It’s been a tough couple weeks for our friends at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). On October 15th, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Act 1 is constitutional, overturning a lower court’s finding that the law violates the “single object requirement” of the Louisiana Constitution that prohibits the legislature from passing bills with more than one aim or purpose. LFT filed the lawsuit challenging Act 1, which prohibits districts from using seniority as the primary factor in reduction-in-force decisions and sets a much higher bar for teachers to receive tenure.
Then this past week, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released the 2013-14 results from Compass, the state’s teacher and school leader evaluation system [see presentation below]. For years, LFT has issued dire warnings about the evaluations, with LFT President Steve Monaghan even claiming, “many of the state’s finest teachers will be labeled ‘ineffective’ because of a flawed rating system.” Yet for the second year in a row, those ominous predictions have proven false. LDOE’s report revealed that 92% of Louisiana’s teachers were rated proficient or highly effective on their evaluations, up from 89% a year ago. In New Orleans, 79% of teachers were rated proficient or highly effective, with only 7% rated ineffective.
Of course, LFT’s lawsuit against Act 1, their boy-who-cried-wolf routine about Compass, as well as their efforts to undermine Common Core are just different means to the same end: weakening the state’s common-sense accountability policies for educators, schools, and districts. Thankfully, the union’s efforts – both in the legislature and the courts – have all ended in failure. Particularly in regard to Compass, the results from the past two years make clear that LFT’s hysterical claims were not only unwarranted, but irresponsible for an organization that calls itself, “A Union of Professionals.”
On the other hand, this past week’s Compass ratings indicate we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that evaluations are rigorous and reflect a common vision for performance. LDOE made the wise decision to suspend the use of value-added measures (VAM) in Compass until the 2015-16 school year while educators adjust to the Common Core State Standards. As a result, this year’s evaluations were based on observations and teacher-created student learning targets, or SLTs. As Jessica Williams noted in the Times-Picayune, the use of the more subjective SLTs likely resulted in the increase in the number of teachers who were rated proficient or higher this year, which reinforces why an objective component like VAM is needed in the model.
In addition, this year’s results again revealed significant variation in average Compass scores both within districts and across schools with similar student populations – differences which in some cases strain the bounds of credulity. I’ve highlighted a few of these results from New Orleans schools below. For example, the Compass results from McDonogh #35 College Preparatory indicate that nearly all of the school’s teachers were rated proficient or highly effective, when only 43% of students scored Basic or better on state tests. Or, to take another example, is really it possible that every teacher at Joseph A. Craig is effective when only a third of their students passed the LEAP and iLEAP exams? Call me cynical, but I find these results hard to believe.
Actually, it makes total sense. For decades, pro forma evaluations were the rule, and as a result, approximately 99% of teachers received a satisfactory rating whether they were effective or not. Compass demands a significant increase in the rigor of evaluations, as well as a shift in the mindsets of school leaders and educators. We’re in the midst of a transition from a culture where evaluations were basically an afterthought, to one in which they are central to both teachers’ professional development and district-wide personnel decisions. This is going to take time. Rep. Hoffman, who was once an Assistant Superintendent in the Ouachita Parish School System, should know from experience that changing school culture doesn’t happen overnight.
From this perspective, the variation we’ve seen in results is predictable and doesn’t mean that Compass needs a major overhaul. Rep. Hoffman’s recent suggestion that principals need more flexibility in determining final evaluation ratings would be a big step backwards. If anything, principals need more support and guidance in ensuring they’re implementing Compass with fidelity. During this two-year accountability “time-out,” LDOE should work with districts and school leaders on improving Compass quality control. The benefits of Act 1 will never be realized without a strong educator evaluation system like Compass to inform decisions around tenure, promotions, layoffs, etc. – that’s why teachers unions and other reform critics have always opposed it.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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 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.
Louisiana is ready for a new direction. https://t.co/eDLPMl5tEC
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) April 12, 2017
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.
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…
- Although he called out sick on February 23rd, he noted in a blog post that he actually went to Baton Rouge to attend the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council;
- He took sick leave on March 29th, but again mentioned on his blog that he was in Baton Rouge at a BESE meeting;
- The same goes for May 18th (he also missed May 17th), when he was “sick” in Baton Rouge to introduce House Bill 536 with State Rep. Vincent Pierre, as he wrote in a blog post ironically titled, “HB-536: Who really puts children first?”
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.
— LAE (@LAEducators) November 16, 2016
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.
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) November 17, 2016
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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