Sunday, June 24, 2018

Gates Sponsored Teacher Evaluation Reform Discredited by Rand Study

Education Week reports here on a new Rand Corp. study concluding that half a billion dollars spent by the Gates foundation on three large school systems to totally revamp teacher evaluation produced no real improvement in student performance. Unfortunately, the Obama education department had convinced most of the country to implement the same defective evaluation system at the same time before we could see the results of the study. So just like implementation of Common Core, which was also pushed upon school systems by the Gates Foundation,  an expensive and time consuming teacher evaluation system was implemented without knowing if it would work. All that money and effort just drove a lot of good teachers out of the profession without improving student learning.

The new teacher evaluation system sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Obama Race to the Top grants included basing teacher evaluations on student test scores and intensive observation of teachers using a strict rubric for teaching methods. The end result would supposedly identify the highly effective teachers as well as the ineffective ones. Then, teachers could be fired or awarded merit pay based upon their ranking in the evaluation system. Some reformers had theorized that such a system would dramatically improve student academic performance. There was even a theory that low performing students could be brought up to grade level performance by being exposed to highly effective teachers for only three successive years. It was believed that socioeconomic factors affecting student performance could be ignored by just fixing the teachers. These theories have now been proven wrong. Scapegoating teachers for problems of society just does not work, but it does drive good teachers out of the profession, and discourages bright young persons from entering the profession. Result: a serious teacher shortage.

When education reform is found to be ineffective, why are schools still required to continue doing it?

Louisiana went whole hog on VAM (basing teacher evaluations on student test scores) and highly structured teacher observation because we were told that their were findings that proved that any student could be converted into a high academic achiever after only three years of teaching by highly effective teachers. This theory developed by Hanushek and others unfortunately was not scaleable (didn't work) even though now our entire teacher evaluation system has been revised to supposedly identify highly effective as well as ineffective teachers. Louisiana law now bases teacher job security and even merit pay on highly dubious student performance measures. It turns out that VAM scores for each teacher are extremely unstable (and dangerously irrelevant) from year to year. It turns out that very little of a teacher's VAM score depends on her/his performance in the classroom. Socioeconomic factors and noise in the highly imprecise formulas routinely outweigh the actual performance of the teacher. In addition, teachers teaching untested subjects have a major advantage over teachers of tested subjects in winning merit pay and job security.

Here is an interesting fact about Louisiana teacher evaluation reform: Did you know that the new teacher evaluation rubric was actually designed by a person (Rayne Martin) who had never taught or evaluated teachers. This is typical of most of the education deform we have been subjected to in the last 13 years. Unfortunately, here in Louisiana, but we are still stuck with VAM and the new observation matrix for the evaluation of teachers that was developed by a non-teacher who has long left Louisiana.

So what did the Rand study find in its nationwide evaluation of VAM and the accompanying high stakes evaluation of teachers? Basically it has made no difference whatsoever in student performance nationwide. Zero results! After all that money and after the gnashing of teeth by so many thousands of teachers. We have produced however a growing teacher shortage, probably because all those potentially "highly effective" teachers found that they could make more money in jobs that did not use a form of torture to rate their performance.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Enough is Enough; We Must Stop Trump's Abuse of the Presidency!

I am changing my long standing policy of limiting this blog to educational issues because I am convinced that it is necessary for ordinary citizens to publicly object to the insane actions of our president.  I do not intend, by this to criticize the many good citizens who voted for President Trump. I believe they supported Trump in good faith based on his promises and the belief that he was a businessman who could fix our problems. But he has proven to be dishonest and harmful to our country and those of us who see that should speak out and try to make a change.

This video by economist Robert Reich explains very clearly why President Donald Trump and his style of governing by the use of dishonest demagoguery is so dangerous for our country.

I do not believe that Trump really cares about the many ordinary citizens who voted for him based on his many insincere promises. Unfortunately many of his claims were unrealistic (like bringing back coal mining jobs) and he simply conned many people into electing him.  As Reich points out in his video, this presidency could be disastrous for our county and its citizens.

Look, I think I understand why so many people have put their complete faith in Trump. The world economy is changing more rapidly that ever, putting many jobs in jeopardy. People naturally hate change that could adversely affect their families' security. That's why Trump's message of going back to our old obsolete economy  was so comforting. But it is a false message from a cruel con man. There is no way that Trump's false promises will make "America great again". The only significant achievement of the Trump presidency is a tax cut that is a huge gift to the super rich that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren. That's because we will borrow from China and Japan to make up for the lost revenues since there was no cut in spending to match the tax cut. Trump went bankrupt 4 times by wasting other people's money on phony schemes, and he is getting ready to do it to the entire country.

Not only is Trump totally dishonest in all his dealings on behalf of our government, he is also totally incompetent in "making deals" for our nation. For example, he bragged at one of his fundraisers that he had made up false trade deficits in his trade negotiations with Justin Trudeau of Canada. Of course Trudeau found out about this lie, because Trump can't keep his mouth shut about his crooked negotiations. Now Trump has the nerve to claim that Trudeau acted in bad faith when he announced that he would match Trump's tariffs with equal tariffs from Canada on American products. Then Trump refused to sign the G-7 statement (which includes 6 of our trading partners) because he was mad at Trudeau! This is just plain stupid, and makes the U. S. into a laughing stock with our best allies.

The North Korean dictator hoodwinked Trump into stopping our military exercises in Korea while all the experts believe that they do not intend to give up their nuclear weapons in any verifiable manner. Yet Trump declared "mission accomplished"; "no more nuclear threat". What a negotiator!

Trump will lose his trade war with China. They can retaliate much more effectively than the U. S. can. Trump has already backed off of our very effective sanctions against China telecom giant ZTE which was accused of stealing our patents, violating our North Korea embargo,  and using spyware. Part of the deal for Trump's capitulation was apparently the awarding of several new exclusive China patents to Trump's daughter who is making millions off of the Trump presidency.

Trump has lied to us about almost everything. He started off his political career by claiming that he had investigators in Hawaii, and "they can't believe what they have found" (About the lie that president Obama was born outside the U. S.) And Trump has only gotten worse from there. His latest lie is that the Democrats are making him separate children from their parents at the Mexico border. I am not going to repeat the 3,000 large and small Trump lies in between those two. Just look carefully at the Reich video, because he is summarizing it very well.

Regular Americans need to start speaking out about the Trump lies and bad policies and then we need to vote against all politicians who would continue to support Trump and his dishonest policies.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scripted Lessons: A Great Way of Killing the Joy of Teaching and Learning.

Pat Austin Becker is a writer and a teacher who writes the blog And so it goes in Shreveport. Pat Austin is a highly experienced English teacher who should be listened to when she offers an opinion about what works and what doesn't work in teaching English to our present day students.

Here is Pat Austin's latest post on the subject of scripted lessons. It seems that Pat's school system has adopted a strict step-by-step mandate for teaching English II. Each English II teacher in the system is expected to follow the same script for each lesson in lock step, "with fidelity". One of the stated reasons for such a mandate is that it assures that if a student transfers to a different school in the parish, he/she will continue English lessons with no gaps in the instruction. But we know the real reason is an attempt that is becoming a trend in many school systems to "teacher proof" instruction. It is an attempt to try to guarantee that all teaching will prepare all students for the all important end-of-course test. Its all about test prep.

Here is another excellent post by a teacher from another state who was driven out of teaching by the standardization of teaching.

Much of this trend to scripted teaching has happened because our Louisiana Department of Education has created a system of rating and grading schools based almost totally on the test scores of students in certain required subjects. The School Performance Score (SPS), the school letter grade, and the entire image of a school depends on the test scores of its students. The natural result of such a system is to force each school to do almost nothing but test prep all year long. As a result teachers in some school systems are now expected to teach a scripted curriculum.

The scripted curriculum looks to me like a mind-numbing, boring exercise that has almost no relation to the life and needs of a typical student. This entire curriculum based almost totally on the Common Core standards was developed by what many have concluded was a group of elitist thinkers from the world of standardized testing and college prep for-all. It ignores the fact that the majority of our students will not attend four year colleges and who cannot, and will not, relate to many of the abstract concepts these elitists feel are so vital. A good example is the lesson described by Pat Austin in her blog, on the unit for teaching the concept of rhetoric in various written and spoken passages. I could barely keep my eyes open while reading the scripted lesson the teacher is expected to follow with fidelity. Here is an excerpt:

"With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:
Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.
The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It's a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of "What is Rhetoric" by Gideon Burton."  

Another part of the lesson looks like this:

"Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
 Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
 Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
 Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
 Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
 Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
 Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
 Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
 Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
 Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system)."

How do you think the typical 15 year old student will respond to this drivel?

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today's world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the american education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

Need something to smile about at this point? Here is a little YouTube jingle written and performed by a teacher from another state who was also suffering through the creativity killing mandates of constant test prep.

This almost fanatical push to continue the standardized testing based implementation of Common Core is incomprehensible! Since the adoption of Common Core, Louisiana has seen the biggest drop ever in academic achievement of our students compared to other states as measured by the NAEP. Why is our business supported state level management of education so intent on continuing to double down on a failed policy that is harming our students?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Court Throws out VAM Teacher Evaluation System in Texas

This article describes the basis for a court decision in Texas throwing out the VAM based teacher evaluation system there. The same arguments against VAM are valid in Louisiana.

Here are the key findings in Texas against the use of VAM for evaluating teachers:

  • The VAM system which was originally designed to measure farm efficiency is not comparable to teaching effectiveness.
  • The American Statistical Association found that the impact of teacher quality on student scores was 14% at most. All the other factors such as socioeconomic deficiencies make the teacher portion almost insignificant in determining VAM.
  • Some administrators were found to be basing the teacher observation portion of the teacher evaluation on the teacher's VAM score which totally invalidated the observation portion.
  • High stakes tests which are used as the basis for VAM were never designed for teacher evaluation.
  • The stability of VAM scores was found to be so erratic that it could not be relied upon to reliably evaluate teachers.
In addition to the flaws found in Texas, other states have fired teachers based on VAM only to find out later that the teacher from the previous year had cheated or otherwise improperly boosted student scores causing the next year VAM to be artificially low.

The major proponent of continuing to use VAM in Louisiana is the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). LABI has appointed itself as the expert on teacher evaluation, and uses its power over the legislature to keep the VAM evaluation going. LABI likes the VAM system because it results in stack ranking of teachers, with the bottom portion of the ranking being subject to dismissal or humiliation leading to resignations. It is interesting to note that when stack ranking was used in private business it was quickly abandoned because it resulted in productivity losses. Why then is LABI insisting it be used on teachers?

LABI also does not take into account that only about 35% of teachers are subject to VAM because the other 65% do not teach students taking state tested subjects. This fact puts VAM rated teachers at a disadvantage in receiving merit pay or facing dismissal. Why would Louisiana want to continue a system of evaluation that punishes only certain teachers teaching core subjects? This is serious discrimination!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Educators May be Taking Charge of Their Profession

This recent article in The Guardian suggests a promising new activism by the members of the teaching profession. Up until the surprising recent job actions by teachers in several states I had assumed that teachers would continue to be bullied and blamed for problems in education with new waves of recrimination and reform while public funding for schools continued to be reduced to finance tax cuts for huge corporations.

But the author of the Guardian article, Thomas Frank, believes that teachers are achieving a new level of respect and support from the public and even the politicians who have been bashing teachers in recent years. Here is his account of this apparent change in attitude of teachers:

"For decades we have been told that the way to fix education is to fire people but red-shirted marchers across the country have shown the power of solidarity.

What I like best about the wave of teachers’ strikes that have swept America these last few months is how they punch so brutally and so directly in the face of the number one neoliberal educational fantasy of the last decade: that all we need to do to fix public education is fire people.

Fire teachers, specifically. They need to learn fear and discipline. That’s what education “reformers” have told us for years. If only, the fantasy goes, we could slay the foot-dragging unions and the red-tape rules that keep mediocre teachers in their jobs, then things would be different. If only some nice “tech millionaires” would step in and help us fire people! If only we could get a thousand clones of Michelle Rhee, the former DC schools chancellor who fired so many people she even once fired someone on TV! "

Here is an interesting reform fact: The idea of value added evaluations (VAM) and the accompaning "stack ranking" of teachers' evaluations based upon the standardized test scores of their students came from a similar evaluation program that was developed at Microsoft Corp. (you know, Bill Gates' company). The idea was to fire the bottom 5 or 10 percent of the employees and give merit pay to the top 5 or 10 percent. Microsoft abandoned the evaluation system after only a couple of years because they found out that it damaged collaboration between employees and actually resulted in lower overall productivity. The value added system in Louisiana education has had the same negative result, but our big business bosses at LABI have refused to admit it was a mistake and still instruct their puppets in the legislature to keep VAM (as a reduced percentage of the teacher evaluation). 

The Guardian article continues:
"Now just look at what’s happened. We’ve seen enormous teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, with more on the way. Actions that look very much like strikes by people who, in some of these states, are legally forbidden to strike. It was the perfect opportunity for education “reformers” to fire people, and fire them en masse. It was the politicians’ chance to show us what a tough-minded boss could do."

And in most cases, it was state governments that capitulated. It was hard-hearted believers in tax cuts and austerity and discipline who caved, lest they themselves get fired by voters at the next opportunity. 

Only a short while ago it looked as though organized labor was in deep trouble, with Republican governors declaring war on public employees and a supreme court case threatening to defund public-sector unions. 
Now, in a beautiful reversal, it is the shibboleths of the conservative era that are shaking. Not because the DC punditburo has changed its mind about things, of course. It’s happening because vast throngs of people in red T-shirts have gone marching through the streets of their red-state towns to let the world know they’ve had enough."
Now that the non-educators have had free rein to experiment with students and teachers for almost 20 years resulting in stagnation of test scores and a total demoralization of teachers, maybe we should give professional educators a chance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Teachers Have Strong Support and Respect by the General Public

Teachers who took the extreme action of temporarily shutting down schools in several states to push for better teacher salaries and funding for materials of instruction have been pleasantly surprised by almost unanimous public support! Teachers who have been demoralized by low pay and a lack of respect from governors, and legislators have found out that the general public supports them and wants them well paid and respected. What a surprise for teachers who for the past twenty years have been told by politicians to just shut up and teach better! Now several state legislators and governors have responded by approving teacher raises and more funding for instruction. As teachers wrap up the school year, exhausted and burned out by the latest round of standardized testing abuse, they can at least hold up their heads with the knowledge that most parents really like them and respect them.

In addition, in response to the teacher job actions, most news stories and commentators have also been firmly on the side of teachers. There has been almost no condemnation of the teacher strikes by opinion makers in the media. I think that most people respect teachers for standing up for themselves and their students.

This is a welcome relief from the years of teacher bashing by politicians and self appointed education reformers. Teachers have been the targets of education reformers since the passage of "no child left behind" federal law in 2001. Teachers have been and still are blamed for the lack of academic performance of many of their students even though many other public school students are doing quite well. It has been assumed by most non-educator education reformers that if some students have low scores on standardized tests that it must be because of bad teachers. Our state even tried to tie teacher pay to student performance Reformers have classified schools as failing based on student test scores.

It has been considered politically incorrect to ever utter the term "failing students". Students who score poorly on the latest standardized tests are referred to as "struggling students". The implication is that such students are somehow being held back by inferior schools and teachers.

Legislators claim to have implemented higher standards, but most recently in Louisiana, our State Board of Education has effectively removed all standards for promotion of students from one grade to the next. This blog has pointed out the lack of student standards in recent posts.

Only teachers and schools can now fail according to our latest regulations. Students who score poorly are assumed by reformers to be the victims of our failing schools and teachers. None of this makes any sense at all.

The fact is that many students who perform poorly in school are not struggling with school. Some are not making even the tiniest effort to learn the required material in school. There are many factors that cause students to lack motivation to perform in school. The real culprits are usually poverty, hunger, illness, lack of sleep, insecurity, physical and mental abuse, and terrible role models. Many children start school knowing only half the words that are understood by typical middle class students and  often have no books in their homes. Some have no permanent homes and have no assurance of their next meal, much less  time for homework.

Many of the reformers who formed "no excuses" charter schools claiming to be able to overcome the effects of poverty on student performance, are often looking for ways to dump their low performing students either to the real public schools or even the streets. Does anyone remember "Advance Baton Rouge".

Our LDOE is no longer interested in taking over failing schools because takeover schools have often done worse under state control.

I can only hope that teachers everywhere will insist on being treated as professionals who should be given proper control over their profession just as other professions. Teachers who are teaching in challenging schools need to be supported and rewarded not bashed for conditions over which they have no control.

My advice to teachers today: Join and get active in your teacher union, (Not the fake one, but the LAE or LFT) which is your mechanism for improving your lot and that of your students. Vote out the enemies of public education and continue insisting on being treated as professionals even if you have to go on strike!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Schneider Tallies up the cost LEAP testing

This is the link to the latest post on the Mercedes Schneider blog where she totals up the cost of LEAP testing over a five year period.

As Schneider points out, the cost of ACT related testing is not included in her analysis.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Louisiana Recovery District's Performance

In my most recent post below, I provided statistics obtained by public records requests that showed that an extremely small percentage  of Louisiana public school students who fail both their math and English-Language-Arts LEAP tests each year are denied promotion to the next grade.

The precise statistics for the 2015-16 school year revealed that a total of 66,209 students in grades 3 though 8 failed both their math and ELA LEAP tests. That's approximately 21% of students enrolled in grades 3-8 statewide.

The purpose of this post is to compare the performance and promotion rate of students in the Louisiana Recovery District (the RSD) with the average for all other public school students.

Starting in the fall of 2005, the state took over approximately 70 schools from local school boards and created a new school system called the Louisiana Recovery District. The purpose was to upgrade the performance of these so called failing schools and to convert them into successful schools. Most of these takeover schools were chartered to a mix of non-profit and for-profit charter management organizations that were expected to boost performance of students to acceptable levels.

For the first few years after the state takeover and conversion of the RSD schools to charter schools we saw press releases from the state department of education proclaiming that student performance on state LEAP tests were improving at a much faster rate than that of other public schools. I wanted to know how these schools compared more recently to other public schools after all these years of greater growth. So I requested the most recent statistics on student performance and also on grade retention rates.

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, the Louisiana Recovery District was operated under the BESE as the charter authorizer. Public records obtained from the LDOE reveal that the failure rate of RSD students in both ELA and math for the 2015-16 school year totaled 49% of all students enrolled in grades 3 though 8.

After 11 years of state control of the RSD and operation of its schools by charter managers, approximately half of the students in such schools failed both their math and English-Language-arts tests. Statistics also obtained from the LDOE indicate that only 2.9% of students in grades 3 though 8 in the RSD were denied promotion to the next grade. That's almost the same rate as the students that were retained in grade by all other public schools under the administration of local school boards even though their failure rate on state LEAP tests was much lower.

So what was the result of transferring control of all these so called failing schools to BESE and to charter management organizations? Approximately half the students in such schools failed to score even 30% correct answers on their math and ELA state tests. Yet almost all of these students were promoted to the next grade. And each year these takeover schools continued graduating more and more uneducated students.

A general analysis of all state "recovery districts" or so called "achievement zones" patterned after the Louisiana Recovery District finds that such takeovers have had pretty much the same phony results as our model reform district.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

State policy produces more diploma mills than ever

One of the oft stated objectives of education reforms in Louisiana was the elimination of “diploma mills”. Diploma mills were generally described as schools that award diplomas to almost all students, even those that had minimal academic achievement or were considered functionally illiterate.

Now after over 13 years of intensive education reform under State Superintendent John White, our Department of education is handing out more worthless diplomas than ever before. The new policies adopted by BESE at the urging of John White and the LDOE funnel almost all students to automatic graduation without regard to actual academic achievement. Here are the two portions of law that are supposed to implement "The Louisiana Competency Based Education Program":

  1. State law allowing for promotion of students in 4th and 8th grades to the next grade is defined as follows by Act 275 of 2012: "Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine, pursuant to rules adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in accordance with the administrative Procedure Act. Such proficiency shall be set with reference to test scores of students of the same grade nationally."
  2. Another part of the law on competency based education states the following: "The department shall establish, subject to the approval of the state board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the nature and application of various intervention options in the case of failure to demonstrate proficiency, which may include remediation, retention in grade, an alternative placement in succeeding grades, or any other option which will support a student's achieving the required proficiency lovel
The LDOE and BESE originally implemented the laws above by adopting a policy that prevented students from being promoted to the fifth and ninth grades if they did not achieve at least "basic" on their LEAP tests. That portion of BESE policy was quietly repealed this year.

An Important Note: My opinion expressed many times in this blog is that the new state LEAP tests are totally invalid and should never have been used to determine promotion or failure of students. The real problem is that teachers are being pressured to promote students who have not demonstrated any level of achievement in their course work.

BESE policy now allows almost any "intervention" when a student fails some or even all of his/her LEAP tests. All the educators have to do is write up a proposed plan of action to address the academic deficiencies of the student. But there is no required follow-up. There is no day of reckoning for students who repeatedly fail either their class work or their state tests or both. How do I know this? Because I have submitted public records requests that reveal that even though 21% of all students regularly and repeatedly fail both their math and ELA LEAP tests, they are promoted to the next grade. Statewide, an average of only 2.5% of students are retained in grade even if the failure rate on two state tests at a time holds steady for each grade at about 21%. Teachers in most schools tell us that even if a student fails all of his/her teacher made tests, teachers are expected to somehow provide make-up work that allows an excuse for passing the student to the next grade.

In addition to elementary and middle school automatic promotion, when students are provisionally promoted to the ninth grade after failing all of their eighth grade LEAP tests, after one year, they are automatically given full status as high school students. Then if they fail their required courses, they are allowed to take computerized "credit recovery" courses that may take as little as one week for the student to be granted credit.

The problem is that the present school rating and grading system provides an incentive for circumventing standards. A school gets zero points on the state rating system for maintaining high standards, but the school gets lots of credit for graduating more and more students.

The true, overriding, unwritten policy of most school systems is to graduate as many students as possible without real regard for standards of any kind. We how have the ultimate diploma mills.

See my next blog above for specific examples of our "standards free" promotion policy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Update on SB 465

I am pleased to report that Senate Bill 465, which is described in the post below, has been extensively amended to remove those changes in the student discipline law that many practicing educators believed would have decreased the rights of teachers and principals to maintain discipline in the classroom and on school grounds.

The bill has been amended to continue the work of the discipline advisory council that was set up last year. Unfortunately the advisory council has been expanded to include more special interests representatives that may have little knowledge of real classrooms. The council would be required by the amended bill to make a report of its findings and recommendations to the Senate and House education committees before the next legislative session.

I want to thank the Louisiana Association of educators and other groups that continue to support teacher rights to maintain an orderly classroom for their work in amending this bill.

As the bill goes to the senate floor and then to the House, it could still be amended to restore some of the objectionable changes to Louisiana student discipline laws. 

Please continue to communicate with your legislators to oppose harmful changes to our discipline laws!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Senate Bill 465 Will Reduce Teacher Rights on Student Discipline

SB 465 is intended to reduce student suspensions and student removals from the regular classroom.

SB 465 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee today!

For many years advocates for students have made numerous attempts to reduce student suspensions and expulsions. It is my understanding that students are now suspended out of school for only extremely disruptive behavior. Most educators, including this blogger agree that everything reasonably possible must be done to keep kids in school. But there must be a balance between the rights of disruptive students and the rights of teachers to maintain a productive classroom including the rights of students who are not disruptive to have orderly instruction in the classroom.

One of the compromises between these interests over the years has resulted in the fact that students can never be permanently expelled from school, no matter how atrocious their behavior may be. In the most extreme cases, students can be removed from regular classroom and placed in an alternative school setting, but they can never be banned from their right to an education.

But the one remaining right to an orderly classroom for teachers remains the teacher's right to remove extremely disruptive or disrespectful students from the classroom on a temporary basis. In the cases where students must be repeatedly removed for disrespectful or disruptive behavior, teachers now have the  right to require parents to come in for a conference. That is one of the relatively minor rights of teachers that this legislation wants to do away with.

SB 465, in its present form, will actually make it more difficult for non-disruptive students to have an orderly classroom and will drive even more teachers out of the teaching profession.

There are already many alternatives to suspension that are already being utilized to keep students in school. For example, many students who are extremely disruptive or disrespectful to the teacher are often given "in-school-suspension" where they can continue to receive instruction and receive school credit. But what happens if a student fails to comply with the rules of in-school-suspension and for example, physically attacks the instructor of the alternative setting?  Present law provides that any student who fails to comply fully with the rules of in school suspension shall be given regular out-of- school suspension. HB 465 would change the rule from a shall to a may. State superintendent John White and his department already put extreme pressure on local school systems to stop out-of-school suspensions. This small change in the law increases their leverage to further interfere with local school administrators who are desperately trying to maintain a productive learning environment and respect for teachers.

SB 465 also pushes local school systems to implement costly and time consuming interventions such as "restorative justice" and "peer mediation". These methods while applauded by social workers as great alternatives to suspension, are expensive (because they require schools to hire more non-teaching specialists) and can actually take away from the time spent on instruction. You can't have "peer mediation" without taking some of the classroom time and taking away the other students (peers) away from their regular instruction. Meanwhile our teachers and schools are expected to do more to prepare students for high stakes tests.

In a parallel world where there is unlimited funding for non-teaching interventions and where the school day can be expanded to accommodate those interventions, it may be great to provide these services. But I don't see the legislature providing one penny of extra funding. (Just like the legislature failed to provide one penny of funding for the merit pay Jindal mandated, which caused the teacher salary schedules to have steps for experience and degrees removed).

At present, it is not clear whether or not charter schools will be exempted from these new rules. We know for sure that voucher schools will not have to comply. What this may set up is to have the regular public schools become a dumping ground for disruptive and disrespectful students.

This bill, in its present form will do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do by denying all students vital class time and teachers proper respect. It will ultimately cause more teachers to resign and increase the teacher shortage.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

How Has School Reform Worked in Louisiana?

Is State Superintendent John White the Superman of Education Reform?

Remember the 2010 documentary film Waiting for "Superman"? That's the film that suggested that America's public eduction system was not providing many of our students with a good eduction and that our K-12 public education system was basically failing. Even so, the film presented a possibly bright future as charter school entrepreneurs and radical reformers such as Michelle Rhee were poised to engineer a breakthrough that could produce dramatic improvements in school performance. Success would possibly be achieved, according to the film, by tearing down the status quo of the american education establishment and by reforming the teaching profession using test-driven performance  approaches often referred to as Corporate Reform. What public education needed was an education "Superman".

Critical areas of education reform described in the film included major changes in urban schools in New York city, Washington D. C. and other public education systems that had been producing chronically low performance on national tests and poor graduation rates.

The film suggested that many needy students were being poorly served by lazy, incompetent teachers protected by tenure and union contracts. The message was that by sweeping away these impediments, reformers could insure that students would finally succeed in being prepared for college and successful careers. Disadvantaged kids would catch up with more privileged students.

Michelle Rhee, a young energetic reformer,  had just been appointed chancellor of schools in Washington D.C,, and other bright young, non-traditional educators such as those given brief training by the Teach for America program  were portrayed as the possible "supermen" of this movement. The reform movement had gained the support of major business groups and lavish funding from the largest philanthropic donors such as the Gates foundation, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. John White was one of the bright stars of the Teach for America corp who had picked up his reformer "creds" in Chicago and New York and was ready to tackle major reforms for an entire state.

The radical theories of education reform have now been tested in Washington D.C. by Rhree and her successors, and by the charter takeover of schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Sadly, the first image of reform to fall was that claimed by Rhee in Washington D. C. After 10 years, test gains were found to be corrupted by alleged cheating, and by strong evidence that the graduation rate had been falsely inflated. Washington D.C. still holds the unchallenged position as the lowest performing school district in the counrty. Michelle Rhee is long gone from the education reform scene.

So how has Louisiana fared in its bid to be the greatest school reformer state?

John White was chosen by Governor Jindal to take over Louisiana schools as state superintendent and to basically implement every major reform dreamed up by the new non-educator reformers. Louisiana would apply business practices to the operation of public schools and reform the teaching profession. At the time White was brought in, Louisiana had recently adopted major reform legislation allowing the state to take over low performing schools. Now under Republican Governor Bobby Jindal Louisiana would take its place as the most "education reformed" state in the nation.

At the same time that Jindal hired White, he passed two sweeping laws in early 2012 designed to implement every major school reform being touted as the holy grail for dramatically improving schools. The first bill took away teacher rights such as seniority, tenure, and standard salary schedules based on experience. It substituted teacher and administrator merit pay based on student test scores. The other bill opened the doors wide for students to transfer to charter schools and voucher schools funded by school taxes.  Another recent law had mandated that schools were to be rated as A to F based primarily on student test scores. Students attending D or F schools would be given the right to transfer to charter and voucher schools. These reforms to be administered by White would transform all schools into high performers compared to other states. One of the primary trackers of school success was to be the average test scores of students in reading and math as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Average student NAEP test scores from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have become recognized as the gold standard for tracking the progress of education reform and for ranking the various state education systems.

The first major thrust of education reform in Louisiana had begun right after Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005 when the state took over a large number of low performing schools and transferred them to charter school operators. The teacher union contract in New Orleans was scrapped and all the teachers were fired and replaced. The new charter operators were to be freed of various state regulations as long as they could demonstrate good performance of students on state tests each year and improve  graduation rates.

In addition to all of the structural changes in the management of schools and the implementation of a "business model" for rating, paying and managing teachers, the state adopted the Common Core curriculum standards for all public schools starting in 2012. These new standards were designed to raise the bar for all students and also were expected to help close the achievement gap between different socio-economic groups.

How have the reforms worked for Louisiana? We know that high school graduation rates have increased significantly, more students are filling out FAFSA forms for college application, and average scores on state tests and ACT tests have improved. But graduation rates can be manipulated in various ways to produce increases without real academic improvement, and guidance counselors can be directed to have more students fill out college applications. The small increase in ACT average scores in Louisiana was engineered by revising the calculation to include only graduating students. When you leave out the scores of the dropouts after 11th grade who had taken the ACT, the average score will be boosted significantly. Furthermore there is no assurance that students will actually attend college. In fact Louisiana has seen no improvement in actual college completion. State test cut scores on LEAP can be manipulated to produce apparent progress by either lowering the raw cut scores or by shifting to a greater proportion of less difficult questions on successive tests.

John White is still a darling of the education reform movement. Corporate reform advocates fervently believe that surely White's reforms in Louisiana would show up as real improvements in student achievement. As recently as September 2017, this article by a Fordham Institute executive claims that Louisiana, under White's leadership has achieved dramatic improvements in curriculum, and that the NAEP results would soon indicate real improvements.

But the chickens are coming home to roost with the release of the most recent 2017 NAEP test results. Most real experts believe that NAEP is the best way to measure academic progress or lack of it. The NAEP gives a truly uncontaminated comparison of a state to all other states for progress in reading and math for grades 4 and 8.

Here is a comparison of Louisiana's ranking compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the years 2005, 2015 and 2017 calculated by the federal agency that administers the NAEP test: (I chose 2005 as the starting year because that was the last year of NAEP results prior to our major wave of reform)

4th grade math:
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 7th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 5th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to last place

4th grade reading: 
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 8th from the bottom
In 2015 Lousiana was still 8th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to 3rd from the bottom

8th grade math: 
In 2005 Louisiana was 6th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 3rd from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to 2nd from the bottom

8th grade reading: 
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 7th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 4th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana was still 4th from the bottom

Note: NAEP results show no closing of the achievement gap for disadvantaged students.

Overall, NAEP provides conclusive evidence that the White and Jindal reforms have backfired! The only public school system performing worse overall than Louisiana is Washington D. C. White's so called reforms have simply driven Louisiana closer to the bottom of the state rankings.

Numerous charter schools in the state have been rocked by cheating scandals and by misappropriation of school funds. There is evidence that low performing students in some charter schools have been dumped onto the streets to improve test score averages and to inflate the graduation rates. There are serious questions whether the minor test score improvements of charter schools have been real or rigged. New Orleans takeover schools are among the lowest performers in the state. The state has been forced to return several schools to local control following the complete collapse of student enrollment. The state no longer wants to take over so called failing schools, but the state board is still approving predatory charters that attempt to attract the best performing students. This is far from the original purpose of charters.  On the Voucher front, studies show that on average, students who transfer to voucher schools failed to improve and lost ground in some areas.

The new Common Core standards for Louisiana have proven to be mostly unteachable! Average raw scores on state LEAP tests have stagnated to just above 40% correct answers on each such test for the past three years. But the final evidence of failure of Common Core in Louisiana is our dramatic drop in NAEP rankings. That should be no surprise, since none of the Common Core standards were put though research trials before full implementation. That's like putting a whole new set of pharmaceutical drugs on the market without first conducting clinical trials to see if they actually work. It seems that the primary justification for the Common Core standards was wishful thinking mostly created by the campaign to adopt the new standards lavishly funded  and supported by the Gates foundation and the Obama administration.

The teacher merit pay system has proven to be unworkable and terribly unfair while the teacher salary schedules in most school systems have been raided to provide more funding for testing and for the defective merit system. So now many local school systems are experiencing serious teacher shortages mainly in the most critical areas of reading, math, science and special education. Few teachers are now recommending their once highly regarded profession to their own children, nieces and nephews.

The obvious conclusion is that Louisiana has squandered millions of dollars on standardized testing, and huge chunks of the school year on useless test prep, while the teaching profession has been crushed . . . all so that student performance could move closer to the bottom of the state rankings.

No Superman here!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

John White Has Failed at All Measures He Implemented!

This article is all you need to know about John White's effect on Louisiana education. 

Superintendent John White, who has no formal training in education, was brought to Louisiana by Governor Jindal and LABI for two reasons: (1) To privatize as many of our public schools to for-profit entrepreneurs as possible and (2) To put as much emphasis as possible on raising test scores by forcing teachers to spend most of their time preparing our students for his lousy Common Core tests. As a bonus, he and Jindal took away almost all of teacher rights and substituted merit pay based on student test scores on invalid tests for legitimate teacher evaluation. Now we have a teacher shortage, and our national comparison test scores are the lowest ever. And the voucher schools and charter schools are the lowest performers in the state. 

There should be no excuses for John White. He has failed miserably at all his efforts and our children have suffered while he experimented with untested, unsound theories. He should now be judged by the same crappy standards he has forced on every public school and teacher in the state!

See my post below to see why his most important policies have failed.

Why Our State LEAP Tests Are Not Valid

In this most recent weekly newsletter to local school administrators and teachers, John White basically refutes the main premise of our state ELA  LEAP tests. Those tests are based on the premise that “close reading” skills used in our tests should allow students to score well on our PARCC based tests. Now he is using the excuse that our students just don’t have the life experiences that are needed to perform well on such standardized tests. This is exactly what experienced educators tried to tell him when he came to Louisiana on a mission to transform our Louisiana education system into a “no excuses “ college prep education for even the most disadvantaged students. His arrogant uninformed policies have failed as everyone will see when the NAEP test results are released.

Specifically, the PARCC based tests White has mandated for all of our grade 3-8 students are invalid and inappropriate for our students and for rating our schools and teachers!

White now needs to write a newsletter explaining why the math LEAP tests are also inappropriate for our students. Here’s a couple of hints about what is wrong with the math tests: (1) The LEAP math tests given particularly in grades 6-8, are not testing the practical math skills that are really relevant to the great majority of our students. We know this partially because after three years of the new testing, students in those grades are averaging less than 40% correct answers on most tests. Many of the math questions are on problems that students will never see in real life! (2) White needs to also point out that the sophistication of the language used on the math tests is much above the heads of many of our students. Many of the math questions are testing language skills instead of math skills.

The LEAP test given to Louisiana students are just not valid and do not prepare our students to score well on the real tests used to compare Louisiana to other states. Those tests are the reading and math tests referred to as the NAEP tests given every two years in all states. Some of us warned BESE and White that Louisiana is not rehearsing students for the right tests.

The NAEP test results are to be released today! I have not seen those results but I am pretty sure that Louisiana students will not score as well as those in other states.

Another big problem with all our LEAP tests is that they are not designed by local teachers who understand the background of the students they teach. When White rammed through the state review of the Common Core standards and rebranded them as the Louisiana Standards, he never allowed our teachers to change a single question on the PARCC tests upon which our LEAP tests are based. So fixing (or attempting to fix) the standards never fixed the tests!

Some educators have tried to explain to BESE that there is no freedom allowed to local school systems in choosing curriculum, because the LEAP tests are the curriculum. And those tests are not valid.

Not long after the first PARCC tests were given, I made a public records request to review the underlying raw scores upon which the scale scores are based. At first the LDOE said such scores were not available for review. So then I got 6 legislators to sign on to the public records request and soon the real test scores were magically produced. The raw scores showed that the average scores of our students were so low, and the cut scores were set so low, that many students could come close to attaining a passing score by random guessing. I then went before BESE and explained that the testing system was not valid. When such conditions exist, independent testing experts will tell you that the test is not valid! (Needless to say, the LABI AND JOHN WHITE CONTROLLED BESE, IGNORED THE FACTS)

John White must stop inflicting child abuse on our students with these lousy tests. Better yet, White needs to go back to New York!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

No Excuses for White!

This article by John White’s friend at The Advocate, Will Sentell, attempts to provide cover for White on the eve of  the release of the latest NAEP test results. NAEP stands for a nationwide testing program mainly in reading and math called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes also referred to as The Nation's Report Card. The results of the 2017 NAEP test are scheduled to be released on April 10. Unfortunately for White who promotes test taking as the primary goal of education, the scores of Louisiana students will be compared to all other states.

This recent post by Mercedes Schneider on her blog predicts that the comparison may not be flattering to Louisiana or to Superintendent White, who has been one of the national darlings of education reform. Schneider reports that White recently fired off a letter to the director of the NAEP testing program claiming that many students may not be adequately prepared for the change to a computer based testing format for the NAEP test.

White’s argument that Louisiana students are handicapped by lack of computer test skills is totally bogus. For several years White has pushed local school systems in Louisiana to implement computer based testing at great cost to local budgets. Unfortunately, our students have probably spent more of their school day than students in other states preparing for the latest computer format tests.

Remember also that White, who had no formal training as an educator, was brought to Louisiana by Governor Jindal specifically to improve student test scores using a “no excuses” philosophy. After six years of bullying local school systems to redirect almost all efforts toward constant test prep at the expense of real education, he cannot use the excuse that our kids are at a disadvantage compared to other states. If you base your career on standardized test results you must also take the blame if your grand scheme fails!

In this post Schneider also points out that White has wholeheartedly supported the new and untested assumption in the Common Core reading standards that students should be able to demonstrate reading comprehension without extensive prior knowledge of the subject matter of a particular topic. Students are supposed to be able to utilize "close reading" to score well on the new tests. Now he is claiming the opposite. That’s what you get when you put someone in charge of education who really knows nothing about how children learn.

Students in Louisiana have now been subjected to 6 years as educational test subjects. White has saddled teachers and students with a highly inappropriate and unteachable set of standards that ignore everything we have learned in several centuries of educational pedagogy. Then White has converted almost the entire school year into cruel, boring test prep at the expense of real life skills learning. To paraphrase a recent national trend: White is a fake educator! There is no longer and excuse for us to tolerate John White and his destructive policies.

Friday, March 16, 2018

VAM; the Tar Baby Stuck to Louisiana Education

Governor Edwards supports a bill that would reduce the impact of VAM on teacher evaluations. VAM is turning out to be a tar baby stuck to the teaching profession in Louisiana. That tar baby is nasty and damages education, but the more we struggle the more it sticks to our evaluation system.

VAM stands for "Value Added Measures" and attempts to base a teacher's evaluation partially on the growth of student test scores over a span of several years.

The following is a statement by The American Statistical Association on the minimal relationship of VAM on student test scores:

"VAM should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."

Only 1 to 14% of the variation in student test scores can be attributed to the teacher!
House Bill 651 by Representative Frank Hoffman is an attempt to adjust the weight of a teacher’s VAM score closer to the actual value of VAM in rating teacher effectiveness. It reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation based on her/his VAM score to 15%. This is still a greater weight than would be indicated by the actual effect of VAM on the variation of student test performance. For the present school year, a teacher's VAM rating would comprise 35% of a teacher's evaluation.

Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."
Louisiana has used VAM for only one year as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. The results were a disaster. Some of the best teachers got the worst evaluations and vice versa. To make matters worse, Louisiana based higher pay on the flawed evaluation system. VAM is also a major factor in the likelihood that a teacher will be granted tenure. Rep Hoffman has another bill (HB 587) that would change the evaluation criteria qualifying a teacher to receive tenure. Other states such as Colorado using VAM as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation have also found that VAM is a very poor way to evaluate teachers.

The use of VAM has been suspended for the past 4 years for the evaluation of Louisiana teachers. But because the Louisiana Association of Buisiness and Industry (LABI) insisted that VAM should continue to be used, VAM is scheduled to go back into effect starting with the present school year at a weight of 35%. This flawed system should have been scrapped altogether, but LABI wants to continue it because the organization leaders refuse to admit that they were wrong.

Another problem with using VAM is that teachers who teach in non-tested areas have a big advantage in getting higher evaluation ratings and in qualifying for merit pay, AND TENURE. So why would anyone want to continue a system that discourages teacher’s from teaching the most basic subjects? Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."

Representative Hoffman’s bill is obviously an attempt to at least lessen the damage that will be caused by this ill conceived plan. A better plan would be to junk VAM altogether. But politics require that LABI bosses be appeased by punishing the teaching profession in some way. Does anyone wonder why fewer and fewer young professionals are choosing to become teachers? Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality." Local school administrators and John White (the guy who implemented VAM), are now scrambling to deal with a growing teacher shortage.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Congratulations to West Virginia Teachers

Hooray for West Virginia Teachers!

I and many other supporters of public education are very pleased that the West Virginia teachers got unified and stood up to the politicians in demanding better salaries and health care funding. It was obvious from the news coverage that the parents, students, news media and the general public overwhelmingly supported teachers in this effort. But it only happened because teachers stood together as a Union! Teachers in West Virginia have learned that the only time teachers get treated as professionals is when they stand together and demand fairness.

West Virrginia teachers are returning to their classrooms now with tremendous pride and self respect.  Teacher solidarity is something that is very rare today as the teaching profession in most states is routinely bashed and humiliated by politicians in the name of education reform.

In Louisiana during the Jindal administration, teachers were told that they would be empowered to negotiate for their salaries individually based on their effectiveness as teachers. Jindal and John White implied that group action would no longer be necessary as teachers would finally be paid based on objective measures of their value to students. VAM (Value Added Measures) would allow individual teachers to negotiate handsome salaries or to move to other school systems like free agents. Teachers were led to believe that they would be respected and empowered as professionals.  In Louisiana, two sweeping laws were passed in 2012 that established merit pay for teachers based on their effectiveness in raising student achievement. Seniority for preference in layoffs and other matters was done away with, and step increases for years of experience were cut back to pay for the merit pay scheme. How has that worked out in Louisiana?

Since the state did not provide one penny to fund the new merit raises based on VAM (Value Added Measures) and SLTs (Student Learning Targets), local school systems chose to dismantle valued step raises to fund the relatively meager merit pay bonuses. So teachers lost a major incentive for remaining in the profession as test prep was substituted for creative teaching.

When John White first was established as the dictator of public education policy in Louisiana, he often talked about empowering teachers based upon their effectiveness. How has that worked out?

When VAM was implemented for only one year as 50% of a teacher's evaluation it turned out to be a hot mess and often penalized some of our best teachers. Now the plan is to use VAM as only one-third of the evaluation, but nothing has been done to correct the flaws in the system. So now a very bad plan is going to be used at a lesser impact. How can that do any good?

Teachers everywhere need to be respected and empowered because the job they do is one of the most important in our country.  Teaching works best as a collaborative effort rather than a competitive effort. No one has ever found a merit pay system for teaching that works. Louisiana's Jindal/White reforms were no exception. The VAM system for determining merit pay has proven to be extremely unreliable, while the SLT system is extremely easy to game. So no one has confidence that merit pay has any merit. Meanwhile teacher average pay in Louisiana is declining because of the destruction of step increases based on years of experience. As a result of these so called "reforms" Louisiana is experiencing a growing teacher shortage.

What we learn from the West Virginia teacher strike is that no one empowers teachers other than teachers standing up for themselves as a unified group.

Hooray for the teachers of West Virginia! I hope Louisiana teachers will follow their lead.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The AP Data John White Did Not Want Us to See

Below are the latest rankings of states using AP scores, recently released by the College Board. This agency administers the Advanced Placement courses used by many of our schools.

Each year John White puts out a press release claiming great success in Louisiana student performance on AP tests over the previous year. The state even pays the fee for students to take the AP tests and gives schools extra points on their performance scores based on students taking AP courses. So each year there is an automatic increase in students taking AP courses. The only problem is that these courses are pretty much worthless unless the student scores at a level of 3 or better. Students who do not score at this level or higher do not get college credit for the course. The chart from the College Board on the state rankings on the latest results shows that Louisiana ranks second to last in the nation in students scoring at level 3 or higher! (Click on the figure to magnify it)

Juking the stats

Press releases from the LDOE about alleged success on AP tests is just one other example of "juking the stats". That's an expression reporters have used to point out how some school reformers often try to rig the data or report data in a way that presents a false picture of the real achievement of school reform.

Juking the stats also includes hiding the true passing scores on state tests (LEAP and EOC tests) by reporting only scale scores that look pretty good while the students statewide are averaging only a little above 40% on the percentage of questions the students answered correctly.

Another way of juking the stats is to pressure school counselors to register almost all graduates of a school as accepted applicants to college. Here's the thing: Some colleges have entrance requirements that would exclude many of our high school graduates because they are not truly qualified to succeed in college. But there are many fly-by-night colleges thet will accept almost anyone. So just getting kids accepted to college is extremely easy if you fill out the correct forms. But none if this means that all these "accepted" students will actually attend college. It is very sad that many of our students who are given worthless diplomas never attend or flunk out their first semester of college. Readers of this blog know that I believe that our current practice of pretending to prepare all students for college is a cruel hoax on our taxpayers, parents and particularly the students!

TFA corps member and experienced teacher exposes fraudulent claims

Here is a blog post from Gary Rubinstein that revues the true performance of Louisiana students on AP tests. The chart above shows that Louisiana has actually slipped lower in performance from the 2016 year.

Superintendent White is a failure using the very measures of success that he used to claim that Louisiana schools were failing before he took over our schools.

John White thought he could bully teachers to produce higher student test scores and send more of our kids to college. Our students are not progressing because the new Common Core based curriculum and the associated tests are not valid. He has failed miserably using the very standards he has used to criticize us before he took over. Juking the stats is a poor substitute for the real education our students so desperately need.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The School Reform We Really Need

The terrible mass murder of children and teachers yesterday in a Florida school may be a warning sign that our schools are lacking in vital instruction that many children need most. It is ironic that the Federal law titled “No Child Left Behind” and its successor law; “Every Student Succeeds” may actually be leaving large numbers of students behind and preventing thousands from succeeding. Maybe nothing could have helped prevent a deranged expelled student from committing this latest atrocity. But is it possible that education policy makers have ignored some of the most needed reforms that could actually save and redirect some of our misguided students?

Louisiana schools and the schools in most other states have been in a constant state of reform since the 90’s.  The Nation at Risk Report of 1983 told us that our schools were failures in educating our children to compete with other countries.  So our policy makers have set about adopting school reforms that are based mostly on wishful thinking rather than real education principles.

Governors, legislators, Congresspersons, and various self-appointed high profile education reformers have focused mostly on an attempt to push all students through a poorly designed college prep curriculum.  Contrary to all evidence indicating that students vary greatly in their interests, talents and abilities, our reforms assume that all students can and should be taught the exact same academic concepts in English, math, science and social studies in lock step. The prescribed academic material in those subjects is measured by standardized testing. Those test scores of students are used to rate schools and teachers but not so much for determining the progress and needs of students from one grade level to the next.

Social science and even DNA data tells us that children enter school with a wonderful variety of abilities and interests other than just academics. Yet almost nothing is done in grades K though 8 to identify each student’s unique talents and interests. The regimentation of our new curriculum does not allow for real individualization of instruction.

Many of our students of today lack a secure and productive home environment. In Louisiana, a large portion (about 40%) of our students are growing up in an extremely deprived environment, often lacking proper nutrition, health care, and most importantly lacking a secure nurturing home life. A huge proportion of students have only one parent and lack positive role models in their lives. Our current school reform efforts have purposely ignored these challenges and assumed that a standardized college prep curriculum would cure all ills. This was a serious miscalculation. Our current reforms are failing the students that need the most help.

In Louisiana, our official accountability policy requires teachers to teach the exact same material to all students at each grade level, regardless of their real progress level. Our plan recently adopted by BESE allows and encourages almost all students to be passed to the next grade each year even if they fail all their tests. That plan instructs teachers to teach remediation and new material all at the same time. It is assumed that formal education alone can close the gaps in student performance and somehow produce college prep for all. This plan is a failure and neglects many thousands of students.

When dozens of schools in the New Orleans school system were taken over by the state as part of education reform, thousands of experienced teachers were fired and cast aside. They were replaced by well meaning, young untrained college graduates who had no real preparation as teachers. These young people were mostly white and came from wealthy backgrounds. These replacements for the experienced teachers could not be role models because they came from a different world. In two or three years most of them returned to their privileged worlds and never made a real difference in student’s lives.

So contrary to the current reform trends, much more needs to be done to train and hire teachers of color particularly for schools serving mostly African American students. Also, it would help to encourage highly respected black men to serve as teachers for the many black male students who have no positive role models. All children need great role models.

There also need to be real efforts to identify the special abilities and interests of our students. They are not all destined to succeed in college no matter how much our leaders wish it. We have already proven that the majority of our students will not attend college just based on wishful thinking.  As my previous post explains, it is a cruel hoax to continue graduating students who are functionally illiterate. Worthless diplomas are one of the results of the current school reform. Thousands of kids are not qualifying for TOPS and their parents, who could not provide them proper food and shelter, certainly cannot afford college tuition!

The common core based curriculum that has been forced on all children is not relevant for even half of our students. Students who regularly average just above 40% correct answers on their state tests are certainly not mastering anything. Many of these kids would be much better off learning practical math and vocational subjects than the highly irrelevant math and English being pushed upon all students.

Finally, instead of constantly drilling students for irrelevant tests, why can’t we allow dedicated teachers and guidance counselors time to talk to students about setting a course for a rewarding future. The coursework for those futures should include intensive training in the use of modern tools used in modern highly paid trades. Germany does this, and has the most advanced manufacturing economy in the world while American manufacturing is dying. Every kid who really wants to take college prep courses should be allowed to do so, but no course should be watered down (as we do now) to pretend that all students are college prep.

Oh, and what can we expect our elected “leaders” to do about school shootings?
Instead of banning assault weapons, my guess is that the gun lobby is going to propose that the way to stop school shootings is to train and arm all children in the use of assault weapons as soon as they can walk. Every kid and teacher could then be handed a gun each day as they enter school so that they could be ready to shoot it out with any school invader. This is insane!