Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Assault on David Vitter Begins Swiftly

Stop Common Core

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war,” or so wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. Republican gubernatorial candidate David Vitter had barely let the ink dry on his newly-minted opposition to Common Core, than the supporters gnashed and wailed at his about-face.

Louisiana adopted a highly problematic and volatile curricula designed by New York state. As one of the first curricula written to match Common Core Standards, it’s a great example of how rushing to finish a product makes for an inferior creation.

Frankly, I am delighted, though highly skeptical. When it comes to political convenience, both Vitter and Governor Bobby Jindal are cut from the same cloth: what will get them votes.

Perhaps Vitter’s new stance is genuine. Perhaps he really believes that Common Core marks a federal intrusion into a states’ right to run education as they see fit. I certainly hope his candid conversion allows for a honest discussion about real educational progress.

Amanda MacElfresh’s recent article spurred me to write, as I witnessed the usual dissemination of misinformation. It never seems to matter how often I bring these facts to light, but perhaps if I say them enough, they might become true. It seems to work for the other side.

Supporters always bemoan that people don’t understand the difference between standards and curriculum. Thanks for the condescension, but many of us are used to it by now.

Webster’s defines a standard as “a required or agreed level of quality or attainment.” In Louisiana, we used to employ a Grade Level Expectation (GLE) which stated that by the end of a grade, a student would be able to demonstrate proficiency in certain subjects.

Common Core Standards are a list of what a child should be able to achieve by the end of a certain grade. Sounds similar, but the devil is in the details.

The twenty-five authors of the standards were not teachers, held little expertise in writing standards, or in fact, ANY expertise in child development. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with liberal doses of Bill Gates’ money, picked these twenty-five souls with no consideration to effect real school reform. The anointed twenty-five made tests, as they worked for ACT, Achieve Inc., the College Board (makers of SAT), and Student Achievement Partners. No experts in teaching, no experts in child development, only experts at making a test.

The world is made up of more than a test.

Why, oh why, should any teacher adhere to a series of standards designed by people who’ve rarely, if ever, been in the classroom?

In the high school area, the math standards are a sludge of gobbledy-gook that simply lists what high school students should know when they leave their campus after four years, arranged by topics like Number and Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Modeling, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. They are not written as courses, but as an amorphous four-year set, and the standards underneath each topic are so generic as to be useless.

Now, curricula is a different matter. Webster’s defines curricula as “the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college,” a definition that makes little clear. A more concise wording would be the list of topics covered in a course so that students meet the list of required standards.

Louisiana adopted a highly problematic and volatile curricula designed by New York state, not by LSU despite multiple claims to the contrary. As one of the first curricula written to match Common Core, it’s a great example of how rushing to finish a product makes for an inferior creation.

In math alone, the New York curricula entitled “Engage New York,”—detractors have dubbed it “Enrage New York”—is riddled with errors and overly complicated measures of solving already difficult material. While a math teacher should naturally cover important material, an equally important goal is to empower students with a belief that they can master dense subjects. In the high school subjects, the byzantine methods confound students, teachers, and parents alike. Even worse, the curricula can undermine a student’s love of learning, filling them with an intense loathing of math.

Surely that’s not what we want to instill in our high school students? It matters not, because that is what is happening.

In English classes, I am witnessing students dissect texts devoid of their historical significance. Why would anyone analyze Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for its cadence absent of its connections to the horrors of the Civil War? Just because David Coleman, a core architect of the standards and present leader of the College Board, wants students to read more “informational texts” does not mean it’s a valuable activity. It is his opinion, only that.

Frankly I am disappointed in the coverage by the Advertiser. Four teachers gave their opinion in support of Common Core, but where was the input from the other side? This hardly denotes adherence to journalistic principles.


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The Four-Way Intersection

In a recent conversation, I told a friend that education was a four-way intersection of students, teachers, parents and the business community. It seemed a good description, providing certain insights to the relationship among those four groups.

The business community has a right to be heard; it does not have the right to overwhelm the voices of teachers or parents by claiming to be the spokepersons for children.

All four groups play a role in America’s future, but the relationship, the interplay, is organic and fluid, constantly changing. In the last few years, some people have attempted to alter the formula, to give one group a larger voice, or conversely, to minimize the concerns of others.

People who constantly make the statement, “It’s all about the children,” offend the teaching community, as if teachers play no role in the cognitive and social development of a child.

If teachers don’t feel appreciated, or are constantly assaulted for societal ills—just look at Time magazine’s recent cover depicting teachers as bad apples—then exactly how will they hide that hurt from their students? This state has a punitive attitude toward teachers as shown in its evaluation system, and has demonized teachers for poor student test scores, as if poverty plays no effect at all.

Recently, however, the business community ramped up its efforts to maximize their influence on this four-way conversation. Unhappy with the turbulent state of affairs in the Lafayette Parish School System, the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce searched the community for candidates to run for board slots. The Chamber then held fundraisers bringing in thousands of dollars to influence the November 2014 election.

I received in the mail a letter from one of the candidates naturally asking for my vote, but the glossy promotional card was not the first item in the envelope. In front of it was a letter on Acadian Ambulance stationery from the CEO, telling me how proud he was to know the candidate.

My first question was whether he was speaking as the Acadian Ambulance CEO or as a private citizen, but the letterhead made that question moot. I now wondered if he was speaking for each and every employee of Acadian Ambulance as well. Frankly I pondered if this was legal.

This business community’s attempt to increase their power in this four-way juncture made many teachers and parents uneasy, so uneasy that they only elected three of the Chamber’s seven endorsed candidates. It seems parents, and certainly teachers, might have a better grasp on how to educate the next generation than CEOs and Bill Gates’ types.

In the future, I hope for a smoother affiliation among the four parties. The business community has a right to be heard; it does not have the right to overwhelm the voices of teachers or parents by claiming to be the spokepersons for children.

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