Common Core hearing format triggers criticism

While state lawmakers will reopen arguments Monday on tougher public school courses, the lack of any plan to hear from rank-and-file citizens is sparking criticism.

The Louisiana House Education Committee plans to hold a briefing on the changes, which are called Common Core.

However, the only scheduled speakers are state Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Both support the new math and English standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

Louisiana House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said the gathering will give committee members, and any other House member who wants to attend, a chance to pose questions.

Carter said no legislation is pending before the committee, and the Legislature does not launch its 2014 regular session until March 10.

“Since we can’t vote on anything I don’t see the reason for us to have it open,” Carter said, meaning a hearing where the public can weigh in.

Others disagreed.

“I think that anytime such major initiatives are addressed by the Legislature that will affect every student, every parent, every citizen in Louisiana that there should be consideration given to allowing for stakeholder input and citizen input,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the hearing seems to be a way for White and Roemer to address legislators “without any interference from outside sources.

“It always concerns me that the public isn’t allowed to give input of any kind at a public meeting,” Meaux said.

Common Core was adopted by BESE in 2010 without controversy.

The new math and English standards apply to students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Backers say the added rigor will improve student achievement, and requiring students in most states to take the same tests will allow valuable, state-to-state comparisons.

However, the changes have sparked criticism in recent months, including charges that Common Core will pave the way for a federal curriculum and that the new rules failed to undergo enough public review.

State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, who requested the hearing, said while public testimony would not hurt, the hearing is likely one of several on Common Core, including possible future sessions to hear public testimony.

Henry, who said he plans to file a bill next year to end Louisiana’s involvement with Common Core, said the chief aim of this gathering is to allow House members to familiarize themselves with the issue.

“Several of us know more than others,” he said.

BESE held an unusual, five-hour public hearing on the topic Oct. 16, and approved new policies the next day aimed at answering some of the criticism.

Common Core concerns also sparked a protest at the state Department of Education that attracted about 200 people.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said lawmakers may need to consider a “road show” of hearings in different parts of the state to collect public comments.

Monaghan said the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has several concerns about the overhaul, including aid for teachers in learning the new system, whether districts will have enough computers for the tests and whether Common Core really means increased academic rigor.

“There is a need for some enlightenment,” he said.