Common Core backer disputes criticism

The leader of a pro-Common Core group Wednesday disputed what he labeled as outlandish claims used by opponents of the new academic standards.

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, made his comments to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

Erwin said no one can “rationally” say that Common Core is part of a federal takeover of public schools.

“But it is something that scares people and you will hear it over and over again,” he said.

Erwin also said that a recent letter from a tea party group to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education charged that Common Core was part of a communist plan to take over the U. S. through the public school system.

“Now seriously, whatever you think of Common Core, it does not go that far,” he said.

“There is no Common Core curriculum at all,” Erwin said. “It does not exist.”

CABL is a 52-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates in the Legislature and elsewhere on education and other issues.

The overhaul represents new academic goals in reading, writing and math that students are supposed to master yearly.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, the state’s top opponent of Common Core, wants the state out of the changes and the accompanying assessments.

Backers say that 45 states have adopted Common Core and that the new rules are needed to improve student achievement, especially in low-performing states like Louisiana.

“Education is the single most important thing we need to get right in this state,” Erwin said.

Lawsuits for and against Common Core are pending in the 19th Judicial District Court, with hearings set for Aug. 12, Aug. 15 and Aug. 18.

Erwin said another myth in the debate is that students will be forced to read objectionable books and texts.

He said that, while there are examples of books that represent the rigor needed to meet the standards, local educators have the final say.

“There is no reading list,” Erwin said.

Erwin said Common Core was drawn up by state superintendents of education, governors and experts from Louisiana and elsewhere.

“There was no federal role in the development of the standards,” he said.

But Erwin said the fact that federal dollars helped bankroll development of the exams has helped fuel the controversy.

Federal officials furnished $546 million for the development of the two assessments that Louisiana and other states are scheduled to use, according to the Louisiana School Boards Association.

“That, I think, is the crux of the controversy,” he said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.