Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Disappointing Vote

The House Education Committee, after debate that went into late evening hours yesterday, voted to kill HB381 by Gueyman, Pope and Kostelka that would have provided a process to create Louisiana based school standards in the place of the Common Core State Standards. Big business in Louisiana represented by LABI and CABL once again wielded their power over the legislature. It did not seem to matter that most of the real experts in Louisiana education led by some of our most successful local superintendents warned that the present CCSS may not be appropriate and that the PARCC test may be more harmful than helpful. John White and his big business buddies were determined to put our schools through another round of gut wrenching reform and condemnation. The committee also defeated HB 558 by Cameron Henry that would have stopped the PARCC testing and substituted Louisiana developed tests instead.

I want to thank Superintendent Pujol of Ascension Parish, Superintendent Folse of St Tammany Parish and Superintendent Puyau of Vermilion Parish who led the effort by educators to restore sanity to the process of education reform in Louisiana. There were many other superintendents present also who made their support known for HB 381, along with many supervisors and teachers. LAE and LFT representatives and the School Board Association also supported HB 381.

Many parents stayed to the bitter end of the debate to support this and a bill by Rep. Cameron Henry, HB 558, that would have stopped the PARCC testing. They deserve our sincere thanks for their dedication to their children and to our public school teachers. I testified in favor of the Henry Bill because as I have pointed out in this blog several times, the PARCC testing will be a disaster for Louisiana public education. A test almost identical to PARCC was a total failure in New York state with over 70% of the students getting a non-proficient rating. In addition I pointed out in my testimony that even though the CCSS and the PARCC have been billed as a way of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor, minority and majority etc. the results in New York showed a major widening of the achievement gap. Minority students had a passing rate of only 16%. The same thing will surely happen in Louisiana.

State Superintendent John White made a statement in opposing both of these bills that shows his true motive of casting our public schools in the most negative light possible so that he and Jindal can continue their massive privatization efforts. White repeated once again one of his favorite verbal clubs against our public schools. He said “Our children in Louisiana are just as smart as kids in other states so we owe them these better standards.” Now on its face this statement seems to demonstrate his belief in and support for academic success for our students. But here is the problem: First of all, White is not qualified in any way to draw any conclusions about how “smart” our students are in comparison to other states. He has no training at all in educational measurement. This is simply his way of putting all the blame on educators and public schools when our students do not perform well on PARCC or on any tests that compare us to other states. This is a very cynical strategy to make himself look good and positive as a person who believes in the success of our students and at the same time condemn the entire public education system when our students do not compare well on the tests. The point is not at all about which students are smarter from state to state. The fact is that the main determinant of student academic performance is the relative level of poverty from state to state. To paraphrase James Carville: “It's the poverty stupid!” White's statement is a brilliant strategy for making himself look good while condemning our public schools and public school educators.

One more point about the cynical approach of Governor Jindal. Everyone knows that Jindal is a strong supporter of Common Core and PARCC. He signed the documents that launched the whole program. But in a bid to bolster his anti-Obama credentials and to try to garner tea party support, he sent his representatives to the committee to register his support for HB381. He did not fool anyone.

Thank you to all our readers and defenders of public education who sent emails to their legislators asking them to support HB 381.

The House Education Committee members voting for HB 381 and therefore for revising the CCSS standards were:
· Rep. Henry Burns -- Bossier
· Rep. John Bel Edwards -- Tangipahoa
· Rep. Cameron Henry -- Jefferson
· Rep. Paul Hollis -- St. Tammany
· Rep. Barry Ivey -- East Baton Rouge
· Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard -- Lafourche
· Rep. Rob Shadoin -- Lincoln and Union 

The House Education members voting against HB 381 and therefore for keeping Common Core and PARCC were:
Rep. Steve Carter, Chair  -- Baton Rouge
· Rep. Wesley Bishop -- Orleans
· Rep. Christopher Broadwater – Tangipahoa
· Rep. Thomas Carmody -- Bossier and Caddo
· Rep. Simone Champagne -- Vermilion and Iberia
· Rep. Patrick Jefferson -- Bienville, Claiborne and Lincoln
· Rep. Nancy Landry -- Vermilion and Lafayette
· Rep. Eddie Price -- Ascension, Iberville
· Rep. Gene Reynolds -- Bossier and Webster
· Rep. Patricia Smith -- East Baton Rouge
· Rep. Jeff Thompson -- Bossier
· Rep. Alfred Williams -- East Baton Rouge
We need to remember who supported our public educators and who supported big business in this critical vote.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Common Core Bills; Tell Your Legislator What You Want!

Attention educators and Parents! The anti-Common Core and anti-PARCC bills are going to be debated in the House Education Committee this Wednesday. This may be your best opportunity to make your concerns known to your legislator about Common Core and PARCC.

In January, this blog encouraged all my readers to respond to a survey on the Common Core State Standards and PARCC. The results were as follows: A total of 2,724 readers responded to the survey. Only 61 respondents, or 2% said that Louisiana should continue implementing CCSS as has been prescribed by Superintendent John White with the approval of BESE. 709 respondents, or 26% said they would prefer that CCSS and PARCC be phased in over a longer period of time starting with lower elementary grades and progressing one or two grades each year until it covers all grades. 1,954 respondents, or 72% stated that they would prefer to do away with CCSS and PARCC and substitute an improved version of GLEs as the standards for our basic core subjects. Louisiana would implement its own testing as has been done in the past.

Partly based on these results and my own opinion, I have written the following email to my State Representative. He is not on the Education Committee so I am writing to him about general issues involved instead of specific bills.

Dear Representative __________,
I am a retired educator who lives in your district.
It is my understanding that various bills relative to the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing will be debated in the House Education Committee this week. We do not know yet what bills on these matters will be sent to the full House for your vote. Based on a survey I conducted about CCSS and PARCC in January I would like to recommend the following for your consideration: Please support any bills that will put a stop to the PARCC testing which is scheduled to start in Louisiana next school year. These tests have proven to be unreliable and have failed 70% of the students who took them last year in New York state. Our students do not deserve to be subjected to these unfair tests. In addition, I would like to ask you to vote for any legislation that will remove Louisiana from participation in the Common Core State Standards. Again, these standards are untested and may not be appropriate for our students. I and my colleagues would prefer that Louisiana continue to use and perfect its own standards unique to the needs and preferences of our educators and parents.

Michael Deshotels

That email represents my opinion and that of the great majority of the educators and parents who responded to my survey. If you feel that Common Core and PARCC are good for Louisiana, by all means please feel free to write to or call your legislator to express your opinion. Let's all participate in the democratic process.

Now here are more details on this matter that my blog readers will find useful in making their final decision on this matter:

As a last ditch effort to save their cherished program, our State Department of Education has produced a financial analysis claiming that it will cost us millions if we back out of Common Core now. They know that our cash strapped legislature is looking for any way to avoid increasing costs to the state budget so this is now the best argument for keeping the Common Core.

Common Core and PARCC. It was a real bargain to get into it but now its going to cost us a fortune to get out of it! That's the conclusion by our Department of Education. Don't believe a word of it. All we have gotten from our LDOE in the last two years since John White took over as Superintendent in our state is pure propaganda. Why should we believe this latest joke of a financial analysis? State Treasurer, John Kennedy has repeatedly pointed out that our Department of Education has numerous expensive contracts with consultants and companies that could be canceled saving us millions of tax dollars. Our students would not suffer one bit if some of these pork barrel projects were eliminated! That would be more than enough to pay for a return to Louisiana standards.

It totally amazes me that it should cost Louisiana one penny to simply drop this boondoggle of a program that only promises to cost us hundreds of millions to implement over the next few years!

Why do I say hundreds of millions? That's because if we continue this foolish rat race that is called the Common Core State Standards we will soon reaffirm what we already know. That is that Louisiana will rank near the bottom of the PARCC performance ranking compared to other states. (but wait: we already knew that based on the NAEP test. We know that we will rank just ahead of Mississippi because we rank just ahead of Mississippi in student poverty, which has the greatest influence on these test results.)

But the plan is this: Once our students fail the PARCC test, we will have to rush to purchase more test prep services and allow more charter schools and approve more vouchers to allow more students to escape our “failing schools”. And then even when the students don't perform any better (or perform worse!) in the charters and voucher schools, our Superintendent will still find that it is OK because it is soooo important to give parents choice!

Look at how many were choosing the New Living Word voucher school even though it was not providing an education and the minister who had appointed himself principal was charging taxpayers an arm and a leg.

Pearson, the Great Briton based educational services company which helped control the development of the PARCC test and designs all sorts of software, and test prep materials designed for the PARCC will be extorting millions from Louisiana for both the testing and the test prep materials. Microsoft, boss Bill Gates who spent two billion dollars funding the development and selling of the Common Core stands to reap billions from services related to the Common Core. Apple will be selling us thousands of Ipads preloaded with test prep materials. Some companies will be selling us virtual courses that will take our MFP dollars so that some students can pretend to study common core at home using virtual courses with our tax dollars. Meanwhile our public schools will be laying off teachers and cutting salaries and benefits so they can afford to keep up with all the other states in buying more Common Core prep materials. This is all about the corporate takeover of public education! None of this will make our students better citizens, nor will it prepare them better for the workforce or make them better “human capitol”.

I just want to remind my readers that none of this Common Core material was tested in the classroom by real teachers. None of it is known to make students smarter or better because it is just a theory that has barely been tried with real students. None of the executives of the big companies like Exxon-Mobil who have endorsed Common Core have any idea what the standards are. (See this Advocate story) They have never even read the standards. I have read the standards and find them confusing, ambiguous, non-specific and not at all appropriate for many of our students. But what do I know? I've just devoted my whole life to the teaching profession! The leaders of big business support them because they were told by Bill Gates that these standards were more “rigorous” and that they would make their potential employees better and more efficient workers. But no one has the slightest idea whether that will happen because this system is just now being tested on our kids where students are simply being treated as guinea pigs and the teachers will be blamed if this latest hair brained program does not work.

Readers, this may be your best chance to have your voice heard by our legislators. Send an email now to the members of the House Education Committee (Just click on this link) to get the Representative who represents your Parish giving him/her your recommendations on Common Core and PARCC. (If you click on an individual's name you can get his email and office phone #)

Here are the bills that are scheduled for the House Education Committee this Wednesday, April 2:

HB 163 by Burns, HB 558 by Henry, and HB 996 by Schroeder would prohibit the use of the PARCC test and continues LEAP instead.

HB 988 by Schroder allows the State DOE and BESE to continue setting statewide content standards but permits local school boards to develop and implement their own curriculum content and methodology instead of that which is recommended by the LDOE.

HB 381 by Geymann creates a Louisiana Standards Commission to replace CCSS with state standards.

HB 1054 by Richard requires the teachers in all public schools and voucher schools to take the CCSS tests (this is really the PARCC test for Louisiana) prior to administering these tests to students.

Here's the deal:
  • If you want to stop using Common Core standards and PARCC testing in our schools and if you want the state to use a special commission made up of state educators and parents to set standards, to be implemented only after approval by both Houses of the Legislature, you should ask your State Representative to vote for HB 381 by Geymann. This bill would provide for assessments based on the new standards which would no longer need to be based on national standards. Special education students would be allowed to take an alternate assessment.
  • If you want to stop Louisiana from using the PARCC test, and to remove the language in the law that now requires us to use national standards in our K-12 schools, you should ask your State Representative to vote for either HB 163 or HB 558 or HB 996. These bills however as they are presently written would not necessarily prevent our LDOE and BESE from adopting changes to our GLEs that would possibly mirror the CCSS.
  • If you are willing to let the State DOE and BESE to continue setting standards including the implementation of the Common Core but you want your local school system to have more flexibility on curriculum and methodology you should ask your State Representative to vote for HB 988 by Schroeder.
  • I honestly don't know what to tell you about the Richard bill (HB 1054) which would require teachers to take the PARCC before the students do and then would inform the legislature of teacher opinions about the test. I think the bill might accomplish more if it required the legislature and BESE members to take the PARCC before we even consider giving it to our students. Look what happened in New York where 70% of the students failed PARCC!
No matter what you believe about the Common Core standards and the PARCC test, if you don't express your opinion and ask your legislator to vote your way, then you probably deserve what will happen to you as Louisiana continues on the path to full implementation and testing of CCSS. Don't complain if you don't exercise your democratic rights!