Tag Archives: Alliance for Better Classrooms

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.

Sincerely,

Vincent P. Barras

 

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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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