Jindal has concerns about 'Common Core'

Wading into a national debate, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday that he is concerned Louisiana public school classrooms would be saddled with a “federalized curriculum” sparked by a series of tougher standards called Common Core.

Jindal, in his most expansive comments on the issue, also said he wants state Superintendent of Education John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to answer questions raised by a state lawmaker, who said Monday he wants the state to drop the standards.

“We share those concerns,” the governor said in a prepared statement in response to a reporter’s question.

“We support rigor and high academic standards that help ensure Louisiana students are getting the best possible education,” Jindal said.

“What we do not support is a national or federalized curriculum,” the governor added. “We need Louisiana standards, not Washington, D.C., standards.”

Without directly contradicting the governor, White, who was heavily pushed by Jindal for the job of superintendent, and BESE President Chas Roemer essentially restated their support for Common Core and the rigor they say it brings.

They also said local educators will have the final say on how courses are taught.

Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, is regarded as an ally of the governor on the board, which is overwhelmingly pro-Jindal.

The governor’s comments followed a letter to Jindal released by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans.

Henry said he plans to file a bill during the 2014 legislative session to remove the standards and testing requirements from public school classrooms in Louisiana.

He also urged the governor to take administrative action now to remove the state from the new guidelines.

“This action on your part would be in the best interest of Louisiana parents, teachers and students,” Henry said Monday.

A similar bill died during the 2013 regular legislative session.

Jindal sparked controversy on Aug. 2 when he said he would oppose any bid by federal officials to impose public school curricula on local schools. But the governor also said the issue is up to BESE, which endorsed the overhaul in 2010.

The issue resurfaced on Monday when Common Core opponents said they plan to rally at the state Department of Education at 10 a.m. Saturday.

A group called the “Stop Common Core Coalition of Louisiana” said in a prepared statement that the gathering would “bring awareness to all citizens of the insurmountable flaws of the Common Core state standards initiative.”

Terri Timmcke, one of the co-organizers of the event, said organizers want Jindal and BESE to know that rally backers are not misguided and want the new academic rules removed from classrooms in Louisiana.

The new guidelines have been adopted in 45 states.

Educators say the changes mean that, generally speaking, courses will be taught in greater depth even if it means less material is covered in an academic year.

Key tests were linked to the Common Core rigor last year and more will be this school year.

The new standards take full effect for the 2014-15 school year, including tests that will allow for state-to-state comparisons on student performance.

Asked about Jindal’s comments, a spokesman for White issued a statement from the superintendent that says, “We look forward to speaking with Rep. Henry and reviewing any legislation.

“The Common Core standards are basic descriptions of reading, writing and math skills that allow Louisiana students to see how they perform compared to students across America,” White stated.

“While curriculum and textbooks should continue to be chosen by local educators, Louisiana students should all have the chance to compete nationally.”

Roemer and others stressed that it is up to local educators, not federal officials, how students meet the tougher classroom guidelines.

“It is not a curriculum; it is a set of standards,” he said.

“The curriculum is set by us,” Roemer added. “We have never given up that responsibility nor are we going to.”

Louisiana endorsed the standards in 2010, and they caused little controversy until recently.

Critics have charged the changes represent an overreach by the federal government to dictate what students nationwide should know.

The Obama administration encouraged development of the new rules.

But the curriculum standards were drafted by a wing of the National Governors Association and the umbrella group for state superintendents of education nationwide.

Timmcke said her group includes parents, educators and others.

She said the rally is not directly linked to any Louisiana tea party organizations, as some Common Core supporters have said.

Henry said the guidelines eliminate parental oversight in favor of bureaucratic dictates, failed to undergo public or private scrutiny before being finalized and would override state-initiated public school changes.

The governor was set to travel to Oklahoma City on Monday to discuss education at the State Policy Network and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.