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.


Samantha Thibodeaux, SPED teacher from St John Parish, speaks out about CCSS, Jindal, White & Duncan

Samantha Thibodeaux, SPED teacher from St John Parish, speaks out about CCSS, Jindal, White & Duncan

I am Samantha Thibodeaux. I am a 14 year teacher of SPED in St. John Parish. I hold a bachelor’s in KHS, a master’s in health education and a master’s in Educational Leadership. I am one and a half years into my doctoral program. There are so many issues I would love to discuss today from needless professional growth plans to a flawed value-added system to a faulty COMPASS teacher evaluation system. But, I will stick to the topic at hand—Common Core.

Today, I come to you not just as an educator but a parent and soon to be grandparent to voice my concerns over the Common Core initiative that has been permitted by Gov. Jindal and the BESE board to infiltrate our schools and our students.

I do not ascribe to the notion that Gov. Jindal and the BESE board did not know the negative effect that this progressive agenda would have on our teachers, students and parents. What I do believe is the Gov. and the BESE board signed on to this defective agenda without doing a simple Google search to find out more on Common Core like the lack of empirical data to support this abomination and the Obama administration’s true intentions. Empirical data and robust research is imperative to any successful program. In a speech in 2010 to the United Nations, Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Arne Duncan stated:

“The North Star guiding the alignment of cradle to career education agenda, (let me say that again), cradle to career education agenda is Pres. Obamas goal that by the end of the decade America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That goal CAN ONLY be achieved by creating a strong cradle-to career continuum that starts with early childhood learning and extends all the way to college and careers.”

Let’s just soak that in for a minute. This is not an agenda just for public education or just for students but will TRACK citizens for the rest of their lives. I could end my remarks there but there is more.

Are you familiar with the Common Core birth to five years standards? Birth to five year standards. This is beyond early childhood education. And Republicans have bought into the early childhood fairytale and Common Core puts this agenda on steroids.

Who is going to educate these children?

Where are the resources coming from?

How can a teacher be held accountable for growth in an infant?

Another goal of the Obama administration is that through Common Core students will be required to take action. Again Arne Duncan states:

“These new partnerships must also inspire students to take a bigger and deeper view of their civic obligations—not only to their countries of origin but to the betterment of the global community. A just and socially responsible society must also be anchored in civic engagement for the public good.”

He continues:

“The Obama administration has sought to fundamentally shift the federal role, so that the Department is doing much more to support reform and innovation in states, districts, and local communities.”

Remember this is 2010:

“But today, 37 states and the District of Columbia have already chosen to adopt the new state-crafted [another myth] Common Core standards in math and English. Not studying it, not thinking about it, not issuing a white paper—they have actually done it.”

I agree with Arne Duncan. This has not been studied, or thought out or even discussed in most states. And back to the lack of empirical data and robust research. I understand that most states, along with Louisiana, signed onto this agenda without the standards being completed or published.

Did anyone ask any questions? Gov. Jindal is a bright man. Where were his instincts when this was being presented? Where were his advisors saying to hold on-let’s do a little research?

The people of Louisiana TRUSTED Gov. Jindal. But not anymore.

Over the past several weeks, I have spoken to a couple of principals and master teachers in St. John and they have expressed concern about cost and lack of a coherent curriculum. One principal stated that this is education’s Obamacare. Where is the money because it is not trickling down to the schools? There are grave concerns over the lack of materials and incoherent messaging from the La. Dept of Ed. There is NO curriculum, there are NO textbooks. Yet, teachers are being held accountable for growth in students while implementing these standards that are developmentally inappropriate. One statement from a SPED teacher is:

“I have concluded that the materials and lack of time allotted for the topic at hand to be implemented have become nothing more than an academic trap designed for failure.”

Teachers have been demoralized by Gov. Jindal, John White and the BESE board. Teachers feel frustrated and insulted by continually being told that student learning targets need to be more rigorous, evaluations need to be more rigorous because John White didn’t get the numbers he was expecting. (By the way, if I spoke to each person in this room I am positive I would get just as many varying opinions on what “rigor” is.) Teachers feel further hurt and insulted when they were informed this year that they would be allowed to pre-test their students but post-tests had to be performed by someone other than themselves.

As I professional, I find that incredibly offensive. Not only does John White not trust me as a professional apparently he doesn’t trust me as a person. It doesn’t end there. It gets better. We were told that the Common Core standards would be incrementally implemented over the course of several years yet this summer school systems were instructed to begin full implementation of Common Core and mandatory full implementation would be in the 2014-2015 school year. This has been the pattern of the La. Dept of ed. Incoherent, disorganized chaos. Master teachers are instructed to look at other states to see how they have implemented Common Core and go to the LA. Dept of ed. website to view webinars. They do not have the time to review materials that are sent to them. Teachers are scrambling to find resources and materials. So, now Common Core has been thrust upon thousands of teachers without adequate professional development, with minimal, at best, support, without proper curriculum, without suitable materials and without acceptable levels of funding and you think this is going to be successful and end well for your administration. The depth of incompetence is mind boggling.

What is the intent here? Not with the Obama administration but with Gov. Jindal and John White!

Is the intent to get rid of experienced teachers to put in place inexperienced, naïve teachers that will follow like sheep and do whatever the La. Dept. of Ed says?

Is the intent to demoralize and insult teachers to the point of tears so they will no longer fight back? Ask yourself, what is the intention of the BESE board, Gov. Jindal and Superintendent White?

From where I sit, it is not to improve education in Louisiana, or hold teachers and students to quote unquote higher standards. I believe the intent is to control and manipulate the lives of educators and students in Louisiana; to track them from cradle to grave. And, as Arne Duncan said, “To fundamentally shift the federal role” in education. And apparently, Gov, Jindal is all in.

I would like to read part of a letter from an educator in Ascension parish:

“So many teachers feel as though their hands are tied, so to speak, and have taken early retirement or have just left the system. Many have said to me that they can’t live with themselves as they push kids beyond their breaking point. I was in many meetings last year where teachers were crying out of sheer frustration. They are, however, forbidden to express their frustrations to their superiors. They have little to no input now as “teachers” on what or how they will teach their students. It is a very sad situation. I believe that we will continue to lose our teachers at an even higher rate if we fully implement Common Core.”

“Parents have had no information regarding Common Core. No informational meetings, no written material sent home, no formal venue to be introduced to and ask questions about Common Core. Therefore, at first they made the assumption that it was in the best interest of their children. As homework began to come home, they realized they were less and less able to help. Just now are we seeing parents rising up and contacting their principals, administration, and school board members, asking to know what Common Core is, explaining how it is affecting their children.”

I have heard that Superintendents are threatening repercussions if a teacher publically opposes Common Core. I have heard that administrators are being pressured to implement standards that they feel are developmentally inappropriate. If John White believes so much in Common Core, why are the standards not featured on the Louisiana Believes website? Parents have to search to find the standards. That makes me suspicious of the motives of the La. Dept. of Ed.

Personally, I am sick and tired of Louisiana schools being used as experiments and students and teachers being used as guinea pigs for politicians.  In conclusion, I ask Gov. Jindal to stop Common Core in Louisiana. Abraham Lincoln stated:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Help stop the destruction of Louisiana. Help stop the destruction of our students and teachers. I know, personally, as a voter, I would respect Gov. Jindal more if he would admit his error, apologize to the people and STOP Common Core in Louisiana.

(BACKGROUND: I was asked to sit in on a meeting recently where some feedback from parents and teachers was being given. I came to give my support and lend my expertise in the illegal data sharing area and the inBloom fiasco we narrowly escaped from. I was both astonished and impressed by this statement read by Samantha and I asked her if I could share it with you. Not because I hadn’t heard much of this before for many teachers and parents, but by how vehemently she made these statements and how I saw everyone in the room nodding their heads in agreement. I don’t feel like a lone voice screaming into a whirlwind after hearing this. Thank you for sharing this, Samantha.

How many of you teachers and parents out there in Louisiana or across the nation feel as Samantha Thibodeaux does about Common Core, Arne Duncan’s, John White’s and Bobby Jindal’s education deforms, or your own harsh treatment at the hands of education deformers?   Feel free to post a comment here or send me your letters to ) Thanks!)

My release of the John White, Alan Seabaugh taped conversation

My release of the John White, Alan Seabaugh taped conversation

I have been getting requests to release the taped conversation between Alan Seabaugh and John White discussing the manipulation of VAM, or the Value Added Modeling system devised by the state to evaluate teacher performance to serve a few of Seabaugh’s constituents. I did not receive the full 14 minutes that Tom Aswell received, just 3 or so minutes of some of the more interesting points, but without the full context. I think I have mined my piece pretty well for interesting nuggets but feel free to review it yourselves to see if you spot anything else interesting.

Audio removed by request as of 2/12/15  (I will need to create a revised one.)

I think it’s kinda cute how John White is using his big boy voice to talk to one of our legislators. You tell he’s really straining his diaphragm to summon up a deeper voice, and at points I worry he will let out a little squeak or perhaps exhaust himself before the conversation is over. Boy, that would be embarrassing. As it is, he just calmly explains how you can’t always rely on the data, especially when the data doesn’t show what you want it to show. No problem, and no need to bring this point up to BESE. Its much easier to randomly assign “bonus points” to favored teachers or teacher groups to get them to have the scores you want them to have. What’s nice about this approach is you can simultaneously sully the reputations of teachers teaching more challenging, poor, or black students and drive them out of the profession. This makes it easier to bring in charter school operators, who don’t require certified teachers at all! It also makes voucher schools look like better options by comparison. If you drive down the quality of public schools enough, well eventually those voucher schools which score 30 points lower on standardized (LEAP) tests public schools are given, will start to look like a good deal, or at least muddy the narrative a little by making them look not so obviously, dreadfully, worse.

I don’t have the full 14 minutes of the conversation.  For that you will have to contact Tom Aswell at Louisiana Voice, but this might still provide some interesting insight into how things really work between, BESE, Jindal, John White and the legislature.  And for future reference, if you are a constituent of Alan Seabaugh up in Shreveport, you might try contacting him for personal favors since that appears to work.  Perhaps he can get DOTD to repave your driveway, or DEQ to take out your trash?  Hey, it’s worth a shot, right?

thrown me something