Friday, December 20, 2013

We Are Losing Some of Our Great Teachers

Dear Louisiana Educator Readers:

I have made a somewhat painful decision to publish excerpts of two letters from a teacher who recently retired early because of the so called education reforms in our state. She is not nearly the first to write to BESE and the State Superintendent about her legitimate concerns.  I believe that her sincere concerns and crushing disappointments with misguided reforms by Governor Jindal and Superintendent White are absolutely vital to the conversation about the future of education in Louisiana. In my opinion it is very fitting that these remarks be published in this blog before we begin a new year. We need to reflect on the mistakes of the recent past if we are to make good decisions about education in the new year.
Michael Deshotels

Terri Guillory, by every measure including the new COMPASS system (She scored "highly effective") is another true master teacher that has decided to retire early because of some of the destructive policies of our governor, our legislature, our DOE and BESE. She quite correctly felt a need to write a letter to her education bosses who pushed her into early retirement to clearly describe for them the polices and attitudes that have driven her to give up her chosen profession. I hope they have all carefully read these very thoughtful letters. The following are excerpts from her letters to BESE and Superintendent White,

To BESE members:
“You and the legislature just blindly signed on to whatever Jindal touted. You asked no questions. You believed many lies. You were willing to throw us under the bus. You watched as we begged to be heard. You ignored us. You smugly observed scores of teachers leaving the profession earlier than planned due to stress. You cared so little for the true mission of education that yours were the hands eagerly dismantling it.

“If only you had respected us enough to hear our concerns, to take into account that we are the boots on the ground, who know what teaching really consists of. If only you could have admitted that the problem is not with educators, but with society itself --- and that the programs you have put in place have no merit or worth.”

I believe these are powerful words coming from the heart of a real educator. I believe Ms Guillory is totally correct in her indictment of BESE. They should be ashamed!

Now here is what Ms Guillory had to say to John White:
On Common Core: “I can see future promise and benefits of using this curriculum. These new standards seem fuller” (Notice that Ms Guillory is not one bit taken in by the claim that these are not curricula but simply standards. There is no question in her mind that the standards and especially the PARCC absolutely dictate the curriculum. In this system, teachers are forced to teach to the test!)
Guillory continues:
“However teachers are scrambling on nights and weekends to locate sources and materials to use. This is building a curriculum from scratch----. Imagine if a surgeon had to be responsible for gathering and organizing the surgical instruments for her surgeries and do so at her expense and on her own time. Teachers do have lives other than their school lives---- In my thirty years I have NEVER put in so much time gathering and preparing as I have done this year. I have had very little guidance and questions have been answered in a conflicting manner. It is not acceptable that teachers have to spend so much time and money cobbling together lessons.

On COMPASS: “This plan pushed through against the good advice of many knowledgeable people is ludicrously full of erroneous assumptions and unattainable goals. There is no way that it is a just and fair practice to put in something that is still evolving into motion and expect immediate proficiency to the point of using it as a ranking and punitive measure.---- Additionally the rubric itself is worded so that it is near impossible to get a 4 rating, to get the huge “carrot on a stick stipend”. The very creator of the rubric has admitted that earning “highly effective” several times in a row is highly unlikely. To earn a 4, students basically have to be in charge of the classroom. ----- Can our future be more tenuous? So what exactly are we trying to achieve? We have been “rode hard and put up wet”. Victimized, faulted, humiliated, insulted, discounted as being unimportant parts of the whole process. I wonder if anyone on your staff or the BESE board realizes what is being asked of us. I wonder if anyone truly knows the full depth and breadth of being a classroom teacher today.”

On the Unspoken Issues: “Everything has been put into action to be accomplished by the teachers and the schools. The entire burden is on us.--- In all the newspapers and press releases and theories proposed, the idea touted is that if the teachers change, improve, comply, then students will progress better than ever before. First, this idea is insulting to all of us because it negates what we have accomplished in all the years we have taught. Second it is a faulty “if/then” because there is MUCH, MUCH more to the equation than just teachers teaching. The unspoken issues that no one wants to utter are these: 1. Despite our best efforts, in reality some students are simply more capable than others, as is true and has been true for time and eternity in every place on this earth. 2. Many, many students have unconcerned parents who have, by the very nature of their faulty parenting handicapped their children long before they enter school. If I remember my educational psychology, the first three years of a child's life are pivotal ----- Many children are not being spoken to, read to, introduced to concepts and ideas in those years. Their learning only begins when they enter school, and at that point, a large deficit already exists. Even than, many parents don't concern themselves about homework, tests, projects or valuing school. I am weary of hearing “Every child deserves a great teacher”. How about “Every child deserves a great parent?” Yet we are expected to reach and teach children, to get them to score well on tests, to get them to achieve, despite every roadblock imaginable. These issues are unspoken because you all can't make policies for those matters, but you have many policies in place to control, demean, and blame us.”

Ms Guillory wraps up with the following:
“Teachers are extremely capable, talented, intelligent, organized, energetic, and devoted. But NO ONE has the magic to do all that is being asked of us. It is an impossible task. We are sitting ducks, being set up to fail. We know this and yet sill we fearfully and wearily forge ahead. That's what we do. But your policies and attitudes toward teachers are killing us and killing the future of education. The best teachers are opting to get out. It isn't that they are lazy or ineffective. It is that they realize the impossibility of the situation. They (we) realize how little faith you have in us and our desire to be individual, creative, unique teachers who don't need to be scored according to an unrealistic recipe that takes away our ability to teach as we deem fit for particular days and lessons. I still have a lot of enthusiasm within and I love to teach, but I can't fight this fight. I am defeated. This is what this year has done.

If you were truly concerned about improving Louisiana education, you would have not bombarded schools with so many enormous changes at once. I have not even mentioned all the day to day regular elements of the job of being a teacher. Please come and teach for a week. Gather, plan, show up, teach, assist, differentiate, pull duty, complete paperwork, trouble shoot, discipline, counsel, evaluate, be evaluated, tutor, monitor, contact parents, grade papers. Then do it all again the next day. Walk in the shoes of those you judge so harshly.”

Yours truly,
Terri Guillory

My holiday wish: That in the new year, our teachers, school administrators, and other education professionals will be recognized and treated as the wonderful, creative and dedicated professionals they have always been.

Michael Deshotels

Monday, December 16, 2013

State Takeover Schools Produce Low ACT Scores

This report is based on data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The following are important questions that should be asked concerning the proper use of our taxes and the management of our public schools:
Is it good policy to allow the Louisiana State Department of Education to take over schools from our locally elected school boards? Can the state really do a better job of running schools than locally elected school boards? Why have the leaders in the states of Michigan and Tennessee been led to believe that a state recovery school district modeled after the one in Louisiana is a great way to improve student achievement?

The underlying assumption that justifies takeover recovery districts is that the takeover schools will improve the performance of their students. Otherwise it does not make sense to allow a state government to take over schools established by local citizens through their locally elected school boards. My post of December 13 pointed out that average student performance as measured by LEAP tests in Recovery District schools rank among the lowest in the state, even after 5 to 8 years of state control.

Another way to judge the effectiveness of school takeover is by comparing ACT scores of students. 2013 is the first year that all eligible students at each public high school in Louisiana were required to take the ACT test. I wanted to examine how state run schools performed compared to local school board operated schools by looking at average ACT scores.

It took a formal public records request to get our DOE to give me the ACT scores for 2013 by school and by local school system. I had been asking for the data informally for several months. These days it is almost impossible to get data from John White's DOE without threatening a lawsuit. After reviewing the results sent to me by the LDOE I can see why our state officials were not in a hurry to have the public and the news media compare the ACT scores in state run RSD schools with our traditional so called “status quo” locally run schools. You may review the entire state report for all schools by clicking on this link.

The following is a summary comparison of state run RSD schools with local school board schools:
The New Orleans Recovery District schools produced an average ACT score of 16.3 for the 2012-13 school year even though an analysis of the eligible students based on student enrollment data indicates that only about 80% of those eligible actually took the test. This average score of 16.3 by New Orleans RSD schools would not be high enough to allow a student to enroll in any Louisiana 4 year college. This is ironic since many of the New Orleans Recovery District schools advertise themselves as college prep schools. Just look at some of the names of the schools scoring near the bottom of the state rankings:

Renew Accelerated High school: ACT average – 13.7

Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School : ACT average – 15.2

Lake Area Early College ACT average – 16.4

Only four parish public school systems had lower average results than the New Orleans Recovery District. Those were East Carrol and Madison with 15.3, St Helena with 15.6 and Tensas with 15.7.

Statewide, I estimate that over 96% of eligible students in state public schools took the ACT. Our LDOE reports that the state average ACT score including private school students, was 19.5.  My estimate of the performance of public schools only would be an average of about 19 based on the data supplied by LDOE. The chart I included in the link above provides data for every public high school in the state and also gives the average for each parish public school system. The lowest ACT results in the state were generally found to be at state run schools. Examples of low performers were Capitol High School in Baton Rouge with an average of 13.7, The School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge with an average of 14.9, and Pointe Coupee High School with an average of 15.3. Two of these are state takeover schools. In addition, I believe that if the New Orleans Recovery District had tested all eligible students, their average would have been even lower than the 16.3 reported.

The top performing school system in the state as measured by the highest average ACT score was St Tammany Parish with an average score of 21.1. St Tammany was trailed by Central Community Schools with an average of 20.3 and Zachary Community Schools with an average of 20.2. The highest performing non-selective public schools based on ACT were Mandeville High (St Tammany) with 22.9, Fountainbleau High (St Tammany) with 22.4, and Lafayette High (Lafayette Parish) with 22.2. The highest performing selective high schools were the Louisiana School for Math and Science in Natchitoches with an average of 28.7, followed by Ben Franklin High in New Orleans with 28.2.

One of the questions that should be answered by our elected officials is: Why are some schools allowed to violate the state policy which requires that all eligible students take the ACT? Either make it mandatory for all or optional for all. Since the average ACT score for a school is now a significant factor in the calculation of school letter grades, excluding some low performing students from the test is a way of artificially inflating a school's performance score and letter grade.

Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this post, I would ask: Why is the state allowed to take over schools from the locally elected school boards if they continue to produce the lowest achievement in the state? Why are the Recovery District schools allowed to hide their low performance from parents? The web sites of the low performing RSD schools usually do not include their school performance scores or their state assigned letter grades. Parents in the New Orleans Recovery District are supposed to be allowed to choose their child's school. How can they make informed decisions if schools hide their dismal performance from parents?

Originally when the state legislature passed the law creating the Louisiana Recovery District, it was contemplated that the State Department of Education would take over so called failing schools and would use best practices to get the schools performing at an acceptable level and then return them to the local school boards. Now however, BESE has a policy of keeping the takeover schools indefinitely even when they continue to perform poorly or leaving the decision to return to local school boards up to the charter governing boards. The taxpayers should ask why has our state department of education been allowed to so blatantly violate the intent of the law in this manner?

But the most important question for the nation is: Why should the Louisiana Recovery District be portrayed as a great success and expected to serve as a model for other states?