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The author wrote, “Just like a doctor, when we learn more-effective practices, we replace old, outdated ones.”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.