Forum participants gather to denounce Common Core

Common Core opponents gathered Thursday night to hear scathing criticism of the national academic standards that have become one of the hottest topics in public education.

“It’s a travesty,” said Connie Zimmermann, who lives in Kenner, of the education goals adopted by Louisiana and 44 other states.

“I am here because I am interested in stopping Common Core and anything like Common Core,” Zimmermann said before the start of a three-hour forum and question-and-answer session.

The gathering, which took place at the Crossfire Auditorium in Baton Rouge, was billed by sponsors as a chance to hear from experts on the issue, which will be a key topic when the 2014 Legislature begins March 10.

The executive director of the Boston research group called The Pioneer Institute, James Stergios, blasted the standards as expensive, crafted in a way to limit public input and riddled with unfunded mandates.

“Folks, don’t be bamboozled by this,” Stergios told the group.

However, comments from those in attendance — sponsors said they hoped to attract up to 400 people — suggested most of those in attendance were solidly opposed to the standards.

Sara Wood, who lives in Mandeville and is the mother of children ages 16, 12, 11 and 4, said she grew alarmed after doing research after the start of the school year on how Common Core came about.

“When I started asking questions there were no answers,” Wood said.

She said she has concluded the state has “basically abdicated its education freedom” by adopting the reading, writing and math goals.

Backers contend Common Core will better prepare students for college and careers.

But Dr. Anna Arthurs, a Thibodaux physician and the mother of four children ages 10, 8, 6 and 2, said the academic goals represent federal intrusion in local education issues, risky access to student data and lacking in real-world input from teachers and others.

Sandra Stotsky, who as a member of the Common Core review panel declined to sign off on the final product, said she was puzzled why so many officials of the testing industry were involved in developing the standards.

Stotsky added, “No one even asked what college readiness means.”

Larry Horacek, who lives in Baton Rouge, said before the meeting that he was on hand because Common Core represents a grab of states rights by the federal government, which critics contend had an inordinate influence in the creation of the standards.

“Citizens are going to have to speak up,” Horacek said.

Jane Horacek, his wife, said the new academic goals have made it hard for them to assist their grandson with his school work.

“Basically we are here because we are concerned,” she said.

The gathering took place less than one month before the start of the 2014 Legislature, where Common Core is expected to be one of the most debated topics.

At least four House members have said they plan to file bills on a wide range of issues, including ending the state’s participation, new steps to replace it, testing policies and student data privacy.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, who attended the gathering, is one of several lawmakers who have vowed to file anti-Common Core bills in what is expected to be a freewheeling debate in the Legislature on efforts to revamp or repeal it.

A single hearing on the issue last year sparked a packed audience in the state Senate Education Committee, months before the issue became a bitterly debated issue in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has sent mixed messages on what he thinks about Common Core.

Jindal says he favors tougher academic standards but is also concerned about federal interference in local school issues.

The changes have been phased in for several years, and students have been taking spring tests with questions similar to what they will take during national assessments.

Common Core is set to take full effect for the 2014-15 school year for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The new expectations are supposed to make courses more rigorous.

Specific topics are detailed grade by grade.

State officials say local school districts can establish their own curriculum to meet the new academic goals.

Students in grades 3-8 will be tested in the spring of 2015 through a national consortium that includes Louisiana, 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

How students in grades 9-11 will be tested is unclear.

The standards were largely written by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which includes superintendents statewide.

The Obama administration has been supportive of Common Core and offered states financial incentives to take part.