readers to join. The Defenders data base is simply my small contribution to coordination of efforts by many groups who comprise the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education to help us speak with a unified voice to the legislature. Please include you home address so I can categorize you by your legislative district.


Kathy said...

I'm afraid Louisiana is already the laughing stock nationally. Internationally as well.

Karla Kiper said...

Excellent piece. Reification occurs when an abstract belief or hypothetical construct is dealt with as if it were a real, concrete entity. This is the issue with the letter grades for our schools. By placing a label on them (A-F), we now have pre-determined policies in place to go with the A,B,C,D,F. This is no different than the performance labels placed on our students: Advanced, Mastery, Basic, App. Basic, and Unsat. These labels are intended to describe something in general terms. Instead, pre-determined heavy-handed consequences are applied without regard for any other data. As a 4th grade teacher, I once had a student fail LEAP by 1 point, and saw many students pass LEAP by 1 point. Qualitative or truly quantitative differences between schools with a C or D may or may not exist. These should be examined on a case-by-case basis. The letter grade system glosses over any and everything that could tell us more about the school's performance. We should not infer ANYTHING about a school solely based on the letter grade. We have surely created many moral and ethical dilemmas by passing and a child who scores 282 and retaining a student who scores 280 solely on the basis of a score. We have SO left the realm of ethically and morally sound education policy.... Keep telling the truth. History will judge us many years from now. You are at least raising your voice...

Anonymous said...

Based upon the most recent test scores, one top 10 ranked parish would have had approximately 21% of its VAM teachers rated as ineffective if ACT 54 applied to the 2011-2012 school year.(This is a parish with no "D" or "F" rated schools.) Some of these teachers who would have been rated as ineffective had NO students scoring unsatisfactory on the LEAP test, yet because the class as a whole did not show enough growth (according to the new state guidelines), the teachers would have been rated as ineffective. Something is WRONG when teachers with an entire class of students who have passed the LEAP test are considered to be ineffective.
Note that if a teacher is rated ineffective on EITHER the VAM component or the teacher observation component, the teacher is automatically considered ineffective. The two component scores ARE NOT averaged together.
If the teacher receives two ineffective ratings, the school must terminate a teacher. The teacher can then teach in another parish, but if he receives one more ineffective rating, he loses his teaching license. Is there another profession anywhere where this occurs?!
With one ineffective rating, the teacher loses tenure. Tenure can be returned if the teacher then earns a highly effective rating for 5 out of the next 6 years, but the evaluation system is set up to make that impossible to achieve.
Some gifted students already score in the 98th or 99th percentile on certain tests. VAM scores are based on student growth. If the student is already at the 98th or 99th percentile, where is the student supposed to go/grow? Some variation in his scores would be expected from year to year- tests change, etc., but if the student shows a drop from one year the next, the teacher is penalized. This make no sense. The gifted student may still score better than 90%-95% of his cohorts on that particular test, but the teacher would be penalized if his scores dropped from the previous year!
If this top 10 parish could have 21% of its VAM teachers rated as ineffective, this would seem to exceed the state's statement that 10% of teachers would be rated as ineffective state wide. Something here does not add up.
Let the law suits begin!

Michael Deshotels said...

Thanks anonymous! Those are important observations. I have heard from other high SPS schools that they fear that the VAM system will unfairly penalize their teachers if the aberrations you cite occur. By the way, the VAM portion overrules the principal's evaluation if the VAM falls in the bottom 10%, but I do not think the reverse is provided for. But the whole point is that this system has moe holes in it than Swiss cheese! That's why I will be urging teachers & and principals to join a strong union that can help fight the man legal battles that are sure to occur. Unfortunately many good professionals will simply walk away in disgust and the entire profession in Louisiana will suffer! ... Ironic!

Karla Kiper said...

But wait there is more... Wait until administrators in LA find out what principals in Texas and other states know now. Part of the principal's evaluation comes from how closely the observation ratings and VAM scores match. Teachers receiving great observation scores one year have reported seeing these observation ratings "drop" in years when their VAM score did.

Mike said...

Karla, if what you say is true, then the VAM is weighted much more than 50%. It is basically the whole thing because the principal's evaluation is supposed to agree with the VAM.

Karla Kiper said...

Mike, I read a research paper not too long ago indicating that in Texas principal ratings of teacher effectiveness that did not match the VA score were being flagged in at least some school districts. I'll try to find the paper again and post a link up to it. You are correct. When the principal effectiveness rating starts coming from how well their observational ratings match the VAM score, we could run into some serious problems. Of course, we are several years behind other states in implementing VAM, so of course, like always, we are going to repeat the mistakes of our colleagues elsewhere with unwavering, unfliching, heavy-handed exactitude!

Karla Kiper said...

Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to measure”

--Donald T. Campbell, 1976