Friday, March 24, 2017

John White's Plan for the Implementation of the New ESSA law should be rejected

Notice: Special BESE meeting for consideration of the Louisiana plan for the implementation of ESSA, Wednesday, March 29, 1:00 P. M.

John White is a one trick pony. He still believes that the only reason our students don't perform at a level of average or above on state tests is that the teachers are not teaching properly. He apparently never heard the Mark Twain quote: "Tis sad but true that half the members of the american public are below average." White's education reform for Louisiana is based on somehow forcing most children to produce above average scores on state tests. Education has been reduced to test rehearsal and testing. And if our students don't produce the impossible, then it must be the teacher's fault, and the failing teachers and failing schools must be punished.

White has proposed that Louisiana must educate students to a level of "proficient" as measured by the National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP). NAEP has been used for many years to measure the performance of students in all states in the subjects of reading and math. The problem is that experts such as Diane Ravitch who served on the board of directors for NAEP, have made it clear that the level of "proficient" was intentionally set at a level well above average performance. Only about a third of students nationwide score proficient or above on NAEP. Barring some type of brain transplant for american students, most students will not achieve the level of "proficient".  But White like Donald Trump operates in his own version of reality. He has announced that if BESE sets a high standard, our teachers will magically teach to that standard and the students will produce the expected test results. That's the standard that White's plan for implementation of the new ESSA law which he wants BESE to adopt next week.

In his ESSA plan White and his staff have devised complex point awarding systems based primarily on student test scores in each school. There is also a set of points awarded to schools that improve their student test scores from year to year. But what happens if a school has a major improvement one year and then a slight drop or leveling off the next year? These complex formulas could cause wacky results in the grading of schools from year to year just like what happened when the LDOE used a value added system to rate the performance of teachers.

There is a much more direct and accurate way of grading schools relative to student performance than the complex formulas developed by White. Simply rate the schools using a combination of average student poverty and the percentage of students with cognitive disabilities. The schools with a high proportion of economically advantaged students with fewer disabilities would get A's and B's and schools with high poverty and more disabilities would get D's and F's depending on how unlucky or underprivileged its students are. Just like the present system assigns an Fs to the school for the Deaf and the School for the Visually impaired (Both run by John White's staff) and to all the alternative schools that serve the most at risk students.

If we used the method above (percentage of at-risk students) to rate schools we would not even need to test students to find the lowest ranked schools. We could save millions by not hiring expensive testing companies and we could do without some of the LDOE's highly paid staff that do almost nothing but rate schools using test data. Maybe we could use that money to actually help educate the students that need the most help. Now that would be true education reform!

But that would also show that we don't even need John White. In order to keep his job White knows that he must keep on blaming and punishing teachers and stigmatizing schools that don't measure up to his impossible goal.

The following is the testimony I plan to give to BESE next week opposing this ill conceived plan. The testimony is brief because BESE is expected to limit individual input to three minutes:

My name is Michael Deshotels, and I live in Zachary

I appear before you today to ask that BESE reject or at least delay action for the ESSA implementation in Louisiana.

The plan proposed by the Superintendent should be rejected because it is unrealistic, misleading, and represents a false promise very similar to the original promise made to the american public by the No Child Left Behind law. No Child Left Behind was a failure because the premise upon which it was based was wildly unrealistic. The exact same is true of this proposed ESSA plan.

No Child Left Behind promised the American people that within a ten year period every public school would educate each child to a standard that was known by any educator to be unattainable. As a result almost every public school in the the country was designated a failure.

We cannot educate children by decree from on high that ignores the major principles of learning theory and statistics. BESE can solemnly decree that by 2025, we will educate children to perform at a level which is above the statistical average for normal children, but that will not make it happen. Instead such a decree will end up labeling many educators and many schools as failures because of factors over which they have no control. Either that or it will cause educators to cheat to avoid being labeled as failures.

In my opinion, cheating is already occurring at the state level, I must point out that the very design of the state testing program is a form of cheating and manipulation of results to create the illusion of success in achieving unachievable goals. 

About three weeks ago I mailed each of you my analysis demonstrating that the test score results in Louisiana have been inflated so that many students can achieve close to passing results by simply guessing on the multiple choice portion of state tests.

We have been assured that level 4 performance on our state test is equivalent to the level of "proficient" on the NAEP test. This assertion is entirely inaccurate.  I believe this amounts to a violation of the state law upon which our testing program is based. Our level 4 grading standard on the LEAP test is claimed by the LDOE to be comparable to the proficient level on the NAEP, yet the chart you were given by the Department shows that there is a great disparity between the two and that the gap is widening rapidly with each year of testing. In one case, our testing is claiming that over twice as many students are proficient as measured by NAEP. All the other test results are also significantly inflated.

This entire scheme for the implementation of ESSA is an exercise in false advertising. We should not saddle our students and teachers with this bogus system.

Thank you

Please call or email your BESE member and ask that he/she vote to reject the ESSA plan and take the extra time suggested by the governor to develop a plan that provides a well rounded education to children with less emphasis on test prep.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wealthy Louisiana Taxpayers May Actually Make a Profit by Funding Private Schools

Are you worried that the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may divert public school taxes to private schools that are not accountable to the taxpayers? You should be, because that's been the sum total of her involvement with education before being appointed to the top federal job in education. But Louisiana has already found a way to divert public tax dollars to private schools, and such contributors can actually make a profit doing so.

This well researched article in The Advocate by Will Sentell shows how wealthy taxpayers can actually make a profit by supporting private schools. And the rest of our Louisiana taxpayers get stuck with the bill! The rapidly growing tuition donation rebate program (A law passed during the Jindal administration) is really a school voucher program on steroids. That's because for every dollar a doner gives to the program, he can save 95 cents off his state taxes. Then he can claim a full federal tax credit on the entire donation. So if he/she is in any federal tax bracket over 5%, he/she actually makes a profit on the deal! This is a shocking misuse of our state and federal tax dollars! But we shouldn't be surprised since Louisiana has been the leader in the entire country in ripping off public schools to support private schools which are actually underperforming compared to public schools. The latest analysis of our voucher program shows that student test scores on average drop when they transfer to a voucher school.

But to make the ripoff even more offensive, the rebate program has no accountability. There is no provision in the rebate law to stop funding unsuccessful rebate programs. So even if all the rebate students in a particular private school fail all their state tests, there is no way to stop the payments to that school. This is just one more shameful piece of the Jindal legacy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why are Teachers Leaving the Profession in Louisiana?

As usual, the biased Advocate reporter, Will Sentell misses the point about the real causes of teacher attrition in recent years following the so called Jindal education reforms. His story about a report on the increase in teachers leaving the profession in recent years, suggests that the main reason for the growing teacher losses is the tougher tenure law rammed through by Jindal in 2012. Sentell fails to point out that the real problem is the attempt by the state to blame teachers for societal problems over which they (teachers) have no control.

Since the passage of the Jindal "reforms", teachers have been forced to spend inordinate amounts of classroom time mostly prepping their students for state tests. Then the results of these tests are used to evaluate teachers and to assign letter grades to their schools. The assumption has been that student test scores are determined primarily by the quality of their teachers in each school. Yet, the American Statistical Association has determined that the quality of the teacher influences at most 14% of a student's test performance. So when the state uses student test scores to determine half of a teacher's evaluation, the result will be a huge loss of teacher morale. Most teachers are very dedicated and fair-minded. They really resent being evaluated by such a flawed process.

The real problem is the defective evaluation system based on student test scores which arbitrarily labels a certain percentage of teachers as failures each year. Professional educators resent being forced to spend most of their classroom time doing little more than rehearsing students for state tests. Tests that are poorly designed, and whose scores from year to year are so erratic that no teacher is guaranteed a fair shake when these results are used to evaluate the teacher.

I just completed an analysis of the student performance on the state LEAP tests given in the spring of 2016. The raw scores on these tests average about 40% statewide. The passing raw scores on these tests are set at a ridiculous average of 32%. The tests are so poorly designed that even with months of practice and test rehearsal, kids miss most of the questions. Then those test scores are used to assign letter grades to schools. All the magnet schools that select their students based on academic ability get rated "A" and all schools that serve the most disadvantaged students and the greatest percentage of students with disabilities get rated "D" or "F". The teachers have no control over these factors, yet they are also labeled as failures no matter how hard they work and how dedicated they are to their students. The study on teacher attrition by Tulane University points out that such a system is driving teachers away from the very schools that are most in need of highly qualified teachers.

So simply blaming the changes in the tenure law for increased teacher attrition misses the point. The problem is that amateurs have taken over the operation of our education accountability system and have reduced teaching and learning into a boring and thankless job! That's why so many teachers are quitting their profession!