Sorry I’ve been away so long. . .

Sorry  I’ve been away so long. . .

I know some of you are wondering what corner of the earth I dropped off of (or took refuge in).  I’m equally sure there are plenty of people who are glad they don’t have to hear any more from me – and are probably hoping this is a permanent situation.  I hate to disappoint, but I’m still watching and observing – from a sane distance.

I noticed after the recent BESE and Governor’s elections that the anti-reform camps were devolving.  This seemed to be happening along party lines, and I wanted no part of that.  I worked hard to build a coalition of voices and I was sad to see it fracturing in the aftermath of John Bel Edward’s election and his subsequent BESE selections that left many in the crossover conservative/Republican/Libertarian/Independent/Anti-CC camps feeling betrayed and those in the Liberal, Democrat, pro-union, CC indifferent camps overly-aggressive and defensive. With my style of writing, and proclivity for writing passionately (maybe even a tad hot-headed), I felt it best to take some time off and simply observe interactions and outcomes and watch where people chose to align themselves.  I chose to disengage and cultivate my detachment. Being intensely involved with groups with objectives and their own points of view would have colored my opinions and hindered this process for me. Additionally, there was that whole 3 billion dollar budget deficit thing some of you might have heard of over the past few months.  I could see that was sucking all the air out of the room (as well it should have.)  That is/was a serious problem for our state with significant implications for k-12 and postsecondary education.

In this off time I have been working on some neglected aspects of my life that needed more attention than I was able to give while I was trying to run a political campaign and support a growing movement.  I still had a finite amount of time to do everything in my life, so some things just did not get done.  Without going into details, this caused a few personal problems I’ve had to clean up, and am still cleaning up.  I’m hoping a significant portion of that “cleanup” will be complete in the next month – which should free up some more time for me and other pursuits like blogging and activism because it seems like there are still many people without a voice or champion for their problems.

Yesterday some of the security folks and a receptionist at my office asked me a few questions about Common Core and the new LEAP tests.  They had seen my signs around town and seen me in suits over the past year and knew I had some knowledge of things in the education arena.  They have kids in public schools in various parishes so they have Common Core and PARCC tests too, and they hate them.  I don’t like to tell people my stand on those things until I hear their opinions.  (I try to gather opinions from folks without imparting my biases on them first.  I keep tabs on issues and how people from different backgrounds are feeling about different education policies.  Sometimes they have unique perspectives, and sometimes they tell me about new problems, benefits, or implications that are subtler and which I hadn’t heard about or considered before.  They asked me if it was true that Common Core was being replaced with something much better, like they had read in the newspaper.  They asked me about the new L.E.A.P. tests that the state was administering and if those would be an improvement from PARCC, or from whatever we had last year.  Sadly I had to tell them that those were simply name changes and that the content was likely to be 99% the same.

There’s still a lot of people that don’t really know what’s really going on.  I read about different aspects of the situation but I rarely see a cohesive whole discussed anywhere, or if I do it’s the slanted company line. I have seen some pretty good summaries on Michael Deshotels’ blog, http://www.louisianaeducator.blogspot.com (I strongly recommend it for keeping with the play by play education situation), but nothing in more traditional sources.

For instance, many people think Common Core is going away, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Common Core is more than a set of standards now. Now CC is an important part of the national Educational Industrial Complex.  Without something very drastic happening we are stuck with it and the silly garbage and explosive costs that go along with it.

Take for example this Common Core, Eureka Math worksheet below.

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This was one of the assignments given to my first grader from the only LDOE Tier One approved mathematics curriculum vendors (Eureka/Engage NY/Greatminds – they keep changing their name to outrun all the bad reviews on their product). It has complicated instructions I would imagine most first graders would have trouble understanding.  If they asked their parents about this worksheet (like mine did) they have no idea what these jargon laden strategies mean listed in the top right box (except for the helpful “I just knew”) answer.  What’s even more frustrating to both parents and children is that the examples are solved incorrectly.  The first one shows an equation of 13-6 = 4 and then provides work to back up the answer.  I tried several times to explain to my son that the first one was wrong, and to explain he was supposed to document this and show the correct answer, but he was confused by the whole process and examples and we both gave up after some frustrating back and forth.

I understand what the CC folks are trying to accomplish, but I don’t believe this is the right way to do it. . .  Unless their intent is to make math more frustrating and thereby dissuading future generations from going into fields heavy in mathematics. My son’s favorite subject used to be math, and instead of reading at night before bed he used to discuss mathematical concepts with me and try to practice doing problems in his head.  He especially liked discussing the concept of infinity.  We don’t do math anymore at bedtime – or any other time during the day.  His new favorite subject is reading.  On the one side that’s great, because he was lagging behind in his reading skills and needed to practice them more, but on the other, that seems like the exact opposite of what pro-CC folks are trying to accomplish.  However I guess I have them to thank my kids’ love of reading.  Unfortunately I have them to thank for their hatred of math as well.

Yes, both my kids hate math now.

My daughter is in third grade now and much of her math revolves around multiplication. Unfortunately Common Core did away with the memorization of multiplication tables and introduced putting hundreds of dots on pages to represent multiplication – through addition.  8 x 9 equals 8 rows of 9 dots instead of 72.  Fun, right?

Now try checking someone’s multiplication (or addition work) with those types of strategies using dots, or pictures like the ones shown above.  Or in this case, require kids to check problems using the strategies I’ve shown or discussed.  Watching paint dry is waaaaaay more interesting than that.  I do hear stories about kids that finally understand math the CC way, and love it.  I have to wonder though, are those the kids (like Olivia in the example above) that we really want designing the bridges, skyscrapers, and airplanes of the future?

This summer we will have to teach my daughter her multiplication tables, and probably cursive writing, ourselves.  Those are subjects that were removed by Common Core and not replaced by the revision committee.  Very little was changed by the revision committee.  The Louisiana committee that was created and assigned the task of reviewing Common Core standards and developing Louisiana standards from them was more than 90% composed of staunch Common Core supporters who simply wanted to provide the Louisiana seal of approval.  Of the few unbiased folks that were on the committee, many resigned in frustration, rather than continue to participate in a Kangaroo review committee created to solve political impasses, not curriculum flaws.

Eureka and Engage New York are not going away.  The tests used to evaluate students and teachers on how well student’s have mastered these “strategies” are not going away either.

President Eisenhower referred to a growing fascist flaw in our system of government he described as the military-industrial complex in his farewell address January 17, 1961. (It’s also sometimes called the military-industrial-congressional complex to be more precise in a US context.) The idea behind the MICC is a three-sided “Iron triangle” around which government policy is really determined outside of the influence of ordinary citizens. Industry provides money to political candidates, who in turn approve policies and spending that support and enrich industry. To provide industry and congress with cover a government funded bureaucracy is created and charged with “overseeing” and distributing the spending (this bureaucracy is led by political appointees who have the political goal of preventing others from interfering with this arrangement.)

Today we have an Educational Industrial Complex but unlike the military industrial one, it is not limited to Congress. In Louisiana this lobby invests in state representatives and senators, as well as State and local school board representatives. In many states, like Louisiana, the EIC has seized control of state departments of education and over the course of the last two presidential terms the EIC has entirely co-opted the US Department of Education.

No single election or committee can stop this perversion of government and industry, and their bastard children of, USED, Common Core, PARCC, Eureka, and Smarter Balanced. Until people start to understand just how deep and complex this problem is the EIC can’t be stopped, at best we can get a brief reprieve by diverting their flow of corruption.

 

 

 

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Those Lying Jason Engen Eyes

Those Lying Jason Engen Eyes

I was just notified that Jason Engen had the audacity to file an ethics complaint against Kathy Edmonston for producing literature he is not against Common Core.

As proof of his opposition all we have is his word and an ad he produced claiming he was against it.  On the other side of the equation is a preponderance of the evidence that shows he is lying about this, and numerous other issues that I will cover in upcoming posts.  As Megan Trainor singes, “His lips are moving and he lies lies lies.”

While just about every single claim Jason makes in his own literature is a lie, I will focus on the one he has filed a complaint about Edmonston for because among other things, I have his own words to indict him.

You see, I was a candidate against Engen in the primary, where he was supported almost solely by Lane, LABI and their various PACs they formed to get around ethics restrictions for donation limits from single sources.  LABI formed 4 political action committees called WestPac, EastPac, NorthPac and SouthPac.

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Lane Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and chief contributor and director of LABI, (The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) also has control of several more, one of which is named Grigsby’s Empower PAC.  Lane Grigsby has been one of Common Core’s staunchest defenders in this state.  I met with him earlier this year and he mocked me and parents for being against Common Core.  I explained some of the specific issues about Common Core to him, face-to-face, and he waved me off and said “it doesn’t matter, it’s about using standards to test teachers and hold them “accountable” and Common Core is the only solution that will do that.”

Earlier this year Engen’s biggest supporter sent pink stuffed unicorns to every single legislature at the state capital while they were in session, from yet another one of his PACs (ABC pac), with a note that said “Unicorns are not real.  And neither are most of the problems you’ve heard about Common Core.”

When I organized some parents to send some stuffed crawfish to legislators with a message that the problems with Common Core were real, like crawfish, he countered with an elaborate hardback glossy book with a giant unicorn centerfold and quotes from Ronald Regan, Grigsby and his PAC claimed showed that even the deceased Ronald Reagan supports Common Core.

This is the unicorn the put on Brett Geymann’s house seat to taunt him, and other parents and teachers who are against Common Core, last Spring.

 unicorn

The push is led by the Alliance for Better Classrooms political action committee, or ABC PAC.

The same group, with Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby as one of its leaders, played a key role in the 2011 races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Organizers of the effort have distributed stuffed pink or white unicorns to state lawmakers that include tags that say “Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

This is Jason Engen’s primary support.  Last I checked 98% of his funds came from Grigsby, his allies, and his various PACs.  Of course, Engen filed his own ethics paperwork late during the primary, and failed to disclose a number of things he spent money on, like even how he paid for his $900 filing fee, although he believed enough in himself to loan himself $900 so he could get even that refunded by Grigsby.

Scores of people have reported they’ve tried to ask Engen some specific questions about Common Core, like when he started finding problems when it, what he finds problematic specifically, but he deletes those comments from his Facebook campaign site and then blocks those people from coming back.  His behaviors is boorish and churlish and unbecoming of a representative of the people.  You can expect this behavior to only get worse if you elect him to anything but gazing at his own navel.

When I met with Grigsby he made it clear he didn’t want to support people that listened to the public, he only wanted people that listened to him.  I refused his support, as did BESE member Lottie Bebee.  Those that accept Grigsby backing do so with that understanding that his views are the only ones that matter.

But let’s get to that more personal look at Engen’s beliefs I alluded to earlier, shall we?

Engen texted me from his personal cell phone to complain about some claims I made on my blog he felt were unfair.  I claimed he has another 12 year old child that does not appear in his commercials where he talks about his 3 other children by his current wife that went to private schools and that he went to private schools his whole life.  Jason told me this was untrue, and that he was actually a public school student and so was his daughter.  I asked him for specifics and he provided the name of elementary school he spent at least one day at growing up.  I asked Engen about the private school he listed he was a graduate from on his own webpage and instead of confirming he was being misleading said

“That’s where I went to high school.  You said I never attended public schools.  That’s an incorrect statement.”

I thought he was claiming to be some sort of engineer, not a Bill Clinton type lawyer arguing the letter of the law, but sobeit.  However the most interesting thing about this conversation is how he started it off with me.  It was never about Common Core, I never brought it up in my post, but look what he wrote me.

“Jason, Jason Engen here.  In the interest of accuracy I would like to clarify a few things. My “inconvenient truth’s” name is “[redacted]”. She has been in public schools here entire life.  She’s currently a student at [redacted] Middle School in [redacted], [redacted] where her mom lives.  They have been using Common Core for years and she’s a straight A student.”

Now why would he bring that up if he was against Common Core?  Does that sound like a Common Core opponent to you, or a proud proponent?

Engen is a liar and a coward who hides behind his lies and his children to provide him cover.

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Engen pimps his children in his commercial’s and literature and incessantly uses them as his reason for running and primary qualification, but doesn’t want anyone else to bring that up.  He probably also doesn’t want to bring up that his current wife is actually his third wife.

In the spirit of accuracy and fairness I would ask that Engen add his 2 other wives and 12 year old so we have a more honest picture of who we’re dealing with here.

However, I have found one thing I can finally agree with Engen on:

“My opponent has made false statements regarding my position on key issues,” said Engen. “To mislead the voters is not acceptable behavior for anyone seeking to serve in public office. I’m concerned that if my opponent cannot tell the truth on the campaign trail, then why should the people of District 6 believe she would tell the truth if elected.”

Engen has a bizarre aversion to the truth.  He claims he is for local control in his own literature, while simultaneously telling a forum full of people he believes he should have the power as a state representative to take over local schools if he doesn’t like they way they are performing.  Local control also means overriding local school board decisions at the state level to impose charter schools on A and B districts to Engen. He also told them he wants to be part of the process of where the state and BESE take control of all local daycare and pre-school programs and impose more restrictions and requirements on families that homeschool their children.  But Engen proudly prints “Local Control” on all his literature.  You couldn’t be more big government than comrade Engen.

If Engen is against Common Core, and LABI and Lane Grigsby (his primary supporters) have changed their tune in the last day, well maybe unicorns really are real?

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By the way, if you have been trying and trying to reach Engen and he keeps deleting you and blocking you and you have a few minutes, why not simply just call him up with your questions?  He does want to be your rep on BESE so let him start listening to you now.  Call Engen at 225-405-0026 and ask him when he first started hating Common Core, what his problems are with it specifically (other than it’s not Louisiana based) and what he would like to see changed.  I imagine that won’t be a very long conversation.  Report your answers back to Kathy Edmonston so she can refer them to her lawyers.

Thanks!

What’s Wrong with Education in Louisiana and Some Ideas On How to Fix it

Louisiana Voters,

 

A few months ago I had a meeting with Lane Grigsby about my candidacy for BESE.

For those of you who don’t know, Grigsby is one of the chief funders of the education reform movement in Louisiana. Investigative journalist Lee Zurik did a multi-segment story on corruption in Louisiana politics called Louisiana Purchased, and he discovered that Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and one of the chief supporters of LABI (the pro-privatization business lobby) was one of the most prolific funders of political candidates in Louisiana and was able to bypass many of the individual spending limits by having family members, PACs he formed, and as many as 17 companies he owned or controlled donate the maximum allowable amount to candidates he was supporting.

 

I wasn’t seeking funding. I was seeking some understanding of why he was getting involved in education and why he held the stands and beliefs he did. (Grigsby apparently didn’t know who I was which is why he agreed to meet with me. I knew I was diametrically opposed to him on almost every issue.)

 

While we disagreed on almost everything in our meeting, Lane brought up a very important point that I was overlooking.

“Besides kicking out John White, what are you actually going to do to improve education in Louisiana?”

My focus had been on fighting the BESE board, LDOE, and returning ownership of the public education system to the people of Louisiana.  I hadn’t really considered what I would do if I was placed in a position where I could actually work to improve things!

For the past two months I have been doing much less talking and writing and much more listening and analyzing.  This is probably not going to win me more votes, but getting elected is not really the most important thing, is it?  Improving our education system and the outcomes of our children and thus the future of our people and our state is a much more important long-term goal.

Win or lose the upcoming election, I believe I’ve already accomplished my short-term mission of showing how ordinary people can get involved with their government to try and make things better.

 

But let’s get back to the whole improving education part.

 

Despite all the “reforms” Louisiana has undertaken over the past decade our outcomes really haven’t improved all the much, now have they?

10 years ago Louisiana was in a 5 way tie for 44th place (out of 52 States + DC + territories) on the NAEP exam for 4th grade Mathematics. (NAEP is a long term national test used for comparing states to each other and to themselves longitudinally.

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For a snapshot of what this lack of growth looks like over time, refer to the chart below. Notice how the gap between Louisiana and the rest of the country has only widened under the current administration and their misguided policies.

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In 2013, Louisiana was just 2 tenths of one point (out of 500), ahead of Mississippi. We’ve actually lost a lot of ground compared to other states, despite the continuous claims of success issued by Lousiana’s state Education Board, Governor Jindal – now finishing up the 8th year of his term consecutive terms and running for President, and the Louisiana Department of Education – which both implemented the reforms and then internally evaluated itself on them. When the 2015 NAEP scores are released I expect Louisiana will have finally accomplished the unthinkable, allowing Mississippi to pass us up and thereby becoming the lowest academically performing state in the nation. That will be quite a first.

All of this lack of progress was achieved despite numerous reformers we were promised would work, and are continuously told are working – based on internal metrics the LDOE manipulates every year internally to collect kudos for their achievement and to buy more time for their allies in the private sector that many top executives at LDOE have previously worked for, or hope to work for someday.

Over the past decade we were told:

  1. Charter schools will solve everything with market driven incentives! 
    1. Charter have some anecdotal success, but many perform much worse than the public schools the replace.
    2. More than 10% of our students are enrolled in charter schools.
    3. Either the presence of charter schools are driving down the performance of traditional schools
    4. Or charter schools are performing so poorly they are offsetting the gains of traditional schools.
    5. The “best” charter schools by test scores, are usually simply the best at keeping the wealthiest students and most involved families engaged.  This is why Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies build new schools in brand new secluded and pricy subdivisions like and refuse to provide busing.
    6. Lafayette illustrates another facet of charter behavior: the bait and switch. Charters are advertised as a way to help out or replace struggling schools. Lafayette Parish, one of the top school districts in the state, had some schools in poorer areas that were not performing well.
      1. “However, the shiny new schools were built about as far away from the poorest communities as they could be. Charter Schools USA opened up two charters in new housing developments named Sugar Pond Mills and Couret Farms, which sell new shotgun-style houses on small lots of land for as much as half a million dollars each.
      2. These schools are theoretically open to the entire state, but do not provide transportation. They also require many hours of “service” from parents. Service time increases per child enrolled. Charter schools offer enrollment to all children on paper, but in the real world they do whatever they can to keep out the riffraff.”
      3. See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187950/behind-charter-facade#sthash.NAqRGD4V.dpuf
    7. This results in less diversity in our public schools, fewer schools with motivated or engaged parents and students.  No doubt this will help some, but help all?  Over the long term this has caused our state’s performance to stagnate or even decline. We already have some elite schools like Benjamin Franklin and Baton Rouge High.  This trend is likely to create a few more of those elite schools, and many, many, more subpar schools that are recycled through new charter operators every few years.
  1. Common Core’s high standards will push kids to try harder! “We’ve been too easy on those pipsqueaks up to now, but with more rigor and higher expectations comes unprecedented success!   If we just “believe” in our children, they will do better.
    1. To drive home this message the Louisiana Department of Education even changed its homepage and signature to this motto, “Louisiana Believes.”
    2. Honestly, does anyone really think the only thing that has been holding us back all these years is simply a lack of believing?
    3. We had the second or third highest standards in the nation prior to Common Core was adopted in 2010, and we ranked second from last in achievement.  Massachusetts had the highest standards and they ranked first in achievement.
      1. There is very little correlation between standards and achievement any more than there is a significant correlation between charter schools, vouchers, choice, and achievement.
      2. There is, however, a strong correlation between achievement and poverty.
        1. Our poorest schools have our lowest School Performance Scores and our schools with the fewest poor children have our highest SPS scores.
        2. This is generally the same situation across the nation and as a result the community schools of the poorest children are the ones inordinately impacted by school takeovers and privatization – with no discernable positive impact in performance for the community as a whole.
  1. Unions and their bloodsucking ways are the monkeys on the backs of our children and impediment to performance because they protect so many bad, lazy teachers. 
    1. Having inordinately powerful unions does not appear to be an important factor in terms of student achievement.
    2. However strong unions are a significant impediment to privatization which is why charter groups and their supporters like Stand for Children, and temp teacher providers like Teach For America advocate for policies that weaken unions and grant them greater market access.)
      1. Louisiana has relatively weak unions; Massachusetts has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, and is also one of the highest achieving states.
      2. You might even make the case that stronger unions build better outcomes for students.
        1. I won’t do that because I think it is not the most significant factor, not something Louisiana would accept culturally, and not an outcome one can influence directly very easily or very quickly.
  1. All Louisiana needs is some real “accountability.”  If we hold lazy teachers and crappy schools accountable they will know we mean business and work harder.  If they don’t we’ll take em over and the next guy will work harder. 
    1. We’ve increased testing and “Accountability” impacts for schools and school districts steadily over the last 15 years.
    2. Whether you believe it or not, every Superintendent of Education manipulates the outcomes of these results (although White is the most egregious) to show they are doing a good job.
      1. The scoring should be handled outside of LDOE by an independent auditor no matter who is in charge to prevent political interference on the outcomes –  if we’re serious about these scores being meaningful.
  1. We live in the technology age but somehow we haven’t inserted data ports directly into children’s brains to upload everything they need to succeed.  Before we do that, let’s give them all laptops and see if that does anything. 
    1. Giving laptops to every child helps Apple and Dell meet their sales quotas, but we aren’t boosting our scores or outcomes dramatically with these devices.
    2. Often these devices become a distraction, toy, or massive headache for IT departments to maintain and replace.
    3. Universal laptops or ipads are not a one-time cost, but a massive permanent cost.
  1. Having more recruits from elite universities become teachers will fundamentally transform the teaching profession into a more professional and respected calling.
    1. All too often these temporary teachers from glorified staffing agencies like Teach For America, City Year, and The New Teacher Project are ill prepared with 5 week training courses on how to teach.
    2. Their presence has had the exact opposite effect. Teaching has become less respected because people are led to believe anyone can become a teacher with a 5 week training course.
    3. The vast majority of these recruits are gone in 5 years, most after the first 2 years. This leads to greater instability and turmoil in districts already experiencing turmoil.
    4. The temporary presence of students from elite universities hasn’t really improved teaching overall, but it has led to a dramatic increase in education startups and new crop of education leaders.
      1. TFA Leaders like John White and Kevin Hoffman primarily hire likeminded TFA recruits and drive off local talent and experienced personnel.
      2. While these folks are usually very smart and committed, they are not better than the experienced teachers they displace or drive off
    5. Even if we wanted to replace every teacher with TFA, The New Teacher Project, or City Year recruits the supply cannot outstrip the demand. This is leading us to become dependent on an outside constant influx of new teachers and leading to shortages of experienced teachers and talent within our state.

Will collecting zillions of points of bio-metric data be the silver bullet we were waiting for? 

Will providing data to third party vendors (and hackers) help our children learn faster?

If these ideas were the panacea we were looking for it certainly would be convenient for a lot of folks; primarily the ones selling these ideas or products.

The truth is, to overcome the impacts of our entrenched generational poverty will require a lot of work from a lot of folks and a lot less “believing” and hoping and standard raising.  If a kid can’t reach the monkey bars, moving them two feet higher won’t help.  If kids can’t read, giving them even harder books and more tests to show they can’t read, won’t make them read more proficiently.  What I found helps my kids is when an adult (or child) lifts them up to where they can reach those monkey bars and feel comfortable hanging from them.

Kids want to achieve, but most don’t want to be overly frustrated or reminded of their failures, or how other kids are far ahead of them, constantly. 

Our schools have been plagued for many years by poverty, apathy, and acceptance.   In many parts of the state we have allowed our schools and systems to fall into disarray.

Our more affluent parents have abandoned the schools and they have taken their resources and parental involvement with them.  Out of these ashes we’ve had some outstanding new school districts form with the backing of their communities, like Central and Zachary. (Obviously Baker is still a problem.)

However the solution is not having the state/RSD come in and take control from the locals or chartering the school to a company based out of New York or Michigan.  Rather than simply punishing low performance or problems, and completely pushing the locals out of the way, we need to work with these folks and help guide support them.  This is what the LDOE used to do when our scores were going up – serving in an advisory and support capacity. This is what we need to do resume our climb from the performance dungeon the education reform movement has commissioned us to – while they drained our coffers dry.

In New Orleans we have many local communities seeking to have their schools returned to them, like the perpetual failure John McDonogh.

Rather than ignore and disregard these folks the state needs to embrace them and their efforts.

We won’t have successful community schools without the community.  We have mobilized communities in many parts of the state. This BESE and LDOE ignores them, mocks them and alienates them.

Many public school parents of means are taking their kids out of public schools to homeschool them.

Those are not victories, but tragic losses we must reverse now, before it’s too late!

Some of you folks on BESE and the House and Senate Education Committees might consider the people showing up to BESE meetings and Education hearings and giving you guys a hard time are the problem, but that is exactly backwards! They are exactly the folks you want on your side.  They have energy and passion and care about their school systems, their children, and their neighbors children.  You won’t be able to fix the schools from the outside if you don’t include the parents and community members on the inside. The few token parents Stand For Children busses in for meetings (and buys lunch for) don’t really count.

BESE members Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey doodle on their cell phones when parents are speaking to them about their troubles and problems.  They ignore criticism and different points of view and evidence that is contrary to their pre-determined stands.  BESE members Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones rarely speak and represent the CCSSO and TFA respectively as their full time jobs so they owe their allegiance not to our state or people, but to their employers.

Many of the folks driving education reform have serious conflicts of interest or ulterior motives.

  • Charter schools and technology vendors are going to tell you they are the solution.
  • Test vendors are going to tell you the only thing that you need is more tests with more details.
  • John White is going to tell you he needs more of all these folks because they represent future job opportunities for him.

What we really need doesn’t cost a lot of new money, require fancy new technology, more tests, or more vendors of any type.  We simply need to get back to basics and the three Rs as described two hundred years ago by Sir William Curtis.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic (Reckoning)

Most importantly we need students focusing on improving their reading proficiency and composition abilities. We need to redirect funds from programs we don’t need, that haven’t been proven, or that have been proven not to work, to helping students read more, better, and faster.  This takes practice and finding subjects that interest them.  This takes a time commitment.  This does not require every student to proceed/read at the same pace at the same time.  Student’s should be helped to improve without regard to test scores, without practice tests or test prep which is excessively boring and not conducive to long term learning or retention.

Our children need to learn to read and to be engaged by the material in interesting ways.  We need to eliminate teaching to the test and return to teaching and learning for their own sakes.  This will, as a matter of course, improve test scores.

If children can’t read, can they really understand or learn science, history, economics or civics?  Many of our behavior problems at higher-grade levels are because kids are bored or disengaged because they can’t follow along – because they can’t read or haven’t learned the earlier material.  However when kids have real behavior problems, that are disruptive to the class and school, they need to be removed to allow teachers to teach and other students the opportunity to learn.

Common Core introduced a lot of new “reading” in the math portions, but this is what is giving most children the most trouble.  My daughter was required to read and write for her math homework in first grade when she was still just learning to read and write.  Reading and writing about math problems is not very interesting to a 6 year old.  Common Core (specifically the Tier one Eureka Math LDOE has selected) is trying to address the reading/writing problem in the most frustrating and counter-productive way imaginable to improve children’s reading and writing skills.  Changing an existing standard here and there won’t fix that underlying issue. Revising the entire approach to and eliminating unnecessary frustration is a much greater problem than any individual standard.  The current standards revision process  (that only allows for comment on existing standards) is not likely to address this underlying structural problem.

Common Core does not encourage children to learn on their own, it encourages them to learn only the minimum necessary to pass a test.  The PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT exams do not measure the ability to learn, and thus do not measure potential. As a result of the single-minded approach to improving test scores we are depriving students of the ability and joys of learning for its own sake, and our test scores are not improving.

Louisiana, if you really want to fix education, you need to examine the motivations of folks that are pitching their ideas to you and stay focused on your chief goal – fixing education outcomes and preparing children for a lifetime of learning – rather than being tied down by a single solution, candidate, or ally.

There’s not much money to be made with my solution so I doubt many people will want to buy into it.  However if you would like support me and my vision you will have a chance to vote for me on October 24th.

If you would like to help in a more direct way my campaign website is listed below.

Thank you for you time.

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE in district 6

www.jasonfrance4la.com

 

Crawfish are Real and So are the Problems with Common Core

Crawfish are Real and So are the Problems with Common Core

Common Core started out as an idea.  No one knew if it would work or not. To increase the odds of it “working” (measured by being adopted nationwide) an unprecedented but shrewdly calculated media campaign was launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and numerous other testing and textbook companies and education reform groups.

In Louisiana, 6 months before the standards were even written and finalized, our state Board of Education, known as BESE, adopted the standards illegally by not following proper administrative procedures, without reviewing them, and without allowing the public to see them or review them.

Most of BESE, led by BESE President Chas Roemer of District 6, has lied to the public about the standards ever since.

Common Core State Standards were not developed by “the States”, they were developed by textbook and testing vendors led by Jason Zimba for math and David Coleman for ELA.  Most teachers and academics consulted about the standards during the review process refused to sign off on them, because they were too confusing, not developmentally appropriate, not more rigorous, and contained serious gaps.

The standards were thrown together in about a year by a few people with zero prior experience writing standards, and never thoroughly and impartially reviewed before being implemented.

These are facts, look them up.

Rather than address the very real problems with Common Core, these companies and their allies have chosen to mock opponents with tinfoil hats, unicorns, straw man arguments and flat out lies.

They do this because they have no facts to defend their claims.  No studies were done, no international benchmarks were taken, and the few academics they grudging included (and ignored) refused to sign off on the standards.  There is widespread evidence that these standards are actually dumbing down our curriculum and making our students less prepared for colleges and careers.  There is also widespread evidence that these standards are causing fear, anger and frustration among thousands of parents and students across our state, and millions across our county.

Many states, like Texas, have chosen to reject Common Core.  Now other states that adopted it are getting out. Tennessee unanimously repealed common Core yesterday.

Yesterday, in a bipartisan vote, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted unanimously (97:0) to repeal Common Core. Today, the Tennessee State Senate followed with a (27:1) vote in favor of repeal.

“This legislation is a template for all states to begin a much needed journey of separation from federally generated standards and an invitation to embrace each states’ own constitutionally delegated authority to serve its citizens at its own will,” said HB1035 chief sponsor Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg). “As our founders and God surely intended.”

 

Indiana and Oklahoma have also repealed Common Core in favor of their own local standards.  To be “State standards” they have to be created by, controlled by and owned by the state.  Common Core standards are not.  They are controlled by testing companies and textbook companies and owned by the NGA and CCSSO.

Don’t believe me?  Try to change the standards and see how far you get.

Are all the legislators in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Indiana to be mocked and ridiculed, as you have us, by aligning yourselves with the folks that mock us with stuffed pink unicorns?Some of our legislators may have felt like they needed to jump on Lane Grigsby’s Pink Unicorn drawn clown wagon by refusing to allow Common Core to be brought to the floor for a vote or for debate last week. Don’t think we didn’t notice.

Legislators: We parents and voters are watching what you do, and what you don’t do now.  You won’t be able to turn your backs on us and ignore us and walk away.  We will come to your town halls.  We will come to your offices.  We will come to your fundraisers, ceremonies, dedications and speeches until your listen.  When we see you on the street and in church we will ask you about them and what you intend to do to fix the mess that adopting these hastily defined standards has caused.

If you continue to cater to those who believe in unicorns and fantasy we will hold you accountable. . .  and not just at election time.

If all it takes is stuffed toys to get you to bow to the will of a few special interest groups with too many dollars and not enough sense, prepare to be dazzled with a healthy dose of reality.

Crawfish are Real.

Crawfish are of Louisiana.

Our standards should be real and of Louisiana too.

Common Core is the fantasy ed-deformers can't wake up from
Crawfish Are Real! (And so are the problems with Common Core)

Do you really think the federal government is the real solution for education, but just not anything else?

Now who’s living in fantasy land?

Responses to the Pink Common Core Unicorn

Responses to the Pink Common Core Unicorn

For those of you who missed it last week, our local education deformers cowering behind their ABC PAC, placed pink unicorns on each of our legislators desks with a message stating some of the things they had heard about Common Core were as mythical as the unicorn.

I’ll be honest, when I saw the tagline:

“Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

I really thought this was an effort by my crowd, the anti-Common Core crowd.  It would have made more sense and been much more appropriate.

You see, we’ve been fighting the lies spun by big business and mainstream media about Common Core for years.  Each lie we debunk is quickly replaced by a new ludicrous and/or unproven claim.  Much of the strategy of the Common Core movement has been to accuse the other side of their weaknesses before we could point them out.  This is where vague statements like “a mile wide and an inch deep” come from when describing our GLEs which where ranked second in the the nation prior to Common Core, and include much of the same material, except staged in developmentally appropriate ways (like requiring kindergarteners to solve word problems before they can read) and without all the bizarre and intentionally misleading word problem gibberish, and inefficient and contrived ways of solving what should be simple math problems.

Another recent, popularly repeated lie (so it must be true), involves stating our old GLE’s (which were ranked second in the nation prior to Common Core) are complete crap, and returning to them would be a giant step backwards and a disaster, according to State Superintendent John White and his fluffy headed sidekick, BESE President Chas Roemer.

This is peculiar since most of Louisiana’s GLE’s mapped to Common Core content, but Common Core ditched a lot of our material, like cursive writing, learning multiplication tables, and preparing students to take Algebra before High School so they can take Calculus before college.  85% of the content within Common Core mapped to our GLE’s. However our GLE’s actually contained more material introduced in more developmentally appropriate ways.

A little known fact is that LDOE actually spent 1.6 million dollars with WestEd to compare the two and build a crosswalk table to help with the transition from our GLE’s to Common Core, but then decided to move the adoption schedule up a year and ditched all the information they just spent 1.6 million dollars acquiring. The reality is the exact opposite of what Common Core supporters tell you.  Common Core is taking us backwards and lowering our standards.  Common Core proponents promised us the world with their “internationally benchmarked” standards, but all we got was a lousy unicorn and a hefty recurring bill for disposable worksheets.

So Common Core supporters want to have it both ways.  They want to complain that our old standards were crappier than Common Core (even though they covered more advanced material and more material) and at the same time they want to say they had too much, that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Which is it?  It doesn’t matter.  No matter what anyone says they simply argue whatever is most advantageous at any given point in time, with any given person or group, and their drones regurgitate their talking points verbatim, without really understanding what they are saying, and without any proof or evidence to back up their statements.

This is actually a good example of what is wrong with Common Core.  It was never proven to be effective, nor to be more advanced in any way.  The available evidence actually indicates the opposite is true.  Rather than actually try to back up their statements or provide evidence for their assertions, they resort to fluffy pink unicorns, because really, that’s all the evidence they have to offer.  It’s about as substantial as everything else they claim, which is to say pure fantasy.

So now these folks are creating more of the same lies and gibberish, but somehow believe prancing around delivering pink unicorns to legislators will win them some allies.  I hope that wasn’t their thinking, because from what I read online, some legislators were none too pleased with this prank.

State Representative Brett Geymann had this to say about the unicorn stunt on his Facebook Page:

Is this what they want to teach our children?

The ruling class elitists placed a unicorn on our desk to mock the parents who want to rid our state of Common Core. This is offensive and disgusting and every person and every group that is listed as a supporter of this PAC should resign immediately. This includes any member of LABI and the Chamber in SWLA. Your money is being used to promote Common Core and to mock the parents who are fighting for their children. I will not sit by and watch these elitists do this. The line in the sand has been crossed. To those of you who are fighting so hard to get Common Core out of our state, please know we are all in and will fight to the last day in this session. Big business has lied to the people about Common Core for their own self-interest. I have never witnessed anything so offensive as this in politics.

A teacher with 37 years of experience named Candyce Watsey had this to say to Community Coffee after reading they were a staunch supporter of Common Core:

Dear Customer Service Representative:

I know that you do the best that you can do; so do I. So I would like to begin by making it clear that I do not hold you responsible for the misguided position on Common Core that Community Coffee has adopted.

My family on my mother’s side is from New Iberia. I remember as a child that my grandmother and great aunt brewed demitasse in an enamel drip coffee pot on the top of the stove, painstakingly adding very hot water by the teaspoon to… the coffee grounds until a beautiful, rich brew was ready, served in demitasse cups with only sugar as an accompaniment. For me, my great aunt heated rich milk and poured it with just a bit of the demitasse into a large mug, sweetening it into a perfect coffee milk. To this day, and I am 60 years old, that is the best coffee of my life.

The coffee? Community.

Why is this venerable company tying its fate to a flawed, federal initiative that will only weaken the Louisiana flavor of our schools?

This is my 37th year as a teacher in Louisiana, and I am staunchly opposed to common core.

So, if I don’t tell you how to make your coffee, could you please refrain from telling me how to teach school?

You know your business; I know mine.

Sincerely,

Candyce Watsey
Covington, Louisiana

Note: The website where Mrs. Watsey and other saw Community Coffee listed as a supporter of Common Core has since been taken down.

When I visited the unicorn website I was treated to more lies, fabrications, straw man arguments, and truth twistings that would impress a twizzler addict.  Common Core really is a pink unicorn, but what Louisiana needs is a break from the false promises and fantasy of Common Core was promised to be, but clearly wasn’t for thousands of children and parents across our state.

What we need is a healthy dose of reality.  I hope we can find a way to deliver this message to our legislators before it is too late.

Defies Measurement is Finally Complete

Defies Measurement is a documentary about what our nation’s test obsession has done to our public schools and students over the last 20 years.  Shannon Puckett is a great film maker and former teacher at Chipman Middle school, around which the story centers as the school is impacted by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and eventually ends up as a charter school with an entirely different name.

Crawfish Nation, some of you may remember that I helped promote and fund this masterpiece – and I also do my best to spoil the magic with a cameo appearance of myself.  (Thankfully it is only one.  There is a reason I am a blogger and not a movie star. )  Also appearing are Diane Ravitch, and Louisiana locals Mercedes Schneider and Karran Harper Royal. 

This tackles the issues of NCLB, over testing and opting out, charter schools, Race to the Top, Common Core, poverty, Gates, TFA, Broad, the Walton Foundation, International Test scores, Eugenics,  the New Orleans “Miracle”,the School Reform Movement in general and number of other interesting connections.  If you are interested in presidential candidate Jeb Bush, you will also want to hear what he has to say in this film.

You can go the www.defiesmeasurement.com

or directly to the film here:

https://vimeo.com/user20632266/defiesmeasurementfilm

There is an opportunity to download of organize a viewing around this film if you have a community event coming up or would like to sponsor to screen this film.  It is an hour long, and I knew most of the material, but I still found it very engaging and presented in a way that really sticks with you and brings everything together.  You can tell there is a real synergy between being a teacher and a documentary maker.

Congratulations Shannon!

For those of you going to the second annual NPE conference in Chicago April 25th and 26th, this film will be screened there as well.  Many of the guests in this film will also be at the conference for you to get their autographs.  Smile

Open letter from “BESE 4” in response to recent Common Core events.

I am publishing an open letter from 4 BESE members in response to recent actions of John White and recent editorials from 4 confused legislators that support Common Core, but don’t understand that even if they “review” it, it cannot be changed if the review finds anything lacking.  Common Core supporters have occasionally claimed that up to 15% more content can be supplemented or added to Common Core, but it cannnot be altered in any way. If have seen nothing official from the patent holders of Common Core affirming this claim.  Recent presentations from commoncore.org strongly advise against altering it in any way because it is paced to not permit any time for anything extra.

Jason France (BESE Candidate, district 6)

At the request of LA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) RepresentativeJane Smith and others, I am forwarding this Letter to the Editor,or possible Op-Ed piece, to your publication. It is significant in that it is signed by four BESE members and 28 current state legislators.   

 

This unique group, working as a consensus-building block of state elected officials, has composed this “Open Letter to the citizens of Louisiana.”  They point out the areas of agreement between those opposed to the national Common Core standards and the aligned test PARCC, and those who support the national standards and test, and tend to agree more with the state superintendent.  

 

Following on the heels of this week’s media announcement by the state superintendent, giving his recommendations to address issues of concern with the national standards, this group of BESE members and state legislators focuses on agreeable solutions that will work and be acceptable with both the state and the parents and public school systems across Louisiana.

 

This introduction of a “REAL Louisiana Plan” precedes the opening of the 2015 Spring Legislative Session, and provides a foundation on which all sides can build.

 

—  Mary K. Bellisario

 

_________________________________________________   

 

“A REAL Louisiana Plan”

An open letter to the citizens of Louisiana:

 

 

The past few days have seen some very encouraging developments concerning public education in Louisiana, and we are optimistic that more important work can and will be accomplished over the next few months for the best interests of the children of our state.

 

On Monday, Superintendent John White openly acknowledged some of the problems with Common Core in Louisiana, proposed three new recommendations for consideration of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and agreed that Louisiana should have its own K-12 education standards.

 

Two days earlier, a letter by four Common Core supporters in the Legislature was published statewide making similar recommendations and calling for BESE to “continue the Louisiana plan” for education reforms.  These are positive steps, and we look forward to working together during the upcoming legislative session to make critical adjustments to ensure that a REAL Louisiana plan advances.

 

Superintendent White has suggested that BESE needs to review the state’s academic standards as early as this fall, and we agree. Indeed, his suggestion that BESE should convene a commission of Louisiana educators, parents and university leaders to assist in a comprehensive review is one that we have long advocated.  However, we note there will be no point in engaging such a review if the stakeholders here are limited by the existing Common Core State Standards Initiative that was developed elsewhere. Since no more than 15% of the Common Core Standards can be altered or changed by participating states, it seems obvious that our mutual goal of improving Louisiana standards cannot be reached so long as we remain participants in Common Core.  

 

With regard to student assessment, Superintendent White has suggested that our Department of Education should follow the Administrative Procedures Act and allow a transparent bid process for vendors to propose a test that is “unique to Louisiana while comparable to other states.” We certainly agree and have been advocating this for nearly a year.  However, we note it will be impossible to obtain bids for a new test if its underlying standards are not yet decided.  It would thus be unwise to rush into a new testing contract without having these foundational questions answered first.   

 

We agree with Superintendent White and our colleagues who have now acknowledged that atwo year baseline of testing results is needed before any sanctions are placed on our students, teachers, schools and districts.  Our teachers and districts work extremely hard to comply with every state mandate, and this delay will greatly reduce the stresses related to implementation.  Superintendent White has been very vocal on this point, and we agree that no hardworking teacher, principal, or district should be punished based on decisions made outside their control. 

 

Parents and teachers have voiced their concerns loudly across this state and nation, and we elected officials should be listening.  Indeed, that is our duty.  The people of our state are understandably wary of all tests, textbooks and curriculum that are aligned to national standards, because such an alignment is always accompanied by the dangers of federal intrusion and wasteful spending that brings no benefit to our kids.  

 

Superintendent White also acknowledged this week that we are “over-testing” our students and thus, “We all need to eliminate any tests that are not meaningfully contributing to student learning.”  We certainly agree, and it is our belief that the current test aligned with Common Core and PARCC is one of the problems that should be eliminated here once and for all—as other states have already done.

 

Again, we reiterate our optimism about these critical points on which more and more state leaders now agree.  We look forward to working with all in good faith to ensure that in the very near future we are truly developing a REAL Louisiana Plan for the children of our great state.  They deserve it, and the stakes are too high for us to deliver anything less.  

 

Best regards,

 

Jane Smith, BESE, member at large

Bossier Parish

                                                                  

Mary Harris BESE, District 4                                                  

Dr. Lottie Beebe, BESE, District 3                                                                                                                                                                                              

Carolyn Hill, BESE, District 8     

                                            

Representative James Armes, District 30                                                                               

Representative Terry Brown, District 22                                    

Representative Richard Burford, District 7

Representative Henry Burns, District 9

Representative Greg Cromer, District 90

Representative Brett Geymann, District 35

Representative Lance Harris, District 25

Representative Kenny Havard, District 62

Representative Cameron Henry, District 82

Representative Bob Hensgens, District 47

Representative Valarie Hodges, District 64

Representative Frank Hoffman, District 15

Representative Paul Hollis, District 104

Representative Frank Howard, District 24

Representative Mike Johnson, District 8

Representative Eddie Lambert, District 59

Representative Jim Morris, District 1

Representative Kevin Pearson, District 76

Representative Rogers Pope, District 71

Representative John Schroder,District 77

Representative Alan Seabaugh, District 5

Representative Lenar Whitney, District 53

Senator A.G. Crowe, District 1

Senator Bob Kostelka, District 35

Senator Elbert Guillory, District 24

Senator Fred Mills, District 22

Senator Jonathan Perry, District 26

Senator John Smith, District 30