Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flawed Strategic Plan for EBR

The following letter is to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and should be read in reference to the proposed revised strategic plan for EBR. This plan is available here on the EBR web site. I am publishing this letter because the issues discussed here are important to all teachers in Louisiana public schools. See also today's letter to the editor in the Advocate about the proposed plan.

This is posted today, Aug. 15 because the School Board is scheduled to possibly adopt this plan today!

 Recommendations to the EBRP School Board on its Proposed Strategic Plan

Dear Board Members:

This a follow-up to the email I sent Board members last week. One of my major concerns about the proposed strategic plan is the proposal to dismiss the bottom 25% of teachers rated by the state Value Added Model (VAM). I believe such a policy is unwise because the state evaluation system is very erratic and unstable and could result in many teachers being falsely identified as “ineffective”. There are several technical reasons for this which I would be happy to discuss with the board members. But at this point I wish to point out that teachers are so uncomfortable with the idea of VAM determining their careers that many may choose not to teach VAM subjects in EBR, causing a serious loss of top teachers even before this plan is implemented. Such an exodus of teachers may actually result in a decrease in stability of EBR schools and a lowering of student performance.

In addition to the teacher dismissal issue I would like to react to some of the other proposals in the plan:

  1. I believe that the two strategies under Early Childhood Education are excellent and if implemented could benefit EBR students greatly.
  2. Under Academic Expectations, I believe strategy # 1 is unrealistic. (“All students in EBRPSS will be proficient in the Common Core State standards in each subject.”) Common Core has now been tested in two states: Kentucky and New York. The results (only one third rated proficient in New York and similar results in Kentucky) indicate that at this point the program has been poorly planned and the testing and standards are very much in need of revision. For the EBR school board to commit to 100% proficiency for all students in a testing program over which the school system has no control is guaranteed to result in disappointment and possibly a loss of public support for the school system. You see, that was what was wrong with the whole concept of No Child Left Behind: That all students would achieve proficiency. That is a statistical impossibility and has caused many unintended consequences when the Federal Government proceeded to punish schools and children who do not achieve such an unreasonable goal. This was the reason the RSD was allowed to take over some EBR schools. Early indications are that the Common Core proficiency will be much more unreasonable and impossible to achieve for all students. It would be much more prudent to adopt a statement that “The school system will strive to educate all students to the fullest extent of their abilities in an excellent and varied curriculum by using sound educational practices.” On the other hand I believe that Strategies # 2 and #3 under Academic Expectations are very good.
  3. Under Governance/Accountability and Efficiency, I believe that the Strategy (student based budgeting) is a bad idea. It implies that all schools will get the same allotment based on the student count (with adjustments for special ed) and that the school principal will be given full authority and responsibility to educate the children to the set standards. This idea may sound good but it is not the most efficient strategy. If the school system wants to improve its performance relative to others, it may be wiser to do a careful analysis of the areas of weakness and the schools and programs that could probably significantly improve performance by the use of targeted funding to encourage excellence. Only if the Board does not trust its top administration to set priorities and to come up with innovative plans to solve the biggest problems would it want to simply divvy up the money equally to all schools based on enrollment. Simply giving principals full authority with the threat of firing if they don't get results is an invitation to the kind of unethical behavior and test cheating that we have seen recently in Washington DC and Atlanta.
  4. Under Culture and Safety/School Climate and Human Capitol, I believe that the strategies and tactics are fine except for tactic #4 under Strategy #4 which I have already explained would precipitate a staffing crisis and a general destruction of the morale of teachers. This one tactic could undo all the many good strategies that are found in this strategic plan.
  5. Concerning tactic #2 under strategy #5, I would recommend that PBIS is not effective at the middle and high school levels and should be replaced with a no-nonsense solid discipline policy that results in decisive action when students violate the discipline code. The older students are not fooled by all the silly rewards and non-punishments of PBIS and can easily beat the system to cause chaos in the classroom. I want to state the following as a separate and extremely important recommendation:
  6. School discipline is by far the most important problem facing the EBR system! Poor discipline and a perceived lack of school safety is the main reason given for many of the students whose parents pull them out of the EBR school system! It is also a big reason for low academic performance in some schools. This is not a black-white issue! Many black parents who can afford it are pulling their children out and putting them in private schools because they want firm discipline and they don't want their children bullied by thugs. This is the biggest cause of parent discontent with some EBR schools. Videos of fights and disruptive behavior at Woodlawn were shown at the legislature this year as a big reason for the move to form a separate school district in South Baton Rouge. One of the main reasons why it is difficult to find good teachers for some schools is discipline! If the EBR board does not take a firm stand on good discipline at all schools it will contribute heavily to the destruction of the system as a viable school system supported by taxpayers. PBIS will not solve this problem! PBIS causes teachers to fill out needless reams of paperwork that only delays the restoration of discipline in their classrooms. The way PBIS is applied in many schools is a violation of state discipline law and results in many teachers being totally disenchanted with their jobs. Teachers go home at night and have nightmares about the terrible discipline in their classrooms. How in the world can this system be seen as a cure for the problem when it is part of the problem?
  7. Finally, I believe the emphasis on moving to neighborhood schools is a great idea! I live in and my grandchildren attend the Zachary school district. It is a real pleasure to see the community support and parent involvement in our school system. Zachary is a 55:45 racial mix and there is generally harmony and few racial problems. It is unfair to compare the performance of Zachary schools and EBR schools because there is such a disparity of wealth, but I believe the community support is still a huge factor.
I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns to the EBR school board. Board members have a tremendous responsibility and I appreciate your service to the children.

Michael Deshotels

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with way to ensure the best of the best will leave EBR is to put the bottom 25% of teachers on the chopping block each year using the current VAM model that lacks credibility among teachers. I ran away from the discipline issues of EBR 10+ years ago and would prefer to take a cut in pay to work in an adjacent district that touts strong discipline as one of its pros (rapid growth comes from students that will shut up long enough to be taught). Not only that, but my district is doing everything it can to "protect" its teachers from this rogue BESE/DOE. Experience is a benefit for prospective teachers coming in. We have a teacher at our school this year that transferred from EBR and she can not believe the difference in the way the kids act....she says it is like she has died and gone to Heaven...and she was only 3 years from retirement!!! EBR is crazy if it thinks it can rise to a top ten district by decreasing teacher protection when the top ten districts are providing security measures for its teachers.