Louisiana Educator Debates Local Pro-Common Core Organizations

Louisiana Educator Debates Local Pro-Common Core Organizations

As a public school educator in Louisiana who is opposed to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I participated in a panel discussion on February 4th for the West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce.

The panel was composed of two individuals who support the CCSS and two opposed to them. I was the only panelist who had been a teacher.

The other three panelists were Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) President Barry Erwin, Stand for Children Louisiana (SFCL) President Rayne Martin, both of whom are CCSS supporters, and Louisiana State Representative Cameron Henry, who opposes the standards.

It’s worthwhile to note that since I served on another CCSS panel last November, with the same organizations represented, the CCSS debate has grown hotter, and the recent debate engaged higher-ranking participants than the prior one.

What I find interesting as I read about the CCSS battle nationwide is how many pro-CCSS organizations are business organizations or nonprofits financed by the likes of Bill Gates (I count both major teachers unions as “nonprofits financed by Bill Gates”).

In November 2013, SFC (the national organization for which Martin is state president) accepted $751,000 from Gates “to support public understanding and successful implementation of college and career ready standards in states.”

In her remarks during the debate, Martin cited as evidence of the need for CCSS her own experience taking a remedial English class at the university level. Thus, she promoted the faulty, unproven logic that CCSS will end the need for remedial English classes in higher education.

For example, it just so happens that I tested out of my first English class at the university level. Like Martin, I attended public school in Louisiana, and like Martin, I earned my bachelors degree from a state school in Louisiana.

If I entered the university having tested out of my first English course and I was educated in the same state and under the same set of standards, does that mean the issue is one of deficient standards?

The issue of Martin’s remediation versus my non-remediation is much more complex than replacing a set of standards. Perhaps Martin is not as skilled a writer as I am. Perhaps she did not pay as much attention in class as I did. Perhaps she missed more school. Perhaps her talents lay elsewhere. Perhaps her district had fewer resources. Perhaps a lot of things.

Martin’s personal experience aside, what I do take issue with is her deceptive promotion of the connection between statistics such as Louisiana’s state ranking “49th in reading and 50th in math” and CCSS as the solution.

Martin did not cite the uncanny correspondence between Louisiana’s reading and math scores and the percentage of public school students eligible for free and reduced lunch (and here).

In our debate, I noted that student test scores are part of my teacher evaluation. Martin was quick to note that value-added modeling scores will not be used for teacher evaluation in 2013-14 and 2014-15 – which is true. However, I am among the majority of Louisiana public school teachers evaluated using student learning targets (SLTs) – which are based upon set percentages of students achieving certain cut scores on standardized tests. In other words, all of the ways to evaluate teachers using student test scores are not suspended.

Martin is apparently not aware that Louisiana State Superintendent John White – a former Teach for America temp teacher who himself never had his brief teaching career contingent upon student test scores – has left the door open to evaluate teachers using “other data”, which does not preclude student test scores.

For business leader Barry Erwin, the other CCSS supporter on the panel, CCSS is the solution for filling those 21st-century jobs with qualified Louisiana graduates.

It certainly sounds good – except that the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) projects that in 2016, the top three available jobs in Louisiana will be cashier, retail sales, and waiter/waitress.

Ironically, the first job on the list requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry level is ranked eleven: elementary school teacher.

When I stated the above information in my opening remarks, Erwin became upset. He said that he knows a business owner who will have jobs available, the implication being that those “college and career ready” jobs are supposedly the result of a CCSS education.

Those kinds of jobs – the ones requiring college degrees upon entry – are on the LWC 2016 projections list. However, they tend to be much further down the list – which means a much lower demand for such jobs. Indeed, many of the 2016 projected jobs which will require a four-year college degree in Louisiana are expected to have a demand of 50 or fewer jobs per annum – which means less than one such job available per year per Louisiana parish (we have 64 parishes).

In short, Erwin is pushing the CCSS for jobs that are a Louisiana figment of the business imagination.

Perhaps Erwin should redirect his CCSS support energy into determining why the Louisiana economy is so depressed. It could have something to do with tax loopholes that actually pay corporations to not pay Louisiana taxes.

Never mind the fact that when Erwin was asked a question from the audience about the absence of calculus in the supposedly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-promoting CCSS math standards, he said that he could not respond because he did not understand the question.

I responded in his stead. It is true that the supposedly “higher bar” CCSS math standards do not include calculus. Now, I do not believe that calculus is for all students. However, if those attempting to sell CCSS as “more rigorous” turn a blind or oblivious eye to the fact that CCSS-absent calculus should be part of the high school course content for students intending to pursue careers in STEM, then I am more than willing to clearly identify such an omission in a CCSS forum in which a vocal CCSS promoter has no idea what STEM is to begin with.

Interestingly, the pro-CCSS camp cannot seem to find someone like me – a teacher who is still in the classroom and who has upwards of two decades of full-time, predominately public school teaching experience – to debate the would-be merits of CCSS.

I challenge CABL and SFC to produce such a person to engage in debate with me.

Dr. Mercedes Schneider writes about Common Core at deutsch29.wordpress.com.