Monday, December 31, 2012

A special message

Best wishes to my readers:
I hope the new year brings better policies and much needed support for our public schools. I believe our public schools and teachers in Louisiana have been doing an excellent job for which they have received little appreciation and recognition. I yearn for the day when our teachers, who I believe are among the most dedicated of all public servants, are granted the right to teach as professionals. I believe teachers know what their students need to get the most of their education. But until they are really empowered to teach with creativity and to involve their students in the joy of learning instead of spending inordinate time in prepping for standardized tests, Louisiana will continue to suffer with the mediocrity called "education reform"!
(click here for the test teacher song)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate Exposes RSD Snow Job

This letter to the editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate by Dr Mercedes Schneider, copied here verbatim, exposes the fraud perpetrated on the state and nation by the Louisiana Recovery School District. I have included also the comments by readers of The Advocate which I believe has been complicit in supporting the RSD propaganda machine.

Letter: Publicize school letter grades RSD

I have been reading about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s promoting the Recovery School District (RSD) as an example of the success of his educational reform package. I am not sure how Jindal qualifies “success” since a disproportionate number of RSD-run schools earned a D or F as a 2012 school performance score. So, I went to the RSD website to see how this issue of “success” might be treated.

Here’s is the RSD tactic: Ignore the school letter grade situation completely.

You read it right. The RSD makes no mention of school letter grades on its website. It does offer links to “school performance” and even uses the term “school performance scores.” The RSD site offers charts and graphs with the numeric school performance scores. Why, then, does the site not include the letter grades?

In 2010, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue defended the then-new school letter grade system by saying, “People can relate to grades.”


According to the information posted on the Louisiana Department of Education website for 2012, 60 schools are designated as being RSD schools. Out of 60 schools, 51 received a D or F letter grade. None received an A.

Being “transparent” with such information would reveal the truth, and the truth is bad for business.

If the RSD website publicizes its letter grades, then the world will clearly see that the state-run RSD does not live up to what LDOE also continues to promote on its website: “…The Recovery School District (RSD) is a leading reform model for educators around the country and even around the globe as they search for solutions to transform low-performing schools.”

According to LDOE’s own letter grade standard, state-run RSD schools are not “transformed.” The state with its self-proclaimed reformer rhetoric may control these schools, but the state, by its own standard, is failing.

RSD success is a lie.

In order to truly understand what exactly occurs in RSD, state and national media need to travel to New Orleans and other RSD locations and talk to RSD students and parents. The state and national media need to investigate the effects of revolving-door charters on student well being and community stability. The state and national media need to expose the disconnect between what so-called “reformers” are showcasing as success on one hand and hiding via information-twisting and omission on the other.

Mercedes K. Schneider, Ph.D.
applied statistics and research methods

The following are the comments submitted to this letter by readers of The Advocate. Note that they are listed in the reverse order in which they were received.
1) Comment by Bouncer - 12/20/2012
That's great news, deutsch29. The fact that the emperor has no clothes should be proclaimed loudly and often!
2) Comment by deutsch29 - 12/20/2012
Bouncer, I send all of my writings to the media. I constantly attempt to get the message out. This letter is one example of my efforts.
3) Comment by conglo - 12/19/2012
At one time Jefferson Community School was getting $87,500 per student. LA School Grades has Jefferson Community School school listed as School Grade D. Jefferson Community School was left off of the School SPS and Letter Grade for 2011-2012. Why wasn't this school listed on the School SPS Letter Grade for 2011-2012? James Garvey, BESE member, served on the board of Jefferson Community School, a charter school and is still an adviser!!! For four years, Garvey was a member of the Board of Directors of Jefferson Community School and served a term as Chairman of the Board of Directors. He served on the Managing Board of Teach For America's New Orleans Chapter. He's also served on the boards of the Jefferson Parish Education Foundation, the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, and the Jefferson Community Foundation.
4) Comment by Bouncer - 12/19/2012
People like Dr. Schneider (and you, too, Noel) ought to go directly to the media, preferably broadcast, and try to get your message out to as many people as possible. I cannot think of a much greater public good than exposing these frauds in the glare of the media and showing them for what they are.
5) Comment by Scrooge - 12/19/2012
A more applicable acronym for the RSD might be VSD, Voodoo School District.
6) Comment by bourbon-soda - 12/19/2012
The default position of the citizen regarding the great majority of reporting of education statistics, should be that of the cynic. Most such statistics serve various pig-at-the-trough economic, and specifically monetary, conflicts of interest. The phenomenon is bipartisan. Interesting reading: _Years_Later_1_.htm or google [west virginia lake woebegone].
7) Comment by Noel Hammatt - 12/19/2012
A wonderful letter! Dr. Mercedes Schneider has hit the proverbial nail on the head! I wrote about this tendency of "reformers" to change the standards immediately when they wanted to claim success for their worthless ventures into privatization in an article at Harvard University's Nieman Center titled "Shifting Standards in the World of School Reform." fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=511 Diane Ravitch quoted from my work in her Op-Ed in the New York Times where she pointed out how all the reformers love to condemn a school when it is run by the local school districts, then immediately claim success for their "reforms" simply by changing the measures of success when THEY take over the school. See _r=0 John White has had great success in getting the media to not "look behind the curtain" when he takes over schools and then immediately changes the standards by which we measure success! With a bevy of highly-paid publicists, the refromers comb through the data looking for ways to spin the truth so that their failures don't appear as failures! And the media, acquiesces to their efforts at "muddying the narrative" by (in my words from another article at Harvard's Nieman Watchdog) "parroting the press releases." In that article I also invite the media to "do their homework." fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=505 The messages of the so-called "reformers" are a great admixture of Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984" along with Huxley's "Brave New World." Would that our media only heed the lessons of these authors in their own articles. Thanks again, Dr. Schneider! If we only could highlight the truth, the reformers would be run out of town!
8) Comment by NearBarbarian - 12/18/2012
AMEN, Dr. Schneider!
9) Comment by tradewinns - 12/18/2012
the problem is the useless parents. until that fact is codified everything else is a joke. actually a waste. a waste of time, money and kids.
10) Comment by teacherguy - 12/18/2012
It is a shame the general population of the state believe what they hear in the media...those who actually dare to research the "successes" touted by the state "governing body" are left scratching their heads at exactly what the "successes" are! The only successes I've seen in the trenches are the absolute demoralization of teachers, the planned exodus of the average to above average teaching talent from the profession, and an almost perfect disconnect from those doing the grunt work (teachers) and those in the LDOE who pretend to care by browbeating anyone who disagrees with their math (VAM and Accountability scores/grades) and illogical thinking. The devastation that has reigned down on public education over the past year can NOT be called progress when the leaders (LDOE) have so few battle ready teachers to follow them! To harness the passion of experienced teachers to change public ed will have to come from a different set of leaders.

One more note: If my readers would like to see a thorough analysis of the New Orleans Recovery District, just click on this link to an analysis by Research On Reforms which is an independent research group based in New Orleans led by Dr Barbara Ferguson and Charles Hatfield.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Act 1 Ruling Helpful in Restoring Teacher and School Board Rights

Congratulations to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers for winning a partial victory against some of the anti-teacher legislation passed by the Jindal administration. The ruling by Judge Caldwell removes the provision of Act 1 that would have denied teacher seniority rights based upon a negative rating on the new Act 54 evaluation system. Another part of this court ruling also returns the right of school boards to make employment decisions. The judge also denied John White the right to tamper with local superintendent contracts.

Unfortunately the teacher tenure law remains mostly gutted, in that the new tenure procedure left in tact by the ruling no longer guarantees a fair hearing process to teachers recommended for dismissal. But by retaining the rights of school boards to make the final decision on dismissals, the ruling does give teachers some opportunity to appeal an unfair dismissal. This was the whole reason for tenure in the first place; not to protect incompetent teachers.

Judge Caldwell's ruling also allows to stand a provision of Act 1 that immediately does away with a teacher's tenure as soon as she/he receives one unsatisfactory rating from the new evaluation system. Such teachers then become "at will" employees and can be dismissed without a hearing of any kind. Considering the possibility of errors, particularly in the VAM, many good teachers could still have their careers wreaked unfairly.

This ruling may still be appealed by either the LFT or the Jindal administration. In the meantime, just as in the case of the ruling on Act 2 denying Jindal the right to raid the MFP to fund vouchers, the legislature is sure to be asked by Jindal to continue his attacks on public education.

That's why I strongly recommend that educators and school board members begin now to discuss these critical issues with their legislators. The final decision on much of Jindal's education "deform" still rests with the legislature.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

VAM and School Ratings Clash

On the Sandy Hook Tragedy:
I would like to refer my readers to the recent posts by Diane Ravitch concerning the horrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school. Dr Ravitch provides us with an excellent perspective from an educator's point of view on this senseless tragedy. Most educators I know are not surprised by the spontaneous acts of heroism by the principal and faculty of this typically good public school.

On the Issues of School and Teacher Performance:
Barbara Leader of the Monroe News Star recently reported on some of the nonsensical results of Louisiana's school rating and teacher evaluation systems. The reporter has discovered a remarkable disagreement between the accountability rating scores of several of the school systems in Northeast Louisiana and the teacher value added evaluations. That is, in some school systems rated as poor by the Louisiana school performance scores, the value added scores of the teachers are disproportionately high and in some top rated school systems the value added scores are disproportionately low! There are even some school systems with both disproportionate numbers of high value added teachers and low value added teachers. In my opinion, such results reflect poorly on both the letter grades for schools and the new value added teacher evaluation system.

The media and the public have been seriously misled by our amateur education leaders in Louisiana about what constitutes a good school and what makes a good teacher. These strange results are occurring because our school rating system is based purely on student performance, instead of teacher performance and our value added system is based on pseudo science which inaccurately predicts the performance of many classrooms.

Representative Hoffman who authored the new teacher evaluation system is now admitting that the system is flawed. Yet apparently he and the other legislators are still willing to let the program go forward and possibly damage or end the careers of good teachers. Would those same legislators be willing to pass laws that end the careers of doctors, lawyers or accountants based on the mortality rates of patients, the conviction rates of suspects, and the poor money management of businesses? Or would they admit that possibly doctors are not responsible for the smoking habits and unhealthy lifestyles of patients and lawyers can't help it if some of their clients break the law, and accountants cannot always get their client business leaders to follow good money management advice

But in Jindal's war on public education, taxpayers are being led to believe that all schools should be producing great results regardless of parent cooperation and the handicaps faced by students. The public is encouraged to assume that if a school in a poor neighborhood scores a D on the school rating system then the teachers and the principal must not be doing their jobs. Yet the value added system may very well rate the teachers and principal at that school to be above average of even excellent. At the same time newspapers have reported examples of highly rated magnet schools where the teachers are judged by the VAM as below average or poor.

If the legislature really wants to do the right thing, they will junk both the school rating system and the VAM and insist that professional educators take the place of the amateurs at the State Department of Education and that the real educators be allowed to do their job of improving our public schools.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cyber School Waste

Pennsylvania auditors are waking up to the fact that cyber charter schools are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising just to attract students to their inferior on-line courses. The auditors point out that such schools are receiving much too generous state funding. The same is true in Louisiana where our two virtual charters receive 90% of regular MFP funding.

It costs much less to operate cyber schools than brick and mortar schools because the provider avoids building construction, maintenance, guidance, food service, and most special education services. On top of that, many virtual schools have pupil teacher ratios of 150 to one and more. No wonder most states are finding that cyber schools provide extremely inferior education. In Louisiana, unspecified profits are diverted to the for-profit companies that provide content for the "dummy" non-profits approved by BESE.

One of the reasons for the millions spent on student recruitment is the huge turnover rate of cyber students. If traditional schools produced such terrible results and spent millions on advertising and gave out millions in bonuses to executives, the operators would be hauled before the legislative committees and publicly humiliated before being fired. But for some reason the privately run cyber operators remain at the public trough. Could it have something to do with the generous contributions to our politicians? 

Do any of my readers know if the teachers in the two virtual schools are being evaluated according to the Act 54 evaluation system? I just don't know the answer to this.

To anyone who wants to truly understand the disaster we face in public education caused by the corporate reformers, I recommend the linked interview here of Diane Ravitch by Tavis Smiley. It is 30 minutes long, but I promise you that every minute is worth listening to. Dr Ravitch's analysis represents the best hope we have of reversing this disastrous course our politicians have chosen. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

BESE Defies Court Decisions

Public education was subjected to more insanity this week from the Jindal and the ALEC controlled BESE. BESE, at the request of Superintendent John White, voted to approve 45 Choice Course providers to offer MFP funded private courses in the 2013-14 school year. Tom Aswell writes in the Blog, Louisiana Voice, that not only is this action in conflict with the recent State and Federal court decisions outlawing MFP funded vouchers, but several of the BESE members voting for this windfall for private providers may have a serious conflict of interest. BESE members Lottie Beebie and Carolyn Hill were the only members who voted against the authorization. Ms Beebie suggested that at least 5 members of BESE should have recused themselves from voting on the Choice Course authorizations. It seems that some of the BESE members expressing enthusiasm for the privately sponsored courses had received hefty campaign contributions from some of the Course providers or their owners. I hope you will read the Louisiana Voice story (see the post dated Dec. 5) linked here which details the campaign contributions to BESE members by some of the Choice Providers.

In addition to the two court rulings against MFP funding and violation of deseg. requirements for Choice Courses, there are other important reasons for not approving Choice Courses as they are presently structured. I received a very disturbing answer from the BESE president to a letter I sent in September questioning the guidelines for Choice Courses. Following the response from Dastigue, I requested and received a meeting with Superintendent John White to discuss my concerns about the guidelines for Choice Courses. ( click here to read the Reuters story about Louisiana A la carte courses)

The meeting I had with White was very cordial and he seemed to be interested in my concerns about potential abuse or even fraud in the implementation of choice courses by some providers. I presented my concerns to White in writing in the form of the letter I had sent to BESE. He promised to review my concerns and get back to me with a response. To date there has been no response from White. Now BESE has approved the choice course program with no real safeguards for our tax dollars.

My major concern about Choice courses that is not adequately addressed in the BESE guidelines is that there is no guarantee that choice providers will deliver any level of value for our tax dollars. That's because the compulsory attendance law is basically waived for most choice courses. The problem is that there is no provision in BESE guidelines for taking roll for students attending choice courses. Also in the case of virtual courses delivered over the internet, students are exempted from a minimum number of hours of instruction. According to present BESE and DOE policy, students don't really have to attend choice courses in order for the provider to be paid. All that is needed for payment of the fee is for the provider to report to the DOE that the student has completed the course. Completion could be taking the provider's word that the student has passed the provider's tests, or it could be simply a statement by the provider that the student has completed all assignments required by the course. In other words, the provider has every incentive to claim that the student has completed a course even if he/she has done almost nothing. This was confirmed in my reply from Dastigue indicating that a student taking a “choice” credit recovery course or a high school course that requires end of course testing does not have to pass any such test for the provider to receive full payment!

None of the above shenanigans could happen in a regular public school setting. That's because there is real accountability for students, parents and schools in a regular public school provided course. By law, attendance is taken every day and if a student misses ten or more days, he/she cannot get credit for a course. In addition school systems are required by law to track down all truant or tardy students. Parents who do not send their children regularly to school can be found to be negligent by local judges and can be fined and required to send their children to school. But according to BESE rules for choice courses, students, parents and choice providers get a free pass and permission to misuse our taxes. This is what passes as education reform in Louisiana.

Jindal and White have stated that parents are the best judge of the value of a school or course provider and that parents should have every right to spend their child's MFP funding at any approved school or with any approved choice provider. But here is my objection to that claim. That MFP money does not belong to the parent or the child. In some cases the parent may not have paid any taxes that go to the MFP. That money belongs to all Louisiana taxpayers, even those who have no children in school. We all pay our taxes to provide for the common good of all citizens. That's why we all deserve accountability for all public funds spent to educate children. That's why choice course providers should not be allowed to write their own check for any services given to public school students. All of this is in addition to the fact that so far the courts have ruled that choice courses provided though the MFP are unconstitutional!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fallout From Our Governor's Ambitions

C. B. Forgotston is a former state budget official and is an expert on politics and Louisiana state government. I thought my readers might like to see the opinions of a non-educator on the recent fight over vouchers. The following is the post by Mr Forgotston about the Governor's ambition creating a problem for children. Remember when I pointed out in this blog that the LAE lawyer Brian Blackwell was correct in warning  private school administrators about the possible consequences of accepting voucher money. The following is an excellent blog on Louisiana politics and the folly of our governor's ambitions.

"Judge Tim Kelley’s decision today that the funding for Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program unconstitutionally diverts state funds to private and parochial schools was refreshing.
It’s rare when a Louisiana judge rules against a sitting governor, but the constitution is as clear as can be written that the money in the Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) can only be used for public schools.
Had Jindal not been in such a rush to ram through the new voucher program to advance his national political ambitions prior to the National Republican Convention, he could have gotten the leges to pass an amendment to the constitution to make its funding legal. Failing to do that, Jindal should have waited until the constitutionality of the new law was tested in the courts before implementing it.
Neither of those options served Jindal’s ambitions.
The voucher program might be the best thing since sliced bread. However, good intentions mean nothing if the will of the people as expressed in the constitution is circumvented for political gain.
Who suffers?

Jindal will not suffer as a result of this decision. He will quickly spin this stunning loss to his advantage with the national media.
Unfortunately, because of Jindal’s blind, political, ambitions he and a majority of the leges have just put 5,000 innocent school children into legal limbo. Where will they attend school next year?

If Jindal truly cared about Louisiana and providing quality education for the children, he’d accept the judge’s ruling and submit a proper funding mechanism in the 2013 legislative session. He won’t because Bobby only cares about Bobby.
Regardless, of how one feels about vouchers, a ruling based on the law rather than Machiavellian politics should make everyone feel good.
Kudos to Judge Kelley!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Big Win For Public Education!

Distric Judge Tim Kelly ruled Friday that it is a violation of the Louisiana Constitution for MFP funds to pay students to attend private schools.  The ruling was handed down as a result of lawsuits by the LAE, LFT and the Louisiana School Boards Association. The ruling prohibits the funding of public to private school vouchers now in operation and the course choice program scheduled to start next school year. See the Baton Rouge Advocate story.

This ruling will be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme court by the Jindal administration and BESE. But for now it is a great win for public education, for taxpayers and for children.  The voucher program was sure to grow over the years because of heavy advertising and student recruitment by small and very large private schools. Under the voucher system millions of our tax dollars would have been diverted from the classroom to these advertising campaigns. In some states almost half of captured education funds by virtual school giant K12 were used for advertising. They can do this because of pupil teacher ratios of as much as 250 to one. Also virtual schools have no buildings to maintain and no buses to run. They provide such a poor education that they have to constantly recruit new students to replace their massive dropouts!

Educators and school board members must prepare for a continued fight with the Jindal administration. Even if the voucher decision is upheld, his new "presidential" sized ego will compel him to fight public education in every way possible. These recent events demonstrate to us that there is now an all out war agains public education. But this war is by privatization interests, not by the average taxpayer or public school parent. Remember, 98 % of parents eligible did not apply for vouchers!

It is more important than ever that all teachers join and pay dues to their unions/professional organizations. That is join either the LAE or the LFT. Stop being paralyzed by the bogus anti-union propaganda! For the first time in our history there is a strong coalition uniting teacher organizations and school boards. This coalition made the win possible in the voucher lawsuit and will be even more important in the upcoming legislative battles. Teachers need relief from the extremely unfair VAM and both principals and teachers are needlessly burdened by the dog-and-pony show required by the COMPASS. We need strong organizations representing teachers, administrators, and school board members to fight the continuing Jindal privatization campaign. Remember that this court decision has no effect on the addition of more charter schools that are being pushed harder than ever before.

In addition to joining your union/professional organization you can join my Defenders of Public Education for free! Just send me an email to Tell me who your state Representative and Senator are and the email you want me to use to send you updates on the important bills before your legislator votes. Together we can make a big difference!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

SPS Scoring Bias

Dear Readers:
I am very pleased to publish a guest post this week by Dr Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana educator who has a doctoral degree in statistics. It is an excellent analysis of a major flaw in our Louisiana school grading system.

The grades that our schools in Louisiana have been assigned by our LDOE have almost no relation to the actual quality of education offered by each school. By far the dominant factor measured by the SPS scores and the resultant grade of “A” through “F” is the level of poverty of the students attending the school. In addition, Dr Schneider's analysis explains how the present school grading system favors high schools and combination schools over middle and elementary schools.

Next year the letter grading system will be based on 150 points instead of 200 points but the letter grades are not exactly proportionally adjusted. In addition, schools will receive bonus points for achievement gains by more than one third of low performing students that are greater than predicted by the new value added formula. The LDOE can and does change the formulas of the VAM to produce whatever results they want. But the primary result of all this manipulation has been to try to convince parents and voters that a large portion of our public schools in general are failures and that we should instead entrust our children and our tax dollars to private for-profit education providers that have almost no accountability for the expenditure of our taxes.

By: Dr Mercedes Schneider
On Sunday, November 18, I emailed John White and asked one question: “Who calculated the 2012 school and district performance scores?” The next afternoon, he emailed back, “The Department of Education’s Division of Assessment and Accountability performs that calculation.” I immediately responded, “What person or people specifically calculated the 2012 school and district performance scores? I would like to know their names please.”

I have yet to receive a response.

I realize that mine is not an easy question for White to answer. He cannot write that he doesn’t know. He cannot write that such information is secret. Given the importance of the scores, he certainly cannot provide names of people without stats/measurement credentials. And given the problems with the scores, White cannot even provide the name of a credentialed individual. The entire process of scoring, from the setting of the criteria to its application, is a psychometric sinkhole.

In addition, I think by now White knows my credentials; I believe this is why he went silent on me. I am a Louisiana public school teacher who holds a doctorate in applied statistics and research methods. I have been reading and examining the 2012 school performance scores and LDOE Bulletin 111, Louisiana School District, and State Accountability System, and I am not exaggerating when I write that from a statistics and measurement perspective, the entire process is a pristine example of how one should not conduct and apply high-stakes educational assessment.

Reading the contents of Bulletin 111 can be an intimidating task. First of all, it reads like a legal document. Indeed, it does have the force of law. Second, the document concerns the details related to calculating school and district performance scores, including numerous alterations, contingencies, labelings, and consequences. However, for all of its seeming complexity, the document is chaotic and is undeniably poor measurement procedure. Don’t let its daunting appearance fool you.

One sure way to ascertain whether or not Bulletin 111 is poor is to examine its outcomes: the scores it produces. I was able to view two spreadsheets related to the 2012 school and district performance scores, one made available to the public on the DOE website, and another sent to BESE members before the 2012 scores were made public. Examination of these scores reveals scoring bias in favor of high/combination schools and against elem/middle schools. The presence of scoring bias means that what is being measured is not school performance or growth; what is being measured is the quality of Bulletin 111. In the presence of bias, the quality of the bulletin is demonstrated to be poor, for the bulletin cannot deliver what it purports; namely, school performance and growth.

I calculated three ways in which this bias is evident in the 2012 scores, and on November 21, I composed a letter including my findings and sent it to Mr. White and members of BESE.  I will briefly summarize my findings here.

First, the number of schools with score increases of 10+ points is 190. Only 22 are elementary/middle schools; 168 are high/combination schools. What is important to note is that the elementary/middle schools outnumber high/combination schools 3 to 1. Thus, in the absence of bias (i.e., in the presence of equal measurement opportunity), if 168 high/combination schools showed baseline score gains of 10+ points, one would expect approximately 168 x 3 = 504 elem/middle schools to show the same increases. The difference between the observed 22 and expected 504 leaves no doubt as to scoring bias evident in the stipulations set forth in Bulletin 111.

Second, the number of schools labeled as “schools in decline,” as determined by a decrease of more than –2.5 SPS points from one year to the next (Bulletin 111, pg. 13), shows a disproportionate number of elem/middle schools. The ratio of elem/middle to high/combination schools scores decreasing by more than 2.5 SPS points is more than 5.5 to 1 (78 elem/middle schools to 14 high/combination schools). In the absence of bias, the ratio should be closer to the ratio of elem/middle-to-high/combination schools in the population: 3 to 1.

Finally, schools that have a growth score of 7 to 10 are labeled as having “entered Academic Assistance” (Bulletin 111, pg. 15). The proportion of such schools exceeds the proportion expected in the population of elem/middle vs. high/combination schools (observed 3.8 to 1 to expected 3 to 1). However, the bias against elem/middle schools is evident in the proportion of elem/middle vs. high/combination schools that met the growth target of 7 to 10 points. The proportion favors high/combination schools and is 1.3 to 1 (actual numbers: 105 elem/middle schools vs. 79 high/combination schools). Over 50% of the high schools met the growth goal (79/151 = .52); however, fewer than 20% of the elementary schools met the growth goal (105/574 = .18).

These numbers are not the result of “less effective” elementary/middle schools vs. “more effective” high/combination schools, although from Mr. White’s silence on the subject, I think he is hoping the public will view it that way. This one will require a powerful PR blender for its DOE/BESE “spin.”

To those elementary and middle schools with scores artificially suppressed by a crippled scoring system: Thank you for your efforts. I realize that you have taken a “separate and not so equal” hit in your 2012 performance scores.

To those high/combination schools that are benefiting from this biased system: Thank you for your work, as well. Please do not allow the unfairness in the performance scores to show itself in any “better than Thou” behavior toward your colleagues working in elementary/middle school settings.

To those district administrators who realize the error but who are keeping quiet in order to preserve the appearance of what is really an inflated district score: Please speak up on the side of decency and fairness. Please don’t succumb to the “spin.”

Respectfully submitted,
Mercedes K. Schneider, Ph.D.
Applied Statistics and Research Methods

Monday, November 19, 2012

School Closings Not the Answer

Another elementary school (Delmont Elementary School) in East Baton Rouge Parish is being recommended for closing due to lack of academic improvement. The school had been reconstituted with a new principal and faculty just before the beginning of the last school session and has already been demonstrating several indications that it was well on its way to improving. Such indications included enthusiastic support from parents and children. But the LEAP scores (in less than one year) have not yet shown significant improvement.

See Anthony Cody's Education Week blog Living in Dialog for a great analysis of why closing schools in poor neighborhoods is just another form of disrespect for poor people. He points out that there is hope in fighting the education "deformers".

The new EBR school administration is so impatient for higher test results that they are proposing to close the school and assign the students elsewhere without allowing the school the three years originally agreed to for the reorganization to show results. This is a big mistake, and will end up harming children and the dedicated teachers who had accepted the challenge of improving the school. It is very wrong to disrupt the lives of students and teachers when they have all made a strong commitment to turning a school around.

As far as I know, no one even bothered to consult with or properly inform the parents who had put their full faith in this school. The teachers who signed up at Delmont for the reorganization had committed countless extra hours of work, and had been doing the important work of building cooperation with parents. Their efforts had already been rewarded by a huge increase in enrollment compared to competing charter schools and voucher schools in the area. Enrollment at Delmont has gone up by 150 students despite the intense efforts by the State to encourage students in the community to attend voucher schools or state run charter schools in the area.

Children are attending Delmont because the parents trust the principal and the teachers there to give their children the very best education possible. Any visitors to Delmont can see for themselves how engaged students are in their school work and how efficiently the school operates.

All of the state run charter schools in the Baton Rouge area in contrast are dismal failures as is evidenced by low SPS scores and especially by huge declines in enrollment. But the state government still wants to add more charters and push more students into vouchers. Recently the LDOE quitely revoked all the charters except one in Baton Rouge and announced that the RSD would form an “Achievement Zone” in Baton Rouge to mimic the New Orleans Recovery District. The New Orleans RSD has been touted all over the country by highly unformed sources as a model for education reform. See the most recent research on the Recovery District by Research on Reforms.

The Louisiana school grading system is terribly flawed and is unfairly designating many good schools as failures so that privatization interests can profit from our school taxes. It is time for parents and teachers in Louisiana to organize against these ill advised school takeovers and school closings. Such takeovers and closings make a mockery of the so called “school choice” push by Jindal and White. When we have a community school that parents support, why can't we put in the effort and resources to make it better instead of disrupting the education of the children. Finally, in many parts of the country, parents are demanding that their community schools be kept open and that the necessary resources be allocated to provide the enriched programs needed in impoverished communities. Takeover and privatization have only worked for the benefit of the Living in Dialog

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Jindal Coersion

Governor Jindal intimidated his way to another win over the Legislature and the voters by turning over the administration of group benefits health insurance to Blue Cross Blue Shield. See the excellent post on this travesty in the Louisiana Voice blog.

All employee groups participating in OGB programs spoke against the privatization move. The groups opposing included the Retired Teachers' Association, the LAE, LFT, AFSME, and the School Boards Association. These groups remained in opposition even after the Jindal hand picked administrator for OGB sent out a glowing letter of praise for the Blue Cross contract to all participating School Boards earlier this week. This Coersion has become Jindal's trademark.

Only one school board official from Jefferson Parish testified in favor of the contract. The Jefferson Parish official thanked the Jindal Administration for the one million dollar savings the move would mean for Jefferson Parish. But other testimony before the committee pointed out that the one million savings only was possible because of the huge surplus in the OGB account caused by the excellent management by OGB. The savings in premium would have occurred without the Blue Cross takeover. Upon questioning by Rep. Pat Smith, the Jefferson official admitted that the Jindal voucher program was costing Jefferson two million dollars this year! Wonder why the Jefferson school system would thank Jindal for a net loss of one million?

Rep. Katrina Jackson pointed out that the actuaries are already predicting a huge hundred million dollar increase in payout of benefits for the new plan which will more than wipe out any temporary savings. Get ready for a big premium increase!

The following are the strong legislators who still voted "no" on the privatization plan:
Senate House
Senator Sherri Smith Buffington page1image4404Rep. James Armes
Senator Fred Mills, Senator Edwin Murray
Rep. Jared Brossett
Rep. Roy Burrell
Rep. Katrina Jackson, Rep. Edward “Ted” James, Rep. Walt Leger

Rep. Helena Moreno
Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, Rep. Ledricka Thierry

Please send an email "thank you" to those legislators for standing up to Jindal and for the employees and voters!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jindal Defeat a Lesson for Educators

Breaking News! Another meeting of the joint committee of the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees has been scheduled for 8:30 am, this Friday, November 9. At least two dissenting members of the Appropriations committee have been replaced by Jindal's puppet House Speaker. (Click here for the Monroe NewsStar article) The intent is to ram through the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits just as was done to public education last Spring. I am urging all members of the  Group Benefits plan to call or email members of those committees and ask that they oppose privatization again. This move by Jindal is his most anti-democratic move yet!

Educators (teachers, principals, and school board members) have the power to reverse or correct most of the Jindal damage to public education and the teaching profession! That's the lesson we can take from the decisive defeat suffered by Governor Jindal last Thursday on his effort to privatize the Group Benefits insurance program. The political lesson to be learned and utilized by educators is that when a large group of voters is adversely affected by a government action and they choose to put maximum pressure on their representatives in government, they win!

The action last week was supposed to be a simple rubber stamping by hand picked legislative committee members of the Governor's decision to turn over our successful, cost effective group benefits program to the Governor's friends at Blue Cross. But this time the educators, state workers and particularly the retired educators and retired state workers decided they had had enough of Jindal's bullying. The word spread quickly that the joint committee composed of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees had the power to stop the Governor's latest power play. The Retired Teacher's Association and other interested groups sent out an urgent message to their members listing the members of these legislative committees and their contact information (phone numbers and email addresses). The email urged members to simply tell their legislators on those committees how they felt about this move. One of my readers sent me the LRTA email, and I forwarded it to my Defenders of Public Education data base with the same call to action. The result was overwhelming! Within a matter of hours the Governor's control of the House Appropriations Committee was totally lost. Legislators reported receiving hundreds of phone calls and emails opposing the privatization with not a single constituent in support of the Governor's plan even though his “experts” had predicted that the privatization would save money and result in better service.

The result was a chaotic joint committee meeting with our hero, Rep. Katrina Jackson running parliamentary procedure circles around the Governor's cronies to force a “no” vote on the proposal. By the time the dust settled the vote was going to be firmly 16 against and only 7 in favor of the Governor's privatization plan. The Governor's Commissioner of Administration was allowed to withdraw the plan from the committees' agenda before a final vote could be taken. Senate Finance Committee members were greatly relieved to avoid voting on this losing proposition. This is what happens when the voters are willing to speak forcefully to their elected representatives. Of course the Jindal administration moved quickly to punish two key legislators by removing them from the Appropriations committee. I urge my readers to send an email to Rep Joe Harrison, Rep. Cameron Henry, and especially Rep. Katrina Jackson thanking them for their courage. This fight is not over, but I predict that even if the governor eventually wins this battle by sheer intimidation he will eventually lose the war and his ability to control the legislature.

There is no question in my mind that the education community can do the same thing to dismantle the worst parts of the Governor's ALEC dictated education “deform” blueprint. That's because the average voters never really cared about this plan for vouchers, school takeovers, teacher bashing, VAM evaluations, the stripping of teacher qualifications and dignity, and all the forms of privatization promoted in the Governor's plan. The dozens of legislators whose allegiance was bought by the big money from the privatization and testing interests have realized by now that the “emperor has no clothes”. The educators who work in the trenches and the school board members who have been humiliated and blamed for imaginary failings of our schools who really care about public education now have an opportunity to fight back and win.

The only thing that makes me just a little skeptical is that I wonder how many teachers and maybe even school leaders have never worked up the courage to sit down and talk face to face with their legislator about these critical matters. If many educators have only sent one or two emails and then given up and concluded that they have no power against the forces of the Governor and John White, then I really fear that we are doomed. But those educators were wrong! It is not too late. Why should we let these guys who voted to destroy public education, and who probably know they voted wrong, off the hook? Look. . . both of my legislators were new in their office this year and voted wrong on the education reforms, because they were overwhelmed by the Governor's initial push. But now educators are meeting with them regularly and calling their offices when an important education issue comes up. We are educating them about what is really important in education. Even more importantly they also know that we won't forget their support or lack of support at election time. You and your fellow educators can do the same. If you really care about public education, here is what you need to do now!
  1. Make a short list of the gut issues you care most about in education that you want to communicate to your legislators about and plan to meet with them to discuss those issues. You can see my personal list of important education issues at the bottom of this post.
  2. Use social media and emails to get educators to follow our louisianaeducator blog so all educators can be informed and prepared to deal with attacks on educators and public schools.
  3. Form a committee of educators in your area or school who will meet regularly with local legislators and proceed to educate them about the need to reverse the destructive Jindal reforms. Start small and grow your educator activist group with time and effort. Have faculty meetings to plan strategy and send emails and make phone calls to legislators. Get to know the legislator's legislative aide at his/her home office and get the aide to relay your messages to your legislator.
  4. Join your professional organization/union or administrator group and get active at the local and state levels.
  5. Join our Defenders of Public Education data base today! It is free and you remain in total control of your communications with your legislators. I pledge to work directly with the Louisiana Coalition for Public Education to keep you informed and communicating effectively with your legislators. To join, all you have to do is send me an email at Tell me you want to be part of the “Defenders” data base and either give me the name or district numbers of your state representative and state senator or give me your home address so I can look it up and place you in the correct contact group. Then when an important vote comes up you will get an email about contacting your legislator before the vote happens. We can and will make a difference!
Here is my list of key reform issues that should be reversed if we are to save public education in Louisiana:
  • Stop the vouchers now. Most of the vouchers violate the concept of separation of church and state and needlessly drain critical MFP dollars from our school board budgets. Greedy creationist preachers and rip off artists are making Louisiana education a laughing stock.
  • Freeze the approval of new charter schools and close down the many destructive charters that are paying huge salaries to their administrators without taxpayer supervision and who use any means possible to fake success and continue to raid our public school funds.
  • Stop the out-of-state for-profit virtual schools. They are education failures everywhere in this country, but they are making a few people very rich using taxpayer money.
  • Stop the Course Choice program before it starts. It is impossible to have real accountability in this program. It will rob our MFP and it will do a poor job of educating students.
  • Stop the VAM and COMPASS now. This system is not accurate and will demoralize and divide the teaching profession in Louisiana. It will turn many professional educators into mindless “test teachers” and cheaters.
  • Stop using standardized testing to rate our schools and teachers. This ill advised system narrows our curriculum that turns professional educators into “test teachers”.
  • Stop the failed takeover of schools by the incompetent administrators of the RSD. Instead put extra resources, and provide incentives for our strongest principals to serve in our high poverty schools and for our most effective teachers to teach in our most challenging schools. Work with the community to encourage positive parental involvement in our poorest neighborhoods.
Here is my best advice: Stop complaining and use your skills as an educator and an organizer to win back control of our public schools. This is a fight we must win for our profession and our students!

Friday, November 2, 2012

LDOE Proposing Radical Changes in Teacher Salary Schedules

If you thought that the Governor and John White were through messing with teachers for a while, you were wrong. A recent briefing session for local personnel directors by the State Department of Education on implementation of Act 1 salary mandates proposed radical changes in teacher salary schedules for all parishes. The examples provided by the DOE to local systems are just suggestions. No particular salary schedule is mandated by Act 1. But Act 1does mandate that the teacher salaries in all school systems must be revised to include a performance component based on the new Act 54 evaluation system (COMPASS).  According to the law, all such revised schedules must be adopted by local school boards by January 1, 2013. That means that in less than two months, school systems that are faced with ever tightening budgets will be expected to totally overhaul all teacher salary schedules to go into effect next school year. And since in almost all cases there is no new money, school systems will be expected to "rob Peter to pay Paul".

Local personnel administrators were presented by DOE officials with two suggested models for revamping teacher salary schedules. Both of these models propose huge ( $10,000+) raises for the small number of teachers that will be rated by COMPASS as highly effective. Click here for the LDOE power point presentation on Act 1 compensation models.

For the teachers getting these huge "suggested merit raises" no weight is given to advanced degrees. What Superintendent White wants is for extra compensation to be based solely on the new evaluation system. If you have been taking graduate courses for years and are on the verge of getting your Masters degree in hopes of getting an improved salary. . . “tough!” say the TFA salary gurus at the State Department. Higher degrees for teachers is passe' even though the DOE wants it for our students. National Board Certification status for teachers is passe'. All that matters now is a "highly effective" rating on VAM. But there are serious holes in this reasoning. Consider the following facts that are apparently being ignored by our DOE.
  1. Two thirds of all teachers in the state are teaching non-tested subjects or grades. That means that the VAM portion of COMPASS does not apply to approximately 36,000 of the 55,000 public school teachers. In the place of a value added score, such teachers are expected to develop SLTs (student learning targets) in cooperation with their principal. Such teachers could conceivably achieve a highly effective score by achieving their student learning targets and getting a good evaluation from their principal. This means that if school systems adopt the suggested merit pay plans proposed by LDOE, music teachers, foreign language teachers, kindergarten teachers, physical education teachers and many others may be eligible for huge bonuses without having to go through the trauma of getting the very rare highly effective scores on VAM. One of the models suggested to personnel directors would require that a teacher receive three highly effective ratings before getting the merit pay. This may not be so difficult for a teacher setting his/her own SLTs but almost impossible for the VAM teachers. This serious difference in standards could create great tension among school faculties if the local school board chooses to adopt the large merit pay schedules recommended by the DOE.
  2. The current version of VAM is highly erratic and according to analysis by the creator of the Louisiana VAM, a teacher's VAM score can vary greatly from year to year even if she/he makes no changes in teaching methods. Teachers in Houston, TX who are being paid using performance on VAM jokingly call it “the lottery” indicating how much random factors have to do with teachers getting the merit pay.
  3. In these times of shrinking school board budgets and escalating mandated costs such as increased contributions to retirement and legacy costs, the only way to fund the merit increases is for non-merit teachers to have their salaries frozen. This includes doing away with salary increases for higher degrees and experience. (Note: the law prohibits reducing a current teacher's salary but such salaries may be frozen almost permanently to pay for the merit raises for relatively few teachers.
What do you think will happen to morale when some teachers who are able to game the system receive huge raises while all others have their salaries frozen to pay for those raises? For example, in order for one teacher to get a “merit” raise of $5,000 may require that 10 teachers sacrifice step increases of $500 each.

What can teachers do if they object to these drastic changes in salary based on an untested evaluation system? Here are my suggestions:

The law does not mandate how much teachers' salaries should depend on the new evaluation system. Teachers can recommend that the merit increases be kept minimal ( I don't know, maybe $100) until the evaluation system proves itself to be valid. There should not be great emphasis on the merit raises until we know that the instrument upon which it is based is valid and reliable.

What actions should concerned teachers take?

By all means, teachers should communicate with their local superintendent, if they want to stop this merit system from drastically altering salaries. Teachers should also appeal to their school board members who will make the final decision on any revision in the salary schedule for each parish. School board members are now prohibited by law from hiring and firing teachers but it is still their responsibility to approve salary schedules.

I suggest teachers talk to their school board members now before a decision is made that will have a profound effect on their careers. Better yet, the local teacher association/union should adopt a recommendation based on what most teachers want and present it to the local Board. I am sure that LAE and LFT will have model schedules for teachers and school boards to consider.

Monday, October 29, 2012

VAM Based on False Assumption

“Research has shown that teacher effectiveness is the greatest determinant of student outcomes followed closely by principal effectiveness”. This totally inaccurate statement which is based on an incorrect quote of research findings is included on page 113 of Louisiana's ESEA Waiver proposal as part of the justification for using student value added data as part of the COMPASS evaluation system to evaluate and certify teachers in Louisiana. It is inexcusable that State Superintendent John White would continue to use a bogus assumption for making such serious career decisions for teachers and principals.

The correct quote of research conclusions regarding the influence of teacher effectiveness relative to other factors states that “of all school related factors, teacher effectiveness is the greatest determinant of student outcomes followed closely by principal effectiveness”. While it is difficult to absolutely quantify the effect of various factors on student performance, most researchers have concluded that non-school factors including socioeconomic factors (primarily poverty levels) have approximately an 80% influence on student outcomes while school related factors make up the remaining 20%. That puts teacher effectiveness at a far cry from being the greatest determinant of student outcomes!

While improving teacher effectiveness is highly desirable for improving student performance, it is not the dominant factor. It follows that an evaluation system that makes a teacher's career so overwhelmingly dependent on student outcomes is a huge mistake and can produce many unfair unintended results. Louisiana's Act 54 of 2010 which makes 50% of a teacher's evaluation and therefore career dependent on student performance is counterproductive to say the least. In addition the Louisiana COMPASS evaluation plan allows an “ineffective” rating on VAM to totally invalidate the principals' observation portion of a teacher's evaluation and therefore is a violation of Act 54. It improperly magnifies any errors coming from the highly erratic and inaccurate VAM, and in those cases becomes 100% of a teacher's evaluation.

One of the principals who read my blog on flaws in VAM sent me an email informing me of another serious flaw involving what are called “connections” students. These are students who have failed the 8th grade LEAP but who state policy allows to move to a high school campus in hopes of getting them back on track for graduation. It seems that LDOE policy requires that if a high school teacher is teaching 10 or more of these students, the teacher may be included in the VAM portion of the evaluation system. This principal fears, with much justification, that if such students fail the 8th grade LEAP in the current year, their high school teachers could have their VAM score dragged down to the “ineffective” level. These teachers had nothing to do with moving such students up to the high school level, and may be providing minimal instruction related to the 8th grade LEAP, yet the teacher's job is being put in jeopardy by factors over which he/she have no control. It seems the examples of VAM flaws are quite numerous rather than highly limited and correctable as suggested by Superintendent John White. But that's on top of the false assumption upon which VAM is based. There is a new slogan going around in Louisiana educator circles. It is stated simply: “White lies”.

White continues hiring non-educators to top administrative positions in LDOE.

Long time investigative reporter Tom Aswell who publishes the blog, LouisianaVoice, recently uncovered the fact that Superintendent White had hired motivational speaker/utilities lobbyist, and all around flimflam man, Dave Lefkowith, to head the “Office of Portfolio” which includes administration of the Choice Course program. (See the October 10th post in the LouisianaVoice)The salary for this non-educator, with no credentials whatsoever will be $144,999 to recruit private companies to teach just about any course they can sell to our public school parents and students. This is the massive course privatization program authorized by Act 2, which is scheduled to go into full operation next school year. Private companies and individuals will be allowed to raid the MFP of all school systems in the state with little or no accountability for results. An email response to several questions I posed recently to BESE President, Penny Dastigue confirmed that choice course providers can be paid up to 90% of the pro-rated amount for one Carnegie unit of credit for some high school courses even though the students do not have to attend any particular number of hours of instruction and do not pass the end of course test. Such a rip-off would raid critical MFP funds while leaving the local school system and parents holding an empty bag. This program which is an open invitation to fraud and abuse using our tax dollars is just the kind of rip-off that Lefty Lefkowith is really qualified to run. How long will our legislators allow this madness to continue?
Have you submitted your name and address to my Defenders of Public Education data base yet? All you have to do to get special emails about upcoming votes of BESE and legislators is to send me a short email at telling me your preferred email address and either your home address or the name or number of your state Representative and Senator. I am not interested in your private information, I just need to know who your legislators are so that we can do some targeting of legislators when key votes are coming up.
Mike Deshotels

Thursday, October 25, 2012

VAM Fix Must Comply with Law

Note: Please read this post as a supplement to the article below it.
A teacher from Caddo sent me an email in response to my post this week on fixing the VAM system for Louisiana. She said the attorney for the Caddo School Board gave his opinion that John White's proposed fix for South Highlands Elementary and similar schools did not comply with Act 54. (The 2010 law setting up the new evaluation system which includes the 50% value added factor). The attorney believes that the law does not allow for such an exemption that removes the value added factor from the evaluation of some teachers. Unfortunately for this situation, I agree with the attorney. I don't think the State Superintendent can go around picking and choosing which teachers can be exempted from VAM, especially not after the fact of getting a bad evaluation. There is a provision for teachers of non-tested subjects and grades to be rated using student learning targets (SLTs) jointly developed by the teacher and his/her principal, but the teachers involved did not fall into this category. This just one more example of what you can expect when you put the careers of professional educators in the hands of an inexperienced unqualified individual. The email I got also pointed out other invalid results that can occur in the evaluation of a teacher using VAM, but there is no legitimate way of tinkering with the VAM formulas to correct these problems.

The same problems are being observed all over the country where a similar value added evaluation is being tried. But the most disgusting example I can think of is the following: A teacher who had previously been recognized as one of the most highly effective in her system, got an ineffective rating because of  VAM and was dismissed. Later, strong evidence was found that the teachers the previous year had cheated on the student testing so that their student scores would help them get an effective rating. Those inflated scores caused the teacher the following year to be rated as ineffective because the students showed little or no growth on state tests. So one highly effective teacher was fired while other unethical or fraudulent teachers were rated as effective!

This is what happens to our formally proud profession when we let amateurs sell the public and the legislature on a "miracle" solution that is not based on sound educational principles. Act 54 is a very bad law that has terrible unintended consequences.  If the legislators from Caddo really want to do the right thing, they need to repeal Act 54 during the next legislative session!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can VAM be Fixed?

Superintendent John White believes he has a solution to the problem of teachers in top rated schools receiving an “ineffective” because of the VAM portion of the new teacher evaluation system. It was discovered recently that some high performing students in exclusive magnet schools sometimes experience a lull or slowdown in their academic gains caused by factors outside the control of the teacher. Even though such students are normally high performers, in some cases a classroom of high performers may perform below its VAM predicted scores on state tests, thereby placing their teacher in the bottom 10% on the VAM ranking statewide. When simulations showed that several teachers at the top rated elementary school in the state may be classified as ineffective by VAM, the whole community and their state representative were up in arms. When this story broke in the newspapers, Superintendent White immediately adjusted his schedule to travel to Shreveport and met with teachers and administrators at South Highlands Elementary Magnet School.

Within just a few days of the discovery of the flaw in VAM for high performing schools, Superintendent White had a solution. He will be proposing to BESE that in cases where some teachers who teach high performing students get an “ineffective” from the VAM, the state will simply wipe out the VAM portion of the teacher's score and use the qualitative portion of Compass as the only factor in determining the rating of the teacher. This exemption to VAM will be applied as long as a teacher's students score at the top two levels on state assessments, even if her/his students do not show the growth the VAM formulas demand. That's a great victory for the teachers at South Highlands Elementary school and the teachers there certainly deserve to be exempted from this flaw in the evaluation system.

I believe White's recommended change for South Highlands and other similar schools will be approved by BESE, not because of the extenuating circumstances that may cause an unfair evaluation of those teachers, but because the legislator representing that district is a solid supporter of Governor Jindal and his “reform” programs. White, who has no training in teacher evaluation, no training in statistical analysis, and who has never evaluated teachers, came up with an instant solution that will fix the problem for that select group of teachers. But White's solution will still allow thousands of other teachers in the state to be vulnerable to ineffective ratings based only on the VAM even if they have extenuating circumstances in their classrooms.

For example let's look at another teaching situation. (The following is a hypothetical example because I don't have access to actual the value added growth that VAM predicts for various socioeconomic groups.) Lets consider a high poverty middle school in the inner city that has had most of its high performing students transfer to magnet schools. A 20 year math teacher (teacher B) is assigned a group of 25 students where the VAM formulas project that those students should show composite growth of .8 years in math for that year. But during that year, two of the girls get pregnant, 3 of the boys are picked up on drug charges and detained in a juvenile institution for three weeks to a month, and three other students' families were evicted from their home because their unemployed parent could not pay the rent. Those students had to live with relatives and friends where they were lucky to find a bed in which to sleep, much less find a quiet place to study. One other student's mother was murdered by her estranged husband causing traumatic shock waves throughout the community. LEAP testing produced a composite growth in math of this class of only .4 years. I guess you could say this teacher's class also experienced a lull or slowdown in academic gains probably caused by factors outside the control of the teacher. Teacher B received a good rating from her principal on the qualitative portion of Compass, but her low rating on VAM placed her in the bottom 10% statewide, so she received an overall ineffective rating. There is no appeal for an ineffective rating on VAM. That teacher immediately loses her tenure, has her salary frozen, and is placed first on the list to be laid off next year, in the event the school system is forced to reduce teaching staff. That teacher is all alone. She did not have a state legislator who was aligned with the Governor to campaign for her and get a special rule change for her extenuating circumstances. There will be no adjustment in her evaluation.

Here's another example deserving consideration. Some teachers have pointed out that there seems to be a difference in average state test scores for students from one grade level to another. That difference could be caused by several factors. It could be that the state tests do not increase smoothly in difficulty from grade to grade. LEAP and ILEAP tests are constructed by contracted testing companies that make a huge profit regardless of variations of their tests. Or it could be that students in one year where state policy requires retention of students who do not make the state cut off score work a little harder to pass the test that year than they do the previous or succeeding years. That can have both adverse and beneficial effects on ratings for teachers in different grades even if teacher performance is generally the same from grade to grade. Would White recommend a change in the teacher evaluation system in such a case? Specifically using real data if we compare the 4th grade LEAP scores of all students statewide in 2011 to the ILEAP 5th grade scores we find that 24% of students scored below basic in ELA in 2011 while 30% of those students scored below basic in 5th grade in 2012. Statistically this means that more 5th grade ELA teachers are expected to fall in the bottom 10% of VAM than 4th grade teachers because their students don't perform as well on state tests. If a disproportionate percentage of 5th grade teachers are rated as ineffective because of the factors I mentioned above, will some legislator go to bat for those teachers and get them an exemption from VAM?

One more point. It turns out that the Governor's supporters in the legislature generally represent the more affluent areas of the state. Opponents of the Governor generally represent impoverished communities. Which teachers do you think have the best chance of getting exemptions from or adjustments to VAM? The ones teaching in high poverty schools or the ones teaching in more affluent schools?

Can VAM be fixed so that it will be fair to all teachers and still produce the mandatory 10% of teachers rated as ineffective? Obviously not, because for every group of teachers granted special exemptions, the system will have to pull more or the rest of the teachers down to the the ineffective level.

I hope all teachers and administrators will stick together in opposing the continued implementation of this fundamentally flawed evaluation system. Right now I believe most teachers are appalled at the lack of accuracy and now also the lack of integrity in the decision making process relative to this evaluation system. It cannot be fixed. It must be junked. Let's not allow some good teachers to be thrown under the bus while others get an exemption.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Children Can't Wait!

The children can't wait. That was the refrain used over and over by the Jindal reformers to pass huge revamps of education law privatizing and chartering education and forcing the implementation of a new evaluation system for public school teachers before it was proven. Today the Baton Rouge Advocate carries two stories that demonstrate that Louisiana should have waited before these attacks on public education and teachers were launched. Maybe the public and the business community would have realized that charter schools were not a panacea and that school takeover and mass firing of teachers and administrators only creates chaos.

Please read over both of these articles and the comments below them that show that most people are no longer willing to be fed miracle solutions that cause more damage than good. The Advocate stories are about the teacher evaluation system and about the drop in enrollment of takeover/charter schools in the Baton Rouge area.

I am also including a link to a story about the damage being done by vouchers to one of Louisiana's best large school systems.

The following are the reader comments so far on the evaluation article:

1) Comment by Concerned_Parent - 10/16/2012
Mr. White keeps saying "isolated cases" yet you keep hearing from more and more schools across the state with the same exact issues/concerns. What hasn't been clearly pointed out is that the principle's will also be labeled as ineffective b/c of the teachers being wrongly labeled as so. They will also be on the chopping block. And if any teacher is rated a 4(the highest rating) the state dept is going to send in their own evaluator to reexamine the teacher. If for some reason there is an unrully child in class that day that causes the lesson to not go as smoothly, that teacher's rating can be dropped to whatever the state dept evaluator deems it to be. It doesn't matter what the principle who is at school every day thinks, if this one lesson goes bad that teacher will suffer for it. As the teacher in this article stated, why would she want to continue working in that type of environmnent? The focus is NOT on the children. It is on the teachers. You have news articles about communities afraid to be outside once school dismisses b/c of all the fighting and violence that occurs in the streets, but I'm sure Mr. White thinks that's b/c the teachers failed those students. Those students are clearly not going home to study or do homework. Those parents clearly don't have control over their kids, but I guess the teachers should be responsible for raising them 24/7. I see lots of "ineffectiveness", but the vast majority of it is NOT taking place within the walls of the schools.
2) Comment by Noel Hammatt - 10/16/2012
I keep reading this: "Under the new review system, teachers rated as ineffective for two years in a row can be fired." While it is factually true, the real important truth lies hidden. A masterful, caring, high quality, and experienced teacher who is dedicated to changing the lives of her students for the better, will lose any protection she has after ONE year. That's right. If only one year in the Value Added Measurement (and remember, she can get a top rating from the principal portion of the over teacher evaluation, but that is TRUMPED by the wholly invalid VAM score) and she is rated INEFFECTIVE. Once she has this rating, ONE TIME,she is subject to removal for any reason, and her only recourse is that she is allowed to write a letter to the Superintendent to challenge his position. IF, there are "statistics" that show that all these teachers are incorrect, perhaps Superintendent John White could actually release all of the data on the evaluations, WITHOUT NAMES ATTACHED, of course, and let us see for ourselves what the data show, unfiltered by the department. In fact, if the system is so effective, why not allow the public, for the first time, to actually see the evaluation instrument. After all, it was paid for with our tax dollars!
3) Comment by lovemykids - 10/16/2012
Jindal and White believe that all you have to do to be a good teacher is follow a workbook and of course not want a decent paycheck or benefits. Teachers give our children more than Jindal and White combined can give them. A future.
4) Comment by mikedeshot - 10/16/2012
So we should be surprised when an improperly tested evaluation system being run by people with zero qualifications already looks like a disaster? Another article in this edition shows that all the takeover/charter schools in the Baton Rouge area are such failures that parents are pulling their children out in droves. Why don't we have an evaluation system for Whte and Jindal based on the "value lost" by our school systems since they took over. Jindal better hope he gets a cabinet position because he won't be able to run for dog catcher in Louisiana after his education and healthcare reforms run their course. I am really concerned about the lasting damage this will do to our teaching profession as good teachers retire early and bright new teachers go to other states!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Letter to the President

To my readers:
The following is a letter I am sending on behalf of myself and many Louisiana teachers to president Obama as part of a campaign sponsored by Diane Ravitch from her blog and Anthony Cody of the blog Living in Dialog. I am urging any educator who would like to write a letter to the President to do so by sending a copy to Anthony Cody at the email address Please send it before the deadline of October 17 so it can be included in the package to be sent to President Obama.

Dear President Obama:
I am a retired teacher who writes a blog for educators in Louisiana. I am absolutely appalled by the attacks on public education and the teaching profession that you and your Secretary of Education have helped to promote in Louisiana. The Race to the Top fiasco which doubled down on some of the most destructive elements of No Child Left Behind law has been promoted in Louisiana by Secretary Duncan to force the most destructive polices I have ever seen on our public education system.

Your Secretary of Education actively campaigned for the appointment of John White, an unqualified privatizer of public education to be appointed as our State Superintendent of Education. This individual was also preferred by Governor Bobby Jindal, the greatest enemy of public education and teachers Louisiana has ever seen. As I write this letter, thousands of proven highly competent and dedicated Louisiana teachers are being forced to neglect their teaching duties to prepare for a silly dog-and-pony show John White calls a teacher evaluation program. You and your Secretary have pushed for the implementation of a value added system for measuring the performance of teachers in Louisiana that is so poorly designed and erratic that a disproportionate number of teachers in some of our highest performing schools are being rated as “ineffective”. The new value added system pushed by your administration requires that a certain percentage of our teachers be rated as ineffective each year for an undetermined number of years, basically decimating a huge portion of our teaching force without considering the professional opinion of their school principals. That's because the value-added “ineffective” rating overrules the principal's evaluation. One of our regional newspapers declared in an editorial that such a policy bordered on the immoral!

Your U.S. Department of Education specifically approved this policy as part of the Louisiana application for waiver of ESEA standards. As part of this waiver your Department approved Louisiana keeping the ridiculous unscientific goal of 100% proficiency for all Louisiana students by the year 2014. This is a goal that was left over from the No Child Left Behind standards that has been universally discredited by experts in tests and measurement. It is just one part of making our state a laughing stock in the eyes of the world education community.

Finally, and most destructive of all, your administration has not raised a single objection to the mass privatization of education in Louisiana pushed by Jindal and White which takes funding for this privatization directly from the Minimum Foundation Formula for our public schools. This plan subjects many Title I students to educational abuse at the hands of greedy preacher/administrators who teach creationism instead of science and who place children in primitive, substandard classrooms. So Louisiana, with the full support of your Education Department has kept the most harmful parts of the previous failed reform while adding the most radical destructive changes ever seen to our public education system.

Arne Duncan is still pushing the closing of schools and conversion of public schools to non-accountable charters and virtual schools, many of which are skimming off obscene profits from our tax monies dedicated to public schools. Studies have shown that the closing of schools in Chicago (by Duncan) and in many other cities and the firing of teachers and principals have not benefited the students involved in any way, yet it continues and is promoted and funded by your administration. Many parents in our poor neighborhoods are now realizing that their legitimate concerns for their community schools have been ignored and mocked by the privatizers. Your Education Secretary continues to help push these destructive policies down our throats here in Louisiana and in many other states.

A careful analysis of the testing data comparing American students with students in the countries with the highest performing educational systems shows that when our students are compared with similar demographic groups in other advanced countries our students perform equal to or better than similar students in those countries. We have many public schools in Louisiana that are demonstrating world class performance by students. Our problem is not with our schools or our teachers.

Our problem is simple. The students from our high poverty communities are performing at levels much below what is needed to adequately prepare them for a good life and a career. This is particularly serious in Louisiana because our poverty rates are among the highest in the nation. This fact was no reason to blame and trash the entire public education system and to force punitive counterproductive reforms on our teaching profession! As a lifelong Democrat, I am appalled and disgusted by your abandonment of democratic principles as they relate to public education.

Why doesn't your Department of Education help states provide incentives for the best teachers and most effective principals to take on the revitalization of the schools in our poor communities with emphasis on support of parents and community leaders? This means that you and your Education Department should stop blaming and start helping and supporting the dedicated educators who are willing to tackle these challenging educational communities. It also means funding for extended day, extended year, enrichment activities, music, arts, physical education and career education in addition to the much over-emphasized college prep curriculum. There is abundant evidence to show that not every student can or should aspire to a standard 4 year college education, yet the present reform agenda overvalues 4 year college degrees and stigmatizes the many other educational training options where opportunities abound in our job market.

I implore you to order your Education Secretary to immediately discontinue the destructive policies of his department and instead convene a task force composed of professional educators to design a true reform of our public education system that will support the teaching profession and focus laser-like on the pressing problems facing some of our schools while preserving our successes and building on the historical strengths of American public education.


Michael Deshotels, blogger at

Friday, October 5, 2012

Serious Flaws in VAM

The subject of this post is extremely critical to teachers and principals in our public schools.  The new laws connecting teacher evaluation directly to layoff, salary, and tenure should require that any evaluation system be as accurate as possible.  But it seems like our education hierarchy at the state level comprised as it is of rank amateurs, is destined to make one blunder after another. I believe the evidence presented below demonstrates that the Value Added Model portion of the teacher evaluation system now being implemented by LDOE contains serious flaws that can unfairly destroy the careers of many good teachers and principals.

I mentioned in one of my recent emails that there was ample evidence coming directly from Dr George Noell (the father of VAM in Louisiana) that the value added model is erratic and unreliable in measuring good and bad teaching. Today I would like to discuss with you the clear evidence for this conclusion.

Wayne Free, Director of Instruction and Professional Development for the Louisiana Association of Educators has just written an extremely good analysis of Louisiana's Value Added Model. From this analysis we can easily conclude that the Louisiana VAM should never be used to evaluate the performance of teachers, should not be used to deternine the order of lay off of teachers, for freezing a teacher's salary, or for removing tenure and placing teachers on a path to be fired. Yet despite all the evidence I am about to present here, all of these actions that are so destructive to the teaching profession and to the education of our children will soon start happening. Please click on this link to the LAE website for Mr Free's analysis. For this post I will just summarize one of the most critical findings in his study.

The most damning evidence that this VAM is far from ready for prime time comes from several answers to direct questions posed by Mr Free to Dr Noel. Here is the most outstanding one:

Free asked: "What percentage of the teachers rated in the bottom 10% by the VAM in one year would be expected to be rated again as ineffective the following year if they did nothing to change their teaching from one year to the next?" ( The following is my comment) I believe that if this system is accurate in identifying ineffective teachers, the answer would be somewhat close to 100%, especially if the system is considered reliable enough to destroy a teacher's career. Right? ... Wrong!)

The percentage possibility of a repeat of an ineffective rating in the succeeding year according to Noell is only 26.8%. And that is assuming the teacher does not change his/her teaching. This was shocking to me. The fact that there is only a one in four chance of the same result the following year means that the system is erratic and may have incorrectly identified large numbers of teachers as being ineffective in the first place. It means that contrary to the assumption in the legislation, that the process will be deliberative and free of gross errors, such teachers will immediately be placed first in line for layoff, have their salaries frozen, and those rated ineffective next year will permanently lose their tenure and be placed on a path to dismissal. But the most damaging result of such an incorrect determination I fear, is that the local newspapers will somehow get the list of the teachers rated as ineffective and publish it in the home town paper where a teacher's reputation will be permanently destroyed and parents will be demanding that their children not be assigned to that teacher's class. This could easily happen this year to a teacher with 20+ years experience and a previously perfect evaluation record!

One of the most unfair requirements of the evaluation system, is that even if a teacher gets a great evaluation on the qualitative (Compass) from her/his principal, but gets an ineffective rating on VAM (quantitative) the final result is required to be an automatic overall ineffective rating. This rule is in direct violation of Act 54 which states that VAM is supposed to make up 50% of the overall result. (not 100%) This is sure to result in numerous lawsuits. I suggest that all teachers vulnerable to VAM join their teacher association/union now so that their lawsuits can be funded if necessary.

A perfect example of how crazy the results can be is the strange outcome reported in an editorial published recently by the Lake Charles American Press. The American Press editors were appalled by the fact that the VAM system is set up to find 10% of all teachers evaluated as ineffective no matter how well or how poorly they actually perform. This is called grading on the curve, and is not allowed in any public classroom. We measure and grade our students by how well they master the material. If 80 or 90 percent of the students master the material, that many will get an A or a B, and if no student fails, then that is something we celebrate. Not so with the teacher evaluation system. It has been predetermined that a minimum of 10% of our teachers must fail. The American Press editors say that such a system borders on being immoral!

But it gets worse. The editors found that for some strange reason, in the pilot program that was run recently by LDOE, one of the best performing school systems in the state (Jeff Davis) had only 3 percent of its teachers rated as highly effective, and a disproportionately high percentage rated as ineffective. In fact several of the highest performing districts in the Lake Charles area had some of the lowest teacher VAM scores. How can that be? This system is both illogical and destructive! See the editorial in the American Press. Not only are teacher evaluations adversely affected by this tendency, but their principal's evaluations could also be damaged because of the number of "ineffective" teachers in their school.

 The Baton Rouge Advocate carried a story recently about the teachers of a high performing school in Shreveport also getting disproportionately low VAM scores in the pilot program. Our amateur Superintendent White is quoted as characterizing this as an isolated glitch which can easily be corrected. Maybe his 12,000 per month (part time) PR person can somehow spin this fiasco as a positive.

What's worse, as is implied by White in the Shreveport situation, the LDOE managers of VAM can change the complicated formulas that produce the value added results at will without consulting anyone. So they can manipulate the results. They are probably doing just that as this post is being written and you and I have no way of knowing. I wonder what group of teachers will be penalized next time after the formula has been tweaked to take care of Shreveport? And your professional career depends on this foolishness?

For more information on flaws in VAM in general as it is used in several other states you may want to read an analysis by Gary Rubinstein. Thanks to Cathy, one of our readers for suggesting this link.

If you as as outraged by this as I am, would you please send an email to your legislator, who can easily change this in the next legislative session before it affects anyone. In my last post I gave you a link to the legislative ID system that gives you email addresses of your legislators. I know many of you meant to send emails at my last request but you may have been too busy. I know how busy you are but this is critical!

Here is a sample email: Dear (insert your legislator name), The most recent information available about the new Act 54 evaluation system clearly shows that it is an unreliable system for rating teacher performance. I hope you agree with me that the stakes are too high and that professional educators should not be rated by a system that is flawed. Please take whatever steps necessary to stop this evaluation system immediately and not implement it or any other evaluation system until it is proven reliable. Thank you for supporting your professional educators in this critical matter.
Signed: ____.

There is one more thing I am asking you to do right now. If you have not already done so, submit your contact data to me so you can become a part of my Defenders of Public Education data base. The educators, school board members and parents in this data base will receive timely notices of upcoming actions at BESE and the legislature so you can contact your representatives before they vote. Believe me all of us together can make a difference! Just send me an email at with your home address or if you prefer send me the district numbers for your representative and senator (it will save me the trouble of looking them up). Include your preferred email address so that my emails can reach you anytime your help is needed.

Believe me we can change this is we just stick together and speak as one!

Thanks again for all you do as an educator or parent or school board member. We can never thank you too much for your valuable contribution to public education.
Michael Deshotels