Lawmakers, education leaders clash on Common Core

State lawmakers clashed Monday with education leaders over the value of Louisiana joining a national push to improve public schools.

Several Louisiana House members described hostile reactions from parents, confusion among students and anxiety for teachers over the overhaul, called Common Core.

“You created an education tsunami for me,” state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, told state Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, raised several concerns.

“I believe the implementation of Common Core is what is causing the chaos,” Smith told the pair.

State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, made the same point.

“I think implementation is what has caused great grief,” Schroder said.

The comments surfaced during a nearly four-hour briefing on Common Core that attracted three dozen House members.

The gathering was billed as a legislative briefing that would not include public testimony, which sparked criticism from some education groups.

A few dozen school officials and parents were in the audience.

The new standards were adopted by BESE in 2010.

They are being phased in at public schools statewide and take full effect, including national assessments, during the 2014-15 school year.

The issue has turned controversial in recent weeks, especially over worries that the changes, which have been adopted by 45 states, will pave the way for a federal curriculum.

Backers dispute that argument and predict the standards will better prepare students for college and careers.

White cited statistics that show students in Louisiana rank near the bottom in key categories, including 48th in fourth-grade reading, 49th in fourth-grade math, 49th in eighth-grade reading and 47th in eighth-grade math.

“We have a long way to go with the average math skills and the average English skills of our people,” White said.

The questions showed legislators are hearing complaints from constituents about the overhaul.

House Democratic leader John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said local costs for computers and other changes that stem from Common Core are significant, including $35 million for computers in the Jefferson Parish school system alone.

“Do you look at this as an unfunded mandate on districts?” Edwards asked.

White disagreed and said local school districts have had years to prepare for the new standards.

“There are some places where people have been doing this for three years and places where people are just waking up,” he said.

Roemer said the new standards will equip students for a wave of jobs that require increased technical and literacy training.

“We need to make sure our citizens are prepared for those jobs,” Roemer said.

Harrison, a former local School Board member, questioned whether teachers have gotten enough training for the new curriculum.

“Some leaders have had their heads up; some leaders have had their heads in the sand,” White said.

Harrison said he used to think that 70 percent of students were helped by parents and 30 percent needed assistance from teachers.

“Now we have 100 percent of the parents who can’t help their students,” he said. “That is a serious situation.”

Earlier in the day, White said, if the state dropped out of the national push for more rigor, it would damage families, students and Louisiana’s economy.

“I think the fallout would be significant,” he said.

The briefing was requested by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who has said he will file legislation in 2014 to remove Louisiana from Common Core requirements.

Henry peppered White and Roemer with questions about details of the standards, whether groups initially behind the changes still back them and whether there is solid data he can show parents that they will work.

White and Roemer said other states and countries with similar standards already in place have shown positive results.