Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why the Common Core will be a Disaster for Louisiana Public Schools

I attended a public education forum this week sponsored by the LAE. Parents and teachers were encouraged to ask questions about current education issues to a panel representing BESE, Superintendents, and teacher leaders. One question by a young teacher really got me thinking about where Louisiana public education is headed. One of the panelists had made the point that many of our students are handicapped by poverty and the various issues that arise from such an environment. The young teacher who teaches in a very low performing school that was taken over by the state and converted into a charter school asked a question that highlights the major problems caused in Louisiana by our Jindal reform movement.

He asked: “Do you think it is wrong to have the same high expectations of our students who come from high poverty that we have for our students who come from wealthier backgrounds?”

Of course we all know what the politically correct answer is. But being an experienced educator I have a different answer. My answer is: “I have different expectations for each student without regard to socioeconomic background. I think it is just as wrong to expect a wealthy student to demonstrate high performance using narrow academic standards as it is to expect a poor student to perform poorly using the same narrow academic requirements.”

You see, the young teacher's question illustrates the trap that educators and students all over the country have been forced into by the no child left behind law. That same trap will only be greatly intensified by the common core standards. The main concept behind both no child left behind and common core is that every child should be able to perform on grade level in subjects that are generally known as the basic skills. (reading writing and arithmetic) Some researchers have called this the Lake Wobegon effect. That is the expectation that every child can and should perform at an average level or above. This is a statistical impossibility! Not even the highest performing states are coming anywhere near accomplishing this by the deadline of the year 2014 set in the NCLB law. That's why the NCLB waiver process was adopted by the Obama administration. But the common core curriculum, instead of providing for the diversity of our students, kicks it up a notch to say that we should prepare all students for college. The reformers ask: “What can be wrong with these high aspirations for our students considering the increasingly global competition for jobs?”

My answer is: “God (or nature) does not produce identical kids like a factory puts out widgets. Thank goodness! Some children are born with academic abilities and some have great artistic abilities and some can be trained to do skilled jobs. So why do our education deformers insist on educating them exactly the same using only a purely academic standard?”

What an unfair burden has been placed on the shoulders of that young teacher! Even though the state took over his school 4 years ago, not a bit of progress has been made in raising academic performance of those predominately high poverty students. The state is asking him to take the full responsibility for preparing all his students for college, without consideration of their abilities, gifts, handicaps or socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages. For 4 years, the Recovery District has failed to raise the SPS for that school and those students, yet he is supposed to change all that. No wonder most of these teachers only last a year or two trying to live up to that type of ridiculous standard. And when he quits in disgust for the lack of success, his indoctrination from the RSD reformers will likely convince him that it was all the fault of the other teachers that had his students before him who just did not have high expectations for their students.

Why do I think the common core standards will be a disaster for Louisiana public schools? First of all, it is impossible and impractical to prepare all students for college. Only about a third of students in any country (even the highest performing countries like Finland or South Korea) can and should be prepared for 4 year colleges. Not only that, the great majority of jobs as far as the eye can see in Louisiana will be either jobs that require skills and technical training (two year training) or service jobs that mainly require students to be trained to be reliable in performing basic services. Ironically many of the academic jobs requiring 4 year degrees can easily be outsourced to countries like India where college graduates are willing to work for a lot less. But it is impossible to outsource construction jobs and oil field jobs or practical nursing jobs. Those are the jobs that are growing in Louisiana. The common core curriculum will do a very poor job of training the great majority of students for the jobs that will be available in Louisiana in the next 20 years.

The common core will punish thousands of students who will flunk out or quit high school in frustration because the courses they will be taking are not practical. At the same time, requiring the common core PARCC tests and tests like the ACT of all students will make our public schools look bad for failing to do what was not practical in the first place. The PARCC tests for the common core will not be state controlled as our LEAP tests were, but will pit our high poverty students' scores against other states where students will outperform our kids on these purely academic skills. Meanwhile none of the private schools in Louisiana will be forced to adopt this curriculum, making them even more attractive to the voucher supporters.

Common core and the PARCC tests will totally change our school performance scores so that schools will seem to have declined when the letter grades are adapted to these unrealistic common core specifications. By that time Jindal and White will have moved on to other careers.

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