Taylor seeks Common Core help

Bernard Taylor
Bernard Taylor

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has yet to settle on how it will train teachers in the use of the new educational standards known as Common Core, which were launched in the classroom two months ago.

Instead, schools have been scrambling to fill the void via a variety of free educational materials, including EngageNY, a web service created by the state of New York.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor is proposing to centralize and streamline all that by the end of October.

Starting then, teachers can expect a flurry of belated training in teaching to these standards, which are being used in 45 states, including Louisiana.

Taylor defended the changes Common Core is bringing to education, saying it will help students prepare themselves for the 21st century working world they will face when they graduate.

To bring Common Core into the classroom in a coherent way requires a lot of help, he said.

“We have got to do something,” Taylor said. “The type of expertise that is needed requires technical assistance.”

In July, facing resistance from several School Board members, Taylor set aside a proposed 4-year, $2.7 million contract with an arm of the University of Pittsburgh to supply this training.

Taylor, a graduate of that university, had hired the university’s Institute for Leadership several times in the past to train teachers in other areas and had settled on using it again to train teachers on Common Core in Baton Rouge.

when board members resisted using the institute, Taylor sought proposals from interested groups to handle this work. The proposals were opened Sept. 17.

On Thursday, he announced to the School Board that 11 groups have applied.

The Institute for Learning is one of them.

The 11 applicants are:

AIX Educations Solutions, of Mandeville.

Center for Development Learning, of Metairie.

ESP Literacy and Intervention, of Cambridge, Mass.

Generation Ready, of New York City.

The Leadership and Learning Center, a division of publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, of Englewood, Colo.

University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning, of Pittsburgh.

LAB and Associates, Inc, Burrell Global Company, of Spring, Texas.

Pearson Learning Services based, of Boston.

Scholastic Inc., of New York City.

SEDL, a nonprofit research organization, of Austin, Texas.

Teacher Created Materials Publishing, of Huntington Beach, Calif.

Taylor told the board he would come back later this month with the names of three finalists, and he asked the board to hold a special meeting to hear presentations from each of the three.

Instead of discussing what was in each proposal, Taylor explained the review process he’s set up to whittle the 11 applicants down to three finalists.

He said the process is open, transparent and directed by veteran educators throughout the school system.

“I have enough confidence in this team that I can step back,” he said. “Whatever they recommend to me, I will recommend to you.”

Gypsye Bryan, a director of instruction in the school system’s Federal Programs Office, is leading an 11-member review panel dominated by school principals.

Several of them were on hand Thursday and urged the board to let them move forward.

“We are in need of support, not just for our classroom teachers as well as for ourselves,” said Nakia Dangerfield, principal of Audubon Elementary School.

“It is October and we’re becoming very, very concerned,” added Sherry Brock, principal of Westdale Middle School.

“Right now, we’re struggling,” said Viola Jackson, principal of Capitol Middle School.

Some board members expressed skepticism Thursday, noting the growing push against Common Core around the country and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent criticism of the standards he’d previously embraced.

“I’m not totally convinced about the Common Core curriculum,” board member Jerry Arbour said.

Taylor said Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum.

He also said even if the state backs away from Common Core, other states won’t, and Baton Rouge could be left behind.

Consequently, he said, teachers should still receive training in Common Core’s approaches.

“If we say, ‘The state’s not doing it, let’s stop,’ we won’t be doing our students a service,” Taylor said.

Board member Vereta Lee questioned whether the implementation of Common Core is going too fast.

She said teachers are not getting the support they need and are all teaching different things, producing inconsistencies.

“You all should have left the (Louisiana) Comprehensive Curriculum in place until all of this was in place,” she said.

Deputy Superintendent Michael Haggen disputed Lee’s contention, saying he sees a lot of continuity when he travels from classroom to classroom.

“I go to schools every single day,” he said. “They’re teaching the same standards.”