Wednesday, July 2, 2014

BESE Fails

I and many other educators and parents attended the BESE meeting Tuesday to watch BESE members and Superintendent White attempt to deal with the combination of curve balls and spit balls thrown at them by Governor Jindal. Instead of a ball game, it turned out to be a circus that lasted 6 hours and it was not entertaining. If our public education classrooms were run this way, teachers would all be fired. Thank goodness the education of our children does not really depend on the erratic behavior of BESE, White and Jindal. For a somewhat salacious and entertaining account of the meeting read the Crazy Crawfish blog here. Also, Mercedes Schneider gives you the big picture pointing out that a legal decision in New Mexico may affect PARCC in Louisiana.

After the meeting, I spoke to a long time educator, local superintendent, and legislator (Mr Rogers Pope from Livingston Parish) who also attended the entire punishing meeting. He said that it is fortunate that no matter what BESE, White, and Jindal do, our teachers will be hard at work in a few weeks teaching their students in an effective manner and helping to prepare their students for life and careers just as they have always done. . . . . despite the higher powers over education who think they are soooooo important.

Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, BESE and John White have the grandiose belief that all the silly rules they make, and all the hoops they devise for teachers and school principals to jump through really make a difference in the education of young people. They believe that if they can just fine tune and standardize the curriculum for public schools, give parents "choice" with our tax dollars for sending their children to any private enterprise calling itself a school, and if they can make every teacher and every principal's job dependent on the standardized test scores of the students they teach, that magically all students will achieve above average on the tests and the battle will be won. What the architects of all this reform chaos don't realize is that all of their major initiatives will make very little positive difference at all because they are not dealing with the factors that really impact the education of each child. All of these hair brained schemes, and all the senseless pressure on educators will however, drive away many excellent and dedicated teachers and administrators over time, and that will adversely affect the education of many children.

Common Core is certainly not a magic bullet for curing the ills of education and should never have been forced upon our public schools (notice that the elite private schools are mostly ignoring the CCSS). Standardized testing and grading schools and teachers by student performance on standardized testing has done almost nothing to better educate students. I have carefully studied the results of these standardized tests for the last 15 years and find only minor improvements in the test scores. In most cases it is clear (as in Louisiana's LEAP testing) that the gains are mostly due to teaching to the test and not to real learning. Common Core will get the same lackluster results except that more children will be turned off by the "rigorous", boring, useless "stuff" they are now being asked to learn. Do we really think that most students will benefit in their daily lives or in their future careers by all the math theory they will be fed or all the boring technical reading they will be pushed to do? I can say this because I am a math-science major who is still often inspired by real, practical math and science and who developed a love of reading by progressing from old fashioned comic books to more and more sophisticated reading. Many of us developed our love of reading by being allowed to read what we liked, not what some expert said we should read, as is being pushed now with CCSS. My wife taught 4th grade, and each year spent some time reading Charlotte's Web in the afternoon to her students. A practice which helped lure her students into the love of reading. She could never do that today. There is no time with all the test prep and it's probably not considered sophisticated enough, and may not be developing "critical thinking skills."

Back to BESE: After 6 grueling hours of useless debate, they finally decided to direct the Superintendent and his lawyers to meet with Governor Jindal and his lawyers to try to work out a solution so that the state will have time to prepare and administer the "almighty state tests" by next Spring. And BESE will have two new law firms hired pro bono (at no cost) to advise them on legal actions (but not yet including suing the Governor) they may still need to take in the event the negotiations with the governor do not work out.

I do want to give thanks and credit to Jane Smith, Dr Lottie Beebie, and Carolyn Hill who proposed a reasonable compromise that would have allowed White to give pretty much the same tests that were given this Spring to grades 3 to 8. I say that was a compromise because according to White, those tests contained a large dose of Common Core type questions. But the Common Core fanatics voted it down because they wanted to go all out with the PARCC testing next year. John White had already crawfished on the PARCC by saying that instead of giving the same PARCC as the 15 or so other states in the consortium, Louisiana would still have control over its test. So what happened to being able to compare Louisiana student test scores with all the other states? As I said, it was a circus.

Thank goodness the teachers and principals still know what to do. I predict they will be teaching school no matter what Jindal and BESE do. I bet they will be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I hope they can find time to teach geography, history, science, physical education, and maybe a little art and music. And as an added bonus, if BESE and the Governor cannot agree, and the state tests get junked next Spring, maybe some elementary teachers will have time to read Charlotte's Web to their little kids... No that will never happen. One thing I know we will have for sure, even if all the teachers resign in disgust, are the standardized tests next Spring.

4 comments:

Bridget said...

As usual, you have perfectly summarized the state of affairs of education in our state. You are so right, that teachers will still be teaching while the circus continues. The sad part is the insane atmosphere created from above by those who are inflicting these abusive practices of test prep and narrowing of our curriculum on our children. I hope parents start waking up and getting involved. But remember, Public Education belongs to everyone, not just teachers and parents. Every citizen has a stake in this. Thanks for keeping us informed.

John said...

Thank you for summarizing what happened and what should have happened. When the next BESE board election takes place, I sure hope there are viable candidates to replace the 8 people Jindal bought during the last election. Transparency in state government seems to be muddier than ever.

Jenny said...

Here is a great person to vote for if you are in the Baton Rouge area: http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/official-press-release-text/

Anonymous said...

You point out Common Core's shortcomings by saying that well off private schools choose not to use it. They don't have to they are PRIVATE and don't suffer from the problems public schools are mired in!

The problem in public schools are the parents and the children! Not Common Core or the teachers!