Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Sunday, August 7, 2022
The Inconvenient Truths About Education Reform
During the last 16 years, the agencies in charge of public education in Louisiana, namely the Louisiana Legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) have tried out almost every major education reform attempted by any state. It would be correct to conclude that Louisiana is now the most educationally reformed state in the nation.
Most of the education reform efforts have been either initiated or promoted by the Louisiana Association Business and Industry (LABI) using lobbying and political action. Over the last 10 years, LABI has helped finance and elect almost all BESE members that hold elected positions. It would be fair to say that for the last 16 years LABI has pretty much controlled education reform in Louisiana. This post is a report card on LABI's education reform record.
The following are the education reform initiatives promoted and controlled by LABI over the last 16 years:
1. Many public schools with student state test scores below the state average have been taken over by the State Recovery District and converted to charter schools that are privately managed. Such schools are exempted from many school regulations in exchange for producing better student performance, mostly on state tests.
2. The state legislature has also allowed children attending failing schools (as determined by average state test scores) to transfer to private or religious schools with state funding following the students. This voucher system has been in effect for over ten years now and is heavily promoted by the big business lobby.
3. BESE has required that all public schools since 2012 teach students according to the new Common Core Standards, particularly in math and English courses. The Common Core standards are considered college prep standards.
4. Since 2012, the Legislature and BESE have required that teachers be evaluated with half of their evaluation based on the progress or educational gains of their students. Teachers can be fired and lose certification based on these evaluations.
5. Schools and parish school systems are rated and compared with each other by an accountability system based primarily on state test results and preparation of students for college.
One would assume therefore that because of the reforms pushed by the big business lobbyists, public schools would now be providing school children with the most cutting-edge educational training in the country. Inconveniently however, data shows that the exact opposite has happened. Here are the major results of education reform in Louisiana:
#1. New Orleans public schools, before schools were taken over and converted to charter schools on average were performing in the bottom one-fifth compared to all other public schools in the state. Now these schools, which have recently been returned to the New Orleans school board, are performing in the bottom one-fifth compared to all other public schools. There is no perceptible change in the performance of their students, and very few students from RSD takeover schools are prepared for college. Those that have attempted college have mostly dropped out in less than a year, many burdened with debt for money borrowed to attend college.
Other schools in the state Recovery School District included students from public schools in EBR, St. Helena, Pointe Coupee, and Caddo. The state has since given back the schools in St. Helena, and Pointe Coupee after disastrous results with some schools approaching collapse. Most of the schools taken over in Caddo and East Baton Rouge still in the Recovery District continue to be failing schools by all major measures.
#2. For the students attending various religious and private schools by use of “opportunity scholarships”, studies conducted by the University of Arkansas and Tulane show mostly a decline in performance of Louisiana voucher students compared to similar students that did not transfer from public to private schools. The latest average test scores of these students as reported by the Department of Education are far below the state average. The 8th grade math test scores released last week reveal that less than 12% of voucher students scored proficient in math. Even so, LABI and its allies are demanding more "school choice".
#3. The new testing of students based upon the Common Core standards had two primary goals: (a) To close the achievement gap between underprivileged (low-income students) and students from homes with higher income (b) Greatly boost the preparation of all students for college attendance. Graduates were expected to produce higher ACT scores, and many more students were expected to attain college diplomas. All of these efforts have been dismal failures. ACT scores have declined steadily and the gap between privileged and underprivileged students has grown wider.
The Board of Regents recently predicted that for every 100 students entering high school today, only 18% will gain a college degree of any kind. That would be the lower college performance than before the reforms.
The average scores of students taking the new state tests are extremely low. The real achievement on the new state tests is so low that the State routinely keeps the real achievement secret by only publishing the so called “scale scores”. Citizens can only see the real raw scores by filing public records requests. The raw scores for passing are set so low that some students pass some of the high school tests by random guessing. Students are routinely promoted from one grade to another even if they fail to score satisfactory on any of their state tests. Many students graduate as functional illiterates because the state has removed almost all real standards for a diploma. This link is to a study I conducted using the actual data behind the deceptive scores and promotions of students today.
#4. The reforms have mandated that teachers be evaluated partially based on the test results of their students. In the original evaluation plan designed by the LABI endorsed State Superintendent John White, the bottom 10% of teachers evaluated by their student’s test results were destined for eventual dismissal and decertification if they did not improve their student test scores sufficiently. The problem with this new system of evaluating teachers, was that there were serious defects in the scoring system that gave incorrect evaluations particularly to teachers of both high performing and low performing students. Teachers of some high performing magnet school students were getting ridiculously low evaluations. By the time flaws became evident, the university professor who had devised the test-based scheme had left the state leaving the system unfixable. This entire fiasco that played out over several years seriously damaged teacher morale and resulted in many highly respected teachers leaving or retiring early.
In addition to disrespect of teachers by big business lobbyists, recent emphasis on reducing student suspensions by the State Department of Education has resulted in many teachers having their hands tied in enforcing classroom discipline in violation of the state law called the Teacher Bill of Rights. Many teachers are experiencing extreme disrespect and even threats by students who experience almost no consequences for serious disciplinary infractions. Teachers are simply advised to "de-escalate" when students blatantly defy their teachers.
In recent years many teachers started retiring early and discouraged their children and relatives from seeking education degrees. Now Louisiana is experiencing a serious teacher shortage causing a major lowering of the standards for entry into teaching in Louisiana. Almost any college graduate can now get a teaching certificate with no training in teaching.
#5. The entire scheme of rating and ranking schools by student performance has basically produced exactly the opposite result from what was promised. Now instead of preparing more students for college, the school scoring system encourages promotion and graduation of students without regard to real achievement. In recent years, it became evident that the system was neglecting to prepare the great majority of students who would not or could not attend college. The new State Superintendent, Cade Brumley, has recently made major efforts to beef up vocational/technical training, however, many students who would benefit more from vocational or skills training stayed in the college prep track while still performing below standard. When efforts were made to add courses in pre-nursing, business management, training in carpentry, electrician, plumbing, air conditioning and refrigeration, etc. it was found that relatively few students were willing to sign up for such careers. Local superintendents are finding that, in addition to Louisiana having placed a stigma on vocational training, the watering down of standards in the college prep courses meant that most students were not worried about failing such courses. But the vocational courses require real work and meeting proficiency standards. Now it’s hard to fill up classes in some excellent vocational courses. Many kids would rather get an automatic diploma by staying in the college prep track. Many underprivileged students that graduate now are scoring too low on the ACT to qualify for TOPS scholarships. It they do attend college after graduation, they often take out loans that become a burden when most of them drop out of college.
Now after 16 years of reform, fewer students are truly qualified for college, few are preparing for careers, and Louisiana students are performing academically worse than before the reforms. These are the inconvenient truths about education reform.