If you don’t have a youngster in school, you are probably wondering what the big fuss is over something called Common Core. It is a set of education standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that is designed to improve their English language and math skills.
So what’s the problem? Well, as happens all too often, the program has become a political whipping boy that plays on the fears of many people that the federal government is trying to take over the nation’s school systems.
State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, threw gasoline on the fire when he said he is going to introduce legislation at next year’s session that would urge Gov. Bobby Jindal to withdraw from the program. Jindal could have defused the controversy, but he chose instead to fan the flames of discontent.
“We share those concerns,” the governor said. “We support rigor and high academic standards that help ensure Louisiana students are getting the best possible education.
“What we do not support is a national or federalized curriculum,” he said. “We need Louisiana standards, not Washington, D.C., standards.”
Jindal’s reaction is surprising since Louisiana was one of the early states to join what is known as the “Common Core State Standards Initiative.” The federal government has endorsed the program, but had nothing to do with its creation. Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Why didn’t Jindal mention that his hand-picked state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and John White, his chosen state education superintendent, supported Common Core from its beginning? The governor knows it isn’t a federal initiative, but he didn’t hesitate to make the feds the scapegoats for a restless electorate out there looking for a villain.
Three candidates seeking the 5th Congressional District seat in a special election Oct. 19 have also jumped on the political bandwagon that is using Common Core to help their election effort.
State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, one of the contenders, said, “I am concerned that the federal government is using Common Core to control local education. I think it has the potential to turn into that.”
Chas Roemer, president of BESE, said the state has complete control of Common Core. Local school districts are also key players in setting the curriculum.
“The curriculum is set by us,” Roemer said. “We have never given up that responsibility nor are we going to.”
Ken James, Arkansas commissioner of education, in 2009, talked about state participation:
“The broad level of commitment we have received from states across the nation for this unprecedented effort is both gratifying and exciting,” James said. “It also clearly illustrates that this is an idea whose time has arrived.”
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core standards. The holdouts so far are Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.
Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, last October said, “Teachers and principals remain our strongest tool in educating our children. Governors should work with chief state school officers and state boards of education to ensure that policies are aligned and educators are both prepared and supported.”
The Council for a Better Louisiana supports Common Core and quoted Rex Tillerson, the chief operating officer of ExxonMobil, who wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.
“As a nation we must unite in recognizing the mounting evidence that the U.S. is falling behind international competitors in producing students ready for 21st century jobs,” Tillerson said. “We have an opportunity to reverse this trend, but it will take setting the right priorities. That starts with establishing high standards. It means leaders from government and business, and parents need to defend the Common Core State Standards (which) are increasingly under attack from across the political spectrum.”
CABL said there is a lot of misunderstanding among certain groups about what Common Core does and what it doesn’t do. And no wonder. What else can we expect when politicians use any tactic available to further their political careers? Many parents are echoing the views of those political opportunists and are complaining about the tougher curriculum.
A fifth-grader teacher in Covington in St. Tammany Parish takes a different view and is helping students navigate the new curriculum.
“This math, yes, it’s rigorous — but I’m doing everything I can to get them through,” said Patricia Tranchina. She said she and other teachers are working long hours to help their students.
Isn’t that what education is supposed to be about?
Maybe Common Core is the answer to this state’s education failures, and maybe it isn’t. Only time will be able to answer that question accurately. However, to purposely steer those who are unhappy with the program away from the truth is extremely irresponsible. We expect better from our elected leaders who know better.
• • •Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org