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.