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