Saturday, May 18, 2013

Public School Haters: Their M. O.

Diane Ravitch recently asked: "What kind of a strategy causes a general to turn his artillery on his own troops?" She was referring I believe to the group of State Superintendents who have named themselves the Chiefs for Change to promote the implementation of the most radical parts of today's education reforms in their states. Ravitch was referring to the destructive use of inaccurate VAM systems for evaluating teachers and the promotion of vouchers and charter schools which take away critical resources from public schools. John White who has proclaimed himself one of the chiefs for change has set a quota of 10% of VAM rated teachers to be found ineffective each year, no matter how much student test scores may improve. The VAM system picks mostly a new batch of teachers to rate as ineffective each year because the VAM rating system is very erratic and unreliable. VAM ratings change drastically for a given teacher from year to year even if the teacher continues to teach exactly the same in successive years. According to an email I got from White, he and BESE intend to impose the 10% failure factor on Louisiana teachers indefinitely or until BESE chooses to end it. That's what Ravitch is talking about when she questions why a general would fire on his own troops.

But this is all part of the Modus Operandi of what I call the public education haters. One of the basic assumptions of the public education haters is the idea that most of the low performance of some of our public school students can be attributed to incompetent, or ineffective or just plain lazy teachers. So it makes sense to set a quota for teacher firings each year until you “clean up” the profession. White made this clear in his application for the ESEA No Child Left Behind waiver application when he compared the 98% satisfactory rating of teachers in Louisiana a couple of years ago to the large number of students that are performing below grade level in Louisiana. His conclusion is that there must be a lot of incompetent teachers in Louisiana if we have lots of kids performing below grade level. I suppose he would be surprised to find out that grade level performance is just the normal distribution of achievement you get when you test a representative group of students. No matter how hard teachers teach there will always a certain number of students who perform below what the statisticians decide is grade level or better. It's just like when the big computer at the DOE graphs a distribution of teachers evaluated by the VAM. There will always be 10 percent of the teachers who fall in the bottom ten percentile, each year no matter how well the students perform. To set quotas for teacher firings is viscous and illogical!

Take a look at my paraphrasing of one of nutty memos to principals from our own DOE earlier this year. One of the advisories sent to principals pointed out that there seemed to be too large a proportion of teachers being rated as effective by the observation portion of the COMPASS. The reason given for this assumption is that only 50% of the teachers were being rated over the 50 percentile level by the VAM. Of course stupid! That's the definition of a percentile ranking system. 50 % will always be below the median! So the DOE was saying to the principals: “We want you to rate at least 50% of the teachers as “not very good” no matter what your lying eyes tell you when you observe them!”

Another part of the Modus Operandi of the public education haters is the conviction that any school must be better than a public school. That's why White and BESE have no real accountability system for the Voucher schools or for the Course Choice Providers. The teachers in the voucher schools are not evaluated by VAM, and the Course Choice providers get to decide when a student has completed a course even if he/she has attended the virtual course very infrequently. The students' home public school however, will be rated by the LEAP and  end of course scores of these course choice students, not the choice provider. Lefty Lefkowith who runs the program and who has never taught a day in his life, says that course choice is outcome based instead of the outmoded attendance based system we are required to use in public schools. So again we have zero standards for the non-public providers because they are automatically assumed to be superior. This assumption is also why charter schools are allowed to use discipline rules to cull out the low performers and the more disruptive students while public schools are not allowed to put out any of their students, some of which may be rejects from charters!

Much of the strategy for the privatization of our schools was developed by a small group of very rich national power brokers who decided, without the benefit of any legitimate education research, that opening up our public schools to the free enterprise system would be the cure for all the alleged problems of public education. The key players in this strategy are junk bond king Michael Milkin, New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, News Corps owner Rupert Murdock, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee. The rallying cry they used was "Let's break up the monopoly!" That phrase was actually used at the LABI sponsored Leadership for Change Conference held just over a year ago as part of the launch of Jindal's education reform effort. One of the key speakers at that conference was Joel Klein, a non-educator lawyer who served as the education chancellor for Mayor Bloomberg.  Klein had run the New York city public school system through much of its transformation period where his assistant, John White, was trained in setting up charter schools . Only after he left was it found that the dramatic gains claimed for the students were bogus and caused by a lowering of the testing stanards instead of real achievement. It's just like the major gains claimed by Michelle Rhee in Washington DC which are now suspected to be largely because of cheating on the test.

The super rich promoters of the education privatization movement are willing to use huge infusions of cash to actually purchase the loyalty of education decision makers. That's how we got our new "rubber stamp" BESE and that's why we have seen fake grass roots organizations spring up such as BAEO (Black Alliance of Educational Options) and Stand for Children. These groups are financed by interests outside of Louisiana and are set up to create political pressure groups in places that would normally not support privatization. BAEO is paid to recruit black parents for vouchers and create a pressure group aimed at black legislators. Stand for Children attempts to form a parent and teacher group that will lobby for test based teacher evaluation. Money flows freely to such groups and there is a good living to be made running what some of us call the "astro turf" organizations that promote corporate education reform.

But there is a basic flaw in using the so called "free enterprise" or "free market" system to run public schools. The primary driving factor for free enterprise is the profit motive. This means that in most cases, profit by the entrepreneur takes precedence over the welfare of the students. It means that the state must put in place a very complex regulatory system over any such free market schools if we want to insure that the children's needs are the priority. But the public school haters/reformers have done just the opposite. They have implemented systems that minimize regulation over charters and vouchers and now course choice programs in the belief that these entrepreneurs will always do the right thing. So what we see are charters dumping out low performers (see this story on Sci Academy), voucher schools telling some parents that the entering student will be held back in the previous grade as a way of discouraging low performers from registering, and now course choice providers registering hundreds of students whose parents have not given permission.

One of the most vicious myths promoted by the public school haters is that we need the vouchers so that children can escape from failing public schools. You see, the haters have set up a school grading system that is not at all based on the instruction and care that students get in a public school, but just reflects the level of poverty of students attending a school. Sure enough, each year the grading system creates a certain percentage of so called failing schools. But now the haters have counted any school rated C or below to be in the failing school category. What's to keep them from redefining failing as a public school rated B or A?  The only data we have from students attending voucher schools is that on average they do worse than their peers that are still attending public schools. You know, the failing public schools. Now when the low test scores of the voucher students are revealed, the public school haters cite parent surveys that indicate that 93% of the parents of voucher students are happy with their child's new voucher school. Tom Aswell made a public records request of John White recently to produce the surveys he recently quoted about parent satisfaction with vouchers and the DOE said that such a document did not exist. When you are a public school hater you need not document your statistics.

Another tactic or M.O. of public school haters is to demonize the teacher unions and blame them for everything that is supposed to be wrong with public schools. They ignore the fact that the states with the highest performing students are also the most unionized. Finland which has the highest student scores in the western world has a teacher force that is 100% unionized. That is certainly not the case in Louisiana, but it does not phase the haters. I think it is ironic that the same legislator who convinced White to make exceptions to the VAM for just 3 teachers authored a bill to strip teacher unions of their payroll deduction rights. I suppose his method of using political favoritism to single out a few teachers for special favors is superior to teacher organizations that seek fairness for all their members. When LABI (the big business lobby) proposed the stripping of union payroll deduction rights, they blatantly proposed to exclude A+Pel from the bill. I believe that when teachers allow themselves to be intimidated by the big business lobby who tries to tell teachers what organizations they should join, they are not true professionals. I classify LABI as a public school hater.

The public school haters are wrong. Public schools perform quite well when they have parents who do their part in encouraging students to do well and who back up the hard work that teachers do every day. There is no miracle solution, but the regular public classroom teachers are the closest thing to a miracle for our children. We need to support them and our public schools and put a stop to the hater attacks.

9 comments:

Ray Sanders said...

You laid out in clear terms the insane assumptions of the corporate education reformers (White, Jindal et al). Equally as important is the ineptness and lack of knowledge from John White and others in their explanation of students who perform lower than other students on standardized tests and the evaluation results of teachers. It is as if the well known bell-curve doesn't exists........unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

What can we do to stop the unfair treatment of the classroom teacher?
I feel powerless!! Also, the SLT process for nonVAM teachers is unfair.

Michael Deshotels said...

I am hearing from many teachers across the state that the SLTs that teachers were often coerced into accepting by the DOE "suggested targets" were often not realistic for some classrooms so now the teachers face possible "ineffective" ratings even though both the teacher and the principal know that the students have had a good year. Many principals are being pressured to "adjust" their observation ratings to match the VAM or SLT rating.

Anonymous said...

Micheal,

A commenter on Diane Ratvitch's site said she had heard that there is a bill in being introduced that will require all students to take at least one course choice class to graduate from high school. Have you heard anything?

Confused

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Mike!! My principal told us that if his Compass Observation score did not match our VAM that he would be put on corrective action to determine why his observation did not match our VAM, or how to get them to match...something like that. LOL, I showed a video and when he said he couldn't Compass that, I told him my VAM would save me! You should have seen the look on his face!!! What a hoot!!! LOL He came back for another observation and I gave him more of what he wanted, but it was fun for a couple of days!!! :)

Susan said...

The bottom line is this: There is a popular "libertarian" mindset that says if I don't use it, why should I pay for it?

That is REALLY what underlies the hatred toward public education.

Anonymous said...

the answer of how to combat the profiteers is straightforward but requires solidarity and courage.

strike, sit down, sick out and do whatever we must to withold our services. a nationwide job action that forces governments to listen to us and not the rich elite waving money in the faces of politicians. grab them by the b***s and don't let go until they cry uncle.

it is time to take this fight into the streets.

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