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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