It’s not a well known fact that there are two DOEs (Departments of Education) in charge of public schools in Louisiana. There is one DOE ( the one I was most familiar with and like to think I was once a part of so I will stipulate that makes me biased) composed of under appreciated, highly educated, experienced and committed folks working tirelessly to improved education and as well as implement the policies put forth by the “other” DOE which at times run counter to those goals.
This other DOE is composed of politicians and folks appointed by politicians. They put forth an agenda which they find data to justify after the fact. Once a goal is decided upon by this “other” DOE, data that runs counter to the narrative they are trying to project is buried or disguised.
Ironically, to achieve a leadership role in DOE you don’t have to have any special qualifications to lead, other than the ability to blindly follow their orders. However, in all fairness, if the leadership refused or questioned their directives they would be replaced immediately by someone with no reservations and more enthusiasm, such as John White.
Recently DOE has issued guidance from on-high that prohibits most of the apolitical DOE from answering questions about anything data related. They have been instructed to refer all inquires, even ones as
simple as where can I find something on your website, to the public relations office so the data can be placed in the “proper perspective” for the inquirer.
Things weren’t always as bad as they are now, but now the stakes are much higher so the perception of anything but outrageous success will not be tolerated. Bobby Jindal needs to pass a highly partisan, wildly experimental and exceptionally unregulated agenda to show the other states how awesome he is so he has a firm education footing to run foe president on in 2016. Since campaigns generally start 2 years before the actual election, Jindal needs to make an overwhelmingly awesome impression right away, which is why the hurry to get this agenda passes now and without any debate that could reveal the tragic flaws that will come to be in a few years after the implementation of his plans. That is why team Jindal jumps on any dissenter in any medium immediately. They know this plan has tragic flaws, but the narrative they already have planned for when they appear is that no one raised any serious objections, and no one could have foreseen the disaster that will come to be. Neither is true of course. The disaster (disintegration of the public school system model) is the intent of these laws. Team Jindal has too many provisions littered throughout his bills of which the only and obvious intent is to disembowel teachers unions, local school boards, and local school districts in favor of non-public and for profit models.
Don’t be surprised when presidential candidate Jindal disavows any forethought in destroying public education in two years, but simultaneously takes credit for the outcome at the same time in front of different audiences.
Just as there are two DOE
s with split personalities and objectives there are also two Jindals. These Jindals bear a striking resemblance to the mixed up doors in the Princess Bride. One Jindal always lies and one always tells the truth — depending on who you are and how much you donate to his campaign fund or his wife’s “charity” organization.
Both Jindals want one thing:
. . .to find the “facts” that make them right — and there seems to be no shortage of people to appoint that will try to do it.
Let’s face it, with the passage of Jindal’s latest education bills, traditional public schools are about to be out of business. We will have a chaotic influx of unregulated charter and non-public school clamoring to open up shop, 21st century gold rush style, to “mine” our students for their MFP dollars — Louisiana education gold.
Now like any new start-up, they are bound to make some newbie mistakes. It’s inevitable really, and with minimal oversight and loose or non-existent regulations being touted as an incentive to open up shop here, who can blame them? Fortunately we’ve had some pioneers here for a while, blazing a trail and creating a lesson plan, if you will, on how to operate with maximum profitability and minimal risk of doing worse that the traditional public schools. (Somehow many of them still managed to do worse but fortunately your actual performance isn’t important for the current narrative to carry you forward for the time being.) I’d like to share some tips with you newcomers, so you can get right down to the business of skimming the best and brightest students and weeding out the less profitable ones.
First Lesson: Dissuade Special Education students form enrolling
Special Education students cost more to educate than regular ed students. You will get some extra money for taking on these students, but be very careful. If you take any of the moderate or severely disabled students your bottom-line and test score average will be impacted because the extra money won’t come close to covering your costs. If you find out during an interview with a parent that a child has a severe disability make sure to throw in a few disparaging remarks about your own Special Education program. Such as: “We hope to get a SPED teacher sometime this year, but so far haven’t had much luck.” Or “We have a great Special Ed teacher. She’s usually only here 2 days a week what with her stripping job and all, but when she’s not hungover she’s great with the kids!”
Now, if all of your gentle hints do nothing to dissuade the parent in front of you, no worries. Just enroll the child and don’t provide any SPED services. Be sure to make plenty of good excuses and don’t outright claim you will never hire someone, but eventually the parent will take the hint and move on. If the student happens to stay through an MFP count that’s a double victory! Just make sure they are gone before test time. See my next section on “Discipline Coercion” for additional tips on how to convince your SPED family to move on.
Second Lesson: Discipline Coercion
Sometimes, as a matter of course, you will get a student who is having some academic difficulty or emotional problems. This student may be having trouble concentrating and may be causing other students to be distracted. If you find out the student should probably be classified as 504 that’s another big red flag, and potential problem for keeping your test scores high and discipline problems low. Fortunately, we have just the solution for you. Once you have determined it’s time for this student to go, make sure you threaten to expel him or send him off to an alternative school. If you have a zero tolerance policy in place, or some sort of parent/student contract you had them sign when they enrolled, make sure you list one of the remedies for improper behavior as asking the student to leave. Promise if they leave you will not document the discipline action and they will feel grateful and move along. For maximum funding and minimal SPS score downside, be sure to have this situation come to a head after the MFP count but before testing occurs, if possible. Don’t worry about this student though, any remaining traditional public schools will have to take him. If you managed to kick him out after you got the MFP dollars, so much the better!
Third Lesson: Up-sell the competition/Downplay yourself
If you find out during an interview that the student is not going to fit into your ideal student profile, for any reason, simply talk up another school and point the student and parent there. If the student is likely to want a career diploma and you specialize in college bound students, make sure you tell them about the vocational education academy down the street. You might also complain about some aspect of you own facilities so as to seem less desirable to an applicant: this way they will go away of their own volition and feel like you did them a favor!
Fourth and final Lesson for today: No room at the Inn
If all your more subtle efforts fail but you really don’t want a student to enroll, simply insist that there are no spots currently available. You an promise to put him on a non-existent waiting list if that will get you some breathing room. This is best done in a private setting so as not to dissuade other more desirable applicants from applying after your undesirable one leaves.
I’m sure our newcomers will come up with some new innovations for sluicing out their funding nuggets, but why make them reinvent the pan in the meantime?
Probably most of you haven’t given much thought to how state department’s of education collect their data on schools, teachers and students. Well having been in the biz for quite a few years, I do.
LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) aka School districts submit their data to the SEA (State Educational Agency) based on requirements that the state sets. (Not everything that is stored at the local level gets sent to the state. They can keep their bus route info for instance.) From that pool of data that states collect, states send data to various federal programs and agencies such as the Office of Civil Rights, EDEN, etc. However all of this sending is becoming more and more based on the honor system. States assume, or are being forced to assume due to budget cuts, that data being sent to them is honest and accurate. It’s not that you can continue do more with less indefinitely; when you cut budgets every year and increase requirements, goals and responsibilities.
What ultimately happens is you really just do less, in less obvious places.
Before the Reform era, and the STEM era (Science, Technology, English and Math) and this insane overemphasis on tests results in just Math and English, state agencies had people on staff who would deal with federal and state compliance (not to mention other subject areas but that’s a whole other article.) Compliance: you know, making sure the data being sent was accurate, making sure Special Education students weren’t being locked up in closets or confined to windowless rooms without receiving educational services, making sure first grade students weren’t being chained to desks, etc.
With the laser-like focus on improving Math and English scores, to the detriment of all else, the Louisiana department of Education has steadily cut back on compliance, audit and data collection personnel and spurned their oversight responsibilities. The past two Superintendents of Education, John White and Paul Pastorek, have made it clear in many a meeting and directive that they are not interested in obtaining quality data, in making sure LEAs understand and obey federal and state law. Their goal is in increasing test scores, and I don’t think they care how it gets done.
In last last meeting I attended, to paraphrase only slightly, John White informed us that if our role in the organization was not one that was leading to a direct and meaningful impact on an individual student’s math or science score, then our services were not going to be needed going forward. We were told that we should consider leaving, or we would be having a conversation with senior staff and some point in the near future and they would discuss our future, or lack thereof.
It was during this meeting that I realized it would be time for me to leave.
While I was making my preparations to leave, John White was cataloging the duties of every staff member at LDE. (I am told he is planning on laying off many of my former coworkers in the second week of April.) I was told by several sources that anyone who did not indicate they had a significant role in improving Math and English scores was on the chopping block, that much of IT would be outsourced, and that many staffers in non-core educational roles would be sent to other agencies such as DHH (Department of Health ad Hospitals) or Social Services.
Now you may be asking yourself, why should I care?
Well for starters, lets get back to the Shadow Schools I mentioned in my title. You see, many politically appointed people at LDE have know for years of the existence of schools that do not appear on our books. These are schools that have mascots, their own principals, buildings, and websites touting their “school” as a great place to be. Only problem is, those schools don’t exist; at least not to LDE or to the feds.
These schools come in two categories:
Magnet (High Performing)
Alternative (low performing career/ second chance / career / or discipline centers)
Since the purpose of my article is not to embarrass the specific districts, and since i don’t know every case where this is being done, it would unfair to name names at this point.
One of the ways the districts can get away with this, at least the reason LDE will try to float if asked, is that Louisiana doesn’t have a precise statute that defines a school, nor one that defines a program. The laws leave these definitions up the individual school districts to decide. Of course, nothing could stop LDE from clarifying their stand on these issues, or making rulings in some of the more obvious and egregious cases, or bringing this up as a policy issue for BESE to consider tightening up the rules, etc.
Of course i never said it was a good reason, just the one they would use.
Now why would this situation exist do you ask? Another good question!
Well from the LEA side its fairly simple. LEAs don’t want their schools taken over for having low SPS scores. The Alternative schools are filled with students with a history of academic difficulties. They will have lower attendance, lower graduation rates, higher dropout rates and lower test scores. Money is distributed to LEAs on a per pupil basis. If you distribute those pupils among all your other much better performing schools (well call them home based schools or schools where they might never have set foot in, but theoretically would have been enolled in if the alternative school did not exist.) This lowers the SPS scores of lots of schools just a little, so the district gets the money, keeps the school (which actually doesn’t exist to us) and the state isn’t stuck taking over a hopeless school. Win – Win.
The second situation is a little more tricky, so stay with me. Now lets say you have some really high performing magnet schools, but you have some really low performing schools about to be taken over by the state. If you just never report the magnet schools up to the state, but send the magnet students to the state as if they were enrolled at your low performing schools on an as needed basis you can boost those schools above the takeover line! I’m not quite clear on why the state has allowed this to continue, but I’m assuming it’s something political. . . perhaps a quid pro quo for not opposing all the tenure and charter changes.
I have to wonder how the state can rely on any of its data for teacher performance when the state really can’t be sure which teachers are teaching which kids. How can the state continue to take over schools when they haven’t even tried to ascertain which are schools and which are programs? That seems like a pretty big flaw to me. I have to wonder if LDE would be held in such high esteem with Arne Duncan if he knew of the shenanigans going on there.
I sure hope nobody tells him.
But meanwhile, and by all means, get rid of the rest of the data, compliance, finance and program people that might observe these sorts of things and try to do something about it. The were are just getting in the way of the “Reforms” we were going to implement anyway. The Reform Movement has much more important existential ills to cure and taking time to actually know where your kids are or preparing them to succeed would only slow them down. This movement has always been about greed and abuse of power. And lets face it, it looks like the wealthy and powerful have won. When the dust settles, and our education system is laying at our feet in a twisted, chaotic, dysfunctional mass; at least our kids will have learned one thing:
Even though our overly politically correct society has decided that beating animals with poles can be construed as unjust and abuse of the animals (and might get you thrown in jail or beaten by an angry mob yourself) and beating incarcerated adults is considered cruel and unusual punishment and forbade by our courts and Constitution. . . (apparently the 8th amendment even applies in Louisiana, folks.)
In Hudson v McMillian (1992) the Court considered whether the beating by prison guards of a handcuffed inmate at Louisiana’s Angola prison violated the inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights. Voting 7 to 2, the Court found a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause even though the inmate suffered no permanent injuries or injuries that required hospitalization. In so holding, the Court rejected the lower court’s argument that only beatings that caused “significant injuries” (read as injuries that were permanent or required hospitalization) rose to the level of Eighth Amendment violations. In dissent, Justices Thomas and Scalia argued (controversially) that the Eighth Amendment was intended to reach beatings by guards at all–rather only judicially-imposed sentences.
I believe a sound case can be made that ample use of the rod will impress upon our youth a valuable lesson that will serve them well throughout the rest of their life in this great country of ours.
The “Lesson” you ask?
Namely that of what I like to call the Iron Fist Rule as more pragmatic, modern, alternative to the passe’ Golden Rule. That force can, nay should, be met with unequal and overwhelming counter-force.
Take the recent example of Trayvon Martin. Here was a youth who had the sheer audacity to wear a hooded sweatshirt in a neighborhood known for harboring an over zealous neighborhood watch captain. No parent of a minority child in this country should, for one instant, think to allow their child to go outside looking like anything but an unassuming fellow like that Urkel from Family Matters. In this tragedy, the parents are as much to blame as the child who wore the hooded sweatshirt. Now some poor, frightened, gun-toting American is being harassed for doing what almost any one of us would have done in his case, chased down a suspicious character even after being told by the police to not chase him, (I mean, what black kid isn’t suspicious to Zimmerman?) and cornered him and his fiendishly purchased bag of skittles from the corner convenience store. Trayvon could have just done what a gun brandishing Zimmerman wanted, whatever that was, but instead Trayvon made the wrong choice. He chose to flee. Obviously Zimmerman had no choice but to shoot to kill.
Now you may be asking yourself, how does this tie into Corporal Punishment and Louisiana exactly?
The answer is quite simple. I believe we can prevent many of our own Trayvon Martin incidents by ensuring that Corporal Punishment is introduced into our public school system as early as possible. I mean, can you imagine any child not benefiting from strangers beating them in pre-school when they act up? What better way to convince little Timmy not to pinch or push another kid than 5 to 10 whacks with what I would like to refer to as the “Louisiana Board of Education” (funny huh?) which, off the top of my head, might be a wooden paddle 24″ long by 5″ wide by 3/8″ thick. . . or so. If we allowed our children to be beaten early and often for anything by just about anyone in authority they would soon learn that authority figures must be obeyed. . . or else.
I haven’t seen any credible studies done to prove what I’m about to say, but theoretically someone could create some statistics that would show that beating children on a regular basis improves test scores. Current studies actually show the opposite, as well as a number of other unfavorable correlations, but I’m sure we could find a reputable paddle maker to fund a study that would prove my point, so I will continue to assert my previous point more emphatically, thus making it true. Paddling will increase test scores! Paddling will lower the crime rates and murder rate, and also make us more competitive in the global marketplace! I believe it is our duty to pass laws in Louisiana that will allow school districts to paddle their students to their hearts’ content.
I’ll also throw in this observation as an added bonus. Corporal Punishment on Special Education students is not regulated by the Federal government. In fact, they may not even collect any data on this subject, which is an added, added bonus! Student’s with learning disabilities, or behavior problems such as being emotionally disturbed, would probably benefit from being “mainstreamed” with this discipline approach. Lets face it folks, Special Education students are probably the hardest students for teachers to work with and reach. Providing a 2 foot wooden paddle to teachers would greatly increase their reach. Additionally, since we’re cutting back on teacher salaries and benefits, many of them might not be able to afford gym memberships or therapy sessions anymore. Allowing teachers to administer a little corporal punishment on Special Educations students would probably help our teachers and principals in school districts that implement my policies build up some muscle tone and relieve some stress, sort of like using a punching bag in a gym does after a long day at work. But they could do this while at work! Many of the slower Special Education students might have trouble explaining or recanting the situation the provoked the corporal punishment response, which would make it almost impossible for anyone to sue a school district, principal, or teacher if they happen to go a little overboard with their exercise regime. . .
Ok, take a deep breath.
Hopefully this line of reasoning has you recoiling in horror and revulsion. However you may not have grasped the most disturbing part about this piece. This situation is already true in many parishes in the state. Louisiana Revised Statute. 17:223 allows school districts to set their own corporal punishment policies.
And boy have they!
You can see a sampling of some of the variety here.
Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:223 – Discipline of pupils; suspension from school, corporal punishment
A. Every teacher is authorized to hold every pupil to a strict accountability for any disorderly conduct in school or on the playground of the school, or on any school bus going to or returning from school, or during intermission or recess. Each parish and city school board shall have discretion in the use of corporal punishment. In those cases in which a parish or city school board decides to use corporal punishment, each parish or city school board shall adopt such rules and regulations as it deems necessary to implement and control any form of corporal punishment in the schools in its district.
Estimates are close to 30 parishes have some form of Corporal Punishment policy. State law does not give the state Department of Education any say over the matter whatsoever. This means any school or school district in Louisiana can allow anyone on their staff to use any amount of corporal punishment for any offense as often as they like regardless of the age or health of the student. Some parishes punish up to half of their entire student body, every year! Some students get punished dozens of times a year! There are no restrictions for using this punishment on disabled students, or infants, or the 18 and 19 year olds we are about to send out into the real world and hope they won’t take these lessons with them.
Fortunately more than half the state understands that this practice is barbaric, or they have at least recognized the potential liability they could incur should a student successfully sue and win on 8th Amendment grounds. The messed up part here is that, while as a society we generally find animal abuse and abuse of prisoners abhorrent, when we rename the abuse “Corporal Punishment” and use it on our children, too many people find it tolerable or even something to be proud of.
I’m proud of Louisiana culture, Louisiana food, art, music, history, resilience, and perseverance in the face of many an overwhelmingly adverse situation. However this state sanctioned child abuse, this is something of which I am very ashamed to be associated with. My only hope is that one day enough of you will feel that way as well, and join my call to outlaw it.
Incidentally, and as I’ve discussed with others earlier, our appeals court has determined in Setliff vVs Rapides School Board that the legislature does not allow parents to opt out of corporal punishment for their children. This case involves a kindergartener, certainly not well-behaved, but nevertheless one that was subjected to corporal punishment against his parents wishes. According to the court, allowing parents the right to refuse to allow their children to be beaten with a wooden club that at times requires emergency room visits (also cited in the case notes) would lead to riots in the streets, mass hysteria and pandemonium, dogs and cats living together, basically life on this planet would end as we know it.
Neither the statutes nor the school board policies mandate that a spanking must be administered to a student. No school official is compelled to corporally punish a child. But by allowing corporal punishment, the legislature has recognized the need for such under certain circumstances. Significantly, in giving this discretion to our school systems, the legislature made no requirement that parents must first consent to such punishment. Nor has the legislature provided that parents be allowed to issue a carte blanche prohibition of a school’s exercising its rights under the statutes. To allow parents to unilaterally thwart the legally sanctioned decisions of school officials, could lead to troublesome, if not chaotic, results. There would be nothing to prevent ten, twenty or a hundred parents calling in to request that their child not be spanked. What if these same number of parents requested that no form of punishment whatsoever be administered to their children? The legislature, in its wisdom, chose not to leave the door open for such potentially dire consequences.
For updates on my Corporal Punishment progress and other education issues please go here.
I need people to start calling the Louisiana Department of Education and telling them to release the Corporal Punishment data to requesters and to publish the results.
Here is the link to LDOE’s Corporal Punishment information page. Currently it contains no relevent collected data.
Most people probably haven’t heard about Louisiana’s School Accountability System, but many Louisianian natives with children of or near school age have probably heard about schools being assigned letter grades or stars “*” to represent the overall quality of a school. What most of those people don’t know is that the state and appointed officials play a game with the numbers every year, before the general public gets to see them, so that some people walk away with a little more star power, or a little less, depending on whether they know the pit boss. Even so, the game is rigged by the House, and in the end, no one ultimately walks away a winner — well except charter schools and voucher program providers.
It would actually take many pages in a decent sized book to describe all the problems with the accountability system, the base points change, the tests change, the labels change, the goal posts get moved, the weighting gets changed, the included adjustment factors get altered, but since I don’t have the time to document that, and you don’t likely have time or inclination to tackle such a dreary and dry topic I’ll stick to a few of the highlights not readily available from other sources. . . at least until I start to bore myself.
Lack of Transparency
Does anyone outside of the accountability group at DOE know the exact formula for calculating the ultimate scores? Sure, DOE publishes the basics, but did you know the weighting formula has changed over the years, probably every year? I say “probably” because no one really knows what they do in their secret score sorcery shop — but I have been given run downs of some of the things that go on and what I’ve heard isn’t all the pretty a picture. Since no one can independently verify their results, or evaluate the even-handedness of their “adjustments” we are left to rely on this one group’s work for whether we take over a school or not. It seems like such a situation could easily lend itself to some abuse, especially if someone had a goal to destroy traditional public schools and replace them with a private school voucher system and charters.
Lack of Independence
DOE’s accountability shop takes their orders from unclassified (politically appointed) staff members (actually multiple levels of them.) These unclassified staff are appointed by politicians to lord over classified state workers, usually at inflated salaries. They need not meet any specific job requirements and in some cases they may not actually meet the requirements of the job for the lowest level person they supervise. Nevertheless, they are empowered to dictate whatever policies or rules they see fit or that are given to them by their handlers. Additionally, as we saw in numerous recent examples, political appointees that don’t tow the company line get canned in short order. Every year there are massive and lengthy “cleanups” (furious behind the scenes manual data changing) in the Accountability section. When this clean-up period finally closes, if you have the right connections (and what you feel is the wrong data) you can get Accountability to “update” (alter) your data for you. This happens every year, regardless of how “firm” Accountability claims their deadline is, nor how “final” their numbers are. The way Accountability is structured, its not their fault. There is always someone who knows a political figure who can pulls some strings. Those strings are attached to other political appointees who will then overlook some deadlines, or data quality issues, or even some data absence issues if you pull hard enough!
Lack Consequences for Incomplete Data
If you are a charter school or RSD school and don’t feel like sending your data for attendance or dropouts, no problem! We’ll make up some favorable data for you, and use that. Quite frequently new charters start up without any system for capturing or reporting data to the state. DOE does not really audit attendance or dropout related data except in the form of limited desk audits, and usually only for districts asking to make changes to their data after the various collections have closed. Most of the LDE staff that used to do that were laid off; or they quit and were not replaced. I never got the whole story but that appears to be the gist of it. But I bet the lack of vigilant oversight or negative repercussions for failing to send accurate or complete data might be something the rest of the public schools would like to know, and benefit from! Did you know that LDE was actually in charge of the RSD school district in 2006-2007 (and basically still is today) so that means it couldn’t even get its own people to provide dropout data or attendance data on a massive scale. To illustrate my point I downloaded this from LDE’s site for easy reference. DCR_RSD (I’ve heard uncomfortable data has a way of disappearing there of late, must be gremlins, so I figured I’d be all helpful and premeditative and provide a copy here, just in case that happens.)
Hmm, starting to bore myself so I guess I’ll wrap this up.
Most people would agree accountability is important in most endeavors. I hold companies I do business with accountable when they mess up. If a dry cleaners screws up my shirts I complain and try to get my money back and if I’m unsatisfied with the service I move to another dry cleaners. When my cable company kept screwing up my bill every month, I made sure to look at my bill more more closely to try and prevent future mistakes from getting past me and hitting my bottom line. I would never keep going back to a a terrible dry cleaner if the owner just told me to buzz off. If he insisted I continue to bring my shirts to him so he could ruin more of them, I would think he was crazy! I would never consider just allowing my cable company to auto draft whatever amount they felt was appropriate, just because they assured me they would never screw me over again.
Why then do we allow the allies of charter schools to tell us to ignore their crappy or incomplete data?
Why do we keep allowing more to open up, making the same mistakes and never holding them accountable for them?
You would think it would just be a no-brainer to ensure that new charter operators have a credible data system in place to keep track of our children before we send them there!
Why do we not get the politicians out of the Accountability business and let those folks do their own thing without people with a vested interest telling them what to do?
Is it because our politicians and charter operators don’t really want an Accountability system, just a faceless entity that can do their dirty work while they hide in the shadows, unaccountable to parents and teachers?
We’ve now firmly embraced a profit motive for non-public and charter school operators. By placing political appointees that have to answer to these profit privateers what we’ve actually managed to create is an unAccountabilty department.
But aren’t our kids are more important than a few wrinkled shirts!?! Don’t you think we should demand a system that was at least as rigorous and impartial as how we would treat a random bad dry cleaning experience?
Are we really satisfied with an Accountability system that has to answer to private and political interests before the interests of parents and the public? Well, for the time being, I guess we are. . .
Like many well intentioned education policies and privacy laws we’ve seen enacted over the years, FERPA was enacted to protect the rights of the weak, in this case children, from the powerful and unscrupulous, such as school bullies and identity thieves. That was a laudable goal to be sure. However what the law has morphed into is a perversion of it’s former self that makes the former threats seem all but trivial in comparison.
FERPA has become a bureaucratic breastplate for departments of education, and their Reform branded buddies, to shield their Grinch sized hearts, and to hide their failed and flawed policies behind. It’s no coincidence that strict FERPA enforcement has come at the absolute worst time for external stakeholders; such as independent researchers and the parents and children themselves.
We could debate the relative merits of concealing the fact that there were 10 or fewer Asian American students in a school of a 1000 is a necessary or worthwhile goal, especially if it means you couldn’t reveal the total student population is1000 because you could then back into the number 10. However the real problem is that FERPA allows DOEs to claim anything they want about any of their programs without independent third parties being able to verify their claims. FERPA protects DOE’s way more than it could ever protect your children.
FERPA requires DOEs mask small numbers of anything, even the very good or the very very bad. One of those Asian’s might have either been expelled as a mass murderer or the school valedictorian. The reasoning goes, if you reveal that statistic, someone could figure out the identity of the mass murderer or valedictorian or at least narrow the choices down to 10 candidates. Even though everyone in the school and local community would already know this information from firsthand knowledge; the Federal government feels strongly that other than those few hundreds or thousands of people that witnesses a Columbine slaughter or graduation ceremony, no one else is entitled to that information.
I’m not even talking about names or SSN’s here folks, just a simple statistic! And because you’ve masked one number you are forced to mask most other information that could be derived from it! In theory, and lately in practice, if any subgroup had a small population (say 10 or less) then you couldn’t reveal the race of the mass murderer or valedictorian because if they weren’t Asian, or Hispanic, or a female American Indian 4th grader, then you would be revealing something about some individual or small subgroup [in this case the lack of something i.e. being a mass murderer or valedictorian] and thus infringed on their right to privacy; or so the theory goes.
The law has been carried to the extreme with the end result being State Departments of education can’t or won’t share de-identified, or even summarized data in many cases, to most researchers. This makes oversight and review of their data in regards to Special Education students, charter school performance, accountability systems, voucher student performance, disciplinary equity and disproportionality, Value Added, etc almost impossible for external groups to independently analyze and verify. We are left to rely on the DOE’s, politicians, and special interest groups running these departments to tell us that everything is going great, and all their reforms are wonderful!
That’s not to say DOE’s don’t collaborate with external groups! They can, and quite often do, simply choose to cooperate with friendly organizations, where they are assured of the outcome they are looking for up front to rubber-stamp their policies, and not to cooperate with ones they view as impartial or unfriendly, simply by making a FERPA assertion.
We’ve let the FERPA into the hen house. We let it in when we were told it would watch over and protect our children. All it is doing is eating them (and feeding them to its ravenous friends in Reform clothing) while we stand helplessly outside straining to hear even a cheep.
Its just a tool used to put teachers on the defensive; for the right, and their right-wing publications, to use in their war against the common good for the sake of the exceptional dollar. Without even going into debunking pseudo statistical science that that sprung up to support the assertions, that Value Added is the missing link in the broken education supply chain, I can simply point to the lack of interest in using this model to effectively evaluate Virtual Charter schools and non-public schools receiving public funds. These entities receive public funding in the form of “vouchers” or “scholarships,” as proponents like to frame their benevolent actions. Anyone with an ounce of sense would see they are just “kickbacks” for past, present, and future support.
Elections aint getting any cheaper, y’all.
The rush to testing anything and everyone may have been well intentioned at one time, but it has long since been perverted into a tool to dismantle unions rather than a measure of student achievement. These tests could have been used to frame the discussion around addressing student deficiencies and providing professional development to teachers to address these student centric issues, but we’re not there, are we?
The proponents of incessant testing say they are “concerned” about the students. . . not the adults. . . but they lead all their discussions these days about the adults.