Friday, August 2, 2013

Bennett Resigns; White Continues to Flaunt Authority

The Washington Post reports in this article that Tony Bennett, Commissioner of Education in Florida has resigned as a result of favored treatment given to a charter school owner when he was still Superintendent in Indiana. The Indiana Association of Educators pointed out that what Bennett did for the charter school amounted to cheating and that such actions should never be tolerated.

What about in Louisiana where it has been known for years that various charter schools and some regular schools have repeatedly used cheating on state tests to boost their scores and prevent state takeover? (See this recent LENS story) The former Director of Accountability in Louisiana, Dr Scott Norton, told me over a year ago that the DOE has a policy of not investigating alleged incidents of cheating on state tests even when erasure analysis and whistle blowers indicate that cheating has probably taken place. The state policy is that local authorities are informed when there are allegations of cheating and it is the responsibility of the local superintendent to investigate and take action against cheaters. All the state does is invalidate the school scores in the most blatant cases. This is like the IRS telling a taxpayer that even though your records show you cheated on your income tax, the government is going to leave it up to you to investigate yourself and determine if you should pay a penalty.

In addition recently, BESE members meeting with Recovery District parents in New Orleans were told by a parent that her child had received credit for a course he had never taken. There have been regular reports by teachers in the Recovery District who tried to warn students that they were failing classes necessary for graduation. Some students responded that they were told by administrators  "not to worry, they would get to take credit recovery classes", where students are often given a passing grade after just a few hours of computer review. So apparently in Louisiana, cheating is accepted if it is done for the purpose of helping Recovery District Schools.

Did you notice that even though most Recovery District schools tout their college prep program with banners of Ivy League universities all over the halls, ACT scores continue to average around 16, and the recent report on Advanced Placement courses from our DOE forgot to mention that the Recovery District schools had an average pass rate of only 5.9% compared to the state average of 33%. Also researchers who have been denied vital public record information about dropouts and transfers from the Recovery District still note that the graduating classes in the RSD have suspiciously fewer students compared to freshman classes.

Now we have a situation where White obviously colluded with state Representative Seabaugh to invalidate the VAM scores of some teachers at favored magnet and gifted programs (after the fact) without the approval of BESE. The post just below this one describes how teachers of high achieving students can go from an ineffective rating to a highly effective rating because of White usurping authority that should belong to BESE. Meanwhile teachers of the same type of students who actually perform a bit better on VAM are stuck with a mediocre rating. This will probably be challenged by the same two BESE members who are all alone in demanding accountability of our Superintendent and DOE. But the rest of BESE is willing to look the other way.  At least someone in Florida must have insisted that there be accountability for their new superintendent.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New VAM Rules Result in Favoritism

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

John White continues to try to muddy up the narrative relative to the highly erratic VAM component of teacher evaluation. But he can't fool Herb Bassett.

Mr Bassett is a band and music teacher who also has a minor in math. In my opinion Herb is a major math expert. He also knows how to use higher level thinking skills to question some of the screwy politically motivated decisions coming out of our DOE. Herb has noticed that one of the most recent changes in VAM rules ends up giving preferential treatment to some teachers while unfairly punishing other teachers. The rule change recently issued by Superintendent White may actually reward some teachers with the lowest VAM scores while punishing some teachers of the same type of students who have higher VAM scores. (This is really just the latest chapter in the DOE soap opera called the Seabaugh Solution)

This is part of the email Mr Bassett sent to Superintendent White on July 15:

Superintendent White,

This email regards the Compass Process FAQ July 8 update addressing a concern that the VAM system did not accurately reflect the effectiveness of certain teachers:

(Here is part of what the July 8 DOE advisory states)
A very small number of teachers’ scores (roughly 50 statewide) are undergoing further study before they are finalized. In these cases, the majority of students were performing at 'advanced,' 'mastery, or 'excellent,' but the ratings placed the teacher as Ineffective. These teachers’ value-added data will not appear in the Compass Information System. Evaluators should use student learning targets to assign the student growth rating for these teachers.”

1) You did not give the necessary context to support the contention that the VAM rankings inaccurately reflected those teachers' effectiveness. LDOE materials have specifically stated that it is a myth that "teachers of high-achieving students are at a disadvantage because they may not show growth with students on the value-added model."

What was the total count of teachers AT ALL LEVELS (Ineffective, Effective Emerging, Effective Proficient, and Highly Effective) who had a majority of students score Excellent, Advanced, or Mastery? This information is needed to show that VAM disproportionately ranked this class of teachers as Ineffective.

2) The decision is unfair to similar teachers in the 11th to 20th percentiles of VAM. Their highest possible score would be lower than that of the teachers in the bottom decile.

Some of the teachers whose VAM rank was Ineffective (1st-10th percentile) will receive the final Compass rating of Highly Effective since they will be evaluated on their SLTs instead of their VAM rank.

Similar teachers in the 11th to 20th percentiles could at best receive the final Compass rating of only Effective: Proficient. By current Compass rules, they must receive a score of 2.00 on the Student Growth Rating. Given a perfect Professional Practices score of 4.00, such a teacher has a maximum possible overall Compass rating of 3.00 - Effective: Proficient. These teachers would be affected by the same inaccuracy (if it exists) and arguably be better teachers.

(Mr Bassett also pointed out other inequities of VAM in his letter to White and ends up with the following:)

The best solution would be to make VAM results be for informational purposes only to all teachers and administrators - not just the teachers of high-performing students.

Herb Bassett

White finally answered Bassett's email on July 27 and ignored the inequity issue raised by Bassett. Here is White's email:

Herb, thanks for the note. Out of 50,000 teachers, and out of 16,500 who received value-added data, there have been a small number of instances where I have asked for the data to be reviewed further. In the aggregate, yes, there are not pronounced biases of the kinds you discuss. But, whether as a matter of policy or a mater of procedure, there are bound to be some instances in which we really need to understand better what has happened and whether the data should be used to determine someone's rating.

I think that's a fair position to take.”

John White

Louisiana Department of Education

It looks to me like these teachers who have been left out of the Seabaugh solution have two choices if they want equity: (1) Contact your State Representative (if he is a Jindal supporter) and raise holy hell telling him/her you want a Seabaugh solution too or (2) If you have the misfortune of living in a district represented by a person who is not a Jindal puppet you have the option of filing a lawsuit that will probably end up helping a bunch of other teachers who are in the same predicament. You could call Herb Bassett as an expert witness. Thank you Herb for revealing this major flaw in the ever changing VAM rules as dictated by politics instead of fairness. You are one of the heroes of Louisiana public education for having the guts to tell truth to power.

Now all we need is for someone to point out how special education teachers and how teachers of high poverty students and how teachers of average students are being shortchanged by VAM. Hmmmm . . . seems like I got a letter from a special education teacher pointing out a serious flaw affecting special education teachers several months ago. I Need to look that up.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Special Message to Readers

We now have a Facebook page for the Louisiana Educator. I am asking my readers to visit the page at: and to "like" the Louisiana Educator Facebook page because this action will provide you with an up to date feed at Facebook on some breaking stories in education that may not merit a full fledged post on the blog.

For example, I just added a post on the current controversy between Lafayette Superintendent Pat Cooper and the local school board. To make a long story short, the school board has become very annoyed with some of Cooper's grandstanding over his hiring of an unqualified maintenance supervisor and what many see as fake education reform issues like his 100% in 100% out initiative. This "reform" apparently was intended to appeal to both the black community and the business folk by pretending that any school system can somehow keep all students from dropping out. One of the unintended consequences of this policy was to soften discipline at some middle and high schools to keep suspensions down. This has caused a situation in some schools where students can be extremely disruptive and disrespectful to teachers and get only a small slap on the wrist. This is absolutely driving some excellent teachers out of the school system.

My comment on the Facebook page for Louisiana Educator has to do mostly with BESE member Holly Boffy's misuse of school grading data to try to defend Cooper.

Please visit and "like" the Louisiana Educator Facebook page at so you can get regular updates on breaking education news. Please encourge all educators you know to like our Facebook page.