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 Tennessee unanimously repealed common Core yesterday.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?

John White’s Journey: Why he decided to ask his Louisiana Department of Education to alter student test scores

John White’s Journey: Why he decided to ask his Louisiana Department of Education to alter student test scores

Believe it or not, John White did not start off with the intent of trying to delude Louisiana into believing his education reforms worked simply by altering a few scores. At first I think White believed much of his own rhetoric. Namely:

  • that teachers were lazy and holding kids back with their incompetence
  • that State workers were lazy union wannabe’s, and essentially worthless
  • that IT folks were unnecessary
  • that data would almost magically flow in the department’s coffers with little effort on anyone’s part
  • that most corporations in the education business had kids best interests at heart
  • that charter schools are inherently better than all public schools
  • that simply improving reading and math test scores is the keystone to unlocking all other student learning and overcoming the challenges of poverty
  • that Common Core will improve student outcomes and level the playing field across the nation
  • and that the data will eventually prove that all of his education “reforms” were a success.

John White always wanted to be “the Decider”, a difference maker, a leader of a Nationwide Education Reform movement destined to change the entire landscape of education, schools and teaching, for the better – or so he thought. But there were a lot entrenched interests in his way, ready to pounce on any misstep, any nuance, any faltering. John White knew this, was told this, and had done this himself. Reformers used this approach to make inroads across the nation and even the world, by harping on data often taken out of context or interpreted in self-serving ways. This is what his team, the Reformers, specialized in. White knew exactly how to defeat this move and buy enough time for his vision to work its magic. To defeat people who use data to criticize the status quo, which he had now become, he needed to starve them for data. Like the propaganda master Joseph Goebbels, John White knew he needed to be the sole provider and purveyor of data and messaging to achieve a history making goal that would be thwarted otherwise. Without any real data, just summarized and sanitized data delivered without any historical or comparative context, White knew he could define his program as successful until it had time to grow into the success he envisioned; that he “Believed” it would be. His first official major act as head of LDOE was to cut off communications with the schools districts, media, researchers and legislature – except through carefully monitored channels and calculated messaging.

At first, I really think John White believed he would change the nation and the world with his ideas, and sacrificing a little honesty was not that great a price for the glorious prize (in his mind) he was working for. Then reality started to creep in. Governor Jindal started to exert his control by inserting a voucher program White disagreed with, but White knuckled under and by all appearances seemed to back it under the frequently bandied guise of “Choice.” John White wanted to develop a new revolutionary system to grade and evaluate teachers and so COMPASS was created, but VAM (Value Added Modeling) was already in place and approved by the legislature. Over time White began to realize VAM was a sham, that there were many flaws in his VAM system for teachers as the extremes (teaching very advanced or severely disabled students) and students with significant emotional problems that might not have been diagnosed. At first he believed these were simply small factors, and would by and large the vast majority of teachers were being graded accurately, and his ally Chas Roemer and Bobby Jindal really wanted this system to work. It also had the added bonus of eliminating and demoralizing many experienced teachers to make room for TFA to supply and offload their growing surplus of teachers in more agreeable geographies. However as the Seabaugh Solution showed, White was not opposed to rejiggering the entire formula and outcomes for the entire state to appease a single legislator, Alan Seabaugh from Shreveport, to fix the outcomes to ensure three teachers of gifted students were defined as effective by definition. This redefined numerous other teachers as ineffective as a result. This change was not done as a result of mathematics, but political expediency. When his entire staff that designed the VAM system quit in protest and word came to light of how White had simply altered the entire outcome for the entire state for a political reason, which no doubt caused the firing of many teachers and financially impacted numerous others through raises or no raises, and no significant personal cost came of this John White realized he could do anything he wanted to scores and formulae and as long as he stayed in the graces of the status quo, nothing and no one could touch him. After this fiasco John White simply created a bonus point scheme for teachers evaluated under VAM that he could dispense as needed. A few folks picked up on this, but no major media cared because they were controlled by many of the same forces that protected John White. Additionally, John White learned that anything to do with math immediately causes the public and reporters to lose interest and fall asleep. You can do anything with a formula, add any points for any reason, just as long as you name it and come up with a rationale, however flimsy. Most people who take tests are not able to add bonus points themselves to the results after they get those results. John White has been enabled to operate differently by a lack of sustained interest, outrage, or understanding by the general public.

The thought process that resulted in John White asking to have student test scores directly inflated was a gradual one, and not altogether as insane as you might first think considering the wide latitude he had been given in his brief tenure as Louisiana Superintendent. I say “insane” because I really thought the idea was crazy when I first heard it. It wasn’t until I connected the historical dots that show a directly linear path that I realized doing so would not only be absolutely in character but completely reasonable to an “ends justifies the means” operator, like White.

John White has also been altering SPS (School Performance Scores) to suit his agenda. He has done this by selectively including and excluding data and students, changing the impacts and penalties for disabled students and students performing below grade level, and adding bonus points based on formulae that cannot be verified and have room to be reconfigured and calculated multiple ways until he achieves the outcome he wants. Most people don’t realize the formula for calculating scores has changed every year since Katrina in 2005, and probably before that. They also don’t realize that John White has a say over where the “cut-off” score is set every year. By changing the cut-off score after you get all the results in, you can achieve almost any result you want. Set the cut-off score lower, more kids score basic or above, fewer kids are defined as below basic or “failing”. If you want people to tell you that you are doing a great job and that your reforms are working, simply set a lower cut-off score every year. Eventually though, this tactic will catch up with you.

For Example: Let’s say you set the cut-off score at 5 out of 10 for basic one year, 7 as Mastery and 9 as Advanced, 3 as Approaching Basic and 1 as Unsatisfactory. The next year you could set the cutoff score as 4 for basic, making a score of 6 Mastery, 8 Advanced, 2 as Approaching Basic and 0 as Unsatisfactory. If performance actually stayed the same, it would look like you had improved outcomes by simply changing the “cut” score.

I’m told this this has been going on for a while to show progress where there was none. If you were to lower the score again you might actually have an unusually low number of “Unsatisfactories” and large number of Approaching Basics. This is one of the reasons John White probably released category summary counts this year, removed the summaries by district and embargoed the scores until after the legislative session. He lowered the cut score too low to where the manipulation would be obvious. If what I’ve been told is correct, students did much, much, worse this year to where the cut-scores can’t be lowered enough to where the overall numbers won’t look fishy. Results are down statewide, even with the much lower cut-score. There are too few students at the upper ends and most of the student lumped into the approaching basic after the cut score determinations.

Apparently John White had his vendor recalculate the designations (Mastery, Advanced, Basic, Approaching Basic, Unsatisfactory) several times with several different cut scores before realizing the only way to get the numbers he wanted was to actually alter the scores or designations directly. This approach was actually ideal, because he could raise the scores of charters and RSD to where they look better than traditional public schools, making the case for them stronger. If the scores were reported as too low across the state while the legislative session was ongoing, it would call into question the Common Core initiative and breathe life into the resistance movement. If Common Core had been tested against PARCC this year, a completely new test that has already been responsible for lower test scores across the nation, poor performance could easily have been explained away and comparing it to previous test results would have impossible. PARCC allows White to “reset” the cut-score scale and gradually lower the cut score to show “improvement” if students don’t improve on their own. My guess is he gave up on altering the test scores after word of this plan came to light, thus the reason for the delayed results, merged categories, lies about deadlines, and embargoing.

John White wanted to make a difference in education. It turns out he got his wish. The data is in, and it turns out he made a big difference in Louisiana. Unfortunately the difference he made was all bad, but nothing a low cut-score and ambiguous reporting can’t fix. Atter all, this is Math we’re talking about, and with Common Core mathematics the deception will only get easier.


East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers are under siege and need our help

East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers are under siege and need our help


For the past month I’ve been interviewing and receiving testimonials from East Baton Rouge Teachers in most of the area’s non-magnet high schools. This investigation started as a conversation with a teacher (who had recently become a follower.) This teacher explained no one speaks for them, no one sees their stories.  They relayed teachers in EBR are terrified to speak out about the travesties and indignities being heaped upon them in the name of “improving outcomes.” These outcomes are determined by some easily manipulated statistics that comprise School Performance (SPS) scores. I listened and I was honestly shocked and infuriated by what I heard.

Our teachers are under siege, from all quarters, and only a few on the breaking edge (and perhaps breaking point) are able to speak out – even anonymously.

As part of my investigation I spoke to and corresponded with numerous teachers from many different schools, teaching a wide variety of subjects. The teachers I spoke to have diverse experience levels , comprise both genders, and the stories all sound sadly similar. The basic story goes like this:

In the past few years EBR’s discipline policies and promotion policies have been weakened substantially. This is a result of  two absurd policies coming from Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s office.

I phoned the EBR central office to speak to someone in charge of discipline hearings for EBR. (Taylor has never returned any of my calls or e-mails to date (even on positive stories I’ve tried to pitch to him) so I didn’t bother with trying to get a response from him.) I introduced myself as a concerned parent and education blogger and I was assured the director over discipline hearings would be calling me back. That was 10 days ago, so I’m pretty sure I will be getting no call or explanation.

I also reached out and contacted the EBR school board to discuss this matter. I do not have any statements on record, but those I talked to seemed surprised and outraged by what I was describing in the school system. Let me just say, I was surprised by what was described to me as well, but not in a good way.

The first misguided policy in play seems to be one where only murderers, kids who bring explosives, discharge guns or bring illegal drugs to school can be expelled.  All other violations, even those that result in hospitalization of the victims, must be tolerated, and tolerated repeatedly.

The second destructive policy EBR has implemented is that children have no responsibility for making their grades or passing their classes. Teachers must do everything they can push, pull or drag kids to pass their classes. In practical terms this means tests are given over and over until a student “passes” and “extra credit” must be created and awarded to whatever extent is possible to ensure students pass their classes.

As a result of the first policy it appears violent thugs run many of our high schools, free to beat, steal, and threaten the lives of any who oppose them. Student’s that assault teachers multiple times do not get expelled, they get returned to the same teacher’s classrooms. Students who threaten to kill their teachers and classmates are sometimes just given a warning and sent right back to class.

Here are some recent stories that have appeared in our newspapers about our students and their assaults on each other of our teachers in the past month. This is by no means a complete list, just a representative one that I find disappointing no reporters in any of our local mainstream media are covering:

March 2

Police: Student said loaded pistol was for protection

Authorities with the multiagency School Drug Task Force on Friday arrested a ninth-grade McKinley High School
student accused of taking a loaded handgun to school.

February 25th

BATON ROUGE – Authorities arrested a 17-year-old Baton Rouge student after school officials said she repeatedly kicked a teacher who tried to break up a fight.

Deputies arrested Raven Davis after the fight at Tara High School
Tuesday and booked her into the parish jail on charges of battery and disturbing the peace.

February 22

  • Sisters accused of disrupting school

    • Two sisters were arrested Thursday afternoon on accusations they showed up to McKinley High School
      and tried to back up a younger sister allegedly involved in a fight earlier in the day.
    • The school was put on lockdown during the ordeal.
  • Teen shot in robbery Thursday in Gardere (outside of school)

    • A planned robbery disguised as a drug deal didn’t go as scheduled Thursday night in the Gardere area.
    • One of the teenagers involved in the planned robbery, a 14-year-old boy, was shot and seriously injured, while an 18-year-old was arrested on accusations he had the gun that another person used to shoot the boy, an affidavit of probable cause says.
  • Students accused of threatening educators

    • East Baton Rouge Parish school system employees contacted authorities in at least two cases this week in which students threatened educators, leading to the arrest of two 17-year-old students.
    • Dominic Demontay Powell, 17, 9870 Scotland Ave., was booked into Parish Prison on Friday accused of shoving a Scotlandville High School administrator while being questioned about suspected marijuana use, an affidavit of probable cause says.Inside the school official’s office at the high school, the administrator told Powell to empty his pockets. Powell took out a cigarette, a lighter and some money, the affidavit says. When the administrator moved to grab the money, Powell shoved him and said, “Don’t touch my money,” the affidavit says.
    • In a second incident on Friday, Demarcus Devonte Kimble, 17, 5656 Autumn Blossom Ave., is accused of walking into a teacher’s lounge at Belaire High School and cursing at a teacher, an affidavit of probable cause says. When told by the teacher to leave the room, Kimble is accused of threatening the teacher, saying he would get someone to come to school and hurt her, the affidavit says. Powell was booked into Parish Prison on a count of assault on a school teacher.

I have received numerous tips from sources about violence in schools that is not making its way into our local media at all:

February 22 (report from source)

“Good…by the way, three Brm [Broadmoor High school] students arrested and recommended for expulsion for bring BB guns to school this week. On-campus cop caught them. No news coverage. School system wants it BURIED”

February 19th (report from source)

. . .at Belaire HS
early this year a student was beating the shit out of a teacher while students watched, some cheered. A coach at nearby La Belaire Elementary happened to be on campus and saved the teacher…all reliable sources…Brdmr [Broadmoor High School] student caught with drugs and knife on bus today. We’ll see how school system reacts.

February 18th (report from source)

Big fight after Scotlandville [HS] basketball game last night at Brdmr. [Broadmoor HS] involving about one dozen boys, two expelled from earlier in the year…Someone was seriously injured. Investigation continues. Keep you posted.

I have received numerous e-mails, conducted interviews, received letters describing what teachers are seeing and feeling in our area schools.  Here are a few for you to review. (Note: Many more have come in since I originally published this story.)

February 7th

Letter from a teacher

One additional interesting note this week. One of our new, young teachers was shocked when a junior student refused to work and told her in front of the class she would not fail him no matter how low his grade was (36%). “You can’t fail me,” he assured her. “You’ll get in trouble. Not me. I’ll pass.” He then laughed at her. She assured him he would fail, but he refused to believe it. One hour later we were reminded in a meeting with our so-called instructional specialist (another non-teaching, out-of-state joke) that we needed to allow students to make up all work or retake tests regardless of any and all circumstances. Later in the same day, one of my sophomores asked me it were true teachers got into trouble if they had too many students with grades of D or F. I lied to cover my ass and sell the bluff, the only protection I have. Which is sad. It is becoming increasingly clear students are aware of how weak and vulnerable teachers really are. This is a really bad sign. Life before Bernard Taylor, Orlando Ramos [Associate Superintendent of EBR schools] and Michael Haggen [Deputy Superintendent of Innovation and Reform for EBR] would have NEVER allowed this to happen. It would not even be allowed to give birth! So many teachers are plotting their retirement/exit it is shocking.

February 6th

Letter from a teacher

Yesterday, a teacher tossed a student into the hallway because he was a constant disruption. This student regularly causes grief to all teachers and we cannot expel him. While in the hallway, he bangs on the wooden door with his fists and screams at her to let him back in class. She refuses as a male instructor walks up, as his next door class was being disturbed, and twice asks the student to calm down. He curses the teacher and tells him to mind his own business. The male prods him away from the door and the student lands a swinging elbow on the teacher’s chest. He was taken to the office, but the school system will not allow anything to be done. The student repeated the exact same behavior today, but the male teacher did not respond to calm the situation. Why get involved? …Prior to Christmas, three teachers in one day had their body, life or property threatened. One student threatened “to fucking kill” a teacher for making him leave a class. Another teacher broke up a fight in class and broke a finger doing it. Another teacher was told his parents and brothers were going to “find you, break the windows in your house and fuck you up!” In all three incidents, students were either recommended for suspension or expulsion. The school system returned them all to school. No communication with or apologies to teachers were offered. In one of those cases, a student taunted his teacher with, “told y’all you can’t do shit to us no more”….This week a teacher tried to discipline a student disturbing class, he refused to leave class when asked and then blurted out, “I’m gonna bring a gun to school and kill all you mutha fuckers”. He went to the office and dropped out before “discipline” (joke) could reach him…NOTE: DO NOT MENTION ME OR THE SCHOOL…I’LL KEEP INFO COMING. THESE INCIDENTS ARE A RESULT OF DR. MICHAEL HAGGEN’S [Deputy Superintendent of Innovation and Reform] EDICT THAT ALL STUDENTS SHOULD BE IN SCHOOL REGARDLESS.

An interview with another teacher:

I have been with EBR for 27 years and taught in [redacted] for 6.5 yrs before coming here because a spouse was moved here by [redacted]

I LOVE what I do and most days it is rewarding and fulfilling.  Lately, not so much.

I really do not know what to tell you.  Ask me some specific questions.

What grades and subjects do you teach
I am an elective teacher in the [redacted]

Are student discipline matters handled fairly in your opinion?

Most of the time they are handled at the school level.  It’s when serious matters go to the school board that there is some strange stuff happening.  We had a boy that was starting fires in the restroom at my school.  He was caught and expelled.  Until the school board hearing process happened and he was sent right back to us.

Do you feel more safe or less safe at school around students and what has changed, if anything?

I do not feel as safe as I used to.  A kid once made a fake bomb out of cell phone and warned all the kids that at a certain time it would go off and not to be near my desk.  This was handled and the kid was expelled.  he did try to get into prom and a seven foot police officer escorted him off the property.

Is Common Core an issue?

It is an issue in that the fun and creativity of planning lessons and activities has been sucked right out of teaching.  In my elective class I am required to teach reading and writing skills THEIR way.  I am not trained to do this.  Even the PE teachers MUST do it!

Do teachers bear more of the burden in ensuring kids make the grades and pass than students because of policies and counseling directed to ensure no students fail subjects or have you seen no difference lately in how your administrators monitor the grades you assign your students

KIDS MUST PASS!!!!!  Tons of paperwork goes with this and a core teacher could explain it better than me.

Have you been a victim of violence or verbal death threats from students that you feel were not addressed seriously enough or have you seen/witnessed other teachers suffer physical or psychological abuse from students and if so, is this a more recent escalation?

See above.  I do know of other teachers that had threats made to them and nothing was done to the student.  The offenders remained in the same class with the same teacher.

How is that for starters?  I have follow ups depending on your answers

I hope some of this helps.  I am NOT a writer.

Letter to me from a retired EBR teacher who retired early to escape the abuse, Taylor and the reformers

After 25 years of service I walked away from the public school system in Baton Rouge fed up with being treated like a second class citizen. I had no interest in writing this until I saw that WBRZ news clip about Taylor’s bullying and I figured I might as well do this. I am retired. They cannot hurt me now.

This once was a noble profession of motivated teachers. Now I see us (them)as down-trodden. Their morale destroyed by students who can seemingly do as they please with little to no consequence. Last year I was slapped by a female high schooler and called a “bitch” after I told her to leave my class because she was disrupting it. This girl had done this before to me and other teachers but nothing was ever done. This time was no different either. She returned to my class the next day with a warning and a smirk on her face. The school administration said the school system wanted to modify her behavior and give her more chances. I was livid. I wanted to walk out of the door and never return. That was the day I decided to consider retirement.

Teachers once could control what they taught, how they taught it and when. Our testing was good enough. Our decisions were valued. Since Taylor and his ilk have taken charge of the school system we teachers are mere robots. We have no control of our professional lives. I just could not take it anymore.

I am only in my mid-50s and planned to teach for 30 years, but I knew I would probably have a heart attack, get beaten up by a 16 year old trying to break up a fight, or have my self-esteem chewed up by a system of overpaid jackasses who clearly have no idea what the teaching climate is like in a public school system. Sometimes I miss teaching, but I also understand to go back means dealing with this “reform” and the corruption behind it.

Since leaving, my blood pressure has dropped and I sleep better.

Hope this helps

Letter to me from another EBR teacher

I was talking with a group of students in my class last year when suddenly one of the girls started crying and ran out of the room!! When I looked to see what happened a young man had gone behind my back while my back was turned and switched the video we were watching to a fight on YouTube. I realized the girl who ran out of the room was getting beat up on the screen. She was humiliated.

I ran to the door and yelled for the girl to come back. At the same time I told the young man (who was 16 years old and 6’2″ and about 175 lbs) to “get out of my room and go to the office.” He responded by telling me we would kill me. As he moved out in to the hall he started screaming at me, “I want to kill your fucking ass!”

Two other teachers heard the commotion and came into the hall. As one of them escorted the student to the office, he repeatedly turned back and screamed.,” I will hunt you down and kill you!”

This student was given a five day suspension and sent right back to our school. He has been in and out of jail on a least one occasion this school year, and gives me an evil look every time I see him on campus. He should have faced legal repercussions. Instead he was given a slap on the wrist and sent out to terrorize others.

East Baton Rouge Parish public school teachers are being bullied by students and the school system on a scale most people would only think occurred in far-fetched fictional films. I’ve spoken with many more teachers than the one’s directly quoted here. I heard stories of many teachers ending up in emergency rooms and hospitals with very severe injuries, and the students involved are not expelled, simply sent back to the same schools and classes. I’ve had these stories multiply corroborated. EBR teachers don’t know who to complain to, dislike their thankless jobs more each day, and many are looking for an exit from a school system that does not support them in these matters.

As you can see from some of the letters I’ve reproduced here teachers are fleeing the profession to escape the violence and absurdity of Common Core, the reform movement, the lack of support, and the dramatic shift of responsibility from students to teachers for completion of student work and graduation. This is what happens when non-educator statisticians and number crunchers get put in charge.  (Note: I used to be one working at LDOE.) They worry more about raw numbers like improving graduation rates that John White, the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education has incorporated into SPS scores. These scores determine which schools and school districts get taken over by the state. To improve these scores EBR has taken the absurd stance that students can only be expelled for guns and illegal drugs.

The terrorizing of teachers is gut-wrenching to hear, but even worse is the underlying terrorizing and bullying of our students. Students are being beaten outside of school, having these fights recorded, and then played back on school grounds. Students are killing each other over things that happen at basketball games. Students are setting fires in schools, creating bombs and threatening classmates, and setting up drug deals and robberies and then shooting each other outside of school.

On February 12th the head of APEL, Keith Courville was interviewed by Baton Rouge’s WBRZ-TV, where not one invited teacher met with him for an on-air interview to discuss their abuse by EBR public school superintendent Bernard Taylor. The teachers were upset enough to complain to APEL, but as one teacher told me, “not ready to commit career suicide over the matter.” The irony in that teacher’s remark was that Taylor was exposed by WBRZ phoning teachers and threatening their jobs if they did not keep quiet regarding his so-called reform tactics. However, that does not make teachers any safer from Taylor, his deputy superintendents, or the teenage students that  terrorize teachers daily and are rarely punished.

Teachers at six Baton Rouge public high schools (Broadmoor, Belaire, Scotlandville, Tara, McKinley and Woodlawn) have stories of abuse by students and the school system that are common and disturbing. just as was in the case of the WBRZ story, not one was willing to be quoted directly out of fear of Taylor. The abuses ranged from students stealing from them, slapping their faces, pushing them down, beating them unconscious, threatening to destroy their property, cursing them in their classrooms, and multiple cases of teachers being threatened with death. None of these cases resulted in expulsions or permanent removals from the schools or teachers classrooms.

Misguided school reform might have driven Superintendent Taylor to these dangerous and deluded policies, but we concerned citizens and parents must never allow our public schools to become worse than the charter schools, voucher schools, virtual schools and Recovery School District we are trying to fight back against or we have already lost.

When we allow our students to be tormented by hoodlums because we fear our system will be taken over by the state if we kick them out, we have already lost the fight.

When we allow our standards and education to be watered down so everyone can graduate without even trying, just to improve our graduation rate we are not doing our children any favors, we are ruining them for the rest of their lives and we are validating everything the reformers say about how inferior our public schools are.

When we allow our teachers to be beaten and abused, we are guaranteeing they will flee for their health and lives, faster than Common Core and wildly inaccurate teacher evaluations and VAM scores would have accomplished on their own.

When we allow students to threaten their teachers with death on a routine basis, and slap them across the face without facing any repercussions for their assaults we are abusing all our children as well as our teachers. We are teaching our kids that this behavior is ok, which is exactly the wrong lesson.

I am not a John White style reformer. I am a reformer of the reformers. I know not everything our kids learn in school is attributable to a test score and our kids will by no means be college, career, or life ready witnessing and conducting themselves as these teachers are reporting our school system is permitting and enabling.

An investigation needs to be launched over these ridiculous and harmful policies and changes need to be made. I believe Superintendent Taylor is directly responsible for these outrageous situations and policies. I gave Taylor’s cronies a chance to explain themselves and they declined. Now it’s time for us take back our school system from someone who is intent on destroying our schools, destroying our teachers and destroying our students.

Just as many teachers ended their letters to me with “I hope this helps.” I have the same wish. I don’t see anyone else speaking up for these teachers and our students, but I hope this helps.

(edited for grammar and typos on 3/13/14)

A rallying cry story and call to action for the Common Core destroyers among us

A rallying cry story and call to action for the Common Core destroyers among us

Parents are getting creative about how they are showing their displeasure towards the Common Core, and the would-be supporters of it. Those of us who oppose the Core realize these corporation and organizations have very little grasp of what is contained in the Core. They are supporting the “idea” of the Core. I can actually understand and relate to that. At first the idea sounded reasonable enough to me and I required a lot of proof from folks I already trusted and worked with on many other educational projects. I spent many months listening, really listening; to both sides and trying to see if there was a middle ground. It wasn’t until I researched what was actually in it, saw how it was actually implemented (or not), learned about the lack of qualifications of the creators, learned that the international benchmarking was a myth made up to sound impressive, saw the tragically negative impact on children and their families, and heard the debunking of numerous myths and misrepresentations from the mouths of experienced and qualified educators not paid to spout unsupported platitudes, that I realized just how wrong and hostile Common Core has transformed the education landscape. Many companies supporting the Core were assured by other companies, educational leaders and politicians, donors, and wealthy stockholders like the Walton Family and Bill Gates (who created the Core) that the Core is the greatest thing for education since the pencil and chalkboard and computer. These companies have accepted on blind faith and trust that this will prepare students to run their cash registers, work in their factories, run their printing presses, and engineer their products and make a stronger country for us all. It’s a laudable goal (for the most part and from their perspective.)

The problem is . . . it’s all a lie.

First of all, claiming the Core can do all this is a ginormous unproven assertion. (You might as well throw in that it can cure Cancer and bring World Peace too.) These “standards” or jumbled and comma spliced “skills” as the only English Language Arts evaluator of Common Core, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, recently explained at a local Common Core Summit held in Baton Rouge on the 20th of February, were never field tested, never tried out on anyone, ever, before they were forced upon all children everywhere in every setting (public and private schools) Frankly, I can’t imagine any successful company banking an entire generation of their workers on an untested decades long retraining program.

This leads me to my second point. Most companies that did not invest time and money in Common Core, or who are not hoping to make fists full of cash off the Common Core in the form of textbooks, tests, and training and tutoring programs, or educational software, have no idea what’s actually in these national “standards.”

I understand.

I really do.

But ignorance is not a defense (legal or moral) once you have been informed.

To that end I encourage all of you to inform these companies of what Common Core means to you, and what it will come to mean to their business (or lack thereof) if they keep blindly supporting what is essentially a corporately driven confiscation and retooling of our taxpayer funded educational system, of our children’s educations, for their own Human Capital needs and profit driven agendas. Below is an example of how one mom informed a company on the list of supporters I will provide to you and update as we pick them off or stubbornly dig their feet in. (Those will face a more coordinated boycott and negative publicity campaign at a later date.)

Without further ado, here is one of what I hope will be many success stories in the near future. Well done, Debbie. You have made many of us proud with this act.

Hi All,

Oh – I am laughing!!  I had the best time today!  I walked into Chase Bank armed with information on Common Core (list of all the businesses sponsoring CC, the Parent’s Beware Flier, a picture of the Stop Common Core Billboard on my phone( less than 6 blocks from the bank).

I asked to meet with an officer of the bank.  I told her how satisfied I was with Chase [bank], but that I could not support a bank that is supporting/promoting CC.  I explained to her how they are gathering all the health information, etc. on the children and how they could potentially profile children for future job interviews, etc. She had no idea.  I also explained to her how damaging the curriculum is.

When I told her that this information on companies promoting /supporting Common Core was given to me yesterday at a forum with @ 400 people in Baton Rouge and that this information was being put on Face Book – she immediately walked back with the papers and showed it to the manager who then wanted to know which Face Book this was posted too!

I then told her that I would be happy to come back and bank at Chase when they send me a letter that they are no longer supporting/promoting Common Core.  I also told her that the rest of my family will be pulling their money out of Chase as well.  She thanked me and told me that she had a son in the 4th grade and that she was going to look into this.

The irony is that I do not have a Face Book, so those of you who do, please post and if you (or your spouse) do not feel comfortable posting a particular company on your Face Book – just delete that one company and post the rest.   I know of at least one person who is alerting his company to this bad press.  Many companies want to shut this type of bad press down before it gets out of hand.  Politicians are pushing this on our kids because corporations are pushing this on them.  Remember – who are big donors to political campaigns?  Who are referring to our children as human capital to be used( cheap labor) in their work force?

Resource Bank and Parish National Bank both have teachers connected to presidents and past presidents of these local banks.  I know Resource has recently expanded from St. Tammany to the South Shore.  Be sure and tell these institutions why you are transferring your money there.  I resent the attachment with an updated list of all the businesses to boycott. :)

Have A Great Week End!

Debbie Sachs

To learn more please refer to Dr. Mercedes Schneider’s post:

Link to pdf with details on Boycott and list of companies to target for their support of Common Core: tuna fish and common core2

My kids belong themselves and  to me; not to you, or your community, or company.
My kids belong themselves and to me; not to you, or your community, or any company.

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. . .

Louisiana Educator: The Course Choice Cancer (promotional posting)

Louisiana Educator: The Course Choice Cancer (promotional posting)

You need to read this post by Mike Deshotels.  One of the reasons John White is handing student data over to private, unaccountable vendors is to make it easy for them to enroll you kids in terrible virtual courses, taught by uncertified teachers, on the state’s/your dime.  Not only are these often classes taught by uncertified “teachers” recruited from Craigslist, but school districts have no choice in the matter of awarding students credit for these courses.

This is especially bad for the following reasons:

  • Student performance is tied to teacher performance.  If a student takes a Course Choice class in Algebra I and passes, but without learning anything, and then reports to another real teacher’s class for a higher math class, that teacher will get a horrible score and face possible termination.
  • School and district closures and takeovers are tied to student performance.  If a significant number of students take these crap courses to get easy credits, then take the tests used to determine SPS scores (School Performance Scores) they will do terrible.  That’s a guarantee.  This will mean school districts will be taken over and away from those parents and kids that did not participate in “Course Choice” and handed over to for profit companies, without any accountability or oversight.  Course Choice is a way to accelerate school takeovers by trashing school performance.
  • If significant numbers of students take these substandard courses, you can forget about students from Louisiana getting fair treatment when it comes to applying for colleges or jobs after high school.  Once the ill prepared kids reach the job market Louisiana’s reputation, such that it is already, will plummet even more.  A diploma from Louisiana will be little better than a piece of used toilet paper.  We might as well just start awarding diploma’s online for a 99 dollar fee when kids are born.  They will carry as much weight as the actual ones.

buy a degree

Course Choice: What a steal.  Get Yours Today!!!!!

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

These days John White might be needing a hug. It appears all the ill-will and poor decisions making he has sown over the past year is coming home to roost on his doorstep, all at the same time.

Support the Louisiana Student Privacy Act

Recently we called out White for lying to everyone in the state of Louisiana over carelessly and needlessly exposing all of our school children to unnecessary risks by handing over their some of their most private data to companies hoping to make a profit off the information by direct marketing products to children, charging the state millions of dollars for the privilege of using their storage services, and by marketing and providing this information to unlimited third party vendors. I encourage the legislature to craft and pass the Louisiana Student Privacy Act, which will go further than FERPA (the Federal Student Privacy Act) and actually protect our children’s privacy instead of selling it out to anyone who asks.

Reject House Bill 650 – DOE reorg

White is trying to push through a bill that supporting the reorganization of the Louisiana Department of Education, about a year too late according to this DOE employee: (Link to testimony from April 11th)

Last week Beth Scioneaux indicated in House Education that the LDOE is going to lose another 34 positions. She didn’t say how many actual bodies were going to be lost but the numbers are getting pretty low with the exception of the TFA types. Erin Bendily lied through her teeth when she said that the department wasn’t working under the proposed reorg. White starting putting everything in place the moment he came in and had pretty much finished by early fall. He even had a draft of the org chart that he handed out to some staff around September early October. He also wants to make the Deputy Supt. position optional because his hand-picked second in command (Kunjan) couldn’t possibly be confirmed. He changed the title to Chief of Staff to get around it…

While Representative Chris Broadwater stated he has questions about how the reorg would work before he approves it (which already seems a little redundant since it doesn’t appear he cares what the answers are) well he might as well ask John White how the reorganization is already working out. White just needs rubber stamps, as BESE has learned. Unless you think White should be able to thumb his nose at the legislature and oversight, you should probably vote down House bill 650.

This information jives with everything I saw before I left. Erin actually sent an e-mail to us long before John White was confirmed, when he was still the Superintendent of RSD, instructing us not to make any decisions until Superintendent White was “officially” confirmed. I’m told he was making personnel decisions long before BESE voted to confirm him so it makes sense he would reorganize the department illegally and then ask for permission afterwards. White even drafts and then approves BESE agendas before BESE meets or reviews them.

Reject 2013 MFP

(don’t defund Special Education Programs, don’t use a DOE

known flawed VAM for funding calculations (SCR 23) )

John White has earned the ire of many advocates for Special Education Students of the disabled, gifted and talented varieties. Despite what he has claimed, this formula is not neutral, and actually reduces funding for some school districts even by DOE’s own reports they produced to try to dispute this fact based on the rosiest forecasts I’m sure they could come up with. The new MFP takes money away from talented programs, reduces gifted program funding, and reduces funding for disabled students who can’t exceed their value added scores by larger and larger amounts every year (which is statistically impossible).


Pass House Bill 160 – VAM delay and oversight

Because VAM or Value Added Modeling has been introduced into funding for school districts I would be remiss if I did not spend a little time explaining some of the flaws with this system that have come to my attention recently. If you don’t know what VAM is offhand, you are not alone. Even the Louisiana Department of Education, which uses VAM for everything from teacher evaluations, to school grades, to funding, to soybean substitute, has no idea how this system works according to this former employee.

Most of all, he [White] knows the Value Added Model, the all-important VAM, is broken. And he knows this because he broke it.

What was most interesting to read, however, was Johnny’s opposition to the ‘legislative oversight’ aspect to HB 160. He’s already allowing legislators (well, at least one northwestern one in particular) to dictate what the model does; why not let an entire committee or two have input? Is it because he knows that what he’s doing is wrong, if not illegal? Does he not want our elected BESE members to know that he bypassed them once again, by skipping policy and instead screwing with the math? Would he prefer that our esteemed, elected, representatives not be aware that he is playing around with citizens’ lives and careers because the governor tells him to ‘trust me, you gotta do this’? Perhaps he would not like the courts to know that he continues to flaunt the law by ignoring specific mandates that don’t suit him? He may be afraid that the public will learn that ‘Louisiana Make Believes’ data is being used to determine teachers’ futures, school takeovers and charters, voucher eligibility and the Course Choice crap, along with the future privatization of education. Or, maybe, it’s just that he’s concerned that everyone will finally discover that he’s nothing but White Lies.”

VAM was a flawed metric to use for all the things DOE tried to apply it to, but made more so by all the frenetic gyrations John White put the system through trying to please a select few. I strongly urge our legislators to reject the MFP formula put forth by BESE and ask that BESE restore the previous year’s formula that does not contain a tragically flawed VAM component. The folks that crafted the original VAM formula are gone, and John White almost exclusively hires TFA (Teach for America) folks that lack expertise in the areas he assigns them. Just this past week or so I learned that as many as 60 DOE personnel were given walking papers as part of a RIF, Reduction in Force plan. However I’ve also learned that John White already has new TFA recruits waiting in the wings to fill these spots he is “temporarily” eliminating – at much higher salaries and much fewer years of experience than much of the current staff he is releasing.

I’ve heard from several sources that John White is worried (freaked out) by some Freedom of Information requests that were made about VAM. Well there is a lot to be frightened of apparently:

It’s interesting to read that John White appears willing to hold off implementing Compass (that new teacher evaluation system) for one year…just about exactly one year after educators around the state begged him to do exactly that. He knows the entire program is, in a nutshell, a clusterf**k. He knows the two data systems involved may not work together; one of them is not even completed. He knows his district support office (the one that was just approved…months after being created…. and after the guy running it for five months left. provides little to no support, while ‘toolboxing’ around the state in rental cars, collecting mileage and per diems. He knows that schools have been given precious few resources and little guidance, and no definite answers. He knows the ‘new and improved’ LouisianaBelieves website leads teachers on an endless loop of 404-file not found error messages, dead links, outdated or “coming soon” information.

In case some of you were not keeping up, John White scrapped the former department of education website in favor of what has been called a childish, useless crayon inspired endeavor that contains nothing useful except pictures of John White handing out big checks to school districts with his sleeves rolled up. As impressive as that sight is to the John White fan club, most of us are not members, and what he has done offends us.

When I was at DOE we used to website as an archive of useful information and reports which we could direct internal staff, school district personnel, parents and other stakeholders to.  Now the site is universally understood to be a useless mess.  I suppose in a way that makes sense. John White has a god complex and he’s crafted the new department website in his own image.

John White doesn’t want people keeping track of what’s going on, so he scrapped the old site but “we in the know” are doing our level best to keep you informed. White can’t continue to lie to us, sell our children, humiliate our teachers, defund our Special Education students, dazzle us with VAM BS, and ignore both the legislature and BESE. . .  unless you let him. I and my brave colleagues have done their part, now it’s time for some of you to do yours.

No matter what John White names his website, Louisiana doesn’t have to believe anymore.  Reject John White and his bankrupt policies and send him packing.  We deserve better.  Our children deserve better than having to put up with this.