Tag Archives: Council for a Better Louisiana

The Superintendent’s Little White Lies

Mark Twain

Mark Twain once quipped, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

He could have been talking about Louisiana.

With White’s track record for massaging scores, essentially all one needs is a pulse and good guessing skills to pass the PARCC tests.

The Council for a Better Louisiana recently touted the great things that have happened since Louisiana adopted Common Core in 2010 and since the 2011 BESE elections produced a rigid majority in favor of the education reform package.

It’s a shame CABL essentially cherry-picks their facts for their cause.

One “fact” touted is that Louisiana’s graduations rates have increased over the last four years.

Of course they have. When the Louisiana Department of Education consistently lowers the bar on End of Course Tests, it will produce higher graduation rates. The passing grade on the EOC tests now are so alarming low that a student can get as little as 26% correct to earn a grade of “C.”

So getting only slightly better than one question right out of every four equates to a C?

Based on that rate, workers need only show up one out of every four days and receive an average evaluation… and a full salary.

Don’t forget it took lawsuits to get the LDOE to release the raw numbers. So much for transparency and those “rigorous” tests.

Another “fact” pushed by CABL is that more students than ever are earning an 18 on the ACT. On face value, that is true. In the first year that all juniors were required to take the ACT, some 11,000+ more students took the ACT than the previous year. Superintendent John White ballyhooed the fact that some 3,600 of those students made an 18, considered an important ACT benchmark.

There is a flipside to that argument: some 7.400 of those 11,000 did NOT make the score, and that actually dropped Louisiana’s passage rate nearly 10 percentage points.

See what happens when one manipulates numbers?

And speaking of number manipulation, White already has all the raw scores from last year’s PARCC tests. He claims that he needs time to quantify them into a measure that most people can understand.

People in Louisiana deserve credit for seeing through this chicanery. With White’s track record for massaging scores, essentially all one needs is a pulse and good guessing skills to pass the PARCC tests.

Other states have already received and disseminated their scores. Louisiana is also evaluating their present standards and could use this vital information to prioritize important skills students might be lacking. Why must everyone wait until November?

Oh, the BESE Board elections! No one wants the inconvenience of actual scores to influence election results. Nothing could possibly be political about that decision at all.

If he were alive, Mark Twain would be shaking his head. Things haven’t changed all that much.

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My Analysis of the Leaders With Vision Debate on Common Core

On November 21, 2013 Leaders with Vision (LWV) hosted a luncheon about Common Core (CC) and Louisiana’s haphazard implementation of the program. LWV regularly has forums that informs voters about national, regional, and state issues. Supporting CC were Stephanie Desselles, Vice President for Public Policy of the Council for a Better Louisiana, and Stand for Children parent and educator Wiley Brazier V. Opponents included Lee S. Barrios, former St. Tammany Parish teacher and Save Our Schools representative, and Mercedes Schneider, a public school teacher and prolific blogger on educational issues.

In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. 

Barrios spoke first and make ten cogent arguments, many of which I have covered in previous blogs. They include

  1. CC was written by 27 persons, none of whom were K-12 educators, and most of whom received paychecks from testing companies. (She also pointed out that Bill Gates has funded almost $200 million dollars to both compose the new standards and “purchase” support from such organizations like the Stand for Children organization mentioned above.)
  2. CC process for making learning rigorous—their catchword—violates what years of observation and data have shown about how children learn and when they are developmentally appropriate for the material. (I have noticed in my observations of CC is it simply moves complex material down to a lower grade level when children aren’t ready for it.) Barrios then mentioned how no early childhood development experts served on CC and over 500 have now signed a letter in opposition to CC.
  3. CC is driven by a market-based model where students and teachers can be compared and ranked. Hand in hand with that is a national marketplace where certain educational companies will reap huge profits from developing and selling ways to improve students test scores and teacher outcomes.
  4. CC creates an inflexible set of expectations, standardizing all learning as if children uniformly develop at the same rate. Teachers know this is not the case. Students are unique and do not learn on a straight, upward-sloping trajectory. Just as puberty causes huge growth spurts, students often learn in a similar manner, and labeling them a failure early on because of this hurts the very people we’re supposed to be mentoring.
  5. CC will be measured by high-stakes tests, swallowing valuable time and money like a black hole. Students will now take more and longer tests that are only presentable on computers that most Louisiana schools don’t possess. Many school districts are now faced with the horrific choice of firing teachers to pay for the new computer systems needed for these new tests.
  6. CC’s proficiency rates are lower by design. The designers of the test know that students will struggle with these harder questions. New York recently conducted their first round of such tests, and only 31% of their students passed the test, thus labelling nearly 70% of their students as failures. (Telling a 3rd grader that he failed a college-readiness test is quite stupid. Anyone with intelligence knows a 3rd grader is not ready for college.)
  7. CC narrowly believes education produces workers for a future workforce, hence the term career and college ready, instead of the tradition purpose of education: to produce “educated, well-rounded contributors to society.” (That is the motto of Lafayette High School, the A-rated high school where I teach.)
  8. CC relies on data collection that often violates the privacy of students and families.
  9. CC has no standards-based research to support its lofty claims. It has never been tested and since it is copyrighted, it cannot be altered. The best some states can do is augment the materials with 15% more information, but cannot delete any of the materials embedded in CC.
  10. CC does not address the largest problem in US education: the growing number of children in poverty. There is a distinct correlation between low performing schools and the poverty rate of the school’s district. Until that problem is effectively addressed, students will struggle in their educational endeavors.

Those are ten clear arguments about which all stakeholders should be holding a conversation. Barrios set the beginning of what should have been a debate about CC.

Desselle then got up and said that she would not rebut the ten points, finding them “unfounded” and saying there’s lots of research out there that refutes what Barrios said.

Well. I guess the debate’s over then. Desselle personally doesn’t believe the ten arguing points about CC, so that’s the end of that.

I participated in Speech and Debate at both the high school and collegiate level, and any novice debater knows that you support your position with FACTS. Desselle committed the most fundamental error in debating: believe what I say with no supporting information. She essentially forfeited the argument and should have sat down.

Desselle then went on to say the CABL has talked to thousands of educators and that CABL supports these new standards because Louisiana ranks so low with the rest of the nation. She pointed out that in the latest round of NAEP tests, the national tests which ranks the 50 states, Louisiana was ranked 47th. She also noted that around the nation, all states are struggling with a changing world and an evolving economy.

The third speaker was Schneider, who gave an analogy about health and fitness. She likened Common Core to a situation where people aren’t healthy, so a group of individuals got input from “board room,” not “classroom” personnel on what healthy people look like. Based on that very selective input, those individuals have designed a “health suit” and have told all students—sorry, people—that in order to be healthy, you must wear this suit. What’s worse, since this outfit is based on “research”—never clearly defined what that research is—it cannot be changed, even though it will be painful for many to fit into this outfit. And if that weren’t difficult enough, teachers—sorry, doctors—will be judged on how their patients get into the health outfit, and can possibly lose their jobs based on these outcomes.

Schneider then pulled her two decades of teaching experience—remember, that’s more than the composite experience of all the authors of CC—to make the connection. She says that CC has been forced on her and all Louisiana teachers, regardless of where the students are now, and her job is on the line. The PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) will be piloted in Louisiana February 2015, tests that have never been attempted or evaluated with years of data. When she concluded, she stated emphatically that if she ever had to choose between the welfare of her students and Common Core, she would also choose her students.

The fourth speaker was Wiley Brazier V, a Baton Rouge native, a member of Stand For Children, and an educator with thirteen years’ experience. He has served as an inspiration for “at-risk” students in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Dallas, TX and Lewisville, TX. As an educator, he reiterated the importance of the classroom teacher and their connection to the students. He does use statistics, pointing out that while in Louisiana, our students against other Louisiana students might score in the 70th percentile in proficiency, on the NAEP, those same students rank only in the 20s. Common Core, according to Brazier, is designed to help out students compete globally.

For a summary of Stephanie Desselles’ performance in the debate, check out my previous post. The LWV provided a valuable service, allowing both sides to debate an important issue, and the two sides never turned nasty, though some degrading comments were aimed at teacher unions and the state of Iowa. In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. Both sides have valid points, genuinely believe in their positions, and those positions deserve to be heard.

 

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When Debating Common Core, Come Armed With FACTS

On November 21, 2013 Leaders with Vision (LWV) hosted a luncheon about Common Core (CC) and Louisiana’s implementation of the program. LWV regularly has forums that informs voters about national, regional, and state issues, and they invited four guest speakers, two proponents and two opponents. One of the CC supporters, Stephanie Desselle, Vice President for Public Policy for the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), gave an underwhelming performance in the debate and should refrain from speaking further on the topic.

“There’s a lot of blame game going on. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories, and lot of hogwash, to be honest with you.” Stephanie Desselle attempting to explain away the backlash against Common Core implementation in Louisiana.

Lee P. Barrios, former St. Tammany teacher and representative from Save Our Schools, spoke first and outlined ten cogent arguments against CC. (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjoxTgaH4yI)

Desselle then stood up and said the following: she would not rebut the ten points. She personally finds them “unfounded” and says there’s lots of research that refutes what Barrios said. She gave no examples, no sites, no links.

Well. I guess the debate’s over then. Desselle personally doesn’t believe the ten arguing points about CC, so that’s the end of the matter.

I participated in Speech and Debate at both the high school and collegiate level, and any novice debater knows that you support your position with FACTS. Desselle committed the most fundamental debating error: believe my position with no supporting information. She essentially forfeited the argument and should have sat down.

After ignoring the ten points, Desselle then stated that CABL supports the new standards because Louisiana ranks so low in the nation compared to other states. She did not address the fact that CC has no scientifically-based evidence that it will improve that low ranking. Her logic appears to be that doing something, anything will address our low ranking.

She also noted that around the nation, all states are struggling with a changing world and an evolving economy. That’s a generality that doesn’t address CC. What she ignored is that Louisiana has a higher poverty rate than other areas of the nation and that we struggle against even greater odds than more affluent states.

She provided an anecdote about a teacher who was blown away by the achievement of her students, and then linked that story into the claim that CABL, and Desselle personally, have spoken to thousands of educators across the state. It would be more helpful if she kept a log of those calls and the names of those educators. Otherwise, such claims are more smoke and mirrors than actual evidence.

She stated, “There’s a lot of blame game going on. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories, and lot of hogwash, to be honest with you.”

Wow. What an effective argument. The opponents of Common Core are finger-pointing, conspiracy nuts filled with hogwash.

Well, I’m certainly convinced. Aren’t you?

She finished with this question: “Do we really in Louisiana want to be left out of this? Do we really want to be behind the rest of the nation on this?”

The more important question—totally ignored—is do we really want a set of standards designed by a select few non-educators with no experience in this field? Do we want test designers refashioning high school so that students will perform well on their tests? What kind of a conflict of interest is that?

When all four speakers had finished, the moderator asked a question that since poverty was such an overwhelming factor, what was Louisiana doing to address that problem?

Desselle got up and said, “I’m not sure I understood what the question was.”

My, my. I’ll admit the moderator went on for a spell, but what are you doing at a debate when you cannot decipher the point of a question?

She then spoke about how CC is a minimum set of requirements all students should meet, and meeting that set of standards will allow them to access the American dream.

The question was about poverty. It might have been nice to address the poverty question. Accessing the American dream, while a lovely, lofty goal, is not a guaranteed ticket out of poverty. Try answering the question next time.

Desselle then launched into a tangent about how advanced school districts like St. Tammany still use the most advanced materials out there that often go above and beyond CC. The only problem she did not address is that students will still have to take the “one size fits all” PARCC test, and if the teachers have not stopped to refresh their kids on those standards, those advanced students who may have mastered advanced skills may still fail the PARCC test.

Suddenly she remembered what the question was and made this blanket statement: “Poverty in this state will turn around when we get more of these kids at these higher levels so that they can choose good job training.”

Passing some PARCC test is not going to end poverty. If there are few good jobs available, what job training are these students going to choose? Her logic is flawed: getting a higher level—meeting CC standards—is not a ticket out of poverty.

Unfortunately, Desselle continued with another tangent, albeit a true one, about Louisiana being a diverse state with a rich economy. In that sense, she is right, but in attempting to make her point, she disparaged another state, saying “We are not Iowa.” I’m sure Iowa understands that its 29th place ranking is far above Louisiana’s 48th. We sure aren’t Iowa, but maybe we should aspire to be.

A second question to Desselle questioned the flexibility of CC, and she mentioned that CC is not the “how” in the classroom. On this she is correct. Engage New York is the curriculum that much of Louisiana adopted to meet CC standards, and Engage New York is NOT flexible. The workbooks Louisiana has purchased has very rigid approaches to teaching material. Some school principals are vigorously requiring their teachers to use the methods in these workbooks; other principals still believe in a certain level of teacher autonomy.

Tangents being Desselle’s speciality, she at one point stated, “And by the way, you can go online and see the dozens and dozens and dozens of educators who were involved in developing these standards.”

I went directly to Common Core’s website and glanced at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and they say “States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards.” There is no link to the people who assisted. Another FAQ says that the drafting process “relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country.” Oh, yeah? Name them. Name some. Heck, just name one.  At the moment, the only teacher input was apparently allowed in the feedback stage after the standards were already written. That’s not what I call valuable teacher input; that’s window dressing.

Desselle also added the non-germane comment that BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) had to vote to adopt Common Core, so “This was not some secret.” I have scoured the video and nowhere did any of the opponents claim that adopting CC was a secret. Only two signatures were needed to put Louisiana on the path to CC and those were Governor Bobby Jindal’s and Education Secretary Paul Pastorek’s. The only claim of secrecy was that the standards were written in secret by 27 individuals, and even members of the feedback and validation committee had to sign confidentiality agreements not to divulge their inner procedures. Thank you, however, for answering a question that was never asked.

The issue of teachers not truly being involved in writing the standards resurfaced in another question posed to the speakers, and Desselle’s answer was “there were gazillions of committees at the national level” that helped develop these standards. She stated that anyone can go online to the Council of Chief School State Officers’ webpage to find all the teachers who have contributed to Common Core.

I would like Stephanie Dessell to go to that particular webpage because I have. It’s the most disorganized site I’ve ever experienced and no amount of word combinations I selected got me any closer to a list of the teachers who have helped to design CC. In the future, it is much more informative to provide a link than to dismissively announce go search it on the web.

Incredibly frustrating to me was when Desselle dropped this statement: tens of thousands of educators helped and “Louisiana had three people … very highly respected people and actually contributed a great deal to the development of these standards.” … and then she doesn’t name them. Next time, give us the actual names. I’ve attempted a search to find those three people, and it’s nicely hidden at the moment.

At the end of the debate, when writers submitted questions, Desselle was faced with one asking whether she could repudiate any of the ten specific talking points that Barrios brought up. Desselle shook her head, waved her arms, and then sputtered the following, “I mean, obviously, that’s just… I don’t know which union—teacher union planted that one.”

With charm like that, how can she not win?

The way to win your argument, Stephanie Desselle, is to present FACTS, not put down various organizations like teacher unions.

She then repeated that she would not address the ten points because she doesn’t believe most of them. Her beliefs trump all FACTS.

“I would just say,” she added before she had to leave, “it’s not true that… what… all the things that you’ve heard today. Do you own research.”

Again, you do not make your case stronger by saying the opponent’s position is “not true.” Provide FACTS to support your position, not unsupported rhetoric to bolster your case or simple statements that the other side is lying.

In the movie The Untouchables, Sean Connery’s character chided a thug who foolishly brought a knife to a gun-fight. In this debate, Stephanie Desselle didn’t even remember to bring the knife.

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