Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Common Core debate latest ‘hot topic’ in La.

7th October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Harden
Contributing Writer

The debate around the adoption of the Common Core national educational standards heated up in September when State Rep. Cam­eron Henry, R-Metairie sent a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal urging him to withdrawal the state from the standards.

While some districts have participated in pilot programs, the standards will not be fully implemented until the 2014-2015 school year.

In his letter Henry argued that the state should set the standards, not the feds: “Improved standards and testing can best be developed under the direction of Louisiana parents, teachers and the Louisiana Legislature.”

According to The Advocate, Jindal said last Monday that he shares concerns, and is “concerned Louisiana public school classrooms would be saddled with a ‘federalized curriculum.’”

But Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and chairman of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, said that the debate has became more entrenched in politics than in fact. Appel said he shares concerns about the encroachment of the federal government into state affairs, but points out that the Common Core standards were created by a coalition of state governors and state superintendents.

Appel said that the standards are not tied to a specific federal mandated curriculum – but rather ensure that students have met certain general standards by the appropriate grade level. And he noted that curriculum decisions, including reading materials, will remain with educators at a local level.

For example, for 5th-grade English Language Arts, the Common Core standards require that the student can “Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.”

It does not tell the educators what text to use, Appel stressed.

Appel said that the testing and standards are based on critical thinking and not memorization – with an emphasis on helping students not just learn the answer, but learn why it is the answer.

For 5th-grade math, the standards require that a student “Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.”

In the state that has been at the bottom of the nation in education, and in a nation that is struggling to compete globally, Appel said that it is imperative that expectations be raised – and he said that’s what Common Core does.

In his letter Henry argued that “Common Core eliminates parental oversight and replaces it with the judgment of bureaucrats in Washington,” that the standards “underwent no public or private scrutiny prior to adoption and implementation,” and that they override “the educational reform decisions we have made here in Louisiana, with regard to curriculum, educational standards and the proper role of parents and teachers.” Henry also wrote that the new testing associated with Common Core will threaten the privacy of children. Henry did not respond to a request for an interview to expand on these concerns.

Henry also wrote in his letter that Louisiana cannot afford the longterm costs associated with the new tests. But Appel said that with the elimination of the old standardized tests, it is looking closer to cost neutral. However Appel acknowledged that the state will have to invest in improving computer access and high speed internet connection for all students, as required by the new digitalized tests.

Appel sees the federalization argument more as a fear tactic than anything actually tied to the future success of children in the global economy. “None of it’s about the children – it’s all about the grown-ups,” he said.

“Our State is looking to you to preserve our sovereignty and the role of parents in education,” Henry wrote to Jindal.

Appel said that what the state has been doing up until now is clearly not working. He also acknowledges that the more rigorous standards will not be met quickly or easily. The state is already taking steps to prepare for an anticipated significant drop in test scores.

We are facing “generational challenges,” and it could take a while, Appel said.

This article originally published in the October 7, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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