CCSS: When A Compromise, Isn’t.

In the 2015 legislative session, a small group of legislators led by Rep. Brett Geymann were posturing a number of bills directed at removing Common Core and the PARCC assessment. In addition, a couple of bills had been filed addressing ethics that would prevent the superintendent and a couple of BESE members to terminate their relationships with certain organizations. It still isn’t clear whether, or not, the bills would have passed, but there certainly was enough of a threat for Superintendent of Education, John White, to come to the table.

Working into the wee hours of the night, the legislators, superintendent and a couple of BESE members worked out an agreement that seemed to meet at least some of the needs of both sides. In short, they agreed on the following points.

  1. Requires BESE to begin reviewing and developing state content standards in English language arts and math by July 1, 2015.
  2. Requires BESE to hold at least one meeting for the standards’ review and development in each La. congressional district.
  3. Requires BESE to submit the minutes from each meeting to each member of the legislature not later than 30 days after the meeting.
  4. Provides that all such meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Law.
  5. Requires BESE to post the standards on its website by Feb. 21, 2016, and to adopt the standards by March 4, 2016.
  6. Requires BESE to promulgate the standards in accordance with the Admin. Procedure Act prior to implementation.
  7. Requires the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate each to appoint one member to serve as a liaison to attend the meetings held pursuant to new law and requires each liaison to report on the status of the review and development of the standards and the specific time lines and actions taken by BESE in commencing the process for the promulgation of rules for the revised standards if the governor suspends or vetoes the rules.
  8. Provides that if the governor suspends or vetoes the rules promulgated by BESE for the standards, the board shall undertake a review of the standards and make any necessary revisions and shall commence without delay the promulgation of rules for the revised standards.

About a month prior to this agreement being reached, in an attempt to deter the legislative efforts, Supt. White had already convinced BESE to vote and approve a review of the academic standards. By the time the compromise had been reached, a review committee had already been selected and was heavily stacked with pro-Common Core supporters, mostly teacher leaders who had been paid to promote Common Core within their districts. The legislators knew this and pushed for BESE to appoint five more people to the committees. Shawna Dufrene and Brenda DeFelice, both of Calcasieu parish, were added to the Math committee.

Once underway, it didn’t take long to realize that real efforts to review and write the standards were being discouraged and the intent to keep the standards under a new name revealed itself. The meetings took place in the congressional districts, and aside from Chamber representatives and aspiring BESE members, there was very little attendance by the public…until the meeting held in Crowley, LA which is only 40 miles from the hometown of Dufrene and DeFelice. The turnout was large…and anticipated. The previously published agenda was altered. Public comment which was originally to take place just prior to breaking for lunch and again at the end of the day, comments were only to be taken after all of the standards had been addressed. After lunch, only half of the attendees returned. By 3:00pm, fewer than 10 remained. The meeting lasted until almost 6:00pm. The meeting was continued, the next week, in a different, unscheduled location, denying the public an opportunity to attend and comment.

In the very first committee meeting, the question was asked if a panel of experts could be assembled to help address questions in the development of the standards. The request was denied stating that it was the duty of the committee to review and revise the standards. Today, we learned that not only were Common Core developers brought in as “experts” to answer questions at the Monroe meeting, but also today in Baton Rouge. One of these experts was none other than Scott Baldridge, one of the authors of Eureka Math. Yes, the Eureka Math that has brought pain and suffering to nearly every district in the State of Louisiana. Baldridge essentially stated that he didn’t want the standards rewritten because he didn’t want to rewrite Eureka Math.

Today’s meeting was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Below, you will find Brenda DeFelice’s letter of resignation. There are more to come. The letter has been forward to all of the legislators involved, educational bloggers across the state, the media and John White. Please share. The public should be outraged by what is happening.

Dear Ms. Sanford, Ms. Boothe, and Math Standards Review Sub-Committee Members:

Please accept my resignation from the Math Standards Review Sub-Committee effective immediately.

Over a month ago, I expressed the following concerns at the end of a three-page letter emailed to you:

When I signed on to be a member of this sub-committee, I understood that we had an incredible responsibility placed upon our shoulders, and like the rest of our sub-committee members, I agreed to commit the hours and the diligence necessary to make sure that we get it right. I have been dismayed that the process handed to us expected that this tremendous amount of work should have been accomplished in just a few hours at our meeting last week. This fact alone has made me wonder whether the expectation for us is to simply push something quickly through, perhaps a rebrand, perhaps a few little tweaks and changes so that Common Core proponents can shout from the rooftops that we no longer have Common Core in Louisiana, that we have new standards that a panel of educators wrote, and that this issue is forever settled. If what I now suspect is indeed the case, then I want no part in this process. If, instead, we are truly expected to come up with the best possible set of math standards for the students in this state, then we need to make sure that we get it right. If we need to meet for a full week to accomplish this task, then let’s do it. If we need to create a draft, go home to review it, and meet again in a week to tweak the draft, then let’s do it. After meeting and talking with many of my fellow sub-committee members last week, I know that this group of talented and accomplished educators is up to this task. We have great minds at the table….with insights and experience and passion …that are truly capable to getting this job done right, but only if we are given the time and resources necessary to write the best possible set of math students for our Louisiana students. I do not want my name associated with anything short of this goal.

During our last sub-committee meeting in Monroe, two people were introduced as experts and were invited to be seated at microphones to answer questions and to offer input to the sub-committee as we conducted the review. I have since learned that the two experts who were added to the group, Carolyn Sessions (LDOE standards coordinator and PARCC cadre) and Nancy Beben (LDOE curriculum director), were two of the original writers of the national Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. In my opinion, they had absolutely no place at the table or in front of a microphone as the sub-committee conducted our review. In fact, in the very first Standards Review Meeting in August, the Standards Steering Committee rejected a proposal to form a panel of experts to assist in this review process, saying that the work was to be done by the appointed committee members only.

This morning in Baton Rouge, in an effort to continue the high school discussions prior to the full sub-committee meeting tomorrow, several of the high school sub-committee members met to review the Geometry standards revisions, with the rest of the high school sub-committee members reporting in this afternoon to continue the review. Imagine my surprise to find, seated at the sub-committee table, Scott Baldridge (LSU math professor and author of Eureka Math) and James Madden (LSU Cain Center and another of the original writers of the national Common Core State Standards in Mathematics), both strong proponents of Common Core. We were also joined by Carolyn Sessions (LDOE and PARCC) again. Not surprisingly, all three spoke strongly against the sub-committee members’ proposed changes to the current Louisiana Common Core Geometry Standards, and once again, I feel very strongly that these people had absolutely no place at these discussions.

Why are we conducting a review if the same people who brought us Common Core are invited to a seat at the table and are encouraged to influence the committee in a particular direction in which they benefit?

What is the purpose of the Louisiana Standards Review if we are expected to join lock-step with the ones who brought us our current standards…the ones who wrote the corresponding curriculum…the ones who created PARCC? Legislators were promised a fair and impartial process and are getting neither. I expect outrage when concerned citizens find out exactly who was invited to join these sub-committee meetings.

From the start, this process has not been designed so that a “panel of educators” can “write Louisiana’s very own standards, “ as we have all read in news articles and have heard in campaign commercials. Sadly, I now know that all that is wanted from the math sub-committee is a word change here…a tweak there….a rebrand of Common Core.

Dear Louisiana, I would love the opportunity to participate in a thorough review process, much like what was done in Indiana. I want the chance to review every single mathematics standard in Grades K-12 from many different states and to choose the structure and sequence that will serve Louisiana students well. I want the time to check for vertical alignment across all grades and subjects and to check for proper scaffolding, consistent wording, and skill progression. I want the time to discuss the “missing” high school math skills in the current Louisiana standards and to make sure that our standards align with those included on the ACT. I want to get it right. I feel that I have much to contribute to the development of the best possible set of math standards for the students who are fortunate to call Louisiana their home. I have not given up on my hope for this outcome in the years to come, but I have lost all confidence in continuing down this current path. I cannot and will not be a part of this process anymore.

It has been my pleasure working with those of you on the math sub-committee. Your commitment and passion to mathematics education inspires me, and I wish you well as you continue the work.

Brenda DeFelice