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.

NAEP2004

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.

NAEP2004graph

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

 

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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

 

 

Jason France, a.k.a “The Crazy Crawfish”, formally announces bid to seek Chas Roemer’s district 6 seat on BESE

Jason France, a.k.a “The Crazy Crawfish”, formally announces bid to seek Chas Roemer’s district 6 seat on BESE

As I watched events at the capital unfolding over the last month I knew it would come to this. Our “elected” officials that are supposed to look after our interests have tuned us out and sold us out. Hundreds of you made the trek to the Capital last week and experienced the three ring circus that our legislative process has become due to apathy, corruption and backroom deals. We have a few valiant legislators and BESE members left (and believe me I am eternally grateful to them), but not nearly enough to stem the tide of the opposition (privatizers of public education and exploiters of our children) and their enormous stacks of hundred dollar bills they rain down upon anyone willing to sign up with them and their destructive agenda. For this reason I am throwing my hat in the ring and I sincerely hope others will follow my lead and challenge the bought education policy dictators that sponsor curriculum, policies, and exploitive practices they themselves are rarely (or never) subjected to.

How did we get in a place where our State School Board is comprised of people paid to support Common Core (like Holly Boffy) folks paid to support TFA and charter schools (like Kira Orange Jones) and lawyers without public school children, like BESE President Chas Roemer who sends his kids to Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic School in Baton Rouge.

For the second time in three years, the Louisiana Student of the Year finalists include a child of Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and son of former governor Buddy Roemer. Charles Roemer V is a fifth grader at Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic School in Baton Rouge, where his sister, Adeline, was a 2012 state finalist when she was in fifth grade.

The finalists “are not only superior students but have superior character and leadership abilities,” Education Superintendent John White said in a statement. The awards are given to students in the fifth, eighth and 12th grades

I have been told Our Lady of Mercy does not have any intention of adopting the Common Core State standards because they see them as vastly inferior. Chas Roemer feels the 700,000+ non-public school children he oversees need these standards to succeed, and need the PARCC test to evaluate their progress and record their every thought and feeling. Any attempt to modify, delay, or remove Common Core is met with statements like these he recently made to Superintendent of Ascension Schools Patrice Pujol (who is also the President of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents).

“Certainly there seem to be a number of people from a number of different groups who are getting together to make an attempt to stop the progress we’ve made,” Roemer says. “It’s disappointing that they’d do something like this … we’ve got some adults who are making political deals for their own personal political reasons.”

“Tomorrow you will see educators, business leaders and civic leaders from across the state standing up against this bill,” he says. “Despite their attempts to make a backroom deal to derail the progress that we’ve made, I think we’re going to win the day, and here’s why: It’s important to our state and it’s important for our kids,” Roemer says.

I find it so touching that Roemer would care so much about my kids taking Common Core and PARCC examinations throughout their educational careers, while his own kids are free to take extra languages, violin, soccer, and high school classes in his elementary school while mine are puzzling over explaining why 1+1 =2 or why 1+1 =3.

Chas Roemer said he had nothing to do with the selection process. Any suggestion that his child received special treatment was “political hogwash and they don’t know my son,” he said. “He won because of the merits of what he did.” If anything, “I think my son is probably black-balled” due to his family.

He said his son speaks three languages, has taken high school-credit work, served at his church, plays the violin and competes in soccer with sixth graders. He had to pass several interviews, with different judges each time. “If it meant I had to resign from BESE so that my kid could be recognized for his accomplishments, that’s what I would do,” Roemer said. [No objections here]

I also found it touching Chas would choose to dramatically to reduce funding for public schools and public school teachers throughout his tenure on the BESE board and as BESE President. That is a maneuver that saved him some money I imagine, while our children continue to struggle by his own words and estimations as he pushes for Common Core, Workforce development, PARCC, underperforming voucher schools, unaccountable charter schools, and a disastrously failed State takeover of local schools in the form of the Recovery School District, RSD.

  • If Roemer really cared about our children, why we he hand them over to unproven and unmonitored charters and voucher schools?
  • Why would he demand they submit to non-instructive and tortuous PARCC exams?
  • Why would he inflict an unproven federally developed and untested curricula on them (that he feels is beneath his own children)?
  • Why would Chas support sending data to irresponsible Data Warehouses (public school kids only again). If the services these vendors provided were so great, why did he not push for private schools to participate, at least in words?
  • Why has Chas allowed fraudulent Course Choice providers free access to our children’s data and encouraged them to roam our neighborhoods seeking victims to enroll in their “programs” that would funded from the money allocated to public school children? Why would he not require these vendors to be properly vetted or have any certifications at all?
  • If Chas cared about our children, why would he endorse policies that drive off our most committed and experienced local teachers to replace them with inexperienced out of state temp workers?

Chas Roemer has been a strong proponent of eliminating public schools in favor of unaccountable charter schools and private school voucher programs that perform dramatically worse the state assessments our kids (not his) must take. While our kids are languishing preparing for and taking tests for weeks on end to evaluate their teachers (not to help our children), his kids are taking violin, playing soccer and mastering advanced classwork and earning student of the year awards, of course on their own merits and not because of his standing as the President of the State BESE board, or because of his sister’s (Caroline Roemer Shirley) who holds the Executive Director (top banana) position on Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Chas Roemer is a longtime politician and the son of a former governor. He is backed by out of state interests and a few wealthy Louisiana citizens not afraid to bend a few rules to get around donation laws so they can lower their tax burdens or to make money off of our children. The folks running our schools today do not want our public schools to succeed for our children or our families. They want our schools to be profitable while they exist and they want them to be ground into the ground to make way for hedgefund manager created charter schools that will emphasize profits over parents and children.

Please visit my Campaign Headquarters today and consider making a donation, volunteering or even running for office yourself. The testing companies, textbook companies, data miners bullying billionaires can’t buy you or trick you unless you let them. We can’t change the minds of those who have already been bought, we can’t stop these corporations from wanting to harvest us for dollar bills, but we can all vote with our wallets and with choice of who represents us on the political stage. Please join with me in fighting back against those who think they own our political system and us. Throw the bums out, and the let the “Crazy” in.

I’m only crazy if you radically disagree with me. We can all be crazy together and take back our country one office at a time, one school at a time.

Start your journey here: www.jasonfrance4la.com

BESE 2013 district map