Friday, October 18, 2019

Lane Grigsby, Kingmaker and Education Manipulator

This is an excellent article by Sue Lincoln, veteran reporter, for The Bayou Brief about how Lane Grigsby and a few super rich businessmen decided to take over our public education system as part of an overall plan to become the kingmakers of Louisiana politics. Grigsby and his allies are very close to achieving their goal of controlling virtually all Louisiana governmental functions including possibly the office of Governor.

As we predicted in several recent posts on this blog, with the buying of almost all elected positions on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, LABI has virtually achieved total control of K-12 education. Basically every rule, every directive to school principals and teachers now comes from the state education bureaucracy totally controlled by LABI which is dominated by Grigsby and his rich friends. All the complaints by teachers of excessive standardized testing costing millions that do absolutely nothing to benefit students, inaccurate and unfair test-based teacher ratings, can now be laid at the feet of Grigsby and LABI.

To emphasize the aggressiveness and dishonesty used in the takeover of BESE, here is part of an exact script of one of the radio ads (Paid for by Louisiana Federation for Children which is really financed by an out-of-state group) used against independent BESE candidate Timmie Melancon:  "There are two choices for BESE; Timmie Melancon who has taken thousands from liberal unions like those who spent millions electing O'Bama, Nancy Peloci and Hillary Clinton, . . . who raised money as a member of a radical online group where members promoted socialism, they even referred to our president as a Russian operative . . . The conservative choice is Holly Boffy who voted to give teachers a pay raise, and whose record includes higher test scores." This political ad is almost 100 percent flat out lies. Melancon is a retired school teacher who is a beekeeper who has never before been involved in any liberal causes. She got just a fraction of the donations Boffy got, who was funded mostly from out-of-state billionaires and LABI controlled PACs. Our student test scores on national tests have long been near the bottom, but after the 8 years of Boffy and her fellow reformers, LA is at the absolute bottom of the ranking of the states on national test scores.

In the linked article by Sue Lincoln, we find that Grigsby made the decision to take over public education and redirect much of our school taxes to private schools and charter schools because he became irritated at having to pay the engineers of his construction company based on the number of  school age children that they chose to send to private schools.  What monumental arrogance!

So John White and BESE, as the tools of LABI, are systematically usurping the powers of local school boards in operating public education, by approving more charter and voucher schools and by forcing teachers to spend an extraordinary portion of the school year prepping children for state tests.

Now, Grigsby and LABI, having achieved almost total control of BESE and the legislature, have their sights set on the office of Governor and the few remaining legislative districts they want to control. This would make their control of state government complete. Recent news reports have revealed that Grigsby offered support to one of the candidates for Senate district 16 to drop out of the race in seeking a judgeship as a consolation prize so that Grigsby's choice could win District 16. One Republican candidate actually resigned from the party in protest of Grigsby's attempt to corrupt the elections.

LABI's new goal, now that they have achieved total control of education, is to elect Eddie Rispone (A major Common Core promoter and a promotor of his own tax breaks for supporting private schools) as Governor. He and his rich kingmakers also intend to achieve a veto proof majority of the legislature. The achievement of these political goals would do no less than allow LABI to control basically every function of state government. What could LABI do with all this power?  Here are just a few possibilities:
  • Even more outrageous tax exemptions for super-big businesses in Louisiana along with a much bigger tax burden for the cost of services such as education, police, road repairs, health care, etc. shifted to average tax payers and small buisnesses.
  • An increasing segregation of our schools to allow more wealthy families to send their children to better funded and staffed schools while the neediest students would receive less and less support to reach educational equity.
  • A severe curtailment of the legal rights of citizens and workers who are literally being poisoned by industry (check out one of the many articles about Louisiana's cancer alley) and recovery of damages for job injuries where big businesses are responsible.
  • Reduction of Industry liability for coastal restoration and pollution cleanup.
  • Continued squashing of the rights of labor unions to represent their members.
This is where we are headed with the control of State Government by big business and self appointed king makers.

Monday, October 14, 2019

LABI and out-of-state donors still dominate BESE

It is so painful to me personally to review or recount the results of the BESE election this past weekend that I am grateful to Mercedes Schneider for having done an excellent job of telling the continuing sad story of the LABI victory over education. I urge all of my readers to take the time to read Schnieder's post.

I want to express my sincere appreciation to the excellent and independent candidates who did their very best to present themselves to the public as good alternatives to the insanity that has controlled and will continue to control education in Louisiana. Unfortunately they could not compete with the effect of big money on an election that most voters know little about. Most of the voters in our state continue to assume credibility for those candidates who spend enough to get their signs and ads out in the media. Most people do not take the time to read facebook posts from candidates who do not enjoy funding by the real decision makers in this state.

For my part, I will continue to monitor and report the actions of BESE as well as the legislature for as long is I am able to do so. I am very hopeful that at some time in the not-too-distant future we can restore the creativity of teachers and make effective attempts to better prepare our students for life using our K-12 public education system.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Just 3 Days Left to Break the Grip of Out-of-State Reformers on Our Louisiana Schools

The reformers and privatizers of public education are using hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to get the voters in Louisiana to vote against their own interests in order to continue their control of our education system.
If you are reading this blog, I am asking you to help counteract the impact of big out-of-state money on the election of our Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). For the last 8 years the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and their out-of-state billionaire donors (The Waltons, the Gates, the Broads, and a bunch of Democratic hedge fund managers) have literally taken over and totally revamped our K-12 public education system. They have pushed school privatization and a system of constant testing and test prep for our students in the place of a real practical curriculum that would prepare our children for life. So now our students are performing in almost last place compared to other states in math and English and our ACT scores are dropping. It is time to break the grip of these education deformers on our public school tax dollars.
The only way we educators and citizens have of stopping the "deformers" of public education in Louisiana, is to spread the word about the good and independent BESE candidates to all our friends and relatives using social media and the good old fashioned telephone and face-to-face contact. A good strategy is to copy the link for this blog with your comments to Facebook and Twitter. We have approximately 3 days left to get the job done before election day October 12.

Please help elect the following independent voices for public education to BESE:
Dist. 1- Lee Barrios; Dist. 2- Ashonta Wyatt; Dist. 3- Janice Perea; Dist. 5- Dr. Stephen Chapman;  Dist. 6Gregory Spiers; Dist. 7- Timmie Melancon; Dist. 8- Vereta Lee.
To find out what BESE district you live in, just click on each Dist. # above to see the maps of BESE districts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

BESE Takeover Effort Intensifies

We predicted that as it got closer to election day, the out-of-state contributors who support the takeover of BESE would dump in massive amounts of contributions to LABI controlled candidates. 
We are now witnessing a massive advertising campaign financed primarily by out-of-state reformer groups that are acting in cooperation with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) to continue their total control of education in Louisiana. See this blog post by Mercedes Schneider, who I believe is the most effective investigative reporter of educational issues in Louisiana. Schneider describes how a faction of the Louisiana Democratic party called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is backing candidates for BESE using out-of-state money.

Schneider also describes here how other groups including Stand for Children are coordinating their efforts in Republican majority BESE districts. Brigitte Nieland who recently worked for LABI, is now the political action staffer for Stand for Children. Again, the goal is to provide LABI with totally committed candidates in both Republican and Democratic districts to do their bidding on all major education issues. What does this mean for our children and their teachers?

Election of these LABI controlled candidates will insure that John White remains State Superintendent for as long as he cares to do so. It will also mean that teachers and children will continue to spend most of their class time getting drilled and rehearsed in how to take the state standardized tests. Teachers are now being required to teach "scripted" lessons "with fidelity". This means that White and his reformers consider teachers nothing more that robotic test teachers. That's also why almost no teacher's children are choosing education as their profession and we are experiencing a growing teacher shortage. But the worst result of all this "deform" of education is that our children are actually performing at their lowest ranking ever on standardized tests. So the experiment has failed but as Einstein warned: "Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting to see different results."

If you are sick of this "insanity", please vote against all of the LABI endorsed candidates.
Those are: District 1; James Garvey, District 2; Kira Orange Jones, District 3; Sandy Holloway, District 5; Ashley Ellis, District 6; Ronnie Morris, District 7; Holly Boffy, District 8; Preston Castille.

Here are the candidates I believe would be independent of LABI and willing to restore practical and creative education to our schools. Please consider voting for:
Dist. 1; Lee Barrios, Dist. 2; Ashonta Wyatt, Dist. 3; Janice Perea, Dist. 5; Dr. Stephen Chapman,  Dist. 6; Gregory Spiers, Dist. 7; Timmie Melancon, Dist. 8; Vereta Lee.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Help Break the Grip of Special Interest Lobbyists Over BESE!

Should we continue to allow special interest lobbyists to rule over K-12 education, when the evidence proves they have failed?
How is it that we, the citizens of Louisiana, have allowed a non-educator, big business lobbying group to almost totally control our public education system? The answer is big $. For the past two terms, the Louisiana Association of business and Industry and their donors from both Republican and Democratic PACs  have dominated the elections for our board of Elementary and Secondary with huge campaign contributions supplemented by out-of-state mega-donors. As a result, LABI has dictated the operation of our K-12 public schools and diverted our tax dollars to charter and private schools.

Both Republican and Democratic legislators and most BESE members have supported the LABI reforms
 LABI, which usually clashes with the Democratic party, has found a major ally in the group called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER uses a PAC called Education Reform Now Advocacy Inc. to make contributions to BESE candidates. I just received an expensive brochure in the mail for the LABI endorsed candidate in the 8th BESE district paid for by Education Reform Now Advocacy Inc. Voters all over the state will soon be receiving similar advertisements for candidates who claim to be for teacher pay raises and seemingly support public education. But the real agenda of these LABI endorsed candidates is more testing, more test prep, more privatization of our schools, and more Common Core insanity. These tactics have already done major damage to public education in Louisiana. We certainly do not need to double down on failed programs. So beware of wolves in sheep's clothing!

I do want to emphasize however, that many legislators who have a background in education strongly oppose the LABI and DRER reforms.

LABI helped to pass major legislation during the Jindal administration that stripped teachers of tenure and seniority benefits and provided for unlimited expansion of poorly regulated charter and voucher schools. These so called "reforms" were supposed to greatly improve the performance of our school children in basic skills. The exact opposite has happened.

LABI has no expertise in education. Their main claim to fame is that this big business lobby succeeded in passing the anti-labor, Right to Work law, and engineered huge tax exemptions for some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. Now LABI, with the help of their hand picked non-educator superintendent, John White, has been running roughshod over our K-12 education systems for over 8 years. One of the main sources of their power over education is the majority of BESE members endorsed and elected by LABI. The current members of BESE have approved 100% of the reforms pushed by LABI. BESE has installed a new set of standards (The Common Core Standards) for our students and a school rating system that judges teachers and schools using mostly student test scores. This has resulted in our teachers being forced to abandon effective teaching methods so they could spend most of their time rehearsing students for the state standardized tests.

So after 8 years of control of BESE and the appointment of John White as State Superintendent,
LABI education reforms have resulted in the lowest comparative ratings ever for our schools

Today LABI , on their web site  brags about their accomplishments in school reform with this summary:
“ For years, Louisiana has shown commitment and dedicated resources to education reform and results in improved student achievement are being realized. Graduation rates are improving, along with ACT scores, and the achievement gap continues to lessen. There are more opportunities for school choice than most other states in the nation".

These claims in the above LABI statement are almost totally false except for the part about school choice. The national (NAEP) test reveals that Louisiana has dropped to its lowest ranking ever among the states in student achievement in reading and math. The only reason the graduation rate has improved is because John White has lowered standards for graduation to ridiculously low levels. (See the post below) The ACT average scores were lower this year, and have been stagnating for the last 4 years. But the most atrocious untruth on the LABI website is that "the achievement gap continues to lessen". Instead, the latest NAEP report indicates that Louisiana is one of the four states out of 50 where the achievement gap between white and  minority students has increased. Even Louisiana's latest 2019 LEAP results reveal that the achievement gap between high poverty and non-high poverty students has increased on every single test given. The only thing that is correct in the LABI statement is that Louisiana is providing more opportunities for school choice. But unfortunately, (based on objective data) school choice has resulted in lower performance for the majority of students who have participated.

The real results of the LABI takeover of BESE is lower, not higher student performance and a major demoralization of the teaching profession because of unteachable standards, a badly designed and punitive teacher evaluation system, poor support on discipline, and the pressure to do almost nothing but test prep. Its no wonder we are experiencing a growing teacher shortage and that teachers no longer urge their own children to follow their footsteps into the profession. 

My best recommendation for breaking the grip LABI has over K-12 education is for educators and other supporters of our public schools to use social media and every other means to inform the general public of the candidates for BESE that can make positive changes to our educational system. Please share my voter guide to BESE elections on Facebook and Twitter, and ask your friends and family to elect good alternatives to the LABI controlled candidates!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

BESE Election Guide, Part II; Find Out Which Candidates Deserve Our Votes

An unholy alliance of non-educators now controls BESE
I believe my previous posts on this blog have made it clear that the takeover of BESE by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)  and out-of-state billionaires, who have chosen to experiment with our school children, has been nothing short of a disaster. These captive BESE members are the ones who appointed John White, a non-educator from New York who implemented a plan stripping our teachers of all autonomy and ability to teach in any creative manner and imposed a system of constant test prep in all our schools. 

Basically all of their so called "reforms" have failed. Almost no practicing teacher today would recommend that her/his own children go into the teaching profession, and many of our best teachers are retiring early. The teaching profession has been demoralized and stripped of all decision making authority. The ability of teachers to maintain discipline in their classrooms has been undermined by pressure to coddle misbehaving students so they can be graduated without regard to performance. Our students are performing at the lowest level ever on the national comparative tests (NAEP: Dead last among all states in  math and just one or two places above last in reading), despite the fact that many of our classrooms have been converted into boring test-prep factories. Our graduation rate has been artificially inflated by promoting all students to the next grade with little or no evidence of learning and by handing out diplomas to functional illiterates. All done to create a phony image of success.

John White and the other reformers "believed" that if we just focused all education on standardized testing designed by college prep elites, that our kids would dramatically improve their performance. But just the opposite has happened. The raw scores on state tests have steadily declined. Then in desperation to show false progress, John White and his expensive testing companies lowered the underlying raw cut scores to produce apparent improvement. That's why the true passing scores on math, and English LEAP tests for grades 3-8 now average about 30%, and the graduation test passing scores are averaging about 20%. That's the real secret to the improvement of our graduation rates.

So if you think that these so called reforms are good for our children, then by all means you should vote for the LABI endorsed and controlled slate of BESE candidates. Unfortunately many voters may unknowingly vote for the LABI controlled candidates because of the huge campaign contributions that these controlled candidates will get. With this lavish funding, slick radio and TV ads will promote their candidates to the unknowing public. It will be very difficult for good solid candidates who recognize the need to change this disastrous course to get elected. But we must do our best to get the message out about these destroyers of public education, and help to elect good positive replacements for the present BESE members.

It is my firm opinion that none of the present BESE members seeking reelection deserve our votes. In addition, none of the candidates endorsed by LABI and their allies to open positions deserve our votes.
So if you agree that education under the control of LABI is on the wrong track, you should consider voting for any reasonable alternative to the LABI controlled BESE. Here are my recommendations by BESE district. You can check my research on candidates by reading this article in The Advocate which lists the candidates endorsed by LABI as well as what I consider good educational choices endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Educators and LFT. I disagree with LAE in only a couple of cases, but their choices are still much better than the incumbents or other LABI endorsed candidates.

Here are my recommendations for BESE by district.

If you are not sure which BESE district you live in, just click on this link to the maps of BESE districts
District 1: (Includes St. Tammany and Jefferson Parishes) I am enthusiastically recommending Lee Barrios, a Republican and a retired teacher, who has attended numerous BESE meetings and legislative committee meetings and recommended much better alternatives to the LABI revisions to education. Ms Barrios has done her homework and deserves your consideration. LAE and LFT are endorsing Marion Bonura, an Independent and also a retired teacher. Either of these candidates are by far preferable to the incumbent, James Garvey, who is endorsed by, and will always do the bidding of LABI and John White without question.

District 2 (Includes much of New Orleans, parts of Jefferson and Assumption parishes and St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes): I am recommending Dr. Ashonta Wyatt.  Dr Wyatt is a Democrat and an experienced educator who wants to restore sanity to education. She is opposing the LABI endorsed incumbent, Kira Orange Jones, who in my opinion has a serious conflict of interest by being an employee of Teach for America, which gets huge contracts from BESE to supply temporary teachers who have no real training in eduction to our schools. LAE and LFT are making a dual endorsement of both of the challengers to the incumbent. I believe that any vote against Kira Orange Jones is a good choice.

District 3 (Includes parts of Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin and Iberia parishes, and Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes): I am enthusiastically recommending Janice Perea, a Republican, and a practicing teacher in Houma. I had a great telephone conversation with Ms Perea and found that she and I agree on the need to overhaul the highly inefficient teacher evaluation system, greatly reduce standardized testing and test prep, and change the parts of the new curriculum that are not age appropriate for our children. Both LAE and LFT are endorsing Ms Perea. The incumbent, Sandy Holloway, is endorsed and controlled by LABI in my opinion.

District 4: The LABI endorsed incumbent, Tony Davis is unopposed.

District 5 (Includes much of central and northeast Louisiana down to Evangeline parish): This is an open seat with no incumbent. I recommend Dr. Stephen Chapman, a Republican and a dentist who has been serving on the Rapides Parish school board. I believe that Dr. Chapman is well informed on the issues and the problems with our current education policies and he is independent-minded. LAE and LFT are supporting Dr Chapman. LABI is endorsing an educator from the City of Monroe, Ashley Ellis. I am very much afraid that this educator will be totally controlled by LABI just as has happened with former teacher of the year, Holly Boffy, who is still serving in District 7.

District 6 (Includes much of EBR, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes) : This is an open seat with no incumbent. I am recommending Gregory Spiers, a Republican, a former Navy Seal, and a former teacher. I had a great telephone conversation with Mr Spiers and was amazed at how well informed he was about present reform flaws and the takeover of BESE. He is very practical and will try to restore dignity to the teaching profession. He believes it is time for John White to move back to New York. LABI is endorsing Ronnie Morris. I have no information on him but again, I do not trust any LABI candidate. LAE and LFT  are also endorsing Gregory Spiers.

District 7 (Includes most of Southwest Louisiana): I am enthusiastically recommending Ms Timmie Melancon, an Independent and a retired teacher. I have spoken to Timmie on the phone and found that she understands thoroughly the flaws in the present system of "test teaching" a curriculum that is wrong for our children. She also wants to restore the autonomy and dignity the teaching profession. Timmie is also endorsed by the LAE and LFT. The incumbent, Holly Boffy is a former teacher who is endorsed by LABI and who has worked for organizations that helped adopt the new badly designed Common Core standards. In my opinion Ms Boffy is totally controlled by LABI.

District 8 (Includes much of EBR, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, the Felecianas and up to Avoyelles Parish): i am enthusiastically recommending Ms Vereta Lee, a Democrat and a long time educator who now lives in Baton Rouge. I have known Ms Lee for almost 40 years and know that she is a practical educator who totally understands the flaws in our current "reformed" system. She was defeated from her recent position on the EBR school board by a massive infusion of contributions from the reformer groups who are in the process of privatizing the entire EBR school system. However, she is still determined to fight for the survival of our public school system. LAE and LFT are also supporting Ms Lee. LABI has endorsed Mr Preston Castille, a Democrat and an attorney. I believe Mr Castille is another captive of LABI who will religiously vote to continue the privatization and the failed reforms implemented by LABI.

Three at-large BESE positions are appointed by the Governor
There are three other, at-large, positions on BESE that are not elected but appointed by the Governor. I believe all of these are solid supporters of our efforts to restore sanity to our public school system, but they can't do it alone unless we elect several good candidates to BESE.

All of the LABI endorsed candidates will probably be very difficult to defeat because of the shear volume of money these "reformers" have available to spend on their "captive" endorsements. I urge all educators, parents, and others who care about our public schools to look up the candidate from your area, to get involved and help them with contributions if you possibly can. If you type in their names with the words BESE candidate into Google you will probably get a web site or Facebook page with information on their platform and how to make donations. Otherwise we will continue to be doomed to these ineffective and harmful reforms. Why not just trust our teachers do do what they have been trained to do and are quite willing to dedicate their careers to? Our children need to be motivated, and thrilled to the joys of learning by creative teachers, not made slaves to these poorly designed tests that prepare our kids for almost nothing of real value.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Guide to BESE Elections, Part I

Why BESE is the most critical, yet least understood body affecting public education in Louisiana 
The average Louisiana voter does not know what the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education does and most do not even know who represents them on BESE. BESE members historically have been low profile persons who were dedicated to public education. The BESE elections used to attract very low political contributions and were not seen as a stepping stone to higher office. BESE members get no pay for their service and very little news coverage. Thats why in the past, most voters were not very well informed about the huge impact BESE can have on our schools.

But now, almost everyone complains about the very bad decisions being made affecting our children's schools. Almost everyone who has a child in public schools complains about the excessive time spent on standardized testing and test-prep each year. Many parents of school children are alarmed when their children, who once looked forward to attending school, come home crying about the frustrating and incomprehensible material their teachers are forced to teach and test. And recently we learned that our school system has fallen to its lowest level ever in the various rankings of the states on education. We are now tied for last place on the national comparative NAEP test. The Quality Counts rating system which was released last week, covering a wide range of measures rated Louisiana 4th from the bottom of the states, below even Mississippi. These frustrating and damaging changes have happened because our BESE elections have been taken over by a coalition of out-of-state billionaires and the dominant business organization in Louisiana.  

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and super wealthy education reformers from out-of-state decided about 14 years ago that with a concerted effort and a huge infusion of contributions to hand picked candidates, the so called "reformers" could literally take over public education in Louisiana. At the same time a group of mega-wealthy individuals and foundations were looking for laboratory states to experiment with implementing a complete overhaul of public education. Massive contributions came from New York tycoon Michael Bloomberg, the Eli Borad family, the Walton family, and even Bill and Melinda Gates. They then spent millions, on political contributions and a new curriculum to guarantee implementation of all the latest fads in education reform. Bill Gates decided to fund the implementation of the Common Core standards nationwide, sight unseen. Louisiana's BESE adopted the Common Core standards before they were even written. None of these had been field tested. Louisiana and Florida became huge laboratories for education reform.

With the help of Governor Jindal, who also was determined to overhaul education, LABI and their billionaires literally took over 7 out of 8 of the elected positions on BESE. They were then able to bring in an out-of-state non-educator (John White) as the new reformer minded State Superintendent. Republicans and some reformer oriented Democrats in the legislature helped Jindal pass major legislation stripping teachers of tenure, seniority, and every bit of decision making about teaching and implementation of educational standards. They gave the new LABI controlled BESE full authority to take over low performing schools and turn them over to minimally regulated charter school operators. The legislation also allowed vouchers using our school taxes to go to private schools, and to implement the new Common Core State Standards with the accompanying standardized testing and the grading of schools based on this testing.

The education reformers won total control of our schools. Have they succeeded in boosting our children's educational achievement?
The reformers got absolutely everything they wanted with this massive overhaul of our Louisiana schools. The promise of these reforms was to produce much improved performance of our students in reading and math, closing of the achievement gap between underprivileged and middle class children, and a major improvement of Louisiana's ranking of education compared to other states. 

Now after 10 years of operating our schools based on this reform agenda, multiple measures of our education system reveal serious declines, not improvement. We are now awarding diplomas to students who are functional illiterates, and our educational ranking among the states is the lowest ever!

Now that the reform is sputtering, can we take back our schools?
It's sad to say, but it would be almost impossible to take back BESE in the coming 2019 elections, because the reformers still have the ability to control most of the money being spent on the BESE elections. And they are not about to admit that they were wrong about any part of their so called "reforms". The best we can do in this election cycle is to begin the process of educating our parents and taxpayers about the damaging results of the current reforms and at least begin the process of taking back the control of our schools and the use of our school tax dollars.

All of the five incumbents running for reelection to BESE are invested in retaining the reforms no matter what. 
These incumbents are James Garvey, District 1; Kira Orange Jones, District 2; Sandy Holloway, District 3; Tony Davis, District 4; and Holly Boffy, District 7. Tony Davis has no opposition and the other incumbents are seen as front runners. If they get only a fraction of the contributions spent on previous elections by the reformer PACs they have a tremendous advantage. In part II on the BESE elections I will attempt to give some guidance on candidates that are willing to challenge the status quo of the present reform movement in Louisiana.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

State Senator Reveals the Rotten Core of Education Reform

One Senator on the Senate Education Committee Tells it Like it is
Please take just a few minutes to view this video (May 23, 2019) of Senator John Milkovich pointing out the serious flaws in education reform instituted under Governor Jindal and Superintendent John White. Here are some of the points made by Senator Milkovich.
  • Lobbyists and bureaucrats have taken over public education
  • Louisiana's education ranking among the states has fallen to its lowest level ever in the 9 years since the appointment of State Superintendent John White.
  • The Common Core Standards are a complete failure, and the materials used to teach Common Core are almost totally ineffective and counter productive.
  • Because of Common Core requirements, important classical literature has been replaced with teaching dry instructional texts. Reading proficiency, as a result, is falling.
  • Discipline in our public schools is out of control in many schools, and teachers are often not backed up by administrators or allowed to use effective discipline in their classrooms.
  • Teachers and students are now being overwhelmed with excessive testing.
  • Superintendent John White may be illegally serving in his position.
Not one other Senator on the committee spoke up to address the problems brought up by Senator Milkovich.
The worthless diploma scandal gets worse
This blog has exposed some of the more serious abuses of our educational system, including the removal of almost all standards for student promotion and graduation. In this article The Lens continues its coverage of the worthless diploma scandal in one of the New Orleans charter schools. John White has now approved several diplomas by waiver in that school without the students having to take the courses they were lacking for graduation. See also this earlier report and my posts below on this scandal and the removal of standards for promotion and graduation implemented by John White. This makes a total mockery of standards.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and out of state billionaires now control education in Louisiana
LABI has been itching to take over education from the educators for many years. This group that was primarily formed to pass anti-union and pro-big business legislation has long believed that the reason our students performed at a lower average level than many other states was because of teacher laziness, incompetence, teacher tenure, and the lack of a merit pay system. LABI felt that all employment decisions on teachers and administrators should be based almost exclusively on student test scores. During the Jindal administration, they finally got all their wishes granted. Tenure and seniority were destroyed, a merit pay system based on student test scores was implemented and to add insult to injury, a non-educator (John White) was given almost complete control of education.

Now, nine years later, the chickens have come home to roost. Louisiana has a growing teacher shortage after the loss of some of our most dedicated teachers, teachers spend a huge part of the school year doing almost nothing but drilling students in test rehearsals, and our test performance on national tests has fallen to its lowest ranking ever! LABI is continuing its efforts to control BESE by electing hand picked candidates to BESE.

But John White was the knight in shining armor who was going to solve all of our educational problems, So he continues to get excellent ratings from the LABI hand picked BESE, even though according to his policies any regular teacher would have been fired for the very result produced under his direction. And not a single legislator makes a comment following Senator Milkovich's important revelations. Who do you think still controls education?

Discipline laws are being ignored and violated in many schools
Twenty years ago I worked with the Senate Education Committee to clarify and strengthen our school discipline laws. The bill defining teacher rights to remove extremely disruptive and/or disrespectful students from the classroom until effective measures were taken to correct the behavior was almost unanimously approved by the entire legislature at that time. That law is still on the books but is often ignored by administrators in their zeal to keep students in school and to avoid taking necessary actions that may upset some parents.

As a result of these violations of state discipline law, many teachers are routinely insulted and sometimes physically abused by a small minority of students. I have heard of numerous cases where teachers have been forced to leave the profession by lack of support on discipline.
Thank you Senator Milkovich for helping to expose these serious problems in our educational system

Monday, August 12, 2019

Louisiana's Flood of Worthless Diplomas

This well researched article in explains very clearly how Louisiana, during the administration of  Superintendent John White has steadily lowered all standards to produce worthless diplomas. The title of the article, Promoted but not Helped, is a good summary of how Louisiana has improved its graduation rate in the past few years while cheating both students and potential employers.

The article focuses on one student, Denesha Gray, who somehow was awarded a high school diploma by one of the New Orleans charter schools even though she could not count change and was reading at the second grade level when she was granted a diploma.

"Y'all gave her a piece of paper" said Mr Lewis, the student's father.
Under rules that were in place until 2014, Gray’s high school exam scores would have barred her from graduating. But by the time she was a senior, state officials had begun to allow students who required special education services to receive diplomas even if they couldn’t pass the test.
Gray got those services only in her final year, and Lewis believes the intervention was mainly aimed at allowing school officials to wash their hands of his daughter and let her graduate.

The reporter describes how the student's father repeatedly asked school officials to address his daughter's learning disabilities as she was socially promoted from one grade to the next without evidence of learning. When the student was in high school, the highly touted Recovery School District was successfully sued by the Southern Poverty Law center because it was not in compliance with the federal law that required students with disabilities to receive an Individual Education Plan and extra help to deal with their disabilities. For years since charter schools took over most of the New Orleans schools, thousands of students had been deprived of the special education services mandated by law while their schools were receiving federal funding for that purpose. Many of the managers of those schools took in huge profits.

The new BESE policy on promotion adopted in 2017, has now condoned social promotion for all students from one grade to the next even though they fail all of their state tests and all of their teacher made tests. How is that possible if Louisiana is now operating under higher standards? The truth is that there are now basically no standards for promotion. BESE now allows the promotion of failing students if local officials simply submit a plan for helping the student overcome their deficiencies. There is no check up whatsoever to see if the student ever improves based on these plans. I recently filed a public records request and found that in 2018 over 20% of students statewide had failed both their state math and ELA tests, yet only 2% of students statewide were retained.

The flood of new diplomas aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if students lack the skills to excel in the workforce, said Nahliah Webber, of the Orleans Public Education Network, a parents advocacy group.
“You are graduating, but into what? Any school can have a high graduation rate,” she said. “When we don’t make sure that a (child’s) special education experience is high-quality, we are handicapping them for life.”

So now changes in state law allow special education students who do not meet graduation requirements to still get a regular diploma as long as they show progress on their IEP. In addition, regular students who achieve extremely low passing scores on End-of-Course tests can also receive a diploma, even if they fail all of their teacher made tests and are absent well beyond the number of days of attendance required by BESE. The new passing scores on EOC tests are now set so low that in some cases, even if a student knows absolutely nothing about the subject matter of a course, he/she can attain a passing grade on an End of Course test by just making random guesses on the multiple choice portion. That's how Louisiana has increased its graduation rate.

What is the average achievement of students who are awarded a diploma in Louisiana?

Note: After this blog was posted I received a call from a reader of the blog who wondered how average graduates did on the High School End-of-Course tests. Her comment was: "OK so we know that some students are getting a diploma with little or no knowledge, but does that mean that a significant portion of our graduates are illiterate, or are most of our students getting a good education?" I thought this was a legitimate concern so I looked up the average raw scores on the EOC tests for 2019. Here they are: English I - 35%; Algebra I - 30%; English II - 47%, and Geometry - 32%. So the average graduate is getting between 30 and 47 percent of the questions right on the state EOC tests. I would not be very confident therefore, that the average graduate would qualify for college or a solid career.

Implementation of the Common Core curriculum has sabataged Louisiana education to the point that state officials now feel the need to create fake standards to cover up the disaster instead of having the courage to admit their mistake and fix it! Here is another great article exposing the fatal flaws of Common Core.

Friday, August 2, 2019

What's Really Wrong With Louisiana Education?

The article posted earlier this week on my blog may lead some readers to believe that I am "down" on Louisiana education. Nothing could be further from the truth. I also sincerely believe that our public school teachers are some of the most dedicated and hardest working teachers we have ever had.  This post by Ganey Arsement of the blog, Educate Louisiana, makes it clear that, Arsement at least, believes that my motives in publishing disappointing test results is to enlighten the public about the invalidity of our present state tests, and not to criticize the hard work of teachers. This blog post is an attempt to further clarify my findings about the current state of Louisiana education and to make suggestions about how we as citizens and educators may truly improve our public education system.

Our public schools are still the best choice by far
Many of the various posts of this blog demonstrate that our public education system is much more successful and reliable than the alternatives. Those alternatives promoted by the very rich supporters of so called "education reform" have included the establishment of charter schools and voucher schools in recent years that are vacuuming up and wasting many of our tax dollars, Those tax dollars should be going to the real public schools. Examples of charter failures in Louisiana are described here and here. There are many more. The voucher schools have failed even more dramatically.

The flawed assumption that has been promoted in recent years by wealthy donors to the cause of education reform, is that public schools would benefit from increased competition from privately run schools that are exempt of many of the oversight rules in exchange for a focus on results. It was believed that those privately run schools would lead the way in improving all schools. Much of the data we have provided in this blog and others demonstrate that these privately run schools have been generally inferior to public schools and have instead produced  numerous incidences of mismanagement, misappropriation of public dollars, and even scandals based on abuse and neglect of children.

It has been stated by reformers and legislators who support reform in the form of school choice, that parents are the best judge of the school  for their child. I respectfully disagree with this assumption as a blanket statement covering all parents. Certainly many parents are a good judge of what type of education would most benefit their children, but many parents don't have a clue about which school is best for their child. There is significant evidence that some parents are not choosing wisely. In my findings published in the previous post show, using official LDOE data, that voucher schools in Louisiana have produced lower average scores than the average for public schools on all state English and math tests. 

School choice is often a bad choice
The fact that some parents do not choose wisely about the education of their children is also borne out by the number of thriving post secondary schools across the country that are ripping off their students and awarding worthless diplomas. The fact that some parents do not choose wisely and make decisions that are not in their child's best interest is why we have the mandatory attendance laws requiring parents to send their children to school every day they are healthy and able to attend. That is because long ago in our history, it was determined that some parents were irresponsible when it came to sending their children to school. Often in the past some rural parents thought it was more important that children helped on the farm than attend school. But our legislators decided in favor of the future of children by passing laws that required parents to send their children to school. Now those laws are being seriously eroded by the education reformers. For example, the monitoring of home schooling is very minimal.

If we want to improve education we must start with the truth
The most important reason why I publish student test results using raw score averages and raw cut scores is to make parents and taxpayers aware of the truth in student performance. I have been particularly persistent in revealing the secret conversion tables used for converting raw test scores to highly obscure "scale scores". Unfortunately, as long as students are tested each year using standardized tests where the test questions change each year, there must be a system for making the test results compatible to other years. But that is no reason why the real raw scores and the percentage of possible points achieved by a student should be kept secret. In my opinion this system can and has been manipulated to falsify the true results.

It is also important for the public to have some idea of how much of the material on a test the students have actually learned. Some of those raw cut scores for a rating of passing on Louisiana tests recently have been so low that some students could almost pass a test by just making random guesses. This is wrong and needs to be exposed. John White and his "reformers" are trying to keep the truth hidden because they have failed miserably in their promise to produce. Their one goal of improving test scores has only made teaching and learning into a dull uninspiring exercise with poor results.

The real problem, in my opinion, with the low test scores our students are achieving on the new Common Core based tests, is that the material teachers are forced to teach is often not age appropriate, and often not really useful in preparing students for life. I think it's a travesty to force students to sit in their desks rehearsing for tests that are not relevant to them and that will not help them in the future. We need to completely revise the curriculum, the standards and the tests being used to teach children in Louisiana. Those revisions need to be based on student readiness and on the real needs of our children, not some untested theories about what will result in higher SAT scores.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

2019 LEAP and EOC Conversion Tables

The LDOE claims steady growth in student LEAP scores
The Louisiana Department of Education recently announced the results of the Spring 2019 LEAP tests. The results statewide and by school district and school are available on the LDOE web site at links given at the bottom of the press release, here. These tables represent the LDOE's decisions on how many and what percentage of students achieved each level of achievement designated by the following categories: Unsatisfactory, Approaching Basic, Basic, Mastery, and Advanced.

The Department, in its press release, reports that Louisiana students are making steady improvement over last year on LEAP scores. This conclusion is based on the slight improvement in scale scores over last year, but since the LDOE has the authority to change the raw scores equivalent to scale scores, this conclusion is highly questionable.

The cut scores for each level of achievement may be manipulated
Each year the cut scores for each category of achievement remain the same, with the lowest passing score on LEAP tests (Basic) for grades 3-8 set at 725 points. However, the Department (LDOE) in consultation with its testing company sets the real raw scores equivalent to each level of achievement after the raw test results are in. Those raw cut scores change by a small amount each year. Some independent researchers, including myself, believe that this process allows the LDOE to manage or manipulate the reported performance of our students. Maybe that's why Louisiana's NAEP scores have dropped compared to our LEAP scores.

Scale scores are not really proportionate to the raw scores
Scale scores for each subject and grade tested run from a minimum of 650 to a maximum score of 850. If a student gets none of the answers right on a particular test she/he still gets the minimum score of 650. (This scale score seems to imply such students have actually achieved something even though they got nothing right) If the student gets all the points possible on a particular test he/she gets a score of 850. Other than those two end points, the scale score system does not tell us much about how many answers or points a student actually got right on a particular test. The actual points a student earns compared to the total possible points is called the "raw score". If we know the raw score and the total possible points on a particular test, we can calculate a raw percentage score by dividing the raw points earned by the total possible. The raw percentage score tells us how much of the material on the test a student actually got right. Unfortunately most parents never get to see their child's real raw percentage scores on state tests.

Using the "secret" conversion tables
Each year the LDOE and their testing companies create raw score to scale score conversion tables for each LEAP and End-of-Course test given. This should allow anyone to determine the scale score a student receives based on the number of points he got right on each test. But for some reason, the raw score to scale score conversion table is never made public on the LDOE web site. I believe the State Superintendent had originally intended to keep that information out of the reach of independent researchers and parents, but he was pressured to make the information available after receiving one of my public records requests that happened to be signed also by several key legislators. So now the raw score to scale score conversion tables are considered public records that can be obtained by any citizen upon making an official request. For the convenience of my readers, this third year in a row, I have requested the conversion tables. Each of the last three years, I have made the conversion tables available on my Google Docs site so that interested educators and parents could see how many points out of the total possible or what percentage each student scored on each of their state tests.

Shockingly low raw scores
This link will take you to my Google Docs site where you can scroll though the LEAP test conversion tables for the 2019 tests. So if you know a student's scale score on a particular test, you can look up how many points he/she got right on the test. Then if you divide that raw score by the total possible points on the test you can see what percentage of the test questions the student got right. Readers will find that these raw and raw percentage scores are shockingly low for most students. For example, the average cut score for Basic for grades 3 through 8 in ELA and math represents only 27% of the questions answered correctly. Some of the cut scores for a rating of Basic are as low as 22% (5th grade ELA)  and only 26% (7th grade math). Average statewide student performance in 2019 in ELA for grades 3 through 8 was only 38%. Average statewide student performance in 2019 in math for grades 3 through 8 was only 39%.

We learn by reviewing these conversion tables, how few answers a student has to get right to score a passing score of Basic. The passing raw percentage scores on LEAP vary quite a bit from test to test, but each year average about 30% for English and math. So students can pass most of the LEAP tests each year by knowing an average of less than one-third of the material on the test. Also the cut scores for Mastery are quite low, averaging 43% for ELA and only 51% for math. Maybe that's why Superintendent John White, who loves to brag about how he has raised school standards in Louisiana, was not anxious to make the raw scores easily available to the general public.

Raw cut scores for high school End of Course tests are ridiculously low
I have also received the raw score to scale score conversion tables for the high school End of Course tests for the 2018-2019 school year. Readers can click on this link to see the conversion tables for the English I, English II, Algebra I, Geometry, and American History End of Course tests for this past year. The cut scores for passing EOC tests are even lower than those for elementary and middle schools. Students only need to get a rating of "Approaching Basic" to get a passing score. The geometry test can now be passed by a student getting only 10.3% of the questions right.

Voucher students earn consistently lower scores than students who attend regular public schools
I requested and received the average scores (statewide) for public school students taking all of the LEAP and End of Course tests in the 2018-2019 school year and the 2017-2018 school years. Use this link to access the report of average LEAP scores. In addition, readers can use the same table to view the average scores of non-public school students. These are the students that have received "opportunity scholarships" to allow them to take their MFP money with them to attend a private school in Louisiana. This was Governor Jindal and John White's plan to allow students to "escape" so called "failing schools" and go to a school where they would get a better education. Unfortunately for the image of this highly touted program, the figures reported here show that for every grade and every test, the average scores for the students attending private schools at public expense are lower than the average scores for students attending public schools.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Part II: Lessons from Primitive Childhood Education

Anthropologists and geneticists have discovered that all children are born with a powerful love of learning and genetic instincts that prod them to learn how to live successfully in their environment. But we modern humans with our latest education reforms seem to be determined to kill the joy of learning in our children.

  Scientists studied several primitive hunter-gatherer societies where people were organized in small tribes. They found that in all cases children were eager to explore and learn about their environments. Children seemed to learn effortlessly with little fussing or organized instruction by adults. On their own, through play and imitation, children rapidly picked up the tribal language, knowledge of plants, and animals, use of tools and weapons and survival skills which are vital to success of the tribe. The harsh primitive environment of hunter-gatherers require humans to absorb huge volumes of information and skills and to apply amazing creativity and adaptability to survive. Modern humans could learn a lot from primitive peoples about how to educate children to lead happy, successful lives in our society.

According to this study report: "It would be a mistake to assume that because hunter-gatherer cultures were “simpler” than modern cultures, children had less to learn. The hunting-and-gathering way of life was highly knowledge-intensive and skill-intensive, and because of the absence of occupational specialization, each child had to acquire the whole culture, or at least that part of it appropriate to his or her gender."

If you want to get a glimpse of how difficult it is to survive in the woods, by hunting and finding edible plants, without modern shelter and conveniences, just watch any episode of the reality show Naked and Afraid. The modern humans who volunteer for this 21 day ordeal are quickly reduced to starving, trembling, bug bitten, misfits. Modern humans are totally unprepared to live as hunter gatherers because we have not received the extensive training that children who grow up in such societies receive. What are the secrets used by primitive people to teach their children complex living skills and the social rules that allow young people to take their place in tribal life?

Researchers found that in general: “Hunter-gatherers do not give orders to their children; for example, no adult announces bedtime. At night, children remain around adults until they feel tired and fall asleep.… Parakana adults [of Brazil] do not interfere with their children’s lives. They never beat, scold, or behave aggressively with them, physically or verbally, nor do they offer praise or keep track of their development.… Children do not go to parents for help or to complain about one another.… Adults do not give any indication of being worried about the psychological future of their children. Whether or not their children will become effective adults is not an issue” 

Amazingly, researchers found that in all the primitive societies studied, children had natural instincts that guided them to seek knowledge of their surroundings and acquiring skills such as hunting, food gathering, shelter construction, tool crafting, and vital social skills. So an apparent liaise faire education without formal instruction is a system that works very effectively for primitive people. Contrast that to our modern, highly structured schooling of children with its ridged curriculum, constant testing, test prep, and obsessive school accountability ratings.

The authors of the research article on primitive education believe they have found a unique modern day school that has been in operation in the U.S. for over 40 years that successfully applies the self teaching principles found in primitive society. They have studied the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. This private alternative school serves an average of about 180 students each year from kindergarten age though high school. The guiding principle of the school is that children should be given freedom to explore and educate themselves as they choose. It has no curriculum, and no testing, but the school employs well educated adults who provide instruction and guidance as needed. The school is equipped with typical education resources such as books, computers, internet access, and also shops, kitchens, art supplies, tools, sporting equipment and outdoor access for all students. Children interact with each other in mixed age groups and with teachers in a process of self-directed learning. It is reported that the school's graduates go on to college and careers with at least as much success as do students in traditional schools.

Although considering the possible benefits of the Sudbury alternative school above, I do not believe that in modern education that lassie fare eduction would be a panacea.  I believe our present environment for children presents major distractions that would favor caution against a pure lassie fare approach to the rearing and education of our children. We probably have all witnessed children who are either led astray by peer groups or by the addictive nature of social media and electronic gaming. That is in addition to the literal poisoning of both children and adults by the many addictive mind altering drugs that are readily available today. Each of those factors that are not present in primitive society can derail the education of children. Parents and educators must be vigilant in protecting children from those influences in our environment that can distort or destroy the physical and mental development of children.

Unfortunately, our latest reforms to our modern education system have resulted in much student apathy, disfunction, disrespect for teachers, classroom disciplinary issues, and the loss of about one-third of minority students to what some call the school-to-prison pipeline. Our present Common Core curriculum is preparing students for very little of what they will need to know to succeed in real life. Low income students are being systematically cut out of higher education by prohibitive cost, and we are teaching few real life survival skills such as how to stay away from payday lenders and how understand and work with  tools. Instead, we are producing a generation of obese, unhealthy, sedentary, unmotivated youth with a  huge percentage of our population destined for a life of crime and/or dependence on government services. Instead of buying into our intended preparation for high paid STEM careers, many of our students are becoming addicted to drugs and/or obsessive video gaming and societal dropout.

One of the big problems for modern education is that our system separates children from contact with the vital life skills and careers utilized by parents and other adults around them. Most children today never get to see what kind of work their parents do every day to earn money to purchase our food, shelter and leisure  time gadgets. Primitive kids, on the other hand, get to see every day how their mothers and fathers get food, shelter and other necessities. In order to compensate for this experience gap for our children, our education system should be redesigned to expose and immerse children in the real knowledge and skills they will need later in life.

Possibly the best approach to improving education is to create schools that work to capitalize on the instinctive learning drives of children while insuring that learners are exposed to positive adult role models and to those skills that are necessary to success in our modern lives. I would also resist allowing children access to the addictive electronic devices that have sidetracked so many young people today. Parents need to actively monitor and help select a child's peer groups to help prevent damaging distractions from healthy development.

Even though our environment is now very changed, modern schooling should continue to stress adaptability, teamwork and harmony with nature. In order to allow students to experience various careers starting even at the early elementary level, educators should develop cooperative programs with local businesses and industry, hospitals, farms, and service industries to provide regular interaction of students with many adults exemplifying many types of careers and role models. Such adjustments would be more in line with what works very effectively in primitive education. What we are teaching right now is too artificial, separated from reality, and is often totally useless for many children. Unlike primitive societies our modern education system has little contact and connection with real careers.

Education coaches need to work with parents of young children to encourage vital early training even before children get to school. Parents should understand that it is beneficial to the child to involve her/him in as many routine tasks in the home as practicable. Let the child help wash the dishes, housecleaning, mowing the grass, washing the clothes, and helping to cook the food. Such experiences are necessary in life, so why not allow children to experience them as early as possible. It is definitely not doing children a favor to exempt them from doing routine jobs in the home. As children learn to pull their own weight in life, it helps them build self-esteem as well as making life a lot easier. Admiral McCraven, commander of the Navy Seals advised recently in a graduation address: "If you want to change the world start every day by making your bed!" He goes on to extoll the virtues of healthy habits, including the development of simple routines that that keep our lives orderly and productive. How many young people do we all know that never lift a finger around the house? Such lack of basic skills and good habits will certainly haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Well designed pre-school can be valuable for socialization and development of interpersonal skills as well as further allowing children to explore their environment. Swiss educators often hold pre-school classes out-of-doors so that children can be allowed to play and explore nature, plants and animals and develop skills though play. It has been a serious mistake for the proponents of Common Core and our current test prep education to reduce recess time and attempt to structure all schooling as college prep for all. Kids need to burn energy while developing muscles and coordination by mostly unstructured play. And at the same time teachers can get a decent coffee break! If you want to get a look at how important instinctive development is to developing children, just watch the behavior of puppies or kittens as they develop coordination and vital skills by play running and jumping and play fighting.

And what about providing children with a much healthier diet that provides children with real food instead of the calorie laden fast food that many children grow up eating. You don't think proper nutrition has a place in education? Well just look around you at the thousands of teenagers that are so overweight from eating fast food and from lack of exercise that they are already pre-diabetic before getting their first real job. What company wants to hire young people that are obese and unhealthy and will be a drain on the healthcare system before they are thirty? Hunter-gatherer children have virtually no tooth decay (caused by excessive sugar and starch) and grow up lean and healthy even when they have plentiful food. Maybe we need to put our kids under the charge of hunter-gatherers so they can grow up healthy. Much of the explosion in health care expenses today for Americans is caused by poor diet and lack of proper exercise. What about excessive exposure to electronic gadgets and social media?  Many industry leaders in Silicon Valley send their children to private schools that do not allow smart phones and iPads. Maybe these experts in media addiction know something is not natural and healthy about hunching over a smart phone all day. Our culture has created an alternate reality for many children that runs completely contrary to healthy lifestyles.

Obviously our job in preparing our children for life is much more complicated than that of hunter-gathers, and there are apparently powerful distractions that can supersede formal education, but there must be a better, more natural education path than what we are doing. Our current reform practice of attempting to prepare all students in a strictly academic track for college is a losing strategy for many students and is not producing results on the very skills that were targeted. How often do most people use a quadratic equation at home or at work? Do we really need to follow ridgid steps in solving a math problem? Do we really need to analyze the parts of the plot of a story, or should we work instead on encouraging a love of reading in our children? It is time to really reform our dysfunctional education system and adopt methods that align better with our amazing genetic programming for learning to thrive in our environment.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Common Core Debacle Proves That Cave Men Educated their Children Better Than We Do Today

Here is an excellent article describing the real reasons for the teacher shortage happening in other states as well as Louisiana. The following is a quote in the article from a teacher who quit teaching recently, partly because she felt that the new Common Core based system imposed on her school did not allow her to address her students' individual needs in reading. She was teaching 8th grade English and had found that many of her students were reading at second or third grade level:

"At a staff meeting with a school district testing data coach and our principal, I brought up the lack of reading skills in my eighth-graders. How was I expected to bring them up five or six grade levels in one year so they could pass the state test in February and April, I asked. 

Their reply was: ‘Don’t talk about kids who can’t read and our responsibility to educate them, and don’t ask questions. Head down; mouth shut. You’re no longer teachers, but managers and monitors of information."

Notice how similar this description of teacher frustration is to my earlier post on the Louisiana teacher shortage. There is now little respect for the professional opinions of teachers. The unrelenting drive is on preparing kids to score well on the state tests. But that school system has found out, just as we in Louisiana have, that the imposition of slavish prep has not really significantly raised test scores after all.

In this post, I want to focus on the negative effect of the current nationwide shift of education to the Common Core State Standards and to begin a comparison to how primitive hunter-gatherer societies educate their children. I believe forcing teachers to implement this unwieldy and impractical curriculum is a major contributor to the discontent of teachers and the serious teacher shortage. In addition, this approach is counter to our children's inborn drive to explore and learn vital skills.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the adoption of the Common Core Standards has failed to accomplish the stated goal of improved college readiness. Instead the new push for the CCSS has actually caused a decline in student academic achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP testing is recognized as the gold standard for measuring the math, and reading skills of  students in each state.

The NAEP tests that are administered to representative samples of students in all states have revealed stagnation in reading and math achievement in most states. So, if the CCSS have not improved college readiness (the original reason why the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration pushed the adoption of Common Core) and have actually allowed the degrading of our children's basic skills in reading and math, why are most states still using the CCSS? The answer is that the major power brokers that pushed us to adopt the CCSS in the first place are ideologically tied to these defective standards even if they don't work! The problem is that public education policy decisions are more political and are often not based on data and science.

It is ironic that the executives of successful mega-companies like Microsoft and Exon that make their company decisions based on data and science, embraced CCSS without a shred of evidence that it would work in the first place. They apparently were sold a bill of goods by a group of college testing executives led by David Coleman, head of The College Board, who somehow believed that all children could and should begin preparation for college starting at the lower elementary levels. But the writers of Common Core were definitely not experts in early childhood education. They also had no idea about recent findings from evolutionary Biology about how children learn to survive and succeed in their environment.

The self appointed authors of the CCSS wrote the standards based more on the type of training currently being used to prepare older students to take the SAT and ACT tests. This dry, purely academic material is simply not developmentally appropriate for early childhood. In addition, even for older students, the material billed as vital for the development of critical thinking skills and college prep is not appropriate for the majority of careers. It is not correct that all students, even those who will not pursue 4 year college degrees, need to take college prep math and English. At least 90% of our students will never use the Common Core math for the rest of their lives. So it's no wonder that many such students are not easily motivated to learn this material.

Also, while almost all careers benefit from the ability of workers to read product manuals, reading skills are often stifled by introducing such material before students are developmentally ready or motivated to learn such dry material. It is no wonder then, that reading and math achievement has actually declined slightly since the implementation of Common Core. The influential boosters of Common Core at the Gates Foundation and Exxon seem to be oblivious to its failure. These company managers often move very quickly to correct policies and practices that adversely affect the bottom line for their corporations. For example, Microsoft had briefly adopted stack ranking of employees based on job evaluations, so they got school systems to adopt the same plan for evaluating and rewarding teachers. But in a few short years, the Microsoft managers learned that the new policy severely damaged team unity and morale, so they shut it down. No such luck for our teachers who continue to be tortured by the same defective plan!

Another piece of bogus ideology currently being promoted is the belief of reformers that "children will rise to the challenge of higher standards." This dogma claims that all students perform according to the expectations of their teachers.  Again, there is not one shred of evidence for this claim. But the reformers firmly believe that if some students are falling behind, it must be because their teachers did not have "high expectations". Such thinking is pure hogwash, because it ignores the tremendous variation in student abilities and home backgrounds. After 10 years of mandated "higher expectations", schools that serve students in poor neighborhoods continue to perform at the bottom compared to schools serving more privileged kids. High, unrealistic expectations accomplish absolutely nothing!

Unfortunately, our new state tests are designed to reflect the high expectations of the education reformers without regard to individual or community differences. So now Louisiana children are averaging a little over 40% correct answers on their all important Common Core based annual tests. Yet, each year, almost all students are promoted to successive grades regardless of actual performance on class work or state tests. Then, to meet the higher expectation of increased graduation rates, our students are given credit for high school courses where the passing grade can be as low as 12% correct answers. The true performance of our students is converted to a scale score system that obscures actual test results. Such schemes make a mockery of higher standards and cheat students of a real education.

Also the assumption that forcing young learners to master certain difficult "critical thinking skills" improves overall performance, is not correct. Most learning is specific to a particular task or problem and does not necessarily transfer to other areas. Learning researchers have known for many years that requiring kids to play chess, or attempting to master obscure complex math problems and reading difficult technical text does not make students smarter. Such exercises waste time and energy that could be used to prepare students for skills, such as financial literacy, that would be truly useful for successful life. A recent report by the BBC found that most American youths have no financial literacy and rapidly become overwhelmed by credit card debt. Why are education reformers determined to promote pretentious theoretical exercises at the expense of useful learning?

Recent findings in the field of evolutionary biology have revealed that the versatile brains of children are designed to absorb a huge volume of information and skills as they grow, to prepare them for survival. Human children are literally "learning machines" that are pre-programmed by their genes to be curious, to explore, and to happily learn the skills that will make them successful in their environment. They really need very little coaxing to learn vital life skills, which they often learn through play and imitation of adults and older children.  Unfortunately, our education reforms have produced a curriculum that frustrates the healthy learning instincts of our children. Watch for part II on this topic on this blog to see how modern humans could revise our education system in harmony with our genetic programming to produce happy, educated, and productive citizens of the future. We should strive to teach our children as well as did our Cave Man ancestors.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Real Reasons for the Louisiana Teacher Shortage

State education officials are now alarmed about the growing teacher shortage in Louisiana. What are the causes of the decline in certified teachers, and how can we fix it?
I would hazard a guess that most legislators have no clue that they have been primarily responsible for the teacher shortage in Louisiana. So they are looking for solutions in areas that may not help alleviate the problem.

Here are the usual reasons given for the Louisiana teacher shortage and how to cure it: Sure, teacher salaries are too low and a big boost in teacher salaries in Louisiana would get a few more young people to choose teaching. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the legislature are too tight fisted to allow more than a measly $1,000 raise proposed by Governor Edwards for next year (and that is still not a sure thing). Sure, if the State were to drop standards for teacher certification as is being proposed by the LDOE and some superintendents, that will draw more warm bodies into the teaching field. Maybe providing extra pay for teachers in shortage fields such as math, ELA, science and special education would add a few more desperate workers in those areas.

Those are the quick fixes being considered by the legislature in HB 310. But the real problem causing the present teacher shortage can be summarized with the title of the Aretha Franklin song: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Unfortunately respect is the last thing the reformers and self appointed bosses of public education are willing to give.
For 16 years now, the reformers have operated on the assumption that the teaching profession is failing and deserves little respect. The power brokers believed they could fix the profession by putting it under the control of a bunch of "elite non-educators" who would demand better performance or else!
Starting in 2004, laws were passed that would allow the state to take over so called failing schools where student performance was low based on state standardized test scores and turn them over to be operated by individuals who would focus strictly on results. Many state regulations would be dropped, including the requirement of using certified teachers as long as student test scores were greatly improved. Charter schools run by entrepreneurs, instead of educators, would take over the failing schools and start turning out students who would be "college ready". The Recovery District charter schools got many of their teachers from Teach For America, an organization that gives "high status" graduates from other fields a quickie 5 week course in teaching and puts then to work in the charter schools raising student test scores. Also, in 2010 a law was passed that would base half of a teacher's evaluation on the average test performance of her/his students. The purpose was to force teachers to focus on test scores as a one-dimensional result.
Governor Jindal and John White brought education reform on steroids
Acts I and II of 2012 implemented radical changes in teacher management designed to make all teacher employment decisions based on student test scores. With these laws, the Jindal Administration planned to remove "outmoded" teacher protections such as tenure, seniority, and automatic step salary increases and add merit pay. This would be done by implementing a draconian system of teacher evaluation and tenure cancellation often based on unstable student test scores, the elimination of seniority rights, and the destruction of the automatic step increases for teachers. John White, the Jindal selected state superintendent, testified before the legislature that there was no evidence that tenure and teacher experience made a difference in student performance. There should be no salary credit given to teachers who had shown loyalty by staying true to their profession and their local school system. The ideal would be to pay each teacher a salary and benefits based on student test scores. The author of the new legislation, Rep. Steve Carter,  told a story about how he had visited a school with a truly high performing teacher who told him she wished she could just have the opportunity to teach all the students in her school that were being underserved by lazy or incompetent teachers. The legislature relied on this dubious "evidence" instead of real evidence for the reforms.
Who really controls public education?
Unlike other professions such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, nursing, and even contractors that have their own Boards comprised of elected members of the profession, that set standards and rule on professional matters, teacher standards are set by lay people who may have no credentials in the profession. Our State Superintendent of Education is not required to be a professional educator. The last State Superintendent of Education before John White was an attorney who had no education credentials and who had never served as a teacher. John White had a non-education degree and got a couple of years of teaching based on 5 weeks of TFA training. Later he obtained some questionable credentials from The Broad Academy which created itself as a training program for education administrators who would help spread the current principles of education reform.
The lobbying group that took control of our public schools 
In Louisiana, the real power over public education is wielded by the lobbying group, The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). This a group that was originally formed in the 1960s to weaken labor unions in Louisiana by passing the Right to Work law and other laws restricting worker's rights. Once LABI got through crushing labor unions and holding down the minimum wage law close to starvation levels, it turned its attention to public education. Along with super rich out-of-state interests such as The Walton Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and individuals such as Michael Bloomberg from New York, LABI helped Governor Jindal to pass his punitive education reform laws in 2012 and to elect the majority of BESE members to enforce these laws. Those are the laws mentioned above that destroyed teacher seniority rights, greatly weakened teacher tenure, and established a seriously defective teacher merit pay system. Jindal also added a voucher system allowing public education funds to be spent on private schools and greatly expanded charter schools with little accountability.

Generous campaign contributions to legislators from big business and the charter industry keeps these influence groups in charge of education.
Teachers were systematically shut out of the decision making process on school reform.
 On the day the two major bills were heard in committee, thousands of teachers took a personal day off and appeared at the capitol with the intent of making their professional opinions known. I am proud to say that The Louisiana Association of Educators, where I spent 20 years representing teachers, did everything they could to turn out the teachers and allow them input into their profession.  The Louisiana Federation of Teachers did the same in bringing teachers to the capitol. Unfortunately teachers were systematically locked out of the education committee room, while the business lobbyists and a fake professional education group got reserved seats. Teachers did insist on testifying however, and were generally insulted by the education committee chairperson. That's the input teachers were allowed from Jindal and the Legislature when some of the most consequential education legislation in a generation was passed. At the same time, the untested Common Core standards were adopted and implemented, setting up Louisiana students as the ultimate victims of education reform.
Lack of support for teachers in maintaining discipline and preventing classroom disruption is also a major factor in teachers giving up the profession
Call me old fashioned, but I think teachers should have the right to punish students who disrupt the class, and disrespect their teachers. The education reformers don't like to use the word "punish" when it comes to stopping bad behavior of some students. There is now such a strong push on graduating almost all students regardless of performance, that student suspension has almost been abolished for even some of the most aggressive and disrespectful behaviors. It almost seems that somehow the teacher is always to blame for bad student behavior.

Here are some of the latest terms used by reformers to avoid punishing disruptive students: 

Teachers must learn how to "deescalate" the situation when a student becomes disruptive. The teacher is asked: "What did you do to cause the unacceptable behavior?" 

A program designed to mostly ignore bad behavior and implement reinforcements for good behavior is called "Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), now required in many schools. Most teachers say it is a joke and ties their hands in stopping bad behavior.

"Restorative justice", which requires specialists trained in certain techniques of resolving disputes between student and student and teacher and student is another often expensive option to suspension. 

Teachers forced to accept often rude and humiliating behavior from students that also prevent other students from having an orderly classroom often don't feel that everyone in the classroom should have to suffer at the hands of the few who don't usually care to learn in the first place. State laws granting teachers the right to remove extremely disruptive students from the classroom are often ignored by administrators who don't want to have their school labeled by the state for having a high suspension rate.

Many teachers who are trapped in these humiliating and stressful situations end up giving up their chosen profession.
Teachers finally had enough
The Jindal reforms can be summarized with one word. Disastrous!

The new teacher evaluation program called COMPASS, had actually been written by a non-teacher brought in by John White. It was very impractical, took huge chunks of time from teachers and principals, and amounted to a dog and pony show instead of real teaching. Not one penny of Jindal's merit pay system was funded, so many school systems robbed automatic step increases to fund the merit pay, resulting in no overall improvement in average pay. All of this was extremely demoralizing  for all teachers.

On Dec. 20, 2013, I posted this article on my blog including a letter written by a teacher who had just resigned along with several other highly respected teachers in Lafayette Parish. It describes the extreme frustration experienced by thousands of teachers all over the state with the extreme disrespect expressed in the Jindal education reforms. Early teacher retirements and resignations exploded. But even more important, teachers warned their own children and close relatives not to go into the so called "education profession". Enrollments in the colleges of education dropped off drastically and are still down by 18% compared to before the reforms.

At first John White was not concerned. He could fill a lot of the vacancies with his TFA favorites. White more recently established a policy that would require a year of internship under the guidance of "experienced" teachers. (Remember those are the people White testified in the legislature were no better than brand new teachers)  

The new teacher evaluation program, based 50% on student test scores, resulted in numerous defective results. Many teachers were devastated by losing tenure and being put in remediation according to the rules of the COMPASS system. The program was temporarily suspended and then later reduced to a 35% factor instead of 50%. LABI and the reformers were still tied to the new evaluation system even if it did not work.

Charter schools and voucher schools have not been the magic bullet originally expected. In fact the charters are riddled with scandals, do not help students to perform better, and the students in voucher schools according to this study would have done better on state tests if they had stayed in their public schools.
In 2017, after all the reforms, Louisiana's student test ranking as measured by the national NAEP, fell to its lowest level ever
Now with the lowering of standards which was advertised as "raising the bar" our students are doing worse than ever compared to other states. But LABI and the education reformers still refuse to admit the  serious damage caused by COMPASS, Common Core, and the systematic attacks on teacher benefits that have occurred over the last 16 years. There is still obvious resentment and disrespect for the whole teaching profession. It must be the teachers' fault that the reforms have not worked yet. Just give it more time. Patch up the teacher shortage with some type of cheap fix.

Unfortunately, We cannot expect the teacher shortage to be repaired under these conditions.