Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

The best gift is to treat every person you encounter the way you would like to be treated.

Many years ago when I was teaching, I noticed something interesting about my students around Christmas time. 

I was a high school Chemistry and Physics teacher and taught mostly Juniors and Seniors. At the same time, my wife was a 4th grade teacher. Each year at Christmas time she came home with bunches of little gifts from her students. It was not cool for Juniors and Seniors to give gifts to teachers so I usually got only about one or two gifts. What I noticed is that the students who sheepishly handed me a gift usually after class on the last day before the holidays, were teacher's children. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Louisiana Educators and Citizens: Wake up!

A recent survey of teachers by Education Week reported that nationwide about 30% of public school teachers voted for Trump for president. Based on the overall overwhelming vote for Trump in Louisiana, my rough estimate is that probably close to 50% of teachers in Louisiana voted for Trump. I decided to do a few simple math calculations to see how this is going to pay off for teachers and other Louisiana citizens. Let’s analyze just one Trump achievement: The Trump tax cut.

CNN estimates that the average taxpayer who earns between 35 and 85 thousand a year for a family of four will see about $18 more per week as a result of the tax cuts. So most teachers in Louisiana may see about $72 more in their paychecks since they are paid monthly. But for other citizens in Louisiana, about 40% will get absolutely nothing from the tax cut because they don’t earn enough to pay taxes in the first place.  So only about 30% of families will get the extra $18 per week. That amounts to about two large pizzas. So what will the fortunate 30% of Louisiana workers get other than these two large pizzas per week?

In ten years, the extra amount that the United States will have to borrow from China, Japan and other high saving nations to cover the Trump tax cut will be approximately two trillion dollars. (I am assuming that the Congress will continue the individual tax cuts that are now scheduled to end after 5 years) That will amount to $619 of extra debt for every man, woman, and child in the USA owed mostly to people in countries that don’t even like us!

In Louisiana, it has been estimated that most families of 4 do not even have $500 saved up to cover the cost of any emergency without going into debt. So in ten years, the Trump tax cut going mostly to very rich people will result in an additional federal debt for each Louisiana family of four amounting to a total of $2,476. How will Louisiana families deal with this extra burden placed on their families by the Trump tax cut of 2018? They probably won’t have to pay it all off in one lump sum. Instead, as the wage earner of that family of four gets to age 65 where she would have expected to receive a small social security check to help her survive in retirement, the U.S. treasury will be using that money to pay back loans to China and Japan. There will be little or no money left to pay for Social Security or Medicare. So when those individuals need a little help from their government for food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, it will not be available.

One of the biggest campaign issues for Republicans over the last few decades has been absolute opposition to building up a federal debt that would have to be paid by our children and grandchildren. But when president Bush decided to declare war on Iraq based on false claims of WMDs, not a penny of the cost has been paid by current taxpayers. Trillions to finance war in the Middle East  has been borrowed mostly from other countries to be paid back with interest at a later date. All of it is going to be passed on to future generations along with the growing interest on the debt. We need to remember that all of our Republican congress members have also chosen to pass on the costs of this most recent tax cut for the wealthy.

Teachers will do a lot better than most Louisiana citizens, primarily because they have a separate retirement system independent of Social Security. But the way things are going now in the Louisiana Legislature, (We have a looming billion dollar deficit caused by state tax cuts during the Jindal administration) that wonderful retirement system will probably not be funded much longer for future teachers. Health care benefits are also at risk. LABI and other conservative groups don’t think that teachers deserve these benefits, and soon our state will start diverting retirement contributions and health coverage to balance our deficit plagued state budget, The conservatives keep telling us that “our state doesn’t have an income problem, we have a spending problem.”  But none of them have been able to find the waste that could be cut. So our colleges are now starved of critical funding, and the next targets are sure to be funding for teacher retirement and health care.

This is how our Louisiana voters will be rewarded for their votes for Donald Trump and our Republican party congress members.

Friday, December 15, 2017

School Reform Produces Massive Corruption

Here are the major issues and conclusions of this post:

1. A Recent Study By NPR Shows That Misguided School Reform is Producing Massive Corruption in at least one Washington D.C. school.
2. The Question Arises: Is it Worth Improving the Graduation Rate at the Expense of the Quality of the Diplomas Awarded?
3. Is Louisiana Following the Same Model of Phony Success Developed by This Washington D.C. School?

This recent study and report by National Public Radio on phony success at a Washington D.C. school may be an indication of widespread corruption of measurements of school performance in many states including Louisiana. It raises the question: “Is it ok to improve the high school graduation rate by simply awarding worthless diplomas to students who have demonstrated no real academic achievement?

The title of the npr article is: What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College. This PBS report is a follow-up on initial reports of dramatic success in a Washington D.C. school (Ballou High School) revealing that almost all measures of success for this school were bogus. The report indicates massive corruption of an accountability system that was designed to ensure that schools were effectively educating students. Since mostly the same accountability requirements and school goals are mandated in Louisiana, we should try to determine if the same corruption is happening here.

Here is a summary of the findings of the Washington D.C. investigation:     
  • Many students were allowed to graduate even though they had unexcused absences of more than half of the total number of school days. This was a direct violation of a rule that prohibited students for receiving credit for courses where students missed class more than 30 times. The majority of Ballou’s 2017 graduating class missed more than six weeks of school.
  • Some students were allowed to graduate from Ballou High School even though they could not read or write.
  • Teachers reported pressure from the school administration to pass students who had failed almost all of their tests.
  • Teachers were asked to give students who missed tests at least a 50% grade on such tests so that it would be easier to give them an overall passing grade.
  • Teachers are expected to give students with unexcused absences and failed tests makeup work as a way of giving them passing grades without regard to legitimate learning of the course material.
  • Students in their senior year who had failed numerous classes were routinely placed in shortened “credit recovery courses” lasting only a few weeks so they could make up failed courses and receive enough credit to graduate.
  • Students often skipped credit recovery course sessions but received credit anyway.
  • If teachers objected to passing students who failed their classes, the objecting teachers would receive bad evaluations and often were fired.
  • Teachers would receive good evaluations and bonus payments ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 if they went along with giving students passing grades for minimal or zero class performance.
  • School authorities regularly ignored laws that required reporting of chronically absent students to the court system. School attendance records showed that all but 11 graduates should have been reported to the courts for absenteeism but only 25 students were actually sent to court services.
  • More than a quarter of the Ballou teaching staff left during the 2016-17 school year, indicating a huge level of attrition. Students often had large numbers of classes taught by substitute teachers.
  • In the 2016-17 school year, only 9% of students passed the English standardized test and none passed the math test. But they graduated anyway.
The 100% college acceptance rate for Ballou graduates is totally bogus. It turns out that even though 183 graduates were accepted at a local community college, only 16 actually showed up for that college in the fall.

Based on the above facts it is obvious that the initial reports of dramatic success for Ballou High School were totally bogus.

Now lets look at the implementation of accountability in Louisiana schools. 

How does the performance of Louisiana students compare to the students of Ballou High school in Washington D.C.?

We don't have a direct comparison of test scores in Louisiana High schools with Ballou High school but we do have good overall comparisons using the NAEP tests for grades 3-8 and the ACT for high school. Thankfully, Louisiana standardized test scores are better than the average for Washington D.C. schools even though our schools rank in the bottom 10% of all states.  The real problem is that  teachers in Louisiana are experiencing the same practices that allow promotion of students who miss excessive school and students who fail most of their tests.
  • Teachers in many Louisiana schools are expected to give makeup work to students who fail tests or who miss excessive school.
  • Credit recovery courses are also used in Louisiana to give course credit to students who fail courses or who have excessive absences. BESE policy states that students can miss no more than 10 unexcused days in a semester in order to receive course credit. This state policy is routinely ignored when students are enrolled in credit recovery courses.
  • Out of the huge numbers of students in grades 3 though 8 failing both their state math and English tests, only one out of 10 are actually retained in grade.
  • So the real Louisiana state policy is to promote practically all students regardless of absences, and without regard to failure of state tests. Our so-called “tougher standards” are totally bogus. In fact, there are basically no standards for promotion of students and for awarding diplomas in Louisiana.
  • The new Common Core standards are a disaster in Louisiana, with the average student scoring just over 40% on all their state tests in math, English and science. The recently added social studies tests are producing even more dismal results. The scale scores on all these tests mask the true results of the raw scores indicating extremely low percentages of correct answers.
  • State Superintendent John White has discouraged the grade retention of students who fail state tests and has gotten BESE and the Legislature to basically do away with the requirement that students must pass their math and English tests in 4th and 8th grades in order to progress to the next grade.
  • White’s highly touted increase in students taking Advanced Placement courses is also meaningless. Louisiana now ranks 3rd from the bottom of all states for the percentage of students actually achieving a passing grade on their AP courses.

So the public has been led to believe that Louisiana is now demanding higher standards of our students, but a more accurate assessment is that there are basically no standards for students in Louisiana.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Test Based Reform Likened to Failed Soviet Centralized Planning

The Testing Charade, A new book by Daniel Koretz, a testing expert who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, claims that test based accountability as it is now used in our public schools is doing more harm than good. This is disturbing conclusion considering the recent action by our BESE in adopting a new school grading system that intensifies the pressure on Louisiana public schools to improve standardized test scores.

Much of Koretz’s criticism of test-based accountability is based on a social science principle called Campbell’s law. Campbell’s law is a well-documented theory that exposes the self-defeating effects of imposing high stakes rewards and punishments on individuals and institutions based on the achievement of arbitrary social goals.

Campbell’s law, proposed in the 1970’s by social scientist, Don Campbell states that when a particular quantitative indicator is used to determine success in producing a certain outcome, the indicator itself will be subject to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the outcome it was intended to measure.

Koretz points out that test based accountability is failing to improve education in the same way that Communist production goals based on centralized planning doomed the economy of the Soviet Union. Yes, Koretz claims there are great similarities between the arbitrary math and Language Arts testing goals used to grade schools and the arbitrary industrial production goals that helped bring down the communist bureaucracy that ruled Russia for over 70 years.

Communist dictators were convinced that Russian factories could be forced to boost production by simply imposing upon factory managers a system of rewards and penalties based on arbitrary production goals. Today’s education reformers believe that setting  arbitrary learning goals measured by standardized tests and rewarding or punishing educators based on the achievement of these goals will produce improved student achievement.

It turns out that in both cases, Campbell’s law results in false progress by producing shoddy manufactured goods in communist factories and by producing score or grade inflation in public schools. Koretz produces facts and figures that prove that most test based educational gains are not real, and amount to false score gains when compared to other more objective tests. This blog has given numerous examples of test score manipulation and inflation in our Louisiana accountability system.

One of the major goals of test-based accountability was to close the achievement gap between various racial and socioeconomic groups. The goal was to insure that black, Hispanic and high poverty students would improve their school performance compared to white, Asian and more privileged students.  Koretz shows that the achievement gaps have actually widened slightly since the introduction of test based accountability. (Coincidentally,  common core standards advocates confidently claimed that introduction of their test based standards would close the same achievement gaps. They have not.)

We learned over 30 years ago, that top down arbitrary goals and high stakes penalties imposed by a central government somehow always get circumvented and eventually fail. In fact the entire Soviet economy failed because of Campbell’s law.

Koretz provides numerous examples of how test based accountability has resulted in various forms of test inflation based on bad test-prep schemes and even by outright cheating by educators. The blaming and shaming of educators for student test scores has resulted in truly shameful behavior by some educators. I am personally saddened to see my chosen profession degraded and de-professionalized by this unfair system. 

Some educators are now rationalizing and condoning the use of what educators would once have considered unethical behavior used solely for raising test scores. Some educators have gone to jail for erasing and changing student test answers or for manipulating test groups to produce higher scores. But the embarrassment is so great when schools are rated D and F even though educators are giving their very best,  that it pressures educators to implement the corruption of educational practice predicted by Campbell’s law. 

Why do I call this test based accountability system unfair? Here is just one example: BESE member, Doris Votier,  pointed out at the last BESE meeting that all of the alternative schools across the state that serve at-risk students and students with discipline problems are rated F. Is it possible that all of these educators in many different school systems are all incompetent or lazy? Of course not. The test based accountability system unfairly rates all schools serving at risk students at the bottom of the scale no matter how hard they work to help these needy students. The same principle applies to schools that serve high poverty neighborhoods.

In his book, Koretz also shows how many important and critical educational practices are being neglected because of the overemphasis on test scores. He gives examples of truly innovative teachers who are forced to drop techniques that motivate and stimulate students with the joy of learning because more time has to be devoted to test prep. Let me give you a personal example: My teaching specialty was high school science. My supervising teacher taught me to teach science using an inquiry based approach where students use laboratory work to observe first-hand the principals of science. Laboratory work is more time consuming than lecture and drilling using worksheets as a way of teaching science. But all the experts point out that the inquiry approach is much more motivating and stimulating for promoting the love of science in students. Yet this approach is now being minimized as teachers are forced to do more test prep by the perverse incentives of this system. If we are truly interested in promoting STEM careers in Louisiana, our present accountability system is self-defeating.

Please take just a few minutes to read this recent article in U.S. News by Daniel Koretz which touches on the corrupting influence of test based accountability.

Here is a petition you can sign to oppose the Gates Foundation's disastrous efforts to tinker with public education.

Monday, September 25, 2017

School Letter Grades May be Arbitrarily, Drastically Lowered

This article in The Advocate predicts a drastic decline in school performance scores across the state as John White and his real boses at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) implement a new school rating system as part of the new ESSA plan. These lowered SPS scores and letter grades will have nothing to do with a decline in the quality of instruction, but will decline simply because the powers that be believe that our schools deserve to be rated more harshly. The LABI group in particular have appointed themselves as the primary decision makers on school standards and grading without regard to the concerns of professional educators.

John White and LABI have painted themselves and our public schools into a corner by claiming that schools can raise student test scores to any level they demand. They expect all "A" rated schools to tbring the majority of their students to a level of mastery on LEAP tests by the year 2025. This goal is based on a highly flawed set of Common Cores tests, that are based on an assumption that all students can and should be prepared for 4 year colleges. These tests are developmentally inappropriate for the majority of our students, with the present score statewide averaging somewhat less than 40%. The tests are so poorly designed that the passing raw score for students have been set at approximately 31% in math and English Language arts.

his new rating system is based on two major flawed assumptions:
The first fake assumption is the politically correct statement by John White claiming the following: Louisiana’s students—all of them, no matter race, disability, or creed—are as smart and capable as any in America. There is absolutely not one shred of evidence for this assumption. Louisiana students score consistently in the bottom 10% of the states on all their tests and measurements. There is not one indication in any of the testing, including the NAEP testing that show anywhere near average results for our students.  Nationwide, student performance is directly linked to poverty, not some utopian belief in the equality of all students. We know that even in any high poverty population, there are very smart students. But the statistical average performance of the high poverty population is significantly lower than more privileged groups. John White knows this assumption of compatibility with richer states is completely unrealistic, but it is useful to him in blaming our public schools and teachers for not accomplishing the impossible. It is also useful in promoting the privatization of our schools. So to set standards that demand our students magically raise their performance is a guarantee that our school letter grades will decline drastically.

The other assumption made by White and LABI that makes no sense is that test scores, graduation rates, and other measures will continue to improve at a steady rate each year. There is no mathematical basis for this assumption. On the contrary, all testing trends across the country and in Louisiana indicate that after a new set of standards is in place for a few years, student performance levels off and sometimes even declines after initial improvements. NAEP scores across the nation, initially improved slightly after the greater emphasis on test prep implemented by the No Child Left Behind law, then scores leveled off and declined slightly in more recent years. Louisiana LEAP scores in only 3 years have already leveled off and declined slightly since we switched to the Common Core standards. There is overwhelming evidence that the proposed state mandate for continuous annual improvement will cause school performance scores to decline drastically. That is even though our students in 8 years will in all probability be doing just as well as they are doing now.

Another unintended consequence of the reforms that have placed such extreme emphasis on English and math, is the disastrous performance revealed by the new social studies tests that were launched this last Spring. The LDOE delayed release of the Spring 2017 social studies scores by several months and have never notified the press of first year results. The atrocious social studies scores along with very low science scores demonstrate the extreme neglect of other critical areas caused by the skewed emphasis on math and English of our eduction deform movement.

John White indicated at the meeting of the Superintendents last Friday that there are no plans to  require students to improve their test performance in order to be promoted to the next grade. The score of Basic on one major area and approaching basic on another will be sufficient to get a student promoted to the next grade. But that low standard is far from actual practice in most schools across the state. My most recent analysis shows that 90% of students who fail both their ELA and math LEAP tests are routinely promoted each year. No wonder teachers in middle school are frustrated with trying to teach to the  current year LEAP tests when over half their students have not mastered the previous year's material. In fact it was made very clear to superintendents that they will be expected to promote almost all students (in direct violation of state law) even when schools themselves are expected to produce higher test scores jut to retain their present rating.

Here is a direct quote of state law relative to promotion of students: "A pupil progression plan shall require the student's mastery of grade-appropriate skills before he or she can be recommended for promotion." 

Concerning the promotion of 4th and 8th grade students, the law states: , "the state Department of Education shall establish, subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the level of achievement on certain of the tests or on certain portions of the tests given as required in this Subsection in fourth and eighth grades as definitive of the level of the student's proficiency in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies. Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine This state law is being routinely violated across the state.

Another alarming side affect of Louisiana education reform was raised in comments by several superintendents at the Friday meeting. Local superintendents complained that a growing number of school systems are experiencing serious shortages of certified teachers that are reaching alarming levels. Superintendents pointed out that many basic classes are being conducted by persons designated as permanent substitutes. In 2012 LABI and the Jindal administration basically destroyed teacher tenure in an effort to make it easier to fire teachers. But the real problem is not with firing more teachers but with replacing good teachers who left after becoming so disenchanted with their chosen profession. Those teachers are hard to replace because young people don't want to go into a profession where they are blamed for conditions over which they have no control.

The major education reforms in our state have accomplished the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.