Wednesday, November 27, 2019

School Discipline Needs Enforcement!

Here is a youtube video featuring an Ohio teacher placed on Facebook by Lee Barrios, decrying the lack of support for teachers in maintaining discipline in the classroom. We have exactly the same problem in Louisiana! The big difference is that while the Ohio teacher proposes that there needs to be a written policy specifying effective consequences for student misbehavior, Louisiana has exactly such a policy in state law and in the Teacher Bill of Rights. The problem is that the pressure from our Louisiana Department of Education acts to discourage local school systems from enforcing the law and supporting teachers in maintaining classroom discipline.

Teachers in St. Tammany led by longtime teacher advocate Lee Barrios, are speaking out about the need for the school system to enforce the law on discipline. But the problem is that the non-educator administrators in the LDOE have erected obstacles to discipline enforcement, especially if it results in student suspensions. The fact is that most school systems provide more that sufficient alternatives to suspension. The problem is that if a school administrator assigns a disruptive or disrespectful student to after school detention, and the student does not show up, out-of-school suspension often becomes the only remaining option. The school should not be down rated on the LDOE website for taking necessary action to back up teachers in maintaining order.

Let me be clear: I agree with the teacher in the video. If one student is depriving the rest of the class of their instruction time, then that one disruptive student needs to go. In addition, I would suggest that in serious or repeated cases of violation of discipline policy, the parents should be required to take appropriate action to get the student to behave properly if the student is to be readmitted to school. All of that is already provided in state law. But there are serious flaws in enforcement.

The problem is that the Louisiana State Department of Education is so determined to hand out diplomas, earned or not, to greater and greater percentages of students that the rights of the majority of students are being taken away. The present situation is that almost any wrongdoing can be ignored just so a student can be handed a worthless piece of paper (diploma). Excessive absences in violation of the state's mandatory attendance law are routinely excused, worthless credit recovery courses are given to students who fail required courses, and cut scores on required courses are low enough to allow illiterate students to get credit. This is what school "reform" has done to our pubic schools.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

John White, Common Core, Education Reform, and the Widening Learning Gap

Where are we going with Louisiana education for the next 8 years of education reform? How did we get here? The education policy we have been pursuing for the last 10 years was actually created without input from the parents and teachers who are closest to the delivery of education to our children. The present policy of poorly designed, unteachable standards was dreamed up by a bunch of self appointed elites who have never spent a day a the head of a classroom.

Common Core standards that were implemented in Louisiana starting in 2012,  have proved to be a disaster for our students because they were untested in actual classrooms, were not age appropriate for most children, are full of abstract concepts that are dull and boring to most of our students, and that will never be used in a person's lifetime. I am talking about stuff like quadratic equations in math, close reading in English where students are taught no context that connects with real life, and state testing where passing scores have to be secretly set at 12% just to make it look like our students are learning this stuff. We have been experimenting with our kids lives for 10 years and the experiment has failed, but none of the architects of this disaster are willing to admit it.

Here is the most recent fluff piece by the pro-reform education reporter for the Baton Rouge advocate, Will Sentell, fawning over the complete sweep of LABI endorsed candidates in the recent BESE elections. LABI has actually been in full control of Louisiana education since January 2012 when the LABI engineered takeover of BESE first occurred. January 2012 is when their hand picked eduction reformer and privatizer, John White was installed as State Superintendent.  Sentell in his article seems to pronounce the first phase of reform as a big success because there are now fewer schools rated D and F. Only he neglects to mention that these improved ratings are totally rigged by White to portray false progress. Why not evaluate the success or failure of reform by using the very statistics that justified the reform to begin with? In a nutshell, here are the vital statics that show the true lack of success of the Louisiana education reform movement.
  • ACT scores have declined significantly for the last three years in a row and are now just about the lowest in the nation.
  • The NAEP ranking of Louisiana compared to other states is just about the lowest it has ever been.
  • The achievement gap between White and Black students and rich and poor students is significantly greater for math and reading than when White and the reformers took over.
  • Charter schools in New Orleans still rate in the bottom 20% among parish school systems and lead the state in scandals such as grade fixing and phony diplomas.  (see the ranking in my previous post on this blog) They also lead in financial mismanagement with several charter schools going bankrupt and dumping their debts and students to local school boards. I know of no traditional public school ever going bankrupt.
  • The two remaining Recovery Districts rank at the very bottom of the state systems in academic performance. (See my previous post)
These are indications of complete failure, not progress. White has succeeded in muddying the statistics with his rigged school ratings that simulate success, but the reforms have failed totally when measured using the unbiased statistics above that were the justification for the reforms in the first place. (What about the higher graduation rate? Sorry, it was rigged too, by removing almost all standards for graduation).

Let's go back to a conference held in January 2012 that was organized by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry titled "Leadership for Change" Here is my post at that time titled "Have You  Been Invited?" That conference was sponsored by LABI  to launch their new course for public education in Louisiana. Participants were mostly business types, but the organizers forgot to invite any practicing educators. My blog that day points out the following:

"The event is apparently by invitation only. One would assume that it would include local superintendents or at least officers of the Superintendent's Association, school board officials and local school supervisors of curriculum, local accountability supervisors, and even classroom teachers. These are the people who have dedicated their careers to the education of our Louisiana public school students. They are the ones who know the most about what works and what does not work in our schools.  They should be the first ones invited to any education summit where the future of Louisiana education will be discussed and planned."

The keynote speaker at the Leadership for Change conference was Joel Klein, a super rich attorney who had just served as Eduction Chancellor for the New York city system for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was one of the big out-of-state contributors who financed the takeover of BESE. Klein was introduced as a great reformer who had just finished turning around the New York city public school system by significantly raising student test scores and introducing a real business model for the operation of schools. It was only learned much later that Klein had created the illusion of success by secretly lowering the cut scores for the city tests. Later, Klein's scheme to monetize tracking of student data was abandoned after hundreds of millions spent on no-bid contracts. Does this look familiar? Looks like John White, who worked for Klein before he was brought to Louisiana, was not the first innovator of rigged test scores and privatization.

John White is now assured his continued role as the Tsar of Louisiana education. So what's the next phase of Louisiana education reform? I would expect that White would double down on his failed policies of test and punish for our schools and teachers, with zero accountability for students and parents.

Maybe because he is not a true educator, there is a critical factor that White has overlooked. That is the simple principle well recognized by all educational psychologists and backed up by education research. That is: No real learning takes place without motivation! For the majority of children in our public education system today, there is almost no attention to motivation that will actually cause them to want to learn what we are attempting to teach in school. Our present curriculum is so boring, so irrelevant to real children, and so irrelevant to real jobs in the workforce today that all of White's efforts at reform are doomed to continued failure.

Ask any teacher or any guidance counselor and they will tell you that by the time our average students reach the 6th or 7th grade, school has lost all relevance and motivation for children to learn what we are trying to teach. We need to change our curriculum to make it relevant to real life. Much of the Common Core math we are teaching in middle school will never again be used by 98% of our students. The boring reading assignments produced by Common Core are destroying any love of reading. Real motivation is the secret to boosting learning as explained here and here. We need to encourage children to experience the joy of reading before we can expect them to slave away at close reading exercises.

But most of all, we need to encourage teachers to do what works best. That's allowing teachers to be creative in what they know will interest and motivate children to learn the concepts and skills that are really useful in life. We need to cut back drastically on the state testing and test prep that is poisonous to student motivation. Don't expect John White and the non-educator reformers to adopt any of these ideas.

According to the Sentell article, the next phase of education reform will include tackling the wide gap in academic performance of black and underprivileged students compared to white middle class students. This is sometimes called the equity gap. What will the reformers do about bringing up the performance of the key subgroups addressed in the ESSA plan? Maybe the reformers haven't figured it out yet, but the new Common Core curriculum does not work well with low performing students. Will the LDOE continue to take over schools that have large numbers of minority and free lunch students who underperform? I think not. The Recovery District is a total failure. Look at their ranking in my previous post. John White no longer wants to take responsibility for these difficult problems. His strategy is to continue chastising the administrators of schools that serve such students and keep pretending that poverty should not make any difference. But it does. So it's going to get harder and harder to keep dedicated educators in high poverty schools. What we can expect is more demoralizing test and punish, without state takeover.

What about charter schools and privatization? The voucher schools seem to be stalled because of terrible performance. But the bad news is that the LDOE has finally found a model of charter schools that works, but not for at-risk students. The secret to high performing charter schools is implementation of a system of student selection that attracts the high performing students and shuns the at-risk. This is already happening with the KIPP schools and the BASIS charter schools. Baton Rouge is now experiencing increased segregation of students by race and class as BASIS carefully recruits high performing students while shunning handicapped and black students. The new portfolio model for a school district is heading toward a two tiered system with elite charter schools getting the high performers (both black and white), and leaving the low performers to the real public schools. The federal courts used to frown on intentional segregation. Are they willing to allow the portfolio model to segregate students to greater levels than before court ordered desegregation?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Poverty vs District School Performance

This ranking lists all Louisiana school systems and certain individual schools in order of increasing poverty. The table includes the district performance scores and the letter grade as assigned by the LA Department of Education for 2019. 
(Click on the image to magnify)

It is noteworthy that the districts and schools with the smallest percentage of high poverty students achieved the highest district and/or school performance scores and the highest letter grades. Conversely, the three school districts with the greatest student poverty received the lowest performance scores and the lowest letter grades in the state.

The highest scoring schools in the state are the school for math/science/arts and the LSU lab school. These are selective admissions schools but they also have the lowest percentages of high poverty students in the state.

The Zachary Community school district, which has the highest district performance score, has only 3 percentage points higher poverty than the wealthiest school system . The school systems in Louisiana that rank in the top 10% according to wealth, with the exception of Livingston Parish, all  received "A" grades from the LDOE.

A few good words about the Zachary Community school system
The Zachary school system is celebrating its 15th year in a row as the highest performing school system in the state based on standardized test scores. Zachary administrators and teachers certainly deserve much credit. My wife and I both taught in the Zachary school system many years ago,  long before school systems were ranked by student test scores. It was an excellent school system even then. Like all other school systems, Zachary teachers spend a lot of time preparing students for the almighty annual state tests. But in my opinion, that is not what makes Zachary a great school system. The teachers and administrators in Zachary have always taught the whole student with great attention to each student's talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Teachers are allowed to use great creativity in addition to test prep. My grandson who was a co-valedictorian at Zachary also enjoyed taking great courses in shop, art and athletics.

Very few school systems have managed to perform better than expected
There are four school systems that score significantly above their expected scores according to the level of poverty:  Plaquemines Parish which achieved an "A" performance with a 70% poverty rate and Catahoula, St. Bernard and St Mary Parishes which achieved  "B" grades with 78% poverty rates.

However, with few exceptions, school systems generally perform closely as an inverse proportion to their poverty ranking.

Another exception to the rule above  is represented by the three virtual schools in the state. (look up how they rate on the test rankings) These schools all score lower than would be predicted by their poverty rates.  If test scores are so important, why are these schools provided 90% of the student MFP funding, even though they do not have to pay for buildings, buses, custodians, librarians, school lunch and many other costs that real schools are expected to provide with almost the same funding?
With very little variation, districts' performance scores are inversely proportional to the rate of poverty.

The creation of so called "Recovery Districts" that are supposed to turn around so called "failing schools" have had almost no impact. Just see where the two remaining Recovery districts are performing in the table above. The New Orleans school district has only recently been restored control of its Recovery district.  Their school performance score places Orleans in the bottom 20% of a state that is ranked third to last among all states. his expensive program has done little to improve test scores.

School performance scores and letter grades based on test results and graduation rates have encouraged corruption
The pressure on schools to raise test scores has produced more corruption than actual improvement in student academic achievement. Some school administrators, particularly in takeover charter schools whose continued existence may depend on student test scores, have devised creative ways of cheating to raise their school performance score. Cheating is made more likely by the LDOE policy that allegations of wrongdoing at a school are primarily investigated by the local district or charter operator. That allows for a lot of cover up. But some of the most blatant cases have come to light. These include revelations of answer corrections by computer erasure analysis. But no one goes to jail like the teachers and administrators in Atlanta who had their test corrections investigated by the FBI. In Louisiana, where the school letter grade is determined by several factors, we are getting more creative cheating such as the recent "fix your grade books" scheme or the awarding of diplomas to half a 12th grade class by awarding credits that were not earned.

Why does Louisiana stigmatize and demoralize educators whose only apparent sin is that they serve high poverty students?
Schools are not buildings. Schools are communities of human beings composed of students who are served by dedicated, caring,  teachers and administrators. The data above demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between standardized test scores and the rate of poverty of students who make up the student body of a particular school. The American Statistical Association has determined that the impact of teacher quality in a school accounts for only between one and 14% of student test performance. What is to be gained by spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year on standardized testing when we can already accurately predict the average test scores in a school by the level of poverty of its students. BESE no longer requires students to pass these tests to be promoted, so why give them? Unfortunately, because of the stigma produced by low school grades, it is only that much harder to attract the best and most dedicated teachers to schools that serve the neediest students.