Thursday, November 21, 2019

John White, Common Core, Education Reform, and the Widening Learning Gap

Where are we going with Louisiana education for the next 8 years of education reform? How did we get here? The education policy we have been pursuing for the last 10 years was actually created without input from the parents and teachers who are closest to the delivery of education to our children. The present policy of poorly designed, unteachable standards was dreamed up by a bunch of self appointed elites who have never spent a day a the head of a classroom.

Common Core standards that were implemented in Louisiana starting in 2012,  have proved to be a disaster for our students because they were untested in actual classrooms, were not age appropriate for most children, are full of abstract concepts that are dull and boring to most of our students, and that will never be used in a person's lifetime. I am talking about stuff like quadratic equations in math, close reading in English where students are taught no context that connects with real life, and state testing where passing scores have to be secretly set at 12% just to make it look like our students are learning this stuff. We have been experimenting with our kids lives for 10 years and the experiment has failed, but none of the architects of this disaster are willing to admit it.

Here is the most recent fluff piece by the pro-reform education reporter for the Baton Rouge advocate, Will Sentell, fawning over the complete sweep of LABI endorsed candidates in the recent BESE elections. LABI has actually been in full control of Louisiana education since January 2012 when the LABI engineered takeover of BESE first occurred. January 2012 is when their hand picked eduction reformer and privatizer, John White was installed as State Superintendent.  Sentell in his article seems to pronounce the first phase of reform as a big success because there are now fewer schools rated D and F. Only he neglects to mention that these improved ratings are totally rigged by White to portray false progress. Why not evaluate the success or failure of reform by using the very statistics that justified the reform to begin with? In a nutshell, here are the vital statics that show the true lack of success of the Louisiana education reform movement.
  • ACT scores have declined significantly for the last three years in a row and are now just about the lowest in the nation.
  • The NAEP ranking of Louisiana compared to other states is just about the lowest it has ever been.
  • The achievement gap between White and Black students and rich and poor students is significantly greater for math and reading than when White and the reformers took over.
  • Charter schools in New Orleans still rate in the bottom 20% among parish school systems and lead the state in scandals such as grade fixing and phony diplomas.  (see the ranking in my previous post on this blog) They also lead in financial mismanagement with several charter schools going bankrupt and dumping their debts and students to local school boards. I know of no traditional public school ever going bankrupt.
  • The two remaining Recovery Districts rank at the very bottom of the state systems in academic performance. (See my previous post)
These are indications of complete failure, not progress. White has succeeded in muddying the statistics with his rigged school ratings that simulate success, but the reforms have failed totally when measured using the unbiased statistics above that were the justification for the reforms in the first place. (What about the higher graduation rate? Sorry, it was rigged too, by removing almost all standards for graduation).

Let's go back to a conference held in January 2012 that was organized by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry titled "Leadership for Change" Here is my post at that time titled "Have You  Been Invited?" That conference was sponsored by LABI  to launch their new course for public education in Louisiana. Participants were mostly business types, but the organizers forgot to invite any practicing educators. My blog that day points out the following:

"The event is apparently by invitation only. One would assume that it would include local superintendents or at least officers of the Superintendent's Association, school board officials and local school supervisors of curriculum, local accountability supervisors, and even classroom teachers. These are the people who have dedicated their careers to the education of our Louisiana public school students. They are the ones who know the most about what works and what does not work in our schools.  They should be the first ones invited to any education summit where the future of Louisiana education will be discussed and planned."

The keynote speaker at the Leadership for Change conference was Joel Klein, a super rich attorney who had just served as Eduction Chancellor for the New York city system for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was one of the big out-of-state contributors who financed the takeover of BESE. Klein was introduced as a great reformer who had just finished turning around the New York city public school system by significantly raising student test scores and introducing a real business model for the operation of schools. It was only learned much later that Klein had created the illusion of success by secretly lowering the cut scores for the city tests. Later, Klein's scheme to monetize tracking of student data was abandoned after hundreds of millions spent on no-bid contracts. Does this look familiar? Looks like John White, who worked for Klein before he was brought to Louisiana, was not the first innovator of rigged test scores and privatization.

John White is now assured his continued role as the Tsar of Louisiana education. So what's the next phase of Louisiana education reform? I would expect that White would double down on his failed policies of test and punish for our schools and teachers, with zero accountability for students and parents.

Maybe because he is not a true educator, there is a critical factor that White has overlooked. That is the simple principle well recognized by all educational psychologists and backed up by education research. That is: No real learning takes place without motivation! For the majority of children in our public education system today, there is almost no attention to motivation that will actually cause them to want to learn what we are attempting to teach in school. Our present curriculum is so boring, so irrelevant to real children, and so irrelevant to real jobs in the workforce today that all of White's efforts at reform are doomed to continued failure.

Ask any teacher or any guidance counselor and they will tell you that by the time our average students reach the 6th or 7th grade, school has lost all relevance and motivation for children to learn what we are trying to teach. We need to change our curriculum to make it relevant to real life. Much of the Common Core math we are teaching in middle school will never again be used by 98% of our students. The boring reading assignments produced by Common Core are destroying any love of reading. Real motivation is the secret to boosting learning as explained here and here. We need to encourage children to experience the joy of reading before we can expect them to slave away at close reading exercises.

But most of all, we need to encourage teachers to do what works best. That's allowing teachers to be creative in what they know will interest and motivate children to learn the concepts and skills that are really useful in life. We need to cut back drastically on the state testing and test prep that is poisonous to student motivation. Don't expect John White and the non-educator reformers to adopt any of these ideas.

According to the Sentell article, the next phase of education reform will include tackling the wide gap in academic performance of black and underprivileged students compared to white middle class students. This is sometimes called the equity gap. What will the reformers do about bringing up the performance of the key subgroups addressed in the ESSA plan? Maybe the reformers haven't figured it out yet, but the new Common Core curriculum does not work well with low performing students. Will the LDOE continue to take over schools that have large numbers of minority and free lunch students who underperform? I think not. The Recovery District is a total failure. Look at their ranking in my previous post. John White no longer wants to take responsibility for these difficult problems. His strategy is to continue chastising the administrators of schools that serve such students and keep pretending that poverty should not make any difference. But it does. So it's going to get harder and harder to keep dedicated educators in high poverty schools. What we can expect is more demoralizing test and punish, without state takeover.

What about charter schools and privatization? The voucher schools seem to be stalled because of terrible performance. But the bad news is that the LDOE has finally found a model of charter schools that works, but not for at-risk students. The secret to high performing charter schools is implementation of a system of student selection that attracts the high performing students and shuns the at-risk. This is already happening with the KIPP schools and the BASIS charter schools. Baton Rouge is now experiencing increased segregation of students by race and class as BASIS carefully recruits high performing students while shunning handicapped and black students. The new portfolio model for a school district is heading toward a two tiered system with elite charter schools getting the high performers (both black and white), and leaving the low performers to the real public schools. The federal courts used to frown on intentional segregation. Are they willing to allow the portfolio model to segregate students to greater levels than before court ordered desegregation?