Monthly Archives: April 2015

Self-Documentation Is the Worst Form of Self-Delusion

Stop Common Core

Recently, the Alliance for a Better Classroom’s Political Action Committee paid for over 100 fluffy unicorns to be given to every Louisiana legislator. They had a note attached to them saying “Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.” They included a website Unicornsare notreal.com, which list several “myths versus facts” about Common Core. I decided to explore that website.

It was pretty priceless… and also sloppy documentation.

There are eighteen footnotes documenting what sources they used. Guess where FOURTEEN of the eighteen footnotes came from? Common Core’s own Webpage! TWELVE of those fourteen footnotes came from a SINGLE source on the Common Core Webpage called “Myths versus Facts.” Well, there’s a fountain of unbiased research and reporting! (Sarcasm intended.)

The Alliance for Better Classroom’s Political Action Committee does not make for good independent journalism. The PAC sounds more like a parrot of previously debunked and discredited information.

One such “fact” the CoreStandards.org site loves to peddle is “The Common Core drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. In addition, many state experts came together to create the most thoughtful and transparent process of standard setting. This was only made possible by many states working together.”

That is largely a MYTH. The fifteen people listed on the Common Core’s own website as developers of the math standards were not present-day teachers, though FOUR of the fifteen had had been teachers. Three of those four had not taught in a classroom in TWELVE years.

The fourteen people listed on the Common Core’s own website as developers of the English standards were also not present-day teachers, though the same stipulations apply. Some had teaching experience but far in the past.

Five people inexplicably worked on BOTH the English and the math standards. Here they are:
Sara Clough, former biology teacher out of the classroom for 11 years (writing math or English standards?!)
Natasha Vasavada, former social studies teacher (writing math standards?!)
Laura McGiffert Slover, former English teacher out of the classroom for 11 years (writing math standards?!)
John Kraman, NO TEACHING EXPERIENCE (writing math or English standards?!)
Sherri Miller, NO TEACHING EXPERIENCE (writing math or English standards?!)

Common Core repeatedly claims that hundreds and thousands of teachers “helped” in this process, but they rarely provide the names of those hoards nor do they define what “helped” meant.

The Alliance for Better Classroom’s Political Action Committee does not make for good independent journalism. The PAC sounds more like a parrot of previously debunked and discredited information.

The source for the authors of the Common Core Standards: (http://www.nga.org/cms/home/news-room/news-releases/page_2009/col2-content/main-content-list/title_common-core-state-standards-development-work-group-and-feedback-group-announced.html)

The source for the investigation of those authors by Mercedes Schneider (https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/those-24-common-core-2009-work-group-members/)

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Unicorns in the Legislature: Never a Dull Moment in the Common Core Fight

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD

The Political Action Committee (PAC) called Alliance for Better Classrooms (ABC) has sent in the clowns—er, I mean, unicorns. In an opening salvo for the 2015 Legislative Session, the ABC PAC has sent fluffy unicorns to every Louisiana legislator with a statement attached saying, “Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

Just when I thought life without Edwin Edwards would be boring.

Apparently, Common Core supporting groups like Alliance for Better Classrooms felt that buying cute unicorns was money better spent than on actual classroom improvements.

What is this PAC called Alliance for Better Classrooms? I had never heard of them and decided to do some digging. The Internet searches were certainly eye-opening.

Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries, organized this new PAC around 2011 specifically to insert money into the 2011 BESE Board elections. At that time, it was widely known that Governor Bobby Jindal wanted to appoint New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent John White at the Louisiana Superintendent of Education. White needed eight votes to get the appointment but it was equally known that four of the eleven BESE board members signaled their opposition to the underqualified John White.

Bobby Jindal then went to work for the man he once considered the savior of the state’s education system.

Jindal pulled in the big bucks and supported candidates that would vote for John White. Money flowed, especially from the wealthy New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrote a check for $5,000 for Kira Orange Jones, a candidate for the BESE Board, who eventually voted for White as Superintendent.

Even more importantly, Bloomberg contributed $100,000 to the ABC PAC. Cajun Industries, Grigsby’s firm, donated another $90,000, and at one point, he stated to the Advocate that he would spend more than one million if need be.

Lane Grigsby is an impressive entrepreneur, starting a business from scratch in the 70s and building it into a successful one topping $200 million in sales. Grigsby, however, typifies the businessman who thinks he has the answer for the education system. He has served on the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, has been a past Chairman of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, and presently served on the LABI Board. Both the Chamber and LABI are staunchly pro-Common Core, despite the fact that both groups had almost no expertise in educational issues.

And apparently, neither does Grigsby. His background, at least the one listed for his internet biography on Louisiana’s Business Roundtable, shows that his educational background is non-existent.

I have no doubt Grigsby is great at construction, and I would never attempt to tell him how to set up a structural steel building. I, however, know what works in the classroom, and I resent being told by businessmen who wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom how to succeed as a teacher. What Grigsby doesn’t know about education could fill the Library of Congress, and as a lowly teacher with a single voice, I feel extremely apprehensive at the power and sway a man with that much money can hold over the future of education in this state.

In one newspaper article, Grigsby is quoted as saying, “I am not a kingmaker,” but his PAC, financed with some of his own money, certainly influenced the 2011 BESE Board elections. One particular youtube video, which is still available online, testifies to the kind of ads the ABC PAC was willing to create.

It unabashedly assaults Dale Bayard, the District 7 BESE board member, with caricatures of Bayard with red, beady eyes and the slogan “Dale Bayard. He’s BAD for Our Schools!” There’s even a child’s voice opining sadly, “Dale Bayard. He’s the reason our schools are broken.”

Way to keep it classy.

The 2011 election removed two board members who opposed John White, giving him more than the eight votes he needed to get a swanky promotion.

Louisiana probably has Lane Grigsby to thank, in part, for John White. We can therefore subsequently thank Grigsby for White’s inept and wretched rollout of Common Core.

And now it seems, four years later, the ABC PAC is at it again as the legislature meets and the elections draw near.

Recently, Grigsby voiced his disappointment in Senator David Vitter’s reversal on Common Core. In a Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, he is quoted as saying about Vitter, “Once again, political aspirations trump good judgment.”

So, buying a bunch of stuffed toys displays good judgment? If anything, it belittles an extremely important topic in the 2015 Louisiana Legislature.

It never seems to matter to business groups when they are questioned about Common Core. They scoff at inquiries that question why the twenty-five people who wrote the core of Common Core were mostly test-makers. They belittle any concerns about the lack of educators, parents, or child-development experts on the team that wrote the standards. They rebuke any disparaging remarks about the standard writers having no experience writing standards.

In their minds, it’s a done deal. It’s good for our children, our country, our workforce.

Any proof of that? Perish the thought.

It would be nice if instead of spending money to buy fluffy animals for 140+ legislators, people with influence might actually try to find out what is good for Louisiana students—and it wouldn’t hurt to ask the teachers who are in the trenches with those students.

 

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Lots of Opinions, Not Many Facts: Judy’s Vail’s Letter to the Editor

Cartoon by Randy Bish in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Cartoon by Randy Bish in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Senator Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Judy Vail, Common Core Specialist in Calcasieu Parish, wrote a recent letter to the editor. It was riddled with opinions but lacking in facts. Here is my response.

Common Core will never solve the true stumbling block called poverty; anyone who thinks so is simply not looking at the facts.

She claims to know why people oppose Common Core. Considering that she is one of the core group of teacher leaders chosen by John White to promote Common Core, she most likely possesses only the side of the story with which she is comfortable. To claim that people oppose it only due to national infringement of local control only displays the lack of understanding on supporters’ part. Parents are complicated, loving people, and to reduce their valid concerns to only one category is another sign of one-size-fits-all approach CC supporters employ.

As for her statement that Common Core started with the states, that is wrong. The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are NOT the states. The individual states did NOT appoint the people or send any members to be a part of the core group who wrote Common Core Standards. With vast donations of Bill Gates’ money, the NGA and the CCSSO appointed the people who designed the standards that some 45 states would originally adopt.

“Common Core standards actually spell out what math and reading skills students should have in each grade…” That’s exactly what the Louisiana Grade Level Expectations (GLE) also did, and they were ranked as some of the better ones in the nation. Poverty, however, dramatically affects our performance on state rankings, but instead of addressing poverty, CC supporters claimed the GLEs were deficient. It’s a perfect example of addressing the symptom while ignoring the disease.

Vail also uses faulty logic. She claims that since less than 20 states have signed up for the PARCC assessments, how can this be a national test? She failed to mention that PARCC is only one of two groups designing such tests; the other is called Smarter Balance that has some 21 participating states. Combined, those two groups represent almost seventy percent of the nation taking tests based on the same standards.

“If Louisiana were to delay the use of PARCC, costs could rise to the millions of dollars.” Actually, the Pre-PARCC tests cost between $8-11 dollars per test, while the PARCC tests conservatively were estimated to cost $29 per test—almost triple the cost—and that’s not including the exorbitant amount of computer upgrades each district must absorb as the tests only run on the latest computers.

How did 45 states somehow think it a good idea to hand over their educational future to a group of people who were not teachers, had never written standards before, and had no grasp of cognitive development in children? What could possibly go wrong?

As for my mathematical experience, I trust the words of Dr. James Milgram, who served on the Verification Committee for CC and refused to sign off on it, and Dr. Ze’ev Wurman who has written extensively on the notable omissions in the math standards: removing Algebra I from the 8th grade, replacing traditional foundations of Euclidean geometry with an experimental approach, removing topics in Algebra II and Geometry that make a college-ready student really only ready for a two year college; failure to teach prime factorization and least common denominators or greatest common factors; failure to address mathematical induction; barely touches on logarithms; incompletely addresses conic sections; and the list goes on.

Vail lastly states that Louisiana is ready for CC because the state has worked tirelessly to implement these standards. I certainly don’t have Vail’s 40 years as an educator, but in my 24 years, I have never seen such a haphazard rollout of such a poorly-conceived plan. I’ve had five different curriculum maps in the last five years, all significantly different and all implying that we apparently had no clue what we were doing from year to year.

She closes with the usual argument that the state’s 48th place ranking means we must keep Common Core. As long as poverty remains the real problem, we will always rank near the bottom. Common Core will never solve the true stumbling block called poverty; anyone who thinks so is simply not looking at the facts.

 

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Common Core Was Never Right for Louisiana or the Nation

Copied from an article by Mona Charen published January 9, 2015 (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/charen010915.php3)

Copied from an article by Mona Charen published January 9, 2015 (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/charen010915.php3)

Recently, an educator wrote a letter to the editor about not turning back the clock on educational reforms. Here is my response.

The author wrote, “Just like a doctor, when we learn more-effective practices, we replace old, outdated ones.” Actually one of the best medical practices is to first do no harm. New medicines are usually tested on a small sample to see if they work. Rarely would a new drug be subjected to the whole population and then, keeping fingers crossed, watch the results. That’s exactly what Common Core is: a mass trial experiment using students as guinea pigs. It’s unethical.

She also wrote, “Over the past four years, teachers around our state have worked tirelessly to transition our instructional practices to better meet the needs of our students.” My experience has been quite the opposite. I have taught the same math subject for eight years now, but have received five different curriculum maps, each more bizarre than the last. They are all based on a set of standards written by individuals with no experience writing standards. (No matter how many times that is pointed out, reformers blindly ignore this.)

Bobby Jindal’s plan is to return to the GLE program of 2004-05. Those GLEs were evaluated as one of the best in the nation, but that evaluation clashed with Louisiana’s low ranking in the NAEP test results. What no reformer ever seems to understand is that poverty is the crippling factor in the state’s ranking, not the GLEs themselves. It’s the equivalent of saying that when a Louisiana automobile breaks down more frequently, it must be the car’s fault, totally ignoring that the wretched Louisiana roads can wear down even the best car. Address the real issue: poverty, not the standards.

Another statement she made was “This plan reeks of politics….” Anyone who believes the world exists without politics is hopelessly naïve. All education plans go before an elected BESE board. All important BESE proposals go through the elected Louisiana legislature. All legislative bills go before the elected governor. That’s politics. Looking at the real world might adjust people’s perspectives.

“Shouldn’t we allow the actual teachers to evaluate our progress thus far and improve the standards to make them Louisiana’s very own?” What a novel idea, except she misses the whole point. Actual teachers should have been involved in creating the Common Core Standards in the first place. It has been well-documented that the two dozen or so souls who created this albatross were not educators, possessed no experience writing standards, and lacked any knowledge of cognitive development in children. They were mostly test makers, period.

She claims that Jindal’s plan is “a slap in the face to all of the educators and students who have worked so hard to prove that Louisiana can compete academically.” Actually Common Core and its PARCC tests are the real slap in the face: the passing rates for minorities is below 15%. Failing 85% of African Americans on a test is somehow making us more competitive? It’s demoralizing our students, the future of America, in a cold and brutal fashion.

The author should also use logic more rigorously. She combines the graduation rate of 2004 (60%) with the GLEs of 2004, but correlation does not mean causation. GLEs were started in 2004, so they can’t possibly be the cause of a 60% graduation rate that year. Every year since 2004, the graduation rate has increased while the GLEs were in effect, so it must have done some good. And if Common Core is so wonderful, why did Louisiana’s graduation rate DROP in this past year? We have been transitioning to Common Core for four years, so some of that drop must be attributable to that program.

On this quote she and I agree: “To the powers that be, I am asking you to make the right decision to put students first.” Restore Louisiana educational decisions back in our own hands. Only in rare cases does a one-size-fits-all approach ever work, and trying to make every state follow the same set of standards is exactly the opposite of what educators are often told, to individualize the learning for the needs of the learner.

When a state adopts an ill-designed program and needs to pay thousands of teachers to become cheerleaders—teacher leaders—I say scrap the whole thing if it is unsalvageable. When it comes to Common Core, Louisiana and the nation would have benefited from the old saying, you can save yourself a peck of trouble if you do things right the first time.

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What Could Students Learn? Conviction, Among Other Things

I recently shared this blog from New York City, but due to my limited capabilities with a cell phone, did not adequately post it to my blog. I am reposting here.

Copied from the Advocate paper (Baton Rouge)

Copied from the Advocate paper (Baton Rouge)

On April 3, the Advertiser published a cartoon concerning the Opt-out movement. Calling it insensitive and insulting doesn’t scratch the surface.

Some background is needed. The cartoon arrives from Buffalo, New York, where the Common Core battles are raging furiously. That state has given the PARCC test for three years now, with huge failure rates for its first two years (70% and 67% respectively.) These poorly-designed tests are confusingly written usually at a reading level two grades above the students. Parents have been justifiably outraged against this intrusion into their children’s lives and have reacted in the only way they have: opting their children out of the test.

And now a cartoon that implies parents are selfishly teaching their children horrible lessons. One cartoonist seems to think himself/herself the expert on parenthood and the inappropriate lessons we might teach children.

Well, here’s my alternative. Here’s what students might learn from opting out.

A. That learning is AWESOME, when it’s not driven by a test. When the test is all important, one gets eleven Atlanta educators convicted for a cheating scandal, because legislators at the federal and state level have made student scores on tests more important than the students themselves. These tests are being used for three purposes: see how a student has scored; rate the teacher on how much the students have scored; and rate the school on those same scores. The last two do not validly gauge a teacher’s or school’s effectiveness, but it’s part of the latest bandwagon of education reformers. They blindly ignore the effect of poverty on children, but choose to saddle the school and the teacher with all the blame. So much for putting the student first.

B. The power on conviction. Long before the Founding Fathers, English citizens had a healthy regard for their rights. American colonists rebelled against attempts to rule them without their input. Ever since declaring our independence, Americans have a long history of standing up against injustice: women’s movement; abolitionists; progressive movement; civil rights movements, and more. Now comes a test too difficult for the students, and the “people in charge” respond to questions with disparaging remarks like your kids are not as smart as you think and soccer moms should just shut up. No they won’t. Civil disobedience allows parents to stand up against the injustice of this testing malpractice and no one, not even a cartoonist, will diminish that right.

C. That students will have to learn how to judge bias. Newspapers are no longer the fountain of impartial information. One must research who is behind the articles or cartoons because the day of the truly independent journalist is long past. It’s disheartening that parents must infuse their children with a healthy dose of skepticism, to not just accept what is presented to them as fast incarnate. Newspaper are a business and must depend on revenue. The supporters of Common Core and PARCC have the deep pockets, from the Waltons to Bill Gates to numerous other billionaires, and we must not allow their money to drown the valid concerns of parents.

D.  Tests are limited in their ability to judge. If properly designed, a test question might ascertain if a student has learned a skill, but not completely. How can the test know if a student had no clue and simply guessed randomly? It can’t. A test provides an incomplete snapshot of one day in the life of a child. It can’t adequately judge creativity or empathy or a handful of other skills way more important to a child’s future.

E.  All of the above.

Just a follow-up note to show how connected the world has become. Facebook alerted me to this cartoon even though I am presently in New York City on vacation. The cartoon spurred me to write a response, which I will post everywhere and anywhere. I composed this in the shadow of the 9/11 Memorial, a symbol of US resolve and determination. When you believe enough in something–country, faith, family, friends, beliefs–you take action to defend it. I defend my students against what I perceive to be an unjust series of tests designed to meet an inept set of standards written by people with no experience doing so. Thanks to this country and the millions who have sacrificed their lives, I have this right to protest. As Winston Churchill once said, I will fight on the beaches, in the trenches, everywhere I can in defense of my students, in defense of liberty.

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What Can Students Learn? Conviction, Among Other Things

On April 3, the Advertiser published a cartoon concerning the Opt-out movement. Calling it insensitive and insulting doesnt scratch the surface. (With my limited phone capabilities, I’m unable to include the cartoon. I’m presently on vacation and have no access to my laptop.)

Some background is needed. The cartoon arrives from Buffalo, New York, where the Common Core battles are raging furiously. That state has given the PARCC test for three years now, with huge failure rates for its first two years (70% and 67% respectively.) These poorly-designed tests are confusingly written usually at a reading level two grades above the students. Parents have been justifiably outraged against this intrusion into their children’s lives and have reacted in the only way they have: opting their children out of the test.

And now a cartoon that implies parents are selfishly teaching their children horrible lessons. One cartoonist seems to think himself/herself the expert on parenthood and the inappropriate lessons we might teach children.

Well, here’s my alternative. Here’s what students might learn from opting out.

A. That learning is AWESOME, when it’s not driven by a test. When the test is all important, one gets eleven Atlanta educators convicted for a cheating scandal, because legislators at the federal and state level have made student scores on tests more important than the students themselves. These tests are being used for three purposes: see how a student has scored; rate the teacher on how much the students have scored; and rate the school on those same scores. The last two do not validly gauge a teacher’s or school’s effectiveness, but it’s part of the latest bandwagon of education reformers. They blindly ignore the effect of poverty on children, but choose to saddle the school and the teacher with all the blame. So much for putting the student first.

B. The power on conviction. Long before the Founding Fathers, English citizens had a healthy regard for their rights. American colonists rebelled against attempts to rule them without their input. Ever since declaring our independence, Americans have a long history of standing up against injustice: women’s movement; abolitionists; progressive movement; civil rights movements, and more. Now comes a test too difficult for the students, and the “people in charge” respond to questions with disparaging remarks like your kids are not as smart as you think and soccer moms should just shut up. No they won’t. Civil disobedience allows parents to stand up against the injustice of this testing malpractice and no one, not even a cartoonist, will diminish that right.

C. That students will have to learn how to judge bias. Newspapers are no longer the fountain of impartial information. One must research who is behind the articles or cartoons because the day of the truly independent journalist is long past. It’s disheartening that parents must infuse their children with a healthy dose of skepticism, to not just accept what is presented to them as fast incarnate. Newspaper are a business and must depend on revenue. The supporters of Common Core and PARCC have the deep pockets, from the Waltons to Bill Gates to numerous other billionaires, and we must not allow their money to drown the valid concerns of parents.

D.  Tests are limited in their ability to judge. If properly designed, a test question might ascertain if a student has learned a skill, but not completely. How can the test know if a student had no clue and simply guessed randomly? It can’t. A test provides an incomplete snapshot of one day in the life of a child. It can’t adequately judge creativity or empathy or a handful of other skills way more important to a child’s future.

E.  All of the above.

Just a follow-up note to show how connected the world has become. Facebook alerted me to this cartoon even though I am presently in New York City on vacation. The cartoon spurred me to write a response, which I will post everywhere and anywhere. I composed this in the shadow of the 9/11 Memorial, a symbol of US resolve and determination. When you believe enough in something–country, faith, family, friends, beliefs–you take action to defend it. I defend my students against what I perceive to be an unjust series of tests designed to meet an inept set of standards written by people with no experience doing so. Thanks to this country and the millions who have sacrificed their lives, I have this right to protest. As Winston Churchill once said, I will fight on the beaches, in the trenches, everywhere I can in defense of my students, in defense of liberty.

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