Friday, August 16, 2013

Good News! EBR Drops Teacher Firing Quota; Decimation Still Looms

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board revised its strategic plan last night and dropped its 25% teacher firing quota. This was a sensible action that will remove a misguided threat that would have really damaged the morale of teachers in this large school system.

 I had stated that such a policy would have decimated the teaching force for EBR. But there is still an intentional decimation of teachers coming from our state level. My friend Herb Bassett informed me that the term "decimation" is really a Latin term that comes from a practice of the Roman army of punishing an entire unit (you really need to read this Wikipedia account of decimation) of mutinied or disobedient solders by executing one tenth of the group using a lottery system. I guess this is sort of like what White and his DOE are doing with the imposition of the 10% VAM quota. Sadly VAM is almost as indiscriminate as the execution lottery used by the Romans.

I want to remind everyone that this 10% teacher "ineffective" quota is not in Act 54. It is a purely arbitrary quota dreamed up by our DOE. But in addition to being arbitrary and capricious, it is applied unfairly by selecting out the VAM evaluated teachers for the quota. Teachers evaluated using SLTs are much less threatened by the new evaluation system. Such a mandatory quota directed at only basic skills teachers will cause teachers to want to transfer out of that threatened area. Especially now that we are finding that the student failure rate caused by the new Common Core standards will be much greater than what we had under LEAP. (The New York State public education system is now in total turmoil caused by a failure rate of over two thirds of all students on the Common Core tests.)

This brings to mind a part of the new EBR Strategic Plan that was not amended out last night even though it is just as misguided as the firing quotas. Under the category "Academic Expectations" the Board adopted the following: "All students in the EBRPSS will be proficient in the Common Core State Standards in each subject." I warned the Board that by adopting this they were buying a "Pig in a Poke" (from Arne Duncan of all people). Since the Common Core standards are even more onerous and have widened the achievement gap in New York instead of closing it, I guess we can get ready for more state school takeovers as this new pox is visited upon our students and teachers. This Diane Ravitch blog could just as well be written about John White instead of John King.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flawed Strategic Plan for EBR

The following letter is to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and should be read in reference to the proposed revised strategic plan for EBR. This plan is available here on the EBR web site. I am publishing this letter because the issues discussed here are important to all teachers in Louisiana public schools. See also today's letter to the editor in the Advocate about the proposed plan.

This is posted today, Aug. 15 because the School Board is scheduled to possibly adopt this plan today!

 Recommendations to the EBRP School Board on its Proposed Strategic Plan

Dear Board Members:

This a follow-up to the email I sent Board members last week. One of my major concerns about the proposed strategic plan is the proposal to dismiss the bottom 25% of teachers rated by the state Value Added Model (VAM). I believe such a policy is unwise because the state evaluation system is very erratic and unstable and could result in many teachers being falsely identified as “ineffective”. There are several technical reasons for this which I would be happy to discuss with the board members. But at this point I wish to point out that teachers are so uncomfortable with the idea of VAM determining their careers that many may choose not to teach VAM subjects in EBR, causing a serious loss of top teachers even before this plan is implemented. Such an exodus of teachers may actually result in a decrease in stability of EBR schools and a lowering of student performance.

In addition to the teacher dismissal issue I would like to react to some of the other proposals in the plan:

  1. I believe that the two strategies under Early Childhood Education are excellent and if implemented could benefit EBR students greatly.
  2. Under Academic Expectations, I believe strategy # 1 is unrealistic. (“All students in EBRPSS will be proficient in the Common Core State standards in each subject.”) Common Core has now been tested in two states: Kentucky and New York. The results (only one third rated proficient in New York and similar results in Kentucky) indicate that at this point the program has been poorly planned and the testing and standards are very much in need of revision. For the EBR school board to commit to 100% proficiency for all students in a testing program over which the school system has no control is guaranteed to result in disappointment and possibly a loss of public support for the school system. You see, that was what was wrong with the whole concept of No Child Left Behind: That all students would achieve proficiency. That is a statistical impossibility and has caused many unintended consequences when the Federal Government proceeded to punish schools and children who do not achieve such an unreasonable goal. This was the reason the RSD was allowed to take over some EBR schools. Early indications are that the Common Core proficiency will be much more unreasonable and impossible to achieve for all students. It would be much more prudent to adopt a statement that “The school system will strive to educate all students to the fullest extent of their abilities in an excellent and varied curriculum by using sound educational practices.” On the other hand I believe that Strategies # 2 and #3 under Academic Expectations are very good.
  3. Under Governance/Accountability and Efficiency, I believe that the Strategy (student based budgeting) is a bad idea. It implies that all schools will get the same allotment based on the student count (with adjustments for special ed) and that the school principal will be given full authority and responsibility to educate the children to the set standards. This idea may sound good but it is not the most efficient strategy. If the school system wants to improve its performance relative to others, it may be wiser to do a careful analysis of the areas of weakness and the schools and programs that could probably significantly improve performance by the use of targeted funding to encourage excellence. Only if the Board does not trust its top administration to set priorities and to come up with innovative plans to solve the biggest problems would it want to simply divvy up the money equally to all schools based on enrollment. Simply giving principals full authority with the threat of firing if they don't get results is an invitation to the kind of unethical behavior and test cheating that we have seen recently in Washington DC and Atlanta.
  4. Under Culture and Safety/School Climate and Human Capitol, I believe that the strategies and tactics are fine except for tactic #4 under Strategy #4 which I have already explained would precipitate a staffing crisis and a general destruction of the morale of teachers. This one tactic could undo all the many good strategies that are found in this strategic plan.
  5. Concerning tactic #2 under strategy #5, I would recommend that PBIS is not effective at the middle and high school levels and should be replaced with a no-nonsense solid discipline policy that results in decisive action when students violate the discipline code. The older students are not fooled by all the silly rewards and non-punishments of PBIS and can easily beat the system to cause chaos in the classroom. I want to state the following as a separate and extremely important recommendation:
  6. School discipline is by far the most important problem facing the EBR system! Poor discipline and a perceived lack of school safety is the main reason given for many of the students whose parents pull them out of the EBR school system! It is also a big reason for low academic performance in some schools. This is not a black-white issue! Many black parents who can afford it are pulling their children out and putting them in private schools because they want firm discipline and they don't want their children bullied by thugs. This is the biggest cause of parent discontent with some EBR schools. Videos of fights and disruptive behavior at Woodlawn were shown at the legislature this year as a big reason for the move to form a separate school district in South Baton Rouge. One of the main reasons why it is difficult to find good teachers for some schools is discipline! If the EBR board does not take a firm stand on good discipline at all schools it will contribute heavily to the destruction of the system as a viable school system supported by taxpayers. PBIS will not solve this problem! PBIS causes teachers to fill out needless reams of paperwork that only delays the restoration of discipline in their classrooms. The way PBIS is applied in many schools is a violation of state discipline law and results in many teachers being totally disenchanted with their jobs. Teachers go home at night and have nightmares about the terrible discipline in their classrooms. How in the world can this system be seen as a cure for the problem when it is part of the problem?
  7. Finally, I believe the emphasis on moving to neighborhood schools is a great idea! I live in and my grandchildren attend the Zachary school district. It is a real pleasure to see the community support and parent involvement in our school system. Zachary is a 55:45 racial mix and there is generally harmony and few racial problems. It is unfair to compare the performance of Zachary schools and EBR schools because there is such a disparity of wealth, but I believe the community support is still a huge factor.
I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns to the EBR school board. Board members have a tremendous responsibility and I appreciate your service to the children.

Michael Deshotels

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Our Rubber Stamp BESE

BESE continued to rubber stamp Superintendent White's recommendations in committee actions yesterday, even when such actions seemed ridiculous by any reasonable standard. BESE members Carolyn Hill, Lottie Beebe, educators and others in the audience repeatedly questioned the logic of the continued moves toward privatization of our public schools. All to no avail.

But White had his well funded astro-turf organizations primed to make the usual appeals to the Board for more choice (privatization) even when their arguments were non-sensical. For example, in the debate over the acceptance of a whole new batch of charter schools for the failed Baton Rouge Recovery District, parents who had been brought in by BAEO and Stand for Children, explained how their children had been poorly served by the previous charter schools in the BR Recovery District and gave this as a reason why BESE should continue to approve more charters!!! Some of us in the audience scratched our heads at this twisted logic and then again when a teacher from one of the defunct charters said that it was time that BESE added stability to the staffing of the schools in the RSD by approving the new batch of charters. This is how it went. Beebe and Hill just kept asking "how does this make sense?" But the votes on our rubber stamp BESE kept going down 9 to 2 for whatever the privatizers wanted.

Questioned also was the logic of shutting down the Louisiana Virtual School by White, which had been in operation for years offering students all over the state courses that they could not fit into their local schedules. This school funded with 8g money and operated out of the DOE has provided courses for up to 6,000 students in some recent years and has always gotten excellent reviews by educators and parents. Yet White chose to shut it down this year to make room for the Course Choice privatization program that allows private companies to charge much more than LVS for the virtual courses. This year the Course Choice program will provide 2,000 course units with a wait list of about 1,000 students because the same money that used to fund up to 7,000 course units has run out! Again, the educators in the audience and two BESE members could hardly believe their ears.

But wait there's more! White explained that the new Course Choice system would have much more accountability than the old LVS system. He never really explained what that better accountability was since the private providers will get to sell their wares for at least 3 years before they are evaluated. The old system was under the direct control of DOE and could be fixed at any time that it was not providing good service. Now the private providers will get half their money up-front for each student enrolled with no provision for return of that money even if a student drops out after the first couple of weeks. Also, there is no state monitoring of student attendance of these classes, so students can miss almost any amount of their scheduled virtual classes and the state has no recourse. But to add insult to injury, the provider can simply report at any time that the student has completed a course without documentation of such, and the provider gets paid the remainder of the fee. I asked BESE months ago, "What if a student takes a state tested course and fails that test after getting a good grade from the course provider, does the state get any of its money back?" The answer was NO! . . . .
One more thing: the school performance rating for this failed test is assigned to the student's public school, not to the Course Choice, for-profit, provider. This is what White calls better accountability.