Calcasieu Parish openly defies policy set by school board

77369_ASCD_Panel1_FINAL     Ask anyone with elementary age children what is the hot topic among parents, educators and the community. In most cases, you will find the answer to be Common Core. In Calcasieu parish, this is especially true. During the 2014-2015 school year, Calcasieu led the way in the fight against Common Core. Early in the year, a town hall meeting drawing nearly 900 attendees opposed to Common Core and the curriculum that accompanied it. In the Spring of ’15, Calcasieu led the State with largest number of opt-outs from high-stakes testing.

Calcasieu, like many other parishes, chose to adopt Eureka Math and Core Knowledge as its elementary curriculum for Math and ELA, respectively. Well, whether, or not, “adopted” is the correct word, the curricula were purchased during the summer between the outgoing former superintendent, Wayne Savoy, and the incoming new superintendent, Karl Bruchhaus. These two curricula were not only the only Tier 1 curricula offered by the state, but also the only curricula which offered money and training, directly from the Louisiana Department of Education, for training and implementation of Common Core standards.

Parental opposition to the use of these curricula was minimal, at first, but grew exponentially each month. When curriculum adoption came up for review in March, 2015, the number of parents and community members in attendance at the meeting was overwhelming. Not only was the board meeting room filled, but the outside lobby had people standing elbow to elbow and the crowd continued outside into the parking lot.

The board strategically allowed people, both for and against, an opportunity to speak. The majority of those who spoke in favor of keeping the curricula were elementary principals, various people employed by organizations that promote Common Core and a clueless member of the Chamber of Commerce. Those for the curricula were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the people in opposition bleeding out into the parking lot.

Ultimately, the school board members made the right decision to adopt new curricula which, while still aligned with Common Core standards, met the approval of the parents, students, community members and other stakeholders who had fought to rid the parish of Eureka Math and Core Knowledge. Accepting the curriculum committee’s recommendation for ELA, the board approved the purchase of Journeys, a curriculum offered by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In a twist, the board opted to reject the recommendation to adopt Eureka Math. A lengthy debate followed, accompanied by attempts to amend and adopt a dual-curriculum. Several members of the Curriculum and Instruction department spoke emphasizing heavily their desire to keep the Eureka Math curriculum. Tricia Miller, Elementary Curriculum Specialist, stated, emphatically, that the two curricula could not work together. In summary, Chief Academic Officer, Tommy Campbell said to the board, “Regardless of the outcome of the vote, his department would move forward in a positive manner, to offer the best for all students.”

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Engage NY homework sent home by Prien Lake Elementary in Calcasieu Parish.

When the smoke was cleared, and the final decision was made, the school board members voted to purchase Journeys as its ELA curriculum for elementary schools, and Expressions Math (also published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) as the Math curriculum while “allowing” teachers to supplement with Eureka Math, if they chose to do so, since the materials were still available. The publisher of the new curricula, HMH, sat in the wings ready and willing to provide all teachers with the necessary training needed to use the new text, a published scope and sequence and common assessments to track student progress. All was settled, right? Wrong!

The 2015-2016 school year began on August 12th in Calcasieu. Although the year started quietly, word began to get out that the elementary teachers who were being trained by HMH were simultaneously be given a different “scope and sequence” developed by the C&I team which followed the Eureka Math sequence in order while forcing teachers using Expressions to jump around in their units. On Thursday, August 27th, elementary schools all over the parish received printed materials for Eureka Math to cover the entire year, despite the fact that they had not requested them. In an apparent move to hide their intent from the public, teachers began to teach in the classroom with Eureka Math and send homework home with Expressions. Unfortunately, some teachers didn’t get the memo, or perhaps, they thought that the public wouldn’t  recognize “Engage NY” as the former name of Eureka Math.

Eureka Math homework sent home by A.A. Nelson Elementary in Calcasieu Parish.

Eureka Math homework sent home by A.A. Nelson Elementary in Calcasieu Parish.

Oddly enough, the Eureka Math worksheets began to appear in backpacks and binders, and photos of them began to appear of social media posted by parents who are angry. Do you suppose they have a right to be? Block The Agenda does. The tax paying public demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that they did not want Eureka Math used in their children’s classrooms. Their demands were met by the elected board that sets policy for the school district, yet here we sit, with a staff in the school system that is bent on doing as they please despite the decision of the board. Are you mad? We hope that you are. Ask your child’s teacher what curriculum they are using in Math. If they say Expressions, ask for evidence of it. If they say Eureka, ask them why? If they say because they were told to, call your school board member. Call your school principal. Call the superintendent. These actions are unacceptable.