New classroom rigor already in place

After years of revamping tests, courses and how students are taught, dropping out of the national drive for more rigor in public school classrooms would damage education in Louisiana, superintendents and others say.

“We have spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to do what we need to do,” said Zachary Superintendent Scott Devillier.

Amy Deslattes, who teaches at Lafayette High School, said educators have invested huge amounts of time revamping curriculum, undergoing training and preparing students for tougher classes.

“I feel like our students would be confused,” Deslattes said of any pullout.

“All of a sudden we would be requiring less of them than we had over the past year and a half,” she said.

The comments stem from a suddenly heated debate over a bid to toughen standards for public school students through national benchmarks called Common Core.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said on Sept. 23 that he is concerned the standards will saddle the state with a “federalized curriculum,” a comment that sent shockwaves through the public school community.

But educators said Louisiana has been moving to Common Core since 2010 and already has considerable money, time and energy invested.

Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol, who is also president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said officials in her district have watched Common Core unfold since 2008 and have been moving to the new national expectations for the past three years.

“I think that pulling out of Common core would be detrimental to the students, not only in my school system but across the state,” Pujol said.

“We know that students, on average, in Louisiana are a year behind in the types of concepts they are learning at particular grade levels than their counterparts across the nation,” she said.

“If we don’t close that gap our students will be the ones that will suffer,” Pujol said.

Common Core represents a series of yearly goals for what students are expected to know in math, English and other subjects.

How they get there, including curriculum and textbooks, is up to individual school districts, backers say.

The benchmarks were developed by the National Governors Association, the umbrella group for state superintendents of education nationwide and other educators, including some from Louisiana.

They have been adopted by 45 states.

While revamped tests and instruction linked to the standards has been underway since 2011 Common Core takes full effect during the 2014-15 school year.

Devillier said teachers underwent training for the new classroom rigor last summer.

“When you bring them in in the summer to help them write curriculum, do lesson plans, you know you bring them in in groups and you pay them,” he said.

“And when you bring in experts they have to have some incentive,” Devellier said of other expenses.

David Corona, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, said officials there are heavily invested in a math curriculum called EngageNY, which is aimed at helping students meet the new standards.

Corona said the district has also been involved with a grant from the Gates Foundation for the past two years in preparation for the overhaul.

Abandoning the effort would be a huge mistake, he said.

“Our teachers have done a tremendous amount of work,” Corona said. “This is not like a faucet that you turn on and off.”

Livingston Parish Superintedent John Watson said his district had to step up preparations once the state accelerated the Common Core timeline.

“It meant a tremendous amount of writing, training and professional development for our teachers, which is not anywhere near completed,” Watson said.

Some educators downplayed the impact of any state withdrawl from Common Core.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor said the focus should be on increased rigor and preparing students for college and careers.

“At the end of the day this isn’t about Common Core,” Taylor said. “It is about what good instruction looks like. That is what is being missed here.”

Holly Boffy, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said withdrawing from Common Core “would be turning back the clock on all the work that our educators have done since 2010 to prepare for this shift to higher standards. “I think teachers who have invested the time and energy into meeting this challenge would be devastated,” Boffy said.