Samantha Thibodeaux, SPED teacher from St John Parish, speaks out about CCSS, Jindal, White & Duncan

Samantha Thibodeaux, SPED teacher from St John Parish, speaks out about CCSS, Jindal, White & Duncan

I am Samantha Thibodeaux. I am a 14 year teacher of SPED in St. John Parish. I hold a bachelor’s in KHS, a master’s in health education and a master’s in Educational Leadership. I am one and a half years into my doctoral program. There are so many issues I would love to discuss today from needless professional growth plans to a flawed value-added system to a faulty COMPASS teacher evaluation system. But, I will stick to the topic at hand—Common Core.

Today, I come to you not just as an educator but a parent and soon to be grandparent to voice my concerns over the Common Core initiative that has been permitted by Gov. Jindal and the BESE board to infiltrate our schools and our students.

I do not ascribe to the notion that Gov. Jindal and the BESE board did not know the negative effect that this progressive agenda would have on our teachers, students and parents. What I do believe is the Gov. and the BESE board signed on to this defective agenda without doing a simple Google search to find out more on Common Core like the lack of empirical data to support this abomination and the Obama administration’s true intentions. Empirical data and robust research is imperative to any successful program. In a speech in 2010 to the United Nations, Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Arne Duncan stated:

“The North Star guiding the alignment of cradle to career education agenda, (let me say that again), cradle to career education agenda is Pres. Obamas goal that by the end of the decade America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That goal CAN ONLY be achieved by creating a strong cradle-to career continuum that starts with early childhood learning and extends all the way to college and careers.”

Let’s just soak that in for a minute. This is not an agenda just for public education or just for students but will TRACK citizens for the rest of their lives. I could end my remarks there but there is more.

Are you familiar with the Common Core birth to five years standards? Birth to five year standards. This is beyond early childhood education. And Republicans have bought into the early childhood fairytale and Common Core puts this agenda on steroids.

Who is going to educate these children?

Where are the resources coming from?

How can a teacher be held accountable for growth in an infant?

Another goal of the Obama administration is that through Common Core students will be required to take action. Again Arne Duncan states:

“These new partnerships must also inspire students to take a bigger and deeper view of their civic obligations—not only to their countries of origin but to the betterment of the global community. A just and socially responsible society must also be anchored in civic engagement for the public good.”

He continues:

“The Obama administration has sought to fundamentally shift the federal role, so that the Department is doing much more to support reform and innovation in states, districts, and local communities.”

Remember this is 2010:

“But today, 37 states and the District of Columbia have already chosen to adopt the new state-crafted [another myth] Common Core standards in math and English. Not studying it, not thinking about it, not issuing a white paper—they have actually done it.”

I agree with Arne Duncan. This has not been studied, or thought out or even discussed in most states. And back to the lack of empirical data and robust research. I understand that most states, along with Louisiana, signed onto this agenda without the standards being completed or published.

Did anyone ask any questions? Gov. Jindal is a bright man. Where were his instincts when this was being presented? Where were his advisors saying to hold on-let’s do a little research?

The people of Louisiana TRUSTED Gov. Jindal. But not anymore.

Over the past several weeks, I have spoken to a couple of principals and master teachers in St. John and they have expressed concern about cost and lack of a coherent curriculum. One principal stated that this is education’s Obamacare. Where is the money because it is not trickling down to the schools? There are grave concerns over the lack of materials and incoherent messaging from the La. Dept of Ed. There is NO curriculum, there are NO textbooks. Yet, teachers are being held accountable for growth in students while implementing these standards that are developmentally inappropriate. One statement from a SPED teacher is:

“I have concluded that the materials and lack of time allotted for the topic at hand to be implemented have become nothing more than an academic trap designed for failure.”

Teachers have been demoralized by Gov. Jindal, John White and the BESE board. Teachers feel frustrated and insulted by continually being told that student learning targets need to be more rigorous, evaluations need to be more rigorous because John White didn’t get the numbers he was expecting. (By the way, if I spoke to each person in this room I am positive I would get just as many varying opinions on what “rigor” is.) Teachers feel further hurt and insulted when they were informed this year that they would be allowed to pre-test their students but post-tests had to be performed by someone other than themselves.

As I professional, I find that incredibly offensive. Not only does John White not trust me as a professional apparently he doesn’t trust me as a person. It doesn’t end there. It gets better. We were told that the Common Core standards would be incrementally implemented over the course of several years yet this summer school systems were instructed to begin full implementation of Common Core and mandatory full implementation would be in the 2014-2015 school year. This has been the pattern of the La. Dept of ed. Incoherent, disorganized chaos. Master teachers are instructed to look at other states to see how they have implemented Common Core and go to the LA. Dept of ed. website to view webinars. They do not have the time to review materials that are sent to them. Teachers are scrambling to find resources and materials. So, now Common Core has been thrust upon thousands of teachers without adequate professional development, with minimal, at best, support, without proper curriculum, without suitable materials and without acceptable levels of funding and you think this is going to be successful and end well for your administration. The depth of incompetence is mind boggling.

What is the intent here? Not with the Obama administration but with Gov. Jindal and John White!

Is the intent to get rid of experienced teachers to put in place inexperienced, naïve teachers that will follow like sheep and do whatever the La. Dept. of Ed says?

Is the intent to demoralize and insult teachers to the point of tears so they will no longer fight back? Ask yourself, what is the intention of the BESE board, Gov. Jindal and Superintendent White?

From where I sit, it is not to improve education in Louisiana, or hold teachers and students to quote unquote higher standards. I believe the intent is to control and manipulate the lives of educators and students in Louisiana; to track them from cradle to grave. And, as Arne Duncan said, “To fundamentally shift the federal role” in education. And apparently, Gov, Jindal is all in.

I would like to read part of a letter from an educator in Ascension parish:

“So many teachers feel as though their hands are tied, so to speak, and have taken early retirement or have just left the system. Many have said to me that they can’t live with themselves as they push kids beyond their breaking point. I was in many meetings last year where teachers were crying out of sheer frustration. They are, however, forbidden to express their frustrations to their superiors. They have little to no input now as “teachers” on what or how they will teach their students. It is a very sad situation. I believe that we will continue to lose our teachers at an even higher rate if we fully implement Common Core.”

“Parents have had no information regarding Common Core. No informational meetings, no written material sent home, no formal venue to be introduced to and ask questions about Common Core. Therefore, at first they made the assumption that it was in the best interest of their children. As homework began to come home, they realized they were less and less able to help. Just now are we seeing parents rising up and contacting their principals, administration, and school board members, asking to know what Common Core is, explaining how it is affecting their children.”

I have heard that Superintendents are threatening repercussions if a teacher publically opposes Common Core. I have heard that administrators are being pressured to implement standards that they feel are developmentally inappropriate. If John White believes so much in Common Core, why are the standards not featured on the Louisiana Believes website? Parents have to search to find the standards. That makes me suspicious of the motives of the La. Dept. of Ed.

Personally, I am sick and tired of Louisiana schools being used as experiments and students and teachers being used as guinea pigs for politicians.  In conclusion, I ask Gov. Jindal to stop Common Core in Louisiana. Abraham Lincoln stated:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Help stop the destruction of Louisiana. Help stop the destruction of our students and teachers. I know, personally, as a voter, I would respect Gov. Jindal more if he would admit his error, apologize to the people and STOP Common Core in Louisiana.

(BACKGROUND: I was asked to sit in on a meeting recently where some feedback from parents and teachers was being given. I came to give my support and lend my expertise in the illegal data sharing area and the inBloom fiasco we narrowly escaped from. I was both astonished and impressed by this statement read by Samantha and I asked her if I could share it with you. Not because I hadn’t heard much of this before for many teachers and parents, but by how vehemently she made these statements and how I saw everyone in the room nodding their heads in agreement. I don’t feel like a lone voice screaming into a whirlwind after hearing this. Thank you for sharing this, Samantha.

How many of you teachers and parents out there in Louisiana or across the nation feel as Samantha Thibodeaux does about Common Core, Arne Duncan’s, John White’s and Bobby Jindal’s education deforms, or your own harsh treatment at the hands of education deformers?   Feel free to post a comment here or send me your letters to ) Thanks!)

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

John White is likely to be gone by the end of June but Louisiana will still have its work cut out cleaning up the messes he will leave behind.  Some of those messes off the top of my head are:

but what I’m going to tackle now is the fatally flawed COMPASS and VAM system that even John White’s own staff agree is racially and socioeconomically biased – as you can see from this internal e-mail below that circulated before the Seabaugh Solution was reaffirmed by White.

I want you to read the passages I highlighted and let that sink in before I explain.  COMPASS is a teacher evaluation system designed for Louisiana.   It was initially developed with the help of an out-of-state researcher named Charlotte Danielson, who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities in this field.  However Ms Danielson has done more than simply distance herself from our evaluation system.

Danielson was surprised to hear the state was launching a teacher observation tool without first trying it out in a few districts. Before Tennessee made its evaluation system a state requirement last year, for example, it experimented for a year with various observation models in schools across the state.

“It’s never a good idea to use something for high stakes without working out the bugs,” Danielson said. “The thing I worry about from a purely selfish standpoint is that my name gets associated with something people hate, and I’m not happy about that.”

Besides making people unhappy, mistakes could also end up costing the state, Danielson warned. “I worry a lot [that] if we have systems that are high stakes and low rigor, we’re going to end up with court cases,” she said.

You see, we only took a few of the simplest metrics she developed 5 of 22.

Louisiana has adopted part, but not all, of her framework for use in classroom observations, which will factor into a teacher’s annual score and which will ultimately determine whether educators can keep their jobs.

Although Danielson helped the state create a shortened version of her system at its request, she’s worried her truncated observation checklist could create problems for teachers and evaluators.

“I think it decreases accuracy. I think that’s an almost certain consequence,” she said.

Louisiana adopted the new system to comply with Act 54, a law passed in 2010 aimed at improving teacher quality in the state with more intensive, annual teacher evaluations. Half of a teacher’s rating will be calculated based on how he or she scores in the observation, and half will be determined by how students perform on standardized tests. Teachers who perform poorly on the evaluations could lose their certification.

But more than that, teachers could be fired as well, based on a model the creator of which claims is quite likely flawed because of its simplicity.  However what many of you might not realize is that teacher effectiveness is also determined by the VAM, or Value Added Modeling score.  In fact, when there is a difference between VAM and the COMPASS evaluation, VAM is the score a teacher gets, which means the COMPASS evaluation is essentially useless for 1/3 of all teachers which have a VAM score because they teach a test evaluated subject.  The VAM system was built on a questionable premise to being with, but what little credibility it might have gained was completely annihilated by John White and Alan Seabaugh’s tinkering with the system for personal reasons.

However even more alarming is that the solution adopted seems to punish teachers who teach our neediest students, students from the poorest backgrounds.  The way it does this is by giving “bonus points” to teachers teaching more advanced students, which tend to be more affluent ones.  VAM is based on a curve.  Everyone can’t get an A.  Effectiveness ratings are based on where teachers fall in the curve, where the top 10-20 % are the most effective, and the lowest 10-20 % are the least effective.  In this type of scheme, both success and failure are guaranteed, and your success is entirely dependent on the success of those around you.  When some teachers are given bonus points to lift their scores, this causes teachers without these points to drop into lower categories.  The Seabaugh Solution involves giving bonus points to teachers teaching advanced students, which means they will never be found ineffective, thus immune to  most of the negative implications of COMPASS and VAM and more likely to earn financial incentives.  Teachers teaching students in schools with poorly performing students, which are mostly poor and black, will be that much more likely to be found lacking. . .  and subject to being stripped of tenure, or even dismissed.

The COMPASS system and VAM must be abandoned.  John White has failed at everything he tried to do in Louisiana, and everything he has done has failed.  Now it’s time to clean up the rest of his mess.  We can start by eliminating VAM and COMPASS and the people he brought in from out of state like Hannah Dietsch and Molly Horstman to oversee a system that was known to be racially biased, politically tampered with and so poorly designed and implemented that the person who helped create it no longer wants her name associated with it, because she thinks it’s so bad and so unfair it could expose us to lawsuits that would be easily won.

Time to start eliminating the mess. . .
Time to start eliminating the mess. . .