Saturday, September 27, 2014

Educators Speak Up Now or Forever Live With VAM and The Dog and Pony Show Called COMPASS

Note to readers: Legislators got so many complaints from both teachers and administrators last year on the new teacher evaluation system and the use of VAM to evaluate teachers that they passed Act 240 by Rep. Hoffmann which sets up a special subcommittee of the Accountability Commission with the assignment of recommending changes in the teacher and principal evaluation system. That subcommittee has representatives of teachers and administrators who are actually working in the trenches of education, selected by the legislature to work with the regular members of the Accountability Commission to recommend a revamp of the evaluation system to make it more effective. I will be getting the email addresses of all these members and their home parishes so that those educators who are most concerned about the possible flaws in the new evaluation system can relay their concerns to one or more of their representatives on this special subcommittee. If you don't contact them and tell them your recommendations for change, you may be doomed to suffer the flaws of this system for a long long time. The Subcommittee meets on November 7, 2014 to consider changes in the evaluation system. Be sure to contact them before that date.

Do you sometimes wonder why most of the education reform programs in recent years have been such boondoggles? Why is VAM so erratic and unfair to so many teachers? Why is so much of each school administrator's valuable time being tied up in watching teachers perform a dog and pony show that is not always related to real teaching? Why are some of the teachers in the highest performing school districts getting some of the lowest evaluations? Does the new teacher and principal evaluation system mandated by Act54 of 2010 have any connection to reality in our public schools?

Here are my observations about what may have gone wrong:
  1. The whole COMPASS and VAM system was designed and implemented under the direction of a person who had absolutely no teaching or school administrator experience and who had no training whatsoever in education. Her name is Rayne Martin and she was appointed to design and administer the new teacher evaluation program by former Superintendent Paul Pastorek. She now heads up one of the fake grass roots organizations (an AstroTurf organization) here in Louisiana called Stand for Children which is almost totally financed by out of state entrepreneurs whose goal is to privatize public education and to allow out-of-state companies to make as much money as possible using our children and our tax dollars. What an insult to the professional educators of this state! Some of the concepts behind the new evaluation system included parts of a pretty good system of teacher observation developed by Charlotte Danielson (except that I think it is much too inflexible to be applied to all types of teaching). But Rayne Martin was certainly not qualified to design a practical system. That's why it is so unworkable. Danielson herself has disavowed any connection with this scheme and does not endorse it in any way.
  2. The new Director of the evaluation system appointed by John White is almost as poorly qualified as Rayne Martin to run and improve this system. Her name is Jessica Baghian, and her background is (a) 5 weeks training as a TFA corps member with no formal education training, (b) Served as a TFA teacher in a low performing charter school in New Orleans for a couple of years, (c) Has no training as an administrator or teacher evaluator, (d) Has never evaluated teachers herself. Ms Baghian may be a very nice and hard working person but why is she in charge of telling 30 year veteran administrators how to evaluate teachers?
  3. The Value Added Model was designed for Louisiana by Dr George Noell from LSU who was apparently qualified, at least on paper, to design the technical components of a VAM system. But it is useful to note that he also has never had experience teaching or supervising at the elementary/secondary level. The problem is that his product, the VAM system, does not work consistently in identifying effective and ineffective teaching, and there are all sorts of glitches built in that no one has been able to fix. For example, Dr Noel admits that the reliability of VAM in producing a consistent ineffective rating based on student test scores is extremely low. (See this post) Dr Noell was asked: “What is the probability that a teacher who gets an ineffective rating one year because of VAM data will get an ineffective rating the following year if he/she changes nothing in his/her teaching. The answer he gave is 26.8%. So the VAM method of rating teachers as ineffective is going to be wrong 3 out of 4 times when you try to extend it to a second year. Why would any personnel management system want to use such an unreliable process? In addition to the general problem with VAM, no one can figure out how to use it to evaluate teachers of handicapped children and teachers of gifted children. It simply breaks down when applied to the two extremes.. This is the same result that is being observed in all other states where VAM is being used to rate teachers. There is a simple conclusion here: VAM is totally unreliable and should not be used ever to evaluate teachers. Period.
So what can you as an education practitioner (either teacher or school administrator) whose whole career may be adversely affected by this ineffective, inefficient system do to fix it for the future?

Here is my opinion, for what it is worth: Legislators hate to admit they were wrong in passing any law. I don't think we can get them to simply repeal Act 54 of 2010, which created the VAM and the COMPASS systems, but we may be able to get them to adopt major changes if we contact and lobby the members of the revision subcommittee. That means if you are affected by this system you should be willing to send at least an email or more to one or more members of the subcommittee and to the original members of the Accountability Commission. All of them have a vote in the final recommendations. Today I will list for you the regular members of the Accountability Commission and then as soon as I get them I will include the contact information for the newly appointed members of the subcommittee.
Here are the recommendations I would make to the Commission subcommittee. You may want to recommend some of these or formulate your own:
  1. Suspend the use of VAM or at least reduce the percentage of VAM in the teacher and principal evaluation to a much lower percentage than the present 50%. But again, my preference would be to suspend VAM indefinitely.
  2. If VAM cannot be removed, at least remove the requirement that an ineffective rating on VAM overrules the principal's effective rating. This was not part of the Act 54 law but was added by rule.
  3. Remove the requirement that one bad evaluation nullifies teacher tenure.
  4. Simplify and allow modifications of COMPASS to fit different situations such as special eduction, PE, early childhood, remedial classes, advanced classes, etc. Stop trying to evaluate many different types of teaching by one inflexible system.
  5. Stop insisting that teachers perform a dog and pony show where the observer has to document each little component of the COMPASS rubric each time for the teacher to get a good evaluation.
  6. Stop insisting that the ultimate demonstration of good teaching is the demonstration of student directed learning. Sometimes the teacher just has to take the lead in laying out what is to be learned rather than to always expect to see maximum student participation.
  7. I guess what I am saying in the 3 points above, is that each major subject area or department in a school system should be able to get together and redesign the COMPASS system to more accurately fit what the folks in that area do every day. Why can't we trust the teachers and administrators to modify COMPASS to do what will work best in different situations?
Here is the contact information for the members of the Accountability Commission:

Note: Just added Appointees by the Legislature to Act 240 subcommittee. This group will sit with the full Accountability Commission for the teacher evaluation review:

Senate appointees
Keisha Fleming – 5th Grade Math teacher, Iberville Elementary School;
Andrew Johnson – 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy,
Heather Lawson – Algebra I teacher, Belle Chasse High School;

House appointees:
Lauren Atterbery, J.I. Watson Middle School;
Miki Wallingsford, Haughton High School;
Mary Aulds, Claiborne Elementary School;

Legislators serving on the Act 240 subcommittee
Representative Frank Hoffmann,
Senator Conrad Appel,

Permanent members of Accountability Commission
Brett Duncan, School Board Rep. Chair of Commission., Tangipahoa Parish;
Jeanne Burns, Board of Regents Rep.; burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV
 Laurie Carlton, Curriculum Coordinator, Plaquemines Parish;
Stephanie Desselle, Community Rep. (CABL);
Giselle Juneau, Pupil appraisal, St. John,
Mickey Landry, Charter School Rep.,
Anna Larriviere, Nonpublic school Rep.;
Sandra McCalla, Principal, Caddo Parish;
Debbie Meaux, LAE President,
Steve Monaghan, LFT President,
Brigitte Nieland, Community Rep., LABI;
Carol Price, High School Math teacher, Zachary HS;
Patrice Pujol, Superintendent of Schools, Ascension;
Debbie Schum, Principal Rep., Principal's Association;
Brandy Thomas, Paren Rep; Allen Parish;
Judy Vail, LEA Administrator, Calcasieu Parish;
Lee Ann Wall, A+PEL Rep.;
Rachel Magee, Pupil Appraisal Rep.;,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Experienced Educator on Predatory Charters

Note to my readers: The following is a letter to the editor that was printed in shortened form here in The Lafayette Advertiser. This letter by an experienced school principal warns us about the destructive influence of  a special group of charter schools that I refer to as predatory charters. All parents and educators should read and listen to the advice in this letter.

Letter to the editor:
If charter schools can’t deliver high scores, then what? The Daily Advertiser asked this question in its editorial on July 10. As a public educator with 31 years of experience, I have some thoughts.

As stated in the editorial, the students of the two for-profit charter companies that edged their way into Lafayette Parish fared about as well as their counterparts in traditional public schools. The response from the companies was that their students had taken more difficult assessments in 2013-2014. As pointed out in the editorial, So did public school students. So where does this leave us?

There is no magic bullet in education that will automatically produce higher test scores. Research has shown over and over that open admission charters perform no better than traditional public schools. The charter schools that produce higher scores generally have selective admission policies that allow for mostly higher performing students to attend. This gives the false impression that charter schools provide better education than traditional public schools. This is what the out of state for- profit charter companies and members of the privatization movement would have you believe. This is just one more farce of the education reform/privatization movement that has swept across the US and Louisiana.

What will begin to happen, and already has, is that as greater numbers of higher performing students are “accepted” into charter schools, the charter scores will naturally increase. So would any schools. Charters will continue to drain money out of the public school system, as they already have, which will cause teachers, programs, and facility upgrades to be cut. As time goes by, the Lafayette Parish School System will come to look very similar to what has evolved in Recovery School District-New Orleans and RSD-Baton Rouge, the lowest performing public schools in the state. There will come a future day when citizens of Lafayette Parish will look back and ask themselves, “What happened to our public schools?” They need look no further than the day BESE overrode the local school board and allowed for-profit charters to come into the District.

If it weren’t so disheartening, I would laugh when I hear “education reform leaders” like John White, Chas Roemer, and Holly Boffy accuse Gov. Bobby Jindal of “playing politics” with education and the Common Core State Standards. Have they forgotten how and why they got where they are?The hypocrisy of it all is shameful. The whole education reform movement from the beginning was nothing more than politics and money. Ask the hundreds of teachers who were forced to wait outside of the state Capitol when the education reform movement was ramrodded through the Legislature without any input from real educators. I agree reform is needed and support some of the initiatives, but that is a discussion for another day.

For those who truly want to improve education, it is really quite simple. First, focus on early childhood education, particularly, for children of generational poverty. Next, increase the length of the school year and school day. Provide early emphasis on language, reading, and math skills with reduced class sizes and smaller schools. Of course, having effective teachers and administrators goes without saying. Finally and most importantly, address the issue of generational poverty, because it is the main reason for lack of educational achievement in this state and country. It is no coincidence that Louisiana’s poverty rate falls right in line with its academic achievement when compared to other states. Louisiana ranks second highest in poverty in the nation following Mississippi.

So back to the question, if charters can’t deliver high scores, then what? I expect a public school system that is on par with the schools of the Recovery School Districts in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the lowest performing schools in the state. All the while our local tax dollars will be increasingly flowing out of state to for-profit charters. The students who really need the most help will be the biggest losers in all of this. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I fear I am not! By the way, private and parochial schools will also be impacted.

Michael Kreamer
Life-long resident of Lafayette Parish
Principal, St. Martinville High