Thursday, February 14, 2013

Attack on Public Education Continues

As most educators are now aware, the attack on public education in Louisiana is expected to intensify greatly this year. This is happening despite the fact that public schools across the state have made great progress in raising state test scores and improving the graduation rate.  Apparently the reformers were not satisfied with your efforts. Jindal, White and now Roemer want nothing less than complete privatization of our K-12 school system. See these amazing revelations by Roemer, the new BESE president, in the Monroe News Star. It has become clearer recently that Roemer like Jindal wants to make dismantling of public education according to ALEC specifications his platform for running for higher office. Not only is this not a good education strategy but it apparently is not a good political strategy according to a recent poll of Jindal's approval rating.  Meanwhile our public schools may suffer irreparable damage!

There is no evidence whatsoever that private school providers deliver a better education to public school students who attend voucher schools or who take the new online courses that are the current fad in education. In fact the academic results in Milwaukee, Cleveland and New Orleans for voucher schools have been very poor compared to traditional public schools. In addition, there are major scandals developing in several states over the abuse of public funding by online schools. For example: pupil teacher ratios of 250:1 and no accountability. Such virtual schools produce extremely poor results with many students dropping out and often returning to their traditional public schools. Teachers find that many of those students have fallen behind their peers. The online companies are responding by implementing massive advertising campaigns funded by taxpayer dollars as such schools must constantly churn their enrollment to replace students who drop out. This is where we are headed in Louisiana.

State Superintendent White has totally ignored the District court ruling that MFP cannot be diverted to vouchers and course choice providers. (See the story in The Baton Rouge Advocate)  Also ignoring the scandals of the fly-by-night voucher schools of this year, he is greatly expanding the opportunities for parents to pull their children out of public schools using both state and local tax dollars. Jindal and White apparently are confident that the recent change in the state supreme court will give them free rein to dismantle public schools. Either that, or they will insist that the legislature provide alternate funding despite the projected one billion dollar deficit.

The BESE approved course choice program allows dozens of private providers for 2013. Most of these are based in other states and have not been tested for effectiveness. They carry no accountability standards, no mandatory attendance, and can award credit for courses completely at the discretion of the provider. Yet to add insult to injury, the home public school will be assigned such student state testing results for calculation of their SPS scores even though the student is only required to attend one class at the home school! White says, No problem! You can trust the state DOE to keep a tight control over such providers (even though they won't be evaluated for 3 years)

Meanwhile, school principals and teachers are expected to implement a whole new curriculum (the common core) at the same time that teachers are being demoralized by teacher firing quotas demanded by the new evaluation system. I expect that the fired and disenchanted teachers may be welcome in the voucher schools, at lower salaries and zero benefits, where no such draconian rules apply. By the way, did you notice that the common core will no longer have the highly prescriptive GLEs and lockstep curriculum requirements that have been the rule for so long in Louisiana public schools. Now the state superintendent has announced that he will "empower" teachers and schools to develop their own teaching strategies. In other words, just do whatever is necessary to get students to pass the new tests.  Now he is also proclaiming that more special education students must get diplomas no matter what. Our high schools are rapidly transitioning to diploma mills where we will be pretending to prepare all students for college. The college prep for all experiment has already been tried in San Jose California with zero results.

I could go on and on describing the ridiculous experimentation with student's futures and teacher's careers that are being forced on our education system, but I believe it would be more productive for this blog to encourage educators to organize to fight for the survival of our public education system.  The first and most important action I can suggest for professional educators is that we must all act immediately to gain support for our cause from our state legislators. Our local legislators are our only hope, and I believe we have not to this date made the necessary effort to inform and influence them. Here are my suggestions:

Starting next week there will be several forums scattered around the state designed to encourage educators to educate their legislators about the threats to sound education programs in our state. Legislators must be asked to back our public education system and to stop these privatization efforts by Jindal and his allies. I am listing the forums planned so far but we need many more.

Extremely effective forums would be those planned by principals and teachers at their own schools with the Representative and Senator representing that school. By all means, clear any meetings with your local superintendent. I would hope that the local school board members would be active participants in such meetings. The legislature convenes April 8. The time to meet with legislators is now. My next blog will list critical questions and issues that we must address with our legislators.

Please encourage all educators to attend one of the forums in your general area from the list below. One of the forums is organized by Dist 3 BESE member and superintendent elect for St Martin Parish, Lottie Beebie. The others are organized by the LAE. We need many more forums. If you and your colleagues plan a parish forum, please notify me and I will also publicise it on this blog. Thanks in advance for supporting public education.
Lottie Beebie Forum:
Feb. 20: 6:00 P. M. ,The Glass Room, 328 N. Main St., Breaux Bridge, LA
Please RSVP to

LAE forums:
LAE Leaders To Host Series of Education Forums Across Louisiana
LA Education Stakeholders Speak Out! Forums To Focus on Public School Policy Changes & Other Issues Currently Impacting Louisiana Public Schools
WHO: Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE)
WHAT: Recent changes to public school policies have drastically changed the landscape of the K -12 public education system in Louisiana. In order to bring these issues to light, leaders of the LAE will host a series of education forums across the state. These forums will consist of open, honest discussions between a panel of local education stakeholders -- teachers, parents, school administrations, community leaders, and legislative members -- with participants focusing on the most pressing issues currently impacting our public schools. Every community member is encouraged to attend and participate in this very important discussion.
WHEN: Monday, February 18th – Thursday, February 27th
5:30 p.m.
WHERE: 2/18: Baton Rouge - McKinley Alumni Center, 1520 Thomas H. Delpit Drive
2/19: Pineville - Kees Park Community Center, 2450 Hwy 28 E
2/20: Shreveport - Caddo School Board Office, 1961 Midway Street
2/21: Lafayette - Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy, 805 Teurlings Drive
2/25: West Monroe - West Monroe Convention Center, 901 Ridge Avenue
2/26: Lake Charles - Lake Charles Boston Academy, 1509 Enterprise Blvd.
2/27: Chalmette – Chalmette Elementary School, 75 E. Chalmette Circle
WHY: It's extremely important for parents, teachers, school administrators, community members, and legislative members to fully understand the impact changes will have on Louisiana public schools. Each and every one of these stakeholders must make a commitment to work together in order to maximize our children’s success.
CONTACT: For more information on this event, go to

All forums will begin at 6:00 p.m. with registration at 5:30 p.m.
If you wish to pre-register, please click on this link to the LAE registration form.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Special Message to School Principals

I have been spending a lot of time visiting schools and meeting with principals lately. I have concluded that school principals are really caught in the middle of Louisiana's school reform movement and are often being unfairly blamed for and expected to cure all of the perceived educational ills of society right now or else!

State authorities are dictating that school principals and their faculties bring up their school performance scores every year even though almost nothing is being done to address the other major factors affecting students' school performance. At the same time school resources dedicated to the classroom are shrinking while more and more is being spent on testing and accountability.

Some principals report that pressure is being put on principals to reduce student suspensions and often to keep disruptive students in the regular classrooms even though this relatively small number of students often interfere with the learning process and are preventing other students from getting the best instruction possible. At the same time, evidence is mounting that many charter schools that are not under the same rules and scrutiny are dumping disruptive and low performing students off to traditional public schools, so that they can improve their own performance scores. This is in addition to the fact that such schools are not being required by the state to accept the same percentage of students with disabilities as are being enrolled in regular public schools.

To make things worse, the new state law on charters will now allow charter schools to be started anywhere to compete directly with regular schools for the highest performing students. They can even use part of their MFP money to advertise for their school in an effort to recruit the best students, often using misleading claims. Two statewide virtual charter schools are now agressively recruiting students from all local systems. Some of the charters are shifting legacy retirement costs to the public schools while hiring non-certified teachers and providing staff with minimal benefits. At the same time, some top administrators of these non-profit charters are paid relatively high salaries.

There is also a growing push to convert existing schools that are high SPS schools into charters. These schools may also siphon off some of the highest performing students from local systems. A good example is the current effort by community members in the Monroe City system to convert the highest performing high school (Nevelle High School) into a charter school. This school has the most advantaged demographics of any school in the system. If this effort is successful, it will guarantee that the district performance score for Monroe City schools will soon go down! Don't let anyone tell you that student demographics have nothing to do with school performance! See this amazing newspaper report about BESE president Chas Roemer's support for this and all other privatization efforts.

My next blog post will address what we can do as a profession and particularly what school principals and other local administrators can do to lead the fight for survival of our public schools. Please watch for this special call to action in my blog later this week. For now I want to discuss with principals and teachers critical concerns I have with the Act 54 teacher and principal evaluation system.

A major thrust of the new teacher evaluation system ranks the value added performance of teachers on a statewide basis and designates the VAM teachers ranked in the bottom 10% as ineffective. These teachers immediately lose tenure and are placed on an intensive assistance plan with the possibility of dismissal if their performance does not improve sufficiently. This value-added ranking is to be applied to the state tested portion of the teacher population every year without regard to any improvements in student or school performance state-wide. My post today will explore some of the potential problems with this new system.

State law now requires that 50% of a teacher's evaluation be based on student performance and 50% on the observation of his/her classroom professional practices. Yet some principals are being told that their observation score should be generally in line with the VAM score or the Student Learning Target score. Also there is an assumption by some individuals that teacher evaluation scores should correlate to their school's performance score. In other words, it is expected by some that more teachers in low SPS schools will get an “ineffective” rating while those in high SPS schools will get the best teacher ratings. I believe that such expectations are contrary to state law.

In my discussions with teachers and principals I keep hearing that some school systems somehow expect principals to adjust their observation score for a teacher to make it compatible to the projected VAM score of the teacher. My research indicates that such a practice may already be occurring in other states. One such system is the Houston Independent School District. I believe there are serious problems with this approach. I believe that such an adjustment may be unethical and in violation of Act 54. Here is my reasoning:

Let us first assume that the Charlotte Danielson teacher observation rubric which was adapted for Louisiana is a valid method of measuring teacher performance. Let us also assume that on the average, the practices of effective teaching being measured by the rubric will produce generally better student learning outcomes. However, neither of these assumptions are justification for a principal adjusting the score he/she is assigning on the observation component to line up with the VAM score. The reason is simple: All of the teacher observations are done prior to receiving the final data on the teacher's VAM score. Either the principal observed the components of effective teaching in the classroom of a particular teacher or he/she did not observe these components. Also, the principal is required to document the professional practices of the teacher in the classroom. Either they happened or they did not. I believe it is wrong for the principal to adjust the observation to match what is believed to be the VAM score. If that was the intent of the legislature, there would be no need for the observation portion of the evaluation. Just base all teacher evaluations strictly on VAM or on the attainment of SLTs.

Even more indefensible, is the idea that teachers who are teaching in a low SPS school should automatically get low evaluation scores. The evaluation system is supposed to be designed to give teachers who teach in all schools an equal chance to get a good evaluation. VAM is designed to take into account the past learning history and the challenges faced by each student in adding to his knowledge base. The same could be said of SLTs. Therefore it is wrong to conclude that most or even many teachers in a low SPS school will score poorly on the evaluation system in any particular year. It is theoretically possible for the majority of teachers in a low performing school to get a good rating on the teacher evaluation system in a particular year. Again, either the evaluator has observed the proper professional practices by the teacher or he/she did not. The observation score should not be twisted to match some preconceived notion that teachers in low SPS schools are generally bad teachers.

In one of my previous posts on this blog I stated that I thought the LDOE guidelines allowed a teacher's observation score to be adjusted to match better with the VAM. But I was not certain of this conclusion, so I posed a question using an email to the COMPASS team at the DOE. The following is my question along with the answer I got from the DOE. Based on this response from LDOE, I stand corrected. The teacher's observation score cannot be adjusted to match the VAM or the SLTs.

My question to the COMPASS team: “Is it true that in the case where a teacher gets a low observation score but a high VAM score, his/her observation score can be adjusted upward by the DOE? (I thought I saw something to this effect in the first live presentation) What about adjusting a teacher's observation score downward because of a low VAM score?

The answer from the COMPASS team: “Observation scores are not adjustable to a VAM score. However, new policy revisions will allow Compass evaluators to consider both value-added and student learning target data when calculating a teacher's final growth score if that teacher's value-added score placed them within the 21st to 79th percentile (which corresponds to an effectiveness rating of Effective Emerging or Effective Proficient).”

According to the state COMPASS team, I would assume there should be no pressure brought on principals to adjust their observation score to the expected VAM score. The new rules do allow the principal instead to adjust the VAM or “growth” score for teachers in the mid-range based upon other evidence of student progress. However in the video presentations explaining the recent changes in the evaluation system approved by BESE, it is explained that the DOE will send a report to all local school systems showing how various evaluations align with the VAM scores. One may question how such an analysis will affect the future observation scores. In the Houston Independent School District there is evidence that observation scores in future observations are being aligned to more closely match the VAM score. My concern is this: I am just not sure that the VAM system is accurate enough in identifying effective teaching that administrators should put more reliance on VAM than on their own professional judgment.

I am not certain about exactly how local school systems should deal with the comparisons of VAM and observation scoring being sent out by the DOE. I am simply pointing out my concerns and encouraging principals and teachers to explore this issue and to use their professional judgment. Please let me know what you think by either adding a comment to this blog post or by sending me a confidential email. I always respect any request not to reveal the identity of any persons sending their comments or suggestions.

Thanks in advance for your opinions and suggestions,

Michael Deshotels