BEAM: Common Core Clears First Hurdle

Common Core, the controversial education program setting up tougher reading, writing and math standards in the state’s public schools, survived its first major test last week, but what’s next?

“Not sure yet,” said Rep. Brett Geymann, the Moss Bluff Republican who has become the champion of the anti-Common Core forces. “I have several ideas,” he said, “but I think waiting on the governor’s next move may be the plan for next week. Of course, there are other moving parts as well, as you can imagine. But the issue is still alive for sure.”

Geymann’s main measure in a package of 11 bills related to Common Core went down to defeat after a nearly eight-hour hearing last week by the House Education Committee. It would have abolished Common Core and created the 30-member Students Standards Commission in the state Department of Education to develop state standards for required subjects.

The vote to reject Geymann’s bill was 12-7, and legislators on both sides of the issue represent conservative and liberal points of view. The quote, “Politics makes strange bedfellows,” certainly applies here since those involved seldom agree on other issues.

What do we know about Common Core?

The program was created by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 48 states. However, President Obama endorsed the program and that was all opponents needed to label it a federal takeover of public education in this country. Even Gov. Bobby Jindal, who initially supported Common Core, uses that excuse for his newfound — but lukewarm — opposition to the program.

Louisiana implemented the program in 2010, and John White, the governor’s hand-picked state superintendent of education, has become Common Core’s chief defender. Jindal also supported most of the members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who adopted the program. White and BESE are still strongly on board.

Business groups and individual companies support Common Core. It also has the backing of the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Leaders in business and industry believe it is the answer to the state’s job needs and the vehicle that can get Louisiana off the bottom of national education rankings.

Some parents, school superintendents and teachers oppose the program. They insist the changes were made without their input. The superintendents say they want to slow things down. Common Core is scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

Geymann has been outspoken from the start, making it clear he wants to get rid of the program. He has an ally in Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who sponsored a bill that would have prohibited the state from using a test designed to measure the success of Common Core. It was also defeated 12-7 in committee.

In early March, Geymann said, “They (the public) just don’t like it. And they are coming 100 miles per hour in wanting us to get rid of this.”

Henry said, “Just by the number of bills that have been filed and by the significant push by parents throughout the state, it almost demands that we make some movement in getting parents more comfortable with these standards.”

A majority on the House Education Committee obviously didn’t agree with Geymann or Henry. And that makes Jindal’s opposition even more questionable. He had a heavy hand in naming the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees who back Common Core 100 percent. And some of those committee members who voted to keep the program going would have voted the other way if Jindal had only asked.

The governor was front and center in 2012 when lawmakers adopted his education reform program. He had lined up the votes to get it done long before the two-day hearings got under way. He was nowhere to be seen last week, and his spokesmen were low-key.

A poll done by the Public Policy Research Lab at the LSU Manship School of Journalism helps explain why Common Core has had problems. The Advocate said the survey found “that 49 percent of the 1,095 people questioned between Feb. 4 and Feb 24 had little, if any, familiarity with Common Core.”

A spokesperson for LABI said of the poll, “This survey confirms our belief that if these education standards, had they not become politicized, would be adopted easily.”

Geymann says the issue isn’t dead and he is waiting on the governor’s next move. He may be right on the first count, but Jindal’s heart and mind seem to be totally dedicated to his presidential ambitions. The only major moves he is making these days are on the national scene with his sights set on the White House.

The Common Core situation is almost identical to Obamacare, the president’s health care law. A sizable number of people don’t like either one, but both programs appear to be here to stay. Some modifications might be possible, but that may be as far as it gets.

For our children’s sake, let’s hope Common Core delivers what its supporters promise. Their future is riding on its success.

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