The Seabaugh Solution Apology and Explanation

VAM (Valued Added Modeling) is garbage.  It does not work. Louisiana’s system is especially flawed. The underlying premise behind VAM is also flawed, and no VAM assessment (good or bad) should be trusted.  Before I wrote about the Seabaugh Solution I wrote numerous articles about this.

I probably have have dozens of articles where I discuss the fallacies of VAM.  Others around our state have written dozens more.  As a data analyst by trade myself, this misuse and misapplication of data is especially infuriating.

Recently, a series of articles I wrote about an Louisiana Department of Education conspiracy to adjust the entire VAM system to benefit 3 teachers in Caddo was rediscovered, and made popular, but without all the backstory and context.  (I hope those that are promoting that story will also promote this one.)

This conspiracy was actually named the Seabaugh Solution by John White’s staff.  John White, and several of his executive TFA staffers recruited from out of state, carried out this deception after discovering it was flagging our best teachers as our worst teachers.  Please let this sink in.  They understood that VAM was identifying our best teachers as our worst teachers, and they have continued to promote this charade to this day.  Their behavior is well into the loathsome territory here, folks.

A number of native Louisiana citizens working at the department at the time were outraged by this perversion of the VAM system. They could not have disclosed it without jeopardizing their jobs and careers.  Nevertheless, at great personal risk to themselves, they notified me and fellow blogger Tom Aswell, at Louisiana Voice, so we could alert the public to this travesty being perpetrated against our teachers.  Please read Tom’s story for more specific details and background.

My intent was never to involve the specific teachers.  (VAM only has a 25% accuracy rate at best.)  Internally these teachers were sometimes referred to as ineffective by VAM calculations, and by other less flattering terms.  However the truth is in fact the exact opposite.  I was trying to make an ironic point by referring to them as “crappy” when both John White and Alan Seabaugh knew, or claimed to know, the exact opposite was true. The students of these teachers scored consistently at the top – for the entire state.  These teachers initially labels as “ineffective” were in actuality some our best teachers. VAM had classified them as our worst.

Legislators need to understand this and ban VAM from being used in the future for any punitive purpose.  They are knowingly persecuting and hanging innocent teachers in a politically motivated witch hunt that is none of their business in the first place.  LDOE is a state agency and not them employer of these teachers. LDOE should not be making judgments about them from afar; especially based solely on a  few pieces of data that were never meant for the purpose they are being used.

Sadly, these truly outstanding teachers were not alone.  Many teachers across the state are classified as ineffective because their students scored so well it was impossible for them to improve.  Others were classified as horrible because they were teaching some of our most disabled, neglected, homeless, limited English, and poverty stricken kids and learning and improvement is not always linear. VAM assumes all kids will improve at a completely linear rate regardless of teacher or circumstances and teachers are responsible for any and all deviation from that rate.  That’s just ridiculous assumption.  Furthermore, for a child to contribute the maximum points to each teacher ever your would require exponential improvement; which is impossible.  These tests have a finite range.  You can’t improve beyond 100%.  As illustrated by the need for the Seabaugh Solution, for VAM to work for teachers with students performing in the upper ranges, the tests would need to have no upper boundary, they would have to be worth an infinite amount of points.

Teachers have resigned in shame and have even committed suicide  across the nation after being unjustly defined by VAM systems as inferior.

LOS ANGELES — Colleagues of Rigoberto Ruelas were alarmed when he failed to show up for work one day in September. They described him as a devoted teacher who tutored students before school, stayed with them after and, on weekends, took students from his South Los Angeles elementary school to the beach.

When his body was found in a ravine in the Angeles National Forest, and the coroner ruled it a suicide, Mr. Ruelas’s death became a flash point, drawing the city’s largest newspaper into the middle of the debate over reforming the nation’s second-largest school district.

When The Los Angeles Times released a database of “value-added analysis” of every teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in August, Mr. Ruelas was rated “less effective than average.” Colleagues said he became noticeably depressed, and family members have guessed that the rating contributed to his death.

I was actually trying to highlight a real problem for out teachers across the state.  I am trying to prevent more, Rigoberto Ruelas tragedies, in our state.  Great teachers labeled have been and continue to be labeled as terrible by a terribly inaccurate and unjust data system.

Part of the problem is how the state has expanded its reach into places it has no business being in.  The state needs to get out of our local classrooms.  It is not helping.  John White’s department of Education is tearing our teachers and students down while claiming it is building them up.  As your teachers what they think about the LDOE’s involvement in their classrooms.  As the Seabaugh Solution shows, even LDOE can’t trust LDOE’s own data.  John White even said this in his conversation with Alan Seabaugh.

I beg you, please do not refer to these teachers as crappy, inferior, ineffective, or anything other than mistreated by a system I was trying to expose as outrageously unfair, dehumanizing and debasing.  The legislature may not have understood this at the time, but they should understand this now.  Anyone who supports VAM is attacking our teachers and children for political points.  It’s not a coincidence that a psychologist, and not a professor of mathematics, designed and endorses this system.  It’s not just that VAM is “a little off”, it’s actually completely backwards and entirely unreliable.

The outrage here is that John White and his executive staff fully understood the implications of what they were told.  Top teachers were being lambasted and shamed by an unjust data system.   John White knew his staff tried dozens of ways to calculate the VAM numbers and could not find a credible way to prevent some of our greatest teachers from being classified as “crappy” so White gave these teachers “bonus points” as he often does for charter schools he’s trying to save from his accountability system, which is also flawed.

Initial supporters of VAM may have had the best of intentions, but VAM is not the answer and never will be because the underlying premise is flawed.  VAM is victimizing our teachers.

Instead of conceding this, LDOE and John White simply added bonus points to certain teachers and shifted the curve downward to classify a new set of teachers as ineffective.  This new set of teachers might have been outstanding too, but they did not have an Alan Seabaugh willing or able to speak for them.

The State needs to discard VAM once and for all.  Not only is evaluating teachers none of their business, LDOE and John White are knowingly doing a horrible job, and playing favorites in the process.

My deepest apologies to the teachers involved.  My intention was to highlight the flaws in VAM to prevent what happened to you from happening to others.

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