Tag Archives: Governor Bobby Jindal

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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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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An Honest Editorial, or a Shiller for PARCC and Common Core?

Stop Common Core

From the Advertiser came fluffy propaganda on Sunday, declaring that the PARCC tests were a “step toward progress.”

I have the courage of my convictions and am willing to put my name to my words. It’s a shame certain members of the editorial board lack that courage.

Whether intended or not, unnamed editorials tend to be seen more as a sign of cowardice than a statement of conviction. Instead of resembling a measured statement of rational minds, the editorial had more in common with pro-Common Core press releases.

A step toward progress? Really? It has been well documented that twenty-five authors, none of them teachers and lacking expertise in writing standards, wrote the Common Core Standards. In the validation process, the actual educators refused to sign it.

That’s progress?

This program was never tested or piloted, but it was presented as the cure for all ills. Forty-five states adopted it—Louisiana included—and federal bribes in the form of Race to the Top grants reinforced that adoption.

That’s progress?

Louisiana students will take PARCC-like questions in a few weeks. Other states like New York have been giving these tests for almost two years, and the results have been disheartening at best. They have produced increased anxiety in students, some to the point of crying, giving up, and even losing control of bladder and bowel functions.

That’s progress?

The authors of this editorial say that “PARCC fails to frighten us.” How brave of them; they’re not taking the test.

The authors say the test is “not intended to boost students’ self-esteem.” Really? What does a passing grade do, but bolster self-esteem, a vitally-crucial component to becoming a well-rounded contributor to society. New York presented some of the first PARCC tests, resulting in 70% of the students being labeled failures. The second year showed a slight increase with only 64% failing. I fail to see how labeling vast majorities of children as failures is somehow going to make them better human beings. These tests in their present form have incredible potential to crush an entire generation; that frightens me.

The authors claim the PARCC test will measure progress. Exactly how? Originally more than 20 states signed up to give these test, but that number has dwindled to ten, and Louisiana is NOT one of them. Mercedes Schneider has documented that Louisiana has NO CONTRACT with Pearson, the ONLY company giving the PARCC test. Data Recognition Corps is providing questions to Louisiana, not Pearson, so we can compare our students to what exactly?

That’s progress?

The authors contend that the governor’s bad behavior is creating anxiety among parents. The only bad behavior I’ve noticed is the authors’ blind acceptance of Common Core as some improvement for the educational system.

The authors state that the governor’s executive order was “nothing more than cheap grandstanding.” Standing up for our students or children is not cheap, and parents have the right to protect their children through an opt-out process. The authors denigrate these parents with the damning phrase “Are they teaching our children to quit?”

According to that train of thought, the Founding Fathers were merely trouble-makers who should have accepted British rule without question. Henry David Thoreau, author of Civil Disobedience, merely caused trouble for trouble’s sake, and Rosa Parks should have taken her seat in the back of the bus and shut up. Perhaps those individuals should just “buck up,” as the authors suggest safely from their anonymity.

Unlike these authors, I prefer to think of these parents as dealing with a difficult situation as best as they possibly can. I cannot walk in their shoes—I have no children of my own—but I will at least try to understand their issues and see their point of view, not dismiss them with arrogant words.

I have the courage of my convictions and am willing to put my name to my words. It’s a shame certain members of the editorial board lack that courage.

Vincent P. Barras

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Here Jindal Takes His Stand

Photo by Adriane Quinlan, NOLA.com, Times Picayune

Photo by Adriane Quinlan, NOLA.com, Times Picayune

I haven’t written about educational topics for a spell. The month of May physically exhausts me, as it does every educator, with graduation, exams, state testing, and the closing down of the school for the summer. I have already written extensively about Common Core, COMPASS, and PARCC testing, wondering if it would ever make a difference.

Jindal signed us into Common Core in 2010. It takes a brave man to recognize an error. It takes an even greater one to try to rectify it.

I’m unsure if I did, but the governor made a splash. After weeks of increasingly passionate speeches, Bobby Jindal made an executive order pulling Louisiana out of Common Core and PARCC testing.

He cited many things: federal intrusion in a state matter; the lack of competitive bidding for PARCC tests; the frustration of teachers who were inadequately prepared; and the advance of the Common Core timetable forced upon districts this past year. The most important factor, however, was the overwhelming anger of parents, whose myriad issues are too many to cover here.

Superintendent of Education John White and BESE Board President Chas Roemer have decried the governor’s decision and have vowed to fight it. I will sarcastically note that every governor looks forward to being told what he can and cannot do by an appointee who would not even have his job if weren’t for the governor. White had minimal qualifications and lacked experience, and so far his actions in office have reaffirmed my lack of confidence in his abilities.

White and others have said it would take the Department of Education a whole year to develop a new test to replace PARCC. What foolishness. We already possess diagnostic tools called LEAP, iLEAP, and End of Course Testing. To evaluate schools, the state DOE has already forced every junior to take the ACT. These tests have been tinkered with and refitted for years, so claiming that we need a new test is simply balderdash.

I think the most professional response came from St. Martin Parish Superintendent Lottie Beebe, who said the following, “We stand tall as leaders and we comply with the Governor’s executive order…. Educators need to be at the table when education decisions are made.”

She cut to the heart of my complaint about Common Core: it was developed by non-educators—i.e., test makers—with little or no input from teachers, principals, parents, or experts in child development. It was funded by billionaires like Bill Gates, whose interest is not the welfare of children, and assiduously supported by organizations (CABL, LABI, ALEC, Chamber of Commerce) whose educational expertise is suspect at best.

How can someone support what is essentially a huge gamble, an educational experiment using our children as guinea pigs with little or no guarantee of success?

Jindal signed us into Common Core in 2010. It takes a brave man to recognize an error. It takes an even greater one to try to rectify it.

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Legislative Errors A Cause For Concern

I apologize for my month-long absence, but my school responsibilities and play performances really absorbed my time. I am happy to return, though, and comment on a recent legislative act that’s been brought to my attention.

I normally don’t read legislative acts, written in a strange, complex language often requiring an interpreter, but proposed House Bill 49 written by Representative Stephen Carter deserves discussion. The People LLC have been vigilant in scouring legislative acts, and they have flagged this proposed house bill by Carter who was instrumental in writing major education reform legislation in 2012. HB 49 is the perfect example of why the people of Louisiana are jaded both about the legislature as a whole and individual legislators in particular.

HB 49 initially appears innocuous: four sentences with subparts that appear to address a student’s readmission into school. The first sentence states that a city, parish, or local school board must readmit a student who meets five requirements, which are then listed. The second sentence states that if all five requirements are met, a student cannot be denied re-admission if the student: a) voluntarily withdrew from school; b) is pregnant; c) is a parent; or d) is married.  The third sentence states that should the re-admitted student turn 21 on the admittance year, that student must be in the twelfth grade.

Sentence four is different. “Every person, regardless of age, shall be subject to all provisions of state law, all policies of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and all local school board policy applicable to public school students, including those provisions pertaining to discipline, suspension, and expulsion.”

What exactly does this mean? The explanation that is attached to the bill says that “every student,” not every person, an extremely important word choice that, if not fixed, is atrocious. To require “students” to be subject to state laws is highly different from “persons.” Since when does the BESE Board, a politically-charged organization with nine members who vote in lock-step with Governor Bobby Jindal, have the right to regulate all “persons,” regardless of age? Is a person from Orleans parish subject to the local ordinances of Lafayette parish? The law can be interpreted this way.

Worse, even should the word “students” re-emerge in the bill, it is still nefarious. First, what does sentence four have to do with students being re-admitted to a school? Little to nothing. Haven’t we already seen legislative acts declared unconstitutional because they don’t deal with a single topic?

Second, if all students are subject to all the things mentioned, that means every home-schooled and private school student is now required to meet all BESE requirements and state law, including adoption of Common Core. State laws mandates public school students must take standardized tests, so now all home-schooled and private students will have to take them too. This infringes upon the rights of parents who choose to educate their children as they wish.

If this is an error, and there is some indication that it is, then I hope this will be fixed and made explicitly to apply to public school students. If not, then the people of Louisiana have the right to question what is the purpose of such over-reaching legislation, and hope it never becomes law.


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