Thursday, April 25, 2013

Big Victories for the Real Educators of Louisiana!

Yesterday an amazing series of events happened in the Louisiana House Education Committee. Due to the hundreds of emails and phone calls by the real educators of Louisiana (and the powerful evidence of incompetent implementation of the Act 54 evaluation system) , all three of the bills designed to circumvent the court decision striking down Act 1 of 2012 were pulled off the Committee agenda for the time being.  This is the same committee that was stacked last year with solid Jindal supporters and which passed the entire Jindal "education deform" package last year even in the face of massive teacher protests. You may remember that Act 1 butchered the tenure law, took away a teacher's right to have personnel decisions reviewed by their school boards, established merit pay based on an untested and flawed evaluation system, and killed all seniority rights for reduction in force procedures based on the same flawed evaluation system.

In the morning HB 466 by Havard (My Representative I am proud to say) was passed by the Committee, which stops John White's radical revamp of the school grading system. The totally new rating system would have put more emphasis on college prep stuff such as ACT scores, and would have required that even special education students take the ACT for the purpose of grading schools and would have dropped all the parent responsibility factors. Many school systems had estimated that this change in the rules would have brought down many school ratings by one or two letter grades! I want to repeat the fact that I believe that even the present school grading system is extremely unfair because what it measures mostly is the level of poverty and the proportion of at-risk students attending a school instead of the quality of instruction. But White's new formula would have been much worse and needed to be stopped.

In the morning session also, the Committee passed HB 115 which has been called the reverse parent trigger. This bill allows parents of children in a bad RSD school to petition to have the school restored to the local school board. What a great idea!

In the afternoon and into the night after much powerful testimony by educators from all parts of the state, the committee unanimously approved HB 160 by Reynolds which delays for at least a year the negative impact of VAM on teachers and principals and allows more time for COMPASS to be perfected before it destroys good teachers' careers. I want to repeat my opinion that the VAM can never be "fixed" because it is based on the incorrect assumption that each teacher's performance is the major determinant of a student's test scores. A few of the opponents of the bill actually repeated the false assertion that the teacher is the major factor in student performance, but most of the committee members are now too well informed to believe this typical reformer rhetoric.

It was amazing to see that so many local principals, supervisors and other administrators were willing to stand side by side with the teachers testifying against the horrible implementation of COMPASS and VAM by our incompetent DOE. No real local administrators or experienced teachers spoke in favor of the new evaluation system. Most said there is much of COMPASS that is useful but the implementation of the program by the Department has been disastrous! I testified that the VAM part was the most inaccurate and unreliable part of the system. Thank you to researchers Wayne Free of the LAE, Dr Mercedes Schnieder, and Herb Bassett for exposing the terrible instability of the VAM. Herb, your video is being viewed by more and more educators and also by legislators. The truth is finally being seen and heard! I sent each member of the Education Committee their personal link to this very important video and several of them commented to me about how shocked they were about the inaccuracy of VAM.

Educators, I have to tell you a few special inside stories about the testimony last night.

Story #1: The DOE and their astro turf organizations like Stand for Children had beat the bushes looking for teachers that would come before the Committee and testify in favor of this botched up evaluation system. They finally found two or three. There was one young man who said he had been teaching for 4 years in a school that was literally full of incompetent and uncaring teachers (in his young opinion of course). He lamented about how the only reason some of the students in his school were failing was because the other teachers did not have high expectations for the students. But come to find out this guy is teaching at Pointe Coupee Central High School which is a school taken over 4 years ago by the Recovery District that was originally run by the now defunct Charter group called Advance Baton Rouge. This school is now run directly by John White and Patrick Dobbard. They have complete authority in these schools to fire any teacher without due process of any kind. So why is this school still infested with bad teachers?

Story # 2: Another teacher told pretty much the same story about an inner city elementary school in Baton Rouge. Of course, she was an excellent teacher surrounded by incompetence. Upon questioning by Rep. Alfred Williams who attended the school many years ago and who knows many of the teachers there personally, it was revealed that this "expert on evaluation and teacher competence" was a first year Teach for America Corps member. This is the same type of "expert" running our DOE.

Story #3: If you wonder why the COMPASS has been so poorly implemented, let me give you some background. You already knew about Ms Molly Hortsman, the three year TFA'er who was put in charge of the training of principals in the use of the COMPASS last year. Ms Hortsman insulted a room full of highly competent administrators by fussing at them for not paying close attention to her amateur instructors. But before all that, did you know that the designer of COMPASS for Louisiana was a person by the name of Rayne Martin who had no training in education whatsoever, who had never served as a teacher for even one day, and who had never served as a principal. She was hired with no knowledge of education, to create and implement the instrument that would be used by thousands of highly qualified and experienced educators in Louisiana. No wonder Charlotte Danielson, who developed the program upon which COMPASS is based denounced the whole Louisiana evaluation system in a story carried by the Monore News Star. Rayne Martin is now the director of Stand for Children Louisiana, an "astro turf" group that is really funded and controlled by billionaires outside of Louisiana associated with Michael Bloomberg; you know, the guy who bought our new BESE board.

One more story: This time Rep. Nancy Landry did not criticize the many teachers who left the Lafayette Parish school system to come to testify in favor of better education  policies. She just muttered that she didn't understand why legislators were being accused of teacher bashing.

To the educators and parents who read this blog: The fight to restore sanity and excellence in Louisiana Education if far from over. Many bad bills are still alive and will be pushed by Jindal even though he suffered major setbacks yesterday. Please stay tuned and be vigilant in your defense of public education.

Have you signed up yet for my Defenders of Public Education Data Base? This is how you can get up to the minute emails to inform you about critical education legislation. The "Defenders" were a big part of the success in the Education Committee yesterday because of their many emails to legislators.  To join, just send me an email to, tell me you want to participate, and give me your preferred email address and your zip code. I will put you in the data base according to your House and Senate representatives in the legislature. All of my efforts are coordinated with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education. There is definitely strength in numbers and unity!
Thanks for what you do for public education.
Michael Deshotels