Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Update on SB 465

I am pleased to report that Senate Bill 465, which is described in the post below, has been extensively amended to remove those changes in the student discipline law that many practicing educators believed would have decreased the rights of teachers and principals to maintain discipline in the classroom and on school grounds.

The bill has been amended to continue the work of the discipline advisory council that was set up last year. Unfortunately the advisory council has been expanded to include more special interests representatives that may have little knowledge of real classrooms. The council would be required by the amended bill to make a report of its findings and recommendations to the Senate and House education committees before the next legislative session.

I want to thank the Louisiana Association of educators and other groups that continue to support teacher rights to maintain an orderly classroom for their work in amending this bill.

As the bill goes to the senate floor and then to the House, it could still be amended to restore some of the objectionable changes to Louisiana student discipline laws. 

Please continue to communicate with your legislators to oppose harmful changes to our discipline laws!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Senate Bill 465 Will Reduce Teacher Rights on Student Discipline

SB 465 is intended to reduce student suspensions and student removals from the regular classroom.

SB 465 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee today!

For many years advocates for students have made numerous attempts to reduce student suspensions and expulsions. It is my understanding that students are now suspended out of school for only extremely disruptive behavior. Most educators, including this blogger agree that everything reasonably possible must be done to keep kids in school. But there must be a balance between the rights of disruptive students and the rights of teachers to maintain a productive classroom including the rights of students who are not disruptive to have orderly instruction in the classroom.

One of the compromises between these interests over the years has resulted in the fact that students can never be permanently expelled from school, no matter how atrocious their behavior may be. In the most extreme cases, students can be removed from regular classroom and placed in an alternative school setting, but they can never be banned from their right to an education.

But the one remaining right to an orderly classroom for teachers remains the teacher's right to remove extremely disruptive or disrespectful students from the classroom on a temporary basis. In the cases where students must be repeatedly removed for disrespectful or disruptive behavior, teachers now have the  right to require parents to come in for a conference. That is one of the relatively minor rights of teachers that this legislation wants to do away with.

SB 465, in its present form, will actually make it more difficult for non-disruptive students to have an orderly classroom and will drive even more teachers out of the teaching profession.

There are already many alternatives to suspension that are already being utilized to keep students in school. For example, many students who are extremely disruptive or disrespectful to the teacher are often given "in-school-suspension" where they can continue to receive instruction and receive school credit. But what happens if a student fails to comply with the rules of in-school-suspension and for example, physically attacks the instructor of the alternative setting?  Present law provides that any student who fails to comply fully with the rules of in school suspension shall be given regular out-of- school suspension. HB 465 would change the rule from a shall to a may. State superintendent John White and his department already put extreme pressure on local school systems to stop out-of-school suspensions. This small change in the law increases their leverage to further interfere with local school administrators who are desperately trying to maintain a productive learning environment and respect for teachers.

SB 465 also pushes local school systems to implement costly and time consuming interventions such as "restorative justice" and "peer mediation". These methods while applauded by social workers as great alternatives to suspension, are expensive (because they require schools to hire more non-teaching specialists) and can actually take away from the time spent on instruction. You can't have "peer mediation" without taking some of the classroom time and taking away the other students (peers) away from their regular instruction. Meanwhile our teachers and schools are expected to do more to prepare students for high stakes tests.

In a parallel world where there is unlimited funding for non-teaching interventions and where the school day can be expanded to accommodate those interventions, it may be great to provide these services. But I don't see the legislature providing one penny of extra funding. (Just like the legislature failed to provide one penny of funding for the merit pay Jindal mandated, which caused the teacher salary schedules to have steps for experience and degrees removed).

At present, it is not clear whether or not charter schools will be exempted from these new rules. We know for sure that voucher schools will not have to comply. What this may set up is to have the regular public schools become a dumping ground for disruptive and disrespectful students.

This bill, in its present form will do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do by denying all students vital class time and teachers proper respect. It will ultimately cause more teachers to resign and increase the teacher shortage.


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!