Congressional contenders urge pullout from new classroom standards

Three candidates for the congressional 5th District said Tuesday the state should drop its involvement in a national push for more rigor in public school classrooms, and others expressed major reservations.

The standards, which are called Common Core, sparked concerns about a “federalized curriculum” from Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday and even sharper criticism from congressional contenders Tuesday.

“The only ones who will benefit from the Common Core standardizations are educational vendors, not children,” said Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill, one of the U.S. House candidates.

“Common Core teaches for the test and doesn’t adequately prepare our students with important lifetime skills,” the Republican said.

Holloway also said Jindal, who has stopped just short of saying the state needs to bow out of Common Core, should spell out his views to Louisiana taxpayers.

“I just personally believe he needs to say ‘where I am and what I believe and where we should be,’ ” Holloway said of the governor.

Aside from Holloway, other 5th District candidates who said the state should drop its involvement with Common Core are state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Henry Herford Jr., a Libertarian from Delhi.

Others defended the guidelines.

“Forty-five states have passed it,” said Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat.

“That’s almost unanimous,” Mayo said. “I don’t think Louisiana ought to be the one that withdraws when you consider where we stand in relation to education, which is close to the bottom.”

A total of 14 candidates are running to succeed Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who is resigning from the post later this month.

The open primary is Oct. 19.

The district covers all or part of 24 parishes across northeastern Louisiana, through much of central Louisiana, across the northern Baton Rouge metro area — though not East Baton Rouge Parish itself — and along the state line with Mississippi through the Florida Parishes to Washington Parish.

The Common Core standards are meant to add depth to public school courses and improve student performance.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed the changes in 2010, and backers say local educators will retain control over curriculum.

Tests this year and last year reflect the new standards, which are set to take full effect during the 2014-15 school year.

Riser said they should be dumped. “I believe that Louisiana should withdraw from any participation in Common Core,” he said.

“I am concerned that the federal government is using Common Core to control local education,” Riser said. “I think it has the potential to turn into that.”

Herford also denounced the tougher classroom standards.

“It is a horrible idea,” Herford said. “The people who came up with this belong in a mental institution.”

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

State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, said he has reservations.

“It’s a national set of standards,” Johnson said. “Anytime you get into something that is a national set of standards, how detailed they become is the issue.”

State Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said, “The more I learn about it, the less I like.”

Blake Weatherly, a Republican from Calhoun, said the federal government should not be telling Louisiana what to teach.

“I do agree with a testing system to see where our students rate nationwide,” Weatherly said. “But we should not inject Washington, D.C., politics into our local schools.”

Weldon Russell, an Amite Democrat, said the goals of Common Core are “spot on target,” but changes are needed in how it is implemented, including pilot projects that allow teachers to get familiar with the overhaul.

Peter Williams, who lives in Lettsworth and is without a party affiliation, said he does not think the state should withdraw from Common Core, but the program raises serious questions.

“They’re trying to get a one size fits all,” Williams said.

Eliot S. Barron, a Green Party candidate from New Orleans, said it would be irresponsible for Louisiana to back out.

Tom Gibbs of Fairbanks, who is without party affiliation; state Rep. Marcus Hunter, a Monroe Democrat; Vance McAllister, a Monroe Republican; and S.B.A. Zaitoon, a Libertarian from Baton Rouge, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.