Thursday, August 8, 2013

Education Still on the Wrong Track

CABL Scrambling to Save Common Core

The Council for a Better Louisiana which is really just a puppet organization for LABI has hurriedly put out a so called "report" in an effort to save the Common Core in Louisiana. CABL is worried lately about the growing opposition to common core by tea party groups. Some high profile Republicans are coming out against the Common Core because they see it as a federal intrusion into education. Even Jindal can't decide if he loves the CC or hates it. Maybe Rush will send him an email with instructions.  But if LABI and CABL knew anything about education, anything at all, they would know that the common core will be a disaster for Louisiana and the business community. But sadly it will be an unmitigated disaster for our students.

Just look at what is happening now in New York State where state officials took Arne Duncan's bribe to implement the CC early. All of a sudden most of the public school students there are being classified as idiots by the new Pearson common core tests. Notice that none of the elite private schools in New York have even considered adopting the Common Core.  I don't see the private schools in Louisiana rushing to adopt the CC either. I guess their students are just not going to be prepared to compete in the world job market.

Only in public education would a whole new system affecting every employee and every process in the enterprise be adopted without any testing whatsoever. Early childhood educators are appalled that the standards particularly in ELA are not even close to being appropriate for young children. Old pros like me know that the high school math standards are not appropriate for two thirds of our students who are not going to complete a 4 year college education no matter what curriculum we put in our high schools. But it sure will make most of our high schools look like failures. Maybe that's the real plan.

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If you find this blog useful please take the time to go to the Louisiana Educator Faceebook page and "like" my Facebook page at!/LouisianaEducator because doing this will connect you with future posts on this blog as well as important posts and news items that I believe will also be useful to my readers.
Michael Deshotels

VAM on Steroids

EBR is scheduled to adopt a new strategic plan next week that was drawn up by a "citizens committee" led by TFA types and Baton Rouge Chamber cronies. It touts a bold goal of raising student performance in EBR to place within the top ten of all LA public school systems. As part of the half-baked strategy to accomplish this lofty goal, the plan proposes to fire the bottom 25% of the teachers based on their rankings on the state VAM system! This is obviously based on the assumption that lazy and incompetent teachers are the main thing holding the BR students back from excellence. Good luck with that one!

The really sad thing about this hair brained scheme is that if this plan is implemented, it will decimate the ranks of the teaching profession in Baton Rouge and actually cause a lowering of student performance. You see, even though the poverty demographics of Baton Rouge are at least as bad as New Orleans, the EBR system in recent years has produced far better academic results than the New Orleans Recovery District. The student performance in EBR has been improving steadily in the past few years because the system still had a solid core of good teachers and experienced principals. But the top principals have been leaving in droves and many more are being run off by the new administration. Now the word will get around that to teach a VAM subject in Baton Rouge is like playing Russian Roulette with your career. (The terribly erratic nature of VAM will cause a whole new batch of teachers to fall into the lower 25% each year even if teachers change nothing in their teaching!) The best teachers will be moving to the surrounding parishes or retiring early, and the system will surely falter and become easy prey for the Recovery District. That's the organization that has failed to turn around a single school taken over in the Baton Rouge area. What a strange way to reform our schools!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

College Prep and Jail Prep

The amateurs who run our State Department of Education have succeeded in shortchanging both our students and our Louisiana employers. John White just added a requirement that all students take the ACT and that the average scores of the students at each school count for 25% of the school letter grade. For the last four years (yes this was started by Pastorek) our DOE has done everything possible to encourage all students to take a college prep curriculum at the expense of the career and technical programs. Those career and technical programs have been dying in our high schools because the schools are penalized by the school grading system for any students who are not in college prep. Now White has made things worse with the ACT requirement.

But White has been informed by the LA Workforce Commission and the business community that Louisiana is facing a serious shortage of skilled vocational and technical workers. Almost none of our high school graduates are trained in the construction trades at the same time that it is predicted that Louisiana may soon see one of the largest construction booms in our history. Construction firms are already having to import welders from Taiwan. Most new homes in Louisiana are being built by Hispanic immigrants and those on temporary visas. Thousands of Louisiana's recent graduates are standing in the unemployment lines because they are not qualified for the new jobs being created. Amateur White thinks that this can all be corrected by just announcing that he wants more kids trained in the career and technical fields. It does not occur to him that stupid policies yield stupid results and that "Louisiana Believes" he is the problem.

The kids being graduated by the New Orleans Recovery District were told by their charter school administrators that they would be prepared to attend Harvard and Yale. But now they are graduating with ACT scores that don't even qualify them to attend our state colleges. Their pass rate on advanced placement courses is an embarrassing 5.9%. None of these students have been prepared for real jobs. Many will end up in the prison system when they get caught for selling drugs or petty burglaries. That's the legacy that Pastorek and White have produced. I call it college prep and jail prep.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Important (and somewhat scary) Teacher Evaluation Issues

Introduction: This post will attempt to clarify various issues that my readers have brought to my attention in the past few weeks. I hope this helps inform teachers about some of the pitfalls of the evaluation system as they prepare for another challenging school year.

This is a group of FAQs you will probably never see answered by the DOE!

Q: Does the DOE require that each principal find a certain percentage of teachers at each school “ineffective”?

A: No! The idea of quotas of “ineffective” teachers comes from a highly questionable rule utilized by our DOE for determining VAM scores. According to John White, the number of “ineffective” teachers on the VAM evaluation is determined by ranking all VAM scores statewide and designating the bottom 10% as ineffective. This ineffective rating is not done by school or student type. So theoretically a particular school may have no “ineffective” teachers or a large number of “ineffective” teachers as determined by the statewide VAM ranking. In addition, it is quite possible for a teacher to have a satisfactory or highly effective VAM score and still get an “ineffective” rating on the observation portion of the evaluation. Principals are expected to get a better rating on their evaluation if they have a high percentage of effective teachers or few rated ineffective.

Q: A teacher points out that some teachers are quiting as soon as they get an "ineffective". Does that reduce the 10% statewide that are designated as ineffective?

A: It depends on when they quit. If a teacher is warned before the official ratings are finalized that she/he may get an "ineffective", the teacher may quit to keep this from going on his/her record. But if the evaluation has been finalized, the rating goes into a state data base HCIS, (the Human Capitol Information System) which will theoretically follow him/her for the rest of his/her teaching career. Those are counted as part of the 10% only if the ineffective was because of VAM. There could be even more teachers rated ineffective because of the observation part of their evaluation. (Remember that the 10% mandatory ineffective is only for teachers rated by VAM)

Q: A teacher asked: "Who decides what goes into the intensive assistance plan and how is it determined when an ineffective teacher becomes effective again."

A: When you are determined to be "ineffective", your principal develops your intensive assistance plan (lasting 2 years or less). I assume there would be two types of intensive assistance plans. If your "ineffective" is because of VAM or poor SLT performance it would be designed to get you to score better on student performance and you would get out of intensive assistance when your scores go up. If you get another bad VAM or SLT you could be fired immediately without recourse because tenure rights are terminated when you get only one "ineffective" and since the evaluation itself is considered proof of incompetence. In the case where you failed the observation part, you would get two or less years to improve on the Compass, but if you got a bad VAM or SLT, you would still be in jeopardy.

Q: Since the new law requires new teachers to get 5 highly effective evaluations out of six years before they can be tenured, what happens if they get an ineffective in their 4th year? Will they ever get to their 6th year?

A: The issue of tenure is practically irrelevant since it is almost statistically impossible for a teacher to be rated highly effective for 5 out of 6 years. But to answer the question, even if the teacher trying to attain tenure got an "ineffective" in any one of the 6 years, she/he could still get tenure by getting a highly effective in each of the other 5 years. (except if the ineffective happened in the 6th year, the teacher would have to start all over again) For new teachers and for any teacher who gets one "ineffective", tenure will be very rare.  But the way tenure has now been restructured in the law makes it almost meaningless except as an honorary designation. The hearing process for tenure in Louisiana is now like a Kangaroo court. The whole purpose of the new law on tenure was to do away with due process rights for teachers and to make termination extremely easy.

Q: Since the purpose of teacher evaluation is to produce better student learning, there must be a provision for giving teachers better evaluations as statewide student performance improves. Right?

A: Wrong! The way the evaluation system is designed right now, statewide student performance could improve dramatically from one year to the next and 10% of the VAM rated teachers would still get an “ineffective” VAM score, which automatically gives those teachers an overall “ineffective” rating. Or student performance could dramatically decline statewide and there would still be only 10% of teachers who would get an “ineffective” VAM score. This is an insane policy based on purely arbitrary quotas, not science. I asked White in an email if he would ever lift the 10% ineffective quota and he said that this would be up to BESE.

Q: How is the observation part of the evaluation supposed to relate to the VAM rating?

A: There is nothing in the law (Act 54) linking the two components of evaluation except that the two scores are supposed to be averaged together to give each teacher his/her final rating. But there is a big issue created by the DOE. In the March 1 report to the legislature (which I bet few legislators read) the DOE expressed concern that the teacher observation ratings were too high when compared to VAM ratings. The DOE has decided that the observation score should “align” with the VAM score. The following is the statement by the Department on page 3 of the Compass report to the legislature:

Preliminary data from this year show that 87 percent of teachers have been rated Effective: Proficient or Highly Effective, based upon observations, while only 51 percent of teachers were rated in these categories according to value-added in the previous year. This suggests that there is more work to be done to ensure that teachers across the state are getting the feedback they need to drive gains in student learning.

Herb Bassett has pointed out in his own report to the legislature that the above assumption does not make sense because the 51% from the previous year was totally arbitrary to begin with. But worse than that, it is based on teacher VAM ranking percentiles that stay the same from year to year no matter how student performance improves. This is the same as if a teacher decided before the beginning of the school year that only 51% of a particular class of students could get B or A, even if most of the students got all the questions right on the final test. This results in condemning half of the teachers to a mediocre rating each year and adjusting the observation results to match that pre-determined rating. This is an insult to both administrators and teachers.

Q: Are teachers given the same opportunity to get a high score on the evaluation system whether they teach high performing or at-risk students?

A: That was the original intent of VAM, because prior student performance as well as poverty data, discipline records and other factors are supposed to be taken into account in determining the growth in student performance expected for each class. But as Bassett pointed out, that rule has been invalidated by the latest action by White exempting some teachers of high performing students from VAM while maintaining the VAM rating of teachers of similar students who were rated slightly higher on VAM. The teachers of high performing students who ranked in the 10 to 20 percentile area are still saddled with relatively low ratings. But the exempted teachers can move to the top rating by virtue of their SLTs and their observation rating. Also, the statement made by White in the Louisiana ESEA waiver request for No Child Left Behind claims the following:

In 2009-2010, 98% of educators were rated as Effective despite the fact that over one-third of Louisiana students performed below proficiency on the annual state assessments.”

The implied assumption here is that teachers of low performing students should get lower evaluation ratings. There have been instances of principals this year being pressured to “adjust” the observation portion of teacher evaluations to align with student performance. This of course makes a mockery of the entire observation process.

Q: What will be the unintended consequences of the new evaluation and tenure policy?

A: Experienced teachers will be driven out of state assessed fields and particularly out of schools serving low performing students. VAM is so erratic that some teachers who received highly effective ratings last year got ineffective ratings this year. There is practically no incentive for teachers to risk their careers by teaching the neediest students in state tested areas. Also the way that VAM is calculated puts ethical teachers at risk from the results of cheating or test teaching by the teachers of the previous year. These consequences will make it harder for school systems to assign the best teachers to at-risk and high poverty students. I predict that these perverse incentives will eventually cause an implosion of the entire VAM system, but only after serious damage is done to the teaching profession and to the public education system. Some who are more cynical have proposed that the real purpose of this entire process is to drive the public and the best teachers away from public schools and make it easier to privatize the education system. I think it is more likely just ideologically driven ignorance at the top levels of education policy making.