Monday, April 25, 2016

Suspension Repression Bill Exempts Most Charters

HB 833 by Rep. Leger is an effort to reduce suspensions of students in public schools. There is great concern by many well intentioned community leaders that students who are suspended multiple times from school often drop out and never get a high school diploma. All of this feeds into the narrative of a school-to-prison pipeline, because students who get in trouble in school and drop out often graduate instead to petty crime or drug dealing and then to more serious crime and inevitably to prison. Many well intentioned persons believe that a reduction in school suspensions will somehow end the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years alternatives to suspension have included programs such as Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). These usually involve positive behavior reinforcement and various counseling services that attempt to get at the root causes of misbehavior in school and in society.

What HB 833 in its original form attempted to do was to set limits on school suspensions for each school based on national and then state averages. Schools authorities would be required to devise plans to reduce suspensions. If the schools exceeded the limits set by the law and then failed in attempts to reduce suspensions over a 2 year period, a special master could be appointed and paid for by the school system to force the suspension rate down. All of this would be overseen by our State Department of Education with assistance of another special task force representing all kinds of stakeholders. The author of the bill is in the process of amending his own bill probably in an attempt to soften some of the mandates. The revised bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee this Wednesday. I will try to get advance copies of the amendments and explain the changes to my readers, but I fear that this is just one more opportunity for interference by the state in the operation of our local schools that will do more harm than good.

Unfortunately advocates of alternatives to suspension fail to realize that most schools do not have the funding necessary to send interventionists to every classroom where students act up and act out and disrupt orderly class activities. We can't have it both ways. We can't have a system where disruptive students know that school authorities have no power to remove them when they curse and disrespect their teachers and generally cause chaos in classrooms and still expect to somehow maintain good learning conditions. You just can't have effective classrooms without order, discipline and respect for the rights of other students. PBIS and Restorative Justice take time and extra staff, which in these times of budget problems in Louisiana, the legislature is not going to provide. But even if we had adequate staffing of guidance counselors and social workers in addition to security staff, we still can't tolerate one or two students disrupting educational activities for 25 other students, not even for one day. Because if one student is allowed to disrupt class today and does not even get a slap on the wrist, then 5 other students will be disrupting class tomorrow and the day after. Then our legislature will want to know why our students are not progressing satisfactorily in acquiring basic academic skills.

The last time a similar bill came up in the legislature, the strongest opponents were charter school administrators who have attempted to create reputations of running schools guaranteeing safe and productive environments for students. Their program has included policies that require all students to abide by strict and often regimented discipline codes. Any students who failed to cooperate were simply shown the door using either suspensions or by "counseling out". So the most disruptive students in charter schools inevitably showed up for services as the real public schools. This has been a major complaint of public school authorities who see their schools as a dumping ground for the problems that charter schools don't want to serve. This trend provides an extra bonus to charter schools because generally the biggest discipline problems in a school are the very same kids who drag down the test score averages and lower the school performance score.

The original version of HB 833 specifically exempted the type 1, type 3 and type 4 charter schools. This would insure that charters that were often formed as a way of avoiding difficult to educate students would have a guaranteed dumping ground for their rejects.

It is wrong to have a two tiered system of education where only a minority of students can attend orderly schools and the rest of the students are forced to attend schools that have no authority to discipline students who are often dangerous and habitually disrupt school.

In addition to the impossibility of running a good school without reasonable disciplinary authority, I can tell you that young teachers who are employed to teach in schools where teachers have little backing in maintaining order and respect often see each school day as their hell on earth. There is almost nothing more degrading for a teacher than to be forced to tolerate students who bully and humiliate teachers each day and deprive all others of their right to an education.

Suspension is just about the only disciplinary tool left to school administrators. There is no money to hire extra interventionists or monitors for detention and in-school suspensions. Students who are disruptive and disrespectful of their teachers don't do punish work, don't respond to loss of privileges, and often have no real parental guidance. Artificially preventing school authorities from using suspensions removes the last vestige of their ability to run an orderly and productive school.

It is my belief that mandatory reductions in school suspensions would do absolutely nothing to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. In fact, it may make matters worse. When students learn in school that they can bully and disrespect their teachers as well as other students and no real consequences result, they begin to think that they can go through life without boundaries. But that does not work when they get to adulthood and find that the criminal justice system does not have Restorative Justice and PBIS. At some point the coddling of rule breakers and law breakers will end. Most of these students will have no salable skills to fall back upon and will often become habitual offenders costing themselves and society terrible consequences.

Please use this link to the House Education Committee to look up the Representatives from your area. You can click on each name to get their email address and phone number. This is your chance to be heard by your Representative. Don't pass it up.

Please tell your House Education Committee member that HB 833 will not work and should be defeated!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Please Sign the Petition on Teacher Evaluation

The Network for Public Education, a pro-public education advocacy group of which I am a member just released this study of teacher opinion relative to recent trends in teacher evaluation. One of the major findings of the study is that teachers believe that the present trend of tying teacher evaluations to student test scores is counterproductive and damaging to the teaching profession. Many teachers believe, and recent statistics show, that current teacher evaluation methods incorporating student test scores is actually driving away some of the most promising teachers. This trend accomplishes the exact opposite of what the use of so called "Value Added" components of teacher effectiveness were supposed to accomplish.

That's why I have signed, and I am encouraging my readers to sign this petition promoted by a Louisiana teacher who wants to stop the excessive use of student VAM scores in Louisiana teacher evaluation. Please take the time to click on the link to the petition and sign it, if you believe as I do, that the use of VAM in Louisiana has demoralized and greatly lowered the status of the teaching profession in Louisiana.

We all remember when the proponents of Jindal's Act 1 of 2012 made grandiose predictions that the use of VAM as a major component in teacher evaluations was going to uplift the teaching profession and finally empower the best teachers to inspire other teachers to learn the secret to making every student perform at above average levels. What an insane unscientific notion! It was Mark Twain who over 150 years ago remarked: "Tis sad but true that half the American citizens are below average." Twain was making fun of our American tendency to ignore the rules of nature and mathematics in predicting human performance. To try to get every student to perform above average may be a great aspirational goal, but it defies the rules of statistics. So to base teacher's evaluations on and place in jeopardy their careers based on the iron laws of statistics which guarantee winners and losers in every measure of performance is illogical, not to mention cruel and unprofessional. All of this is made even more illogical and cruel by the finding by the American Statistical Association that teacher influence on student performance in school is limited to between 1 and 14 percent.

So as part of our continuing drive to implement the most unscientific methods of school reform,  Louisiana has decided to base at least 50% of a teacher's evaluation on a factor that experts say is between 1 and 14% responsible for student performance! In fact the Louisiana teacher evaluation system states that in certain circumstances, the VAM portion of a teacher's evaluation overrules all other measures of teacher effectiveness. That's the icing on the cake!

Also, the most comprehensive studies of VAM in Louisiana have found the year to year consistency of the VAM system to be extremely unstable and unreliable.

So exactly who is insisting that Louisiana use a statistically unreliable system that accounts for no more than 14 percent of student performance to make all decisions relative to teacher employment and retention in Louisiana? Does it surprise you that the main force for this extremely unreliable and unscientific process of employing people on the education profession in Louisiana comes from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana. These tow groups now have a stranglehold on state government through their use of PACS that literally buy the votes of the majority of our politicians in the Louisiana Legislature and BESE.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming power of big business in Louisiana, our citizens did succeed in electing a governor that was not under the thumb of big business even though the majority of the legislature will probably continue to follow LABI blindly.  Only if a large number of good citizens keep insisting on sound practices in the evaluation of teachers may we be able to salvage this extremely valuable profession.

Please Sign the Petition!