Panel praises Common Core

Business and education leaders Friday praised Louisiana’s move to more rigor in public school classrooms and disputed “myths” being used by opponents.

“The biggest myth that bothers me is this is a federal takeover of public education,” said Pat McCarthy, a top official of ExxonMobil and an LSU graduate.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” McCarthy said. “It is not a D.C. program.”

The academic standards, which are called Common Core, are being phased in at nearly 1,400 public schools in Louisiana and 44 other states.

Panelists said the new rules will better prepare students for college and careers.

Opponents say that Common Core will pave the way for a federal curriculum, which has become a key rallying cry in efforts to get the standards dropped in Louisiana. The St. Tammany Parish School Board passed a resolution on Thursday night aimed at exempting its district from the changes.

The hour-long discussion was sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which backs Common Core.

All six panelists did too.

Rose Kendrick, whose job at LSU includes professional development for teachers, said in the past the state’s math standards were wide but shallow. “Year after year we have to go back to teach the same thing,” said Kendrick, who is program manager for the LSU Cain Center.

Kendrick said the Common Core’s focus on fewer topics but more depth will allow students to build on what they learn each year.

Maya Bennett, a teacher in Baton Rouge, said the new standards represent “real rigor, real relevance.” She added, “If we get this right students will finally get what they deserve.”

Lane Grigsby, chairman of the board for Cajun Industries, said his firm depends on well-trained workers and Common Core will help with that.

“We’ve got to have smart people,” Grigsby said. “That’s how we put a man on the moon. That’s how we won World War II.”

Louisiana’s top school board endorsed the new standards in 2010, and they take full effect in the 2014-15 school year.

The tougher classes apply to students from kindergarten through 12th grade in math and language arts.

Common Core was largely crafted by the National Governors Association and the umbrella group for state superintendents of education nationwide.

McCarthy, who is manger of corporate citizenship for ExxonMobil, disputed claims that Common Core represents a new, mandatory curriculum.

“The standards are the goal,” he said. “It is up to each state on how to get there.”

McCarthy, like Grigsby, said his firm backs Common Core in part to ensure a steady flow of qualified workers.

He said colleges are producing fewer math majors and U.S. students have fallen behind those in many other nations in key academic indicators.

“Quite frankly we are worried,” he said.

“Our sons and daughters are no longer just competing with the kid down the street,” said McCarthy, who lives in Dallas.

One of the few areas of disagreement on the panel focused on how well the state is preparing teachers for the overhaul.

Bennett, who is part of the state’s push to train teachers for Common Core, praised the effort.

She said such advisers work in every public school in the state.

Kendrick said teachers are being asked to teach and revamp how they do so at the same time.

“We really, really, really need a lot more,” she said of assistance for teachers. “So it’s a struggle.”