Thursday, September 26, 2013

Performance Analysis of RSD Schools

Student Performance in RSD Not What We Have Been Led to Believe

Our State Department of Education keeps telling us (and the rest of the country) what a fabulous success Louisiana has achieved with the Louisiana Recovery District. The RSD was created by the legislature in 2003 for the purpose of taking over and converting so called "failing" schools into successful schools and then returning them to their local school boards. The plan for success was to turn these takeover schools over to charter school operators who would use innovation and lots of enrichment funding to convert them into schools where all students would achieve at a high level.

Somehow the Louisiana Recovery District captured the imagination of the media and elitist education reformers such as Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and most of the wealthy foundations that have appointed themselves as experts in eduction reform. Education philanthropies and the Federal Government have pumped countless millions of dollars into the RSD charter schools since Hurricane Katrina. Very soon after the school takeovers by the state, glowing reports about the amazing success of the new charter schools were accepted at face value by the media and education philanthropists. The message was that the Louisiana Recovery District had finally cracked the formula for turning around failing schools. The alleged success formula was simple. Just fire all the administrators and most of the teachers and replace them with idealists who truly believe that all students can achieve at a high level. These RSD charter schools would prove once and for all that poverty is not an excuse for failing schools.

For almost 8 years now since the state takeovers of schools in New Orleans and a few schools in several other parishes, the media and public has been told by the DOE PR staff that dramatic progress has been achieved by the RSD. Usually the PR creators avoid giving real comparisons to other schools but point to much greater than average progress in student achievement. So if the RSD schools have been beating the traditional public schools in student progress for 8 years, they surely must have caught up or even surpassed all the traditional schools by now. Right? Well not exactly. Here are the facts.

The recent LDOE report on teacher evaluations attempted to compare the results of the teacher evaluation program with actual student achievement in each of our public schools. Each public school system was compared to all others for student achievement in basic skills and a percentile ranking for each school system was calculated. So now we know how each school system compares to all others in percentage of students that are proficient in the basic skills. But the spin masters at the DOE decided to hide the results of the RSD by including their results as part of their local parishes instead of giving us a result for the RSD as a separate school system (which it is). So the RSD schools in New Orleans were combined with the Orleans Parish School Board schools and the RSD schools in Baton Rouge were combined with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. This made it difficult to compare RSD schools to traditional schools. It could be that the LDOE was just trying to make the parish schools look a little better by including those high achieving RSD schools with each school system where the RSD schools are located. Right? No, not exactly.

Buried in another section of the report, the RSD also calculated a percentile ranking for all 1300 individual public schools in the state. So it turns out we can still pull out all RSD schools and have Excel calculate an average percentile ranking for RSD schools compared to all public schools in the state. At least that way we will get to see how after 8 years of dramatic improvement these schools compare to the traditional public schools in Louisiana.

There were 68 RSD schools (most of them state approved charters) for which a percentile ranking was reported. If we take the percentile ranking of all those schools and average them, we get a composite percentile ranking of approximately 27 percentile. That means that 73% of all the schools in the state performed better than the average of all the RSD schools.

If we average the RSD schools in the EBR system, their percentile ranking averages only 9 percentile compared to 26th percentile for the EBR parish including the RSD schools.  That would be just about the lowest rank any group of schools run by one agency could get. (This is probably the real reason the DOE did not show the ranking of these schools as a separate system) The RSD has had those schools for 5 years and they were low achieving schools when the state took them over and converted them into charters. Now they are extremely low achieving schools. No dramatic improvement here!

What about the New Orleans Recovery District schools? Haven't they done much better as has been reported in the national media? The composite percentile ranking for the entire New Orleans system including the RSD schools (which greatly outnumber the OPSB schools) is at the 40th percentile. If we average the results for only the RSD schools, we get a ranking of 31 percentile for the RSD New Orleans schools listed in the DOE report. So 69 percent of the traditional public schools in the state are doing better than the average for the New Orleans Recovery District schools.

But it still looks like the New Orleans Recovery District schools have improved a lot since they were all "failing" schools before the RSD took them over. Right? Absolutely not! And this is how the media has been fooled into believing that the New Orleans RSD schools have improved dramatically. The fact is that a special law was passed right before Katrina that stipulated that any school in the New Orleans system that was performing below the state average would be taken over by the RSD. This means that 27 out of 107 the schools taken over by the RSD in New Orleans were not failing schools by the standard used in 2005. So if we calculated a percentile ranking for the schools taken over in New Orleans the year before takeover, we would get about the same overall average percentile ranking that we get now. That's because over the 8 years since the takeover, all schools in the state, including the traditional schools have improved dramatically on the state administered tests. My opinion is that all school systems in the state have improved by doing a better job of teaching to the test. It does not mean that we have a dramatic improvement in the actual proficiency of the students in basic skills. There has been some improvement for our public schools as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress(NAEP tests). If we compare the results for Louisiana on the NAEP test, we get a small improvement in most components but nothing dramatic.

So the facts about the RSD schools demonstrate that there has been no dramatic improvement in the performance of students in the takeover district. In fact compared to all other public schools, they rank near the 27th percentile. That's about where they were before the state takeover. For more information see also this excellent investigative report from Newsweek and the Daily Beast that came out this week.

Yet the highly paid bureaucracy that runs the RSD charter schools and the RSD management have created a niche for themselves and a source of funding for high salaries that they do not intend to give up. Not one RSD school has been returned to the local school system from which it was taken, and the rules of the game have been changed by BESE so that the charter operators, not the public, get to decide what agency will approve their charters. They also get to decide what generous salaries they will pay themselves with the money they save by hiring some of the lowest paid teachers and denying them participation in the teacher's retirement system. They also continue advertising campaigns financed with our tax dollars so that they can  try to attract the best students away from the traditional school systems.

The claim that the Louisiana Recovery District and their charter schools are a dramatic way to turn schools around and make failing schools successful is a myth. . . A myth that was created by PR experts and sold to the media and the education philanthropists who were willing to accept that charter schools would be a miracle solution that could transform American education and make it a leader in the world. It is time that we all face the fact that we have been duped by the charter school advocates and the self appointed reformers about their RSD "miracle". The data for this report comes from the following table.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jindal, Can You Say Hypocrisy?

Governor Jindal seems to have taken conflicting, and highly questionable stands recently in relation to education. Here are just a few.
  1. Noel Hammatt former president of the School Boards Association pointed out recently that even though Jindal has been pushing "choice" for parents with his substandard voucher program and low performing charters, his administration came out against parental choice in St Helena Parish. This developed when the St Helena School Board wanted to include middle school grades in their school system to give parents a "choice" to leave the F rated RSD run Middle school in St Helena. The argument Jindal's lawyers used in court is that the addition of that "choice" for parents may adversely affect desegregation efforts. Now Hammatt points out, Jindal has bought a 500k media campaign to lambast the US Department of Justice for filing a suit to require the state to provide information about how Jindal's voucher program may affect desegregation agreements in some parishes. Jindal is feigning self righteous anger that the Justice Dept. has even raised the deseg. issue. This smells like major hypocrisy says Hammatt.
  2. One of the few legitimate initiatives of the LDOE has been a move toward encouraging quality pre-school programs for all children. Pilot programs such as LA4 have demonstrated that quality pre-K programs can make a real difference in closing the achievement gap. Yet Jindal has repeatedly refused a multi-million dollar Federal grant that would be a tremendous boost to this effort. Now the non-profit foundation Education's Next Horizon is pushing Jindal and White to accept the money before it is no longer available. I guess Jindal just has a problem taking money from President Obama.
  3. Jindal also refused a major stimulus grant that would have funded high quality high speed Internet service to many rural school systems in North Louisiana. Word was that Jindal refused the grant because he wanted his friends in private business to do the work. Unfortunately adding major cable infrastructure in those rural parishes is not cost effective, so our Louisiana Schools may not get modern infrastructure for a long time to come.
  4. At the same time that Jindal refused the Internet infrastructure grant, John White began a major campaign to force local school systems to boost their infrastructure so that they could administer the new PARCC tests for the Common Core. But now the conservative Tea Party folks are pushing back big time against Common Core which they consider a Federal Government intrusion into the running of our local school systems. No matter that the state government under Jindal has been trying to take over all functions relating to education and turn our education tax dollars over to private entrepreneurs selling everything form course choice to fly by night vouchers and rip off charters. So now Jindal seems to be backing away from the Common Core and leaving his amateur Superintendent out on a limb that may be cut off at any time.
Unchecked, raw political ambition has induced what we once thought to be an honest public servant to adopt hypocritical and illogical positions that may be extremely damaging to the children of his state.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

VAM Author Finds Flaws in System

State Representative Frank Hoffman of Monroe, the author of Act 54, which launched the new Compass evaluation system and VAM is quoted as saying the system isn't working and needs to be changed. This Monroe News Star story points out that some of the teachers who teach the basic skills subjects that are tested by the state are more likely to the rated as ineffective than teachers who teach subjects rated by Student Learning Targets (SLTs). Some local school administrators believe this inequity will drive away some of their best teachers.

This blog pointed out a long time ago that the John White requirement that 10% of basic skills teachers must be found ineffective each year is totally arbitrary and is an insult to teachers. It means that even if student performance improves greatly statewide from one year to the next, Louisiana will still label 10% of the basic skills teachers as ineffective and immediately nullify their tenure.

If you agree with me and many experts in teacher evaluation that the Compass evaluation system is unfair and needs to be drastically revamped or repealed, please join my Defenders of Public Education legislative contact group. Just send an email to and give me your name, your preferred email, and your home zip code and I will send you timely emails about important legislative bills. This will allow you to contact your legislator and ask him to vote with professional educators for a change. Educators and their families can be a powerful force for positive change in education. Please send me that email today!
Mike Deshotels

Monday, September 23, 2013

Warning! Some Common Core Resource Materials May be Harmful to Your Career

Teachers and administrators found out last week that some of the typical resource materials recommended by some providers for teaching the Common Core are not appropriate for our Louisiana culture and particularly not appropriate for some student age groups. The only thing that may have saved the Vermilion Parish teacher who sent home Common Core aligned worksheets to 4th graders containing the words "mobstaz" and "pimp" was that she downloaded them from the Parish web site. When angry parents attacked the school board with the equivalent of pitchforks and axes, local Superintendent Jerome Puyau saved the day by taking full responsibility for not filtering out the objectionable material from the school system web site. Since the incident, central office staff in Vermilion Parish have reviewed all resource materials with a fine tooth comb to make certain that inappropriate or offensive materials have been removed.

Since our LDOE has taken a lassez faire attitude relative to common core resource materials, there may be many more instances of inappropriate materials going home with kids. Until recently, our LDOE prescribed in great detail every GLE that must be taught to each student in each subject and each grade. Now instead of the DOE and local school systems prescribing the precise materials to be used in the classroom, Superintendent White has announced that he wants to "empower" teachers to develop or select their own Common Core materials. Some of the resources such as Engage New York which were developed by the New York state Department of Education are just not appropriate for Louisiana in my opinion. Using these materials without careful review would be a  big mistake. Also using the Internet in general to find Common Core materials is a very dangerous practice for educators considering that the Internet is like the wild west when it comes to all sorts of inappropriate materials available for Common Core teaching.

Teachers should not be lulled by White into thinking that they really are "empowered" or have the academic freedom to use any materials they want for teaching common core concepts. Now that White and Jindal have succeeded in destroying most tenure protections, teachers could easily be dismissed if the material they send home is objectionable to parents.

Many parents are very suspicious of the common core. Some tea party groups believe it is an inappropriate federal mandate designed to indoctrinate all children with liberal or socialistic values. Others have noted that the common core was adopted in Louisiana without consulting with any experienced educators, without approval of any school boards, and is a totally untested curriculum. No one knows yet whether some of the common core requirements are appropriate both socially and pedagogically. Thousands of our students will be guinea pigs in this great rushed experiment to implement a whole new philosophy of education. My understanding is that regular elementary/secondary classroom teachers had very little to do with the writing of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Much of the Common Core standards (which really amount to a whole new curriculum) were developed by academic elitists led by College Board CEO, David Coleman, who wanted to make certain that all of our students are college ready when they graduate from high school. Don't believe that rubbish about the Common Core not being a curriculum. In our present education environment, standards and testing absolutely dictate the curriculum. In fact the huge Pearson publishing empire which is helping to design the PARCC testing and is expected to reap millions from the project, also publishes textbooks that are aligned to the common core. Some educators have observed that the Pearson textbooks seem to have almost identical reading passages as those found in the early versions of the Common Core tests.

I just need to add one more thing: The adoption and implementation of the common core and the very expensive PARCC testing in Louisiana will make a mockery of our entire accountability system. In case you had not noticed, both the VAM and the school rating (grading) system in Louisiana are totally manipulated by our "bosses" in the DOE to produce any results they want. To further make this point, John White was apparently alarmed by the terrible results from the first Common Core testing in Kentucky and New York States. So in a recent conference call with local Superintendents, White sought to calm fears about a similar fiasco in Louisiana by suggesting that he will "adjust" the proficient rating for students at least for the first few years by going down one point on the five point scale used to report results and determine proficiency. I think White was more worried that terrible results on PARCC in Louisiana may tarnish his image as the miracle worker of Louisiana education.

One more thing: Are you as irritated as I am about White constantly announcing that Louisiana students "are just as smart as students in other states".  Just what is he basing this pronouncement upon? Is it Louisiana's NAEP scores? Did someone secretly run IQ tests on Louisiana students? Is it White's extensive education credentials that would not even qualify him to be a principal in Louisiana that qualifies him to make this judgement? Or is it White's need to blame  the real professional educators in Louisiana just in case our students don't perform very well on the Common Core tests?