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Four Reasons Why Lawmakers Should Stay the Course with Compass



It appears that some of our lawmakers in Baton Rouge have gotten cold feet when it comes to moving forward with the education reform measures many of them voted for only a few years ago.

During the 2010 legislative session, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed what became Act 54, the law that authorized the establishment of a statewide teacher and administrator evaluation system. Over the next  two years, state education officials, working in collaboration with various stakeholders, researched, developed and piloted the evaluation model known as Compass, which was officially launched with the start of the 2012-13 school year.

However, now that districts across the state are tallying their first end-of-year Compass ratings of teachers and administrators, some legislators are having second thoughts and have thrown their support behind House Bill 160. H.B. 160, sponsored by Rep. Gene Reynolds (D – Dist. 10), would delay the full implementation of the state’s teacher evaluation program until the 2014-15 school year. In a rare example of unity across party lines, the bill was passed unanimously by the House, 102 – 0 (with three absent). But what’s even more surprising (or, more accurately, disturbing) is the about-face of 47 representatives who supported Act 54 in 2010, only to vote for H.B. 160 two weeks ago:

Lawmakers Who Voted for Act 54 (2010) & H.B. 160 (2013)
Armes Danahay Henry Pearson
Arnold Dixon Hill Pugh
Badon Dove Hoffmann* Ritchie
Billiot Edwards Howard Robideaux
Burford Fannin Hunter Schroder
Burns, H. Foil Lambert Simon
Burrell Geymann Landry, N. Smith
Carmody Gisclair LeBas Talbot
Carter Greene Leger Thibaut
Champagne Guinn Lopinto Thierry
Chaney Harris Lorusso Williams, P.
Connick Hazel Morris, Jim
* Rep. Hoffmann originally sponsored H.B. 1033, which was signed into law as Act 54.

Louisiana has garnered national recognition for “putting students first in its education policies,” and in particular, for the bold steps our state has taken on teacher evaluation. Thus, it is profoundly disappointing that so many lawmakers are vacillating now that Compass is finally up-and-running. H.B. 160 is currently up for consideration by the Senate, where hopefully legislators will show more backbone than their colleagues in the House. Below are four reasons why lawmakers should stay the course with Compass and reject House Bill 160.

1. Claims that teachers will be unfairly terminated as a result of their Compass evaluations are baseless.

Two of the loudest voices in support of H.B. 160 – and in opposition to Compass – come from the state’s largest teachers unions: the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE). LFT and LAE have sought to misleadingly portray Compass as a “terminally flawed” system aimed at placing the blame on teachers for all of the ills in our education system. They have also resorted to fear-mongering, as exemplified by LFT president Steve Monaghan, who inaccurately stated, “We are learning that many of the state’s finest teachers will be labeled ‘ineffective’ because of a flawed rating system which squeezes teachers into predetermined results or outcomes.”

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. A March report to the Senate and House Education Committees on Compass noted that “of the nearly 26,000 teachers observed so far, administrators put only 1 percent in the lowest category, ‘ineffective.'” [N.B.: If anything, the fact that so few teachers have been rated “ineffective” is a reflection of the challenge we face in changing the prevailing culture in our schools, where previously, a teacher’s evaluation consisted of a perfunctory write-up by their principal every three years.]

Furthermore, much of the unions’ misinformation campaign around Compass has focused on its incorporation of value-added measures (VAM) of student performance. LAE president Joyce Haynes maintained that the use of VAM in Compass evaluations “is the kind of thing that would cause a good teacher to look bad and a bad teacher to look good in any one year.” However, since VAM is only used in determining the performance of educators in tested subjects, it does not apply to the vast majority of teachers in the state. Even LFT conceded that, “The Value Added Model will only apply to one-third of all teachers, those who teach courses measured by standardized tests.”

Finally, even in the unlikely event that a teacher is incorrectly rated “ineffective,” state law already requires that districts have a grievance procedure through which educators can appeal their evaluation ratings. The law ensures that:

  • Teachers receive a copy (written or electronic) of their evaluation results within 15 days after the final rating is determined (the evaluator may share this feedback via the Compass Information System or another method of their choosing);
  • Teachers may provide a written response to the evaluation, which will become a permanent part of their personnel file;
  • Teachers may request a meeting with their evaluator after the final evaluation results are determined;
  • If a conflict with their evaluator is not resolved, teachers may file a grievance with the superintendent; and
  • Any evaluation results and related documentation are confidential and not part of the public record.

In short, lawmakers should ignore the Chicken Littles out there screaming that the sky is falling. Education officials are not “making it up as they go along” as some hysterics have claimed and there are safeguards in place to ensure that educators are evaluated fairly and equitably.

2. Delaying the implementation of Compass would, by extension, also delay the important package of reforms set forth in Act 1.

While the Louisiana Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision on the constitutionality of Act 1, the progress of H.B. 160 has complicated efforts to pass the state’s “backup plan” in the event the court strikes down the law – i.e., the three bills that, when taken together, are identical to the components already in Act 1.

These three bills were recently deferred by the House Education Committee because they are all based, in part, on the results of Compass evaluations. Thus, if H.B. 160 becomes law, the policies outlined in the bills could not go into effect until SY 2014-15 – if at all – and, even if the Louisiana Supreme Court allows Act 1 to stand.

By establishing teacher and administrator evaluations, Act 54 laid the foundation for the much broader shift in human capital policies promulgated in Act 1. Passed by the legislature in 2012, Act 1 establishes performance objectives for local superintendents; limits the meddling of local school boards in personnel decisions (and obviates the potential conflicts this entails); and prohibits districts from using seniority as the primary factor in reduction-in-force decisions. In addition, Act 1 sets a much higher bar for teachers to meet in order to receive tenure, which all but guarantees teachers a job for life.

The policies established in Act 1 are essential to the long-term success of our public education system. They move us away from a system in which teachers are treated as interchangeable “widgets,” to one which recognizes and rewards those educators who have a lasting positive impact on children. In sum, the potential downside posed by H.B. 160 are far bigger than many of the bill’s supporters have conceded; it would effectively derail the momentum that Louisiana has made in education over the past decade.

3. The stated benefits to be gained from delaying Compass implementation lack substance.

Admittedly, the roll-out of Compass this past year was not without flaws and substantive issues were raised about some aspects of the Compass model. However, as the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) noted, implementation issues are “expected and something we warned about soon after the legislation passed, but problems are made to be solved and first-year glitches are not evidence that new policies have failed.” Further, the concerns voiced about Compass did not fall on deaf ears. Early on, Supt. White acknowledged certain adjustments needed to be made to Compass and vowed to act on them. In January, White made good on his promise, when BESE passed a series of common-sense revisions to the evaluation process based on his recommendations.

So once we acknowledge the glitches, but recognize that LDOE and BESE have been willing to make adjustments to Compass, we’re still left with an important question: What tangible benefits are to be gained by delaying the full implementation of Compass until SY 2014-15? The answer: very little – a fact that becomes clear when one considers the reasoning of those who support H.B. 160.

For example, a recent editorial by The Advocate urged the legislature to support HB 160 in order to “give BESE and the state Department of Education time to show the evaluations’ relevance, and also time to demonstrate the leadership’s sincerity.” Sincerity? Really? Teachers don’t need to be coddled – they’re adults and professionals. While they certainly deserve our respect, that doesn’t mean important policy initiatives should be sidelined until everyone feels warm and fuzzy about them.

Likewise, Rep. Frank Hoffmann, the legislator who originally sponsored the bill that became Act 54 in 2010, justified his support for H.B. 160 with an equally kumbaya rationale: “Unfortunately some good teachers don’t have such great morale right now. This will help that.” In effect, what Rep. Hoffman is saying is that the feelings of adults should take precedence over the educational welfare of children, which is a big step backward from the “putting children first” policies that have set Louisiana apart.

One crucial point that has rarely been mentioned in the debate over H.B. 160 is that Act 54 states that educators must receive a rating of “ineffective” for two years in a row before they face dismissal. Therefore, if H.B. 160 becomes law, it is not inconceivable that a teacher could be rated as “ineffective” for three consecutive years before a principal could take the steps necessary to remove them from the classroom…which leads us to number four…

4. A child cannot get back the time s/he spends in the classroom of an ineffective teacher.

There is a large body of research that demonstrates that teacher quality has a huge impact on a student’s future success. This is especially true for low-income students who are already well behind their more affluent peers when they enter school (a fact that is especially pertinent in a state with one of the highest child poverty rates in the country).  Every year that a child spends in the classroom of an ineffective teacher diminishes the chance they will graduate from high school, to say nothing of college. Given the high stakes involved for our kids, we have a moral obligation to take every step we can to provide them with a high-quality education and that process must begin by ensuring that every child has an effective teacher.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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I’m working on the exact numbers now, but how many teachers would it be “too many” impacted for you to change your mind about implementing COMPASS with a corrupt VAM and cause them to lose their job, their tenure, their reputations, etc? When VAM says one thing and an in-person evaluation says something else, the VAM score must be used – which means VAM (which is crap) is really the only measure being used to evaluate 1/3rd of teachers. That’s ok with you?


VAM is vastly corrupt and has been tinkered with purely for political reasons. I have the internal emails that disclose this as well as the Seabaugh tape.

The COMPASS program is run by the same people with the same suspect motivations that made the enormously flawed VAM decisions.

The creators of the COMPASS system did not incorporate most of the evaluative measures the inventor of the system recommended, and she even expressed the opinion that Louisiana’s version was a pale and unsuitable version of hers, and she did not endorse our version or the changes that were made, by a 27 year old with 2 years of teaching experience who is currently not certified to teach in Louisiana.

Noel Hammatt (@edtraveler)

A major part of what’s missing from this discussion is the reality of an ineffective rating. (I note that CABL did mention some problems AFTER THE BILLS WERE PASSED IN A BLITZKRIEG, but the fact is, every problem and constitutional issue was raised, and ignored in a race to get these measures approved.) A teacher can be rated ineffective in a number of ways. While we keep hearing about how the rating consists of VAM (or SLTs) and the observation, but if EITHER of these is ineffective, then the teacher’s overall rating is ineffective. A tenured teacher with years of experience in now without tenure. OK, now what happens. CABL and COOK say that it takes two years of ineffective ratings in a row to dismiss a teacher, BUT, we know that is not true. Once Tenure is gone, a teacher can be dismissed FOR ANY REASON by the Principal, and the only “due process” is a chance for a hearing before three people. One designated by the Principal (You know, the one that just fired you.) another designated by the Superintendent (You know, the one that went along with the Principal.) and the teacher gets to pick another teacher (Who is subject to evaluation by the same Principal.). Now, does this sound like the teacher is going to get a fair hearing? As for VAM, George Noelle said that you should have three years of data in order to make a decision on a teacher. The data on year to year stability of scores suggests that a teacher teaching exactly the same way could have scores that vary by over 40 percentile points. Pretty unstable! The fact is, VAM is based on junk science. And the “reformers” know it. It makes about as much sense as the state’s accountability system for schools and school districts, which, more than anything else, is a measure of measure of poverty in the school. It’s time to challenge the cliche’s of the “reformers” and actually base decisions on data and research, not ideology and cliche’s about adults and students.


A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?



On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.

Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.

Some background on H.B. 568

The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.

Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).

Read more about how researchers use student data:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.

So what’s with the veto?

Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:

“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”

The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.

Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.

Read House Bill 568:

Read the Governor’s Veto Message:

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All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers



For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.


Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Unapologetic Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • DMs are open - please hit me up!
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