Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LDOE Tightening Screws on Principals and Teachers

Superintendent John White claims that during the transition to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, he does not want to denigrate educators or humiliate schools. He is however hell bent on putting a lot of pressure on all school principals to constantly raise student test scores. This month at the Act 240 subcommittee meeting, (the committee that is tasked with recommending revisions to the teacher and principal evaluation system) Jessica Baghian, the TFAer who heads up the teacher evaluation division, suggested that all principals should set a goal of improving their school’s SPS every year. The only problem with such goals is that the deck is stacked against principals.  The only way one school’s SPS can go up is for another school’s SPS to go down.

In one of his memo’s to local administrators (Dec. 4, 2013 Ed Connect) announcing the transition to PARCC testing, White said that for the first two transition years, school SPS scores would be graded on a curve. The new curve grading would guarantee that the relative numbers of schools rated A,B,C,D, and F would remain the same for the transition years. This means that school grades, as a whole would not go down, as the tests get tougher. But it also means that they would not go up. If principals are coerced into setting goals for constantly raising their school SPS, most will fail because the scores are being kept artificially stable. But things will only get worse for principals after the transition, because White has announced that he plans to “raise the bar” in future years to try to get a much higher percentage of students performing at the mastery level. The only way a school could get an A in the future would be for a majority of its students to achieve a rating of “mastery” on the new PARCC tests. That goal did not work so well with New York state schools, where 70% of their students are failing to get to mastery. This problem is aggravated for Louisiana because our students have been performing at a much lower average than New York state students. But principals shouldn’t worry since White has proclaimed that Louisiana students are “just as smart and just as capable as any in America”. Whew, that’s a relief! I suppose John White has some kind of credentials qualifying him to rate our student’s abilities relative to all other students in the country.

White is under terrific pressure by his LABI and CABL bosses to raise student test scores statewide. Many observers were shocked that when it came to the common core issue that White would buck Governor Jindal, who had engineered his appointment as Superintendent. The answer is simple. His real bosses are the leaders of LABI, CABL and the big chambers of commerce. And those real bosses love the Common Core.

You see, the whole school reform movement in Louisiana and most other states is based on an incessant drive to raise standards and at the same time to raise our student test scores. Nothing else really matters to the big business promoters of school reform.  The big business bosses at the legislature have chosen to ignore the real causes of low student achievement because fixing poverty and parent neglect is hard and may cost big business lots of money.

White is beginning his fourth year in Louisiana, and the latest ranking of academic performance by Education Week Magazine’s Quality Counts rating system still rates Louisiana second to last among all states and the DC system. White is in trouble, so he intends to put the squeeze on school principals. At the very least he wants to see if he can get them to fire more teachers. Or they could raise student test scores by hook or crook like they did in Atlanta and El Paso and DC. Not to worry, . . .  you only go to jail if you get caught.

The pressure is being applied to the members of the Act 240 subcommittee right now to recommend a policy that would require all principals to set goals of raising test scores and their school's SPS every year. By law, principals would then be rated on how well they succeed in meeting their goals of raising school grades. All of this would be in an environment that makes it almost impossible to succeed.

Jessica Baghian said that principals should not be allowed to get away with setting non-testing related goals such as improving student discipline for their school performance goals.  Principals may remember my blog post of Oct. 25, pointing out John White’s dissatisfaction with the high number of highly effective principals even in schools with low performing students. If you reread that post you will see his plans for principals.

White is determined that no school with low student achievement will have good evaluation scores for their principals and teachers. But he does not intend to denigrate our educators and humiliate our schools, as standards get tougher. Right!

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