by Michael Deshotels
Destroying the teaching profession? That's a pretty sensational pronouncement. My background as a science teacher requires me to provide evidence when I make such a dramatic claim. Lets look at the evidence:
- Starting with Act 54 of 2010, our State, in an effort to win Race to the Top grants from the US Department of Education, decided to tie half of our teacher evaluations to student performance using a system called the Value Added Model. In the process of adopting regulations for VAM, our new State Superintendent unilaterally (in contradiction to the law) decided to count the VAM for 100% of a teacher's evaluation in cases where a teacher scored in the bottom 10% of the VAM ranking of teachers. Why do I consider this as part of the destruction of the teaching profession? As the LDOE was in the process of finalizing the VAM system, it was never revealed to the general public that the initial testing of the VAM demonstrated that the stability or reliability of the VAM system was totally erratic and unreliable. Data showed that up to 74% of the teachers rated as ineffective by VAM could have been incorrectly graded. Around that same time the original author of Act 54, Representative Frank Hoffman who is an experienced educator declined to endorse the VAM plan. He was immediately removed from his position on the House Education Committee by Jindal lieutenants. The new VAM system was implemented anyway in the 2012-13 school year with chaotic results. John White changed the rules several times in the middle of the process and even approved exceptions for one group of teachers based on political pressure from a Jindal lieutenant to go easy on teachers in one of his favored schools. On the other hand, some teachers who had reputations as excellent teachers were crushed by the new inaccurate system.
- The next huge blow to the teaching profession came in 2012 with the ramming through of Act 1 by the Jindal administration. This was the new law that was intended by Jindal and White to make every employment decision in our K-12 schools dependent in some way on student performance. It is now well known by educational researchers that the classroom teacher has no more than a 20% influence on the academic performance of students. Socioeconomic factors are much more dominant in determining student outcomes, yet Jindal sought to make 100% of a teacher's future totally dependent on student outcomes. (That is of course except for some teachers who were specifically exempted mainly because they were favored by a Jindal ally) Act 1 was introduced at the very beginning of the 2012 legislative session with instructions to Jindal lieutenants to move the legislation through before teachers and their unions could react effectively. Even so, with minimal notice, thousands of teachers showed up at the capitol to oppose Jindal's draconian legislation. At first they were locked out of the capitol while representatives of business and industry and a fake professional organization were let into the committee room to take all the seats. When teachers were finally let in to testify, one of the Jindalistas demanded to know from each teacher before they testified about what type of leave they were taking to visit the capitol. That set the tenor for the entire debate, and the conclusion was well known even before the debate began. In addition to the atrocities of Act 1, Act 2 adopted in the same session dropped the requirement that teachers in charter schools have education degrees. Also our non-educator Superintendent, John White announced that advanced teacher degrees made no difference in effectiveness and that the state would stop funding the National Board Certified Teachers. Step increases which for years had encouraged long careers in education began to be systematically phased out by Act I at the same time that seniority rights were dissolved and merit pay based on the erratic VAM was added.
- It turned out that Act 1 was so hastily drawn up that it violated the State Constitution and it also violated the basic principles of due process. Courts have now struck down almost all parts of the new law. Kudos to the much maligned teacher unions (LAE and LFT) for fighting hard and winning legal battles for the teaching profession.
- At the same time that teachers were expected to accept their loss of seniority rights, loss of step increases, loss of pay for advanced degrees, loss of support of NBCT, and accept the atrocities of the erratic VAM system, they were also subjected to a new untested COMPASS evaluation system. This new evaluation amounted to little more than a dog and pony show. Administrators were expected to penalize teachers if they could not demonstrate that their students showed initiative and self direction. What about teachers who happened to be assigned students who had very little motivation and self direction? Competent administrators were just as frustrated as experienced teachers by this artificial “play acting” while the new evaluation contained no real measurement for the kinds of reliability and creativity that are so important in the long run for effective teaching.
- Another way to destroy teaching as a profession is to humiliate and embarrass teachers at every opportunity and blame them for the ills of society. That is what has been done with the way the accountability system has been implemented in Louisiana. Originally (15 years ago) school accountability was supposed to be equally applied to schools, teachers, parents and students. Now our education bosses have dropped all pretense of requiring accountability of parents and students. The relentless attempt to shame and blame teachers and schools for factors over which they have no control is resulting in a corruption of the entire accountability system. Read this Crazy Crawfish blog to see how teachers in EBR are being systematically humiliated in an effort to pass and graduate all students without regard to actual academic achievement. Classroom discipline laws are violated every day in a blind effort to baby all students into staying in school. But its not just happening in EBR. The New Orleans Recovery District has been coercing teachers to give passing grades to students who have done nothing in class but disrupt the education of other students. These are examples of Campbell's law which is a well know principle that explains how pressures applied to educators to meet unrealistic goals are corrupting and compromising the intended accountability. That's why some administrators are systematically violating state discipline law and the toothless joke that is called the “teacher bill of rights” initially sponsored but never enforced by Jindal. Look at what happened to the Baker teacher who tried to enforce school rules. How can anyone continue teaching under these conditions?
- The final insult to teachers is that they are now being asked to implement a new set of standards for their students that are in many cases age inappropriate, that do not allow for individual differences in students and that have been rushed without field testing of any kind. Only in the field of education are reformers who are not professional educators willing to implement major changes without field testing. The ultimate insult to the teaching profession is that such standards were developed by non-K-12 teachers who will never have to demonstrate any competence as teachers. The director of the Common Core writing committee (David Coleman) is a person that was denied a job as a K-12 teacher because he had no teaching credentials.
- It is a demonstration of the lack of respect for the teaching profession in Louisiana that the last two State Superintendents of education in our state have no credentials as educators. John White could not be hired as an assistant principal in most Louisiana schools yet he has been given supreme authority over all teachers and administrators in this state. Our national Secretary of Education is also a non-educator. Is this how our country professionalizes teaching?
So now when an analysis by Lafayette Association of Educators president Rodolfo Espinoza demonstrates (see also the post on Diane Ravitch's blog) that there has been a huge increase in the number of teacher resignations in Lafayette Parish, the State Superintendent calmly assures us that there is no real problem in the teaching profession. Who needs real teachers anyway? All we need are test teachers. Click here to enjoy my favorite test teaor cher song.
Michael Deshotels is the author of the Louisiana Educator blog. He is a retired Louisiana educator who taught science at the secondary level. Mr. Deshotels also served in various positions with the Louisiana Association of Educators culminating in the position of Executive Director prior to his retirement Article reprinted by permission.