Monthly Archives: May 2015

Has The Legislature Nothing Better to Do Than Conduct Sex Surveys?

The People LLC

At first, I thought it was a joke when I read it: Representative Wesley Bishop has introduced House Bill 326 and Senator J. P. Morell has introduced Senate Bill 31, both identical and both allowing a sexual survey to be taken by students in Orleans Parish.

The People LLC do not joke. They are extremely serious in their defense of Constitutional liberties, and have written about these identical bills. The link to their Facebook site is and to their internet site is

What’s important about these bills is that they directly violate Act 837 passed one year ago by the previous legislative assembly. Act 837 is one of the strongest student data protection acts passed in the nation, but hardly one year later, the legislature is seeking to undermine it.

Never mind that this act affects only one parish, for it matters not. Such a supposedly-innocuous survey imposed on one parish could then be imposed state-wide, even though frankly it is none of the legislature’s business to conduct sexual surveys.

The fact that the sexual behavior of teenagers in Orleans parish might be, for all we know, out of control, doesn’t mean parents have relinquished their rights.

The truly frightening thing is how far these bills had advanced. The House version will be debated on May 12th, but the Senate version has already passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 10, and has been sent to the House.

Please consider contacting your representatives to tell them to vote down SB 31 and HB 326. The solution to a potential sexual epidemic does not exist through the prism of infringing upon parents’ rights in violation of the Constitution.

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LABI’s Fatal Spear to the Heart of the Giant

Ever since 2010 when the Supreme Court declared in Citizens United that corporations were people too, a wave of fear enveloped me. I always knew that corporations with their endless billions had more influence on the nation’s course than regular, everyday Americans like myself. Now those millionaires and billionaires had an even clearer path to drowning me out.

It just got worse. I hoped that state and local politics might have a certain immunity from this national money disease, but not so.

When business leaders take such joy and delight in hurting regular Americans who happen to be union members, it makes one wonder exactly what business leaders are for.


The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has strongly backed House Bill 418 by Representative Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), essentially removing numerous groups, namely teachers, fire fighters and police, from being able to deduct their union dues from their paychecks, while leaving other groups like United Way alone.

The bill is perniciously nicknamed the “Paycheck Protection” act, though exactly what we are protecting a paycheck from is unclear.

Some claim that union deductions inappropriately feed the unions. How so? The paycheck program allows for deductions for retirement, taxes, insurance, and FICA, none of which are voluntary. Computer geniuses have made the system efficient and capable of hundreds of deductions.

It’s only the union deductions that has the LABI up in arms. Some say that deductions should only be for organizations that are apolitical in nature, like United Way, for instance.

Hogwash. United Way heavily supports Common Core, which is a blatantly political issue. LABI through HB 418 wants only agreeable groups to have donations.

Actually, LABI wants to be the ONLY group with influence. They’ve been trying to manipulate educational policy for years, even though their expertise is both short-sighted and limited.

LABI, though its Education and Workforce Development Council chair Lane Grigsby, has been caught on videotape essentially exposing their barefaced hypocrisy. They don’t want to protect people or paychecks; they want to strangle opposition voices by crushing the flow of money.

At an April LABI meeting, Grigsby stated, “Guys, this is where you grab the aorta and you shut it off. Honest to goodness, it’s the truth. If you control the money flow, you control the success.”

“It’s a fatal spear to the heart of the giant,” he said last September, right after he smiled gleefully. “I can’t talk for the grin on my face.”

When business leaders take such joy and delight in hurting regular Americans who happen to be union members, it makes one wonder exactly what business leaders are for.

LABI is no more qualified to run schools than LAE is designed to run a trucking company. We are all human beings, worthy of dignity and respect, not objects to be speared.

LABI does not want regular everyday humans to have any sway in the world. Teachers educate and inspire the future generations, and fire fighters and police protect everyone in this republic. They have a right to be heard, and legislators would be foolish to dismiss their concerns by listening only to rich millionaires like Grigsby.


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Using Students’ Scores to Evaluate Teachers Is Insane and Reckless

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

Mercedes Schneider’s recent post on her standardized tests from her elementary days got me thinking about this recent craze—there really is no other word for it—to evaluate teachers using students’ test scores. How stupid has this country become?

If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

I can still recall the results from my fourth grade standardized test: an impressive 7.2 grade level. Did this mean I was ready for the 7th grade—precocious, wasn’t I?—but a teacher explained that it did not mean I was ready for 7th grade material. What that number meant was an average 7th grader taking this test would have made roughly the same score that I did. I must admit, it still made me feel good.

I do remember, however, that as good as that score was, it was never used to evaluate the incomparable Mrs. Pratt, a wonderful lady who inspired me to follow in her footsteps. In the 1970s, that would have been inconceivable to misuse the scores in that fashion. The test measured MY skills, and while I’m certainly not minimizing Mrs. Pratt’s incredible teaching, those scores were only partially inspired by her. I had two loving parents who insisted that I do homework, take time to share it with them, and study for tests. I had a middle-class upbringing, and though a skinny, awkward kid, I was fed well and never wanted for anything, certainly not French Fries, my favorite food then.

My point is this: Mrs. Pratt was ONE piece of a complicated puzzle. It would be insane and reckless to try to assign the entirety of that test score to her.

But that is PRECISELY what we do today. Not only is it shameful, it’s abusive to these people in this noble profession.

The latest reformer fad is to label teachers with a number, and part of that number MUST come from student scores. If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

We don’t judge dentists based on their patients’ cavities, do we? We don’t evaluate doctors on their patients’ poor food choices, do we? We don’t gauge lawyers based on their clients’s actions, do we? Then why is it okay to threaten teachers based on the performance of their students?

How can we evaluate teachers? That difficult question can’t be tackled easily. Before Superintendent John White arrived, Louisiana’s evaluation system rated 96% of teachers as satisfactory and only 4% as unsatisfactory. That did not sit well with many reformers who claimed unjustly that Louisiana’s state rankings (48th or 49th usually) must mean that bad teachers are producing this situation, so we must weed them out. Reformers then spent millions creating a new, four-level, evaluation system to better identify those bad apples.

Where has that hard work produced? Last year, 4% of teachers were ranked ineffective, same as four years ago.

What a grand waste of our time and money.

We are nowhere any closer to identifying what makes a good teacher. That indescribable quality in good teachers is as elusive as a moonbeam or a ray of sunshine.

When I saw Mrs. Pratt some time ago, I told her how wonderful it was to be a teacher. Today, I don’t know if she or I would dare enter such an abusive relationship, where we would be scapegoated for a host of issues over which we have little control.

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Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Rep. Ivey’s HB 505 Returns From the Grave

Stop Common Core

When it comes to politics, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said it best. “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

I hope that the concerned citizens return armed with facts, and treat this kind of legislative slight-of-hand with the contempt it deserves. 

In the last two years, I have watched with incredulity at the antics of the Louisiana legislature, whose leaders appear to specialize in somewhat spiteful behavior toward each other, the governor, and the Louisiana people.

During the 2013 legislative session, this behavior was grossly on display. Finding all sorts of problems with the Teacher Evaluation System (TES, my acronym), the House unanimously passed a bill delaying the punitive measures of the TES. In other words, for one year, teachers who received a negative evaluation would not have it count against them while teachers who earned a positive evaluation could keep it. As the system proved to be wildly ineffective, it seemed a remarkably common-sense solution.

Not so, thought the Senate Education committee, chaired by pro-Common Core Senator Conrad Appel. With a vote of 4-3, that seven-member committee killed the bill passed by a unanimous House. Those four members outweighed the concerns of the 100+ members of the House, and the bill died.

Democracy at its finest.

This year, House members have reached different targets: parents and educators.

Representative Barry Ivey proposed HB 505, which would effectively remove any teacher hired after July 2015 from ever earning due process. Any principal could now come into a school and theoretically fire any and all new teachers he or she wished. That might be the way businesses work, but schools do not operate on a business model, nor should they.

Representative Austin J. Badon, Jr. proposed HB 330, which would allow the Department of Education to expand the number of voucher students in some schools if those schools had been in operation for less than two years.

Both Ivey’s and Badon’s bills were scheduled for April 29th before the House Education Committee, the same day as a planned rally by a contingent of parents and educators aligned against Common Core, voucher expansion, and erosion of teachers rights. These concerned citizens had done research and prepared speeches, only to watch the two representatives suddenly pull their bills.

One week later, with no parents or educators on his horizon, Ivey has resurrected HB 505, essentially exposing all new teachers to discriminatory termination. Did he defer his bill in a craven attempt to avoid any pushback from groups which had meticulously organized to defend Louisiana citizens against a pervasive, pernicious belief that the business model is perfect for the educational system? Probably, though we may never know.

I hope that the parents return armed with facts, and treat this kind of legislative slight-of-hand with the contempt it deserves.


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My Letter to Senator Conrad Appel… Still Unanswered As Of Today

Conrad Appel

I thought I might take a chance and attempt to reason with Senator Conrad Appel, the powerful chairman of the Senate Education Committee. I sent this letter, with a requested return receipt. I have not received the receipt, so I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s safe to say the Senator has not received it. I shall resend it, along with a copy to all the Senators on the Education Committee. We’ll see.

I asked a friend what chance did I have of being heard as compared to the millionaires in America? She said, “None.”

I hope she’s wrong. I fear she’s not.

Dear Senator Conrad Appel,

I am taking this time to write you about your support of Common Core legislation. Please don’t think I am assaulting you and please don’t take this as an opportunity to not read any further. I’m a teacher who wants to engage with you substantially about this important topic.

I understand the desire for strong standards; I even understand the federal push for it. It derives from a completely understandable impulse to make sure that all students—Caucasians and all minorities—get an equitable education, meaning no one falls through the cracks. The quality of an education should not depend on the randomness of skin tone nor the accident of residential zones, though too often it actually has.

I understand the state of education can always use improvement. As an educator, I have often volunteered to become part of a solution process. When my district required all Algebra II teachers, for example, to give a module test to see if we have all covered the material adequately, I have volunteered to write or assist in writing the assessment. I don’t want students to sit through overly-long tests with five questions assessing the same skill, or have them sit through questions that weren’t included in topics we were supposed to teach. Even though I have almost twenty-five years in the classroom, I do not represent an old-guard mentality nor am I thoroughly repelled by modernity and technology. You should see me use my SmartBoard.

I am, however, opposed to reform movements that don’t involve me in the process.

Please, if you don’t read any further into this letter, read one more paragraph and then quit should you decide.

Writing standards is an expensive procedure, and the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers combined, with financial contributions from Bill Gates, to produce a revamped set of standards that states would be free to adopt. Those two groups assembled a team of twenty-four people to work on two committees, one math and one English-language-arts, to design a new set of standards from grades three up through high school. Important things to note about those twenty-four, highly educated people:

  • None were present-day teachers. Only six having ever been teachers, five of whom had not been in the classroom in eleven or more years.
  • None had any experience writing standards.
  • None were experts in child development.

These twenty-four people are listed on the NGA website as the authors, and the feedback from actual teachers was minimal. This process resulted in standards that two prominent people on the Validation Committee with experience writing standards refused to sign: Dr. James Milgram (math) and Dr. Sandra Stotsky (English). Even should you find my experience limited, please research their concerns, which they have made public during numerous testimonies before other states’ legislatures.

People have bombarded you with conspiracy theories, of Obamacare-style education, of federal takeovers, of testing companies being the pawns of foreign countries; the list is endless. I just want to state that the Common Core Standards-writing process concerns me. This flawed process results in developmentally inappropriate material and tests, something an educator can recognize.

My own experience with the math standards has revealed that the math standards writing team has made the standards more rigorous by moving material down by two grade levels. In simple terms, material I have taught to juniors for years is now in the freshmen curriculum, and most freshmen aren’t ready for complicated exponential graphs and detailed quadratic functions. This isn’t what most developed countries do, so why do we?

I want strong standards, but I want them designed by people with a thorough knowledge of brain development. I want accountability, but these PARCC tests don’t even come back in time to show me where I might improve. I have taken graduate courses in developing curricula and want to partake in scaffolding subjects so that they build on each other and eliminate repetition.

I read recently how the Alliance for a Better Classroom Political Action Committee sent fluffy pink and white unicorns to your desk with the message “Unicorns are not real, and neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.” Lane Grigsby, one of the major financial backers of the ABC PAC, has millions of dollars to spend, and I make approximately $36,000 after taxes. I was recently talking to the daughter of a US representative who served over thirty years in the US House, and I asked her what chance did I have of being heard as compared to the millionaires in America? She said, “None.”

I hope she’s wrong. I fear she’s not.

I do not wish to hassle you further. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I wanted to emphasize the common sense concerns of parents and teachers. You are a parent who’s raised two children; you know what parents go through. I am not here to attack or insult; I want you to see my side of the story.


Vincent P. Barras


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