In a jammed auditorium Tuesday night, backers and opponents of tougher academic standards squared off on the merits of the overhaul, called Common Core.
Barry Badon, who lives in Sulphur, told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that parents are being asked to accept too much on faith amid unfolding changes in public schools.
“I’m from Louisiana,” Badon said “You have to prove to me something works before I buy it.”
State Superintendent of Education John White said the new academic goals have been thoroughly vetted and will aid students in a state that ranks between 46th and 48th in math and literacy. “We are making a generational shift in raising expectations,” said White, who backs Common Core.
The new math and language arts standards and other changes have been taking hold in public schools since 2010.
They take full effect in the 2014-15 school year.
BESE member Lottie Beebe, who lives in Breaux Bridge, asked for an update and hearing on the issue amid recent controversy.
BESE endorsed Common Core in 2010 and, barring any major surprises, was not expected to reverse course on Tuesday night.
Backers say Common Core will improve student performance, and they say the changes have been adopted by 44 other states.
Opponents contend the new standards failed to undergo enough public review and represent federal meddling in local school issues, and that the state has failed to adequately prepare for the additional rigor.
Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, disputed charges by some opponents that federal officials are behind changes in curriculum.
However, she said public school teachers have been saddled with that job in the name of local autonomy.
“My concern there is quality,” Beebe said. “They are not curriculum writers.”
Jeanne Burns, a top official for the state Board of Regents, said students will be better prepared for college after Common Core standards are in place.
Stephanie Cargill, an official of ExxonMobil, disputed arguments that the new standards require a specific curriculum.
“The Common Core provides the way, not the how,” Cargill said.
Diane Long, who lives in Shreveport and is a former educator, said the new rigor requires young students to grapple with abstract forms.
“They don’t have the ability to do it,” Long said.
“I am all for standards,” she added. “But we are going to have unintended consequences with this. I think children are going to be left behind.”
Margaret Lee, who said she is the legal guardian of a fourth-grader, said the move to Common Core in his classroom has sparked so much homework that it could create a dislike for learning.
“He is failing fourth grade,” Lee said. “There is no funding for failing students.”
Stephanie Desselle, who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana, said her group is fully behind the new academic goals.
Desselle also countered Beebe’s concerns about problems with the implementation of changes in local school districts.
“Anything this big presents many, many challenges,” she said.
The BESE committee meeting that included discussion of Common Core was supposed to start around 2:30 p.m.
Instead, it began at 5:45 p.m. and Connie Bradford, chairwoman of the committee, announced that 70 speakers had signed up for comments.
Bradford said speakers would generally be limited to two minutes.
“When you get the gavel it is not personal,” she said.