Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

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. . .