Tag Archives: COMPASS

A Veteran Educator Supports Mike Kreamer Complètement.

I am aware that many veteran educators in Louisiana have been alarmed at what has transpired in Louisiana for the last four years. It prompted me to start an education blog and become a guest editorial writer for the Advertiser to try to advocate a different voice than the money-soaked, education-reformist agenda that has taken over the state.

Oh, I believe it important to disclose: the LDOE has not paid me a dime. I am beholden only to my students and to the nobility of this profession. C’est aussi simple que ça.

Well, all veterans of a certain age can now relax because Lauren Trahan, a teacher with eight years experience has shown the way for all Louisiana educators. What would we do without those teacher-leaders whom the Louisiana Department of Education has paid as valuable cheerleaders for the education reform system we now have?

According to Ms. Trahan and her extra-sensory insight, we could have no better candidate than Dr. Holly Boffy, who has apparently earned a doctorate from Walden University, an online degree university.

Well, I am in my twenty-fifth year of teaching… does this mean my opinion carries three times the weight of Ms. Trahan’s?

I thought I might peruse a few of those pearls of wisdom from this teacher of vast proficiency.

“Boffy has been a champion of recognizing and rewarding highly effective teachers….”

Last year, I averaged a 3.75 out of 4.0 on the COMPASS system, so I am ranked highly effective. My reward for that ranking was $60, split over twelve monthly checks. (The next level below that gets a whopping $20 annual bonus!)

That’s right. My highly-effective merit pay is $5 a month. Thanks, Mrs. Boffy for promoting a system of “merit pay” that makes me laugh all the way to the bank.

“Since Holly took office, Louisiana has set records in the number of high school graduates….”

Zut alors! But of course! John White has lowered the passing bar on EOC tests to the equivalency of a pulse. Our students are passing EOC tests and graduating in greater numbers because merely showing up is tantamount to graduating. Thanks John White, and oh, thanks Mrs. Boffy for allowing him to set such “rigorous” thresholds for our kids to meet. How else will they be college-ready? How else will they compete globally?

“Our ACT score growth is tops in the nation among all states that require full participation.”

Sacrebleu! Those pesky numbers, score growth indeed! Of the thirteen states that require 100% participation, Louisiana ranked tenth. Only Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina ranked lower in average.

To make things worse, when John White and his band of hapless brothers took over in 2011, the average ACT score for Louisiana was 20.2. In 2012 it rose to 20.4. dropped the following year to 19.4, and dropped further to 19.2. Last year it inched back up to 19.4.

Mon Dieu! Thanks John White and Mrs. Boffy. Where would we be without your valiant efforts?

“To not continue on this path of success would be … a great disservice to our kids.”

Pardonnez-moi while I choke on that one.

The greatest disservice done for our kids was to entrust them to a Department of Education staffed by education reformists, many of whom could not last more than three years in a classroom. Their experience is mostly altruistic, with very little connection to reality. After all, isn’t our state Department of Education site charmingly named  “Louisiana Believes”?

This Department has so disastrously implemented the reform package called Common Core, it gives the word “inept” new meaning. This DOE has repeatedly blocked information—so much for transparency—to the point where lawsuits appear to be the only language the DOE understands. Without these lawsuits, the public would never know the appallingly low results students can make and still be considered a success.

That is not, in Ms. Trahan’s words, a “path to success.” That’s abusive misconduct.

Blague à part, this is the opinion of a veteran in his silver anniversary year of both private and public school experience: BESE would be lucky to have Mike Kreamer guiding the educational policies of Louisiana. He possesses more than three decades educational experience in the public school system at all levels. He comes from a family steeped in the education profession: his father Dr. Larry Kreamer was a professor in UL’s College of Education (back then USL) and his mother Dr. Jean Kreamer was the Director of Media Services also at UL. He asks tough questions and won’t simply abdicate his responsibilities to the Department of Education and their minions. Like many veteran educators, he recognizes a train wreck when he sees it, and he won’t simply say “keep the course” on Louisiana’s Titanic (John White’s helm at BESE.)

Oh, I believe it important to disclose: the LDOE has not paid me a dime. I am beholden only to my students and to the nobility of this profession. C’est aussi simple que ça.


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Using Students’ Scores to Evaluate Teachers Is Insane and Reckless

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

Mercedes Schneider’s recent post on her standardized tests from her elementary days got me thinking about this recent craze—there really is no other word for it—to evaluate teachers using students’ test scores. How stupid has this country become?

If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

I can still recall the results from my fourth grade standardized test: an impressive 7.2 grade level. Did this mean I was ready for the 7th grade—precocious, wasn’t I?—but a teacher explained that it did not mean I was ready for 7th grade material. What that number meant was an average 7th grader taking this test would have made roughly the same score that I did. I must admit, it still made me feel good.

I do remember, however, that as good as that score was, it was never used to evaluate the incomparable Mrs. Pratt, a wonderful lady who inspired me to follow in her footsteps. In the 1970s, that would have been inconceivable to misuse the scores in that fashion. The test measured MY skills, and while I’m certainly not minimizing Mrs. Pratt’s incredible teaching, those scores were only partially inspired by her. I had two loving parents who insisted that I do homework, take time to share it with them, and study for tests. I had a middle-class upbringing, and though a skinny, awkward kid, I was fed well and never wanted for anything, certainly not French Fries, my favorite food then.

My point is this: Mrs. Pratt was ONE piece of a complicated puzzle. It would be insane and reckless to try to assign the entirety of that test score to her.

But that is PRECISELY what we do today. Not only is it shameful, it’s abusive to these people in this noble profession.

The latest reformer fad is to label teachers with a number, and part of that number MUST come from student scores. If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

We don’t judge dentists based on their patients’ cavities, do we? We don’t evaluate doctors on their patients’ poor food choices, do we? We don’t gauge lawyers based on their clients’s actions, do we? Then why is it okay to threaten teachers based on the performance of their students?

How can we evaluate teachers? That difficult question can’t be tackled easily. Before Superintendent John White arrived, Louisiana’s evaluation system rated 96% of teachers as satisfactory and only 4% as unsatisfactory. That did not sit well with many reformers who claimed unjustly that Louisiana’s state rankings (48th or 49th usually) must mean that bad teachers are producing this situation, so we must weed them out. Reformers then spent millions creating a new, four-level, evaluation system to better identify those bad apples.

Where has that hard work produced? Last year, 4% of teachers were ranked ineffective, same as four years ago.

What a grand waste of our time and money.

We are nowhere any closer to identifying what makes a good teacher. That indescribable quality in good teachers is as elusive as a moonbeam or a ray of sunshine.

When I saw Mrs. Pratt some time ago, I told her how wonderful it was to be a teacher. Today, I don’t know if she or I would dare enter such an abusive relationship, where we would be scapegoated for a host of issues over which we have little control.

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My Christmas Gifts Were the Words of My Students

A Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you all!

I have made a decision to write my legislators in Louisiana about the inadequacies of the Louisiana COMPASS teacher evaluation system. I have scored 1.8 and 2.0 on a 4.0 scale every time I do a fall evaluation, and I firmly reject the notion that these numbers reflect my qualities as a teacher. I requested students to write to me with either positive or negative impressions I left with them during my twenty-three years of teaching. The responses have been, to say the least, heart-warming and humbling, especially during this precious time of Advent. A few responses are below.

As this time of Advent draws to a close, I am re-invigorated with a spirit of hope. I have one of the best vocations in the world and have imparted knowledge about life and learning to over 3,000 souls. It doesn’t get any better than this. Merry Christmas!

From the Students…

You were definitely a great teacher! … You taught algebra really well and when I didn’t understand something you were able to explain it just right so that I was able to comprehend it. The jokes you made in class actually made algebra bearable and fun to go to!

David Mas, LHS Class of 2012

You made World History and Western Civ come alive for me. Your teaching and testing methods are what helped me through college and helped prepare me to “look it up” and discover on my own instead of spoon feeding me the info… I am so sad that my children won’t get to experience your show.

Ashlee Comeaux Gary, CHS Class of 2001

I had to take a test with an educational diagnostician. She also went through some of my school work and test papers. It was because of your tests that she was able to pinpoint where I struggled. Because you asked such a variety of questions using various methods, she was able to see where I was struggling. That was a turning point in my academic career. I went from As, Bs, and Cs to mostly A’s. Changed my life completely.

Mary Carolyn Haik Duffy, CHS Class of 2004

You are an amazing teacher. You really try to teach your students any way that you think that they would remember… You are one of the very few teachers that I have found that really does care about his students and values knowledge above all things… I am working on my BA in history due largely to your influence because your love of history was infectious. I wish there were more teachers like that who will instill the love of learning instead of just worried about test scores.

Abby Williamson Kennedy, CHS Class of 2008

Mr. Barras is one of the most motivating and attention grabbing teachers I have ever had. I looked forward to his class every year, I doubt any teacher could make math as interesting as he did. He really understands his students and relays the learning material in a way that we understand. I continue to use his methods in my college classes today. He is an amazing educator, any student would be lucky to have him as a teacher.

Christina Benoit, LHS Class of 2011

Mr. Barras. I can honestly say you were the best history teacher that I have ever had the privilege of learning from. You are in the top 3 teachers that I have ever had in my life in any subject, including college. Your one World History class at Catholic High School taught me enough to allow me to minor in history at ULL and finish with a 3.6gpa in history classes… It was truly an honor to have you as a teacher and I thank you for doing it so well.

Alex Crochet, CHS Class of 2005

Mr. B, you only taught me one course and that was freshman algebra… What I can remember from 20 years ago is that you strict yet fair, but concerned about all your students’ well-being. You demanded the best from your students because you knew how capable we were. All you wanted for us was to succeed. You always gave 110% to your students even if we didn’t. You taught me that sometimes hard work is required to achieve my goals… The fact that you care so much after all these years is proof enough that you are a damn fine teacher. I would be proud and honored if you ever taught my kids.

Patrick Dauterive, CHS Class of 1998

The entire Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Command salutes you, Mr. Barras. I remember when I came to your class I had stopped caring. Stopped caring about grades, about people, about anything. I hated math and I could never understand it, until I learned to pay attention. And when I chose to listen to those complicated strings of arithmetic, I found that you put them in such a way that I could understand them. And you know what? I passed. It was too late in the year to make much of a difference, but it was just enough to allow me to pass junior year. From then on, I chose to be proud of my grades. Proud of everything I do. You played a vital role in making me who I am today as a proud sailor of the greatest navy in the world. And, on a rather amusing note, I DO actually use some of the things you taught me in class. I use graphs and linear functions on a regular basis to do some pretty cool things, like hunting submarines and tracking torpedoes. So you can tell that to your students who think they’ll never use algebra. You are a truly wonderful teacher as well as a beautiful person. Please keep this very same determination in what you love to do, and stay motivated in making sure you continue to benefit the lives of others. Thank you so much for your efforts.

Chase Hebert, LHS Class of 2013

I applaud you, Mr. Barras and I appreciate your willingness to better our society even despite those above you, and so many others, who have no idea what it means to teach… You are a hero, as are many other teachers who, like you have chosen to stand up. You are a remarkable teacher.

Brandon Comeaux, LHS Class of 2013

You’re anything but a failure.

Evie Credeur, LHS Class of 2014

Vincent Barras was one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure to be associated with, rivaled only by his mentor, Dr. Donald Voorhies and a former poet laureate of Louisiana that I studied under at LSU, Dr. David Madden. His interesting and fun teaching techniques, involving multiple facets of learning structures (be it kinesthetic, auditory and/or visual), were always incredibly effective at helping ALL of his students learn. He has the unique ability to generate interest in even the most mundane of topics by directing his students to aspects of the subject that engage them in multi-faceted ways. This ability allows students to explore new subjects with an invigorated interest, which facilitates learning in ways that cannot be described. As an individual who has ADHD, I needed multiple inputs of information just to keep myself on track in school, and Vince’s teaching techniques were always helpful in allowing me a full sensory input that engaged my mind and allowed me to completely understand subject matter that may have otherwise bored me.

Not only was Vince an incredible teacher in the classroom, but he became a great friend out of the classroom and later in my life through his diligence and interest in individual students’ lives, including my own. He shows his students that he CARES about THEM. They are not simply a number in a desk. They are important, unique human beings whose daily struggles and achievements matter to Vince. This is important for students going through the tumultuous task of adolescence, with the added expectations of maintaining college-ready grades and curricula, because it allows them a venue to express frustrations in confidence, express their failures to an earnest and caring ear and to celebrate their victories with a confidant they know they can rely on. It is also important for young people to have such a confidant when they move on past high school education and Vince continues to excel in that role for literally thousands of young adults whose lives he has touched in some way or another.

I know that my life would not be the same if I had not been blessed with the experience and interactions I had with Vince. He continues to be a dear friend that I treasure to this day.

Jonathan Parich, CHS Class of 2002

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A Letter to my Students

A letter to my students, past and present,

My dear students,

I am taking this moment to speak to you directly. Thirty-two years ago, I was blessed with the knowledge that I have a gift for explanation, modeling, and teaching. I witnessed an extraordinary teacher, Dr. Donald Voorhies, who inspired me to become an educator. I earned three college degrees so I could have the privilege of doing what I love. I kept a 3.823 GPA, earned scholarships to pay for college, and then paid those scholarships back by teaching. I love what I do, have never considered it a job, and still find it fascinating that I get paid to do something so fulfilling.

I am defending myself. I am standing up for my honor as a teacher and a professional.

When I started public school teaching in 2007, I did not understood the power the Louisiana legislature had when it came to evaluating teachers. The legislature approved the COMPASS evaluation system, though how many legislators had actually been teachers or who had actually read the COMPASS system is not known to me. I find it hard to believe any true teacher would ever approve a system that prescribes group learning as the only legitimate way to teach. The Department of Education implemented the system statewide in 2012, and I have been evaluated three times.

Today, I earned a second failing score. Waves of anger, remorse, frustration, even melancholy rolled over me. And then I felt a wave of relief as one simple word rang through my head.


Stop trying to adapt to an inept, invalid system. Stop trying to match a mold designed by people with so little classroom experience. Stop trying to parrot Utopian fantasies that don’t meet the realities of my classroom.

What clarity. I originally thought that I was giving up, but I realized something else. I am defending myself. I am standing up for my honor as a teacher and a professional. I will no longer submit myself to this farce, no longer curb my teaching strategies that work, no longer allow myself to feel inferior based on a faulty system. I must be evaluated every year, but I hold no value or respect for a model that cannot even recognize the good that I do.

I have taught approximately 3,000 or more students. I have watched you grow up and grow older. I have attended your multiple graduations, your weddings, and watch your children grow. I have traveled with you to foreign countries, have kept up with you on Facebook, have witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness and bravery, and have hopefully contributed in some small way to you becoming productive, loving human beings. I will continue to teach, no matter how COMPASS ranks me. I refuse to lose another minute of sleep over it. I would much rather have my students become healthy, happy individuals with a love for learning and life. I already know the impact I’ve had on some of you. As long as I have breath in me, I will continue making positive contributions to your lives.


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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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COMPASS in Louisiana: An Exercise in Stupidity

I’ve been writing so much lately about the absurdity of Common Core and Engage New York that I forgot Louisiana has its own special brand of insanity called COMPASS, the system that ranks teachers against each other and guide us teachers to become better… what? The COMPASS system doesn’t stop at improving teachers; it tries to transform us from our traditional role of guide and mentor to facilitator, or facilitator of self-discovery on the part of the students. That is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve seen hoisted upon the education profession, and here’s why.

You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. 

COMPASS assumes this Utopian world where all students have equal eagerness to learn and are willing to discipline themselves and others to follow the path of enlightenment. The only problem is that describes a collegiate world, and often a world of Masters Degree students. It’s not the world of K-12 students. By definition, students are NOT adults yet. They are still learning appropriate actions to follow depending on the situation, and have, frankly, not left the realm of childhood completely yet. Most students by their very age lack the maturity level to police themselves and, even more difficult, turn to a fellow disruptive student and try to inhibit that behavior. COMPASS assumes an ideal world, not the real world where students are facing myriad social, economic, cultural, and hormonal problems.

Here’s an example of the insanity COMPASS employs. Should I have a student that is not on task, and should I steer him or her back into the “activity,” then I can earn a “3” on the 4 point scale. If, however, a student takes it upon himself or herself to steer the distracted student back on task, then I can earn a “4” on the 4 point scale. Exactly how is it valid that I earn more points by doing… nothing? How am I a more valuable teacher when students are doing my job for me? COMPASS designers clearly believe that having students teach themselves, and having me as a benign facilitator is the most ideal way to educate. Too bad it’s completely divorced from reality. Students left to their own devices would devolve into a Lord of the Flies scenario. It is precisely why the teacher TEACHES, not FACILITATES. If students could discover everything on their own, they already would have, and a teacher would be unnecessary.

How’s this for more insanity? When administrators come and evaluate teachers in the classroom, the administrator ranks the teacher with a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in five different categories. Though it is highly unlikely, it is possible that a teacher could earn four solid 4’s in four categories, but the moment he/she earns a “1” in any category, they automatically earn a final score of “1” and are ranked a failure. Even though the average of those five scores is a 3.25, the teacher earns an overall “1” ranking, and is considered inefficient. Who designed such a punitive system that automatically assigns a teacher the lowest possible rank because they failed one of five categories? That’s stupidity on a state-wide scale.

Just to give you an idea how the system worked for me, I will share my scores and how they were computed. When I was evaluated in the fall of 2012, I earned five two’s on the four point scale, but my administrator told me that I was extremely close to a “1” in a couple of categories, and that would have automatically earned me a failure status. When I was evaluated again in the spring of 2013, I played the idiotic game required of COMPASS and earned a 3.6 average (three four’s and two three’s). The average of the fall score (2.0) and the spring score (3.6) was a 2.8 for the observed portion of my COMPASS score, or 50% of my final score. The remaining half came from my student scores on my Student Learning Targets, or SLTs. For my regular students, I claimed a certain percentage of students would earn a particular score or higher, I ranked a 3 out of 4. My honors students made higher gains on the test, earning me a solid 4. The average of a three and a four is 3.5. The school then averaged my observation score (2.8) with my SLT score (3.5) for a final average of 3.15. I therefore earned the rank of Effective: Proficient.

I have news for COMPASS creators. Good luck trying to assign a number to me, because I am not a number. I am more than that, and always will be. I am both an actor and an educator, and I am highly proficient in what I do. You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. The more time you waste trying to assign a number to me is time that could have been spent allowing me to open the mind of a student to potential possibilities. The more time you waste dragging administrators into classrooms for observations is time that could have been spent disciplining problem students and curbing inappropriate behaviors. The more time you waste making students take pre-tests, post-tests, pre-ACT tests, ACT tests, three to six module tests per subject, is time robbed from students for actual learning.

COMPASS apparently has a lot of time to waste. This is not reform. This is just stupid.


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The Future of Louisiana Needs a Competent, Experienced Leader

“John White lacks the qualifications to be hired even as a principal in any Louisiana public high school, and yet inexplicably, he is guiding the future of thousands of principals in Louisiana. How did this come to pass?”

Life has an uneven mix of pleasure and pain, fatefully intertwined. Education, too, has such a mix, and educators are struggling with a new world of technology and societal changes in the family structure. Louisiana presently has a reputation, deserved or not, as being near the bottom of the barrel in terms of its education system. Over decades, leaders have struggled with providing a quality education to its 700,000 students, and that struggle will never end. While no clear answers have surfaced, one thing is painfully clear: State Superintendent John White is incapable of shepherding Louisiana’s educational situation through these tumultuous times.

John White’s qualifications are appallingly slim, and they betray a pattern of short-term jobs without any accurate measure of his effectiveness in those brief positions. A 2003 English graduate of the University of Virginia, he became a Teach for America teacher and taught THREE years at Dickinson High School in New Jersey until 2006. From 2004 to 2006, he also became the executive director of Teach for America Chicago and Teach for America New Jersey. From there, he has been fast-tracked with inordinate speed into positions of leadership that far outstripped his abilities. In 2006, White became a Deputy Chancellor under New York City Education Chancellor Joel Klein. While there, he attended the Broad’s Superintendent Academy, which trains him to become a superintendent after a paltry six seminars over ten months. When Paul Vallas left as New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal courted White to take the job, even though he had never been a superintendent before. Within months, Jindal made it clear that he wanted White as the State Superintendent, and after serving only eight months as RSD Superintendent, White was elevated to the top education position in the state, where he has now served for sixteen months.

His path to becoming State Superintendent was typically political. The eleven-member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) must approve state superintendents, but the 2011 BESE Board wasn’t too keen on White. Four members, in fact, openly opposed him, making his appointment impossible since eight votes are needed. Louisiana politics being what they are, the governor has an undue influence on the BESE Board by appointing three of its eleven members, meaning the governor with seven votes only needed one more to secure White’s appointment. The Jindal political machine, with support from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, began pouring money in the 2011 elections to get those four White critics removed. Incumbent Dale Bayard was unseated by Holly Boffe, who called her first conversation with White “memorable and inspiring.” Jim Garvey successfully beat back two challengers to keep his seat and subsequently voted for White. (One of his challengers was Lee Barrios, another relentless critic of both White and Jindal.) Keith Guice, a former school parish Superintendent himself and therefore highly qualified to judge the qualifications of another Superintendent, said White would not be his first choice. He, too, was unseated by a Jindal-backed candidate named Jay Guillot. Louella Givens was also ousted by Kira Orange Jones, a Teach for America executive director just like John White. Linda Johnson, who also opposed White but chose to retire after serving twelve years on the board, was replaced by Carolyn Hill, who voted for White’s appointment. In a rare instance of Jindal money not getting the desired results, Dr. Lottie Beebe, who flatly stated that White lacked the qualifications for the appointment and was the only board member to vote against him, unseated Glenny Lee Buquet. Still, Jindal got his wish and the BESE board voted for White in January of 2012.

Since then, White has proved a colossal failure. Though he was not responsible for creating the COMPASS system designed to evaluate teacher effectiveness, he is directly responsible for executing it statewide for the 2012-13 school year. It has been so roundly criticized, so badly implemented, so highly demoralizing, and so constantly changed, that even the Louisiana state House of Representatives voted unanimously to delay the punitive portions for another year. (The Senate in typical fashion never even brought the bill before the full Senate for consideration.) The Superintendent at first denied there’s a teacher exodus, and then insulted the very group he’s tasked with improving education by claiming that most teachers who were leaving must be the ineffective ones. You do not save a child by savaging a teacher. Adding insult to injury, White appointed Hannah Dietsch, another TFA alumna in her early 30s, to oversee the COMPASS evaluation system. Though she holds degrees from Tulane and Harvard, Ms. Dietsch, a fellow Broad Superintendents Academy alumna, has limited teaching experience, if any, and her knowledge of evaluation systems is mostly book-knowledge and not hands-on. White’s office has been plagued with inefficiency—it is difficult to determine who’s in charge of what in the LDOE these days—and has been in defense mode from the beginning of his term. Numerous reports keep surfacing of millions of dollars in misplaced money or equipment from the New Orleans RSD or of students in the voucher program scoring lower than students in the public schools. White assured the people of Louisiana that the State Supreme Court would uphold the voucher system and its use of Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funds. He was wrong. Nearly every act that Jindal and White wanted passed through the 2013 legislature has been withdrawn or voted down outright. And whose bright idea was it to evaluate special education teachers according to the same standards as regular teachers? How does the group-teaching-is-best method work for a class of students with autism? While the state legislature is fixing this gross error, the question remains: who at the state department even thought this was a valid concept to begin with? Is this what we call competence in Louisiana?

I am also increasingly appalled at the poor evaluation skills of this state’s leaders and the media. Evaluation is the highest level of knowledge in Bloom’s taxonomy, but the things I have witnessed have only proven our leaders lack this skill. Governor Bobby Jindal has said, “I’ve been so impressed with not only [White’s] credentials but his on-the-job performance…” White had only been the RSD Superintendent for seven months when Jindal said that, and White came with only five years of experience as a deputy superintendent. How can Holly Boffy, herself a Teacher of the Year, claim that White “understands what it’s like to be in the classroom,” considering his limited classroom experience? Former BESE president Penny Dastague called White the “natural choice” for superintendent, especially “When you look at what he brings to the table…” Again, how does three years of teaching, and five and a half years of administrative positions qualify one for such an important job? Even the Broad Superintendents Academy contradicted their own mission statement (“An advanced development program that identifies and prepares experienced leaders to successfully run urban public school education systems.”) by admitting John White to their numbers with only three years of teaching, which hardly qualifies him as an “experienced leader.” Three days before John White’s appointment as state superintendent, Peter Meyer interviewed him for EducationNext, an educational blog devoted to “bold changes,” and Meyer penned this hagiographic statement: “His three years in the classroom at Dickinson High gives White a firm grasp of these fundamental teaching challenges…” (Please ignore the incorrect subject-verb agreement.) No, they do not. Twenty years of teaching experience might, but three years in a classroom does not enlighten any soul to the true complexities of education nor the needed solutions.

There is but one true step that can be taken to improve the state of education in Louisiana: find a competent, highly-qualified state superintendent. Every teacher has to meet certain requirements to attain the definition of “highly qualified.” John White would not even meet those same minimum standards. Rumors abound that White will possibly accept a position under Arne Duncan at the federal level. While I heartily endorse White leaving his present position, the thought of his advancing his pernicious ideas to the federal level sickens me. It only reinforces the notion that only these inexperienced outsiders can fix what’s wrong. If they couldn’t last in the classroom more than three to five years, why are we trusting them to fix education? We don’t let first-year medical students revise and revamp the entire hospital system, so why do grant the awesome task of education to adults with so little first-hand experience? Just take a glance at John White’s biography on the Louisiana Schools’ website to witness his hubris: he claims that he initiated “12 commitments to the city of New Orleans” and in eight short months, fulfilled all those commitments. John White was never qualified for this job, and it is past time he relinquished it. So, John White must resign or, in the words of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV to Pope Gregory VII, “come down, come down, and be damned throughout the ages.”

Note: This is an older article I composed several months ago, but it seemed timely to remind people of the state of education in Louisiana.

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