The push to derail Louisiana’s move to the national academic standards called Common Core is shaping up as a political brawl in the state Legislature.
The new classroom rules, which are set to take full effect this fall, are expected to spark dozens of bills in the session that begins March 10, including efforts to end state participation in the more challenging reading, writing and math goals.
“I can give you 50 reasons why it is bad,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. “But the most important to me is we ought to have control over our own education.”
Backers say the tougher classroom rules, which have been adopted in 44 other states, are one of the keys to preparing students for jobs in the 21st century.
“We have a choice,” said state Superintendent of Education John White, the state’s top promoter of Common Core. “Do we prepare our kids to compete for jobs and, implicitly, to compete with other state graduates, or do we walk away from the opportunity and accept a lower bar?”
Supporters include the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Council for a Better Louisiana and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, among others.
Geymann, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, said they are preparing a wide range of bills on Common Core, including an end to the state’s participation, what would replace it, testing policies and student data privacy.
Critics of the standards say months of angry town hall meetings, public hearings and rallies make it likely some sort of changes are on the way during the 2014 legislative session.
“I think parents have a greater understanding of what Common Core is, and they don’t like it,” Henry said. “And legislators have a greater understanding of what Common Core is, and they don’t like it either.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s mixed message on Common Core — he says he is for tougher standards but declines to say whether Common Core is the answer — also is sparking hope among opponents of the standards.
“He is leaving himself some wiggle room in case this becomes a bellwether issue down the road,” said Pearson Cross, who heads the Political Science Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The national standards, which spell out what students are expected to know at various grades, were adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 and were reiterated in a board resolution approved Jan. 15.
The new rules are generally expected to present material to students in Louisiana earlier than in the past.
BESE’s 2010 action sparked little notice or controversy, in part because of the four-year delay before the new rules took full effect in classrooms.
However, the changes are now being phased in statewide, and critics say they are getting an earful from parents and teachers.
Those concerns sparked a five-hour public hearing at BESE on Oct. 16, a rally at the State Capitol on Sept. 28 and several heated meetings at parish school boards and elsewhere.
A three-hour anti-Common Core forum is set for Feb. 20 in Baton Rouge. Admission is $10 and $20.
“If you have children in school now, you are concerned about it,” Geymann said of Common Core.
Henry said he is considering 13 bills on various Common Core issues, including withdrawing Louisiana from the consortium.
“There is no factual data that proves that Common Core is effective at all,” he said.
Geymann said he is reviewing about a dozen proposals. “The main issue I am going to try to address is what to replace Common Core with if we get rid of it,” he said.
State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said he plans to file a wide range of bills on the standards, including proposals on student privacy, testing and costs.
BESE took action twice last year to try to defuse some of the complaints.
The panel voted on Oct. 16 to ban forcing curriculums on local school districts, including those “recommended, endorsed or supported by any federal or state program or agency.”
BESE also voted on Dec. 3 to soften the impact of Common Core, including new policies on letter grades for schools, promotion policies and teacher evaluations.
Public school students in Louisiana again finished near the bottom nationally in reading and math in the latest update of the nation’s report card, which was released in November.
Crowe, who last year pushed an anti-Common Core proposal that died, said he is working this time on a plan to set up a new system of standards marked by state control while maintaining “some of the basics of Common Core.”
“More and more states are moving away from it,” he said.
GOP Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who is up for re-election this year, said she wants to get rid of the standards there, according to Education Week magazine.
Florida is also revising its rules for Common Core at the prodding of Gov. Rick Scott, another Republican.
White said he has met with legislative critics of Common Core and sees no problem with bills that would spell out privacy protections and block undue federal intervention in local school issues.
“This is a good example of how the democratic process is supposed to work,” he said.