Friday, May 11, 2012

Public to Public Vouchers Only First of Many Failures

Part of the Jindal reform legislation is supposed to allow students in so called D and F schools to have an opportunity to transfer to other public schools in a different public system that has achieved a rating of B or better. The problem is that the receiving school system must first agree to offer seats to such students. The Zachary school system had initially offered to accept 30 such voucher students for the 2012-13 school year, but protests by parents to their locally elected school board members nixed the deal. The superintendent of the Ouachita parish school system has also announced that his school system would opt out of the public to public voucher program.

I believe these announcements are just the tip of the iceberg of failure of much of the governor's education “deform” package as education officials attempt to implement the poorly thought out programs. (See also Diane Ravitch's latest blog on Louisiana ed reform)The entire reform package was rammed through the legislature early in the session with orders from the governor to the majority Republican legislature that amendments would not be allowed. As a result, much of the legislation which was based on ALEC templates drawn up by big business lobbyists and TFA corps members (you've got to read this story!) who have no clue what really works in education, is not only harmful but also very impractical. So much of what is being proposed by Jindal and his Superintendent John White is so totally impractical that it will never get off the ground.

For example, White has proposed that all students in all Louisiana public schools will achieve proficiency in ELA and math by the 2014 school year, yet there is nothing in the data collected by the Department of Education to show that anything close to this goal is possible. It looks like most of Louisiana's education reform goals are based on wishful thinking rather than on solid programs. Such “bold initiatives” set up our public schools for unnecessary failure in the eyes of the public.

Superintendent White still touts school takeovers by the Recovery District as Louisiana's primary strategy for turning around failing schools, yet all direct takeovers have been absolute failures to the point that parents have been pulling students out and re-enrolling them in the regular public schools. In East Baton Rouge the Department made the dramatic announcement recently that it is now taking over failing schools and creating an “achievement zone” run by the RSD. What was not reported about this initiative is that all but one of the schools taken over had already been under the direction of the Recovery District for several years and all had failed! Shame on the news media for regurgitating the propaganda generated by the Education Dept. instead of reporting the facts.

Preliminary figures indicate that very few students will have any opportunity to utilize the new vouchers. This fact makes a mockery out of the so called choice legislation. The only individuals who will exercise choice are the private and parochial administrators who see a way to improve their bottom line.

Virtual charters are being extensively expanded without a shred of evidence that virtual charter students are performing satisfactorily. One thing is known however. Virtual charters are extremely profitable in Louisiana for the wall street tycoons who have basically written the legislation and BESE guidelines that allow such schools to get twice the true per pupil cost of educating a child in a virtual charter.

The new requirement that all students be prepared for and required to take the ACT is another example of wishful thinking dictating bad education policy. One of the principals I talked to last week said he has no confidence that we can expect many of his low performing students to travel to the ACT testing centers even though their testing fees are fully paid by the state! Does anyone expect our governor to provide one penny of funding for students scoring 16 and lower on the ACT to attend college? Has the new Superintendent bothered to look at the college dropout statistics? What about the student loan debt burden most students who drop out of college are now being saddled with? Do we really want to foist another empty promise on our non-college prep students? As we have pointed out in this blog, even in Finland which is considered to have the most successful educational system in the western world, only 40% of the student population is prepared for college. Louisiana has a 60% poverty student population while Finland has only 5% of its students living in poverty. Those who believe that poverty has no effect on school performance and readiness for college are solid adherents to the wishful thinking school of education reform.

The new charter schools that would be created by the new charter authorizers in the reform package, are supposed to prepare students for good jobs that are in demand in each geographical region of the state. Such schools according to the legislation must achieve a rating of B or better to retain good standing. Someone has apparently alerted the governor to the fact that the Louisiana educational system is currently not providing enough skilled workers in non degree fields. So in addition to preparing kids for college, these new charter schools are supposed to train their students in technical and vocational areas. I've got news for the Governor. Louisiana cannot mandate a modern vocational-technical training program out of thin air. There has to be real planning and funding. And to insist on a combined college prep and vocational curriculum for all is just plain ignorant!

Finally the Governor and White are betting everything on a plan that will wipe out all due process rights for the teaching profession and base all employment decisions on student performance. The flaw in this proposal is that it assumes that most of student under-performance is caused by lazy and/or incompetent teachers. The theory is that the firing and replacement of a certain percentage of teachers based on student test scores will dramatically raise student scores in public schools. There is not a shred of evidence for this assumption. What we can expect is that as impossible performance goals are mandated, cheating scandals will hit Louisiana just as has happened in Georgia and the District of Columbia. Four years from now, Jindal and White will move on to other things, and the citizens of Louisiana and the professional educators who survive will have to pick up the pieces and restructure our educational system, hopefully this time using sound educational principles.

Better yet, should not the professional educators who live in large numbers in every representative district in the state begin immediately to demand accountability of our legislators and our Governor! As has been pointed out, the children can't afford to wait any longer for real reform.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More on the 10% factor

Many of my readers are still struggling to understand exactly which teachers are expected to be rated ineffective by the Act 54 teacher evaluation plan. So I submitted the following questions to Superintendent White in an email recently:

Mr White:
The readers of my blog at have asked several questions that I have not been able to answer. I would appreciate very much if you could answer the following questions.

  • Will the 10% of teachers deemed to be ineffective by the Act 54 evaluation be determined on a school by school basis with 10% of each faculty deemed ineffective, or will the bottom rated 10 percentile of all teachers in the state be rated as ineffective?   
  • Since approximately two thirds of the teachers are not included in the LEAP categories of testing, will there be a separate 10% factor of ineffective teachers in these other (NTGS) areas or will the 10% ineffective apply to all teachers as a single group? (I understand that the guidelines will exclude certain positions that do not actually work with a measurable group of students such as librarians)
  • How many years do you expect the 10% ineffective factor to be applied? Is it intended to be perpetual?

Superintendent White was very prompt in responding by email with the following answers:

"It is 10 percent of teachers who receive value-added data. And it is across the state, not within the specific school.

The 10 percent is based on an assessment of student learning in classes where the bottom 10 percent teach. So, were BESE convinced that the bottom 10 percent no longer represented a serious drop in student learning, they may consider a revision as with any other policy.”

You will note that while questions 1 and 3 were answered, there is no specific response to question #2. Based on his answer to Question 1, I am assuming that the 10% factor will not apply to non-tested grades and subjects until the Dept. feels that they have developed an assessment instrument that allows for acceptable value-added data to be used with these teachers. The plan submitted to the US DOE states that efforts will be made to create the value-added component for other grades and subjects. This means that for the 2012-13 school year, only about one third of the state's public school teachers will be affected by the mandatory 10% ineffective factor.

 I assume this will be done by the state first gathering the results of the evaluations of all teachers that are subject to the value-added criteria, listing all evaluation scores in increasing score order, then designating the bottom 10 percentile as "ineffective" and the top 10 percentile as "highly effective". Everyone in between would be rated "effective".

In the case of all other evaluations, (NTGS teachers) the rating of ineffective, effective, and highly effective will be determined separately. The State Dept. plans to use Student Learning Targets (SLT) in the place of the value-added data for the quantitative portion of the evaluation.  See the explaination of this at the LDOE web site. I am assuming that the State Dept. will set the scores needed for each category. For example, in the original plan they used a 5 point scale with a score of 1-2 designated as ineffective and 4-5 as highly effective and with all scores in between as effective.

On the testing issue, principals and teachers are beginning to express serious concerns that the amount of student testing has become extreme, to the point that there is less and less time available for teaching. See the Times Picayune article here about the town hall meeting in St Charles Parish. The concern about testing all high school students with the ACT and the ACT prep tests was also expressed at the Lafayette forum. My readers already know how I feel about trying to make all students college prep. (See also Diane Ravitch's latest blog)