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Reflections on My Common Core Debate for the West St. Tammany Chamber

February 13, 2014

Below is a post that I wrote for Brietbart regarding my February 4th debate on Common Core. The debate occurred in the Louisiana parish in which I both live and teach, St. Tammany. (The somewhat-edited version posted in Breitbart can be found here.)

St. Tammany has had a solid reputation among southern Louisiana teachers for as long as I have been in the profession (1991).

Today a colleague referred to St. Tammany as “the best of the worst,” and she cited the oft-used stat that Louisiana ranks 49th educationally, only behind Mississippi.

I touch on the issue of a Louisiana “49th ranking” in my post below; however, I would like to take this moment to add some more information on Louisiana’s and St. Tammany’s education status and economic ranking.

The “Post Before the Post”

Concerning the USDOE 2010-11 cohort graduation rate, Louisiana ranks 44th out of 51 (DC included)– 71% of Louisiana students graduated in four years. Interestingly, Louisiana tied with Jeb Bush’s ultra-reformed Florida, and Louisiana outscored reform vixen Michelle Rhee’s DC.

Louisiana is lower ranked on this cohort statistic. Nevertheless, Louisiana is not “the bottom” (with all of the connotations such a designation carries).

As for average 2012 composite ACT scores, out of the nine states that administered the ACT to 100% of graduates, Louisiana tied with Wyoming for fourth place (composite of 20.3).

St. Tammany had a composite of 21.9— a composite higher than all of the nine states that administered the ACT to 100% of graduates– and a composite higher than 30 of the composites for all states (and DC) regardless of how few of a state’s graduates took the ACT (the top ten states administered the ACT to between 9% and 23% of their graduates).

Thus, when one considers 2012 ACT composite scores, Louisiana is more than “the worst,” and St. Tammany, more than “the best of the worst.”

According to 2010 US census data and the 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, St. Tammany was the only parish in Louisiana to exceed the US average per capita  income. St. Tammany ranked 3rd out of 64 parishes for median household income and 2nd for median family income.

St. Tammany fares better educationally than many other Louisiana parish school systems in noteworthy part because its residents have more money.

For many Louisiana parishes, the economic pains are harder felt.

Over half of Louisiana parishes (35 out of 64) had a 2010 per capita income under $20,000. Thirty-four parishes had a 2010 median household income below $40,000.

In 2012, Louisiana median household income was $39,085.

The state of Louisiana schools cannot be separated from the Louisiana economy.  The governor’s decisions on giving corporations a free pass when it comes to Louisiana tax revenue (linked below) does contribute to Louisiana’s tattered economy, which, in turn, contributes to the quality of life for both Louisiana students and teachers.

CCSS will not “fix” Louisiana’s poor economy. CCSS will only further starve Louisiana’s public schools. Those pushing CCSS are either deceivers or themselves deceived to believe otherwise.

Money matters to school systems.

CCSS advocates who insist upon “moving beyond” issues of CCSS inappropriateness to CCSS “implementation” are transporting water in cracked fiscal pots.

Drip, drip, drip.

On to my post about the February 4th CCSS debate.

And Now, the Post

On February 4, 2014, I was part of a Common Core State Standards (CCSS) panel discussion for the West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce, one of the chambers of commerce in the Louisiana parish in which I both reside and teach.

In this article, I would like to offer some observations from the February 4th debate regarding comments offered by the pro-CCSS participants.

Four individuals were on the panel: two pro-CCSS and two, against. Not only was the only teacher; I was the only one who had ever been a teacher.

I am in my nineteenth full-time year of teaching. Fourteen of those full-time years I have spent in the public school classroom. (The other five were at the university level.)

I am against CCSS.

The other three individuals on the panel were Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) President Barry Erwin, Stand for Children Louisiana (SFCL) President Rayne Martin (both pro-CCSS), and Louisiana State Representative Cameron Henry (against).

This was my second CCSS panel. The first was in Baton Rouge in November, and the pro-CCSS individuals for that panel also hailed from CABL and SFCL. That debate did not go so well for the pro-CCSS side.  The entire November 2013 debate is available on video here.

For the February 4th debate, both CABL and SFCL engaged higher-ranking participants than in the previous debate.

The CCSS fire is hotter now, I suppose.

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” since such happens to be the truth.)

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.”

Therefore, in supporting CCSS, February 4th panel participant Rayne Martin is doing exactly what her national organization is being funded by Gates to do. In her remarks during the debate, Martin cited as evidence of the need for CCSS her own having to take a remedial English class at the university level.

Thus, she promotes the faulty, unproven logic that CCSS will end the need for remedial English classes in higher education.

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 her 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.

Nevertheless, Martin is now the president of a state organization, and she made $133,000 in 2012– well over twice my annual teaching salary.

I’m not feeling too sorry for Martin’s remedial English class experience. 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 does 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 has never had his vapor of a career in teaching contingent upon student test scores — has left the door open to evaluate teachers using “other data”— which does not preclude student test scores.

As for business leader Barry Erwin, the other CCSS supporter on the February 4th 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.

The first job on the list requiring a bachelors degree for entry level is ranked eleven: elementary school teacher. What irony.

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 (implication being those “college and career ready” jobs supposedly the result of 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 that 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).

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

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. (You read it right.)

Never mind the fact that when Erwin was asked an audience question 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 science– or technology– or engineering– or math– 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.

So, for a second time, I debated CABL and SFCL representatives– those with zero classroom experience– on the issue of nondemocratically-created CCSS.

Interesting how the pro-CCSS camp cannot seem to find the likes of me– someone who is still in the classroom and who has upwards 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.

  1. Debbie Sachs permalink

    Mercedes – Thank You (and Representative Cameron Henry) for traveling to West St. Tammany and lending your expertise to this panel.

    I thought that it was quite amusing that one of the people at my table remarked that he was so glad to hear that Louisiana had dropped the Common Core State Standards Initiative before the debate had started!

    Others were knowingly winking and smiling in my direction when they heard the propaganda spewing from Mr. Erwin and Mrs. Martin’s mouths.

    Some wanted to know why the cradle to grave dossiers being dragged out on the children seem never to be addressed during these CCSSI debates – I guess even the pro Common Core people find this tentacle of the CCSSI unpalatable as not one of them is willing to debate on this aspect of the CCSSI.

    You and Representative Cameron Henry did a fine job of representing THE TRUTH and not only is it ringing here in Louisiana – it is ringing throughout the nation!

  2. Joseph permalink

    As I recall California was always near the bottom. Just can no longer trust the data.
    That’s why Whole Language was brought in, and then crucified, when the publishers realized that no one would be needing their crappy books, being replaced by authentic literature.

  3. Mercedes, you my dear, are a rock star! I look so forward to reading your articles. Thanks for working so hard at the truth.

  4. Tracy permalink

    Mercedes, thanks again for sharing your delightful writing. And thanks again for taking on those who try to deceive, showing their ignorance and shallowness. After having heard your voice on a podcast, I can now imagine your voice as I read. I have been trying to find the right words to describe your voice…I am stuck at “smoky” and “serpentine”…along with the accent there is another quality I can’t name, and your use of words on the unsuspecting and vapid pro-CCSS crowd is definately like a serpent lying in wait until they step into your trap and show their true colors. My image is of Ka from The Jungle Book, with a dose of New Orleans. Anyways, a heartfelt thanks for all the amazing research you do.

  5. ira shor permalink

    The pro-CCSS crowd cannot produce an equal to you b/c they do not have someone of your experience and knowledge, both practicing teacher and working scholar in the domains of data, politics, and pedagogy. They are uninformed propagandists and ideologues pretending to be education experts so that they can loot the public sector. They have vast wealth, power, and connections behind them while folks like you have vast knowledge, classroom practice, and critical thought behind you. Sure hope you can find time to speak publicly as often as possible. You put them to shame and keep them on the defensive.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Debate of the Decade Would be Schneider vs. Gates on CCSS | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Warning to Louisiana Parents: That “Nameless Pilot Test” is None Other Than PARCC (Common Core) | Dr. Rich Swier
  3. What Common Core Looks Like In Desperation | Dr. Rich Swier

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