Monthly Archives: November 2013

My Response to Sycophantic Letter by BESE Board Member

Back on September 11, 2013, the Advocate printed a letter (“COMPASS: Pointing the Way”) from BESE Board Member Holly Boffy, former Louisiana Teacher of the Year and present cheerleader for anything from John White/Bobby Jindal in terms of education reform. Trying to escape the coincidence that she wrote the letter on the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, I wrote a response to her letter I never realized that I had not included it on my blog, so here it is.

The state needs more conscientious leaders willing to question whether COMPASS and Common Core–I call it the Triple C–will really lead to better teaching and higher-scoring students. Such leaders are sorely lacking in the present BESE Board, the vast majority of which accepts the Triple C without ever questioning anything.

Some background is required. I must disclose that I have never been a fan of Ms. Boffy. Anyone who could sing the praises of Louisiana Education Superintendent John White after only one meeting makes me question her skills for analysis and evaluation. While it is certainly possible to be impressed with someone’s speaking ability, I prefer to judge people on their actions more than their words, and based on his actions, John White has been an unqualified disaster at his post. I have already written extensively on Mr. White’s paltry resumé and how the BESE Board chose him only after an election where tons of money from Jindal supporters flooded out the remaining BESE Board members who refused to vote for White as superintendent. It indeed was a Katrina-worthy wave that has done damage to the whole state, not just one region.

Here is the link to her letter. (http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6966017-123/letter-compass-pointing-the-way). Here is my response.

Teachers and school leaders across Louisiana have much to be dismayed about today. With the release of the Compass scores, it is clear Louisiana is saddled with an overwhelming albatross. This evaluation system dishonors the complexity of teaching by demanding educators teach in only one way: group learning. Few students will face this Utopian world once they reach college, and this method of imparting knowledge has great potential to set these future learners up for failure.

Compass relies on quasi-science and a three-page-long, inexplicable formula to arrive at the Value-Added Measurement, something no professional from the Louisiana Department of Education has been able to explain. It requires student behaviors of self-policing and self-motivation that only exist in an ideal world completely divorced from reality.

I agree with Ms. Boffy that “Teachers have the power to support a child in learning and lay the foundation for a successful life.” My fundamental disagreement is that Compass does not in any way promote a teacher’s ability to do that. For years, we educators have been differentiating our teaching styles to address the myriad learners we face, and yet Compass rates us only on group learning. What expert ruled this the only effective way to teach?

I also agree with Ms. Boffy that no tool is perfect, but Compass is riddled with so many flaws. That fact that the State Education Superintendent John White invalidated the scores of some teachers speaks volumes to the erratic nature of Compass. If any teacher scores a “1” in any of the five categories, that teacher is ruled ineffective on that half of the teacher evaluation. All other high scores are wiped out by that single digit. I personally know teachers where 75% of their students scored mastery on the End of Course Tests, and yet are rated ineffective because they don’t indulge the harmful fallacy that the bells and whistles of group learning are always more important than good, old-fashioned teaching.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is simply approving in lock-step everything John White and the LDOE creates to enforce this uniformity system upon its educators. It’s ineffective, harmful, and is resulting in larger numbers of excellent teachers vacating a system that continues to decline.

In closing, I quote John White. He stated in his Advocate article that “we have stopped treating teachers like one-size-fits-all widget.” No sir, you have reinforced that idea. By forcing every teacher to pantomime one approach to earn an effective rating, you have indeed transformed us into group-learning lemmings. No amount of white-washing or sycophantic letters will erase the stark reality that people with little classroom experience are mutilating this noble profession of teaching.

Vincent P. Barras

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COMPASS in Louisiana: An Exercise in Stupidity

I’ve been writing so much lately about the absurdity of Common Core and Engage New York that I forgot Louisiana has its own special brand of insanity called COMPASS, the system that ranks teachers against each other and guide us teachers to become better… what? The COMPASS system doesn’t stop at improving teachers; it tries to transform us from our traditional role of guide and mentor to facilitator, or facilitator of self-discovery on the part of the students. That is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve seen hoisted upon the education profession, and here’s why.

You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. 

COMPASS assumes this Utopian world where all students have equal eagerness to learn and are willing to discipline themselves and others to follow the path of enlightenment. The only problem is that describes a collegiate world, and often a world of Masters Degree students. It’s not the world of K-12 students. By definition, students are NOT adults yet. They are still learning appropriate actions to follow depending on the situation, and have, frankly, not left the realm of childhood completely yet. Most students by their very age lack the maturity level to police themselves and, even more difficult, turn to a fellow disruptive student and try to inhibit that behavior. COMPASS assumes an ideal world, not the real world where students are facing myriad social, economic, cultural, and hormonal problems.

Here’s an example of the insanity COMPASS employs. Should I have a student that is not on task, and should I steer him or her back into the “activity,” then I can earn a “3” on the 4 point scale. If, however, a student takes it upon himself or herself to steer the distracted student back on task, then I can earn a “4” on the 4 point scale. Exactly how is it valid that I earn more points by doing… nothing? How am I a more valuable teacher when students are doing my job for me? COMPASS designers clearly believe that having students teach themselves, and having me as a benign facilitator is the most ideal way to educate. Too bad it’s completely divorced from reality. Students left to their own devices would devolve into a Lord of the Flies scenario. It is precisely why the teacher TEACHES, not FACILITATES. If students could discover everything on their own, they already would have, and a teacher would be unnecessary.

How’s this for more insanity? When administrators come and evaluate teachers in the classroom, the administrator ranks the teacher with a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in five different categories. Though it is highly unlikely, it is possible that a teacher could earn four solid 4’s in four categories, but the moment he/she earns a “1” in any category, they automatically earn a final score of “1” and are ranked a failure. Even though the average of those five scores is a 3.25, the teacher earns an overall “1” ranking, and is considered inefficient. Who designed such a punitive system that automatically assigns a teacher the lowest possible rank because they failed one of five categories? That’s stupidity on a state-wide scale.

Just to give you an idea how the system worked for me, I will share my scores and how they were computed. When I was evaluated in the fall of 2012, I earned five two’s on the four point scale, but my administrator told me that I was extremely close to a “1” in a couple of categories, and that would have automatically earned me a failure status. When I was evaluated again in the spring of 2013, I played the idiotic game required of COMPASS and earned a 3.6 average (three four’s and two three’s). The average of the fall score (2.0) and the spring score (3.6) was a 2.8 for the observed portion of my COMPASS score, or 50% of my final score. The remaining half came from my student scores on my Student Learning Targets, or SLTs. For my regular students, I claimed a certain percentage of students would earn a particular score or higher, I ranked a 3 out of 4. My honors students made higher gains on the test, earning me a solid 4. The average of a three and a four is 3.5. The school then averaged my observation score (2.8) with my SLT score (3.5) for a final average of 3.15. I therefore earned the rank of Effective: Proficient.

I have news for COMPASS creators. Good luck trying to assign a number to me, because I am not a number. I am more than that, and always will be. I am both an actor and an educator, and I am highly proficient in what I do. You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. The more time you waste trying to assign a number to me is time that could have been spent allowing me to open the mind of a student to potential possibilities. The more time you waste dragging administrators into classrooms for observations is time that could have been spent disciplining problem students and curbing inappropriate behaviors. The more time you waste making students take pre-tests, post-tests, pre-ACT tests, ACT tests, three to six module tests per subject, is time robbed from students for actual learning.

COMPASS apparently has a lot of time to waste. This is not reform. This is just stupid.

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I Would Like My Students To Be Happy, Healthy, and Enthusiastic Learners

I subscribe to the indefatigable blogger Diane Ravitch, author of the best-seller Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. One of the comments she made recently was that in Finland, teachers “want their students to be happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners. They did not care about test scores.” That quote resulted in this article.

I would like my students to be “happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners.” Unfortunately, I must battle against so many things to achieve that in my state. Having no children of my own, I figure somebody has to defend the students.

I pondered what did I want for my learners? I have taught both mathematics and social studies—with twelve years of yearbook/journalism thrown in for good measure—for over twenty years. My first sixteen years were in the private school system in Louisiana, so I never contemplated the hoops teachers jumped through as each new educational fad or fix found its way through the state. When I switched to the public school system, I found the situation murkier but still found hope in teaching my subject to the students.

In the switch to public school teaching, I found myself faced with a situation I have greeted with increasing dread as the years have passed: the parish designs well-meaning curriculum guides that fly in the face of common sense. The order of the material was disjointed, jumping from chapter to chapter, paying little attention to the design of the textbook. (Those books are usually designed by highly-qualified experts with a combined experience of more than a century, and most math textbooks have a similar outline in material.) Questions from chapter 6 (quadratics) require that I teach the material from chapter 5, but sometimes we jumped headlong into chapter 6 and then return later to chapter 5. Try telling students that there is an orderly, step-by-step approach to math while we’re jumping from topic to topic like whack-a-mole gamers. National Math Teacher-of-the-Year Dr. Donald Voorhies trained me, and his steady, methodical approach made the material accessible, built student confidence, and allowed students to regularly sweep math tournaments and rally competitions. My parish’s approach was haphazard at best, and I have not seen an Algebra II curriculum guide in seven years that has matched what I used to do in the private school system.

Then one year I taught Algebra I. The curriculum map was particularly horrid—all factoring had disappeared—and I found that I had no choice but to give Edusoft tests. The parish created these one-size-fits-all tests that were given to gifted, honors, and regular students to see whether they had mastered the material At first I found this rather self-defeating: at the end of each unit—there were eight—I was supposed to sacrifice a day of valuable teaching to give a test, but at the same time, I saw some value in the tests. At the end of the year, all Algebra I students would have to take an End of Course (EOC) test to determine whether they passed or failed the subject, and the questions on these smaller tests would mirror the final test. The program also had the added bonus of identifying the percentage of students who got the question correct. So if 80% of the students missed a particular question, then I needed to revisit that topic with them. This is called data-driven or data-directed learning.

My positive outlook on the tests quickly vanished as the tests rolled out. Of the eight unit tests, I gave six and the scores varied widely. Sometimes 87% of my students scored in the highest three bars—the program divided students into five categories, with some weird numerical divisions—and sometimes the number only hit in the 50s. I normally was not worried because I was teaching two sections of honors students, but I wondered what regular students made of these complex questions. The biggest concern I had was that the questions were phrased in ways that I rarely used, were excessively wordy, and seemed designed to confuse the students. I have no problem rephrasing my questions, but it would have been nice to have a heads-up on the way these test questions are written. Naturally the teachers were never given access to the test beforehand because that usually results in the wretched phenomenon called “Teaching to the Test.” Even more alarming to me were the questions that had no correct answers, which showed up more frequently than I care to admit. In the end, I surmised that the six lost teaching days, the 300 lost minutes of classroom material was not worth the tests that were being given, and I could have done so much more with the students with that time.

Common Core is the hurricane-du-jour striking Louisiana and in preparation for the harder PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, my parish designed a test for the end of each module. Once again, I am required to sacrifice valuable teaching time to give these tests to see if the students learned the material. Let me say that I was underwhelmed by the first test and did not hesitate to share my supreme disappointment with the test designers. There were three skills that were overly-tested, as in giving three to five questions that tested the same skill when one would have sufficed, and there were eight skills that we were instructed to teach that never showed up on the test at all. Even worse, there were seven questions that tested material we were NOT instructed to teach; I had little choice but to tell the students to guess as we had not gotten to those skills yet. Those topics were actually in the next module and I included the page numbers as proof. Understandably I have not endeared myself to central office personnel and often joke to colleagues—with an alarming element of truth involved—that I might find myself looking for a new job next year.

So what do I want? I would like my students to be “happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners.” Unfortunately, I must battle against Common Core, Engage New York, Governor Bobby Jindal, Education Superintendent John White, the Louisiana BESE Board, and sometimes people closer to home to achieve that result. Having no children of my own, I figure somebody has to defend the students.

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My Analysis of the Leaders With Vision Debate on Common Core

On November 21, 2013 Leaders with Vision (LWV) hosted a luncheon about Common Core (CC) and Louisiana’s haphazard implementation of the program. LWV regularly has forums that informs voters about national, regional, and state issues. Supporting CC were Stephanie Desselles, Vice President for Public Policy of the Council for a Better Louisiana, and Stand for Children parent and educator Wiley Brazier V. Opponents included Lee S. Barrios, former St. Tammany Parish teacher and Save Our Schools representative, and Mercedes Schneider, a public school teacher and prolific blogger on educational issues.

In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. 

Barrios spoke first and make ten cogent arguments, many of which I have covered in previous blogs. They include

  1. CC was written by 27 persons, none of whom were K-12 educators, and most of whom received paychecks from testing companies. (She also pointed out that Bill Gates has funded almost $200 million dollars to both compose the new standards and “purchase” support from such organizations like the Stand for Children organization mentioned above.)
  2. CC process for making learning rigorous—their catchword—violates what years of observation and data have shown about how children learn and when they are developmentally appropriate for the material. (I have noticed in my observations of CC is it simply moves complex material down to a lower grade level when children aren’t ready for it.) Barrios then mentioned how no early childhood development experts served on CC and over 500 have now signed a letter in opposition to CC.
  3. CC is driven by a market-based model where students and teachers can be compared and ranked. Hand in hand with that is a national marketplace where certain educational companies will reap huge profits from developing and selling ways to improve students test scores and teacher outcomes.
  4. CC creates an inflexible set of expectations, standardizing all learning as if children uniformly develop at the same rate. Teachers know this is not the case. Students are unique and do not learn on a straight, upward-sloping trajectory. Just as puberty causes huge growth spurts, students often learn in a similar manner, and labeling them a failure early on because of this hurts the very people we’re supposed to be mentoring.
  5. CC will be measured by high-stakes tests, swallowing valuable time and money like a black hole. Students will now take more and longer tests that are only presentable on computers that most Louisiana schools don’t possess. Many school districts are now faced with the horrific choice of firing teachers to pay for the new computer systems needed for these new tests.
  6. CC’s proficiency rates are lower by design. The designers of the test know that students will struggle with these harder questions. New York recently conducted their first round of such tests, and only 31% of their students passed the test, thus labelling nearly 70% of their students as failures. (Telling a 3rd grader that he failed a college-readiness test is quite stupid. Anyone with intelligence knows a 3rd grader is not ready for college.)
  7. CC narrowly believes education produces workers for a future workforce, hence the term career and college ready, instead of the tradition purpose of education: to produce “educated, well-rounded contributors to society.” (That is the motto of Lafayette High School, the A-rated high school where I teach.)
  8. CC relies on data collection that often violates the privacy of students and families.
  9. CC has no standards-based research to support its lofty claims. It has never been tested and since it is copyrighted, it cannot be altered. The best some states can do is augment the materials with 15% more information, but cannot delete any of the materials embedded in CC.
  10. CC does not address the largest problem in US education: the growing number of children in poverty. There is a distinct correlation between low performing schools and the poverty rate of the school’s district. Until that problem is effectively addressed, students will struggle in their educational endeavors.

Those are ten clear arguments about which all stakeholders should be holding a conversation. Barrios set the beginning of what should have been a debate about CC.

Desselle then got up and said that she would not rebut the ten points, finding them “unfounded” and saying there’s lots of research out there that refutes what Barrios said.

Well. I guess the debate’s over then. Desselle personally doesn’t believe the ten arguing points about CC, so that’s the end of that.

I participated in Speech and Debate at both the high school and collegiate level, and any novice debater knows that you support your position with FACTS. Desselle committed the most fundamental error in debating: believe what I say with no supporting information. She essentially forfeited the argument and should have sat down.

Desselle then went on to say the CABL has talked to thousands of educators and that CABL supports these new standards because Louisiana ranks so low with the rest of the nation. She pointed out that in the latest round of NAEP tests, the national tests which ranks the 50 states, Louisiana was ranked 47th. She also noted that around the nation, all states are struggling with a changing world and an evolving economy.

The third speaker was Schneider, who gave an analogy about health and fitness. She likened Common Core to a situation where people aren’t healthy, so a group of individuals got input from “board room,” not “classroom” personnel on what healthy people look like. Based on that very selective input, those individuals have designed a “health suit” and have told all students—sorry, people—that in order to be healthy, you must wear this suit. What’s worse, since this outfit is based on “research”—never clearly defined what that research is—it cannot be changed, even though it will be painful for many to fit into this outfit. And if that weren’t difficult enough, teachers—sorry, doctors—will be judged on how their patients get into the health outfit, and can possibly lose their jobs based on these outcomes.

Schneider then pulled her two decades of teaching experience—remember, that’s more than the composite experience of all the authors of CC—to make the connection. She says that CC has been forced on her and all Louisiana teachers, regardless of where the students are now, and her job is on the line. The PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) will be piloted in Louisiana February 2015, tests that have never been attempted or evaluated with years of data. When she concluded, she stated emphatically that if she ever had to choose between the welfare of her students and Common Core, she would also choose her students.

The fourth speaker was Wiley Brazier V, a Baton Rouge native, a member of Stand For Children, and an educator with thirteen years’ experience. He has served as an inspiration for “at-risk” students in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Dallas, TX and Lewisville, TX. As an educator, he reiterated the importance of the classroom teacher and their connection to the students. He does use statistics, pointing out that while in Louisiana, our students against other Louisiana students might score in the 70th percentile in proficiency, on the NAEP, those same students rank only in the 20s. Common Core, according to Brazier, is designed to help out students compete globally.

For a summary of Stephanie Desselles’ performance in the debate, check out my previous post. The LWV provided a valuable service, allowing both sides to debate an important issue, and the two sides never turned nasty, though some degrading comments were aimed at teacher unions and the state of Iowa. In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. Both sides have valid points, genuinely believe in their positions, and those positions deserve to be heard.

 

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When Debating Common Core, Come Armed With FACTS

On November 21, 2013 Leaders with Vision (LWV) hosted a luncheon about Common Core (CC) and Louisiana’s implementation of the program. LWV regularly has forums that informs voters about national, regional, and state issues, and they invited four guest speakers, two proponents and two opponents. One of the CC supporters, Stephanie Desselle, Vice President for Public Policy for the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), gave an underwhelming performance in the debate and should refrain from speaking further on the topic.

“There’s a lot of blame game going on. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories, and lot of hogwash, to be honest with you.” Stephanie Desselle attempting to explain away the backlash against Common Core implementation in Louisiana.

Lee P. Barrios, former St. Tammany teacher and representative from Save Our Schools, spoke first and outlined ten cogent arguments against CC. (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjoxTgaH4yI)

Desselle then stood up and said the following: she would not rebut the ten points. She personally finds them “unfounded” and says there’s lots of research that refutes what Barrios said. She gave no examples, no sites, no links.

Well. I guess the debate’s over then. Desselle personally doesn’t believe the ten arguing points about CC, so that’s the end of the matter.

I participated in Speech and Debate at both the high school and collegiate level, and any novice debater knows that you support your position with FACTS. Desselle committed the most fundamental debating error: believe my position with no supporting information. She essentially forfeited the argument and should have sat down.

After ignoring the ten points, Desselle then stated that CABL supports the new standards because Louisiana ranks so low in the nation compared to other states. She did not address the fact that CC has no scientifically-based evidence that it will improve that low ranking. Her logic appears to be that doing something, anything will address our low ranking.

She also noted that around the nation, all states are struggling with a changing world and an evolving economy. That’s a generality that doesn’t address CC. What she ignored is that Louisiana has a higher poverty rate than other areas of the nation and that we struggle against even greater odds than more affluent states.

She provided an anecdote about a teacher who was blown away by the achievement of her students, and then linked that story into the claim that CABL, and Desselle personally, have spoken to thousands of educators across the state. It would be more helpful if she kept a log of those calls and the names of those educators. Otherwise, such claims are more smoke and mirrors than actual evidence.

She stated, “There’s a lot of blame game going on. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories, and lot of hogwash, to be honest with you.”

Wow. What an effective argument. The opponents of Common Core are finger-pointing, conspiracy nuts filled with hogwash.

Well, I’m certainly convinced. Aren’t you?

She finished with this question: “Do we really in Louisiana want to be left out of this? Do we really want to be behind the rest of the nation on this?”

The more important question—totally ignored—is do we really want a set of standards designed by a select few non-educators with no experience in this field? Do we want test designers refashioning high school so that students will perform well on their tests? What kind of a conflict of interest is that?

When all four speakers had finished, the moderator asked a question that since poverty was such an overwhelming factor, what was Louisiana doing to address that problem?

Desselle got up and said, “I’m not sure I understood what the question was.”

My, my. I’ll admit the moderator went on for a spell, but what are you doing at a debate when you cannot decipher the point of a question?

She then spoke about how CC is a minimum set of requirements all students should meet, and meeting that set of standards will allow them to access the American dream.

The question was about poverty. It might have been nice to address the poverty question. Accessing the American dream, while a lovely, lofty goal, is not a guaranteed ticket out of poverty. Try answering the question next time.

Desselle then launched into a tangent about how advanced school districts like St. Tammany still use the most advanced materials out there that often go above and beyond CC. The only problem she did not address is that students will still have to take the “one size fits all” PARCC test, and if the teachers have not stopped to refresh their kids on those standards, those advanced students who may have mastered advanced skills may still fail the PARCC test.

Suddenly she remembered what the question was and made this blanket statement: “Poverty in this state will turn around when we get more of these kids at these higher levels so that they can choose good job training.”

Passing some PARCC test is not going to end poverty. If there are few good jobs available, what job training are these students going to choose? Her logic is flawed: getting a higher level—meeting CC standards—is not a ticket out of poverty.

Unfortunately, Desselle continued with another tangent, albeit a true one, about Louisiana being a diverse state with a rich economy. In that sense, she is right, but in attempting to make her point, she disparaged another state, saying “We are not Iowa.” I’m sure Iowa understands that its 29th place ranking is far above Louisiana’s 48th. We sure aren’t Iowa, but maybe we should aspire to be.

A second question to Desselle questioned the flexibility of CC, and she mentioned that CC is not the “how” in the classroom. On this she is correct. Engage New York is the curriculum that much of Louisiana adopted to meet CC standards, and Engage New York is NOT flexible. The workbooks Louisiana has purchased has very rigid approaches to teaching material. Some school principals are vigorously requiring their teachers to use the methods in these workbooks; other principals still believe in a certain level of teacher autonomy.

Tangents being Desselle’s speciality, she at one point stated, “And by the way, you can go online and see the dozens and dozens and dozens of educators who were involved in developing these standards.”

I went directly to Common Core’s website and glanced at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and they say “States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards.” There is no link to the people who assisted. Another FAQ says that the drafting process “relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country.” Oh, yeah? Name them. Name some. Heck, just name one.  At the moment, the only teacher input was apparently allowed in the feedback stage after the standards were already written. That’s not what I call valuable teacher input; that’s window dressing.

Desselle also added the non-germane comment that BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) had to vote to adopt Common Core, so “This was not some secret.” I have scoured the video and nowhere did any of the opponents claim that adopting CC was a secret. Only two signatures were needed to put Louisiana on the path to CC and those were Governor Bobby Jindal’s and Education Secretary Paul Pastorek’s. The only claim of secrecy was that the standards were written in secret by 27 individuals, and even members of the feedback and validation committee had to sign confidentiality agreements not to divulge their inner procedures. Thank you, however, for answering a question that was never asked.

The issue of teachers not truly being involved in writing the standards resurfaced in another question posed to the speakers, and Desselle’s answer was “there were gazillions of committees at the national level” that helped develop these standards. She stated that anyone can go online to the Council of Chief School State Officers’ webpage to find all the teachers who have contributed to Common Core.

I would like Stephanie Dessell to go to that particular webpage because I have. It’s the most disorganized site I’ve ever experienced and no amount of word combinations I selected got me any closer to a list of the teachers who have helped to design CC. In the future, it is much more informative to provide a link than to dismissively announce go search it on the web.

Incredibly frustrating to me was when Desselle dropped this statement: tens of thousands of educators helped and “Louisiana had three people … very highly respected people and actually contributed a great deal to the development of these standards.” … and then she doesn’t name them. Next time, give us the actual names. I’ve attempted a search to find those three people, and it’s nicely hidden at the moment.

At the end of the debate, when writers submitted questions, Desselle was faced with one asking whether she could repudiate any of the ten specific talking points that Barrios brought up. Desselle shook her head, waved her arms, and then sputtered the following, “I mean, obviously, that’s just… I don’t know which union—teacher union planted that one.”

With charm like that, how can she not win?

The way to win your argument, Stephanie Desselle, is to present FACTS, not put down various organizations like teacher unions.

She then repeated that she would not address the ten points because she doesn’t believe most of them. Her beliefs trump all FACTS.

“I would just say,” she added before she had to leave, “it’s not true that… what… all the things that you’ve heard today. Do you own research.”

Again, you do not make your case stronger by saying the opponent’s position is “not true.” Provide FACTS to support your position, not unsupported rhetoric to bolster your case or simple statements that the other side is lying.

In the movie The Untouchables, Sean Connery’s character chided a thug who foolishly brought a knife to a gun-fight. In this debate, Stephanie Desselle didn’t even remember to bring the knife.

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Savaging a Teacher Is the Latest Political Sport

I remember a time when should a teacher contact a parent about a student’s behavior, the first question from the parent to the student was “What’s wrong with you?” Today that same question is almost universally aimed at the teacher now. Politicians and education officials foster this “What’s wrong with you?” mindset, adding to the erosion of the public education system.

These gentleman are supposed to improve the state of education, but more often than not, those attempts involve savaging teachers or teachers unions. Here is but a sample of those individuals.

On December 11, 2012, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech in Washington D.C. and said “There is one entity working hard every day, spending millions of dollars every year, to make sure you never get the opportunity to get your child out of a failing school and into a different school, and that is the teachers union.”

In that same speech, he offered the following evaluation of K-12 educators and the educational system. “How can it be that America—the country with the greatest higher educational opportunities in the entire world, the country that houses the universities that help to educate the world—can be so stuck in the Stone Age when it comes to pre-K through 12 education?”

When Louisiana saw a spike in retirements of teachers, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White had the following to say on January 30, 2013: “the teachers who are leaving are more likely to be ineffective.” He made this statement even though the Advocate reported a story two days earlier noting that of all the teachers who retired or left the system, 16 percent would have been rated “highly effective” and only 12 percent would have been rated “ineffective” based on student test scores.

With the increased uproar over Common Core and its rushed implementation in Louisiana, state legislators called a meeting on November 7, 2013 which John White and BESE Board President Chaz Romero attended. When asked about whether teachers had received adequate training in Common Core, John White made this derogatory statement about the state’s numerous superintendents: “Some leaders have had their heads up; some leaders have had their heads in the sand.”

On November 16, 2013, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently attacked white, suburban moms for opposing Common Core. His oversimplified and insulting evaluation of their legitimate concerns was “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

No one, however, quite matches the vitriol of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He recently won re-election as a Republican in a strongly-Democratic state, and his comments on schools have been particularly scathing. “I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it in a place where those families have hope.” He made this statement on October 7, 2013 while running for re-election.

No respectable human being wants to doom any child to a hopeless future by attending a school labeled as failing, but those failure labels often don’t reflect that most of those schools are in poverty-stricken areas where family life can be dreadful. And the way to improve a failing school—sorry, failure factory—is not to rob it of even more funds so that it slips even further on its path to recovery.

Governor Christie is also misrepresenting the state of New Jersey, which has less than ten percent of its schools labeled as failures (200 out of 2,200 or so schools.) New Jersey also ranks #3 in the nation on the NAEP scale, so it must be doing something right. To labels all schools as failure factories is disrespectful and disgusting.

A public school teacher Melissa Tomlinson attended a Christie rally on November 4, 2013 with a poster denouncing Christie’s characterization of schools as failure factories. Christie recalled in an interview that Tomlinson asked, “Why do you call schools ‘failure factories’?” and Christie’s blunt answer was “Because they are.”

Not some of them are. They all are. A state ranked #3 is apparently a state of failure factories.

With leaders like these, is there any wonder why educators have little faith in the system and wish to leave while they can still can?

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Here I Take My Stand

Most people know where I stand on the issue of Common Core, but in case anyone missed it, let me state it firmly and clearly.

I am against Common Core. It violates every fiber of my being as a teacher.

Here’s why I’m against it.

I’m against any system written by outsiders who have little or no educational, classroom experience, but who claim to have the answers to the falsely-manufactured crisis of education in America. A soul who’s never set foot in a classroom should not have dictatorial power over what—or more crucially, how—I teach in my classroom.

I’m against any system that over-emphasizes high stakes testing. I wish it were possible to have a clear, final way to determine how successful schools, teachers, and principals are, but it’s an inexact science at best. It’s difficult to quantify the art of teaching.

I’m against any system that links declining student scores SOLELY to teachers as if we were some magical cure for societal problems. Poverty and social issues are often the core of any student performance, but I don’t see legislators trying to fix those. Instead, they blame teachers. We’re an identifiable target, capable of being fired to please the public mood. Legislators find it much easier to fire a teacher than to fire poverty.

I’m against any system that labels a third grader who fails one test as not being college ready. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize a third grader is not ready for college, but that test-label has certainly destroyed that child’s self-esteem. Something that precious is almost impossible to rebuild.

I’m against any system using the word “rigorous.” It has too many definitions and synonyms with highly negative connotations: exhaustive, strict, severe, unsparing, inflexible, Draconian, intransient, and uncompromising. These words should never be associated with American education. I prefer the words strong and vigorous.

Here’s what I support.

I support devising an effective curriculum with input from real educators, classroom teachers, principals, counselors, and child psychologists. Common Core would not be the disaster it is now had the key players included those critical stakeholders from the beginning.

I support respect for teachers, parents, principals, and counselors. The people who devised and are promoting Common Core left these crucial people out of the equation. That’s not a sign of respect.

I support educational leaders who genuinely want to improve education in ways that promote a healthy work environment. Governors who threaten teachers and call schools “failure factories” create a hostile work environment and further erode the system they claim to be helping. Superintendents and BESE Board members who keep promoting charter schools as the solution also denigrate the system for which they supposedly work.

I support age-appropriate instruction. I have seen lessons involving pimps, heroine addiction, marital infidelity, sexuality, obeying government officials, and machine guns. Authors of such material have an agenda, not the welfare of the students, in mind.

I support creating a future generation of people who find something they love to do in life. Taking a high stakes test is something very few people enjoy.

Now you know where I stand. I stand on the side of children, parents, educators, principals, and counselors. I stand for the future.

Where do you stand?

 

 

 

 

 

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