My Response to Sycophantic Letter by BESE Board Member

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

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “My Response to Sycophantic Letter by BESE Board Member

  1. Jeff McClure

    I have been teaching high school social studies since 1992 (except for a 6-year hiatus when I was mobilized in the Army for our current war). I was a state finalist for Teacher of the Year in 2001. When we were introduced to COMPASS in the fall of 2012 (I taught in a rural district in Central Louisiana), I told my principal that he’d better figure on giving me a rating of “0” on some of the areas because I have never taught that way (group work and activities) and I wasn’t going to do it because I have never seen any evidence that those methods work. He tried to tell me that I really needed to reconsider. I explained to him that I was a very experienced teacher, I knew what worked, and I wasn’t going to change my style. Actually, I said something like “Look, Jeffery, I am a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, I have 20 years of experience in education, and I’m not going to change my teaching – those methods don’t work.”

    I left the classroom at midterm last year and retired. There were some other factors, but basically I was not going to change to group work, I was not going to be dictated to by people who don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to education, and I was tired of dealing with students who can’t read, don’t care, and won’t try. My first superintendent was Keith Guice, one of the BESE members that Jindal paid to get off the board. He knows education, and really gave me a great start. We need to get rid of John White and his ilk on the BESE board and get educators like Keith back in charge of education so that we can get back to what works

    I really appreciate your blog. Keep up the great work!

    • Dear Jeff,
      With exams hitting me this busy time of year, I apologize for not responding sooner. Thank you for your kind words, and I am sorry that your friend Keith Guice was essentially shunted off the BESE board by Jindal-financed friends. I presently had an epiphany similar to yours a few days ago, and I’m no longer adjusting my teaching of 22 years to fit this idiotic, inept mold designed by people with a fraction of the classroom experience I possess. I hope you are enjoying life to the fullest and perhaps one day, we’ll meet, have dinner and regale our stories of triumphs and tragedies in public school teaching.
      Sincerely,
      Vincent P.

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