Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jindal Takes Action to Stop Common Core

Governor Jindal took several executive actions Wednesday, June 18 to pull Louisiana out of the Common Core State Standards. This included a challenge to the legality of the state contract for PARCC testing which he states was done in violation of the competitive bidding law, and a letter to the National Governor's Association which is one of the sponsors of the CCSS, canceling Louisiana' s participation. This post by Mercedes Schneider includes the original executive orders produced by Jindal.

Superintendent White who apparently has higher ambitions and is ready to move to a bigger state or to the federal Dept. of Education, has openly challenged Jindal. Chas Roemer who wants to parley his father's good name to propel himself into higher office is also making a big fuss.

All of this is causing a big problem for teachers and administrators who have been bullied into implementing CCSS along with every other whim of our state and federal education bosses. There is no doubt that our education system is no longer a local operation run by school boards, parents and teachers but a puppet of the state and federal dictators who have determined that everything related to education must be decided by standardized testing and school privatization.  I want my readers to have a look at the real results this test mania has produced. This next section gives an independent assessment of the true academic gains by our students as a result of the education "deforms" of Jindal, Pastorek, and White.

Louisiana Academic Gains Since Hurricane Katrina

Comparison with the National Average: A major question remains about the Louisiana Recovery District and also the entire Louisiana public school system: Has there really been dramatic or even significant progress in student achievement in the RSD and Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina? State testing seems to indicate that an increased percentage of students are now reading and doing math on grade level or above. But are these gains real, or just an improvement in test taking skills and/or a result of teaching to the test? One way to explore this question is to compare Louisiana student performance to the national average student performance. (Yes, there already exists a test that compares Louisiana to all other states, contrary to what the CCSS and PARCC promoters would have you believe!) We will also compare the progress of Louisiana students from 2005 to the present compared with the progress of students in all other states. The following comparisons are based on the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing program known as NAEP:

NAEP tests students at the 4th and 8th grades every two years in math and reading using a scientific sample of students in each state. We can use these results to get a comparison for Louisiana student performance to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There is no data however, to allow a breakout of data for each school system in a state.

The following analysis is derived from the spreadsheet below: In reviewing the NAPE test results for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, we find that for the 2005 school year, students in Louisiana ranked 4th from the bottom of the rankings in 4th grade math, 8th from the bottom in 4th grade reading, 5th from the bottom in 8th grade math and 7th from the bottom in 8th grade reading. In some cases the Louisiana average score tied with one or more states.

For the 2013 school year, the ranking of Louisiana fell to 2nd from the bottom in 4th grade math, 5th from the bottom in 4th grade reading, 4th from the bottom in 8th grade math, and 4th from the bottom in 8th grade reading. Again, in some cases Louisiana tied with one or more states.

Even though the NAEP testing shows a small increase in the percentage of Louisiana students performing at the basic or above level from 2005 to 2013, compared to all the other states, Louisiana students have lost ground in that time period. Louisiana dropped one or more places in each of the 4 areas of comparison with the other states between 2005 and 2013. These comparisons challenge the LDOE claim that Louisiana students and RSD students have made significant progress since 2005.

Conclusion: The Louisiana Recovery District now ranks near the bottom of all districts in a state that is performing close to the bottom compared to all other states.  In addition, that ranking has fallen since 2005 in all categories of student performance. The RSD performance and the state performance compared to other states are not worth praising, and certainly should not be held up as a model for education reform for the entire nation. Also, it is clear that the policies of Jindal, Pastorek, and White which consist of shaming and blaming educators for factors influencing student performance over which they have no control, have produced basically zero results statewide. Was it really worth spending all these millions on standardized testing, taking over schools and converting them to unregulated charters, and turning our classrooms into  mostly drab test rehearsal torture chambers? 
Comparison of NAEP results for Louisiana Public Schools with 50 states and the District of Columbia
Grade & Sub. Av. LA Scale Score 2005 % basic Nat. Av. 2005 LA ranking compared to 50 states and D.C. *
4th grade math 230 74% 237 47
4th grade reading 209 53% 217 43
8th grade math 268 59% 278 46
8th grade reading 253 64% 260 44

Av. LA Scale Score 2013 % basic Nat. av. 2013 LA ranking compared to 50 states and D.C. *
4th grade math 231 75% 241 49
4th grade reading 210 56% 221 46
8th grade math 273 64% 284 47
8th grade reading 257 68% 266 47
* Note: In several cases the ranking of LA tied with
one or more states.



Monday, June 16, 2014

New Educational Series on Recovery District

The New Orleans Equity Roundtable has produced a series of short videos that tell the true story about the takeover of public schools in New Orleans by the state and their conversion to semi-private charter schools. Click here for the first video in the series.

These videos are extremely instructive about the whole issue of school takeover. They effectively expose the myth of "amazing transformation" and "dramatic progress" in educating the at risk children in New Orleans.

Right after the devastation of hurricane Katrina, a whole new group of education entrepreneurs were encouraged by our Louisiana Department of Education to take over any school that was rated as performing below the state average. These charter school developers were given school buildings and almost Cart Blanche to do innovative stuff to close the achievement gap of the mostly poor and at risk student population in New Orleans students. Most of the leaders of this movement adopted a "no excuses" policy for driving up student performance. They diagnosed the problem in New Orleans schools as one of corrupt school management, lazy, uncaring teachers and administrators and low expectations of students. Their remedy was to not rehire the 7,000 educators that were  laid off as a result of the destruction of schools by Katrina. Instead, the new charter schools were encouraged to hire many untrained recent college graduates who would not carry all of the baggage of "low expectations" and who would encourage students to achieve at their true potential. They said you could overcome poverty with innovation and good teaching.

Several large foundations chipped in millions of dollars to help start charter schools. In addition, the rebuilding funds provided by the federal government as a result of Katrina provided the average new start up charter with close to $20,000 per student for the first few years after Katrina. It was double the regular funding of schools and the most lavish funding of a major educational experiment implemented on such a large scale.

That was more than eight years ago, and the results we can review today are dismal. After all that money and after all the national accolades including glowing praise by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and numerous national media, the New Orleans Recovery District has barely made a dent in improving student performance.

This blog has reviewed the latest testing results of students in the New Orleans Recovery District and found them to be ranking at the 17th percentile compared to the state average. Some might say that at least that's an improvement from almost the bottom, but when we consider that many of the schools taken over were rated near the state average, the average performance in the bottom quartile is still dismal. When we also consider that the state average performance on the NAPE tests places Louisiana about 49 out of the 50 states, that 17 percentile ranking does not look like a great model for the country in closing the achievement gap.

But here is another disturbing fact: When the new charter schools were formed, the entrepreneurs sold the parents and the news media on the idea that students in New Orleans would finally be prepared for college with "no excuses" accepted about why any child could not attend an Ivy League school.  So now when we review the latest results of ACT testing and see an average for the New Orleans Recovery District of 16.3, (just about the lowest in the state) we know that these kids are not Ivy league bound. They are not even qualified to attend community or  technical colleges. At the urging of the LDOE, a growing number of RSD students have been taking Advanced Placement courses which should qualify students to receive college credit for those courses. The only problem was that students are required to take a credit exam at the end of the course. Those results indicate that only about 5% of the students taking these advanced courses were eligible to get college credit.

The other big criticism was that before Katrina corrupt school officials were using public education dollars to line their pockets. Well that may have been true but now even though the LDOE seldom investigates charges of corruption, false reporting,  grade fixing, and funds mismanagement, there is plenty of evidence of corruption. This editorial shows that the main difference is that now the opportunities for mismanagement of public money are greater because of lack of oversight and the many more slick operators that are handling the funds.

So why do I insist on rehashing all this sad news about New Orleans schools? Only because we can't move forward in school reform based on a big PR campaign that tells a lie about the reforms. The truth is that the amazing success of the New Orleans Recovery District is a myth created by those who like the new status quo of entrepreneurs who make money on the backs of at risk children. Only when the truth is told can we implement real reform.

A Personal Opinion About Reform: While I do not believe there is a magic formula that would dramatically close the achievement gap, I believe there are tried and true measures that can be taken to steadily improve student performance and give a lot of kids a really good chance of rising out of poverty:
  1. Most educators are well aware that during the 3 months of summer many students regress and actually lose some of the gains made in the basic skills. That's because often the poverty environment does not continue to reinforce important academic areas. Such students really need a strong summer enrichment program that would provide them with fun learning activities such as reading (with rewards for books read), math camps, and job shadowing or internships for older students.
  2. Instead of constantly hiring new TFA corps members to work with the most disadvantaged kids, why not provide incentives for experienced and proven teachers of color to teach in the most challenging schools. These teachers would need to be respected as professionals and not constantly threatened with test based firing.
  3. Go back to providing a full spectrum of exciting educational opportunities to disadvantaged kids, including music, art, drama and field trips to local industries with great job opportunities.
  4. A major effort must be made to encourage black male role models to donate time for mentoring and motivating inner city youths who may have a minimum of good male role models.
  5. Every high school should have both an excellent college prep program and an exciting career training program with opportunities for older students to do internship in exciting professions.
  6. We must free all of our students and teachers from the tyranny of standardized testing overkill. Many children are blessed with great talents that are not measured by standardized testing.
I know those suggestions are not seen by the reformers as dramatic revolutionary changes, but sometimes good proven methods are better than pie-in-the-sky.