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!


Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I’m so busy keeping my head above water I don’t get to read your stuff like I used to, but it’s good to know you’re still out there translating all the bull crap numbers into matter of fact language. I don’t know how much longer I can hang on...but I five years I’ll have heart aches at what’s happening before my eyes in the classroom. Severe behavior issues are being sent back to class, kids motivation to learn is declining with all the test prep, teachers are the one to blame no matter how hard they try...I don’t discourage kids from going into education, but I go silent when the time comes to encourage it!

Teachers (myself) need to heat more voices like yours!

Anonymous said...

FASFA applications are up because some schools are requiring that they are filled out with proof as a graduation requirement.

I wonder if the NAEP results are part of Mr. White's yearly evaluation?

Guy Baxter said...

"Average raw scores on state LEAP tests have stagnated to just above 40% correct answers on each such test for the past three years."
Do you have any percentages for EOC tests, specifically Algebra 1?

Michael Deshotels said...

To Guy Baxter:
No I do not have average scores for any of the EOC tests. But the results would not be conclusive particularly for Algebra I. That’s because the cut scores on some of the EOC tests are set so low that students could possibly pass by just making random guesses at the multiple choice questions. The last time I checked, the passing score on the Algebra I test was set at 36%.

Jeremy said...

Biology EOC is somewhere in the same neighborhood as Algebra I. It only takes about a 38% to get a fair (passing for the student, not for the teacher or school).

Daniel Granfors said...

I feel that I have been privileged [?] to have a front-row seat to the wreckage and havoc caused by school "reform" in Louisiana. Having come from 8 years teaching in a parochial school into the public system in 2003, I have witnessed the clown show of GLEs, LATAAP, Jindal, Act 504, RTI, Compass, EAGLE, and a host of other acronyms which elude me now. To now see proof of what I strongly suspected at the time, that is that all of these were half-assed schemes supporting an agenda with profit at the root, gives me no satisfaction. The fact that we cannot seem to jettison White, even with a Democratic governor, causes me to despair that perhaps education in Louisiana cannot be fixed. The fact that a bill like HB 343, which seeks to stifle speech among employees in schools, could even be authored at this date shows that the forces of chaos have not relented. The "sleaze" coefficient for all of it remains robust. I guess that the gullibility and viciousness that swept a malignancy like Trump and his coterie of reptiles into power is just too strong.

Anonymous said...

What is HB 343? What does it say/do?

Michael Deshotels said...

About HB 343. Thank you to Ganey Arsement of Educate Louisiana for a post about HB 343. Here is the url:
Apparently it is an attempt by fake teacher organizations which are really aligned with and propped up by business organizations. LABI will never be happy until teachers as a group have absolutely no political power to affect their own working conditions. As I have pointed out in many posts on this blog, the teaching profession is a target of teacher haters in the business lobby. I am not sure this bill will really have the effect its sponsors contemplate since it is a violation of the constitution to limit free speech even if it occurs during working hours. Thank you to the LAE and the LFT for standing up for real teacher rights.

Anonymous said...

So...What is the answer? I have 12 years vested in a Louisiana public school system and have seen the decline first hand. How can we force change? In my opinion, what we ask of many of our young students is developmentally inappropriate. It frustrates me to see the look of defeat on so many students and colleagues.

Michael Deshotels said...

To Anonymous:
The people who wrote the Common Core standards apparently had no clue about the huge variation in K-12 students’ aptitude and motivation for strictly academic, college prep study. They arrogantly wrote the standards according to unrealistic aspirational standards that they believed would prepare all students for academic, college type learning. They then sold their project to Bill Gates and Arne Duncan. The damage this untested curriculum is doing to many of our students is tragic. We need for teachers to speak up to their legislators about this innaproate curriculum. And most of all John White needs to go before he inflicts more damage.