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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Louisiana Voucher Students Perform Worse Than Non-Voucher Peers

After 4 years of the Louisiana School Voucher Program, Voucher Students Continue to Perform Lower Than They Would Have if They Had Stayed in Their Public Schools

The University of Arkansas has been studying the Louisiana Voucher Program, which is officially labeled using the more attractive "Scholarship Program". They found that after 4 years the results continue to be disappointing for its boosters. Students in the voucher program continue to do worse than they would have if they had stayed in their original public schools. The researchers were able to draw this conclusion because they used the "gold standard" for research by comparing the voucher results against students who were randomly left out of the program by the lottery process. This provides a true scientific control and therefore more reliable results.
Louisiana's pro-reform media generally ignored this latest study on vouchers, probably because they and the powerful big business lobbyists don't want to report reform failures.
Last week I reported in this blog that The Advocate chose not to report on a bill debated in the Senate Education Committee that would have given local school systems the option to pull out of the Common Core based state standards. My testimony to that committee revealed that since the adoption of the Common Core Based standards 6 years ago, Louisiana students are now performing in last place compared to other states. Technically, we are tied with New Mexico for last place.

The failure of the voucher program was also ignored by most of the larger media sources. It was only reported by a few public radio stations, even though all news media got the press release from the University of Arkansas.

This blog has reported that the primary forces behind education reform in Louisiana have been the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL). These big business groups were strong supporters of the Common Core Standards and other reforms such as teacher merit pay (which was a total failure and resulted in a serious teacher shortage). LABI and CABL don't like to admit when they are wrong!

The Education Research Alliance based at Tulane University has stopped reporting on the voucher program for some mysterious reason.
Originally the Education Research Alliance had jointly studied vouchers along with the University of Arkansas. The expectation was that both groups would continue the follow-up studies because some believed that the voucher program may improve over time. That has obviously not happened and the Tulane group has stopped reporting the sad results.

The latest report on Louisiana education reforms by the Tulane group occurred in July of 2018. That report concluded that Louisiana student test scores on state tests had improved by 11 to 16% since the reforms. This was the kind of report the reform supporters such as LABI wanted to see. The only problem is that the analysis was seriously flawed. The problem is that the state test score results are totally under control of the LDOE and the testing company. They can manipulate the results to produce any result they want. And that's exactly what they did. When compared to the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAPE) which is the test that provides a comparison of Louisiana with all the other states, it becomes obvious that our state test results have been inflated by over 59%.

The latest report by Tulane also touted the fact that the Louisiana graduation rate had improved since the reforms by 3 to 9 percentage points. But the analysis failed to note that the high school End of Course tests had their passing scores lowered to approximately 20% correct answers for a passing score. In other words, we boosted our graduation rate by lowering the standards for graduation.

Basically all of the Jindal/John White reforms have been total failures. That's the news that LABI and the pro-reform media don't want to report.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Charter School Operators in Louisiana Do Not Need High School Degree

Go to the last paragraph of this post to see why the pro-reform news media no longer reports Louisiana's national ranking of school performance

This article explains that according to BESE policy, charter school directors do not even need a high school diploma to operate their schools! This is how high our state education authorities have “raised the bar” for charter school operations. Thankfully our regular school principals are still required to adhere to the “status quo” which requires at least a Master’s degree along with many other qualifications. Maybe that’s why we seldom see state investigations and school closings based on ethical violations by the real public school administrators.

Here’s an interesting related matter: Betsey Dovos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, considers frequent closings of fcharter schools a good thing because it allows their replacement by better charters. The only problem is that there is no evidence that the new schools perform better.

This article describes legislation being considered in California that would limit the use of TFA teachers with only 5 weeks of training who end up in the schools with the most "at-risk" students. In Louisiana, routinely using uncertified teachers and unqualified operators is how we address the needs of our most at risk students.

Here's another example of Louisiana "raising the bar". I testified before the Senate education committee on Thursday, April 17 in favor of SB 128, which would have allowed local school systems, based on a vote of their citizens, to set their own standards and testing for the purposes of accountability. My testimony included the fact that our state standards for a passing grade on state LEAP tests average 30% correct answers for a passing score. I also pointed out that it takes only 14.7% correct answers to pass the BESE mandated Algebra I End of Course test. Even with these "high standards" about one-third of Louisiana students fail their state tests and are promoted anyway. How could any local school system setting their own standards possibly do worse?

The Advocate reporter, Will Sentell,  was in attendance at the hearing on SB 128 but chose not to report anything about the bill or the testimony. This is how our pro eduction reform news media at The Advocate, in cahoots with big business lobbyists representing LABI and CABLE,  avoid telling the public the truth about our true state standards. They just never report the failures of education reform under John White. The Advocate (before White) used to love to report about Louisiana's low ranking on national tests. This time Sentell neglected to report that Senator Milkovich cited the fact that after 6 years of the new Common Core based standards, Louisiana is now tied for last place in the rankings of the states on the NAEP test. Our lowest ranking ever!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Local School Systems Should be Able to Choose their own Academic Content Standards and Tests

This bill, by Senator Milkovich which will be debated in the Senate Education Committee this week, would allow each school system to opt out of the state content standards and accountability tests and to choose their own set of content standards for the students in their district. The process would allow the parents of each school district, when a petition is signed by at least 10% of the voters to hold an election to choose the academic standards and tests that would apply to their students.

Senate Bill 128 will be heard at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, April 17 in the Hainkel committee room. Any interested citizen is allowed to attend and comment on the legislation.

The present Louisiana content standards and state LEAP and End of Course tests are based primarily on the Common Core standards. These standards were never tested by using field trials or any other means before they were adopted by BESE. The Common Core standards were a set of academic mandates for ELA and math for each grade that were arbitrarily written by a set of self appointed academic elites mostly representing testing companies and other college related persons. A huge campaign financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Federal government got many states such as Louisiana to adopt the standards and their accompanying tests sight unseen.

The Common Core standards are not appropriate for our students and have resulted in a decline in academic achievement and readiness of our students for life and careers. Louisiana has now dropped to its lowest achievement ranking ever compared to other states.

Please read the following posts, here, here, and here, on the Louisiana Educator blog that give you all the data you need to determine that the common core standards are not appropriate or effective as the best curriculum for our students. You will also see how state education officials have watered down promotion standards and basically abandoned all academic requirements in an effort to justify the use of these ineffective standards and tests.

Please consider attending this hearing and voice your support for Senate Bill 128!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A National Study Confirms Our Worst Fears About Our School Standards and Tests

In my opinion, the Common Core based tests such as the Louisiana LEAP tests and our high school end of course tests (EOC) are just not valid for any purpose, and I now have data to back that up. Right now the LEAP and EOC tests are used for measuring the achievement levels of our students, the effectiveness of our teachers and the ratings of our schools. The evidence is building that our tests are not good for any of those purposes.

My most recent post on this blog describes how the State Department of Education has lowered the standard for passing LEAP and EOC to appallingly low levels. This was done primarily to show false progress in improving student achievement in ELA and math. My post showed that this so called progress is contradicted by the NAEP tests. But it was also done because the tests are much too difficult for our students. Now a study just released by NEPE (The National Education Policy Center) provides more than adequate cause why these tests should be trashed before they do more damage.

The NEPE study titled "A Consumer’s Guide to Testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What Can the Common Core and Other ESSA Assessments Tell Us?" is a long technical report that would be extremely difficult for any lay person to comprehend. In addition, it was obviously written in such a way as to avoid offending the powers that keep our school systems chained to the Common Core standards. But buried in the report are some shocking findings, if you look hard enough to find them.

The most shocking finding of the NEPE report is not to be found in the summary of the findings even though it should have been included as one of the most significant concerns. This finding is about the validity of the PARCC tests upon which at least 90% of our Louisiana tests are based and it is just casually mentioned on page 44 of the 60 page report. It reads as follows:

2. Currently, PARCC’s Items are Prohibitively Difficult
Item analysis results from the first operational testing of PARCC show that test items across grades, subject areas, and modes of testing are extremely difficult for targeted students by grade. On ELA/L items the median proportions of students who were able answer items correctly ranged from 37%- 47% only in 2015-16. On math items those median proportions ranged from 22%-55% only (PARCC-Pearson, 2017, pp 64-65). Users and test-makers should examine the possible causes for this finding, as that report uses data collected five years after reform implementation began. Discussions on how best to align CCSS reform implementation in schools with the testing schedule under ESSA need to occur immediately, so as to optimize results with higher levels of content-based validity.

Notice that this analysis recommends the discussion of immediate changes to the PARCC tests if they are to be brought to some valid level. So why are so many states continuing to use a group of invalid tests? Remember, in Louisiana, these tests are used to grade schools and as a 35% portion of each teacher's evaluation.

What this finding means is that nationwide, the average proportion of questions answered correctly on these tests was less than 40%. This is the generally same conclusion I got when I reviewed the raw scores of our Louisiana students. As I pointed out in the previous post, such low performance and such low cut scores makes outright guessing a major factor in the test results. If students can come close to passing the tests by just making random guesses then the test is measuring very little of the student's real knowledge. 

There is another important factor that some teachers have brought to my attention that may be invalidating our state tests. Teachers are observing that a significant number of students are so discouraged by the difficulty of the tests, that they often turn in their test paper with most of the questions left unanswered. Some kids just quit trying after attempting just a few questions. These test results are totally invalid in my opinion. Yet in Louisiana, a student who answers none of the questions on a LEAP test gets a score of 625 out of 850. Such a score is meaningless and extremely misleading. 

On page 10 of the report James Harvey, the Executive Director of the National Superintendents Roundtable states the following:
“In education today, measurement experts occupy the exalted status of Irish priests. With their figurative back to the schools, these prelates genuflect at the altar of Item Response Theory and mumble confidently amongst themselves in a language known as psychometrics. No one in the school congregation understands a word of it, but we are assured these mysteries are based on science...”

The entire education community has been bamboozled by the testing companies and our fake state and national education reformers into adopting a set of standards that are totally inappropriate for our students and that allow these "priests" to tell us what it all means since it is assumed we are not qualified to make such interpretations.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Louisiana Education's Myth of High Standards

If there is one thing Louisiana State Superintendent John White stands for its higher standards!
In 2012 Governor Jindal and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) engineered the appointment of John White (An individual with basically zero education credentials) to the office of State Superintendent. The one thing they expected him to implement were higher standards. Accordingly, in numerous presentations White often emphatically makes the case for higher standards. It is an article of faith to reformers such as White that if standards are set high, then teachers and students will rise to meet them. This post examines the standards that White has established for Louisiana students and the real achievement levels accomplished.

At the same time that John White was in the process of being appointed, Louisiana was in the middle of adopting the new Common Core Standards. This was a set of academic standards primarily in math and Language Arts that were considered tougher and more appropriate to prepare our kids for life. It was believed that if our students were required to master these tougher standards that they would be better prepared for college and careers.

Much of the project for the adoption of the new standards was promoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, whose support was obtained by a brief  high level meeting between the Gates' and the creators of the standards. The Obama administration was sold on the project by his outspoken Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. (Another person with no real experience in teaching) The Federal government then found ways around the law prohibiting the Department of Education from mandating curriculum by handing out a lot of money to states that "voluntarily" adopted the program. Louisiana adopted the standards, sight unseen, before they were even written.

Never mind that the Common Core standards had been hurriedly put together by a supposedly elite group of college testing experts who had little experience actually teaching students at the k-12 level. Never mind that the proponents were in such a hurry to implement these new standards all across the nation that they did not bother to run field trials of any kind. (Like what we would do before we subjected our children for a new pharmaceutical drug) It was just assumed that these tougher standards were just the medicine our students needed to make them smarter and more able to compete in the world job market.

A major part of the implementation of the standards included the adoption of new tests for all students at the end of each school year as a way of insuring that the standards were being met. State law, even before the adoption of the new standards already required that students in 4th and 8th grades could not get promoted to the next grade if they failed their state tests in both math and English. So the new tests would be used as further evidence that our students were learning what they needed to know before they moved into high school. Also students at the high school level would not be allowed to graduate unless they passed certain competency tests in critical subjects.

The real promotion standards as measured by the new state tests are low enough for outright guessing to become a major factor 
The state BESE approved standard for receiving a passing grade in course work has long been 67%. In addition, students are expected to meet attendance requirements before they can be promoted.

But an exception was made for the new Common Core tests. Basically the Department of Education was allowed to set any standard they chose relative to the percentage of questions answered correctly. And they were also allowed to change that underlying percentage for passing without consultation from year to year. The passing standard has been quietly watered down over a period of years without the public or the legislature being informed. So at the end of the 2017-2018 school year my public records requests revealed that a student on average only needs to get about 30% of the questions right on their math and English tests in order to get a passing score. That's just a little above what a student who knows absolutely nothing could attain with outright guessing.

My most recent public records requests reveal that 20% of our 4th and 8th graders did not meet the extremely low standard for passing both English and math in 2018
State law still clearly requires that students who fail both math and English are not supposed to progress to the next grade. But John White and BESE found a loophole in the law that allows school systems to implement alternatives to retention for students who do not meet those standards. So by getting local school officials to fill out a little paperwork, all students can magically pass.

The new BESE rules for promotion basically allow any student to be promoted to the next grade even if there is absolutely no evidence of learning in their present grade. 
Even though 20% of students are repeatedly failing their state tests, public records reveal that only 1.8% of 4th and 8th graders are denied promotion. The truth is that the Louisiana Department of Education, using the latest BESE policy, expects our local school systems to promote basically all students to the next grade each year whether they have learned the material or not. Then the teachers in the next grade are magically supposed to teach them the new material in addition to what they did not learn in previous grades.

How can students graduate if they are promoted to high school with little or no knowledge?
As this blog explained in an earlier post, the improved graduation rate of Louisiana students is achieved using even more of the John White standards magic. Using the secret raw score standards implemented by John White, a student can pass his/her algebra I test by scoring only 15% correct answers. Geometry requires only 12% correct answers. English I can be passed by getting 17% of the questions right. Louisiana's improved graduation rate was achieved by faking the stats.

Here are the real results of the proficiency of Louisiana students as measured by an unbiased and untainted testing system
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is a national test that is considered the gold standard for measuring proficiency of students in 4th and 8th grade in reading and math. On the latest NAEP test given, only 26% of Louisiana 4th graders achieved a proficient rating in reading, only 27% of Louisiana 4th graders got a proficient rating in math, only 25% of Louisiana 8th graders got a proficient rating in reading, and only 19% of Louisiana students got a proficient rating in math. My analysis reveals that our state tests have been inflated an average of 59% in recent years compared to the NAEP tests.

How have Louisiana's children fared during the term of John White compared  to students in other states?
The latest NAEP test results which compare Louisiana student performance in reading and math to all other states places Louisiana at its lowest ranking ever. We now rank at the bottom of all state systems. The only area scoring lower on NAEP is Washington D.C.

Don't blame the students or the teachers. The fact is the Common Common core standards are so bad, so age inappropriate, so filled with stuff these kids will never use, that the tests should not be used for any purpose, much less the promotion and graduation of students. Meanwhile our students are being denied instruction in real world problems and truly useful reading and writing skills.

I would dare any BESE member or legislator with a college degree to take the 8th grade LEAP math test and make their raw score public. 

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry need not complain if their new employees cannot read, write, or do math. These kids have passed the "higher standards" LABI and White forced on us.