Thursday, May 9, 2013

White Still Muddying up the Narrative

On Oct 22 and Oct 25 of 2012, I wrote two posts for this blog about the "adjustment" of VAM by Supeintendent White to accommodate a select group of teachers as South Highlands Elementary, a highly selective magnet school in Shreveport. I pointed out at the time that this rush to fix the VAM for just a few teachers was a purely political maneuver to "take care" of one of Jindal's friends in the legislature.

What I did not have at the time was the actual conversation between White and the legislator where they cooked up this scheme. That conversation has now been supplied to us by investigative "genius reporter", Tom Aswell with this recent article in the Louisiana Voice. He has published an actual transcript of conversations between White and Rep. Seabaugh and a State DOE employee where they collectively scheme to fix the VAM just for those teachers!

Here is the most damning part of the conversation between Seabaugh and White:

White expressed exasperation at being a go-between. “There’s a disconnect,” he said. “To be honest, I’m a messenger between you, Chas (BESE President Chas Roemer) and the board. All the while, the governor’s office is saying, ‘Trust me, trust me, trust me. You gotta do this, you gotta do this, you gotta do this.’ And I get it. But people have a helluva lot harder time believing me that there’s a real issue than they do out of the governor’s office of from you. I’m a little concerned about playing ping pong. The assumption on the board (BESE) is that I’m just doing the governor’s bidding on some favor that he’s cashing in on. I don’t want to be crass about it; I’ll stand up for it and I have. But I think it might take a little bit more than me to try and convince them it’s the right policy because they’re being hit on the other side pretty hard.”
Seabaugh brought the conversation back to tweaking the VAM so as not to penalize teachers for student’s shortcomings. “If you fall but stay within your category, call it a zero. But if you improve, count it as a plus—give teachers credit for success but not giving negative marks for failures.”
“If we did it within the formula, we could establish some type criteria within a reasonable number,” White replied.
“Tweaking the formula was my initial suggestion,” Seabaugh agreed, “not addressing it legislatively.”
“I didn’t want to open the formula up to such scrutiny (unintelligible),” White said.
“I don’t care how you fix it,” Seabaugh said, adding that teachers had been calling his office and sending him emails and that they were “absolutely livid.”

To me the key part of the secret conversation between Seabaugh and White is the statement by Seabaugh where he said "give (my) teachers credit for success but not to penalize teachers for student's shortcomings".  So using this system, Seabaugh's favored teachers would benefit if their student's scores go up and such teachers may qualify for merit pay, yet the same group of teachers would be protected when their students' scores go down. What a sweet deal!

Educators know that whole point of VAM is: "to penalize teachers for student's shortcomings" and reward them when students do well. You can't have one without the other.

At the time this issue surfaced, White was quoted as saying that this was just a minor glitch in VAM that affected only a handful of teachers. Not true. His new policy adopted by his "rubber stamp" BESE,  just to please one legislator, actually affects a large number of teachers all over the state who teach gifted or other high achieving students. If you read the transcript of the secret conversation, you will see that this new policy protects some teachers from getting a bad evaluation from VAM even if their students show a decline in performance, as long as their average student scores remain at the top two levels of performance. At the same time that teachers in this category are exempted from being rated "ineffective", additional teachers statewide will be forced into the "ineffective" category because Louisiana has a 10% quota of teachers that must be rated "ineffective" each year. As we all know, this "adjustment" to take care of  Jindal's political friend, violates the entire concept of Value Added evaluation (in addition to being unethical).  No teacher who has a negative performance of her/his students, according to this new system, is supposed get an acceptable evaluation from VAM. 

Let me assure my readers that I am not in agreement with the VAM rule that every teacher is supposed to show an increase in "value added student performance"  according to the formulas used by the DOE. While I am sure the teachers of high performing students deserved to be exempted from the VAM,  I also believe that this concept and these formulas are flawed for all categories of teachers. (Many have pointed out that VAM particularly does not work well with teachers of students with disabilities). But in addition, in any one year, any teacher could get a poor VAM score because of the major factors outside the school that the teacher has no control over. VAM is a travesty to all teachers, not just to teachers of high performing students.

In my opinion, this conversation between White and the legislator in the Aswell tape is an indictment of the entire administration of John White. Remember he started off in an unethical manner by trying to cover up his lack of a review process for the new voucher schools. ("I want to muddy up the narrative") It is an absolute insult to the many highly qualified and dedicated teachers of this state to have their careers be constantly in jeopardy under the direction of a person who has no qualifications for his job and who has demonstrated unethical behavior that has now been repeated over and over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And to know that Seabaugh is willing to do whatever he can without going through BESE to be sure HIS teachers are not negativly effected by VAM. Either all teachers are effected or, better yet, throw out VAM so none of us are. I would hate to be the teachers who benefit from illegal and underhanded moves like Seabaughs when the rest of us find out since we will be the ones paying for their exemptions from VAM. I can't imagine the professional peers I have around the state allowing Seabaugh and White to drive another divisive wedge into the profession!