Friday, January 24, 2014

Common Core Sets Unrealistic and Unscientific Expectations

The whole theory behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is that if we set the academic bar higher, our students will achieve at a higher level. I guess the developers think that if you just put the material out there using great teachers that all students will learn it . . . automatically! This is the same theory that was used for  the “No Child Left Behind Act”. That federal law said that by the year 2014 (ten years from the start date of 2004), all students nationwide would attain proficiency in English language arts and math. That's this year folks! Did that effort at raising the bar work?  Not even one state out of 50 has even come close to this unrealistic standard. Why should educators and parents believe that this new standard is any better?

Both No Child Left Behind and CCSS are based on a pseudo science theory many of us call The Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon effect is based on a mythical town in Minnesota called Lake Wobegon. This town was created by Garrison Keillor, for his PBS radio show called A Prairie Home Companion.

In his introduction to his stories about Lake Wobegon each week, Kiellor starts off by describing Lake Wobegon as the town where “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” …... It's a joke! All three of those characterizations are impossible because they defy the laws of mathematical statistical distribution.

The same principle applies to the No Child Left Behind requirement that all children must be proficient in ELA and math by 2014. That's because as Diane Ravitch, an expert in standards (she served on the Board of the NAEP) explains in her new book “proficient” is generally considered by experts to be achievement well above average on nationally normed standardized tests. You cannot order all children to be above average just by passing a law or by setting standards! But our government believes (and of course Louisiana Believes) that you can order teachers to somehow teach all students to achieve at an above average level. Never mind that some students were what we once knew as “crack babies”, or suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, or (as one of my grandchildren) are autistic. Or how about the thousands of kids that don't have a single book in their home, or a quiet place to do their homework, or even one parent who cares at all about whether or not they do well in school?

If it were true that we can get children to learn at a certain level just by setting standards, we could order all children to learn calculus, or physics, or even quantum mechanics just by having the BESE set such a standard. I know from my experience as a science teacher that less than 1% of the American public can ever learn quantum mechanics even if they were to really, really apply themselves to that goal.

But what about the Common Core? (Please read this excellent speech on Common Core by Diane Ravitch) Were not the CCSS set by a panel of experts in K-12 education who had a strong basic knowledge of learning theory as well as solid classroom teaching experience? Absolutely not! There were no practicing classroom teachers, and no early childhood education experts on the CCSS writing committee. The Chairman of the CCSS project was David Coleman, a person with even fewer K-12 education credentials than our own Louisiana amateur state superintendent. Coleman was turned down for a job as a high school teacher in New York because he was not certified to be a teacher. No one knows whether or not the CCSS are practical and achievable because they were never tested in any way before being mandated in the majority of our states.

The early results of CCSS as measured by one of the new common core tests were disastrous! The first results of testing in New York state, a state that always performs better than Louisiana on the NAEP test, classified 70% of New York students as failures! Have the Common Core standards been modified as a result of the New York testing? Absolutely not! As Diane Ravitch explains, there is no provision for modifying the CCSS when problems are found. But to make things worse, there is no evidence whatsoever that putting students through a CCSS compliant curriculum will prepare them for college or to compete favorably with students from other nations. Our students are being used as guinea pigs for this experiment.

There is only one sure thing that we can all depend upon in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. That is: teachers will most definitely be blamed if our students don't do as well as expected by our non educator bosses who have set the bar for the CCSS!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Political Priorities Involved in State Contracts

Louisiana Voice blogger Tom Aswell in this blog exposes some of the wasteful excesses found in many of the Jindal consulting contracts.

It does not seem to matter how financially strapped our Louisiana State budget seems to be, there always seems to be room for lavish, politically motivated consulting contracts.

I must admit that I voted for Bobby Jindal the first time he ran for Governor because I thought he would be the kind of public official who would do his job with the highest ethics in true service to the citizens of Louisiana. I was greatly disappointed just like many others that he turned out to be the worst kind of politician.

Some of the abuse of office by Jindal and his lieutenants is created by dozens of unnecessary consulting contracts with various firms. State Treasurer John Kennedy has been calling these contracts to the attention of the legislature and the public for the past two years. Kennedy has suggested legislation that would cut all state contracts by 10%. According to Kennedy, even such a small cut would save the state millions.

It seems the department with some of the most lavish and questionable consulting contracts is the Department of Education managed by Superintendent John White. Last week Kennedy blew the whistle on a $250,000 consulting contract that is supposed to help parents make good choices using the new school voucher program. According to the state grading system and the most recent audit of voucher schools, it turns out that most voucher parents made terrible choices for their children in the voucher program. Why did the taxpayers have to fork up a quarter of a million dollars to this consulting company so that bad choices could be made for children?

Superintendent White has also stated that it will cost Louisiana “only” $30 per student to administer the new PARCC examination for the implementation of the Common Core. The only problem with the estimate is that it does not include all the consulting contracts associated with the development and implementation of the Common Core. It also does not include the millions of dollars in technology upgrades that must be paid by local school boards so that kids can take the tests on computers.

Another example of Jindal's abuse of office is the recent contract with the New York firm of Alvarez & Marsal supposedly to recommend ways of cutting government spending. Tom Aswell points out in his blog that finding such savings would amount to evidence of lack of competency of Jindal's department heads and of Jindal himself for appointing administrators who routinely waste millions of taxpayer dollars. Aswell points out that Kristy Nichols, Commissioner of Administration, was not truthful when she told the news media and the legislature that the contract required the consulting company to come up with 500 million dollars in savings by trimming programs in state government. The truth is there was no mention of the 500 million savings in the contract.

It turns out that the New York firm, Alvarez & Marsal was the same company that advised the New Orleans School Board after Hurricane Katrina to fire their 7,000 experienced teachers and replace them with TFA and other poorly qualified teachers. Now two courts have ruled that the school board and the state (because the state took over most of the New Orleans schools) may have to award the fired teachers up to one and a half billion dollars in back pay for improper termination! So why would Jindal continue to hire a company that has given such bad advice in the past? And why is Jindal spending millions of dollars for private lawyers to defend the enforcement of Acts 1 and 2 of 2012? Those are the laws that attempted to destroy teacher tenure and set up the voucher and course choice system. These two laws have been consistently found to be in violation of the state constitution.

So we the taxpayers are going the pay this firm 4.2 million dollars in the hopes that they can find savings up to 500 million dollars in our state budget. Once they write their report, they will be paid with our taxes regardless of whether the legislature agrees with their recommendations. There are many other politically motivated contracts that work the same way. We the taxpayers have no way of knowing whether the contractor did a proper amount of work on the project. Meanwhile our state colleges have seen their budgets cut by more than half, and Louisiana has continued to provide sub-standard services to citizens.