Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Part II of How to Graduate More Students In Louisiana at All Costs

Part II of Louisiana’s Phony Graduation Standards

The extremely low passing scores on high school required courses adopted in secret by our Department of Education have made it the official policy of our Department of Education to give students credit for courses even though they know only a fraction of the information taught in those courses! 

A simple calculation, taking into account the multiple choice nature of the majority of most end-of-course tests indicates that it is possible for a student to pass these tests by knowing as little as 10 to 20% of the tested material.

The general public in Louisiana has been led to believe that the reason we give end-of-course tests in certain required subjects is that we cannot trust the teachers to maintain high standards in the awarding of course credit. Therefore the state has to double check the teachers and make certain that our diplomas are worth something. Actually the opposite is true. Many teachers are complaining that they are now being pressured by the state to pass almost every student regardless of effort and knowledge. The extremely low passing scores on state tests put pressure on teachers to pass students who have made very little effort.  High School  school performance scores depend heavily on the graduation rate, so schools are handing diplomas out like candy. I don't blame the local schools. This policy is coming form the top.

Do you think that a teacher would ever be allowed to openly give a passing grade to a student who got only 32% of the questions right on her/his final test. Yet schools are allowed and even encouraged to pass students who get that low a score on the Geometry end-of-course test.  The other cut scores in Algebra, English II, and English III, are not much higher. Since the minimum passing scores are secret, all the teacher is told is that the student has passed the state end-of-course test and therefore must know enough material to pass the course. No wonder our graduates are flunking out of college in record numbers! (See part I of this story below)

Phony College Enrollment Numbers

What about Louisiana’s increase in college enrollment numbers? Some of our high schools are boosting the enrollment of their graduates in college. There are charter schools that actually require their graduates to register for college as part of their graduation procedure. But unfortunately college enrollment is not the same as matriculation to college.

College registrars are telling us that about 30% of those college enrollees nationwide never even show up for classes in the fall. This phenomenon is called “summer melt” and it demonstrates that Louisiana’s highly touted college enrollment increases for many of our high schools are purely illusionary. 

Students from the Louisiana Recovery District that average 16.4 on the ACT do not get TOPS or college scholarships and most don’t have the money to register or pay for housing at a college. They may be enrolled at the end of their senior year, but they never show up for registration. This is just another example of the faux dramatic improvement that has been released to the cooperative news media by John White's crack PR team just ahead of the upcoming BESE elections. All this manufactured good news is meant to help reelect the John White faction of BESE.

Phony Credit Recovery Courses

 Another proven tactic for boosting the graduation rate is to allow students in high school to take credit recovery courses. A credit recovery course is a series of lessons a student who failed a course can take, usually on a computer, that will allow him/her to pass the course in a relatively short time. I don’t think the LDOE monitors these courses to see if they are meeting any standard whatsoever. The trainer can just focus on the 20 to 30 percent of the relatively easy concepts on the state end-of-course test and get the student to take or retake one of those “rigorous” end-of-course-tests and presto he/she is eligible for graduation.

Mandatory Attendance Ignored

 Many schools no longer enforce the mandatory attendance law for fear that students may fail or drop out. The official policy of BESE (Section 901 of bulletin 741) is that if a student has 10 or more unexcused absences in a semester, he/she cannot get credit for that course. We hear that in the New Orleans Recovery District, some students who miss as many as half the instructional days in a semester are dragged in to take a couple of quickie credit recovery courses so they can get credit and graduate in 4 years and boost the school performance score.  Students are learning that you don't even have to show up to be successful! We heard one story of a teacher in a charter school who kept warning a student that he was failing a required course. He said; “I’m not worried, I don’t have to pass your ______ing course. Mr ______ said I could take a credit recovery course and he guaranteed me I could pass that.”

I met with John White a couple of years ago and pointed out to him that some of the computerized Course Choice courses have no daily attendance roll taken, like we do in regular schools. Also I pointed out that a student can sign on to computer lessons daily and then go off site and play video games. He responded that he trusted the providers to monitor student progress, and that his philosophy was that quality instruction time was more important than actual time in class. Well I have seen numerous studies that show that the students who often miss school are much more likely to flunk out or drop out than the ones who attend school regularly.

I believe that these so called "reforms" and phony standards are setting up our students for failure in college, in careers, and in life. We are teaching kids that they don’t have to earn anything with hard work and dedication. We are teaching them that if they fail, it must be the teacher’s fault. No wonder employers are shocked by the lack of motivation of many of these graduates. 

Many employers will tell you that a young employee really does not need to be highly skilled to be successful in a job. He just needs to show up for work on time every day, pass a drug test, and be motivated enough to learn on the job.  We are sending them young people who expect a paycheck but don’t think they have to work for it!

I’m not advocating with this post that we flunk more kids out of high schools. I am just advocating that we stop lying about our phony rigorous standards. It was extremely foolish and even harmful to try to prepare all students for college in the first place. It was done because our ambitious but unqualified education leaders wanted to claim that they could get more kids to college just by mandating it. But what has really happened is that our college prep courses have been watered down so that more lazy, unmotivated students could be awarded a high school diploma. As a result, our students are failing and dropping out of college in record numbers. This is not the fault of the teachers. Many teachers have simply resigned from teaching in recent years out of frustration because they cannot stand to be part of this hypocrisy.

At the same time that Louisiana has watered down the teaching of college prep courses, we have basically killed our vocational-technical programs in high school. Now all of a sudden White has decided to promote Jump Start to get more kids ready for non-college type careers. After years of stigmatizing the vocational-technical career pathways, now the Baton Rouge Area Chamber is complaining that our schools are not producing students trained in technical, construction, and service areas. Employers cannot fill jobs in our growing economy with local high school graduates who have  career and technical training. So now the Chamber is starting a campaign to de-stigmatize skilled career pathways. This is what "Louisiana believes” our phony, unqualified, non-educator leaders have done to Louisiana education.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Best Way to Promote Reading Proficiency

Lloyd Lofthouse, a thirty year public school English teacher explains here how to best encourage our students to be good readers. BESE 5th District candidate Johnny Fatheree has made greater emphasis on the teaching of reading in our schools his top priority as a BESE member.

Mr Lofthouse, a distinguished Vietnam veteran and teacher does not agree with the Common Core mandates on the teaching of reading. Neither does Mr. Fatheree.

Reading is absolutely fundamental to almost all academic learning. Thomas Jefferson never attended formal school, but his enthusiasm for reading propelled him to became one of the most educated persons of his time. 

Here is how Lofthouse describes how he teaches reading:

“If we want children to read at a high literacy level, those same children should be reading every day from books they enjoy—not some crap from a David Coleman or Pearson list.
“For instance, when I was teaching 7th grade in the early 1980s, one mother came to me concerned for her daughter who was a student in the English class I taught. The mother told me that her daughter was reading five levels below grade level. She wanted to know what could be done so her daughter would catch up.
“I said, “Turn off the TV at home, and have your daughter read for at least one hour or more every night at home seven days week, 365 days a year. The more she reads books that she enjoys, the faster her literacy level will grow.” I told her to use the local county library because it was free.
“That mother was skeptical. She even said as much but she promised to do what I suggested—and she did.
“A year later, after the next standardized test to determine reading levels, the mother wrote a letter to the district commending me for my advice because her daughter had jumped five years catching up to her grade level in literacy." 
Mr Lofthouse goes on to explain how he had developed a love of reading by reading any and everything that interested him in grade school and high school. Later when he came back from the war, he tested at an extremely high level in reading and qualified for college. 
When I first read about the David Coleman, Common Core mandate that students be required to read 50% informational and technical material it occurred to me that this is probably the best way to kill the joy of reading. That's because as a kid growing up on a farm away from all reading mandates, I just read everything that interested me. That's how I got interested in reading science fiction, and that's how I got interested in real science. Even though I was not a great student academically, when we took the ACT test in my school, I made the highest science ACT score in my class. I then went on to become a science teacher. If I had been restricted to the Common Core reading standards I seriously doubt that I would have come to love reading and ended up as a science teacher.
Learning does not happen without motivation. When students are straight-jacketed into the Common Core reading regimen, their appreciation of reading can easily be dampened. Thats just one of the many reasons I believe candidate Fatheree is on the right track in steering us away from some of the unproven mandates of Common Core.