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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s