Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Please sign up to be a defender of public education!

Diane Ravitch honored our blog today along with several other Louisiana blogs and individuals who are true supporters of public education in Louisiana. She recommended our Defenders of Public Education data base. I want to take this opportunity to ask each of my readers who are voters in Louisiana to sign up for this group. Here are the details you need to know:
  • The Defenders of Public Education is a Louisiana group of public education volunteers; teachers, administrators and parents set up in a data base organized into sub groups according to their own home legislators. 
  • The Defenders receive timely emails on critical education issues as they are coming up in the legislature so that we may each express our opinions on the issue to our particular legislators.
  • These communications to Defenders are done with consultation with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education which is composed of the two teacher unions (LAE and LFT) the School Boards Association, parent representatives and several other pro public education groups.
Each of the groups in the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education have their own systems for communicating with their members about critical education issues, and may not always agree precisely on every issue. But there is much more that unites us than separates us. We believe that the very survival of public education in Louisiana is at stake!

I have taken steps to insure that the individuals who volunteer to be "Defenders" have their identities kept confidential if they desire it. In some cases however members may want to form local groups where members communicate with each other so that they can be more effective in lobbying their legislators.

Educators this is serious business! Public education and the teaching profession is under attack in Louisiana more than in any other state. Those of us who have become "Defenders" believe that public education is the only way to improve the future of the large number of our students who are at risk in our society. Our public schools are also demonstrating that even more privileged students are getting an excellent education from our public schools. We believe that vouchers and charters are destructive to public education and we believe the evidence of this is overwhelming. We believe that standardized testing is being over used and improperly used against students and teachers and is benefiting only the greedy testing companies and their allies.

Diane Ravitch has agreed with us that Louisiana is ground zero for the ALEC inspired destruction of public education by so called reformers who have no knowledge of education and who would not last a week in a typical classroom. Yet these "reformers" have appointed themselves to be our  masters. They believe that most teachers are lazy, incompetent  and get paid for just breathing! If you are a professional educator and this attitude does not get your blood boiling and make you want to fight for our profession, then I submit they must be right. But I don't believe it. I think that the overwhelming majority of educators, principals, administrators, and teachers are dedicated to doing their very best for our students and it is wrong to demonize us in the way we have experienced in the last several years.

If you agree with the points made above and you have not yet joined our Defenders of Public Education data base, just send me an email at and give me the names of your state senator and state representative and your preferred email address.  Our students are counting on us to fight for public education.
Thanks for your dedication to our students,
Mike Deshotels

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More Outrageous Education Deforms

Louisiana Supreme Court to Decide on Vouchers: The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear final arguments today on Louisiana's voucher and course choice programs. Those are the Jindal reforms that allow some public school students to get “scholarships” to attend private and religious schools or to take individual courses next year provided by various private groups. The Supreme Court has already received written briefs from both the plaintiffs and defendants of the voucher system and today will only hear limited oral arguments. There is concern among opponents of the voucher system that even though the constitution seems to clearly prohibit the use of the MFP for private schools, the election recently of a new Justice who campaigned on a conservative platform could sway the court against public school supporters.

In another development, new litigants have joined opponents and are challenging the vouchers on the grounds of separation of church and state. This story in the Monroe New Star points out that the ACLU and some religious groups are concerned that Louisiana's voucher program to religious schools is not only a violation of church and state but also has opened the door to many non-conventional religious groups receiving state aid to run their schools. If the Court agrees to consider this argument, we would have a much more powerful argument against religious school vouchers. The challenge to vouchers would no longer be limited to just the source of funding. My legislator who had voted for Act 2, woke up recently and expressed alarm that some Muslim groups who may want to get funding for Madrassa schools could possibly qualify for voucher funding. This is the Pandora's box you open up when you decide to use public money to fund vouchers to religious schools.

One of the bogus arguments for vouchers often expressed by BESE president Chas Roemer and others, is that parents should have the right to take their school tax money and use it for whatever schools they choose for their child. The basic flaw in this argument is that many of the parents who are qualifying for vouchers because of the public school their children attend, are not paying significant school taxes. Certainly not enough to fund their child's “scholarship”. The fact is that parents who are actually paying tuition to private schools are probably paying more than the average of public school taxes because they are wealthier and pay more property and other taxes. So with the structure of vouchers approved by the Jindal reforms, we have a situation where parents who pay tuition to send their children to private schools are also subsidizing funding for voucher parents.

But the reality is that most elite private schools allow only a limited number of voucher students if any, because they do not want to deal with too many low performing students. What we are seeing instead is the overnight growth of independent religious schools that will make their preachers rich by marketing to poor parents while providing a truly substandard education to the children.

Outrageous Merit pay Scheme Tried in New Orleans: You have got to read this article in the New Orleans Lens describing how a few teachers in a New Orleans charter school were awarded huge bonuses using our federal tax dollars. Arne Duncan apparently has not yet seen a merit pay scheme for teachers he is not willing to fund at least temporarily with federal grants. The idea apparently was to raise the performance score of this charter school by rewarding teachers who raised their student scores. But the plan was so poorly devised that it left out the one teacher who seemed to raise student performance the most. At the same time, the huge bonuses to just a few teachers is causing distrust among the entire faculty. After all this awarding of merit pay to improve the school performance, the school got an SPS of 75.8,  just barely above an "F" rating!
Diane Ravitch pointed out last week that even in a carefully designed merit pay system studied by Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee, it was found that the control group of teachers who were not given merit pay produced equivalent student performance when compared to the group eligible for merit pay.  Ravitch concluded that maybe this means that all of the teachers were doing their best with or without merit pay.

One of the flaws of teacher merit pay is that it assumes that teachers are somehow holding back on their best efforts and will only teach their best when they can get bonuses for higher student performance. One teacher was quoted as joking: “Yea sure, I have these fantastic lesson plans that I keep locked up until I get offered merit pay!”

Local School Reorganizations May be Illegal One of the newest schemes for reorganizing schools was pioneered in New Orleans by the Recovery School District under Director Paul Vallas. It consisted of the laying off of the entire teacher force after Katrina and then rebuilding the school system by rehiring mostly new teachers. Well Vallas is long gone now but those experienced teachers who were laid off recently won a court ruling that their layoffs were not valid and did not consider their tenure rights. Apparently the judge was convinced by the testimony that the layoffs amounted to mass firings and replacement of tenured teachers without due process. It is yet to be seen how this whole mess is going to be finally resolved.

The same thing on a smaller scale may be about to happen in Baton Rouge. The new Superintendent originally from Michigan who may not be familiar with the law in Louisiana is in cahoots with the RSD to reorganize some low performing schools to avoid state takeover. (The state has already failed spectacularly in all of the schools previously taken over in Baton Rouge but they are not giving them back and are using the thereat of more takeovers to force the EBR system to create more charters.) Superintendent Taylor has announced that when some schools are reorganized the entire faculty will have to reapply for their jobs with whoever is the new principal. Well I believe that if this process results in new teachers being brought in to take teaching positions resulting in the layoff of some of the tenured teachers, those teachers will have solid grounds for suing to get their jobs back.

Stay tuned to this blog to keep up with all the wacky schemes in Louisiana that pass as school reform!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Muddying the Narrative on VAM

In the old days before the Jindal reforms, educators could count on our State Department of Education to provide us with the facts about various education programs. If a program was new and needed to be evaluated to see if it was really working, we could generally count on our DOE to give us a legitimate evaluation, without bias and spin. Sadly this is no longer the case. John White set the standard last year around the time of his confirmation hearings when it was discovered by Monroe News Star reporter, Barbara Leader that there were no standards at all originally for the approval of the new voucher schools. She next uncovered secret emails between White and Jindal's staff where White suggested that steps should be taken to "muddy the narrative".

More recently the State Department and BESE are required to make a report to the Legislature on the new teacher evaluation program which includes the controversial VAM component. Last year the report appropriately described the stability or reliability of VAM by giving statistics on how consistent the VAM was in identifying teachers as being ineffective from year to year. The data showed huge changes from year to year even if teachers taught exactly the same way each year. Now the new report approved this month by BESE muddies the narrative by changing the report to include irrelevant data. Here is an analysis of the new report by Wayne Free who is the Assistant Executive Director for Instructional and Professional Development for the LAE.

BESE Ratifies Report Designed to Mislead the Legislature

On March 8th 2013 the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) ratified a report to the Senate and House Education Committees on the state evaluation system including information on the Value Added Model (VAM) used to evaluate many teachers. The report was purposely designed to hide the true ineffectiveness of the VAM system when used as dictated in ACT 54 and BESE Bulletin 130

The report that was produced by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) dated March 1, 2013 (no Author listed) described the top and bottom 10% stability as moderate based on a 75% score in mathematics and 78% score in language arts. What the LDE did was to change their reporting practice from last year. They reported that teachers who fell in the bottom 10% would remain in the bottom 50% 75-78% of the time or that teachers at the top 10% would remain in the top 50% 75-78% of the time. The new analysis confuses the issue by starting off discussing the accuracy of the bottom 10% category and then switches to the entire bottom 50%. The same bait and switch is used in examining the top 10% by expanding the discussion to the entire top 50%!

In actuality, the DOE data indicates that any teacher who scores in the bottom 10% moved out of that level 75% of the time for a “poor” stability rating of only 25%. (And that happens without the teacher changing any of his/her teaching from one year to the next. The change in rating from year to year is due totally to the instability of VAM!) Teachers who scored in the top 10% rating moved out of that level 60% of the time for a “poor” stability rating of only 40%.

In other words… if 1,000 teachers were listed in the bottom 10% one year, 750 would no longer be in the bottom 10% the next year based on the weakness of the value added process. If 1,000 teachers were listed in the top 10% one year, 600 would no longer be in the top 10% the next year based on the weakness of the value added process. This lack of stability is one of the reasons almost all states have refused to use VAM as it is being used in Louisiana and why the recently released MET report (Bill Gates Foundation) recommend the use of VAM at the 33% level rather than the 51% level currently being used in Louisiana.

The LDE changed the report to purposely hide the true nature of the VAM stability from the legislators and public. Unfortunately this is not the only time that the LDE has manipulated data to hide the true facts of the current reform initiatives. While I find many of the LDE decisions unconscionable, the willingness of the LDE to purposely miss-inform the legislative committees is more than unconscionable … it is also constitutes malfeasance. (mal·fea·sance NOUN: Misconduct or wrongdoing, especially by a public official.)

Wayne Free
Asst. Exec. Director
Louisiana Association of Educators

For my readers who prefer a multimedia presentation, I offer the following superb 5 minute video created by Herb Bassett: