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. . .