Wednesday, July 2, 2014

BESE Fails

I and many other educators and parents attended the BESE meeting Tuesday to watch BESE members and Superintendent White attempt to deal with the combination of curve balls and spit balls thrown at them by Governor Jindal. Instead of a ball game, it turned out to be a circus that lasted 6 hours and it was not entertaining. If our public education classrooms were run this way, teachers would all be fired. Thank goodness the education of our children does not really depend on the erratic behavior of BESE, White and Jindal. For a somewhat salacious and entertaining account of the meeting read the Crazy Crawfish blog here. Also, Mercedes Schneider gives you the big picture pointing out that a legal decision in New Mexico may affect PARCC in Louisiana.

After the meeting, I spoke to a long time educator, local superintendent, and legislator (Mr Rogers Pope from Livingston Parish) who also attended the entire punishing meeting. He said that it is fortunate that no matter what BESE, White, and Jindal do, our teachers will be hard at work in a few weeks teaching their students in an effective manner and helping to prepare their students for life and careers just as they have always done. . . . . despite the higher powers over education who think they are soooooo important.

Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, BESE and John White have the grandiose belief that all the silly rules they make, and all the hoops they devise for teachers and school principals to jump through really make a difference in the education of young people. They believe that if they can just fine tune and standardize the curriculum for public schools, give parents "choice" with our tax dollars for sending their children to any private enterprise calling itself a school, and if they can make every teacher and every principal's job dependent on the standardized test scores of the students they teach, that magically all students will achieve above average on the tests and the battle will be won. What the architects of all this reform chaos don't realize is that all of their major initiatives will make very little positive difference at all because they are not dealing with the factors that really impact the education of each child. All of these hair brained schemes, and all the senseless pressure on educators will however, drive away many excellent and dedicated teachers and administrators over time, and that will adversely affect the education of many children.

Common Core is certainly not a magic bullet for curing the ills of education and should never have been forced upon our public schools (notice that the elite private schools are mostly ignoring the CCSS). Standardized testing and grading schools and teachers by student performance on standardized testing has done almost nothing to better educate students. I have carefully studied the results of these standardized tests for the last 15 years and find only minor improvements in the test scores. In most cases it is clear (as in Louisiana's LEAP testing) that the gains are mostly due to teaching to the test and not to real learning. Common Core will get the same lackluster results except that more children will be turned off by the "rigorous", boring, useless "stuff" they are now being asked to learn. Do we really think that most students will benefit in their daily lives or in their future careers by all the math theory they will be fed or all the boring technical reading they will be pushed to do? I can say this because I am a math-science major who is still often inspired by real, practical math and science and who developed a love of reading by progressing from old fashioned comic books to more and more sophisticated reading. Many of us developed our love of reading by being allowed to read what we liked, not what some expert said we should read, as is being pushed now with CCSS. My wife taught 4th grade, and each year spent some time reading Charlotte's Web in the afternoon to her students. A practice which helped lure her students into the love of reading. She could never do that today. There is no time with all the test prep and it's probably not considered sophisticated enough, and may not be developing "critical thinking skills."

Back to BESE: After 6 grueling hours of useless debate, they finally decided to direct the Superintendent and his lawyers to meet with Governor Jindal and his lawyers to try to work out a solution so that the state will have time to prepare and administer the "almighty state tests" by next Spring. And BESE will have two new law firms hired pro bono (at no cost) to advise them on legal actions (but not yet including suing the Governor) they may still need to take in the event the negotiations with the governor do not work out.

I do want to give thanks and credit to Jane Smith, Dr Lottie Beebie, and Carolyn Hill who proposed a reasonable compromise that would have allowed White to give pretty much the same tests that were given this Spring to grades 3 to 8. I say that was a compromise because according to White, those tests contained a large dose of Common Core type questions. But the Common Core fanatics voted it down because they wanted to go all out with the PARCC testing next year. John White had already crawfished on the PARCC by saying that instead of giving the same PARCC as the 15 or so other states in the consortium, Louisiana would still have control over its test. So what happened to being able to compare Louisiana student test scores with all the other states? As I said, it was a circus.

Thank goodness the teachers and principals still know what to do. I predict they will be teaching school no matter what Jindal and BESE do. I bet they will be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I hope they can find time to teach geography, history, science, physical education, and maybe a little art and music. And as an added bonus, if BESE and the Governor cannot agree, and the state tests get junked next Spring, maybe some elementary teachers will have time to read Charlotte's Web to their little kids... No that will never happen. One thing I know we will have for sure, even if all the teachers resign in disgust, are the standardized tests next Spring.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Statement to BESE on CCSS and PARCC

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled a special meeting On July 1, at 11:30 A.M., to respond to the executive orders by Governor Jindal that would stop the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the related PARCC testing. Assuming that BESE allows the public to comment before taking action, the following is the statement I plan to make before BESE:

My name is Michael Deshotels, and I am a retired Louisiana educator who writes a blog for educators and for parents. I am here to request that BESE consider at least a suspension of Common Core and the related PARCC testing in Louisiana until Louisiana educators can revise and improve our present Louisiana standards. I am talking about the standards that were rated second in the nation by Education Weekly just over 2 years ago. I believe there are several good reasons for a change in policy on CCSS and there is nothing more appropriate than correcting a policy that we have come to understand is wrong and harmful to our students.

There is growing evidence that the CCSS are poorly designed and the implementation of them is a boondoggle. Why would we want to subject our Louisiana students to this unnecessary experiment? Let other states use their children as guinea pigs while we in Louisiana continue and improve our own system.

In January of this year, I asked the readers of my blog to give their opinion on Common Core and PARCC. I have asked that each BESE member be provided with a copy of my post describing the results of the survey, but I will briefly summarize results of that survey here:

2,724 persons responded to the survey which was available on my blog for a 10 day period near the end of January of this year. My estimate is that the majority of persons who answered the survey were educators (because the majority of my readers are educators), but there were a significant number of school board members and parents who found the survey and responded to it also.
  • A total of 1954 respondents or 72% chose the option that stated the following: “Do away with both CCSS and PARCC and substitute an improved version of GLEs as the standards for all the basic core subjects. Louisiana would implement its own testing as has been done in the past.”
  • Only 61 respondents, or just 2% chose the option that stated the following: “Implement the CCSS just as has been prescribed by Superintendent John White with the approval of BESE.”
Based on these survey results I believe it is incorrect to say that most educators in our schools are enthusiastic about Common Core and PARCC testing. I believe it would be much more accurate to say that our teachers and school principals, because they are professionals, will do their best to implement the education policy of this state even if they have serious misgivings about the value of such policies. I believe that BESE owes them the respect of coming up with a policy that is more effective and more appropriate for our students than the Common Core and the PARCC testing.

In addition to conducting this survey on CC, I have studied the CC standards in detail and tried to understand how they will actually work in the classroom. It is my best judgment as an educator for over 40 years in this state that the CCSS are not appropriate for the majority of the students in our schools and that continued implementation of these standards and the PARCC testing will do more harm than good to our students. Many of the standards are not age appropriate as has been confirmed by more than 500 early childhood educators, and many of the standards are not practical enough for the majority of our students who pursue technical careers. I believe these standards are a one-size-fits all approach that will not give most Louisiana students the education they need to be successful in their careers and as citizens of Louisiana and the United States.

I have also carefully studied the development of the CCSS and found that no effort whatsoever was made to field test the standards and to modify them to adjust for any deficiencies or weaknesses. We now know that the standards were not developed according to accepted practices for the development and implementation of standards. The Common Core standards were developed mostly by persons who have never set foot in a regular classroom. The standards are not practical. These standards have already failed miserably in New York state where 80% of all students failed the testing related to CCSS.

The creators of Common Core, have claimed that the CCSS will prepare all students (every single one of them) for college and careers, yet there have been no scientific studies whatsoever to determine the truth of this statement. The developers also claim that the CCSS will help reduce the achievement gap between privileged and underprivileged, wealthy and poor, students. But most of the millions of dollars spent on Common Core have been spent promoting the standards and almost nothing to determine if they actually do what is being claimed. On the issue of closing the achievement gap, we now know, based on the first round of testing, that the achievement gap was actually widened instead of narrowed in New York state.

Not one penny of the billions Bill Gates money or the Race to the top money has been spent on finding out if the CCSS actually worked before they were implemented. All of that money has been spent on just selling us and various influential groups on the Common Core . . . . sight unseen. In fact BESE adopted Common Core sight unseen in 2010. Yes BESE adopted the standards before they were even written!

There were no discussions held by BESE for parents and teachers to review the actual CCSS because the specific standards did not exist when they were adopted. So don't blame the parents who now are complaining about what they have recently seen their children bringing home from school.

I am here as an experienced educator to ask that you do the right thing by listening to the parents and teachers who are telling you that we in Louisiana can do better than the CCSS. We do not need a one-size-fits-all set of standards. We need standards that respect the individual differences among our students and does not attempt to standardize our students. We need standards that respect our teachers and stop dictating every thing they do with a single state test. We need to start reducing the time spent on expensive state testing and endless test prep. Our teachers love to teach and inspire children, not rehearse them for tests!

Education will not come to a halt in Louisiana if this board is willing to take a pause in the rush to these standards and adopt standards that are more appropriate to our state and our students. It was only a few years ago that the LEAP tests did not even exist, and yet our teachers were still educating students even though they were not being forced to prepare students for state tests. Our children are in good hands. They will be better off if we listen to those who have dedicated their careers to educating our children instead of implementing the latest education reform fad promoted by young Bill Gates employees or by persons hired to make standardized tests for the Pearson company.
Thank you.