My Letters to the Representatives in the Louisiana House

In the Louisiana 2014 session, the Education Committee for the House of Representatives explores numerous bills concerning education. On Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014, the House Committee will explore bills concerning Common Core and the PARCC tests accompanying Common Core. On the urging of Michael Deshotels, a prolific educational blogger, I wrote two letters to all 17 members of the committee, one on Common Core and PARCC, and a second one on the COMPASS evaluation system. Those letters were actually revised and rehashed posts from my blog, but I’ve included them here.

FIRST LETTER

Dear Representative,

My name is Vincent P. Barras, and as a veteran teacher of 23 years, I wish to express my educated opinion about Common Core and the PARCC tests associated with them.

It is my understanding that various bills relative to the Common Core Standards and the PARCC testing will be debated in the House Education Committee this week. Educational standards should be developed by experts in writing such standards, and unfortunately the twenty-seven authors of Common Core were not experts. They weren’t even teachers. They were comprised mostly of test-makers: they work for ACT, Achieve Inc, the College Board, and Student Achievement Partners; not a single teacher grades K-12 was invited or included. How can anyone find Common Core credible when not one of its authors would be allowed to teach in a classroom? I would like to ask you to vote for any legislation that would remove Louisiana from participation in the Common Core Standards.

I also politely ask that you support any bill that will put a stop to the PARCC testing which is scheduled to start in Louisiana next year and is supposed to be field tested in five weeks. I will lose valuable teaching days to test an untried system that recently shut down an entire school’s computer system when they attempted a field test. These tests have proved to be unreliable and have failed 70% of the students who took them last year in New York. Our students do not deserve to be subjected to these unfair tests.

Sincerely,

Vincent P. Barras, Lafayette High School Teacher

SECOND LETTER

Dear Representative,

My name is Vincent P. Barras, and as a veteran teacher of 23 years, I wish to express my educated opinion about the COMPASS evaluation system designed to evaluate Louisiana teachers like myself. I find it a highly-flawed system that unfairly judges my abilities as a teacher with three collegiate degrees and expertise in teaching Advanced Placement classes and writing curricula.

COMPASS assumes this Utopian world where all students have an equal eagerness to learn and are willing to discipline themselves and others to follow the path to enlightenment. The only problem is that describes a collegiate world. 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, let along 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.

Ask yourself this question: if “lecture-style” learning is considered the least effective method of instructing, thus earning me a “1” on the teaching scale, then what are we telling students about college? When those young adults attend a university, the vast majority of their classes will be taught in a style the COMPASS system says is thoroughly ineffective. College professors are teaching in a manner that would get me fired for ineffectiveness. So are our colleges bastions of ineffective teaching?

It is my understanding that various bills relative to the COMPASS evaluation system are coming before your committee. I wholeheartedly ask that you support any bill that would revise the COMPASS system in a manner that more closely reflects the reality of teaching and not the idealistic hopes of fantasy. Reducing the percentage of the VAM is a good start, but it is nothing compared to a complete revamping of the evaluation system.

In closing, I have attached the words of my former students from my years of teaching. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you will believe them.

Sincerely,

Vincent P. Barras, Lafayette High School Teacher

 

You were definitely a great teacher! … You taught algebra really well and when I didn’t understand something you were able to explain it just right so that I was able to comprehend it.

David Mas, LHS Class of 2012

Your teaching and testing methods are what helped me through college and helped prepare me to “look it up” and discover on my own instead of spoon feeding me the info… I am so sad that my children won’t get to experience your show.

Ashlee Comeaux Gary, CHS Class of 2001

I had to take a test with an educational diagnostician… It was because of your tests that she was able to pinpoint where I struggled. Because you asked such a variety of questions using various methods, she was able to see where I was struggling. That was a turning point in my academic career…. Changed my life completely.

Mary Carolyn Haik Duffy, CHS Class of 2004

You are an amazing teacher… You are one of the very few teachers that I have found that really does care about his students and values knowledge above all things… I am working on my BA in history due largely to your influence because your love of history was infectious. I wish there were more teachers like that who will instill the love of learning instead of just worried about test scores.

Abby Williamson Kennedy, CHS Class of 2008

Mr. Barras is one of the most motivating and attention grabbing teachers I have ever had. I looked forward to his class every year, I doubt any teacher could make math as interesting as he did. He really understands his students and relays the learning material in a way that we understand. I continue to use his methods in my college classes today. He is an amazing educator, any student would be lucky to have him as a teacher.

Christina Benoit, LHS Class of 2011

Mr. Barras. I can honestly say you were the best history teacher that I have ever had the privilege of learning from…. Your one World History class at Catholic High School taught me enough to allow me to minor in history at ULL and finish with a 3.6gpa in history classes…

Alex Crochet, CHS Class of 2005

Mr. B, you only taught me one course and that was freshman algebra… What I can remember from 20 years ago is that you strict yet fair, but concerned about all your students’ well-being. You demanded the best from your students because you knew how capable we were. All you wanted for us was to succeed. You always gave 110% to your students even if we didn’t. You taught me that sometimes hard work is required to achieve my goals… The fact that you care so much after all these years is proof enough that you are a damn fine teacher. I would be proud and honored if you ever taught my kids.

Patrick Dauterive, CHS Class of 1998

The entire Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Command salutes you, Mr. Barras. I remember when I came to your class I had stopped caring. Stopped caring about grades, about people, about anything. I hated math and I could never understand it, until I learned to pay attention. And when I chose to listen to those complicated strings of arithmetic, I found that you put them in such a way that I could understand them. And you know what? I passed. It was too late in the year to make much of a difference, but it was just enough to allow me to pass junior year. From then on, I chose to be proud of my grades. Proud of everything I do. You played a vital role in making me who I am today as a proud sailor of the greatest navy in the world…. You are a truly wonderful teacher as well as a beautiful person. Please keep this very same determination in what you love to do, and stay motivated in making sure you continue to benefit the lives of others. Thank you so much for your efforts.

Chase Hebert, LHS Class of 2013

I applaud you, Mr. Barras and I appreciate your willingness to better our society even despite those above you, and so many others, who have no idea what it means to teach… You are a hero, as are many other teachers who, like you have chosen to stand up. You are a remarkable teacher.

Brandon Comeaux, LHS Class of 2013

You’re anything but a failure.

Evie Credeur, LHS Class of 2014

Vincent Barras was one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure to be associated with… His interesting and fun teaching techniques, involving multiple facets of learning structures (be it kinesthetic, auditory and/or visual), were always incredibly effective at helping ALL of his students learn. He has the unique ability to generate interest in even the most mundane of topics by directing his students to aspects of the subject that engage them in multi-faceted ways.

Not only was Vince an incredible teacher in the classroom, but he became a great friend out of the classroom and later in my life through his diligence and interest in individual students’ lives, including my own. He shows his students that he CARES about THEM. They are not simply a number in a desk….

I know that my life would not be the same if I had not been blessed with the experience and interactions I had with Vince. He continues to be a dear friend that I treasure to this day.

Jonathan Parich, CHS Class of 2002

 

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