Back on September 11, 2013, the Advocate printed a letter (“COMPASS: Pointing the Way”) from BESE Board Member Holly Boffy, former Louisiana Teacher of the Year and present cheerleader for anything from John White/Bobby Jindal in terms of education reform. Trying to escape the coincidence that she wrote the letter on the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, I wrote a response to her letter . I never realized that I had not included it on my blog, so here it is.
The state needs more conscientious leaders willing to question whether COMPASS and Common Core–I call it the Triple C–will really lead to better teaching and higher-scoring students. Such leaders are sorely lacking in the present BESE Board, the vast majority of which accepts the Triple C without ever questioning anything.
Some background is required. I must disclose that I have never been a fan of Ms. Boffy. Anyone who could sing the praises of Louisiana Education Superintendent John White after only one meeting makes me question her skills for analysis and evaluation. While it is certainly possible to be impressed with someone’s speaking ability, I prefer to judge people on their actions more than their words, and based on his actions, John White has been an unqualified disaster at his post. I have already written extensively on Mr. White’s paltry resumé and how the BESE Board chose him only after an election where tons of money from Jindal supporters flooded out the remaining BESE Board members who refused to vote for White as superintendent. It indeed was a Katrina-worthy wave that has done damage to the whole state, not just one region.
Here is the link to her letter. (http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6966017-123/letter-compass-pointing-the-way). Here is my response.
Teachers and school leaders across Louisiana have much to be dismayed about today. With the release of the Compass scores, it is clear Louisiana is saddled with an overwhelming albatross. This evaluation system dishonors the complexity of teaching by demanding educators teach in only one way: group learning. Few students will face this Utopian world once they reach college, and this method of imparting knowledge has great potential to set these future learners up for failure.
Compass relies on quasi-science and a three-page-long, inexplicable formula to arrive at the Value-Added Measurement, something no professional from the Louisiana Department of Education has been able to explain. It requires student behaviors of self-policing and self-motivation that only exist in an ideal world completely divorced from reality.
I agree with Ms. Boffy that “Teachers have the power to support a child in learning and lay the foundation for a successful life.” My fundamental disagreement is that Compass does not in any way promote a teacher’s ability to do that. For years, we educators have been differentiating our teaching styles to address the myriad learners we face, and yet Compass rates us only on group learning. What expert ruled this the only effective way to teach?
I also agree with Ms. Boffy that no tool is perfect, but Compass is riddled with so many flaws. That fact that the State Education Superintendent John White invalidated the scores of some teachers speaks volumes to the erratic nature of Compass. If any teacher scores a “1” in any of the five categories, that teacher is ruled ineffective on that half of the teacher evaluation. All other high scores are wiped out by that single digit. I personally know teachers where 75% of their students scored mastery on the End of Course Tests, and yet are rated ineffective because they don’t indulge the harmful fallacy that the bells and whistles of group learning are always more important than good, old-fashioned teaching.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is simply approving in lock-step everything John White and the LDOE creates to enforce this uniformity system upon its educators. It’s ineffective, harmful, and is resulting in larger numbers of excellent teachers vacating a system that continues to decline.
In closing, I quote John White. He stated in his Advocate article that “we have stopped treating teachers like one-size-fits-all widget.” No sir, you have reinforced that idea. By forcing every teacher to pantomime one approach to earn an effective rating, you have indeed transformed us into group-learning lemmings. No amount of white-washing or sycophantic letters will erase the stark reality that people with little classroom experience are mutilating this noble profession of teaching.
Vincent P. Barras