The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

Recently I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I knew my blood sugars were trending higher for years, and I had resolved to lose 50 pounds this year to prevent this outcome from occurring. 3 months into this year I had lost 25 pounds . . . and I learned I had uncontrolled fasting blood sugars in the 400s. 3 months ago I had my blood sugar levels checked and they were creeping up into the pre-diabetic range, but I was fine. I had a lot of warning signs that something was wrong, including blurring vision I attributed to getting old, a dramatic increase in being thirsty I attributed to giving up sodas and exercising more, and a dramatic increase in confusion and forgetfulness I chalked up to just being busy. If readers recall, I travelled to Austin in March but managed to leave my suitcase with all my belongings at home in my front yard. I also was supposed to appear on Frances and Friends a few weeks later but lost my phone, directions and mind. I’ve also managed to forget my daughter’s soccer ball and every practice I took her too, although thankfully I usually remember the kids. I’ve also been having trouble sitting down and composing blog entries and night from fatigue and an inability to focus. (To, those of you who have submitted information to me to create stories or research, I am moving slower but still making progress now.) Now that I am getting a handle on my condition things are starting to firm up and my confusion seems more obvious now in retrospect. I’ve been running labs, seeing doctors, dietitians and specialists and what seems to be the consensus is that taking steroid shots back to back to address my Pneumonia and Bronchitis in February and March overwhelmed my pancreas and triggered my condition. I went from just entering the warning zone to a serious case of uncontrolled diabetes over a few months. Fortunately, I was working with my doctor while I was trying to lose so much weight and get in shape and we caught it right away.  If  my condition had remained untreated until an annual physical I would have ended up in the hospital, if I was lucky.

So where am I going with this do you ask?

I did what many of us probably do without thinking. I went to the after-hours clinic, told them I was sick and needed to get well fast, and asked them to load me up with shots and whatever they could give me to get me back on my feet as fast as possible.  “I don’t have time to be sick,” I told them.  Getting an appointment with my primary care physician is always harder, but he has all my medical history and is more qualified, has more experience, and is more familiar with my case history and medications. I was trying to save up as much time as I can to go to meetings, to get blog posts done, to meet with parents, to attend and present at conferences and to still have time for my job and my family so I couldn’t afford to take time for more mundane matters like a common cold. Without considering the consequences, I chose the easiest path. As a result I made myself much sicker with what might be a permanently debilitating condition. (I do have a slim chance of reversing it if I take extra special care of myself over the next 6 months and lose some more weight. Things I should have done before so I would not have been put in the position I am now.) I did not know that getting steroid shots and oral steroids could trigger diabetes and I thought I was being proactive and taking care of myself.  As I’ve learned since, those treatments dramatically raise blood sugars and for those of us in Louisiana already a little overweight, this can rapidly accelerate a process that would normally take years. I’m writing this in part to warn folks about steroids and diabetes. Sometimes steroids may be necessary, when you have Pneumonia like I did for the first round, but maybe not if you just have a cold or Bronchitis and you’ve recently received them. It’s great that you want to do something quickly, but quick or unresearched actions can cause much more harm than good.

In case you were wondering, this is where the School Reform critique comes in. A lot of times we try to apply quick fixes that are nothing more than ineffective Band-Aids to our problems in our daily lives and in public policy.

That’ll fix it!

This type of fix gives us the satisfaction of saying we’ve quickly addressed a problem and a visible verification of the fix. However simple Band-Aids may not be ideal solutions for brown recluse spider bites, or structurally damaged vehicles in previous picture. The Band-Aid solution does not make the car pictured safer, doesn’t permit the doors to open, and applying that Band-Aid means the passenger side window has to remain open. . . but we can say we fixed it!  It didn’t cost us as much a door replacement, paint job and body repair, but it was quick and required little effort or long-term commitment on our part.

This is the way much of modern-day school reform works in the US.

Allow me to show you some examples.

Charter Schools

Charter schools were first marketed as a way to provide quality educations, to help underserved populations like the disabled or Limited English Proficient, and to differentiate emphasis on instruction (say charter schools for Engineering, Math, the Arts or Foreign Language immersion.) When it was discovered that these schools often performed worse, failed to provide certified teachers or staff for special education students, and that serving high needs populations was expensive and reflected poorly on charter school’s rankings compared to schools with average populations many charter schools opted instead to appeal to the wealthiest and least cumbersome students. What started as an easy fix, if the local school system is not working, slap a charter school or three on it, turned into a serious threat, a disease on public education. Charter school mania is a disease that now threatens to devour the host.

Larvae devouring host caterpillar

What started out as a quick fix to apply to ailing public education systems to provide a quality education for some of the students is actually making education worse for most of them by siphoning off financial resources, teachers, and students and leaving the hardest to educate students behind.

[I urge you all to support HB 703 currently pending a vote in the House Education committee. This bill restricts the spread of charter schools into A, B and C districts, like has recently happened to Iberville and Lafayette, by requiring these schools get approval of the local school boards. If you believe in local education, I urge you to contact the members of the House Education committee to support this Bill.]

Common Core

  • Colleges are claiming they face a problem of too many children requiring remediation.
  • Businesses are claiming High School graduates are not career ready when they graduate.
  • Testing and textbook companies are complaining about all the different version of textbooks and tests they have to prepare every year.

To them, the obvious solution was to create a universal standardized curriculum that everyone would have to take and pass to graduate. This, simple enough seeming solution, created many problems.

Not all education is testable. You cannot test the arts with bubbles. You cannot test a student’s drive or thirst for additional learning. You cannot test a child’s creativity (which Common Core stifles) on a standardized test.  These aspects of education are whittled away to nothing under Common Core. This will create a generation of education hating test bubble makers, not the creative class that is responsible for our place as the greatest inventors and artists with the greatest per capita renewable economy on the planet.

The Common Core curriculum that was created is not rigorous, just tedious. Tedium does not equate to rigor except of the “mortis” variety. Advanced Math and Calculus was not included in Common Core. Students will not be STEM ready without that exposure. Colleges will have to provide that instruction and remediation, just as they have been. However fewer students will want to pursue those types of careers because of how obnoxious the math has become.

Companies will not have more employees ready to complete upon graduation. This curriculum was never tested, it is being piloted on a massive scale without any supporting research that it works. Early indications are that Common Core math is producing lower test scores in all states that adopted compared to those state’s previous math scores, and compared to other states that did not implement the Common Core math.  Common Core does not work and will and will make our children worse off.

Now there is so much chaos as a result of pushing Common Core, sight unseen and untested, that states are having problems pulling out of it. Students and parents are getting frustrated and pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them, or enrolling them in non-public schools that have rejected Common Core. Experienced teachers are fleeing the profession in record numbers, and newer teachers are leaving in droves as well. The rushed and unresearched manner is which a universal curriculum was pushed upon the Nation through trickery, bribery and deception is ruining public education for millions of children and families.

 Closing “Failing” Schools

One of the favorite tactics of school reformers is closing the schools they have defined as “failing”.  Whether the school is actually “failing” the students is beside the point.  All a school has to do to be defined as failing is have a concentration of poor students, students with disabilities or English Language learners.  Schools are not judged based on whether they serve children well, simply based on demographics.  To become a successful school all one needs to do is attract wealthier students and dissuade poorer students from enrolling as was the disabled or students from recently emigrated families.  Reformers trot out the occasional High performing High poverty school to “show” us that poverty doesn’t matter, but when you look at these cases a little closer you find numerous mitigating factors including dramatically increased funding, a poorly defined “poverty” measure, cheating or high concentration of wraparound services and highly qualified teachers that reformers claim are unnecessary.  The believe simply moving these children to “successful” school will magically make them become overachievers, and negate the impacts of poverty, abuse, neglect and apathy. This is not true.  All this does is mask the problem while the schools poor children are evicted from are turned over to privatizers who often perform worse than the schools they replace and are successively shut down and rebranded year after year to disguise the massive, systemic failures of the charter movement.

Rather than recognizing how often charters fail, States like Louisiana point to the numerous closures and claim success!  This is the free market in action, and we are holding these schools “accountable”.  Meanwhile no one seems to actually care what happens to the children and communities.  They take and claim for granted that these children have been “helped” by this displacement, but they are careful not to track them or allow anyone to report on their outcomes.

They know the truth, and they fear it.

Poverty matters

It is true that poverty can be overcome.  It’s not the sole determinate in whether a student is successful, but it is a major component and not one that can be overcome by simply opening up Rocketship Academies staffed with teachers trained for 5 weeks and implementing Common Core. Overcoming the reductive impacts of poverty on educational outcomes requires hard work, money, determination and a significant time commitment.  This is not something most education reformers want you to hear.  They want to inject the education system with magic steroid shots in the form of High Stakes Testing, VAM teacher evaluations, charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core, and a parade of poorly trained fresh-faced can do chanting recruits from TFA and the New Teacher Project.  They want to reduce funding to students and channel it educational entrepreneurs and data harvesters who will claim to have the latest and greatest data potions to improve educational outcomes without the hard work such endeavours have traditionally taken in the past.

Reformers want to be in charge.  They want to “believe” that their reforms will improve the outcomes of children, while they make a tidy profit on the side.  Louisiana’s John White is a typical reformer.  He is so invested in this philosophy that he even renamed the official Louisiana Department of Education website “Louisiana Believes”.  He has formed Louisiana Believes committees and recruits to support his message and preach his gospel of reform.  What he has also done is prevent anyone impartial form getting access to any data that unequivocally disproves his “beliefs”.  John White “believes” his reforms are working, or at least that is what he is trying to brainwash the state of Louisiana and the nation into believing.

The reality is much different.

If John White had any faith in his beliefs he wouldn’t need to hide his data, and contract with shill organizations like CREDO, Stand For Children, and the Cowen institute to produce poorly research propaganda to support his “beliefs”.

If reforms were working they could show us the proof and that would shut people like me up once and for all.

The truth is, there are no quick fixes for what ails Education and our society.

We are the wealthiest Nation on earth and yet have perhaps the largest income and wealth gap as well. Reformers have correctly identified that this poverty is impacting our children, and our nation’s competitiveness.  This poverty does pose a threat to our global position as a world leader and a lack of a proper education does impact future earnings for children as they become adults and makes it more likely these children and their families will end up on public assistance or perhaps incarcerated.  Those negative outcomes have a significant cost to our society and changing those to positive outcomes could result in a substantial net benefit.  The answer is not reducing our educational funding, closing schools with at-risk students, forcing children and teachers to Race To The Top or be the Children Left Behind.  The answer is not a quick shot in the butt, or crossing our fingers and “hoping” Common Core works (in a generation).

The answer is the same as it has always been. Hard work.  Focus.  Determination. Dedication.  Adequate Funding.  Squarely addressing our problems, not hiding from them or disguising them or saying “Screw it, if I can’t fix it at least we can make some money off this problem” as I see many of the latest education entrants doing.   Our public education system was not perfect, but now it is sick with all the quick-fix reform “treatments” we’ve heaped upon it.  We can reverse this illness before it becomes fatal.  But to do so, it will require we abandon the harmful quick-fix approaches and buckle down for some slow-going old-fashioned hard work.

I ask that you help me do this.

I will do the same.

Let’s check back in six months and see where we are.

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Bloggers’ exposure of LDOE plan help topple multi-million dollar inBloom effort to siphon off confidential student data

Very nice work, Tom. Thanks for working with me on this. We and all the parents that spoke out and worked with us really made a difference for not just our children, but millions of children, nationwide. I know I will sleep a little better. Although there is still much work to do, this is an excellent start.

Louisiana Voice

We are back from an extended Easter break and the first thing that landed on our desk was an interesting story of national import and one in which LouisianaVoice played a small but important role more than a year ago.

It was on Feb. 20, 2013, that we broke a story which almost immediately (among bloggers, that is; the mainstream media continued to ignore the impact of our revelations for several more months) produced state repercussions against John White and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/20/doe-emails-reveal-secretive-programs-ties-to-gates-rupert-murdoch-and-fox-news-network-agency-in-general-disarray/

That story, of course, was about the agreement between LDOE and inBloom, headed by Rupert Murdoch and supported in large part by a hefty cash infusion of $100 million by Bill Gates, that called for InBloom to provide sensitive personal data on hundreds of thousands of Louisiana school children—with no guarantee from inBloom that the data would not be susceptible to intrusion or…

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John White’s is doing a fantastic job!

John White is doing a fantastic job at destroying public education. BESE recently reviewed White and gave him 3 out of 4 on his annual review and commended him for his great success. Let’s recap some of his success stories:

John White’s Course Choice program was abused by fraudulent vendors who went door to door asking mentally disabled children and adults to sign up for advanced Math Classes. Many of the enrollees failed to show up for classes and teachers working for Course Choice were assigned in excess of 400 students, and they got paid by the state. John White made an executive decision that Course Choice providers do not need to have any certifications nor do they actually have to ensure students attend or complete coursework, and he decided test scores for students taking tested subjects would route back to the home school for SPS reporting purposes, even though those schools never taught the student the tested subject. John White fail.

John White’s voucher program encourages non-public schools to ignore the law for reporting financial transactions. Most of the schools participating in the program did not comply with keeping accurate records of how they spent their state funding allocations, and White touted their compliance as exemplary and sanctioned none of them. One of the only schools to actual comply with the proper accounting of the funds, New Living Word in Ruston, was ejected from the program for too large of a discrepancy between what they were charging for tuition to some students and what they were charging the state for others. They were not ejected for being the largest recipient of vouchers while not having a school building, nor for teaching all their kids all their subjects with biblical DVDs. That equates to a good choice for parents in John White’s department of education. To most “thinking” humans this would be a John White fail.

John White catastrophically bungled the Common Core rollout singlehandedly. No one helped him foul this up, and he was very thorough. John White’s complete incompetence resulted in mass protests statewide, a continuous presence of pissed off parents at the capital, numerous anti-Common Core parents groups in most parishes, numerous parishes passing resolutions backing getting out of Common Core, numerous bills filed to escape the Common Core mandates, and tens of thousands of confused and upset parents and teachers floundering with the abysmal execution and poor material, John White chose and continues to defend. He has now targeted Common Core to be complete by 2025. Such Confidence. John White FAIL.

John White’s VAM (Value Added Modeling) evaluation program was so terrible he had to exclude numerous teachers from the ridiculous impacts. Now the impacts are postponed for 2 more years, and will probably be cancelled because he no longer has the staff to calculate them anymore. He drove them off. Good for teachers and Louisiana, but not an impressive showing for John White. FAIL.

John White recently had to explain to the legislature that his department was short 50 million dollars for funding. 30 million of this was based on incorrect student counts. 20 million on something vague he termed “cash flow”, or what I call not knowing what the hell is going on. Student counts are completed in October in normal years. John White hired someone unqualified (they “embellished” their resume – I have the SF10s to prove as well as what I was told in person) to oversee the data department that drove all of my colleagues off, for personal reasons, because she didn’t like them (she told me as much numerous times) and so she could hire her friends who were not qualified. This person drove off the last two employees that knew how to properly do student counts at the end of September/early October 2013, in the middle of the collections. While John White has not fessed up how they were off 7500 students, I imagine this is why. This is causing a major problem for the legislature trying to find enough funding during a budget crunch. FAAAAAAAAAAIL

You can keep the BESE you’ve got, one that praises John White’s failures, or you can look for a change here: www.jasonfrance4la.com

 

 

If only Common Core really helped with critical thinking.

This is a great read and if you are looking for an amusing but frank discussion on Common Core, and ed reform issues broken down into bite-sized chunks for easy reading digestion with a great central underlying theme. I think you will enjoy this “thoughtful” piece.

Dad Gone Wild

Pinky and the Brain podering Critical Thinking The last couple of years I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about Common Core and Education Policy and I am at a conundrum. We seem to be pursuing a goal in a manner that reflects none of the qualities we desire to produce. I was raised that if you value honesty demonstrate honesty. If you value kindness, be kind. These are the truism’s that I try to live by and instill into my children. After all, modeling is still the most effective form of teaching.

When I apply this metric to our education policy there seems to be a disconnect. One of the big pillars of Common Core is that it increases kids ability to critically think. However if that’s the goal shouldn’t we as adults already be exhibiting that ability? Because truth be told, at this point I’m not seeing a whole lot of critical thinking involved in the current conversation…

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Some Factual Reasons to Oppose Common Core

My posts have been suffering from all the coordinating I’m doing behind the scenes but that does not mean I am uninvolved or not producing support for folks involved in our numerous education battles.  I’m actually sitting in a doctor’s office answering emails and I thought you all might find this one useful. I did not include hyperlinks to my assertions like I would do working from home, but they are Googleable.

The questiom behind this response is ” what are some fact based reasons to oppose common core”

It was not developed by educators but by text book companies and testing companies as a result it has many flaws and gaps.

It is widely accepted it is developmemlntally inappropriate for grades k-2

The standards were not written in an inclusive way that is attainable for all children (for instance they require students to “say” things instead of “communicate” Special Ed and 504 students have trouble attaining proficieny with standards for this reason)

Despite its billing as making children more prepared than before by making them college and career ready (pre-existing standards already did that as my degree and student loans will testify t) It is not more rigorus than what we had or what we could have.  Common Core is only community and technical college ready, not 4 year or advanced college ready.

The curriculum is not STEM ready; no calculus or advanced math. 

The de emphasis on classical and fictional works in deferrence to “factual” texts means children will be less prepared for advanced degrees and work in the liberal arts, but ideal for more menial and less imaginative jobs at Walmart, who is a chief proponent of Common Core

Testing prep and testing that goes with Common Core takes months of real instructional time away from children. That will have an impact on education

Overemphasis on reading and math and their test scores means other subjects like Art, history, math, science,civics, languages, PE and electives are scaled back and in some cases eliminated. 

CC Narrows the curriculum in tested subjects to just content tested. There is more to life than just test items, there is more to education that just memorization and rote learning. CC does not allow teachers to exercise creativity or to promote learning for its own sake -especially when linked to high stakes testing which is done to evaluate teachers and schools, not to help students.

CC requires teachers teach things a certain way, in many cases a very complex, tedious, confusing, inefficient, developmentally inappropriate and frustrating way that turns children off from learning or understanding.  

The Common Core never been tested successfully.  In small scale tests it has done poorly. In fact, in every state that adopted early, math scores declined across previous years and relative to all states that did not adopt it.

Creators of Common Core have called this an experiment that will require a generation to see if it worked. Are our kids just test subjects and can we afford to sacrifice a generation on a hunch? We would never do such a bizaree and horrendous practice in an experimental drug trial, yet we feel this is ok for our children? The FDA realizes tests should be done on small scale and compared to control group.  The DOE is pushing everyone to do this all at once to prevent control groups or criticism.  This is wildly irresponsible and ironic that the curriclum being pushed as a way to prepare our children for STEM careers ( Science Technology Engineering and Math) is being implemented in such a haphazard,  uncontrolled, unscientific and irresponsible way, devoid of any proof or factual basis.  Any yet, these are the folks we should believe in faith, not fact, that this curriculum is “superior” to what we had or what we could make on our own and will prepare our kids for fields of study they so obviously have such little comprehension of, or respect for???

Common Core’s superiority is a manfucatured myth, and that’s a fact.

How is that for starters?

Bio of a Crawfish – Part I

A wise man once asked me (like a few hours ago) what is my story and why am I running for an elective position on BESE. To paraphrase his point, it’s one thing to criticize someone else (especially an easy target like Chas Roemer) but quite another to be worthy of support in your own right, on your own merits, and for reasons people will identify with.

Things have been moving swiftly since I announced and I have gotten a lot of volunteers, positive feedback and even some decent donations that will help me move my campaign forward, but what I have not done as well a job of doing is explaining who I am and what I stand for. (People who read my blog regularly should already have a decent idea based on my hudnreds of posts, but I did not write those in the context of seeking support for an elective office.)

Over the coming months I will do a better job of introducing myself to you as Jason France, the BESE candidate, not simply Crazy Crawfish, the satirical blogger and critic of the status quo of education reform. We have a long journey together, about 16 or 17 months, so I know there will be time for you to come to know me a little better, chat with me if you desire, and see me in action going forward and review what I’ve done in the past.

This is a long story, and very personal, but I think if you read this you will understand why I hold the education beliefs I do, who I am as a person, and why I think I can help improve public education for your family and mine.

For starters let me just say this is all completely new to me. For most of my life I sat around grumbling from the shadows about things are, and how I wished they were different. I come from a the stereotypical humble background all pols probably say they do although in my case it’s actually true.  My dad was a professional Boy Scout (they actually have those) and my mom was a homemaker and occasionally worked as a secretary and administrative assistant when she wasn’t keeping me and my brother out of trouble. I was actually born just outside a Boy Scout camp my dad was running in the state of New York (although I won’t say exactly where for online security question reasons) and the first 10 years of my life I lived in Levittown Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia.

My family moved to Baton Rouge when I was about 11, and boy was that a culture shock! We moved to Shenandoah just as it was being built in the early to mid-eighties. Back then empty roads stretched in every direction and I would ride my bike exploring the crazy misshapen mud piles (seeking my elusive namesake) and barely avoiding the giant snakes that would sometimes curl up in the middle of the road to bask in the midday sun. (And just for the record, snow forts are much better than fire ant mounds.)

In my early years in Pennsylvania I had trouble in school. I was held back in second grade, and my school evaluated me as needing special education services. I spent many hours in what I now know as “pull-out” classes with kids in wheelchairs, arm and leg braces, and with obvious mental incapacities. At the time I just thought my job was to help the kids hitting their heads against the wall and rocking back and forth with their socializing skills, and to make them feel better about themselves (the teachers that worked with me told me as much) not realizing I there for my own reasons.

By fourth grade I was still barely reading at a 1st grade level and could only do simple addition and subtraction. That was the year we moved from Bucks County Levittown to Westchester in Exton Pennsylvania and I met a teacher that literally changed my life forever. The public school was Mary C. Howes, and my teacher’s name was Mrs. Yoder. She was an older teacher than I had had till that point, with eyes that seemed to have a liquidy glow that shared warmth and energy with me and her other students, and she always seemed to be studying me closely. One of the first things she did when she saw my stupid, old, “See Spot Run” text books (they actually had them) my old school had sent with me was to throw them out and find me some books with colorful dragons, daring knights, and mysterious wizards and books about kids my age doing things I could relate to.

When Mrs. Yoder talked to me, (secretly we all caller her Mrs. Yoda – Star Wars was popular and she was a tad on the short side) I could tell she was obviously very disappointed, but not at me. She told me what had happened to me was ridiculous and that she would not allow a remedial student in her class to simply be passed along.

We were going to fix this together.

Every day, for months, she worked with me on her lunch hours to help me with my reading and to improve my math skills. In her class, math became fun with competitive math games the class would play. The more math you knew, the faster you knew it, the longer you could play and the more applause you would get when you finally succumbed to an opponent. I finally learned my multiplication tables (a little bit). By then end of fourth grade I had read every Hardy Boys novel in the school library, had acquired some of my own for my personal collection, and voraciously read everything Hardy Boys novel I could get my hands on (there are well over 100). I might as well have been fixing up my own jalopy, fighting bad guys like a wildcat, and have been friends with Chet in my own right, and for quite a while I wanted to be a “sleuth”.

Years later I would learn that the notes teachers passed on from year to year, the grades and performance passed down from year to year at my first school probably set me up for what could have been a lifetime of failure based on data and reports, not my actual abilities or unique challenges that that someone interacting with me on a human level would be able to recognize, tap into and inspire. Because of what teachers read about me, they pegged as an underachiever and they treated me as such. I recall at the beginning of each year my teachers would invariably pull me aside and tell me how they would give me “special” work assignments.

When I finally got to start over with a new teacher and a new school I flourished. This is one of the many reasons I believe using metrics, longitudinal data and predicative formulae is so very wrong for children and wrong for education. A good, involved and experienced teacher can never be replaced by an algorithm, database or report.

I’ve witnessed the overreliance and misapplication of data over experience first- hand as a public student and secondly as a Louisiana Department of Education employee in the Planning Analysis and Reporting division, and finally as a public school parent and education blogger. I also realized that class size and personal attention was very important. I had transferred from a poor school to a relatively much wealthier district with what I believe were much smaller class sizes and more resources. In my previous elementary school there were always about 5 Jason’s in my classes. At Mary C Howes there was just 2; me and the other Jason. Smaller Class sizes, experienced teachers, and resources do matter. I am living proof.

We moved to Louisiana towards then end of my 5th grade year and I attended Magnolia Woods Magnet school.  By this time I was able to keep up and even do better than most of the class. I loved that school and loved learning. However because we moved so late in the year and didn’t know how schools worked in Baton Rouge, we didn’t know the difference between Magnet schools and non-magnet schools although we were hearing things. . .

My mom took me to get evaluated for Gifted and Talented programs (which seemed ridiculous to me since I was called a “retard” most of the earlier elementary years.) and I did pretty well, but fell a few points shy of being “Gifted.” Therefore I could not get into the GT program at McKinley Middle Magnet (which at the time was considered the best public middle school in EBR) and instead went to South East middle school. My 6th grade year I got straight A’s and I could not have been more proud. I don’t think I ever smiled more in my life!

Instead of being called a “retard” I was being called a brain or a “nerd.”

By the end of 5th grade I was already reading on the 11th or 12th grade level reading books like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy. The difference was not the quality of schools but my actual quantum leap from See Spot Run at the beginning of 4th grade to The Hobbit at the end of 5th. (I kept a dictionary by my bed and read every single night for hours once I learned how awesome books were.) Education needs to be fun and tailored to each child’s interests and fictional writing is a powerful way to engage and inspire children and adults. When you really connect with children and inspire them to enjoy learning and to learn on their own miracles can happen.
I do not believe the Common Core emphasis more non-fictional texts will create anything more than yawns and apathy.

In 7th grade I learned what is was like to be bullied for doing too well. I had no idea this happened! I was used to kids throwing stones at me for being the class “retard” but I thought the bright kids had it so easy. I loved school and I was so happy at the beginning of 7th grade. . .until kids started kicking me and tripping me in the halls, stealing my books, spitting on me, pulling my gym shorts down, and playing punching games in the locker room. Kids that I thought were my friends started doing this too, because they learned if they bullied others, they were less likely to get bullied themselves. My teachers were the only people that protected me, when they could. If the lights went out in class (as they did a few times) kids would take that opportunity to run across the room and box my ears, throw pencils at me, or kick me while I was sitting in my chair. This taught me to play dumb, my grades dropped and I started bragging about my C’s and D’s because that was more acceptable to my classmates and they would pick on other kids then. Sometimes I would pile on other kids myself, throwing an insult I didn’t mean but had heard used at me before to save myself from becoming the focus.

Toward the end of 7th grade my parents filed for bankruptcy, got divorced and we lost our house, our mini-van and most of our possessions. It was the mid-eighties in Louisiana, the economy was legendarily bad, and my dad’s company went under. I was used to being dirt poor so it didn’t bother me too much at first, until the bullying started anew for being poor. In the eighties at South East middle if you didn’t have the newest shoes, the fanciest shoelaces, the best jeans rolled up, and more polo shirts than days of the week you were routinely singled out and targeted for being poor.

I had overcome being bullied for being a “retard”, finally mastered being dumb, and now I had to deal with distraught parents and daily harassment for being poor, and for actually being poor. We never went on food stamps or applied for free lunches, but we more than qualified since my dad wasn’t working at first and my mom was working part time as a secretary.

I know this time had to suck for her, she was always crying, but she always scrounged up enough nickels and pennies for us to get hot school lunches and I loved her for trying so hard to provide the bare necessities. I knew I had to do better in school to make her proud, but I didn’t want to get bullied, so I would study and not turn in all my work so I would get lower grades. I didn’t really tell her about my days at school or the extent of the bullying because I didn’t want her to cry. My teachers listened to me though, but there were limits to what they could do.

One day my mom did have to take me to the hospital for a head injury I had sustained. I was waiting patiently to hit a volleyball back over the net during PE when a kid who usually harassed me every day on the bus jumped me from behind and threw me to the concrete for refusing to answer his taunts about being a “fag” or a “homo.” (Those were very popular taunts in the eighties even though homosexuals were not something popular culture had a lot of exposure to. It was still the ultimate insult you could hit someone with, but I refused to bite and that had to have pissed him off. He rammed my head against the ground and gave me a mild concussion and a giant knot on the side of my head.) That bully got a few days of suspension and the principal made him apologize to me when he returned to school, but eventually he harassed me again, because i was still poor or too nerdy for his liking. I learned from other kids that he came from an abusive home and his father beat him regularly, then I started noticing the bruises, broken arms, busted lips and I forgave him – and even let him get a rise out of me occasionally so he would feel better. School uniforms are a great idea for leveling the playing field related to poverty, and I just wish they had those universally ugly things in my day. I’ve since learned that a lot of times bullies act out for a reason and that this can be learned behavior.

As you might imagine my grades suffered some more, this time for real. I was getting depressed, disengaging, and contemplating suicide occasionally – or least not wanting to be alive because every day was just so miserable. Education reformers believe student test scores and student performance should be tied to teachers as if teachers are the chief factor in a child’s life that determines their success, and should be punished when children fail to succeed.  They are a very significant part of the school experience, but not the most determinant factor in a child’s life by far.

I speak from experience, there was very little my teachers could have done to prevent my decline or to improve my performance and they were not responsible for my decline. However VAM or the Value Added Modeling many states, including Louisiana, use determines which teachers get fired or compensated based on what kids performances were for a given year. My meteoric rise in performance really happened after the year Mrs. Yoder put me on the right track and taught me the most valuable and untestable lessons I ever learned, to believe in myself and to enjoy learning for its own sake. The teachers that had me during the bullying, divorce, family bankruptcy and poverty had no responsibility for that, but the VAM tests we use now in Louisiana and plan to use in the future would have punished them for my parent’s divorce, for my depression. VAM is crap and I will never support it to evaluate teachers. Never.
Without my teachers I would have had no one, and I might have actually died.

The least I can do is protect our teachers and children like me with a part of my life.

I have more story and reasons to share but I don’t want to bore you too much on what may be our first introduction.

 

I feel it’s important you understand who you are entrusting your kids to. Do you feel like you understand your current BESE members this well?

I am not running for office to make money (it’s a part time position with no salary.) I am not running because it will look good on my resume, or because billionaires and testing companies put me up to it or because I can secure cushy contracts for my organization. I am not running because I come from politically connected Louisiana family. I am running for office because I believe I am the best candidate to understand the issues our children are going through. If you can honestly think of a more qualified or caring candidate than me, I urge you to vote for them. I understand the what its like to be a public school student in Louisiana and the challenges our students face more than just about anyone I know.  I believe those experiences will help me define, address and solve our problems in a way Ivy League education reformers could never even begin to comprehend.  If you want to learn more about how to support me, please go here:

www.jasonfrance4la.com

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jason France