- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After months of debate, lawmakers will start considering bills this week that seek to roll back or rework the state’s use of the Common Core education standards, one of the more divisive issues of the legislative session.

A recent hearing on privacy concerns raised by critics of the standards offers strong indications that trying to find a compromise on what educational benchmarks Louisiana should use will prove difficult.

The fervor of some Common Core opponents, combined with their deep distrust of nearly anything supported by the education department and Superintendent of Education John White seems to rule out space for middle ground. They want Common Core and its associated multi-state testing gone from Louisiana’s public schools, period.

The House Education Committee has set aside Wednesday and Thursday for hearings on six bills related to the Common Core and the state’s plans to use standardized tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to phase into public schools the grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in reading, writing and math.

White strongly backs the use of the Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states as a way to compare states’ performance and add more rigorous training for students.

Supporters, including leaders of business organizations, say the standards promote critical thinking, raise expectations for students and better prepare them for college and careers.

Tea party organizations and other opponents say by using Common Core, Louisiana is shifting to a nationalized education system that removes local control. They’ve said teaching materials are inappropriate and use of multi-state standards and testing allows improper sharing of sensitive student records.

Meanwhile, school boards, superintendents and teacher unions that criticized the roll-out of the standards in classrooms said the shift to Common Core in Louisiana has happened with too little guidance, training and funding. Those complaints could perhaps be addressed with adjustments to the state’s roll-out plan or with changes to testing plans.

The broader, harsher criticisms of Common Core can’t be addressed through compromise, however.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown little interest in mediating the dispute and has been criticized for his refusal to wade into a debate that is one of the most high-profile of the three-month legislative session.

He said he’s concerned Common Core and its associated testing use a “one-size-fits-all” approach and don’t have adequate protections for student privacy. But he also wouldn’t say if those concerns can be addressed while still preserving Common Core in Louisiana.

And while White is his hand-picked education superintendent, Jindal has said they don’t always agree on issues, leaving open the possibility and speculation that they could disagree on Common Core.

It isn’t clear whether the Republican governor will offer more guidance before the House Education Committee starts considering legislation this week.

Two prior days of hearings on a student data privacy bill gave a glimpse of the type of testimony lawmakers can expect to hear.

Parents who oppose Common Core offered angry and sometimes tearful testimony about their concerns that the private details of their children’s grades, medical conditions and Social Security numbers could be leaked for others to see.

They said the state education department hasn’t properly protected their children’s personal information, and they accused White and BESE of disregarding their concerns and their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

They attacked Common Core as a type of federal indoctrination.

“You will not take our control of our children and surrender it to the federal government, because they are not your children,” Ralph Roshto, a Common Core opponent from St. Tammany Parish, told lawmakers during one hearing on the privacy bill.

Lawmakers can only take one approach to make critics like that happy: Get Louisiana out of Common Core and its related testing.

But if legislators do that, what education standards do they put in place? How quickly could they develop them? How much would state-specific standards cost? And how disruptive would a change be in schools already transitioning to Common Core?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.

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