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What Senator Milligan Said to Cade Brumley About Teacher Voice, and More

May 30, 2020

On May 27, 2020, newly-appointed Louisiana state superintendent, Cade Brumley, made his appearance before Louisiana’s Senate and Governmental Affairs committee for his confirmation hearing. The video archive can be found here, beginning at time 2:27:00.)

I watched much of Brumley’s hearing and was particularly impressed by what Senator Barry Milligan had to say about teacher voice, which was underscored by Senator Glen Womack. The senators also raise the subjects of curriculum and standards.

Since this information is surely of interest to Louisiana teachers, I trascribed select sections for an easy, concise read.

Below are Senator Milligan’s words to Brumley (beginning at 2:54:40). Milligan chose to speak to Brumley rather than interview him:

Welcome. You come from DeSoto Parish, and from my church, and you have an excellent track record, and many, many fans. I guess, I don’t really have a question. I guess, what I want to share is, coming from a family of teachers, you, know, the frustration that they have, and the teachers that I know who have left, it wasn’t about the money. They didn’t do this to get rich. They have a true passion for the children and teaching, and they’re frustrated because when you look at curriculum choices, student assessments, teacher assessments, it’s constantly chaging, and they can’t gain any momentum. And right now, I know that the battles that I hear at home with my family isn’t about the money. It’s about the fact that they are constantly changing the curriculum to where, at this very moment, they’re teaching from a script.

Why do you have to go to college to become an educator if you’re going to teach from a script?

And they feel hemmed in by that, you know? They have to be at a certain place in the curriculum today, and tomorrow, it’s got to be somewhere else, and if you fall behind, you have to skip ahead, and it causes a lot of frustration.

Again, the teachers that I know that left, it wasn’t about the money. It was about that frustration. They feel like they couldn’t teach. But I’ll also tell you that, they feel like they don’t have a voice. You know, in this noble enterprise, school boards have a voice. Superintendents have a voice. Teacher unions have a voice, but the teachers themselves don’t feel like they have a voice.

You have a big role ahead in trying to move education forward in the state of Louisiana, which helps all people and helps the state. But, I would suggest that, that you give the teachers a direct voice to your ear, to be able to tell you what they need and what they think. Those are the folks that are on the front lines each and every day, that interact with our kids each and every day.

I think that through the COVID process, some of the good things that came is we”ve shown that education has the ability to step out in the 21st century and really turn on a dime and make things happen, so we know the capability is there. I would just challenge you as you move forward, and as you’ve proven in DeSoto and proven in Jefferson, considering those three areas (instructional recovery, technological readiness, financial recovery– time 2:38:24) and then allowing the teachers to have a voice in those three areas. There’s certainly got to be more buy-in. I think you’re certainly going to have happier teachers on the front lines, and I think that does translate directly to the education of our children. So, with that, I’ll leave it there. Thank you.

And now, much of the exchange between Senator Womack and Brumley (beginning at 2:58:00):

Womack: In terms of curriculum, what are you seeing in curriculum? Changing a whole lot, or some, in the curriculum that the state uses?

Brumley: I would suggest that over the last few years, the state department of education has spent considerable time and resource in evaluating curriculum and offering curriculum to districts at various times. I know English came at certain times; math, at certain times, and we just received science curriculums.

I don’t think the state department of education should mandate a specific curriculum to individual districts. However, I do think it’s important for the state department to evaluate and make decisions on which curriculums are high quality and provide a menu of options for districts to utilize.

Womack: So, with that being said, it wouldn’t be mandated, maybe, or strongly suggested that they stay with Tier 1?

Brumley: Senator, I have to be very candid and tell you that, as I’ve sad many times, I think the most important thing for a child is a high-quality teacher armed with a robust curriculum, and all curriculums are not equal out there. And, there are leaders, um, there are curriculums that lead, and there are others that are not as good. One of the things that I think is always important in that process, to go back to Senator Milligan’s comments, is having teacher voice in the selection of those curriculums.

In Jefferson, that’s one of the things that I always did, I had a teacher council, and anything that we wanted to do, we tried to push that out in front of this teacher group, which is about 20-plus teachers and get their opinions on it first. And we also, at the same time, things that had been rolled out, get their feedback on what is working and what is not working, and we were able, because we were feedback-rich, to make adjustments. But I do think it is important to make sure that you have a process in place to evaluate curriculum and make sure that students have access to that.

Womack: Okay. You mentioned something about 20 teachers. How many teachers do we have statewide? Do you know that?

Brumley: I could not give you that number right now, no sir. I have 3,200 in Jefferson Parish.

Womack: So, we’ve got a large number of teachers, and when you said 20, it seemed like a small amount to reach back to Senator Milligan’s question of the voice of the teachers statewide.

Brumley: Yes, sir. One other thing I would do, and I never brought a lot of publicity to this, but about once a week, I would organize this with the principal when I would step into one of our schools for a faculty meeting, I would go before the faculty and I would say, “Look, teachers, this is your meeting. The superintendent’s here. I’m not here to pitch you on an idea or sell you anything. I just want to know from you what’s working, what supports do you need from the district, and what can we do together to be successful for kids?”

And somebody would take notes for me, very simply. I would take those back to the district the next day, and we would start working on areas where we might need to make an improvement. So, if you’re concerned about teacher voice, that’s not a concern with me because it is the most important voice.

Womack: Thank you. As you know, over the last few years, across the state, we’ve had a lot of interest and non-interest in Common Core. Where do you stand on Common Core?

Brumley: Well, I’ve lived that, Senator. So, I was superintendent in DeSoto Parish, DeSoto Parish school system, when all that came through, and I think a lot of my abilities to bring people to the table and have communication, collaboration, were certainly strengthened during that time, in working through the Common Core era.

I think now, we’ve moved away from specifically Common Core and have moved to Louisiana state standards, and i do believe that over the next period of time, BESE and the Department will be looking to teachers and trying to get feedback on those standards again to see what makes sense and what doesn’t, after a period of time, and reevaluate the standards. But I do think it’s important to have high standards. I think that it’s important whenever teachers go into the classroom, they know that those educational standards are because it then gives them a guide for them to use.

Now, I’m not saying take away all of the teachers’ creativity and how they teach that standard, but I do think it’s important every day that a teacher knows what it is they’re trying to accomplish for a child.

After hearing Brumley’s comment about “moving away” from Common Core and “moving to” Louisiana standards, I tweeted Brumley about what is only a change of name:

As of this writing, Brumley has not responded. To his credit, he spoke of teachers revisiting the standards. However, that is tricky because the way that works is that the current standards serve as the baseline for change– unless there is a clear call to dump Common Core (let’s call those “Louisiana standards” what they really are) and replace them with the pre-CC Louisiana standards as the baseline from which to work.

So, Louisiana teachers, according to Brumley, teacher voice is important to him, and he plans to make himself available to listen.

Let’s hold him to it.

My thanks to senators Milligan and Womack for supporting teachers and our voices in Brumley’s confirmation hearing.

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Cade Brumley

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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One Comment
  1. P. Schwarz permalink

    Thanks, Mercedes.

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