Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Major Missteps in Education Reform in Louisiana

Common Core Testing: The results of the first year of PARCC (Common Core) testing in Louisiana and other states were so bad that the PARCC consortium decided to devise the most opaque system of "scale scores" and highly inflated cut scores you could possibly imagine. Here are a few examples: All the tests were given a maximum scale score of 850 and a minimum score of 650. No parents were ever told however, that a scale score of 650 meant that the student got between zero and 10% of the questions right. The lowest passing score of 725 meant that a student had only gotten about 30% of the questions right! The average percentage of correct answers (the raw scores) on the PARCC in Louisiana was 38%!

In the reports on student performance that were sent to parents and teachers 8 months after the testing, no one was told which of the standards a student missed or got right. Parents and teachers were never even told how many questions the students missed. . .  only the highly inflated scale score. Now they want us to believe that reducing the time spent on testing by 45 minutes or so will make it all better. Sure, the kids will do a little better this year because the teachers will coach them to answer all the questions even if they have to guess, and teachers will get a little better at teaching the test but it won't mean that the students have really improved their reading and math.

The New Louisiana Standards: These revised standards are not much better than the true Common Core standards we had this year, because the review committee was never given the tools they needed to fix the standards properly. They were never given an item analysis of the first PARCC tests so that they could see which standards were not really working, and they were never allowed to consider real alternatives to the CCSS. They had nothing near the time they needed to come up with new standards, so they made minor corrections of some of the most obvious errors in the standards, and sent them back to BESE. Many of the standards are still not age appropriate so the kids and the teachers will continue much non-productive work with little to show for it.

Making teaching great again: To paraphrase a silly phrase from Donald Trump, making teaching great again is a fools errand because the methods that are being used after the reforms have made teaching mostly a boring test prep exercise. It is a low imagination job for college graduates who need something do do while they are looking for a real job. If you want to hear what we should really be doing in teaching, just view and listen to this Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

I spoke to a friend of mine who was a principal of a charter school who got fired because she suspended (with good reason) a kid of one of her charter board members. I asked her what did she think it takes to be a teacher today, and she said the following: 

"We don't need real teachers anymore. All we need are college graduates of any kind who are willing to be trained in test prep. All they do is give pre-tests and drill the kids on the math and English skills that they missed on the pre-test so they can do well on the post-test, and then they train them for the state tests. Other important subjects like science, social studies, art, and physical education are neglected. That's it. The kids are bored, the teachers are burnt out after a few years of this mind numbing routine so they leave and we have to find new faux teachers to fill in. Many school administrators agree that they can't find real math or special education teachers anymore. Those of us who chose teaching as a real profession are just treading water until we can retire. None of our own children are going into teaching!"

The great charter fiasco: Legislators love charters and vouchers because they get big campaign contributions from the charter advocates and the gullible big doners. They love to talk about the virtues of "choice" so that parents whose children attend so called "failing schools" can choose a better school for their child. But the research shows that most kids do worse or no better in their "choice" schools. The charter administrators make out very well by setting their own salaries like the guy in the TV commercial who has a clone of himself for a boss. This article that just came out in nola.com describes the many instances of fraud in the New Orleans charters. This takeover of Orleans schools by the state was supposed to stop fraud and corruption.

 Have you noticed that the LDOE has stopped taking over low performing schools. That's because they found out that the turnaround charters don't work. They can't wait to give these schools back to the local school boards. Now they are in a rush to approve predatory charters that will succeed by picking only the best students and by leaving the rejects for the local school board to educate. But they may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg, by setting up a situation that may cause public schools to lose voter support. Loss of public support could result in the defeat of new school taxes and may actually cause the loss of critical tax renewals. Even the charters would lose their parasitic funding.

How are our students doing after 10 years of reform?
Based on test scores, which is the only thing reformers care about, Louisiana was ranked 45th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the NAEP tests in 2005 and now we are ranked about 47th. The passing percentage of students on the new PARCC test in English has dropped from 72% in 2013 to 69% in 2015 even though the minimum passing score has been lowered from 55% to 30%. The passing percentage in math has dropped from 70% to 60% even though the minimum passing score had been lowered to only 29%. So Louisiana has been losing ground on test scores.

 John White claims that Louisiana ACT scores have improved slightly, but his numbers don't agree with those Mercedes Schnider got from the school report cards. It seems that White and his staff have manipulated ACT averages by not counting the ACT scores of students who did not attend for their full senior year. ACT scores are still dismal, particularly in the RSD.  I trust Mercedes' numbers.

The charter schools in the New Orleans RSD have made a big deal of preparing their students to qualify for Ivy League colleges, but try as I may I have not found any evidence of RSD students actually making it to Ivy League schools. The charter managers did coach a few more students to apply for mostly community college acceptance. The only problem is that almost half of those registered for college never show up at college. Most applicants are not prepared for community college and since they didn't qualify for TOPS, they have no funding. In addition, our LDOE college prep policies have almost killed vocational education in Louisiana. Most of the kids graduating from the RSD are not qualified for careers or jobs.

Fortunately, because of hard work by real educators, many other public schools across the state have produced greatly improved numbers of students passing Advanced Placement courses compared to 10 years ago. 

So the education reformers in Louisiana are like the dog that caught the truck. I am pretty sure they don't know how to drive it.