Superintendent of Education John White may have placed himself and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in legal jeopardy when he made a confidential report on three teachers at a Shreveport elementary school available to a Baton Rouge Advocate reporter in apparent violation of a 2010 state law.
White, who released the report on the Value Added Model (VAM) scores for the Shreveport school through an intermediary, may also have endangered his $275,000-a-year job by releasing confidential information to reporter Will Sentell last October in direct contravention of Act 54 of 2010.
The sequence of events began when State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) and White collaborated to tweak the VAM in order to improve the evaluations of three teachers at one of Shreveport’s better elementary schools.
Sentell quoted Seabaugh in the Advocate last Oct. 6 as saying, “You literally have the most successful teachers in the state being told that they are highly ineffective. This is nothing short of ridiculous.”
Sentell said the focus was on preliminary data for South Highlands Elementary Magnet School in Shreveport, where, despite the school’s being the top-rated elementary school in the state, three of its fourth-grade teachers were rated as “highly ineffective.”
Sentell’s story followed an interview with White but not before a detailed report on the three teachers was pulled together comparing fourth grade scores of South Highlands to those of “School X,” which in reality, was Westdale Elementary Magnet School in Baton Rouge.
In order to avoid Sentell’s learning that the report came from LDOE at his direction, White called on Rayne Martin, executive director of Stand for Children Louisiana, to serve as an intermediary and to tell Sentell that she had obtained the report through a data request. Martin previously worked in a number of capacities in LDOE, including chief of innovation—whatever that might have entailed.
When Sentell told White in the interview that he had a copy of a report that indicated the teachers had students whose average scores showed a significant drop from third to fourth grade, White, feigning innocence, asked Sentell where he obtained the report. White subsequently confided to Sentell in an off-the-record remark that the three teachers were ineffective and that Seabaugh was pushing hard to “fix it” for them.
One of the provisions of Act 54 says, “Copies of evaluation results and any documentation related thereto of any school employee may be retained by the local (school) board, the board (Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education), or the department and, if retained, are confidential, do not constitute a public record” and shall not be released or shown to any individual except:
• To the evaluated school employee or his designated representative;
• To authorized school system officers and employees for all personnel matter, including employment, application, and for any hearing, which relates to personnel matters, which includes the authorized representative of any school or school system, public or private, to which employee has made application for employment.
The act says the superintendent of education “shall make available to the public the data specified by law as may be useful for conducting statistical analyses and evaluations of educational personnel but shall not reveal information pertaining to the evaluation report of a particular employee” (Emphasis ours).
By releasing the data comparing the fourth-grade results of South Highlands with those of Westdale, White inadvertently revealed information “pertaining to the evaluation report of a particular employee” since South Highlands had only three fourth grade teachers and the detailed report provided comparisons on average scaled scores from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years for each content that the three teachers instructed in fourth grade.
Emails received by LouisianaVoice from a former LDOE employee contained dozens of documents pertaining to VAM, Seabaugh and inter-departmental emails contained a copy of a file labeled, “Document for Rayne,” which was the report given to Sentell by Martin.
It was that report that through the process of elimination necessarily identified the three South Highlands teachers.
Act 54 lays out no criminal or civil penalties for violations of the sections that prohibit the public release of information to anyone other than authorized personnel.
But by violating that provision of the act, White may have invited litigation for damages from the three South Highlands teachers who could claim that their professional reputations have been damaged not only by a flawed evaluation system but by the subsequent actions by White that made their identities public.
Such litigation would be extremely difficult to defend. The only option for White now is to man up and take responsibility for his reckless, inconsiderate actions.
He must resign.