Saturday, April 14, 2018

How Has School Reform Worked in Louisiana?

Is State Superintendent John White the Superman of Education Reform?

Remember the 2010 documentary film Waiting for "Superman"? That's the film that suggested that America's public eduction system was not providing many of our students with a good eduction and that our K-12 public education system was basically failing. Even so, the film presented a possibly bright future as charter school entrepreneurs and radical reformers such as Michelle Rhee were poised to engineer a breakthrough that could produce dramatic improvements in school performance. Success would possibly be achieved, according to the film, by tearing down the status quo of the american education establishment and by reforming the teaching profession using test-driven performance  approaches often referred to as Corporate Reform. What public education needed was an education "Superman".

Critical areas of education reform described in the film included major changes in urban schools in New York city, Washington D. C. and other public education systems that had been producing chronically low performance on national tests and poor graduation rates.

The film suggested that many needy students were being poorly served by lazy, incompetent teachers protected by tenure and union contracts. The message was that by sweeping away these impediments, reformers could insure that students would finally succeed in being prepared for college and successful careers. Disadvantaged kids would catch up with more privileged students.

Michelle Rhee, a young energetic reformer,  had just been appointed chancellor of schools in Washington D.C,, and other bright young, non-traditional educators such as those given brief training by the Teach for America program  were portrayed as the possible "supermen" of this movement. The reform movement had gained the support of major business groups and lavish funding from the largest philanthropic donors such as the Gates foundation, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. John White was one of the bright stars of the Teach for America corp who had picked up his reformer "creds" in Chicago and New York and was ready to tackle major reforms for an entire state.

The radical theories of education reform have now been tested in Washington D.C. by Rhree and her successors, and by the charter takeover of schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Sadly, the first image of reform to fall was that claimed by Rhee in Washington D. C. After 10 years, test gains were found to be corrupted by alleged cheating, and by strong evidence that the graduation rate had been falsely inflated. Washington D.C. still holds the unchallenged position as the lowest performing school district in the counrty. Michelle Rhee is long gone from the education reform scene.

So how has Louisiana fared in its bid to be the greatest school reformer state?

John White was chosen by Governor Jindal to take over Louisiana schools as state superintendent and to basically implement every major reform dreamed up by the new non-educator reformers. Louisiana would apply business practices to the operation of public schools and reform the teaching profession. At the time White was brought in, Louisiana had recently adopted major reform legislation allowing the state to take over low performing schools. Now under Republican Governor Bobby Jindal Louisiana would take its place as the most "education reformed" state in the nation.

At the same time that Jindal hired White, he passed two sweeping laws in early 2012 designed to implement every major school reform being touted as the holy grail for dramatically improving schools. The first bill took away teacher rights such as seniority, tenure, and standard salary schedules based on experience. It substituted teacher and administrator merit pay based on student test scores. The other bill opened the doors wide for students to transfer to charter schools and voucher schools funded by school taxes.  Another recent law had mandated that schools were to be rated as A to F based primarily on student test scores. Students attending D or F schools would be given the right to transfer to charter and voucher schools. These reforms to be administered by White would transform all schools into high performers compared to other states. One of the primary trackers of school success was to be the average test scores of students in reading and math as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Average student NAEP test scores from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have become recognized as the gold standard for tracking the progress of education reform and for ranking the various state education systems.

The first major thrust of education reform in Louisiana had begun right after Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005 when the state took over a large number of low performing schools and transferred them to charter school operators. The teacher union contract in New Orleans was scrapped and all the teachers were fired and replaced. The new charter operators were to be freed of various state regulations as long as they could demonstrate good performance of students on state tests each year and improve  graduation rates.

In addition to all of the structural changes in the management of schools and the implementation of a "business model" for rating, paying and managing teachers, the state adopted the Common Core curriculum standards for all public schools starting in 2012. These new standards were designed to raise the bar for all students and also were expected to help close the achievement gap between different socio-economic groups.

How have the reforms worked for Louisiana? We know that high school graduation rates have increased significantly, more students are filling out FAFSA forms for college application, and average scores on state tests and ACT tests have improved. But graduation rates can be manipulated in various ways to produce increases without real academic improvement, and guidance counselors can be directed to have more students fill out college applications. The small increase in ACT average scores in Louisiana was engineered by revising the calculation to include only graduating students. When you leave out the scores of the dropouts after 11th grade who had taken the ACT, the average score will be boosted significantly. Furthermore there is no assurance that students will actually attend college. In fact Louisiana has seen no improvement in actual college completion. State test cut scores on LEAP can be manipulated to produce apparent progress by either lowering the raw cut scores or by shifting to a greater proportion of less difficult questions on successive tests.

John White is still a darling of the education reform movement. Corporate reform advocates fervently believe that surely White's reforms in Louisiana would show up as real improvements in student achievement. As recently as September 2017, this article by a Fordham Institute executive claims that Louisiana, under White's leadership has achieved dramatic improvements in curriculum, and that the NAEP results would soon indicate real improvements.

But the chickens are coming home to roost with the release of the most recent 2017 NAEP test results. Most real experts believe that NAEP is the best way to measure academic progress or lack of it. The NAEP gives a truly uncontaminated comparison of a state to all other states for progress in reading and math for grades 4 and 8.

Here is a comparison of Louisiana's ranking compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the years 2005, 2015 and 2017 calculated by the federal agency that administers the NAEP test: (I chose 2005 as the starting year because that was the last year of NAEP results prior to our major wave of reform)

4th grade math:
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 7th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 5th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to last place

4th grade reading: 
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 8th from the bottom
In 2015 Lousiana was still 8th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to 3rd from the bottom

8th grade math: 
In 2005 Louisiana was 6th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 3rd from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana had dropped to 2nd from the bottom

8th grade reading: 
In 2005 Louisiana was ranked 7th from the bottom
In 2015 Louisiana had dropped to 4th from the bottom
In 2017 Louisiana was still 4th from the bottom

Note: NAEP results show no closing of the achievement gap for disadvantaged students.

Overall, NAEP provides conclusive evidence that the White and Jindal reforms have backfired! The only public school system performing worse overall than Louisiana is Washington D. C. White's so called reforms have simply driven Louisiana closer to the bottom of the state rankings.

Numerous charter schools in the state have been rocked by cheating scandals and by misappropriation of school funds. There is evidence that low performing students in some charter schools have been dumped onto the streets to improve test score averages and to inflate the graduation rates. There are serious questions whether the minor test score improvements of charter schools have been real or rigged. New Orleans takeover schools are among the lowest performers in the state. The state has been forced to return several schools to local control following the complete collapse of student enrollment. The state no longer wants to take over so called failing schools, but the state board is still approving predatory charters that attempt to attract the best performing students. This is far from the original purpose of charters.  On the Voucher front, studies show that on average, students who transfer to voucher schools failed to improve and lost ground in some areas.

The new Common Core standards for Louisiana have proven to be mostly unteachable! Average raw scores on state LEAP tests have stagnated to just above 40% correct answers on each such test for the past three years. But the final evidence of failure of Common Core in Louisiana is our dramatic drop in NAEP rankings. That should be no surprise, since none of the Common Core standards were put though research trials before full implementation. That's like putting a whole new set of pharmaceutical drugs on the market without first conducting clinical trials to see if they actually work. It seems that the primary justification for the Common Core standards was wishful thinking mostly created by the campaign to adopt the new standards lavishly funded  and supported by the Gates foundation and the Obama administration.

The teacher merit pay system has proven to be unworkable and terribly unfair while the teacher salary schedules in most school systems have been raided to provide more funding for testing and for the defective merit system. So now many local school systems are experiencing serious teacher shortages mainly in the most critical areas of reading, math, science and special education. Few teachers are now recommending their once highly regarded profession to their own children, nieces and nephews.

The obvious conclusion is that Louisiana has squandered millions of dollars on standardized testing, and huge chunks of the school year on useless test prep, while the teaching profession has been crushed . . . all so that student performance could move closer to the bottom of the state rankings.

No Superman here!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

John White Has Failed at All Measures He Implemented!

This article is all you need to know about John White's effect on Louisiana education. 

Superintendent John White, who has no formal training in education, was brought to Louisiana by Governor Jindal and LABI for two reasons: (1) To privatize as many of our public schools to for-profit entrepreneurs as possible and (2) To put as much emphasis as possible on raising test scores by forcing teachers to spend most of their time preparing our students for his lousy Common Core tests. As a bonus, he and Jindal took away almost all of teacher rights and substituted merit pay based on student test scores on invalid tests for legitimate teacher evaluation. Now we have a teacher shortage, and our national comparison test scores are the lowest ever. And the voucher schools and charter schools are the lowest performers in the state. 

There should be no excuses for John White. He has failed miserably at all his efforts and our children have suffered while he experimented with untested, unsound theories. He should now be judged by the same crappy standards he has forced on every public school and teacher in the state!

See my post below to see why his most important policies have failed.

Why Our State LEAP Tests Are Not Valid

In this most recent weekly newsletter to local school administrators and teachers, John White basically refutes the main premise of our state ELA  LEAP tests. Those tests are based on the premise that “close reading” skills used in our tests should allow students to score well on our PARCC based tests. Now he is using the excuse that our students just don’t have the life experiences that are needed to perform well on such standardized tests. This is exactly what experienced educators tried to tell him when he came to Louisiana on a mission to transform our Louisiana education system into a “no excuses “ college prep education for even the most disadvantaged students. His arrogant uninformed policies have failed as everyone will see when the NAEP test results are released.

Specifically, the PARCC based tests White has mandated for all of our grade 3-8 students are invalid and inappropriate for our students and for rating our schools and teachers!

White now needs to write a newsletter explaining why the math LEAP tests are also inappropriate for our students. Here’s a couple of hints about what is wrong with the math tests: (1) The LEAP math tests given particularly in grades 6-8, are not testing the practical math skills that are really relevant to the great majority of our students. We know this partially because after three years of the new testing, students in those grades are averaging less than 40% correct answers on most tests. Many of the math questions are on problems that students will never see in real life! (2) White needs to also point out that the sophistication of the language used on the math tests is much above the heads of many of our students. Many of the math questions are testing language skills instead of math skills.

The LEAP test given to Louisiana students are just not valid and do not prepare our students to score well on the real tests used to compare Louisiana to other states. Those tests are the reading and math tests referred to as the NAEP tests given every two years in all states. Some of us warned BESE and White that Louisiana is not rehearsing students for the right tests.

The NAEP test results are to be released today! I have not seen those results but I am pretty sure that Louisiana students will not score as well as those in other states.

Another big problem with all our LEAP tests is that they are not designed by local teachers who understand the background of the students they teach. When White rammed through the state review of the Common Core standards and rebranded them as the Louisiana Standards, he never allowed our teachers to change a single question on the PARCC tests upon which our LEAP tests are based. So fixing (or attempting to fix) the standards never fixed the tests!

Some educators have tried to explain to BESE that there is no freedom allowed to local school systems in choosing curriculum, because the LEAP tests are the curriculum. And those tests are not valid.

Not long after the first PARCC tests were given, I made a public records request to review the underlying raw scores upon which the scale scores are based. At first the LDOE said such scores were not available for review. So then I got 6 legislators to sign on to the public records request and soon the real test scores were magically produced. The raw scores showed that the average scores of our students were so low, and the cut scores were set so low, that many students could come close to attaining a passing score by random guessing. I then went before BESE and explained that the testing system was not valid. When such conditions exist, independent testing experts will tell you that the test is not valid! (Needless to say, the LABI AND JOHN WHITE CONTROLLED BESE, IGNORED THE FACTS)

John White must stop inflicting child abuse on our students with these lousy tests. Better yet, White needs to go back to New York!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

No Excuses for White!

This article by John White’s friend at The Advocate, Will Sentell, attempts to provide cover for White on the eve of  the release of the latest NAEP test results. NAEP stands for a nationwide testing program mainly in reading and math called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes also referred to as The Nation's Report Card. The results of the 2017 NAEP test are scheduled to be released on April 10. Unfortunately for White who promotes test taking as the primary goal of education, the scores of Louisiana students will be compared to all other states.

This recent post by Mercedes Schneider on her blog predicts that the comparison may not be flattering to Louisiana or to Superintendent White, who has been one of the national darlings of education reform. Schneider reports that White recently fired off a letter to the director of the NAEP testing program claiming that many students may not be adequately prepared for the change to a computer based testing format for the NAEP test.

White’s argument that Louisiana students are handicapped by lack of computer test skills is totally bogus. For several years White has pushed local school systems in Louisiana to implement computer based testing at great cost to local budgets. Unfortunately, our students have probably spent more of their school day than students in other states preparing for the latest computer format tests.

Remember also that White, who had no formal training as an educator, was brought to Louisiana by Governor Jindal specifically to improve student test scores using a “no excuses” philosophy. After six years of bullying local school systems to redirect almost all efforts toward constant test prep at the expense of real education, he cannot use the excuse that our kids are at a disadvantage compared to other states. If you base your career on standardized test results you must also take the blame if your grand scheme fails!

In this post Schneider also points out that White has wholeheartedly supported the new and untested assumption in the Common Core reading standards that students should be able to demonstrate reading comprehension without extensive prior knowledge of the subject matter of a particular topic. Students are supposed to be able to utilize "close reading" to score well on the new tests. Now he is claiming the opposite. That’s what you get when you put someone in charge of education who really knows nothing about how children learn.

Students in Louisiana have now been subjected to 6 years as educational test subjects. White has saddled teachers and students with a highly inappropriate and unteachable set of standards that ignore everything we have learned in several centuries of educational pedagogy. Then White has converted almost the entire school year into cruel, boring test prep at the expense of real life skills learning. To paraphrase a recent national trend: White is a fake educator! There is no longer and excuse for us to tolerate John White and his destructive policies.