New classroom standards coming in 2016?

Committee approves move to create state standards. (Photo: AP)

BATON ROUGE – After nearly two hours of discussion, Louisiana lawmakers have agreed to a compromise to begin creating state-specific academic standards for English and math.

The House Education Committee approved the amended bill by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles,

The bill still must be approved by the full Legislature.

Under the agreement, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will begin reviewing and developing the new standards by July 1. At least one public meeting will be held in each Congressional district to allow for public input.

The new standards will be posted for public review by Feb. 21, 2016. The current timeline calls for BESE to adopt the new standards on March 4, 2016.

The bill also calls for legislative oversight, and the ability of the next governor to reject all or part of the standards. If that happens, BESE’s review process and the public input process would start all over again.

“I can’t imagine that this would ever happen,” Geymann said. “It’s amazing that when you open up and allow negotiations and conversations to take place, you find out you have common ground … I think what we came up with is something where everyone gets to be part of a democratic process, and Louisiana standards we can all embrace.”

But Kyle Plotkin, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, said he’s afraid that’s exactly what could happen.

“First, we are concerned that the veto mechanism in the proposed legislation could set up a process where the state reverts to Common Core,” he said in a prepared statement. “Secondly, there is concern about the commission set up by BESE to come up with new Louisiana standards because some believe it is filled with Common Core supporters.”

Plotkin said the office will keep working with the Legislature and will continue to pursue the federal lawsuit against Common Core.

The bill is tied to another bill by Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who voiced his support for the compromise.

“I think everyone agrees that high standards are an integral part of a quality education system,” Appel said, adding that he does not want Louisiana’s academic standards to be “watered down.” However, he said he believes the compromise will give more clarity to teachers, parents and students.

“We need consistent procedures. We need to get the chaos out of the education system,” Appel said. “We’ve got to stop the major changes and give our educators the opportunity to teach. I believe we have achieved those goals.”

State Education Superintendent John White applauded legislators, BESE and Jindal’s office for their work on the compromise.

“What you did was to provide us a pathway forward to Louisiana student standards and a pathway forward for our teachers that is consistent and clear,” White said.

The decision came after discussion by lawmakers and testimony from members of a standing room only crowd. Many speakers supported the compromise and the idea of Louisiana having its own standards.

“I have been, from the very start, against Common Core,” said Candyce Watsey, a Mandeville Junior High teacher who said she is retiring after 37 years in the classroom. Watsey said she saw Common Core and “nothing more than a business plan” that drives dollars to education publishers and technology companies.

“We need local standards tied to our culture,” Watsey continued. “We don’t need to have our children going over literature as if the content doesn’t matter, and all that matters is this new criticism-lite, formulaic writing with no meaning to my students.”

Kathryn Goppelt, a parent activist who has frequently spoken out against Common Core, called the compromise “nothing short of a miracle.”

However, Goppelt said she still is concerned about the make-up of the team that will review the standards, particularly their credentials and opinions on Common Core. She said she is still concerned about the “age inappropriateness” of the current standards, but is cautiously optimistic about the upcoming process.

“We would be hopeful the Department of Education would be forthcoming,” she said. “I’m hoping that the trust will be able to be regained through this bill.”

Not everyone was supportive of the idea of Louisiana creating its own standards, including Tammy Shields of Lincoln Parish, the 2015 Louisiana Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Shields says she credits her students with much of her own success, and has seen them be more successful because of Common Core.

“My kids have gone deeper, thought harder, learned to write better, learned to speak and to communicate. My kids have soared with these standards,” Shields said. “If we rewrite standards, are we going to keep that rigor, that depth of understanding?”

Brenda Nixon, co-director of the Cain Center for STEM Literacy at LSU, said she felt the problem was implementation, not Common Core itself.

“I have seen a very different picture in classrooms and with teachers that are implementing the standards with fidelity,” Nixon said. “Teachers tell us, for the first time, ‘my kids are understanding mathematics.’ We are seeing kids who are excited about math. I really think the problem lies in implementation of the standards.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, Kyle Plotkin, issued the following statement about the vote:

“We appreciate being involved in the negotiations on a compromise and support the process moving forward.

We commend the Legislature for their hard work in getting to a place that could set up a process to get Common Core out of Louisiana.

It’s a good sign that BESE and the Department of Education have made a number of concessions in these negotiations in terms of reducing the number of PARCC questions on exams, leaving the PARCC consortia, allowing for public input on new standards and legislative oversight.

We do have a couple concerns. First, we are concerned that the veto mechanism in the proposed legislation could set up a process where the state reverts to Common Core.

Secondly, there is concern about the commission set up by BESE to come up with new Louisiana standards because some believe it is filled with Common Core supporters.

We will work with the Legislature on these items and we will also continue to pursue our federal lawsuit against Common Core.”

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