Saturday, August 30, 2014

Common Core: Much More of a Disaster Than We Thought!

This is a must-see video for all Louisiana educators and for all parents wanting to know more about how Common Core is working in actual practice. I had heard the term “building the plane in flight” from great educators like Dr Lottie Beebe and Scott Richard, but I had no idea that some of the promoters of CCSS were actually proud of using such an analogy for education reform! This is unbelievable! Please watch this short video.

Breaking News: On Thursday, August 28, Judge Bob Downing of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge ordered State Superintendent John White and the LDOE to produce detailed information about the setting of cut scores for the Mastery level student ratings for the 2014 Spring LEAP test that was designed to be more aligned with the Common Core standards. The LDOE had already released the minimum percentages of correct answers used for the setting of Basic level ratings just before the lawsuit demanding this information was filed. John White was found to be in violation of the public records law for refusing to release the score setting percentages on the 2014 LEAP test and for failing to produce the written communications with the testing company relating to the setting of cut scores. The LDOE was also required to pay all court costs and attorney's fees necessary to the prosecution of my public records lawsuit filed to extract this vital information from White, the LDOE, and the testing company. This post on The Louisiana Educator Blog had already analyzed the drastic lowering of the minimum percentage of correct answers on some areas of LEAP apparently designed to imply that Louisiana students were doing just fine on the new CCSS aligned tests. Apparently manipulation of test scores to produce predetermined results has now become standard operating procedure in the implementation of Common Core. The video referred to above shows how scores were set in New York to create the perception of failure of the entire New York state system.

But the best part of the video is the carefully reasoned assessment by a top notch principal explaining how the CCSS and the testing for CCSS is being misused in New York. The incredible damage to education and the alienation of parents as a result of using an untested theoretical system is something we in Louisiana must seriously consider before we get any further into the quagmire that is called Common Core.

Carol Burris, the principal in New York who explains the pitfalls of CCSS and its testing, is not some nutty naysayer who is just interested in preserving the status quo at all costs. No, she is a highly acclaimed leader in New York education who has real credentials and who has won real honors as an education leader. Her criticism of CCSS and the mandatory testing that goes along with it is the most credible and most alarming indictment of these standards I have ever seen. We in Louisiana had better pay attention if we are to avoid enormous potential damage to our public education system.

If you think CCSS is a disaster for New York state, wait until you see what it will do to Louisiana Education. John White has repeatedly told our local superintendents that he will personally shield our Louisiana students and teachers from unfair criticism resulting from the implementation of CCSS. Specifically he has stated that he will not allow any denigration of our teachers and students. White is constantly repeating that he knows that our students are just as smart as students in other states and that they will benefit and do much better because of the higher expectations of CCSS. But it turns out that Louisiana has a 36%  higher proportion of at-risk students as New York state. The Common Core testing was an absolute disaster for the high poverty, at-risk students in New York. Why would White think the results would be any different in Louisiana?

One of the “tricks” White intends to use to make the bitter pill of PARCC testing easier to swallow in Louisiana, is that he plans to use a level of 3 on the five point testing scale as proficient. New York used a level of 4 as proficient, which explains why less than one third of the students in New York were rated proficient in the first year of CCSS testing. This year's New York testing was barely any better even though the test scores were “adjusted” to help more kids to pass. Does anyone really believe that the news media will be fooled by Louisiana using an easier grading scale? No, at some point someone will get a hold of the actual percentage of correct answers (just as I did with my lawsuit) compared to other states and Louisiana education will be dragged down in the eyes of the public because of our high number of at risk students. Not because of anything else. Not because our teachers are any less prepared, or hard working or dedicated as other states. Just demographics. Our teachers will definitely be portrayed as failures and as incompetent and uncaring compared to other states that have better student demographics. This is the hoax being perpetrated on Louisiana by John White.

I must repeat a few facts one more time for my readers. 1. The CCSS were not developed in consultation with classroom teachers. 2. They were not field tested. 3. The goals stated in the promotion of CCSS fall into the category of wishful thinking instead of in the category of sound educational practice. 4. The CCSS are not age appropriate for most students. 5. They will not help close the achievement gap between rich and poor or help minority students. 6. They will not get more of our students prepared for college and 7. They are not appropriate standards for the great majority of students who will not attend 4 year colleges. These are the conclusions being arrived at on CCSS by more and more professionals in the field.

What can you do if you are a concerned parent or a concerned teacher or principal? Start talking to your legislators now! Too many teachers and parents have falsely concluded that it won't do any good to talk to their legislators. There was a big impact made on the legislature this last session even though only a small fraction of teachers spoke up. You are being told by White that you should really look forward to the wonderful promise of common core and that anyone who opposes the CCSS higher standards is only defending the status quo. That's a trap. Tell your legislators that CCSS and PARCC are not higher standards. They are bad standards. They are elitist one-size-fits-all and will do much more harm than good in Louisiana.

If you want to fight this monster in an organized way, the least you should do is sign up for my Defenders of Public Education email list if you had not already done so. Just send me an email at louisianaeducator@gmail with your zip code or city of residence so that I can place you in the proper legislative districts. Don't let other people who are amateurs at education determine your fate and the fate of public education in Louisiana.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Should Teachers and Principals Join Professional Unions?

Most of the reformers of public education are very opposed to teacher unions. They blame teacher unions for being nothing more than obstructionists to what they consider to be needed school reform. Reformers believe that merit pay, no seniority, no tenure, zero input into policy, and at-will employment will make teachers more “professional”.

Teachers in Louisiana generally have a choice of joining either the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) or the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). Both of these groups function as unions and as professional organizations. They actively advocate for teachers in the courts and at the legislature, yet they also support policies and laws that benefit students and public schools. Some teachers have chosen to belong to an organization called A+PEL which provides teachers a liability policy but which proudly proclaims that it is not a union. Are teachers better off joining A+PEL instead of joining real unions? What about school principals? Should school principals belong to a strong organization that advocates for the rights of principals?

Many years ago when I first started teaching it was generally expected that teachers and principals would join their professional/union organization. In those days teachers, principals and supervisors were often members of the same organization. In Louisiana it was the LTA and LEA, the white and black teacher organizations that were the predecessors of the present Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE). My readers may be interested to know that one of my first jobs as a young staff member for the newly formed LAE in the late 1970's was to merge all of the parish black and white teacher organizations in Louisiana into one integrated group. This effort was pretty successful with most of the newly combined groups forming active local professional associations that were very effective in lobbying the legislature and also their local school boards on important education issues.

When I was a young teacher in the “old days” it was generally accepted that teachers should have a very significant voice in curriculum, student discipline policy, health insurance decisions, the wording of local school tax proposals, and most state legislation having to do with public education. It certainly was not a period of utopia for the voice of teachers, and in Louisiana we did not have collective bargaining for teachers except in New Orleans. We jokingly liked to call our influence through our professional organizations “collective begging.”

But the influence of teachers and principals through their professional organizations/unions was definitely much better than collective begging! Looking back on those days, I remember that teachers had a major influence on educational policy at the local, state and national levels. Teachers often were able to get local tax proposals worded in such a way that educators got guaranteed portions of new taxes proposals strictly for pay raises and benefit improvements. Even before my time, teachers achieved a major victory in reducing political influence and favoritism in the hiring and firing of teachers by passing the tenure law. It is interesting that now that tenure is under attack, most teachers can see much more clearly why teachers still need tenure.

Times have changed and teachers now worry about the unfairness of VAM, State Department manipulation of school performance scores, and abuse of teacher employment rights. The Jindal administration has pretty much destroyed the benefit of seniority, which recognized the dedication of teachers who worked for many years in one school system. In the past seniority was given proper consideration for transfers and layoffs. Now anybody can be laid off on a whim even if they have a great record of success in the classroom and have given many unpaid hours to club sponsorship and other school activities. As we have seen, entire faculties can be replaced by TFA 5 week wonders. There is no doubt in my mind that teaching as a profession in this country and in Louisiana is endangered as never before.

School principals are also under attack. Principals of schools that serve a high proportion of high-poverty, at-risk students are under tremendous pressure to produce higher test score results without consideration for the severe handicaps faced by their students. Many principals are under pressure to fire teachers they know are qualified, dedicated, and competent simply because of highly unreliable VAM scores. The forces of reform are actually working to discourage the best teachers and principals from tackling the problem of closing the achievement gap. Instead of becoming victims of the shame and blame system, principals should insist on support and resources for high poverty schools.

Public education and public school employees are under constant attack. Individual teachers are subject to possible dismissal because of VAM or because they teach in a school serving a high percentage of at risk students. Principals can now be replaced without due process of any kind even for frivolous reasons. Entire school systems such as EBR, Lafayette, Calcasieu, Caddo, St Landry, St Helena, Monroe City, Iberville, Tensas, are under attack because of state RSD takeovers and because of the growth of predatory charter schools. Statistics show that there is no evidence whatsoever that state RSD takeover and charter schools improve opportunities for children. Yet these trends are doing serious damage to the rights and benefits of both principals and teachers.

Right now the teacher retirement system is seriously endangered because many of the new charter schools do not participate in the retirement system and refuse to pay their portion of the unfunded liability of the retirement system. Our local school boards are now being required to pay in excess of 35% of payroll to the retirement system because of bad decisions by the legislature, and because of erosion of participation. Charter schools that are exempted from paying into the retirement system by the legislature, are still given the full MFP allocation from both the state and local. They can then convert these savings into excessive salaries for executives who do not contribute to classroom instruction. Some of the savings go to major advertizing campaigns designed to draw the best students away from public schools. They are doing all of this with our tax dollars, while often providing children with a substandard education! It is a fact that public education and professional educators are under attack in this state as never before, and for completely bogus reasons. Wake up!. . . . This is a crisis.

The good news is that recently the School Boards' Association, Superintendents Association, the Principals' Association and the two teacher unions have formed a coalition to combine their influence to fight for the survival of our public schools at the legislature and in court when necessary. Those efforts are already having an impact on the legislature if not yet on BESE.

But the missing ingredient is that too many teachers are not members of either of the two teacher unions, and have not exercised their democratic rights to communicate effectively with their legislators and BESE members. If there ever was a time for teachers to become involved politically in defending their profession and the public school system it is now! Complacency will only result in further damage to public education and teacher rights and benefits.

I have worked very hard to get teachers involved using this blog and by forming my Defenders of Public Education email system. It has grown to over 1200 participants. Because of these efforts, we have made real progress in the last two years in getting many legislators to support public education. But there are still not enough teachers involved. Please send me an email at asking me to put you on the Defenders of Public Education email list if you had not yet done so. This effort does not cost you one penny and may help save our public schools. Parents are welcome to participate also as “Defenders” and have become effective allies.

But by far the best way for teachers to defend their profession, their benefits, and their public school system is by joining and becoming actively involved in either one of the two teacher unions, the LAE and the LFT. Now is the time to join. When you do so, please let the teacher leaders know that you want to be involved in helping with any lobbying efforts needed to defend our profession and our public schools. The dues are really a small price to pay for the huge impact in making things better for both educators and students. Our opponents have lots of money to use against us. Please help your cause by making a financial contribution in the form of dues to your teacher union.

One final word: If you allow yourself to be discouraged from joining your teacher union by the label of union, then you are allowing the haters of the teaching profession to make it that much easier to defeat you. Members of the American Medical Association and the members of the Chamber of Commerce are just as much members of unions, but their organizations are not stigmatized by the label of union. There is no difference in what they do and what your teacher unions do. Also, if you join a fake union (often because it is cheaper) such as exists in Louisiana then you are putting weapons in the hands of the enemies of the teaching profession and those who would destroy public education. That kind of membership will only encourage more charter and voucher schools with low salaries, low benefits, and no job protection. Don't be a wimp. Stand up for your chosen profession and your public schools.

You certainly have my sincere gratitude and respect for choosing to be a teacher in these trying times. Thanks for being a teacher!