John White is likely to be gone by the end of June but Louisiana will still have its work cut out cleaning up the messes he will leave behind.  Some of those messes off the top of my head are:

but what I’m going to tackle now is the fatally flawed COMPASS and VAM system that even John White’s own staff agree is racially and socioeconomically biased – as you can see from this internal e-mail below that circulated before the Seabaugh Solution was reaffirmed by White.

I want you to read the passages I highlighted and let that sink in before I explain.  COMPASS is a teacher evaluation system designed for Louisiana.   It was initially developed with the help of an out-of-state researcher named Charlotte Danielson, who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities in this field.  However Ms Danielson has done more than simply distance herself from our evaluation system.

Danielson was surprised to hear the state was launching a teacher observation tool without first trying it out in a few districts. Before Tennessee made its evaluation system a state requirement last year, for example, it experimented for a year with various observation models in schools across the state.

“It’s never a good idea to use something for high stakes without working out the bugs,” Danielson said. “The thing I worry about from a purely selfish standpoint is that my name gets associated with something people hate, and I’m not happy about that.”

Besides making people unhappy, mistakes could also end up costing the state, Danielson warned. “I worry a lot [that] if we have systems that are high stakes and low rigor, we’re going to end up with court cases,” she said.

You see, we only took a few of the simplest metrics she developed 5 of 22.

Louisiana has adopted part, but not all, of her framework for use in classroom observations, which will factor into a teacher’s annual score and which will ultimately determine whether educators can keep their jobs.

Although Danielson helped the state create a shortened version of her system at its request, she’s worried her truncated observation checklist could create problems for teachers and evaluators.

“I think it decreases accuracy. I think that’s an almost certain consequence,” she said.

Louisiana adopted the new system to comply with Act 54, a law passed in 2010 aimed at improving teacher quality in the state with more intensive, annual teacher evaluations. Half of a teacher’s rating will be calculated based on how he or she scores in the observation, and half will be determined by how students perform on standardized tests. Teachers who perform poorly on the evaluations could lose their certification.

But more than that, teachers could be fired as well, based on a model the creator of which claims is quite likely flawed because of its simplicity.  However what many of you might not realize is that teacher effectiveness is also determined by the VAM, or Value Added Modeling score.  In fact, when there is a difference between VAM and the COMPASS evaluation, VAM is the score a teacher gets, which means the COMPASS evaluation is essentially useless for 1/3 of all teachers which have a VAM score because they teach a test evaluated subject.  The VAM system was built on a questionable premise to being with, but what little credibility it might have gained was completely annihilated by John White and Alan Seabaugh’s tinkering with the system for personal reasons.

However even more alarming is that the solution adopted seems to punish teachers who teach our neediest students, students from the poorest backgrounds.  The way it does this is by giving “bonus points” to teachers teaching more advanced students, which tend to be more affluent ones.  VAM is based on a curve.  Everyone can’t get an A.  Effectiveness ratings are based on where teachers fall in the curve, where the top 10-20 % are the most effective, and the lowest 10-20 % are the least effective.  In this type of scheme, both success and failure are guaranteed, and your success is entirely dependent on the success of those around you.  When some teachers are given bonus points to lift their scores, this causes teachers without these points to drop into lower categories.  The Seabaugh Solution involves giving bonus points to teachers teaching advanced students, which means they will never be found ineffective, thus immune to  most of the negative implications of COMPASS and VAM and more likely to earn financial incentives.  Teachers teaching students in schools with poorly performing students, which are mostly poor and black, will be that much more likely to be found lacking. . .  and subject to being stripped of tenure, or even dismissed.

The COMPASS system and VAM must be abandoned.  John White has failed at everything he tried to do in Louisiana, and everything he has done has failed.  Now it’s time to clean up the rest of his mess.  We can start by eliminating VAM and COMPASS and the people he brought in from out of state like Hannah Dietsch and Molly Horstman to oversee a system that was known to be racially biased, politically tampered with and so poorly designed and implemented that the person who helped create it no longer wants her name associated with it, because she thinks it’s so bad and so unfair it could expose us to lawsuits that would be easily won.

Time to start eliminating the mess. . .
Time to start eliminating the mess. . .
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9 thoughts on “Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

  1. Even if White leaves, it’s not like we’d get anyone better. Jindal, and therefore BESE has shown that nothing will stand in the way of their ideology. Jindal has to prove that he is the most conservative there is. He has to show he is committed fully to the far right and to big donors, sorry…I mean big business. That’s the only way he stands a chance nationally. And make no bones about it, he’s quit trying here in Louisiana. Just read his piece on CNN.com this week, the hypocrisy!

  2. Well, CCF, there are more factual errors in this rendition than any I’ve read. I can’t disagree with your overall point – White and Jindal are sleazeballs and nincompoops. Your 11 or so beginning premises are mostly on target. Common Core was designed for the right reasons, but then they allowed the vendors into the mix. The curriculum could still be the basis of some outstanding student achievement, but one would have to avoid the commercial products that educators seem addicted to, and that’s very unlikely. Whitey’s brief tenure didn’t see the dawn of fraudulent grad/dropout data and cheating on tests. That’s been a problem since accountability existed, but the LDE used to do something about it on occasion. When a high school in Calcasieu was caught cheating (actually a specific teacher), the LDE and BESE let it slide because some of the charters were also found to be cheating. The LDE staff that will still tell the truth on occasion run numbers and can point out some pretty funny patterns in the grad/dropout stuff, but nothing is done because the charters would need to be slapped around along with the traditional high schools.

    That e-mail clip isn’t proof of racial and socioeconomic bias. It’s proof that whomever wrote it doesn’t actually have a clue about the topic. Tossing a handful of teachers on the low end (who are there because the system is rigged against them) to the high end doesn’t invalidate and bias the whole system. Hiding the formula so it can be manipulated (as planned by Whitey) and hiding the data so no one can verify the states secret calculations invalidates it. It is how the LDE/legislature/district administrators will use the evaluation that is the royal screw up.

    Talk to Lottie Beebe. Several districts including St. Martin did pilot the original Danielson model, but it was far too labor intensive/expensive. The trimmed down version can’t be considered the Danielson model anymore, but it isn’t a bad tool. It needs to be tested/evaluated and could be a bit if it is pushed back a year by the legislature. It does require teachers to change their teaching methods and the changes are positive ones. White’s decision to let evaluators change the scores on a whim as long as they didn’t push a teacher into highest or lowest performing categories is about as bone-headed and illogical as it gets. I’m a career educator, trained in Compass, mathematically literate enough to replicate the VAM model if the data is ever provided and the variables ever defined, and the problem is how we are using the tools.

    The guilty parties were elected, my friends – Bobby, BESE, and the Bozos in the House and Senate. The cracks become evident when the Tea Party takes a stand against Common Core. I just wish they didn’t sound like a bunch of John Birchers.

    You can bet that Patrick Dobard will be the next state superintendent if Whitey retreats. He was a worker bee state employee under Picard, but little Paulie Pastorek invented positions to move him toward the upper echelon. Dobard follows orders with no consideration of morality, honesty, or the welfare of our kids and our schools.

    So, CCF, thank you for contributing to the progress we’re making with the courts and with the legislature. Keep taking every shot you can at the Jindalites and their radical subgroup Tighty Whiteys. Keep shining the light into the rat infested corners of our state government – actually the corners have spilled into the middle of the rooms in the Claiborne building. But you don’t need to stretch the facts to prove these folks are lower than a worm in whale manure at the bottom of the ocean.

    I’m still pulling with you, but you may need to ‘right the wagon’ a bit.

    1. Au contraire my well intentioned friend. I never claimed to be a education expert, which is why I pointed to Danielson’s comments. Not only is she the pre-eminent authority in the field, she worked with Louisiana on theirs – and found the changes they made lacking. I’ve had numerous reports of COMPASS issues, but chose an authority on both the subject in general and Louisiana ‘s model in particular. The people in charge are also reported to be woefully inexperienced and incompetent to run such an endeavor.

      Dropout and grad rate shenanigans have gotten worse, much worse, and White refuses to release any data that would show the extent – so I can only extrapolate. I’ve had reports from districts as well that confirm my suspicions. I never claimed he was the “dawn” of such cheating, but he has done much to enshrine and expand it.

      We don’t have the Common Core that might have been, we have the Common Core that is. . . a version hijacked by private and special interests, dumbed down, overly intrusive, poorly implemented, uninspiring pile of goo attached to tests that test students on material they’ve never been introduced to.

      As for VAM, I suppose I neglected to mention the author of the comment is one of the initial creators of our VAM system; the director in charge of it; the person responsible for making the changes and calculating the precise impact down to every single change in the outcome for every single individual teacher as a result of the change? Yeah, that’s the only person who really knew what was going on and who quit partly in protest. They created the formula, they don’t have to wait for it to be revealed. You know we have/had good people working at DOE. I am telling their stories – don’t be so quick to dismiss them please.

      You are always welcome to rejoin my wagon whenever you feel we are going in the same direction again. 🙂 I welcome input, but set my own course.

      1. “Common Core was designed for the right reasons, but then they allowed the vendors into the mix.”

        Wrong, wrong, wrong Evander Sir. Just because something sounds good doesn’t make it good. The public has been too easily led to believe that standardization is desirable. Regardless of which side of “standard” you are on, it is NOT good. It is particularly inane that the business model is pushing it because entrepreneurship has no relationship to a standard.

  3. CC: Please tell us you’ll stay on watch, and keep writing, after White and Jindal are out of here — regardless of who replaces them. Your voice and insider’s understanding can help see us safely through the transition back to sane education policies, whenever that occurs. Even if good guys get into position anytime soon (unlikely, IMO), the thing is so mucked up that we’ll need keen and passionate reporter-researchers like yourself to keep them on their toes and with eyes on the prize. You’re doing a tremendous service for education in Louisiana. I am grateful.

    1. Never fear. I ain’t going anywhere. I knew John White was just a figurehead, and his eventual departure was assured. Only the idiots he recruited believed he would be here for any length of time.

      My concerns are for the policies, the people (students, teachers and patents) White was just a conviently incompetent symbol of all that was wrong with Louisiana’s reform movement, and a font of easily disprovable falsehood

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