Monthly Archives: March 2015

Supporters of Common Core & PARCC, like John White, Have a Logic All Their Own

News-Star File Photo

News-Star File Photo of Louisiana State Superintendent John White

More than ever, I am convinced that supporters of Common Core and PARCC assessments live in their own little world, a world devoid of logic.

Many of these supporters make terrible debaters. I witnessed a prominent officer of the Council for a Better Louisiana say that no one should believe what the opponents are saying. That’s always a good way to win an argument.

Last week, I pointed out the lack of logical thought in a letter to the editor by Mallory Wall. My response was published alongside the latest salvo from Superintendent of Education John White.

Tackling the problem of poverty, combined with those excellent pre-Common Core standards, is precisely the common sense approach we need. Oh, a competent, well-qualified Superintendent of Education certainly couldn’t hurt.

I have already written extensively about White’s lack of credentials: two years in the classroom and six weekend seminars at the uncredited Broad Academy do not a competent Superintendent make. White’s underwhelming performance has caused a credibility gap reminiscent of the Nixon years, and internet memes of “White Lies” crop up everywhere.

Adding to his insignificance was this letter claiming Louisiana should embrace Common Core. Too bad his logic was just as bad as Ms. Wall’s.

From the very beginning, White proves he’s a novice at debating. He starts with “In 2009, Louisiana education officials recognized that our state’s academic expectations were not as advanced as were the expectations in many other states.”

The Pinocchio meter yells “False!” In 2010, the Fordham Institute evaluated the Louisiana Grade Level Expectations and ranked the English GLEs with a B+. They wrote, “Louisiana’s standards treat both literary and non-literary texts in more systematic detail than the Common Core…”

Even more inconvenient for White was the publication in Education Week in 2005 that stated “Louisiana ranked number one for its standards and accountability for the second time in three years…” We were using those same standards in 2009, so what happened? How did they get so low?

They didn’t. Louisiana had good standards. John White is, as usual, missing the point.

The argument John White could have made—but didn’t—was that despite having top-notch standards, Louisiana students consistently scored near the bottom of the fifty states on the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) tests. That is undeniably true.

With a logic known only to himself, White then links Louisiana’s low performance with the standards. Translation: it’s the standards’ fault.

Elementary logic 101: correlation does not imply causation. Just because Louisiana students perform badly on NAEP tests while we were using GLEs does mean it’s the GLEs’ fault.

White ignores what nearly all of his ilk do: poverty is at fault. Louisiana could have the world’s most outstanding standards, and it won’t do much good against the crushing poverty that Louisiana students face.

If students lack technology, solid home structures, even the basics of food and warmth—all things caused by poverty—then they will not perform well on these tests.

But according to White, the problem is not poverty. It’s the standards.

Now firmly entrenched in his tangent, White goes for broke. He says Louisiana participated in creating Common Core Standards—a dubious claim at best—and gives the usual statement that 100+ educators formed committees to review the standards. With so much misinformation from White, unless he names some people, no one will believe these 100 souls exist.

I do find it interesting that White actually makes the statement that “politics found its way into the mix.”

I agree. Politics DID enter the mix. It’s how White got elected as Superintendent of Education.

Numerous authors besides myself have documented the tortuous path that White took to becoming the State Superintendent. Of the eleven BESE board members, seven were in favor of White, but four were staunchly opposed. Needing eight votes, Governor Bobby Jindal, White’s one-time friend, poured tons of money into the elections which were conveniently near, and secured the removal of two of those opponents, thus guaranteeing White’s selection. We’ve been paying for that political move ever since.

White’s logic again fails when he argues that Louisiana will be able to show a “fair comparison of elementary and middle school student performance in Louisiana with that of states across the country.”

The Pinocchio meter yells “False!” Louisiana can compare its students to NO OTHER STATE. Pearson made the PARCC tests for ten states, and those ten states can compare themselves to each other. Louisiana has no contract with Pearson so students did NOT take a PARCC test. Instead we contracted with Data Recognition Corps, which does provide some questions to Pearson, but how many and who knows are anyone’s guess. Louisiana students took a PARCC-like test, and it would behoove the media to stop reporting it as the PARCC test when it is not. No matter how much White says it, we can compare ourselves to no one.

In closing, I will point out that White said that Louisiana should “embrace a pragmatic approach to the future.” I completely agree. Common Core has become an albatross around Louisiana’s neck, and a sensible approach would be to return to the standards that were once ranked the highest in the nation. Tackling the problem of poverty, combined with those excellent pre-Common Core standards, is precisely the common sense approach we need. Oh, a competent, well-qualified Superintendent of Education certainly couldn’t hurt.

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Opt-In Supporter Mallory Wall’s Letter Substitutes Emotion for Logic

No PARCC ing

Teacher Mallory Wall wrote a highly emotional letter that was printed in the March 8th Lake Charles paper. It was a loosely-organized indictment of the teaching profession, which seems odd coming from a teacher. (A link to the letter is below.)

It’s not just the letter’s poor logic that irritates; it’s the absence of logic entirely that offends.

Wall relayed an emotional story about a bright potential college student “full of hope and determination” from a rural parish. Somehow this female valedictorian could only score a 13 on her ACT, so she was appealing to still earn TOPS.

According to Wall, the student’s words were “full of emotion.” So were Wall’s. Too bad she substituted emotion for logic, for her words lacked a coherent train of thought.

Wall took this anecdotal story and then linked it with gossamer threads to blame the entire Louisiana public education system. Somehow this student’s situation gave Wall the right to accuse all teachers—nay, the entire state—of mass negligence: “Her teachers have failed her. Her state has failed her. We have failed her.”

Here is prudent advice for Wall: do not use tales to blame all teachers or this state. If Wall wants to accept blame for this student, she is certainly free to do so, but she has no right to spread her scapegoating blanket on others in the teaching profession.

Her irrational letter defames the character of thousands of hard-working teachers with an insupportable argument: students with low-ACT scores are PROOF that EVERYONE has failed them.

In twenty-four years of teaching, I have known brilliant students who were poor test takers. One valedictorian I taught never obtained the ACT score necessary for scholarships, but today is a successful doctor. Unlike Wall, I will not blame the entire profession because of his performance on one test.

Here’s an inconvenient fact: a low ACT score indicates that a student on a particular day did not do well, that is all. It is not concrete evidence that the teaching profession and/or the state neglected to do its duty.

ACT is merely one tool to gauge if a student is ready for college. It is NOT a tool that easily identifies if a student is ready for life. And here’s another shocking fact for Wall to absorb: not everyone is cut out for college, but they can be highly successful human beings.

Wall claims to know her students’ data, which is interesting considering that this is the first year of the new PARCC-like tests. Exactly what can she compare: last year, Louisiana field-tested a PARCC test designed by Pearson; this year we’re giving a PARCC-like test designed by Data Recognition Corp. Such an apples-to-oranges comparison is potentially fruitless.

Is this kind of thinking the best that Common Core supporters have to offer? No wonder there is a rising tide of outraged parents and educators against a set of standards designed by people with no experience in writing standards.

I have taught over 3,500 students in almost a quarter of a century. Many have been successes; some have not. To judge me by their results is akin to rating a dentist by the cavities in their patients’ mouths. It makes no sense.

I teach my students to never stereotype or scapegoat a group of people based on a single story. I will, however, call out any person who claims I’m a failure because of one story. For me, that’s personal.

Ms Wall's letter to editor

 

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