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:
The Reform Movement won.