State education board approves changes to Common Core

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- As Connie Bradford, left, BESE member from Ruston, watches, John White, Louisiana Education Supt., right, gives the state's top school board an update on Common Core.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- As Connie Bradford, left, BESE member from Ruston, watches, John White, Louisiana Education Supt., right, gives the state's top school board an update on Common Core.

Board OKs Common Core changes

Less than a day after hearing a barrage of criticism, the state’s top school board approved policies Wednesday aimed at quieting criticism of adding more rigor in public school classrooms.

The vote followed a nearly five-hour public hearing Tuesday night at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Critics of the overhaul, called Common Core, have charged the changes will strip local school districts of control over curriculum and other issues.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is generally supportive of Common Core, has said he wants the criticism answered and is leery of any “federalized curriculum,” which has helped fuel recent controversy.

One of the changes approved by BESE would ban curriculum from being forced on local districts, “including any that may be recommended, endorsed or supported by any federal or state program or agency.”

Asked if the governor wanted to comment, Jindal’s office issued a prepared statement from him that said the changes approved Wednesday “will help empower districts and parents to make the right choices for their children and protect the privacy of student data.

“The rules are a good step forward and we look forward to continuing the conversation.”

The changes also state that:

Local school officials will have autonomy in picking instructional materials, and be free from both state and federal interference.

Schools have to allow parents to examine textbooks, and parents or legal guardians can request exemptions if they object to high school reading requirements.

In a bid to protect student privacy, the state will use numerical identifiers, not Social Security numbers, on tests that measure Common Core readiness.

The changes won approval 8-1 with one abstention. Lottie Beebe, who lives in Breaux Bridge, voted “no.” Carolyn Hill, who lives in Baton Rouge, abstained.

BESE has one vacancy since Stephen Waguespack, a gubernatorial appointee, resigned when he became president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, called LABI.

Connie Bradford, who lives in Ruston and is chairwoman of the committee that heard Common Core arguments on Tuesday, said the new policy is a bid to quickly respond to concerns.

“This is something we can do today to help people who were here last night and shared their hearts and say we heard you,” Bradford said.

BESE heard public testimony from about 5:45 p.m. until 10:45 p.m. About 70 people signed up to testify.

Chas Roemer, who is president of BESE and lives in Baton Rouge, said the policy changes will show that the state is not mandating textbooks for Common Core.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the policy needed more time for public input.

Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, said state officials simply saying that teachers and others have control over curriculum is not the answer.

“We are giving autonomy to districts and we are also giving problems for districts,” she said.

Others said the changes approved on Wednesday should have been posted 24 hours in advance.

Beebe said in an email after the meeting that the issue should be reopened at BESE’s December meeting because the changes were not added properly to the agenda and will have no effect.

“The public did not have the opportunity to review the actual language of this rule or give comment on it,” she wrote to colleagues and BESE staff.

State officials said the action complied with state law.

Common Core is a series of math and language arts standards for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

They have been adopted by 45 states.

BESE approved the overhaul in 2010.

Aside from hearing arguments for and against Common Core on Tuesday the panel took no action.

“We are sending a very strong message to our state that we are not stepping back,” said Judy Miranti, a BESE member who lives in New Orleans.