Friday, December 20, 2013

We Are Losing Some of Our Great Teachers

Dear Louisiana Educator Readers:

I have made a somewhat painful decision to publish excerpts of two letters from a teacher who recently retired early because of the so called education reforms in our state. She is not nearly the first to write to BESE and the State Superintendent about her legitimate concerns.  I believe that her sincere concerns and crushing disappointments with misguided reforms by Governor Jindal and Superintendent White are absolutely vital to the conversation about the future of education in Louisiana. In my opinion it is very fitting that these remarks be published in this blog before we begin a new year. We need to reflect on the mistakes of the recent past if we are to make good decisions about education in the new year.
Michael Deshotels

Terri Guillory, by every measure including the new COMPASS system (She scored "highly effective") is another true master teacher that has decided to retire early because of some of the destructive policies of our governor, our legislature, our DOE and BESE. She quite correctly felt a need to write a letter to her education bosses who pushed her into early retirement to clearly describe for them the polices and attitudes that have driven her to give up her chosen profession. I hope they have all carefully read these very thoughtful letters. The following are excerpts from her letters to BESE and Superintendent White,

To BESE members:
“You and the legislature just blindly signed on to whatever Jindal touted. You asked no questions. You believed many lies. You were willing to throw us under the bus. You watched as we begged to be heard. You ignored us. You smugly observed scores of teachers leaving the profession earlier than planned due to stress. You cared so little for the true mission of education that yours were the hands eagerly dismantling it.

“If only you had respected us enough to hear our concerns, to take into account that we are the boots on the ground, who know what teaching really consists of. If only you could have admitted that the problem is not with educators, but with society itself --- and that the programs you have put in place have no merit or worth.”

I believe these are powerful words coming from the heart of a real educator. I believe Ms Guillory is totally correct in her indictment of BESE. They should be ashamed!

Now here is what Ms Guillory had to say to John White:
On Common Core: “I can see future promise and benefits of using this curriculum. These new standards seem fuller” (Notice that Ms Guillory is not one bit taken in by the claim that these are not curricula but simply standards. There is no question in her mind that the standards and especially the PARCC absolutely dictate the curriculum. In this system, teachers are forced to teach to the test!)
Guillory continues:
“However teachers are scrambling on nights and weekends to locate sources and materials to use. This is building a curriculum from scratch----. Imagine if a surgeon had to be responsible for gathering and organizing the surgical instruments for her surgeries and do so at her expense and on her own time. Teachers do have lives other than their school lives---- In my thirty years I have NEVER put in so much time gathering and preparing as I have done this year. I have had very little guidance and questions have been answered in a conflicting manner. It is not acceptable that teachers have to spend so much time and money cobbling together lessons.

On COMPASS: “This plan pushed through against the good advice of many knowledgeable people is ludicrously full of erroneous assumptions and unattainable goals. There is no way that it is a just and fair practice to put in something that is still evolving into motion and expect immediate proficiency to the point of using it as a ranking and punitive measure.---- Additionally the rubric itself is worded so that it is near impossible to get a 4 rating, to get the huge “carrot on a stick stipend”. The very creator of the rubric has admitted that earning “highly effective” several times in a row is highly unlikely. To earn a 4, students basically have to be in charge of the classroom. ----- Can our future be more tenuous? So what exactly are we trying to achieve? We have been “rode hard and put up wet”. Victimized, faulted, humiliated, insulted, discounted as being unimportant parts of the whole process. I wonder if anyone on your staff or the BESE board realizes what is being asked of us. I wonder if anyone truly knows the full depth and breadth of being a classroom teacher today.”

On the Unspoken Issues: “Everything has been put into action to be accomplished by the teachers and the schools. The entire burden is on us.--- In all the newspapers and press releases and theories proposed, the idea touted is that if the teachers change, improve, comply, then students will progress better than ever before. First, this idea is insulting to all of us because it negates what we have accomplished in all the years we have taught. Second it is a faulty “if/then” because there is MUCH, MUCH more to the equation than just teachers teaching. The unspoken issues that no one wants to utter are these: 1. Despite our best efforts, in reality some students are simply more capable than others, as is true and has been true for time and eternity in every place on this earth. 2. Many, many students have unconcerned parents who have, by the very nature of their faulty parenting handicapped their children long before they enter school. If I remember my educational psychology, the first three years of a child's life are pivotal ----- Many children are not being spoken to, read to, introduced to concepts and ideas in those years. Their learning only begins when they enter school, and at that point, a large deficit already exists. Even than, many parents don't concern themselves about homework, tests, projects or valuing school. I am weary of hearing “Every child deserves a great teacher”. How about “Every child deserves a great parent?” Yet we are expected to reach and teach children, to get them to score well on tests, to get them to achieve, despite every roadblock imaginable. These issues are unspoken because you all can't make policies for those matters, but you have many policies in place to control, demean, and blame us.”

Ms Guillory wraps up with the following:
“Teachers are extremely capable, talented, intelligent, organized, energetic, and devoted. But NO ONE has the magic to do all that is being asked of us. It is an impossible task. We are sitting ducks, being set up to fail. We know this and yet sill we fearfully and wearily forge ahead. That's what we do. But your policies and attitudes toward teachers are killing us and killing the future of education. The best teachers are opting to get out. It isn't that they are lazy or ineffective. It is that they realize the impossibility of the situation. They (we) realize how little faith you have in us and our desire to be individual, creative, unique teachers who don't need to be scored according to an unrealistic recipe that takes away our ability to teach as we deem fit for particular days and lessons. I still have a lot of enthusiasm within and I love to teach, but I can't fight this fight. I am defeated. This is what this year has done.

If you were truly concerned about improving Louisiana education, you would have not bombarded schools with so many enormous changes at once. I have not even mentioned all the day to day regular elements of the job of being a teacher. Please come and teach for a week. Gather, plan, show up, teach, assist, differentiate, pull duty, complete paperwork, trouble shoot, discipline, counsel, evaluate, be evaluated, tutor, monitor, contact parents, grade papers. Then do it all again the next day. Walk in the shoes of those you judge so harshly.”

Yours truly,
Terri Guillory

My holiday wish: That in the new year, our teachers, school administrators, and other education professionals will be recognized and treated as the wonderful, creative and dedicated professionals they have always been.

Michael Deshotels

Monday, December 16, 2013

State Takeover Schools Produce Low ACT Scores

This report is based on data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The following are important questions that should be asked concerning the proper use of our taxes and the management of our public schools:
Is it good policy to allow the Louisiana State Department of Education to take over schools from our locally elected school boards? Can the state really do a better job of running schools than locally elected school boards? Why have the leaders in the states of Michigan and Tennessee been led to believe that a state recovery school district modeled after the one in Louisiana is a great way to improve student achievement?

The underlying assumption that justifies takeover recovery districts is that the takeover schools will improve the performance of their students. Otherwise it does not make sense to allow a state government to take over schools established by local citizens through their locally elected school boards. My post of December 13 pointed out that average student performance as measured by LEAP tests in Recovery District schools rank among the lowest in the state, even after 5 to 8 years of state control.

Another way to judge the effectiveness of school takeover is by comparing ACT scores of students. 2013 is the first year that all eligible students at each public high school in Louisiana were required to take the ACT test. I wanted to examine how state run schools performed compared to local school board operated schools by looking at average ACT scores.

It took a formal public records request to get our DOE to give me the ACT scores for 2013 by school and by local school system. I had been asking for the data informally for several months. These days it is almost impossible to get data from John White's DOE without threatening a lawsuit. After reviewing the results sent to me by the LDOE I can see why our state officials were not in a hurry to have the public and the news media compare the ACT scores in state run RSD schools with our traditional so called “status quo” locally run schools. You may review the entire state report for all schools by clicking on this link.

The following is a summary comparison of state run RSD schools with local school board schools:
The New Orleans Recovery District schools produced an average ACT score of 16.3 for the 2012-13 school year even though an analysis of the eligible students based on student enrollment data indicates that only about 80% of those eligible actually took the test. This average score of 16.3 by New Orleans RSD schools would not be high enough to allow a student to enroll in any Louisiana 4 year college. This is ironic since many of the New Orleans Recovery District schools advertise themselves as college prep schools. Just look at some of the names of the schools scoring near the bottom of the state rankings:

Renew Accelerated High school: ACT average – 13.7

Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School : ACT average – 15.2

Lake Area Early College ACT average – 16.4

Only four parish public school systems had lower average results than the New Orleans Recovery District. Those were East Carrol and Madison with 15.3, St Helena with 15.6 and Tensas with 15.7.

Statewide, I estimate that over 96% of eligible students in state public schools took the ACT. Our LDOE reports that the state average ACT score including private school students, was 19.5.  My estimate of the performance of public schools only would be an average of about 19 based on the data supplied by LDOE. The chart I included in the link above provides data for every public high school in the state and also gives the average for each parish public school system. The lowest ACT results in the state were generally found to be at state run schools. Examples of low performers were Capitol High School in Baton Rouge with an average of 13.7, The School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge with an average of 14.9, and Pointe Coupee High School with an average of 15.3. Two of these are state takeover schools. In addition, I believe that if the New Orleans Recovery District had tested all eligible students, their average would have been even lower than the 16.3 reported.

The top performing school system in the state as measured by the highest average ACT score was St Tammany Parish with an average score of 21.1. St Tammany was trailed by Central Community Schools with an average of 20.3 and Zachary Community Schools with an average of 20.2. The highest performing non-selective public schools based on ACT were Mandeville High (St Tammany) with 22.9, Fountainbleau High (St Tammany) with 22.4, and Lafayette High (Lafayette Parish) with 22.2. The highest performing selective high schools were the Louisiana School for Math and Science in Natchitoches with an average of 28.7, followed by Ben Franklin High in New Orleans with 28.2.

One of the questions that should be answered by our elected officials is: Why are some schools allowed to violate the state policy which requires that all eligible students take the ACT? Either make it mandatory for all or optional for all. Since the average ACT score for a school is now a significant factor in the calculation of school letter grades, excluding some low performing students from the test is a way of artificially inflating a school's performance score and letter grade.

Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this post, I would ask: Why is the state allowed to take over schools from the locally elected school boards if they continue to produce the lowest achievement in the state? Why are the Recovery District schools allowed to hide their low performance from parents? The web sites of the low performing RSD schools usually do not include their school performance scores or their state assigned letter grades. Parents in the New Orleans Recovery District are supposed to be allowed to choose their child's school. How can they make informed decisions if schools hide their dismal performance from parents?

Originally when the state legislature passed the law creating the Louisiana Recovery District, it was contemplated that the State Department of Education would take over so called failing schools and would use best practices to get the schools performing at an acceptable level and then return them to the local school boards. Now however, BESE has a policy of keeping the takeover schools indefinitely even when they continue to perform poorly or leaving the decision to return to local school boards up to the charter governing boards. The taxpayers should ask why has our state department of education been allowed to so blatantly violate the intent of the law in this manner?

But the most important question for the nation is: Why should the Louisiana Recovery District be portrayed as a great success and expected to serve as a model for other states?

Friday, December 13, 2013

PISA Results Used to Justify Continued Attacks on Public Schools

Last week the latest round of PISA test results were released showing that academic achievement of U.S. students compared to other nations continued to rank only about average. Arne Duncan and other reformer leaders however, had carefully pre-briefed commentators and orchestrated news stories by national opinion makers designed to cast our public schools in the worst light possible. So the pundits solemnly proclaimed that the PISA results had confirmed their worst fears that U.S students were totally unprepared for the jobs of the twenty-first century and for competition with the Finns, the Koreans and the Chinese. (Here is an article about "stagnant" U.S. scores) Never mind that Diane Ravitch and leading researchers have demonstrated with actual statistics that American students have steadily improved their basic academic skills over the last 20 years as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Statistics also show that the U.S. students are still doing about the same relative to other countries as they had been doing all the way back to the dawn of international test comparisons. Even so, the opinion makers concluded and announced that our once great education system has declined.

The gloom and doom expressed by Duncan and his fellow reformers were the same conclusions that were expressed in the Nation at Risk Report over 30 years ago. Soon after the Nation at Risk's dire predictions for decline of the U.S. leadership in technology and industry caused by our supposedly weak education system, young U.S. educated entrepreneurs invented the PC, the Internet, the Ipad and the social media revolution that has transformed the economy of the entire world.

But this time Duncan, Gates, Jeb Bush, and others plan to use the alleged disastrous results of PISA to push for a major privatization and corporate takeover of public education. It is now assumed by the reformers that the only way to improve our K-12 education system is to allow large companies to introduce "market based reforms" to education using data driven (standardized testing) systems. It is also assumed (without expermental data of any kind) that the new Common Core standards will make our kids smarter.

Outlandish Proposals for Improving K-12 Schools

Here are just a few samples of the crazy ideas being spouted by talk/news show hosts on some of the major networks. On the Morning Joe news commentary show on MSNBC last week, Joe Scarboro (the conservative member of the show) announced his solution for fixing our supposedly broken public education system. According to Joe, all school systems across the country should adopt the New Orleans Recovery District model of school privatization and parental choice as a way of improving the competitiveness of American education. Scarboro seemed to believe that the New Orleans Recovery District was a great success story in education reform. My question is: “How could a major television network allow such comments to be expressed to the MSNBC viewing audience without a bit of fact checking?”

Here are the facts about achievement of the students in the New Orleans Recovery District: As measured by the latest LEAP and end of course testing, the New Orleans RSD schools rank at the 31st percentile among all public school systems in Louisiana in overall student achievement. This means that average RSD student achievement was beat by 69% of all Louisiana public school districts. The ranking of the rest of the RSD schools in Louisiana is even lower than that of the New Orleans RSD. Unfortunately, the overall ranking of Louisiana students compared to other states is only 48th out of 50 as measured by the NAEP tests. So Scarboro is holding up the achievement of a school system that is in the bottom third of student achievement in a state that in turn is close to dead last in the U.S. This, Scarboro believes, is a system that should be imitated by the rest of the country! The readers of this blog know that the low ranking of our state is due not to poor schools, but to the extreme poverty of so many of our students. But my point here is that it is ridiculous to claim that the New Orleans RSD has somehow solved our national student achievement problem.

Apparently someone convinced Joe Scarboro that privatization of the schools in New Orleans and the use of a parental choice system had resulted in outstanding achievement in the classroom. But parent leaders in New Orleans know that in addition to the false achievement claims, it is not true that the parents have a real choice as to which schools their children can attend. The real choice allowed is for the elite charter schools in the New Orleans area to choose the better performing students they want to enroll, and dump the rest of the students back to low rated schools or even into the streets! But this is the system Joe Scarboro held up as a model for the country to justify dismantling our public school systems.

Also on the same show, Mike Barnicle, one of the more liberal members of the Morning Joe program, suggested that the solution to improving teaching in our public schools would be to require all college graduates each year to serve a term of two years as teachers in our public schools before they could go on to their real careers. (This of course would amount to the TFA program on steroids) Barnicle apparently did not consider that such a plan would require massive layoffs of experienced teachers each year to make room for these untrained amateurs to take over classrooms. Such a plan implies that Barnicle has concluded that our experienced teachers are so ineffective that it is OK to replace them with total amateurs who would turn over every two years. This is a terrible indictment of the teaching profession in this country, without a shred of evidence that such a conclusion makes any sense. Not a single person on the panel on the Morning Joe show contradicted this nut.

But that's not all. Just the week before, the most liberal member of the Morning Joe show, Mika Brzinski, went out of her way to heap lavish praise on Jeb Bush, another non-educator who is responsible for major attacks on our public school systems and teachers. Mika thanked Bush for his great success in improving education. Jeb Bush is the originator of the idea of using letter grades to rate public schools.This is the system now used also in Louisiana that permanently labels almost all public schools serving high poverty neighborhoods as failures. None of the school closures or takeovers that have resulted from this grading system anywhere in the country have succeeded in improving the education of children. Bush also leads an organization dedicated to replacing classroom teachers with on line virtual courses, even though all the latest statistics show that on line virtual schools are among the lowest performers in the country. How can this man be seen as successful in improving education?

One can only wonder, when will some degree of sanity be applied to the so called education reform movement?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Education Amateurs Harm Public Schools

BESE this week adopted major changes in student, teacher, and school accountability as the Common Core State Standards implementation is being adjusted to a 10 year implementation schedule. Once again, educators and students will have to adjust to major changes in the ground rules.

Superintendent White, in response to concerns of parents and teachers, has proposed to gradually raise performance expectations related to the CCSS. Performance expectations as measured by the PARCC testing will begin in the Spring testing of 2015 and gradually increase to 2025. Acceptable performance on ELA and math will begin with achievement of a 3 out of a 5 point scale on test measures in 2015 and will go up to 4 out of 5 by 2025. New York state began this year by expecting achievement at a level of 4. This resulted in over 70% of tested students rated as unsatisfactory. I guess their leaders thought it was OK to use their entire student population as guinea pigs. White “believes” Louisiana can avoid the severe drop in student performance by using a more gradual approach. This gradual approach is supposed to give a reasonable time for students and teachers to adapt to the new learning standards.

Because of the change to the new testing system, no VAM ratings of teachers will be produced for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. The student performance part of all teacher ratings will be based on student learning targets (SLTs) for those two years.

Local school officials will be given authority to wave minimum state test score requirements for students to be promoted from 4th to 5th grade and will be allowed to move 8th grade students to the high school level even if they do not pass the 8th grade state testing.

During the first two years of the10 year CCSS implementation time frame, White and BESE have decided to adjust the grading system for schools by grading schools using a curve system. This system would keep the relative number of schools rated A through F the same as it is today. After the first two years the grading scale would be gradually raised to achieve proficiency targets by 2025. White has stated that the purpose of the new grading curve is to prevent schools from having their school grades lowered drastically as Common Core is implemented. But this school grade curve system has other implications that are less desirable.

For example, such a system would actually prevent most bottom rated schools from moving out of the F category for the next 10 years. Because of the state law mandating takeover of schools by the Recovery District, it would guarantee that more schools would be taken over by the state and probably converted to charter schools. These takeovers, for the most part have been a dismal failure. This is not good for students or educators.

Also by locking in the same number of schools statewide rated C through F, there will continue to be a huge pool of students targeted by voucher schools. The latest results on voucher school performance has also been extremely low, with at least 45% of students attending D and F rated voucher schools. In addition, our DOE does not even rate most voucher schools, so it is impossible to have any idea how well they are doing. Also, voucher schools are not required to implement the Common Core Standards.

Cynics however are suggesting that the slowdown in moving to more difficult standards is the need for the Jindal administration to avoid bad publicity that would result from a precipitous drop in school ratings. Low school grades were used to justify the Jindal reforms. Now ratings need to improve or at least remain stable to confirm that the reforms worked.

An important revelation of Herb Bassett's study on the present school rating system (see the previous post on this blog) includes statistics that show that on average low performing students actually are showing more progress on state tests if they are attending C, D, or F schools as compared to low performers who are attending B and A schools. This is an amazing revelation! Finally we have actual data that indicates what may be the most productive school setting for struggling students. This setting is the opposite of what was assumed by Jindal and the Legislature when the voucher choice system was proposed. Bassett's study indicates that Louisiana is doing a serious disservice to many students by encouraging them to transfer to voucher schools. In all likelihood, almost all of our public school students have reasonably good opportunities regardless of what grade has been assigned to their home school. I made that point over two years ago in this blog when I pointed out that Vietnamese refugee students who started school in some of our lowest rated inner city schools ended up being top performers and received some of the highest academic awards in their school systems. These facts demonstrate that the current school grading system is extremely misleading and unfair to students and educators. (BESE voted down a motion by member Carolyn Hill to suspend school grading) White claims he does not want to denigrate schools, yet the very grading system we have used has denigrated perfectly good schools and is set to continue to do so for at least the next 10 years.

There was one more instance of revealing testimony at the BESE committee meeting Tuesday that illustrated the absurdity and lack of validity of the current school grading system. Shawn Fleming of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council pointed out to the Board that the DOE has run three schools for the last 30 or 40 years that are perpetually classified as F schools. Those are the School for the Deaf, the School for the Visually Impaired and the Special Education Center. It is very clear that the F ratings of these schools have almost nothing to do with the quality of instruction but almost everything to do with the high percentage of disabilities of the students attending.

(The following are my comments from here on) It is ironic that the three schools above are never considered for criticism and are not subject to state takeover because they are already run by the state! There are many other schools across the state that have their letter grades affected by the high percentage of students with disabilities and the level of poverty of the students they serve yet they are subject to state takeover. At the same time the reputations of the administrators and teachers of those schools are effectively destroyed by the Fs and Ds assigned by the state. Education researchers have concluded that 70% to 80% of student achievement in a school is determined by factors outside the control of the school, yet our state continues to use an arbitrary grading system for schools that perpetually guarantees that schools serving high poverty communities are denigrated.

Now let's talk a little about the infamous VAM system. Did you know that key elements of the system for rating teachers were actually recommended by Bill Gates based on a system implemented several years ago by the Microsoft Corporation in evaluating its employees. (see this Geaux Teacher blog) A key part of this system is the ranking of employee ratings and the dismissal of a certain percentage of the bottom ranked employees. Gates even went on the Oprah Winfrey program and recommended that this system be used to rid public school of its lowest performing teachers. He predicted that if such a system were used to purge the education profession that the U.S. would soon see its student achievement rise to the top ranking among industrialized nations.

Naturally it was assumed that the richest man in the world must have put his finger on the solution that would transform the entire public education system in this country to one of the best in the world. The Gates Foundation staff were intimately involved in helping Louisiana to revamp its teacher evaluation system as part of our application for Race to the Top funding. (funding we never won). The chief administrator for the development of COMPASS (the new evaluation system) had never taught a day in her life. So it was decided by all these non educators that a VAM system would be implemented for teachers teaching the core subjects. All the core teachers in the state would be ranked by their VAM score and the bottom 10% would be immediately stripped of tenure and seniority rights and placed on a path to dismissal in as little as two years if they did not show improvement.

Meanwhile at the beginning of 2013, the evaluation system at Microsoft Corporation had finally been in effect long enough to judge its effectiveness. When the Microsoft managers got together and compared notes they concluded that the new evaluation system which was supposed to improve the competitiveness of Microsoft was actually doing harm to the company. You see, they way the system actually worked was that by ranking employees for effectiveness, the company was killing the motivation of their employees to work in a collaborative manner. The employees were jealously guarding their ideas instead of sharing them with their teams, because of fear of not getting proper credit toward their evaluation ranking. So just a few months ago, Microsoft junked the whole system.

It turned out that this highly touted Bill Gates system for improving public education was a disaster for his own company. So how did it work out for education? Morale in the teaching profession nation wide as measured by the annual Met life study has fallen to an all time low because of the punitive nature of the new evaluation systems being implemented all over the country. In Louisiana, we have seen record numbers of early retirements of teachers. Many local superintendents have complained about the loss of some of their best teachers. The interest among young people in pursuing a career in teaching has fallen drastically.

But Louisiana can't do what Microsoft did to correct their mistake. Our new evaluation system is now in state law and BESE policy. Public institutions cannot turn on a dime and change policy instantly the way private companies can. Also, politicians and top public administrators don't like to admit they are ever wrong because it is more important to them to protect their political careers than to worry about the morale and effectiveness of school employees.

So Louisiana will keep the dog and pony show that is known as COMPASS, and we will temporarily suspend the VAM program until we establish a new “baseline”. Most of our teachers will continue to soldier on because they have their students and their own families to consider. Meanwhile the amateurs that run education in Louisiana will pat themselves on the back and complement each other on their wisdom in moving forward with education reform, and away from the status quo.

Monday, December 2, 2013

School Grading System for 2012-13; "Quite A Mess"

Independent education researcher, Herb Bassett has produced his annual report on the Louisiana SPS and school grading system and has characterized this year's school grading system by the LDOE as "Quite a mess".
Mr Bassett has sent his analysis of this past year's school grading system to all members of the House and Senate Education Committees and to BESE members. Let's hope they will actually read the report and consider appropriate legislative action to correct the flaws in the system.

You may access each of the documents in the report by clicking here for Bassett's primary report and here for additional resources and examples..

Mr Bassett's report shows how the use of the new bonus point system by our Louisiana Department of Education has produced several glaring injustices in the resulting grades for schools across the state.

The following is the cover letter for the SPS Report by Mr Bassett:

To: Members of the House Education Committee,
Members of the Senate Education Committee,
BESE Members,
I present the attached report on the 2013 School Performance Scores issued by LDOE. To put it bluntly, they are quite a mess. In its attempt to redefine excellence, LDOE created a system that failed to reward high performing schools and gave a significant boost to low performing schools without requiring greater performance.
I do understand that it is the responsibility of BESE and LDOE to define through the formulas what an A school is and what a failing school is. They have the right and the responsibility to set performance standards, and to change them when necessary.
However, any assessment system must apply to all schools equally, and even more importantly, higher performance must yield higher scores. If, when all other factors are held constant, a student's making a higher assessment score causes the school's final performance score to go down, the system is flawed.
When that problem is pervasive and introduced into the system in more than one way, the system is a failure.
I have found that:
1. Under the flawed Bonus Points rules, many schools that moved students from non-proficiency to proficiency across years received a final SPS lower than if they had not improved those students as much;
2. Sixteen high schools that met the qualifications for Top Gains ($8500) lost that status and reward because of a capricious rule recommended by LDOE. Three schools, had they made less growth, would have earned the rewards.
3. LDOE changed the Bonus Points rules (Bulletin 111 Section 301. D.) three times between the issuance of last year's SPSs and this year's. One change actually inverted the scoring method so that students who had scored Unsatisfactory earned twice as many points as students who had scored Approaching Basic.
4. The Bonus Points rules were designed to boost F and D schools through the "number or percent" formulation and the scoring inversion. The scoring inversion favored RSD schools over the state average.
5. Bonus Points, as an indicator of a school's performance with non-proficient students, show that D and F schools are considerably better at improving non-proficient students than A and B schools. Awarding school choice and vouchers based on school letter grades is not supported by the data.
6. Over $1.4 million in Top Gains rewards were based on schools earning ten Bonus Points through the rules designed to boost F and D schools. One third of schools with Growth scores of F and D earned the ten Bonus Points required for Top Gains. (Some of these were disqualified through subgroup component failure.)
Attached are two documents. The 2013 SPS Report Bassett document provides explanation of the above. The second document 2013 SPS Report Additional document includes extended remarks about the myriad changes to the Bonus Points rules made by LDOE this year.
Mr. White and LDOE now ask for increased liberty in handling the school assessment system. I ask that instead, you provide greater controls and oversight.

Herb Bassett
Grayson, LA

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Common Core in Louisiana, Part 2

Classroom testing the CCSS

As the standards were written, there was no provision made for field testing of the standards in K-12 schools, probably because this would have added additional time to the development process. The Gates Foundation and Arne Duncan believed that public education in the U.S. was performing at such a low level compared to other industrialized countries (Diane Ravitch shows that this is a myth) that a quick implementation of new standards was essential. Regular classroom teachers were not asked if they believed that the teaching techniques necessary for proficiency in Common Core standards were practical and effective. Only after the standards had been written were a few teachers asked to give only a cursory review of the standards. No teacher was ever actually allowed real input into the standards. Lack of field testing of the standards in my opinion has been a serious mistake. Millions of students across the nation are now serving as guinea pigs for a very crudely designed and flawed system.

Louisiana's experience with standards implementation

Another flawed assumption of the Common Core adoption in my opinion, was that it is assumed that the new standards are more rigorous and will somehow automatically produce higher level learning. There is no evidence whatsoever that student achievement will be improved because the CCSSS have not been tested. For Louisiana in particular, I don't think that any consideration was given to the environment surrounding our students at home and in their communities. No consideration was given to the educational level of our parents, the number of our students with disabilities, and the preschool opportunities (or lack of opportunities) of our students.

In Louisiana, our education leaders (who are mostly non-educators) have pointed to the fact that since the state adopted high stakes testing for our students over 10 years ago and for the rating of our public schools, student performance on state tests has improved significantly. They believe that Louisiana has proven that if we simply raise the academic bar that students will rise to the challenge and meet the new higher standards. But the reality is much more complicated than that. While performance on state LEAP tests improved fairly significantly after several years of testing, performance on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) only improved slightly. The LDOE states the following:

First, the state has shown steady increases on the LEAP, the state’s main assessment. Next, the difference between LEAP scores and NAEP scores have increased, showing the need to raise expectations.”

I have to seriously question this conclusion, because the adoption of LEAP standards was a raising of expectations, and it did not result in improvement compared to other states.

What the DOE is really saying is that our student scores on NAEP in the last ten years have not increased as much as they have in other states. Our nationwide ranking stayed near the bottom of all states. (47th or 48th out of 50). For high poverty students in Louisiana, the performance gap with the national average has widened. Raising the bar in Louisiana has not produced improvement compared to other states.

It is clear instead that a large part of the improvement on LEAP tests can be attributed to the fact that students were taught test taking skills and teachers got better at teaching the test. There was some improvement in actual achievement in the basic skills of math and language arts, and some improvement in the high school ACT testing, but that was because so much more emphasis has been put on those limited areas. All other subjects and activity areas have been severely curtailed in Louisiana to make more time for test teaching. Yes, test teaching. That's what we do now in Louisiana education. We have not only prepared for the LEAP test each year but we have also given pretests at various times to identify areas of weakness, and we teach students all year to test better in those areas. Our end-of-course test averages in high school have improved in part because teachers have learned to teach those questions that they know will be asked on the test each year. So much of the learning has not been real student learning but teachers learning what to emphasize and what to leave out to prepare students for the annual testing.

In Louisiana in recent years, almost all students have been encouraged to take the college prep Core 4 curriculum for high school graduation. What has been the result of all this “raising the bar”? Many educators believe that the teaching of true college prep courses has been watered down to accommodate students who were not really ready for or interested in college prep. Our 6 year college completion statistics have decreased from 23% ten years ago to only 19% today. Parents were never consulted as Louisiana moved to this new philosophy of education. I wonder if they would approve of all this emphasis of teaching to the test.

So what we have really proven in Louisiana is that raising the academic bar makes no difference in the performance of our students compared to other states. In fact there was less of a gap between the performance of our students and that of students in other states before we raised the bar. How will another round of “raising the bar” benefit our students?

The answer is: It will not benefit our students. It is likely to increase our student dropout rate. John White is aware of this. That's why he is now proposing that Louisiana relax its standards for student promotion from 4th to 5th grades and from 8th to 9th grades. High school principals know that this will increase the number of unqualified students entering high schools. Yet the grades assigned by our state to the high schools depend more and more on the graduation rate for students of those schools. So the high schools will now be pressured to graduate thousands of students who will not be doing high school level work. I don't think this is what the business community expected when they signed on to the Common Core Standards.

How will CCSS change Louisiana education?

So the new CCSS actually doubles down on the idea that we should put maximum emphasis on English language arts and math and that everything in our schools should be driven by the tests. In addition, the curriculum in those two subjects has been reduced to what the non-classroom “experts” who developed Common Core consider the most essential concepts. Yes, the Common Core reduces the number of concepts to be taught even in those basic skills subjects.

There are fewer math skills to be taught but the ones that are taught are supposed to be taught more in depth with emphasis on methods of problem solving just as much as on getting the right answer. Also in math, the CCSS introduce new methods for teaching the basic concepts of division, multiplication, decimals and fractions that many classroom teachers are finding more cumbersome and less productive than the old methods.

In reading, the emphasis has been shifted to more technical reading that would prepare students more for reading technical instructional manuals than what may be classified as classical fiction reading.

Even though the promoters of Common Core stress that it is not a curriculum, the CCSS drives educators to create a curriculum that will attempt to produce success on the Common Core tests. Those tests will begin next school year in Louisiana (the testing has been moved up by one year in Louisiana). The new tests are called the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Here again everything we do in our schools will be driven by the almighty annual testing and retesting of students.

So even though according to State Superintendent John White, Louisiana is in the third year of a five year phase in of Common Core, (Note: lately he has changed some standards associated with Common Core to a 10 year phase in) this is the first year that parents have actually been exposed to the effects of the new system on their children. This is the first year that most parents have even heard of the Common Core because no effort has ever been made to reach out to parents and prepare them for the new system. We learned recently that the Gates Foundation had made a sizable grant to the National PTA to help sell the common core to parents, but little information got to parents in Louisiana since most parents here have no connection with the PTA.

Problems with the Common Core

The more we study the design and the roll-out of the Common Core, the more it resembles the disastrous roll-out of Obama Care. (The Affordable Healthcare Act). Here are some important glitches that have developed:
  1. John White in his application to the Federal Government for the ESEA Waiver (which got federal approval for the switch to CCSS among other things) stated that the State Department of Education would develop a state approved curriculum for implementation of the Common Core standards. Later he changed his mind and simply stated that he wanted to empower individual teachers to develop their own curriculum that would teach the CC. This put most local school systems into a terrible bind to scramble around and gather materials and text books that would prepare students for the new testing starting in 2014. Some parishes borrowed half baked materials developed by other states like a program called Engage NY at this website which turned out to have reading materials considered inappropriate by many Louisiana parents. This has caused a major uproar in some local school systems. (Note: in the latest development in this area, State Superintendent White announced on November 19 that the Department of Education will after all, provide a curriculum guide to all public schools and will phase in over a ten year period the accountability sanctions resulting from Common Core to students, teachers and schools rather than to expect immediate performance at the original target levels proposed.)
  2. Perhaps fortunately for Louisiana, Kentucky and New York were the first states to implement the testing for the Common Core. It turns out that the creators of the test greatly over estimated the levels of proficiency that should be required by the testing. As a result, over 70% of New York state students were considered failures in the first round of testing. No one really knows at this point what is the proper level of mastery that should be expected because the standards were not tested prior to implementation. Louisiana Superintendent John White has recently announced that Louisiana will initially use the achievement of a 3 on a 5 point scale as satisfactory for Louisiana students instead of the 4 out of 5 used by New York. We don't know how this will be viewed since the Common Core is supposed to compare the performance of students across all the states that have adopted it. How can you compare students in different states if you use different standards for passing grades?
  3. One of the biggest controversies that has developed, also probably because of the lack of field testing, is what is considered by many experts in early childhood education as inappropriate standards for K-3 students. When you read through the reading and math standards for K-3 you can only ask: "What were they thinking?" Some of the levels of questioning and the analysis required of very young children is totally inappropriate. Parents must be shocked at what is being expected in the area of reading comprehension of children who have barely started to read.
  4. Part of the plan for implementation of Common Core was the requirement for extensive individual tracking and sharing of student data throughout a student's schooling and beyond using the InBloom system. I believe the developers of Common Core originally envisioned the sharing of student profiles which would include socioeconomic factors, disabilities, as well as testing data with selected providers who could possibly tailor educational programs and interventions to individual students. Some of the major corporations which have supported development of the Common Core such as Pearson and NewsCorp envisioned immense profits as parents were forced to come to them for preparing children to succeed on the testing mostly developed and owned by those private companies. Software companies such as Micorsoft stand to make huge profits as they design computer software to address highly specialized instruction systems to be purchased by parents not wanting their child to fall behind. Many parents are absolutely appalled about the implications of such a system of tracking, privacy violations, and profiteering with their children's education.
  5. One of my biggest concerns about this whole scheme is the damage that will be done to individual children by the attempt to standardize and over simplify the education of all children. This is a one-size-fits-all plan that is destined to fail many many children who just do not fit the mold for education created by the College Board staff and other academic elitists who wrote the standards. Gone is the American tradition of encouraging creativity and of identifying unique talents of children. It is all about getting every child to perform at grade level or above (which is statistically impossible) in certain preferred basic skills. Forget about music, forget about art, forget about the performing arts, forget about vocational skills, forget about teaching students how to work with tools, how to appreciate fine literature, helping students understand the functions of government and the history of our form of government, so they can be informed and active citizens. These other more creative characteristics are the very special characteristics of the American educational system that have been so admired in other parts of the world.

What should we do in Louisiana instead of Common Core?

If we care about preparing our students for the true workforce opportunities in Louisiana, we should be putting more emphasis as early as possible on teaching skilled crafts and voc-tech as well as implementing a true college prep curriculum for the college bound. Our students do not need standardization. They need training in many exciting career pathways as well as good basic training in citizenship skills.

High tech skills and vocations; that's where most of the high paying jobs are in Louisiana. But instead of training our young people, Louisiana is importing welders from Tiawan and paying them wages averaging $50 per hour for jobs our students are not trained to do!

With our aging population there are many opportunities in health care careers that require specialized training requiring far less than for four year degrees. Service industries need dependable highly trained workers in hospitality, food service, office work and management. None of these require university degrees.

With all its emphasis on college prep for all in the last 10 years, Louisiana has succeeded in almost destroying our once effective voc-tech and Agricultural sciences training that were once offered in all high schools. Building and construction trade training is now almost non-existent at the high school level.

In some school systems such as the one exemplified by the New Orleans Recovery District there are now what I consider only two education tracks: College prep and dependency prep. Many of the students that fall into the dependency prep category actually end up in a prison bound cycle. The RSD charter schools tout their goal of preparing all students for college, yet almost none of their students will ever complete a four year degree after graduating from high school. That's because their low ACT and SAT scores exclude them from most scholarship programs. Most of these graduates end up with no salable skills because there are almost no vocational programs in these schools. The best most of these students can expect is to end up at the lowest levels of service work where they will go from one dead end job to another. Others will get involved in petty crime and drug dealing. This is not at all the image being sold to the many philanthropies that are pouring millions into the charter school system in Louisiana.

Many of the great opportunities for our young people lie in the fact that Louisiana is experiencing a boom in industrial development caused by the new technologies that allow production of oil and gas that was never before producible. Cheap natural gas in Louisiana is spawning the construction of new facilities that use natural gas as a feedstock. There is a growing demand for highly trained construction workers and then operators and technicians in the new plants along the Mississippi and gulf coast as well as the oil industry itself. The extensive new oil and gas drilling operations are occurring over the entire state. The complaint from these industries is that they cannot find dependable well trained workers locally. To allow our young people to cash in on this boom, Louisiana should develop a strong cooperative effort between our high schools, our voc-tech and Community colleges and Louisiana business. Students should be involved in career exploration activities as early as middle school. Starting as early as 10th grade, students who choose these pathways should be enrolled in career training either in cooperation with local industry or in our voc-tech or Community colleges. Louisiana should study the vocational technical training provided to students in European countries such as Germany and Finland as models for development of high tech career training in Louisiana.

Instead of enrolling all of our students in a college prep curriculum such as that fostered by the CCSS, Louisiana should develop practical math and ELA courses that prepare students for work and citizenship. Students should have the opportunity to study literature, social studies, art, music, citizenship and government. All courses should be rigorous and demanding, but students should be able to connect their school training to real life applications.

China and Korea have tried standardization of their education program for years and are now trying to adopt the more productive parts of the American system that we now seem determined to dismantle. Finland which is recognized as having one of the most successful education systems in the world does not put this insane emphasis on test based standardization of the curriculum. There teachers are not just test teachers but are expected to inspire and to encourage diversity in their students. What we are about to do to our education system with implementation of Common Core is just wrong and educationally unsound!

As a person who has enjoyed a wonderful long career in Louisiana education, I am appalled at what we are allowing the so called “reformers” who have little experience in education to do to Louisiana education. I can only encourage parents and teachers to join hands and demand that our legislature free us to develop a truly productive and creative education system for our children. One that does not attempt to standardize children but instead attempts to nourish and encourage the many talents and interests of our children. We must return to the principles formulated for public education by Horace Mann, the father of public education in America, who believed in educating the whole child, respecting them as individuals, and preparing young people to be good citizens.

Go to the following Louisiana Department of Education web site to view all 132 pages of Common Core State Standards:

Go to the following Advocate Letter to the Editor by math teachers and education blogger Vincent Barras for a review of the CCSS writing team in a letter titled Look Who Designed the Common Core at:

Go to the post by education blogger Crazy Crawfish to get a parents view that is also hilarious of the math standards for very young children at this web address.

See also this Diane Ravitch blog about the demand for students trained in tech fields rather than 4 year colleges.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Almost Everything Parents and Teachers Should Know About Common Core

This is Part I of a Two Part Article

How The Common Core Developed

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for K-12 education were adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in the Spring of 2010. Those standards had not yet been written at the time, so they actually were adopted sight unseen. The CCSS were an initiative by the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to standardize the teaching of English language arts and mathematics and later science and social studies for all states. The goal of the NGA and CCSSO was to modernize the teaching of those basic skills areas to raise the level of achievement of American students to a higher world class ranking and to make American students more competitive for the world job market.

There were no public hearings explaining the contents of the CCSS before their adoption. There was really nothing to share with the public at that time except that the standards were intended to be state of the art learning with emphasis on rigor and critical thinking skills for our students. From the very beginning, the push for the new standards did not come from parents or even from classroom teachers.  It came from non-classrom teacher elites who believed they had the answer to improving U.S. student performance compared to other countries.

The driving force for the development of the CCSS came from the National Governor's Association with heavy influence from the Hunt Institute and philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and a group called Achieve. (Thank you to Dr. Mercedes Schneider for finding the news stories explaining the involvement of these groups in proposing this standards effort.) The Obama administration as represented by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan bought into the project from the very beginning. In June, 2009 Duncan announced that 350 million dollars of Race to the Top federal funding had been earmarked for development of the Common Core Assessments. That's the standardized testing that goes with Common Core.

Much of the motivation for this initiative was the claim by some groups such as Achieve Inc. and the Hunt Institute that the United States had fallen far behind other industrialized countries in performance of our students in the basic skills of English, Math and Science. This conclusion was based on the U.S. ranking well below the leading countries on the international student assessment called PISA and an international test of achievement in math and science called TIMSS. It was assumed by these groups that the U.S. ranking compared to other countries must have dropped drastically in recent years.

These conclusions have been seriously challenged recently by education historian Diane Ravitch in her book about American education reform called Reign of Error, and by several university researchers who have pointed out that if the samples of students taking these tests had been more fairly designed, the U. S. would have ranked much higher. Researchers have shown that if poverty levels of students in the different countries were properly matched with our country, the U.S. would rank near the top in comparison to other countries. Ravitch points out that the U.S. students have never performed better than they do today on the international rankings, but that our average achievement statistics are greatly lowered by the much higher than average percentage of high poverty students in our student population than exists in the countries that outrank us on the two international tests.

There is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging and even pushing our students to do better in the basic skills of reading, math and science, and encouraging more of our students to attend college and major in science and math fields. But this could have been done much more effectively and more economically with basic incentives for students such as scholarships and math/science promotions as was done in the early sixties and seventies to encourage students to choose math and science fields. That effort really worked and helped get me and many others into the math/science field. Instead it was decided by the National Governor's Association and also very quickly by the Obama administration that there must be a complete overhaul of the standards and curriculum for K-12 education in our country. It was decided by these non-educators that the U.S. should force or mandate that all students achieve at higher levels in certain basic academic areas. No consideration apparently was given to upgrading the training of students in vocational and technical skills which are also known to produce high paying jobs that boost the economies of nations. Germany for example, is known to have an excellent non-university level of skills training for high tech jobs in their workforce. This system has enabled Germany to prevent the outsourcing of industrial jobs to cheaper workers in other countries such as what we have seen with U. S. jobs. But the elite foundations pushing this initiative in our country decided to place major emphasis on preparing most of our students to enter and succeed at the university level.

How was the Common Core sold to decision makers?

We need only to use the time tested practice of “following the money” if we want to find out what has really driven this nationwide movement that has captured the support of the big business community and so many elite education reformer groups across the country. Much of the seed money for the development of the CCSS came from the Gates foundation. In fact the Gates Foundation reached out not only to the Louisiana Department of Education, but to several other states, to the teacher unions, the national PTA and others and distributed many generous grants to promote the standards even before the standards were even written. The U.S. Department of Education, as part of the Obama Race to the Top competition made the adoption of the standards a prerequisite to consideration for billions in federal dollars in grants. At that time State Superintendent Pastorek excitedly announced that Louisiana had been singled out by the Gates Foundation as one of the targeted states to receive a multimillion dollar grant in the Race to the Top Competition. Gates seed money was contributed to Louisiana and Gates staff helped to write Louisiana's application for the federal grant. This was happening in the depths of the nationwide recession, and it was thought that it was a no brainer for Louisiana to compete for the huge federal grant. Governor Jindal fully supported this effort and helped pass legislation that met all the U.S. Department of Education's preconditions for being awarded the grant. No thought was ever given by the Jindal administration to consult with classroom teachers or with parents.

It turns out that even though Louisiana became the poster child for the Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards, Louisiana never won the Race to the Top grants, but we did spend millions of our state dollars preparing and competing for the standards. State Treasurer, John Kennedy went before legislative committees to question the millions of dollars in no bid contracts that went to various outside corporations and groups to prepare for more testing and the data collection required by the competition. That's at the same time that state funding for basic education was cut to the bone and some parishes started laying off teachers.

Who wrote the CCSS?

So who actually formulated and wrote the Common Core Standards? The Gates Foundation and others pushed for experts recommended by their foundation and other education reformer groups such as Achieve Inc. to help write the standards. (See this Baton Rouge Advocate letter by Vincent Barras) David Coleman, the CEO of the College Board Inc. which administers the SAT college entrance testing, was chosen as chairman of the task force writing the standards. This is the same David Coleman that was rejected for every teaching position he ever applied for. So instead he became a self proclaimed expert in education reform. From the very beginning, the primary goal of the new standards was to prepare students for successful completion of college. Almost as an afterthought, it was stipulated that the new standards also described the critical skills that would be needed to succeed in non-college trained careers. But there is no question that the writers of CCSS were primarily college prep oriented. For years academic leaders whose jobs it has been to promote our university systems have claimed that both non college careers and college careers really require the same skills. No study has ever been conducted to verify this assumption, but it has simply been accepted as fact. It is assumed that since almost all parents would love for their children to get a university degree, no one would object to primarily college prep standards for our K-12 schools.

This is where the project went astray in my opinion. It was apparently assumed from the very beginning that the primary purpose of the CCSS would be to promote critical thinking skills such as those tested by the SAT that were thought to be needed for success in college. Therefore it was believed that the writers of the standards should be experts mostly at the university level or from academically oriented education reform think tanks. Regular classroom teachers at the K-12 level were not part of the writing team. In particular, there were no experts in early childhood education on the writing team.

Data Collection and Sharing for CCSS

An important component of the move to the Common Core by the various states is student data collection and sharing. Some of the chief promoters of Common Core standards happen to be huge education services conglomerates such as Pearson Inc., a United Kingdom company that produces textbook and instructional materials testing services and online education services, Microsoft, the world's largest software company, and News Corp, a Rupert Murdock company that has entered the education services business in a big way in recent years.

The directors of these huge for-profit companies concluded early on in the Common Core development process that if student profiles including standardized test scores, demographic information, student disabilities or gifted status and even discipline records could be used by teachers and other service providers to better address individual student needs. It is assumed that these large companies could use such data to market their services to school systems and even directly to parents. Major changes were quietly made to the federal privacy laws (FERPA) to allow such data to be collected and shared at will without the permission of parents.

In order to implement this data collection and sharing system, the Gates Foundation and other foundations provided funding of 100 million dollars to a new non-profit corporation called InBloom created by News Corp which has now created a massive data collection and student tracking system that has the capability of tracking voluminous data on every K-12 public school student in the United States.

Originally, Louisiana state Superintendent John White had agreed to store and share all public school student data using the InBloom system. But after major push-back from many parents across the state, White claims he has modified his agreement to prevent the identification of individual students within the InBloom system. The remaining concern for parents is that White has a recent history with vouchers and choice course providers of trying to steer education business to unsavory profit seekers.

(Watch for Part II of this article, to be posted after Thanksgiving where you will learn about how the Common Core was field tested, Louisiana's recent experience with raising standards, the changes we can expect from CCSS, problems with the Common Core and what Louisiana could do instead of CCSS.)

Have a Great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

White Proposes Major Changes to CCSS Phase in, Teacher Evaluations, and School Grading

Responding to a rising Tsunami of parent and teacher protest of the radical changes imposed on Louisiana education by Jindal and White, the Superintendent is now proposing a major slowdown of the Common Core roll-out and teacher VAM evaluations connected to the new standards. Superintendent White released a list of proposed changes to be presented to BESE at their December meeting. See also the story.

Superintendent White announced Thursday that he has been listening to many of the concerns of teachers, parents and administrators about the rapid implementation of the new Common Core standards on top of the recent value added teacher evaluation system. As a result, he is now proposing to slow down greatly the high stakes implications for students, teachers, and schools, resulting from the implementation of the Common Core. The Superintendent is now proposing to provide local educators and school systems a comprehensive state produced curriculum guide for the Common Core standards. Teachers are to be exempted from VAM ratings while new baselines are established for the ratings. Students will be allowed to be promoted to 5th and 9th grades even if they have not fully met the minimum standards contemplated by the new Common Core tests. According to White, schools will be graded on a curve to prevent school grades from changing drastically as a result of the new standards.

Some observers are already speculating that White's rather drastic proposed changes may be a preemptive move to avoid a legislative reversal of his and Jindal's major changes to the Louisiana education system. The recent legislative hearing on Common Core revealed much push back from legislators who have received major negative feedback from parents and educators. The parents have major unresolved concerns about Common Core methods, data collection, and federal interference in our schools. Teachers and many administrators feel overburdened and unfairly threatened by some of the changes they feel are not really productive.

During the recent legislative hearing on Common Core, one legislator said that he had visited almost all the schools in his district and that the most prevalent feeling from teachers was an extreme inclination to just leave the teaching profession out of frustration with the perceived flaws in the “reforms”. Another legislator said that many teachers in his district were complaining about having to work until 10 o'clock at night and on weekends to satisfy both the requirements of Common Core and the new evaluation system. Teachers were pointing their fingers at their legislators and asking: “Why did you vote for this to happen to us and our students?” Needless to say, most legislators don't want the entire teaching profession holding a grudge against them when they come up for reelection. Remember this: Teachers are the profession that has more members living in every legislative district than any other profession.

Of course, White's proposals still leave many unresolved issues. Here are some of them:
  • What will be done to calm parent fears that their child's data may be shared with private companies and individuals that have no business seeing it? Some of the federal requirements of Common Core require extensive data collection, and there have been promises made to several big companies and organizations.
  • What can be done to prevent Pearson and other major conglomerates that may have legal ownership of Common Core elements from profiteering and cornering the market on vital education materials?
  • What if Common Core standards cause a significant number of children to suffer major grade declines or even failure in school? What assurances do parents have that their children will benefit from CCSS if they have learning disabilities or somehow do not fit the Common Core mold? Remember these standards were drawn up by academic elites who expect every child to become college ready regardless of his/her unique talents and interests. (The descriptor used for the standards is “College and Career ready”. Can all our children succeed in a one-size-fits all system? Do we remember what happened to the requirement of “No Child Left Behind” that all children be proficient in math and ELA by the year 2014. Why do we want to repeat the same mistake?
  • What will be done to correct some of the Common Core standards that are obviously not age appropriate for very young students?
  • Where was it demonstrated that the new techniques in Common Core for teaching elementary math are superior to our traditional methods? Did our K-12 math teachers have a say in this?
  • Concerning the VAM portion of the teacher evaluation system in Louisiana, why must a certain percentage of teachers always be found to be “ineffective” no matter how our students improve from year to year? How was it predetermined that 10% of our teachers were ineffective even before the evaluation system was implemented?
  • If VAM is not used for the transition years, would teachers be evaluated on SLTs that are based on Common Core standards?
  • Concerning the grading system for schools, how will the new curve system correct the inequities that always doom high poverty schools to be rated lower than all others. How can it be that schools with low poverty are always rated A or B? Has anyone ever tried switching the faculties of high poverty and low poverty schools to find out where the real problem is? Why do Jindal and White assume that students attending C, D or F schools as measured by our system will do better if they transfer to a B or an A school. (Data from this past year's scores actually indicate that low performing sub groups of students do better in D and F schools than such students do in highly rated schools.)
What can educators and parents do to insure that the remaining problems with CCSS and evaluation are addressed? You know my answer to this.

If you have not done it yet, please send me your email and your home zip code so that you can participate in our Defenders of Public Education email system. Just email me at . The reason I need your zip code is so that I can place you in your correct legislative districts. When important education issues come up at the capitol, you will receive an email giving you the facts so you can write an email or make a phone call to your own legislators and ask them to support public education and public school educators. Our efforts are beginning ot make a difference. That's why Superintendent White is proposing the changes described above.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Important Announcement!

The Louisiana Association of Educators is sponsoring a forum on the Common Core State Standards in Lake Charles, LA

Title: Our Community Our Schools

Who? Interested parents of K-12 students and teachers and school administrators from the Southwest Louisiana area

When? 6:30 P.M., December 9, 2013

Where? The auditorium of Lake Charles Boston Academy, 1509  Enterprise Blvd., Lake Charles, LA

Purpose? To answer questions and hear comments from parents and educators about the Common Core State Standards

Monday, November 18, 2013

As Usual, Classroom Teachers Left Out on CCSS

Veteran Lafayette Parish educator Vincent Barras has written three important pieces about the new Common Core State Standards. All educators and parents should read both Mr Barras' blog by clicking here and also here, and his letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate titled Look Who Designed the Common Core, by clicking here.

Mr Barras is just the kind of classroom teacher we would all like to have teaching our child math. He understands how children learn math because he has taught it all his professional life and was himself inspired by a great math teacher. He is just the type of educator that should have been consulted on the elements of the Common Core. He is the kind of teacher who has a true love for his craft and who should have participated in the actual writing of the new standards.

The problem is that developers of the Common Core had apparently no interest in consulting real classroom educators. Mr Barras in his letter to the editor reveals the fact that the developers of CCSS were mostly far removed from the actual classroom. He also pointed out in an email to me that two distinguished members of the CCSS validation committee who have solid credentials in education practice have refused to sign on and have instead opposed the standards.

But the most insulting part of this for Louisiana classroom teachers is that our State Superintendent and BESE adopted the standards sight unseen (See the Crazy Crawfish blog) without consulting a single Louisiana classroom teacher. If parents wonder why such an impractical system could be used by Louisiana teachers to teach children in both public and many parochial schools, the answer is that teachers were never consulted and teachers were never given a choice!

As far as Superintendent John White, Governor Jindal and 9 of 11 members of BESE are concerned, teachers are just small cogs in the massive machinery of education reform. To paraphrase a famous quote, the teachers' job is not to question why, their job is to do or die! If that sounds a little too dramatic, just talk to any classroom teacher you know who is actually teaching the subjects that will be tested by the PARCC test (That is the test that is supposed to determine how well teachers have taught the Common Core). Ask also some of the many teachers who have retired early in the last two years because of strong disagreement with the Common Core and the new demands of teaching to the test. They correctly resent that their profession is being destroyed by non-educators like Jindal and White who have decided to "empower" teachers by letting them devise their own methods for teaching the test. There is no more real teaching (of basic skills) in Louisiana, there is only test teaching. That is how our leaders have honored and "empowered" the teaching profession in Louisiana. It also shows their lack of knowledge about and interest in how children really learn.

What teachers resent the most is that it is their students who will suffer most. They will definitely not get the education they deserve as they are experimented upon with the Common Core.  All I can ask of parents who read this blog, Mr Barras' blog and the Crazy Crawfish blog, is please support your child's teacher and all the educators who will have to struggle to fix this monstrosity! Please tell your legislator what you as a parent want and need for your child. The legislature is our only hope for truly correcting this problem.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Stop Predatory Charters!

The following is a letter to the editor by BESE member Dr. Lottie Beebe. I believe this letter alerts us to an extremely disruptive force in Louisiana education which I call Predatory Charters. In my opinion the only purpose of predatory charters is to use our tax dollars to enrich entrepreneurs who have figured out how to use the current education reform movement to their advantage. Here is Dr. Beebe's letter:

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)'s decision on October 16, 2013 to approve charter school applications for Lafayette Parish – against the wishes of Lafayette’s elected education leaders – sets a dangerous precedent that should alarm all Louisiana citizens.

BESE approved 5 charter school applications in Lafayette Parish from two groups, Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies. Both Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies are for-profit corporations headquartered outside of Louisiana. While these companies claimed their charter schools would provide choice for parents and ease student crowding in the classroom, many citizens of Lafayette Parish expressed legitimate concerns.

Citizens were concerned the for-profit companies would retain ownership of the facilities built with taxpayers’ dollars should the charter schools fail to deliver on their promised student achievement. Many felt it was better to invest in new public school facilities that would remain under public ownership, rather than enrich out-of-state corporations. Parents were concerned about the accessibility of the proposed charter schools for students from poor neighborhoods; the proposed charter schools would be built in affluent neighborhoods that currently have high-performing public schools.

With these concerns in mind, after numerous public hearings on the issues and much public feedback, the elected board members of the Lafayette Parish School Board voted to reject the charter school applications from both companies. These companies then applied to BESE for school charters granted by the State of Louisiana. Disregarding the legitimate concerns and wishes of a local community, BESE granted the charters by a vote of 8 to 2 to a “B School District.

If BESE has the ability and desire to ignore the concerns of local parents and elected leaders for the economic benefit of for-profit corporations, we should all be concerned for our children’s education and future.


Lottie P. Beebe, Ed. D., BESE District 3

Breaux Bridge, LA


My Additional Comments: These predatory charters in Lafayette parish and others like them in other parts of the state, have learned how to skim the most productive students away from local school systems by utilizing demanding application processes and by dumping low performing students utilizing strict discipline policies.
Advertisements by these charter management groups which are ultimately paid for with our tax dollars attempt to attract high performing students and exclude low performers even though by law their admission practices are not supposed to exclude any category of students. Parents may be informed that the school requires a certain number of volunteer hours by the parent in order for the student to remain in good standing. Such schools also make it known that the the school will not tolerate disruptive or non-compliant students. This to some may sound like reasonable requirements but such requirements cannot be put into practice in regular public schools. The State DOE monitors the discipline policies of public school systems and in some cases appoints a special master who has authority to overrule suspensions by school principals. No such authority is exercised over charters. This means that they can dump their disruptive and low performing students into the regular public schools.
The long term result of such predatory practices by charters is that such schools could gain a major advantage in producing higher school performance scores and the right to add more profit making charters. (Our state law now allows high performing charters to add more schools without following the normal application process). The new state law passed by Jindal two years ago also no longer requires that such schools be compared to regular public schools according to student demographics. This means that their more advantaged student composition is no longer questioned by the state.
You know where this is going. This all part of the ALEC agenda to destroy public education.  After a few years, the Louisiana public schools could be seriously damaged and their ability to maintain public support eroded. Our most at risk students would stand to lose the most in this process.

One of my primary reasons for creating the Defenders of Public Education email list is to oppose such predatory practices that damage our public schools. Please participate in my Defenders email system.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

White Gets an Earful

I attended a 4 hour hearing on the Common Core State Standards Monday at the Capitol. (See also the Advocate article on this) For this hearing, members of the public and teachers were not allowed to testify, but I believe that most of the many legislators in attendance who had actually been hearing complaints from parents and teachers did a pretty good job of relaying the tremendous frustration about the implementation of CCSS to Chas Roemer (BESE President) and John White.

Representative Cameron Henry who has already announced that he will propose legislation to eliminate Common Core in Louisiana led off with a barrage of questions where he demanded to see the evidence used by BESE in making the decision to adopt the Common Core. When asked to present any data or studies that showed how Common Core would be good for our students, Roemer was caught off guard and could only say that tougher standards were good for students. (That's been the selling point: increased rigor will make our students better) White told the legislators that the Common Core standards were written by experts who studied the standards that have been used by other leading countries for years that helped their students perform much better than ours. (Diane Ravitch in her new book seriously disputes this conclusion with real statistics) No one could say however, that the CCSS had actually been tested and proven to be effective before being mandated in Louisiana. I happened to be in attendance when BESE adopted the CCSS (sight unseen) before they were actually written and I know that the actual standards were never reviewed by real educators in Louisiana. The main reason given for their adoption at the time was that Louisiana was in a competition for billions in Race to the Top money and adoption of the CCSS was part of the requirement. That's also why we adopted the VAM evaluation for teachers, even though Louisiana never won any significant Race to the Top money.

I have to complement the teachers out there who have been doing a good job of talking to their legislators about their frustration with the sloppy implementation of both teacher evaluation and Common Core. In addition there is a rapidly growing organization of parents who are very unhappy about some of the poorly thought out standards in the Common Core and federal interference in our schools. Parents are objecting to the seemingly nonsensical math methods that many parents do not understand. One legislator said that one of his children had gone from a “B” in math to a “D” and was traumatized by the change. Other parents and teachers have pointed out that many of the standards for younger children are not age appropriate.

Some legislators wanted to know if Louisiana would lose federal money if we decided not to implement Common Core or the PARCC testing. White said that the only thing the US DOE was requiring was that Louisiana adopt rigorous academic standards. Many were still skeptical about the ability of Louisiana to resist the power of the Federal government to force Louisiana to implement the CCSS since Louisiana is so dependent on federal funding of our schools.

One legislator said he had visited almost every school in his district and had listened to teachers concerns. He said the most common statement he heard from teachers is that they would leave teaching today if they did not have to worry about the need to support their families! He said that these comments were coming from teachers who were considered the best in their school system.

Representative John Bel Edwards asked if the DOE did not agree that many of the requirements for implementation of Common Core amounted to an unfunded mandate because of the need for infrastructure and computers. White and Roemer said they did not consider it an unfunded mandate.

My Representative, Kenny Havard said that one of his parishes had been laying off teachers so that they could meet the infrastructure requirements. He said “I guess you can say its not an unfunded mandate as long as a parish still has teachers they can lay off to pay for computers.”

Another important question asked by Edwards was, “If Common Core is so great, why are we letting some of our students transfer to voucher schools that have not adopted Common Core?” Answer: “Well they still have to take the same tests that we give in public schools. And we do not allow scholarship schools to accept more students if they do poorly on the state tests.”

Edwards: “But you do let them keep the students they have even if they fail the test.”

Most of the legislators complained that their parishes did not seem to be ready to implement the new standards. White stated that readiness for CCSS all depended on the quality of local leadership since all local school systems have had 3½ years to prepare out of a 5 year phase in. He said the DOE would help those parishes that were behind in implementation.

When questioned by several legislators about the training of teachers for CCSS, White gave a glowing report about the DOE training of 2,000 teacher leaders from all schools and that they in turn had trained another 10,000 teachers. He said, the state will double the teacher leaders to be trained this year. I happened to interview a few of the teachers who attended this leader training and their comment was that anyone can take the Common Core Standards from the DOE website and make a power point presentation with them and discuss it with teachers but that does not translate into teaching methods. The teachers I talked to were not impressed with their “training”.

White also indicated that BESE will be asked to adopt flexibility for school systems that are not yet prepared for the new testing. White also said that he would not adopt the same rating scale for proficiency that had been adopted by New York that resulted in over 70% of their students being rated non-proficient. The initial Louisiana scale for proficiency will be a 3 on the 5 point scale rather than the 4 that was used in New York. He also said that the DOE will tweak the formula for school letter grades to make sure that schools do not drop more than one letter grade based on PARCC testing. Here's my problem with that tinkering: PARCC testing is designed (by the admission of White and Roemer) to compare our student performance with the performance of students in other states. So it does not matter how many points we use for proficiency, our raw score averages will still be compared to other states. All the statistics I have seen and the results from NAEP will rank Louisiana near the bottom of the states because of our student poverty levels and the fact that so many of our more advantaged students attend private/parochial schools. I can assure you that Roemer will be the first to complain to all the newspapers about the terrible performance of our students compared to other states. White has been blathering about how “Louisiana students are just as smart as the students in other states” so he can pretend to be shocked when our results do not meet his expectations. Guess who will be blamed?

Throughout the hearing, Roemer said that most of the teachers he talked to said they liked the new approach of the common core. He said that the many teachers who have bought into Common Core would be disappointed if the state drops it now. I don't think Roemer's opinions would qualify as a scientific study. Everyone agreed that it was great to have high standards. The main complaint according to Roemer and White was that we needed to train teachers better and somehow convince teachers not to be so stressed about both the CCSS and the new evaluation system. I guess we can “trust” White to take care of teachers even though he is the one who dictated that the new VAM system must find at least 10% of VAM rated teachers ineffective each year no matter how our students perform.

One legislator said that teachers in his district were working until 10 PM each night and on weekends to develop curriculum for Common Core which he felt should have been supplied by the state. “If the state mandates something they should provide the funding and the teaching materials!”

White: “We wanted to let the teachers do what they think works instead of telling them what to do as has been done in the past with the GLEs.” You know, this is old teacher empowerment fib.

I guess I'm just out of synch with the trend when I keep believing that CCSS is not appropriate for all students. I guess I'm just for low standards when I worry that Louisiana has just about killed off most of our career and technical programs in favor of college prep for all which is not producing the promised results. I suppose it just doesn't matter that almost none of our students are being prepared for the thousands of voc-tech jobs that will be opening up in our state within the next few years. The Workforce Commission predicts a huge boom in new chemical plants along the Mississippi river and in Lake Charles. Most of these jobs will require either construction skills or high tech skills requireing  2 year Associate degrees or less. I can assure you that our community and voc-tech colleges do not use the Common Core. They concentrate on concrete skills.  Yet Roemer told the legislators that Common Core is exactly what our students need to prepare for those new jobs. I just don't know where he gets this!

Here is an amazing statistic from the mouth of John White: “Even though 77% of our students are now graduating with a Core 4 diploma, the ACT shows that only 23% are really prepared to do college work! This explains why only 19% are graduating from college.” My question is, “What evidence do we have that implementing Common Core will change that statistic? Why do we insist on going from one college prep for all system to another? When are we going to start preparing our students for the real jobs out there?” Einstein said “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

My best advice to educators and parents is this: Keep talking to your legislators about the problems with both the teacher evaluation system and with CCSS. They are our only hope, and the good news is that they are listening! Every legislator I spoke to said that this hearing was only the first round of many in questioning the entire education reform package and in finally holding our State Superintendent accountable for his bad policies!

If you have not already done so, please sign up for our Defenders of Public Education email system. All you have to do is send me an email to and give me your name, your preferred email and your zip code. I need your home zip code so I can place you in the correct legislative districts. You will then receive timely emails about legislation that affects your profession and your students. You can then do your part by contacting your legislators with your opinion and recommendations on these issues. Now is the time! They are starting to listen!