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. . .

Bobby Jindal, the Seabaugh Solution and MFP

Bobby Jindal, the Seabaugh Solution and MFP

When I first heard about the “Seabaugh Solution,” a term John White invented to describe a request by legislator Alan Seabaugh to rig the entire teacher evaluation system to favor three teachers that taught at his daughter’s school in Shreveport, something didn’t quite make sense to me. Why would John White risk everything to do something he knew was wrong and probably illegal and unnecessarily complicated?

During the course of his interview with Sentell, White confided “in an off-the-record remark” that the three teachers were ineffective and that Seabaugh was “pushing hard” to fix it

I think John White went to a lot of trouble to set up Alan Seabaugh for the fall on this one. White took the unusual step of openly referring to this “fix” as the “Seabaugh Solution” and even planted evidence for reporters to find.  When he met with reporters about this situation he queried them about it innocently, and set up Seabaugh again. It could be that John White has is completely clueless, but there may be some political intrigue going on here as well.

Apparently, according to the taped conversation between  John White and Alan Seabaugh below,  it seems likely the directions for this scheme came from Governor Jindal’s office in the form of Policy Director Stafford Palmieri, who was Jindal’s Education and Policy advisor prior to that position and is simply referred to as “Stafford” on the tape between Alan Seabaugh and John White.

I suppose it’s possible this is simply a favor called in by the governor to support a fellow conservative legislator.  However this situation could have been handled seamlessly, as DOE has often handled such things in the past.  I asked one of my sources to comment on this situation. I know how these types of “situations” usually work – through manual “adjustments.” These “situations” are often handled in accountability and SPS scores for politically connected individuals. These situations are usually handled quietly, with a manual adjustment to raw scores, and without much fanfare. When done that way they are almost undetectable to anyone on the outside without access to the true “raw” data which DOE never releases.

I’ve never heard of  something like this being discussed and e-mailed about as a”Seabaugh Solution.” That’s almost begging for someone to inquire if they came across that snippet.  However if things ended there I could chock it up to White’s youth and arrogance, but the planting of evidence that was meant to get handed over to reporters?  John White even pushed this carefully crafted narrative by telling advocate reporter Will Sentell that representative Alan Seabaugh was forcing him to change the VAM system,, for the sake of 3 ineffective teachers. This all makes me wonder. . . .was this John White trying secretly to alert us to the undue influence of his boss, Bobby Jindal, and Alan Seabaugh?

Yes, orders came from the governor making him work with Seabaugh to “fix” the problem. Their process was all screwed up. It started as a policy adjustment but Seabaugh didn’t want his name tied to it so they wanted to hide it in the model. I suggested a sound adjustment but because the teachers were so bad they were not helped by my proposed adjustment. I did suggest exactly that, simply adjusting those teachers scores, but that was not acceptable. Apparently the Supt had voiced that there would be a cap put on student predicted scores and we had to do it that way even when we pointed out this was wrong and would negatively impact effective teachers. {emphasis mine}

On May 14, 2013, at 4:31 AM, Crazycrawfish <> wrote:

Who the hell put White up to doing this crazy scheme? It seems like he risked an awful lot for something that really shouldn’t have been a big deal for him. Did the Jindal make him do it?

Also, why not just simply tweak those teachers scores with an adjustment and be done with it?

Consider this:

  • If this tape had not come forward, and others had not spoken out, Alan Seabaugh would have been left holding the bag for this.
  • It’s quite obvious John White could have handled this quietly, and this suggestion was even made to him by his own staff and rejected by him.
  • Instead, what happened is John White destroyed the entire VAM system, screwing up the scores for thousands of teachers, just to fix a situation for three.
  • White then went to great pains to refer to this as the “Seabaugh Solution” ensuring Alan Seabaugh and this rigging would be inextricably linked.
  • White then planted evidence with a former DOE staffer named Rayne Martin, to be “found” by Will Sentell with The Advocate.
  • White then feigned ignorance about how this situation transpired, but disclosed more evidence that makes Seabaugh look corrupt to a reporter interviewing him about this exact situation.

Is John White really that inept, was he trying to do the right thing and expose Alan Seabaugh and Bobby Jindal’s meddling, or was this part of a larger plot of the Governor’s to discredit Alan Seabaugh for some reason?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Now showing!  Courtesy of John White's Department of Education
Now showing! Courtesy of John White’s Department of Education

The only thing that is clear is that MFP should be rejected based on this continuing evidence that the formula is based on manipulation and fraud. Did you know that VAM (Value Added) scores are used throughout the MFP formula to distribute funding? This is the same VAM formula that was manipulated for personal and professional gain and has lost all credibility. It won’t be used for teacher evaluations this year, but if the MFP formula is approved as resubmitted by Chas Roemer it will lead to widespread funding inequities and open the state up to countless lawsuits.

I ask the legislature to once again reject the MFP formula resubmitted by Chas Romer and to tell him to restore the previous MFP formula . . . you know, the one without all the controversy, unconstitutional funding mechanisms, and potential fraud.

A. Student Performance

A weight is provided for student performance using the Value Added Model (VAM) and the LAA1 and LAA2 accountability data from the latest available data. The weight is provided under the following circumstances:

i. Category 1 provides a 135% weight times the number of students whose score in English Language Arts (ELA) or Math “exceeded expected achievement” in the Value Added Model or whose LAA1 or LAA2 test results improved one achievement level or more, or

ii. Category 2 provides a 175% weight times the number of students whose performance in English Language Arts or Math “significantly exceeded expected achievement” in the Value Added Model.

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

These days John White might be needing a hug. It appears all the ill-will and poor decisions making he has sown over the past year is coming home to roost on his doorstep, all at the same time.

Support the Louisiana Student Privacy Act

Recently we called out White for lying to everyone in the state of Louisiana over carelessly and needlessly exposing all of our school children to unnecessary risks by handing over their some of their most private data to companies hoping to make a profit off the information by direct marketing products to children, charging the state millions of dollars for the privilege of using their storage services, and by marketing and providing this information to unlimited third party vendors. I encourage the legislature to craft and pass the Louisiana Student Privacy Act, which will go further than FERPA (the Federal Student Privacy Act) and actually protect our children’s privacy instead of selling it out to anyone who asks.

Reject House Bill 650 – DOE reorg

White is trying to push through a bill that supporting the reorganization of the Louisiana Department of Education, about a year too late according to this DOE employee: (Link to testimony from April 11th)

Last week Beth Scioneaux indicated in House Education that the LDOE is going to lose another 34 positions. She didn’t say how many actual bodies were going to be lost but the numbers are getting pretty low with the exception of the TFA types. Erin Bendily lied through her teeth when she said that the department wasn’t working under the proposed reorg. White starting putting everything in place the moment he came in and had pretty much finished by early fall. He even had a draft of the org chart that he handed out to some staff around September early October. He also wants to make the Deputy Supt. position optional because his hand-picked second in command (Kunjan) couldn’t possibly be confirmed. He changed the title to Chief of Staff to get around it…

While Representative Chris Broadwater stated he has questions about how the reorg would work before he approves it (which already seems a little redundant since it doesn’t appear he cares what the answers are) well he might as well ask John White how the reorganization is already working out. White just needs rubber stamps, as BESE has learned. Unless you think White should be able to thumb his nose at the legislature and oversight, you should probably vote down House bill 650.

This information jives with everything I saw before I left. Erin actually sent an e-mail to us long before John White was confirmed, when he was still the Superintendent of RSD, instructing us not to make any decisions until Superintendent White was “officially” confirmed. I’m told he was making personnel decisions long before BESE voted to confirm him so it makes sense he would reorganize the department illegally and then ask for permission afterwards. White even drafts and then approves BESE agendas before BESE meets or reviews them.

Reject 2013 MFP

(don’t defund Special Education Programs, don’t use a DOE

known flawed VAM for funding calculations (SCR 23) )

John White has earned the ire of many advocates for Special Education Students of the disabled, gifted and talented varieties. Despite what he has claimed, this formula is not neutral, and actually reduces funding for some school districts even by DOE’s own reports they produced to try to dispute this fact based on the rosiest forecasts I’m sure they could come up with. The new MFP takes money away from talented programs, reduces gifted program funding, and reduces funding for disabled students who can’t exceed their value added scores by larger and larger amounts every year (which is statistically impossible).


Pass House Bill 160 – VAM delay and oversight

Because VAM or Value Added Modeling has been introduced into funding for school districts I would be remiss if I did not spend a little time explaining some of the flaws with this system that have come to my attention recently. If you don’t know what VAM is offhand, you are not alone. Even the Louisiana Department of Education, which uses VAM for everything from teacher evaluations, to school grades, to funding, to soybean substitute, has no idea how this system works according to this former employee.

Most of all, he [White] knows the Value Added Model, the all-important VAM, is broken. And he knows this because he broke it.

What was most interesting to read, however, was Johnny’s opposition to the ‘legislative oversight’ aspect to HB 160. He’s already allowing legislators (well, at least one northwestern one in particular) to dictate what the model does; why not let an entire committee or two have input? Is it because he knows that what he’s doing is wrong, if not illegal? Does he not want our elected BESE members to know that he bypassed them once again, by skipping policy and instead screwing with the math? Would he prefer that our esteemed, elected, representatives not be aware that he is playing around with citizens’ lives and careers because the governor tells him to ‘trust me, you gotta do this’? Perhaps he would not like the courts to know that he continues to flaunt the law by ignoring specific mandates that don’t suit him? He may be afraid that the public will learn that ‘Louisiana Make Believes’ data is being used to determine teachers’ futures, school takeovers and charters, voucher eligibility and the Course Choice crap, along with the future privatization of education. Or, maybe, it’s just that he’s concerned that everyone will finally discover that he’s nothing but White Lies.”

VAM was a flawed metric to use for all the things DOE tried to apply it to, but made more so by all the frenetic gyrations John White put the system through trying to please a select few. I strongly urge our legislators to reject the MFP formula put forth by BESE and ask that BESE restore the previous year’s formula that does not contain a tragically flawed VAM component. The folks that crafted the original VAM formula are gone, and John White almost exclusively hires TFA (Teach for America) folks that lack expertise in the areas he assigns them. Just this past week or so I learned that as many as 60 DOE personnel were given walking papers as part of a RIF, Reduction in Force plan. However I’ve also learned that John White already has new TFA recruits waiting in the wings to fill these spots he is “temporarily” eliminating – at much higher salaries and much fewer years of experience than much of the current staff he is releasing.

I’ve heard from several sources that John White is worried (freaked out) by some Freedom of Information requests that were made about VAM. Well there is a lot to be frightened of apparently:

It’s interesting to read that John White appears willing to hold off implementing Compass (that new teacher evaluation system) for one year…just about exactly one year after educators around the state begged him to do exactly that. He knows the entire program is, in a nutshell, a clusterf**k. He knows the two data systems involved may not work together; one of them is not even completed. He knows his district support office (the one that was just approved…months after being created…. and after the guy running it for five months left. provides little to no support, while ‘toolboxing’ around the state in rental cars, collecting mileage and per diems. He knows that schools have been given precious few resources and little guidance, and no definite answers. He knows the ‘new and improved’ LouisianaBelieves website leads teachers on an endless loop of 404-file not found error messages, dead links, outdated or “coming soon” information.

In case some of you were not keeping up, John White scrapped the former department of education website in favor of what has been called a childish, useless crayon inspired endeavor that contains nothing useful except pictures of John White handing out big checks to school districts with his sleeves rolled up. As impressive as that sight is to the John White fan club, most of us are not members, and what he has done offends us.

When I was at DOE we used to website as an archive of useful information and reports which we could direct internal staff, school district personnel, parents and other stakeholders to.  Now the site is universally understood to be a useless mess.  I suppose in a way that makes sense. John White has a god complex and he’s crafted the new department website in his own image.

John White doesn’t want people keeping track of what’s going on, so he scrapped the old site but “we in the know” are doing our level best to keep you informed. White can’t continue to lie to us, sell our children, humiliate our teachers, defund our Special Education students, dazzle us with VAM BS, and ignore both the legislature and BESE. . .  unless you let him. I and my brave colleagues have done their part, now it’s time for some of you to do yours.

No matter what John White names his website, Louisiana doesn’t have to believe anymore.  Reject John White and his bankrupt policies and send him packing.  We deserve better.  Our children deserve better than having to put up with this.

Why I fight, and why you should too

Why I fight, and why you should too

I recently received a comment on my blog that struck a chord. . . and triggered a memory of who I used to be and who I am.  It addresses a number of questions people ask me about my own feelings on a wide range of issues, and I found it both focusing and inspirational and thought I would share it with you.

Let me just say that I’m not a teacher, and my kids are only now starting going to public schools. While I did work for the Louisiana Department of Education until recently, that was in the data department and my only role dealing with children’s issues directly was ain an advisory position on a student discipline adversary panel. So I understand why people ask me:

“Why do you care so much? Why do you fight, for teachers, for other people’s kids? You’re not a teacher and you could afford non-public school for your kids.” (Most white middle class families living in Baton Rouge go that route.) “You could afford to move to a wealthier school district with kids and families just like yours. (If they don’t go the former route most take this one.) “Why do you stay in a school district that lags many in the state when there are top notch ones in parishes within commuting distance of your work?”

Well I usually come up with simple arguments I feel can relate to the person asking me the question. Really what I want to say is “if you have to ask the question you wouldn’t understand the answer,” but that seems like an overly clichéd copout, it wouldn’t win me any converts to my actual viewpoint, and it would do nothing to endear me to the friends and relatives asking. However, one of my reader’s shows why all of us should care about public education and our experienced public educators in particular. He shows the reality Reformers try to conceal with data, averages and misleading research. He shows what is being done to destroy hope of so many children and teachers under the guise of helping them.

Crazy, I am one of those baby boomers who did enter into teaching to perform a public service and help what would be called high needs students. I did not need Teach for America to tell me what to do. I thought I could make a difference, but soon realized the odds stacked against many of these children.

I worked in South Jamaica in the borough of Queens in New York City. When I started teaching, this was one of the most poverty stricken areas of the city. These children were surrounded by drugs, hunger and neglect. Here were students who had single parents who were stuck in an endless cycle of welfare and poverty. Most were overwhelmed and gave up. Three of my original students would eventually be killed by drug and gun violence. Another student would shoot a cop. However, I know that I may have contributed to two escaping.

One would become a supervisor in the transit authority and another became a registered nurse (male). I remember one student, Tommy, who came to school starving every day. I would bring him food and snacks so he could make it through the day. Another student, Lyndell, would be molested by his aunt and ended up with venereal disease at the age of 13.

I want Michelle Rhee tell me how their magic curriculum and magic TFA instructors would have been able to have gotten such students college ready!

I think the term vampire does describe these people. Their plan is to suck dry public education for their own personal lust of profit. I dare any of them to demonize my motives for staying as a special education teacher for 35 years. I am the only one in my school that really understands compliance issues surrounding special education students. I am the informal special education coordinator in my school because Bloomberg disposed of all special education supervisors leaving most young special education teachers rudderless. Therefore, I advise my principal daily on all special education issues and try to help our neophyte teachers. I try to maintain compliance, sit on IEP teams for initial cases, coordinate testing as well as analyze data. This is in addition to instructing mandated students who need special education teacher support.

My day never ends. I work way into the night because I work per-session as well as tutor to try to make ends meet. I am working seven days a week because I have to put my own child through college. I do not mind the work, but I am near 60 years old and getting tired. I am tired of the special education conflicts in my school and the daily brush fires I have to put out.

I am finally listening to my wife and at the end of next year, I am going to throw in the towel and retire. But i am not going to sit back on my laurels. I will write, talk to parents, and remain politically active for one single purpose. I will do whatever I can to expose these reformers as the frauds they are. I hope I can make a difference. LiberalTeacher at

This why I fight. Not to take anything away from Liberal Teacher who I greatly admire, but I believe many of my teachers felt this way and sacrificed much for their children away from home. They did not enter the profession for money, and small increases in their checks in the name of “accountability” and “adding value” to kids is not very inspirational or motivational to a person like this. Shit, they could have gone into banking, law, engineering, computer science, accounting, just about any other career other than teaching if they were motivated by money! To think one can simply throw money at the problems described by Liberal Teacher is not only ignorant it’s especially insulting on so many infuriating levels:

  • It implies teachers are lazy, and a little monetary incentive is all they need to really “get to work.” (If money was a primary motivator for teachers they would not have gone into teaching in the first place!)
  • It minimizes and masks the real, horrible and disturbing realities many of our kids and teachers face every day. Drugs, poverty, child abuse, malnourishment are not sexy terms for billionaires to hear or deal with. Billionares only want to hear terms like “test scores”, “no excuses”, “cohort groups” and “accountability” through the windows of their glass houses.   (To them, Gates, Dell, Waltons, Bloomberg, Broad, Mudoch, et al, I say buck up, and grow a pair you elitist self-serving cowards. This is the reality. You are a part of the problem, and your work is making all of these problems much, much worse.  If it’s not by design it might as well be.)
  • Reformers perpetuate the self-serving “belief” ,through their money colored glasses, that everyone and everything is solvable by giving or taking money. When a school is struggling you can take their money away and it will improve through desperation – perhaps the way a rat in a laboratory starved of cheese will risk its life and health to find and eat anything edible to survive. When really the opposite is true. Schools and teacher facing challenges (reformers refuse to admit exist) need more support, not a starvation diet that saps hope and breeds desperation.
  • Thousands of starved schools are closed every year and the children and teachers are reshuffled in the name of improving education. All this does is hide the kids until they dropout, and teachers see and know this.

This is why I care, because I’ve seen just a small sliver of what folks like Liberal Teacher have.  I care because I know these kids exist, because I’ve worked with them myself, because I’ve seen them walking the steets at night, because I don’t hide behind glass walls, and private school halls, pretending these situations don’t exist.

Once I dreamed of being a teacher, of helping others learn and find their way, but I was afraid.  I was afraid of the lack of money, the lack of respect, the hard and emotional work that I didn’t feel I was prepared for.  That was probably a mistake, but it’s one I made.  Maybe one day I’ll remedy that and give back as many of my public school teachers gave to me, but for now the very least I can do is defend those who had more courage than I.  How many of you felt the way I did, but took other paths. . . and perhaps have always wondered “what if?”

So many of our teachers give until they can’t give anymore, now they are being replaced by revolving corps of 2 year temps with no community involvment or investment before they go onto their public policy positions, law careers and political careers.  Now they are getting chased out by teacher evaluation systems designed to toss out experienced folks in favor of temps who’ve only learned the teaching flavor of them moment.  This is just a check mark Teach for America teachers and their ilk, not a way of life, as has been the case for so many folks like Liberal Teacher.  Who are you going to listen to about the problems faced by todays public students?  Private schooled billionaires living in their fenced-off estates, and their obscenely overcompenstaed puppets like Michele Rhee, or folks like Liberal Teacher?

If you are not a teacher now, could you honestly say you could live the life he has, and is?  I know I probably should have, but I didn’t.  That’s one of the reasons I will defend unsung heros like him and trust my kids in his care, for as long as he’s able to provide it.


VAMtastic – what bicycles and teachers have in common

VAMtastic – what bicycles and teachers have in common

To start off this discussion about VAM (value added modeling).  The idea that teacher effectiveness can be accurately predicted based mostly on student test scores (or entirely in Louisiana.) and that teacher’s fortunes should be tied to those test scores.

That sounds boring so I’ll start off with a really exciting topic, like global warming. :)  It appears that manmade activities are causing the earth to warm.  Even people the Koch brothers hired to say otherwise were unable to deny this.  Recently a “creative” state Republican legislator named Ted Orcutt proposed an extra tax on bicyclists claiming that bicyclists exude carbon dioxide at higher rates and are harming the environment.

“Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.” Ted Orcutt

Early Global Warming Device - from Ted Orcutt's history book
Early Global Warming Device – from Ted Orcutt’s history book

He wanted to discourage bicycle use with his tax claiming this was in the interest of climate control. A helpful, knowledgable reader of the blog I pulled this from did the calculation for us to show the absurdity of this remark most of you probably already realized intuitively was inane and insane.

“I did a back-of-envelope calculation:
CO2 per mile for car getting 20 mph = 446 gram
CO2 per mile for average person riding bike 15 mph = 17gram
But carbon source is different.  The gasoline carbon is newly introduced to the atmosphere while the carbohydrate carbon the cyclist burned came from plants which obtained it from the atmosphere (of course the plants had to be farmed and the food transported both of which take fuel).” Gary

While it is true carbon dioxide does impact the warming of the climate, it is not the sole contributor,  His argument also does not take into account in the example given, cars. (Or the fact these people biking to work would otherwise have to use cars which produce CO2 at  more than 25 times the rate of a bicyclist and that by his logic we should also tax people in gyms and people for just breathing sitting on their sofas)  It does not take into account factories, gas-powered appliances and heating, deforestation, nuclear reactor meltdowns, warfare, airplanes, launching satellites into orbit, and freon and refrigerants just to name a few of some of the more common man-made contributors.

Terrance Shuman a fellow blogger and commenter identified a similar problem with something VAMvateers take for granted on Dr Mercedes Schneider’s blog this morning.

“The planted axiom in all of this, of course, is that the test scores we’re using actually convey something meaningful and important. This has not, in my opinion, been definitively established. And if we don’t know that, the rest of the house of cards comes tumbling down, doesn’t it?”

I pointed out this:

“As a corollary to your axiom, while I think it’s fair to say they convey something, and something that may even prove to meaningful in a limited context, what is not proven is whether the “something” that might be conveyed is meaningful to the context is being applied.  These are student test scores, not teacher test scores.  Sure, teachers have an impact on test scores, the absence of a teacher would probably yield a much lower one – for instance.  That does not take into account all factors influencing a test score.  In fact, what the study results do prove is that teachers are not the sole determining factor, and possibly not even the most important one.  Scores remain consistent only about roughly 20-30% of the time year over year with no change in composition of students or teaching methods.  That implies other factors not accounted for in the “model” impact 70-80% of the score.”

The logic of VAM, if you can call it that, is as inane as Ted Orcutt’s reasoning that if we would discourage people from bicycling we would reduce global warming.  VAMvateers point out that test scores increase over time as kids age, which is hard to argue with.  They claim a “good” teacher is better than a bad teacher for increasing a test score.  This is probably true, also hard to argue with that logic at face value and quantification is not a given.  However at that point they jump the data tracks.  They explain that teachers are the primary influence on student test scores therefore one can use test scores to sort out “good” and “bad” teachers.  However none of the studies, even their own studies, bear this out.  Even by the most benevolent interpretations I’ve seen, changes in test scores can’t be attributed to even half of a student’s change or test score outcome.  Factors that are much harder to measure like environment, curriculum, school facilities, parental involvement, learning disabilities (known or unknown), illness, psychological trauma, poverty, safety, and probably astrological sign (to name a few factors) add up to more that what bankers and billionaires would have you believe.

That’s not to say teachers are unimportant.  That’s also not to say bad teaching or bad teachers are not a problem, merely not “the” problem.  Teachers are a part of the equation we can control, but the measurement mechanism we are using is fallacious.  Just because people like Ted Orcutt are only able to apply what they learned in a first grade science class, doesn’t mean you need to.  Global warming is not adversely impacted by bicyclists simply because they exhale carbon dioxide, anymore than some of our sketchy educational outcomes are solely responsibility of our teachers.  There is no amount of “good” teaching that can singlehandedly overcome the stacked deck of generational poverty, health and safety issues and emotional trauma.  However claiming this to be the case has its advantages for the ones claiming it.

Swelling a class size from 20 to 40 or 60 or as many as 500 for virtual schools will not address those issues, and without looking at any data, I can guarantee it will make things worse.  You will have politicians in the pockets of billionaires and bankers trying to sell you on this idea with cryptic data you won’t understand, designed to dazzle you, just like they did with the dotcoms, the Enrons, the subprime mortgaged backed securities that brought down the housing market, the derivatives trading that almost wiped out AIG and then recently almost wiped out JP Morgan Chase in weeks (having failed to learn the lesson of AIG.)

Don’t be fooled by their “data.”  Look at their motivations, and use your brain, your heart and your experience.  Think back to your own classes (which I assume didn’t have 60+ children in them like Reformers are pushing for now.)

Bicyclists are not causing global warming anymore than teachers are causing our population with the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world to do worse on  standardized tests.  Look in the mirror the next time you vote down a millage tax for school improvements, or you let your children watch TV before doing their homework, or elect a governor that tells you the teachers are at fault, not you, not poverty, not schools with roach infested halls and leaking walls and faulty air conditioning.  When you elect a meglamaniacal governor  like Bobby Jindal (who never saw an illegal contribution he felt he needed to return) and allow him to hire a Superintendent like John White that empties music rooms, art studios, libraries, guidance counselors, school psychologists, GT programs and cuts funding for special education programs. . . well look in the mirror and you will have your answer.

After all these Bankers and billionaires have done to fool you with their “data” in the past, you would really have to be a fool to “Believe” them now.  They even use this concept to mock you, you know. . .  The “Louisiana Believes” slogan John White and his sadistic cronies dreamed up is an inside joke at among the top brass at LDE, but if you don’t see it for what it is, well then the joke really is on you.

Actually I really hope you are being fooled by their numbers and no matter how many times they come to you with ridiculous claims backed by infantile reasoning of the Ted Orcutt kind.  Because if not, well, then you are just allowing your kid’s teachers to take the fall for your laziness, greed and sloth – glad that they are taking the fall so you can continue to watch your reality TV while your kids play their video games and 25% of other people’s kids struggle to complete their homework – with empty stomachs and gunshots in the background, or even the foreground in schools like Sandy Hook.

I wonder how their teachers VAM scores will look this year.  I’m pretty sure the VAMvateers haven’t added mass murder adjustment to their equation, but if when all the students at that school do worse than expected, at least we can can find someone other than the shooter, or the gun, or us for allowing those guns to be so accessible.

We can blame the teachers.

Problem solved.

Jersey Shore anyone?

easy as shooting sharks in a barrel

easy as shooting sharks in a barrel


Hi Mercedes! Mind if I steal your blog and add your blog thoughts to my own? (not that you have a choice. :) )

I think Peter Orszag, makes a valid point. VAM is slightly better than nothing depending on how you look at it, .. Assuming perfect data and that children were simple computer models confined to a lab. It might be correct 5% of the time or so. If we only knew which of the 100% of the results we got, comprised that 5%, perhaps we could act on it in a constructive and responsible manner? What does not make sense is using unproved, disproven and destructive free-market inspired economic principals to replicate 5% of the “correct results” (which we can’t identify) as well as 95% inaccurate ones.

Let’s say I want to kill sharks because I’ve decided they are “bad” fish. To a VAMite, the best way to do this is to create a giant barrel and dredge in along the ocean floor scooping up the schools of tuna the sharks like to hang out with.

Now we must eliminate the shark. To do that I could figure out an accurate way to identify a shark, maybe just hire a good fisherman(principal) that can identify them and remove them from the school. Not much money to be made doing that, and how will I sell all my canned tuna with all this live fresh tuna swimming around?

So I decide the best way for my tuna cannery and gun smithing business interests is to take a shotgun and shoot all the fish in the barrel.

Success! I can now claim I killed a shark and wave it around for all to see. Tada! I killed a “bad” fish with a bullet. Now our tuna supply is saved!

Hmm. . . I also killed all the other fish by letting out the water or riddling them with bullets…

But wait! Double kaching! More cheap fodder for my factory! Now I must sell this idea to the masses. . .

Attention Masses: All we have to do is put all out fish in barrels and shoot them; then we will kill all the “bad” fish! (Sure a few good ones have to be sacrificed, well all of them, but we did get rid of the “bad” fish and we can always can(computerize) the casualties. ) Bad fish problem solved and canned tuna all around!

NOTE TO SELF: Hire Pierson to capture all the fish and put them in barrels. Tell Murdoch to supply the guns and get Gates to supply the bullets.





Originally posted on deutsch29:

In order to truly understand value added modeling (VAM), forget the likes of me and of others who hold degrees in mathematics, or statistics, or measurement. Forget that we offer solid, detailed discussions of the problems of VAM. Forget also that those who formerly promoted VAM, like Louisiana’s George Noell, are mysteriously “no longer associated with the project.”

According to Michael Bloomberg, just ask a banker.

That’s right.  Banker and former director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Obama administration Peter Orszag has written an enlightening piece for explaining that VAM really does work.  According to Orszag, VAM can determine “which teachers are best.” Now, mind you, I’m no banker, but I would like to offer my thoughts on Orszag’s very positive article on the value of the value added.

First, let me begin with Orszag’s statement regarding “promoting the most talented teachers.” What, exactly, is a “most talented…

View original 1,577 more words

Excellent essay from edweek on why Value Added is junk science

Probing the Science of Value-Added Evaluation

by R. Barker Bausell, January 16th 2013

Value-added teacher evaluation has been extensively criticized and strongly defended, but less frequently examined from a dispassionate scientific perspective. Among the value-added movement’s most fervent advocates is a respected scientific school of thought that believes reliable causal conclusions can be teased out of huge data sets by economists or statisticians using sophisticated statistical models that control for extraneous factors.

Another scientific school of thought, especially prevalent in medical research, holds that the most reliable method for arriving at defensible causal conclusions involves conducting randomized controlled trials, or RCTs, in which (a) individuals are premeasured on an outcome, (b) randomly assigned to receive different treatments, and (c) measured again to ascertain if changes in the outcome differed based upon the treatments received.

The purpose of this brief essay is not to argue the pros and cons of the two approaches, but to frame value-added teacher evaluation from the latter, experimental perspective. For conceptually, what else is an evaluation of perhaps 500 4th grade teachers in a moderate-size urban school district but 500 high-stakes individual experiments? Are not students premeasured, assigned to receive a particular intervention (the teacher), and measured again to see which teachers were the more (or less) efficacious?

Granted, a number of structural differences exist between a medical randomized controlled trial and a districtwide value-added teacher evaluation. Medical trials normally employ only one intervention instead of 500, but the basic logic is the same. Each medical RCT is also privy to its own comparison group, while individual teachers share a common one (consisting of the entire district’s average 4th grade results).

From a methodological perspective, however, both medical and teacher-evaluation trials are designed to generate causal conclusions: namely, that the intervention was statistically superior to the comparison group, statistically inferior, or just the same. But a degree in statistics shouldn’t be required to recognize that an individual medical experiment is designed to produce a more defensible causal conclusion than the collected assortment of 500 teacher-evaluation experiments.

How? Let us count the ways:

• Random assignment is considered the gold standard in medical research because it helps to ensure that the participants in different experimental groups are initially equivalent and therefore have the same propensity to change relative to a specified variable. In controlled clinical trials, the process involves a rigidly prescribed computerized procedure whereby every participant is afforded an equal chance of receiving any given treatment. Public school students cannot be randomly assigned to teachers between schools for logistical reasons and are seldom if ever truly randomly assigned within schools because of (a) individual parent requests for a given teacher; (b) professional judgments regarding which teachers might benefit certain types of students; (c) grouping of classrooms by ability level; and (d) other, often unknown, possibly idiosyncratic reasons. Suffice it to say that no medical trial would ever be published in any reputable journal (or reputable newspaper) which assigned its patients in the haphazard manner in which students are assigned to teachers at the beginning of a school year.

• Medical experiments are designed to purposefully minimize the occurrence of extraneous events that might potentially influence changes on the outcome variable. (In drug trials, for example, it is customary to ensure that only the experimental drug is received by the intervention group, only the placebo is received by the comparison group, and no auxiliary treatments are received by either.) However, no comparable procedural control is attempted in a value-added teacher-evaluation experiment (either for the current year or for prior student performance) so any student assigned to any teacher can receive auxiliary tutoring, be helped at home, team-taught, or subjected to any number of naturally occurring positive or disruptive learning experiences.

• When medical trials are reported in the scientific literature, their statistical analysis involves only the patients assigned to an intervention and its comparison group (which could quite conceivably constitute a comparison between two groups of 30 individuals). This means that statistical significance is computed to facilitate a single causal conclusion based upon a total of 60 observations. The statistical analyses reported for a teacher evaluation, on the other hand, would be reported in terms of all 500 combined experiments, which in this example would constitute a total of 15,000 observations (or 30 students times 500 teachers). The 500 causal conclusions published in the newspaper (or on a school district website), on the other hand, are based upon separate contrasts of 500 “treatment groups” (each composed of changes in outcomes for a single teacher’s 30 students) versus essentially the same “comparison group.”

• Explicit guidelines exist for the reporting of medical experiments, such as the (a) specification of how many observations were lost between the beginning and the end of the experiment (which is seldom done in value-added experiments, but would entail reporting student transfers, dropouts, missing test data, scoring errors, improperly marked test sheets, clerical errors resulting in incorrect class lists, and so forth for each teacher); and (b) whether statistical significance was obtained—which is impractical for each teacher in a value-added experiment since the reporting of so many individual results would violate multiple statistical principles.

Of course, a value-added economist or statistician would claim that these problems can be mitigated through sophisticated analyses that control for extraneous variables such as (a) poverty; (b) school resources; (c) class size; (d) supplemental assistance provided to some students by remedial and special educators (not to mention parents); and (e) a plethora of other confounding factors.

Such assurances do not change the fact, however, that a value-added analysis constitutes a series of personal, high-stakes experiments conducted under extremely uncontrolled conditions and reported quite cavalierly.

Hopefully, most experimentally oriented professionals would consequently argue that experiments such as these (the results of which could potentially result in loss of individual livelihoods) should meet certain methodological standards and be reported with a scientifically acceptable degree of transparency.

And some groups (perhaps even teachers or their representatives) might suggest that the individual objects of these experiments have an absolute right to demand a full accounting of the extent to which these standards were met by insisting that students at least be randomly assigned to teachers within schools. Or that detailed data on extraneous events clearly related to student achievement (such as extra instruction received from all sources other than the classroom teacher, individual mitigating circumstances like student illnesses or disruptive family events, and the number of student test scores available for each teacher) be collected for each student, entered into all resulting value-added analyses, and reported in a transparent manner.

Vol. 32, Issue 17, Pages 22-23, 25