School officials take no action at meeting
East Baton Rouge Parish teachers who have been waiting for months for guidance and materials to help them make sense of new educational standards known as Common Core will have to wait until at least Nov. 7 for more direction.
Since August, when full implementation of Common Core began in Louisiana, Baton Rouge public 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.
The board, which has debated the issue since May, has been unable to settle on an alternative course.
A special meeting held Thursday night did not advance the issue much.
The meeting was called in the wake of an Oct. 17 meeting when the board repeatedly deadlocked on a complicated proposal by Superintendent Bernard Taylor to hire not just one, but three professional development organizations to handle this work.
Thursday’s gathering was designed to be discussion-only, no votes. The arrangement was in deference to complaints from a few board members who said they felt rushed and wanted more time to review Taylor’s recommendation, which the superintendent drew from an 11-member, in-house committee that reviewed outside proposals. The vote itself would have to wait until Nov. 7, the date of an already planned meeting.
After about an hour of wandering discussion Thursday, board member Craig Freeman made a motion to change the agenda to allow a vote on Taylor’s recommendation, rather than wait two more weeks.
“If my colleagues were in agreement on this, I think we could get started on this and save some second graders’ behinds,” Freeman said.
The motion, however, required unanimous consent of the eight out of 11 board members present — board members Jerry Arbour, Kenyetta Nelson-Smith and David Tatman were absent. Freeman didn’t get unanimous consent.
Board member Randy Lamana, who had successfully persuaded the board a week ago to make Thursday’s meeting discussion only, made clear immediately he wasn’t budging.
“That’s what I meant, that’s what I said and I’m not going to support this agenda item tonight,” Lamana said.
Taylor has been pressing, so far without success, for quick action that would allow extensive teacher training in Common Core to start in November, ahead of the Thanksgiving break. Taylor has warned that waiting until Nov. 7 means postponing that training until the start of the second semester in January.
Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states including Louisiana, went into full effect statewide in August.
The three groups recommended for hire are Center for Development & Learning, of Metairie; the Institute for Learning, based at the University of Pittsburgh; and the Leadership and Learning Center, a division of textbook giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The three groups would collectively provide training, coaching, tests and lessons in English, math, science and social studies for the school system’s 3,000-plus teachers. The panel divided up the work based on what it judged as the strengths that each organization brought to the table. The cost for the first year would be capped at $1.2 million.
“What we’re trying to do is craft a proposal that gives us the best of all worlds,” Taylor said.
Board member Vereta Lee questioned the need to hire so many different groups.
Taylor said he wanted to go to the source, to work with people who had help develop Common Core, including folks from the Institute for Learning.
“Do you want a real Coach bag or do you want a fake one?” Taylor asked Lee at one point. “And I know a woman of your elegance would want a real one.”
“I do have a real Coach bag,” Lee responded, lifting hers in the air, sparking laughter.
Taylor defended the complicated approach, saying the help needed is mammoth.
“We’ve never had this magnitude of work to do in this short a period of time,” he said.