Forget Evidence: White, BESE, and Corporate Reform Ideology
Last week, the NCTQ report of teacher training programs was published in US News and World Report. Mind you, NCTQ doesn’t bother with anything so real as mandatory site visits to the programs it rates, which can make for a really embarrassing moment when a site that receives high marks doesn’t exist except on paper.
I have been thinking about Kate Walsh and NCTQ, about how it is that they continue to push their poorly investigated judgments of teacher training program “quality” onto an unassuming public. My musings have led me to the following conclusion:
NCTQ adheres to ideology, not to evidence.
To ideologues, evidence only matters if it supports one’s position. The quality of the evidence doesn’t matter. Shallow, pseudo-studies will do. Outright lies and deception do not matter, either, so long as they lead to the goal of promoting the ideology.
If the evidence contradicts the ideology, then the evidence must be suppressed, or distorted, or denied, or reworked. The ideology cannot be wrong. Period.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I read today’s bulletin from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) regarding the outcomes of last week’s BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) monthly meeting. It occurs to me that the nonsense I am seeing (and have been witnessing and writing about for five months now on this blog) is little more than a continued cramming of ideology down the public throat.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that the corporate reformer ideology is very much profit-driven. Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on your can.
If there were no six-figure salaries to accompany their ideological push, the likes of John White would be out of the door.
Allow me to rephrase the above statement: If he were paid a teacher’s salary, John White would be out of the door.
The LFT report on the June 2013 BESE meeting is replete with examples of John White and BESE’s ignoring evidence and pushing corporate reform ideology. Of course, none of this is really “for the children”; ideologues must have the veneer of language to make it seem like what they have predetermined to be Indisputably Right is not self-centered and self-serving.
The first issue in the LFT report is the so-called Course Choice program. In keeping with the corporate reform ideology to completely destroy the public school system in favor of handing unregulated public school funds over to privatizers, White and Jindal originally planned to use Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funds, those designated for public schools, to fund both vouchers and Course Choice. In essence, they wanted to bankrupt public schools by sending student funding to private schools and private vendors.
In the case of Course Choice, the severely unregulated nature of the program does not even ensure that students would actually attend the courses. Vendors were “on their honor” to report that students actually attended. No auditing by White or BESE. Just “we take your word for it, Vendor Who Is in This for a Profit.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court nixed the use of MFP funds for either vouchers or Course Choice, so White had to go searching elsewhere for at least a couple of million in order to “pilot” the program. BESE said, “Sure, we’ll give you a couple of million from the 8(g) offshore settlement fund. As LFT reports:
BESE’s vote takes $1 million from program funding prekindergarten programs and other instructional strategies in English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and technology.
Another $1 million was stripped from an 8(g) grant program for local school districts.
Here is where ideology insists upon what it wants despite evidence: Course Choice programs have already been given access to inBloom data, including security numbers, for students “enrolled.” As for enrollment, that has been a free-for-all, with some companies enrolling students without parental knowledge, enrolling high school students in elementary courses, and promising electronics as enrollment perks.
The corporate reform ideology protects an unregulated “education” market. Anything to bankrupt the public schools. Forget the children. Sure, we’re taking their money, but they’ll be fine.
John White refers to the scaled-down Course Choice as a “pilot” program, yet his “pilot” comes only after he was told he could not spend MFP on Course Choice. Plus, White does not do pilot studies. When pilot study information is made available (i.e., the 2011 VAM pilot study), he ignores the findings. He forces full-scale-yet-un-or-under-investigated programs onto teachers, students, and parents.
White’s definition of “pilot” is not the same as anyone who really wants to judge the merits of a program by investigating prior to implementation in order to make necessary adjustments for the sake of stakeholder well-being. “Pilot” to John White means “I couldn’t spend unlimited public school money on my non-public-school programs. As a result, they’re smaller then I wanted them to be, so I’ll just fake like I’m being careful ‘for the children.’ ”
Corporate reform ideologues do not adjust for the sake of stakeholders unless they are forced.
In ignoring the “dismal failure” of vouchers this year, White continues to proclaim the Louisiana voucher program as a “success.” The 2008 voucher pilot program, like the results in subsequent years, should be an embarrassment to Jindal and White. Consider excerpts from this marvelous 2012 article examining the Louisiana voucher flop:
The state Department of Education is either cooking the books or simply incompetent in establishing the success of the voucher program Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to expand. Because the numbers just don’t add up. …
DOE maintains that the percentages of students scoring at grade level or above are correct in the report, but the dismal figures clearly show that voucher schools have not proven more successful than their failing public school counterparts in New Orleans. And as The Times-Picayune points out, even if the test scores were significantly better than public schools, the state has failed to track the students and raw data in a way that can effectively measure the program.
“The best data the state has made available tracks an initial group of third-grade students who began in the voucher program when it started in 2008,” The Times-Picayune’s Andrew Vanacore writes in that Feb. 4 report. “Although it makes no comparison with students in public schools, it at least shows growth over time among a consistent group of students. But this comparison tracks only 38 students, leaving considerable uncertainty.”
The state department has since retracted that number, replacing the 38 students with an equally unimpressive cohort of 50 voucher students whose progress has been tracked over the duration of the program. Of the 104 students who started in 2008, 70 remain in the program today, leaving 20 students unaccounted for. [LDOE spokesperson Rene] Greer confirms that the department has omitted from the cohort the test scores of students who weren’t promoted to the next grade (in all likelihood some of the lowest scores in the batch). …
But no matter how you “parse” the rest of the numbers in that DOE report, only one conclusion can be drawn: The state has failed to adequately monitor the 1,800 students who attend private school on the public’s dime. If the only accountability measure we have after three years of data isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, are taxpayers ready to jump on board with 400,000 more kids? Then again, as DOE has repeatedly implied, it all depends on how you look at it. [Emphasis added.]
As is true of the state-run RSD, Louisiana vouchers have never succeeded in producing those reformer-lauded “stellar test scores.” And the 2013 test results highlighted the sham, with voucher students scoring 30 points below average on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) tests.
In predictable reformer fashion, John White blames the “failing” public schools that the voucher students no longer attended:
White said the 2013 scores for voucher students were low because of the large influx of students from failing schools.
Corporate reform ideologues never “fail.” They simply scapegoat their responsibility.
LFT President Steve Monoghan does not allow White to paint a fair picture of vouchers in the June BESE meeting:
“You should either expand the program with legitimacy, or you should reel it in because it did not produce the legitimacy of results that you were looking for,” he said.
The LFT president said that expansion of the voucher program is based on political ideology, and not on actual results of the voucher program. [Emphasis added.]
Indeed, Steve Monoghan.
Another issue at the BESE meeting concerns stakeholder presence on a commission for MFP policy and accountability. BESE President Chas Roemer tried his best to exclude LFT, LAE (Louisiana Association of Educators), and the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) from seats on this commission. He was willing, however, to include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
Corporate reform ideologues promote dual systems: Privilege and lack of regulation for privatizers, and restriction, exclusion, and sanctions for entities representing the public sector.
After being pressed, Roemer allowed a BESE vote on stakeholder presence on the commission.
Corporate reform ideologues do not like stakeholder representation in decision making unless it is token, inept representation. Sometimes, though, they must yield when forced.
A fourth issue raised in the June BESE meeting regards the nebulous, shifting nature of COMPASS. White announced “changes” but no details. Apparently he is displeased that the COMPASS results will not allow for firing enough teachers.
(White has to find some way to put more TFAers in Louisiana’s classrooms. BESE voted to give ’em another million aside from the district cost of $3000 per temp TFAer hired in LA.)
Corporate reform ideologues do not like to commit to details. If the outcomes of their “programs” are not what they would have, they prefer to alter the already-unclear details in order to achieve outcomes that support the ideology.
Corporate reform ideology places heavy and undisputed responsibility for public education squarely on public school teachers. They believe the public school teacher pool needs constant and obvious purging.
To those who really are concerned about public education, corporate reform is idiocy:
During the discussion, BESE Member Lottie Beebe criticized White’s administration for rushing the evaluation program into place too quickly. Teachers will not receive their evaluation information until later this summer, and will have to attend meetings with principals during the break.
“You knew this was not ready,” she told White. “Teachers are coming back this summer uncompensated” for their time.
The VAM results are to be released to districts this evening (06/24). By the time these scores filter down to teachers, we could easily be into the next school year. The original deadline for districts to communicate VAM results to teachers was July 15. The deadline has been extended to July 29, but according to BESE member Lottie Beebe, “It won’t happen. If I have to tell a teacher that they were rated ineffective, I can’t do that in five minutes. That teacher is going to be in shock.”
Beebe adds, “Districts were not clear on how to set targets. This is going to lead to lawsuits.”
Corporate reform ideologues do not mind lawsuits. They have lots of well-positioned allies and financial resources. Conversely, litigation forces public school proponents to exhaust their limited resources and enables reformers to continue promoting their “disruptive reforms” in the meantime.
Speaking of potential lawsuits, let’s return to the data-sharing issue of inBloom. In April, John White said he canceled LDOE’s “partnership” with inBloom. However, inBloom contradicted White and tweeted that the “partnership” continues. And it still continues. Read between the lines of this LFT excerpt about the June BESE meeting:
Parents have expressed concerns about how their children’s personal information could be used.
Superintendent of Education John White tried to assuage parental concerns by saying that he terminated the contract with inBloom.
However, a former DOE employee testified that the inBloom contract is valid and that data can be shared with it until the state sends a certified letter severing the agreement.
White agreed to send a certified letter to inBloom. BESE voted to establish a task force to look at concerns about how student data is stored and used. [Emphasis added.]
Okay. In April, White reported that he “is withdrawing Louisiana student information” from inBloom. Almost immediately, inBloom disagrees via Twitter. John White never produces a document proving that he “withdrew” from inBloom. He just says he did, and he is a proven liar. Come the June BESE meeting, and former LDOE employee says that a certified letter is required “for withdrawal.” White has sent no certified letter. He “agrees” to do so.
I’ll believe it when inBloom tweets it.
Corporate reform ideologues will lie in order to advance their agendas. It buys them time.
Corporate reform is an ideology. Evidence is unnecessary to reformers who have decided what the problem is (traditional public education and the community public school), who the problem is (the traditional public school teacher), what the solution is (privatization at any cost and regardless of evidence to the contrary) and who the solution is (hedge-fund- and foundation-funded “talented” individuals from outside of education to serve as top-down dictators of What is Good for You People). There you have it. It’s settled.
But noooo. You public school people just won’t let corporate reform ideologues kick you aside. You keep fighting. You keep attending meetings, and emailing, and phoning, and protesting, and blogging, and interviewing, and tweeting, and speaking….
Keep going, faithful friends of traditional public education. Keep going.