Education leaders clash on Common Core

The president of a Louisiana teachers’ union and the state superintendent of education offered drastically different views Friday on the merits of the hotly-debated Common Core academic standards.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said Common Core has spawned a wide range of legitimate questions, including whether they were properly vetted and would ensure meaningful classroom improvements. “There are a number of issues that people have a right to expect answers,” he said.

But state Superintendent of Education John White framed the issue as one that will help ensure education equity, part of which he said hinges on measuring student progress.

“We have to know how well kids are doing,” White said.

Louisiana is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core, which are academic standards in reading, writing and math. The changes are touted as a way to improve student achievement.

Opponents say the standards represent federal intrusion in local school issues.

The new rules are set to take full effect for the 2014-15 school year, including national tests next year.

Efforts to repeal or revamp Common Core are expected to be a key theme of the 2014 Legislature, which begins on March 10.

White and Monaghan were part of a 90-minute panel discussion sponsored by the Legislative Black Caucus and others.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the House Education Committee and a former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, served as moderator.

Monaghan said the debate on Commmon Core has been unfairly portrayed as “the people who are for higher standards and those against higher standards. “We support higher standards for every child,” he said.

Monaghan said improving public schools has to include more spending. “It costs money, it really does,” he said.

White said Louisiana made gains when it launched new standardized tests in 1999, including the LEAP exam that fourth- and eighth-graders have to pass for promotion.

He said those and other tests only go so far.

Middle school students here typically learn math sections about one year behind their counterparts in Massachusetts, White said.

“That to me is not just,” he said. “It is not equitable.”

White said Commmon Core will raise the bar on what students are expected to know.

The third panelist, Charity Welch, is assistant director of Measured Progress, a New Hampshire-based firm that does assessments for schools, districts and states.

Welch said Common Core will allow for state-to-state comparisons on student achievement, which are difficult now because standards vary. She said the new academic goals should be more challenging at a time when U.S. student test scores continue to fall behind other nations.

Welch acknowledged that some states are having second thoughts about their adoption of Common Core.

Monaghan said poverty and other issues play key roles in student performance. “Children who are hungry don’t learn as well as children who have eaten,” he said.

Monaghan also compared the current debate to the adoption of the 2001 federal law called No Child Left Behind, which was designed to improve student achievement through increased testing and oversight.

“That was a political mantra,” he said of No Child Left Behind program. “But it’s not raising children.”

Monaghan also questioned the role of corporations in the development of Common Core, a point often raised by opponents. “Is that what it’s about?” he asked.

White said that, while change is difficult in education, the state has a goal of 2025 to significantly raise the bar for academic proficiency.

“This is a once in a generation shift,” he said of Common Core.