Sunday, December 7, 2014

Time to Evaluate the Jindal Education Reforms

Governor Jindal wanted to establish a legacy as an education reform governor. There is now no doubt that he has achieved that goal. The real question should be, have those reforms improved education and benefited our children or have they done more harm than good?

Here is a review:
The first major component of the Jindal reform was the passage of Act 54 of 2010. This is the new law that required that all teachers and principals be evaluated each year with 50% of their evaluation based on student academic growth (VAM) as measured by the annual state standardized tests.  Act 54 also tied the certification of new teachers to an effective rating on the new evaluation system.

The new law was supposed to help put the best teachers in every classroom and either retrain or remove the ineffective ones. Amazingly, the law also repealed an extensive mentoring requirement that had been in law for new teachers. It is ironic that the Jindal reform repealed a program that could have served one of the critical needs of new teachers. Just last week the LDOE held a briefing for school leaders, which emphasized the need for more practice teaching, and mentoring.

Also in 2010, the Legislature and BESE put into motion the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (sight unseen) and without public or educator input. It is clear now that the CCSS were developed by an elitist group of non-educators supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and without any basis in research or field-testing. Read here an article by the governor of Mississippi about how we were tricked into adopting the CCSS.  For Louisiana the new standardized PARCC testing is now driving the curriculum based on the CCSS even though it is not clear whether Jindal will actually allow the genuine PARCC or some imitation PARCC test.

In the 2012 session, Jindal got a lot more ambitious. Acts 1 and 2 of 2012 put into law more radical education reforms than any other state in the nation. Most of these were designed by the super conservative ALEC group, a non-educator lobbying group. Louisiana has become the proving ground for most of the corporate and school privatization reforms being imposed on public education. We are now beginning to be able to look at our student test scores and graduation rates to see how well these reforms work.

Act 1 did away with teacher tenure after only one ineffective evaluation, gutted all seniority privileges for teachers, instituted mandatory merit pay based on evaluations, and shifted all authority for hiring and firing teachers from the school board to the local superintendent and local principals.

Act 2 of 2012 greatly expanded the opportunities for adding more charter schools and attempted to use the MFP to fund unlimited voucher schools and private course choice options for almost all public school students.

Teacher unions however have succeeded with legal actions to block the use of MFP for vouchers and course choice, and to obtain rulings that Jindal could not change the tenure law to make a mockery of due process in the dismissal of teachers.

Compromise legislation supported by both Jindal and the teacher unions was adopted this last legislative session to greatly streamline the teacher tenure process and yet retain due process. It is not yet clear how this new due process system will work.

In addition to legislation, State Superintendent John White imposed guidelines for teacher evaluation that allowed teacher VAM scores to overrule the principal’s evaluation in finding teachers “ineffective” as well as setting arbitrary quotas for each evaluation classification for all VAM rated teachers. This introduced a great disparity in the evaluation results of VAM rated teachers compared to teachers rated using Student Learning Targets (SLTs). The new rules resulted in much lower evaluation scores for teachers who teach the basic skills subjects of English language arts and math and much fewer of these teachers qualifying for merit pay.

So how is Louisiana education doing so far under the new reform laws?
  • Many experienced and highly regarded teachers have either retired early or are looking to leave soon because they are disillusioned with much of the reform mandates that they believe make teaching and learning less enjoyable and make education less effective, test driven, and often produce flawed teacher evaluations.
  • Because of the less favorable treatment being applied to basic skills teachers in evaluation, many teachers are opting out of teaching basic skills subjects whenever possible creating a shortage of qualified basic skills teachers.
  • Education college officials are reporting a drop in enrollments in the college of education as well as a loss of practice teaching opportunities for prospective teachers. Many public school teachers considering the possibility of a negative evaluation based on student performance are unwilling to accept practice teachers.
  • Since the merit pay mandated by legislation was not funded, many school boards have cut other teacher pay benefits to fund the merit pay. Many teachers, even those rated highly effective, are reporting lower pay advancement because of loss of step increases and credit for higher degrees, even when receiving the rather paltry merit raises.
  •  Significant flaws in the VAM system have resulted in highly regarded teachers receiving “ineffective” ratings and in disparities in ratings of teachers of gifted and handicapped students.
  • The new COMPASS evaluation system, which was designed by a non-educator and is being administered by a person with no supervisory experience is being seen in the field as a boondoggle and at best a “dog-and-pony” show that has little relation to real teaching.
  • Breaking News: The National principal's organization is in the process of adopting a position in opposition to VAM systems for evaluating teachers.

One of the legislators who sponsored Jindal's education reforms said these changes would "empower" the good teachers to be treated as true professionals. If you are a teacher who has received a highly effective rating, do you feel you have been empowered? 

What about student academic performance? Have students benefited regardless of any dissatisfactions or inconvenience to teachers? Here are a few early reports:
  • Many parents and teachers alike are claiming that the new standards are not age appropriate for younger students and that CCSS aligned math lessons are impractical and confusing for students and parents.
  • Raw scores for the new Common Core aligned tests have dropped in many areas  (38% and 40% for passing 7th and 8th grade math) even though the LDOE has insisted that student performance has remained steady and has actually improved in the mastery area. The fact is that the LDOE and its testing company have artificially lowered cut scores to produce apparent “steady” or improved results.
  • Many teachers are reporting huge losses in actual productive teaching time because of time spent on testing and test prep.
  • In addition to lowering of cut scores for tests, the LDOE has dropped, for at least two years, the minimum standards for promotion of students. Now students are allowed to move to higher grades even if they have not learned the pre-requisite skills needed for the next grade level.
  • What about the voucher students? Most are performing at the lowest levels in the state. The largest voucher school has had its enrollment frozen because of dismal performance.

Are the Jindal education reforms living up to expectations?

You decide. Remember that it is our children that are the subjects of this experiment.


Bridget said...

What I wonder is, do we know how much this so called education reform is costing us? How much does our state spend on the state assessment each year? How much are school districts spending on new textbooks and test prep materials to prepare students for CCSS and PARCC ? What would happen if every parish school superintendent said "Enough" and refused to administer the tests? What of every teacher refused to administer the test? What of every parent opted their child out? What if students refused to participate? It's time to take our schools back. It's time for tax payers to tell legislators they no longer want to fund testing companies who are stealing resources from our children. Just think of what we could do if all of those millions of dollars were actually spent in classrooms to fund personnel and resources. I, for one, am tired of being a part of this abuse in the name of reform. There is no research or data to show that any of this has or will ever improve education.

Michael Deshotels said...

I agree with you Bridget. In addition to saving millions by eleminating the state testing, think of how much time would be freed up to do more real teaching. Think of how much more joyfull education could be for both teachers and students if we were freed of this oppressive burden of testing. If the legislators are worried about our students being compared to other states, they need to be reminded that there will still be the NAEP test given every two years at minimal cost to Louisiana which compares us better than PARCC would. This whole testing thing and VAM based on testing is sheer insanity and is driving away our best teachers.

DMGA said...

I have been teaching for over 30 years. I will finish DROP a year from now. I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE SO HAPPY TO KNOW THAT MY CAREER IS ENDING. I originally planned to teach until I couldn't teach anymore. It isn't lack of teaching causing students not to learn, it's lack of discipline. Find ways to improve discipline. Stop testing. It's just a dog and pony show. Even under the COMPASS evaluation system, I had good scores. I'm not disgruntled, just overworked and underpaid. I bet when I leave, there's not going to be a new teacher waiting in the wings to do all that I do. I will find a new job not in education. Even though I'm happy about leaving, it makes me sad be so happy about leaving the career I LOVED because of politics.

Anonymous said...

I am required to give a state approved task with my 9 weeks test...four days of my last 10 days with students (before Christmas) are now wrapped up in testing quagmire.

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