Louisiana’s adoption of uniform national standards for public school testing, called the Common Core, received the backing of the state education board with little more than a blip of attention three years ago.
Now, the standards are causing fear and anxiety among tea party supporters and conservative groups. Parents are shouting opposition in school board meetings and filling up social media sites with objections. Some lawmakers want to revisit the state’s decision.
The dispute puts Gov. Bobby Jindal, who supported the Common Core standards, in a tough spot, one that the Republican governor would clearly rather avoid because of the political pitfalls involved.
Forty-five states have adopted the national standards, which define what students need to learn in reading, writing and math in each grade and allow states to compare the testing results against each other.
The standards were developed in a joint process among states seeking to have a set of uninform, grade-by-grade benchmarks for what students should learn in English and math.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to phase in Louisiana’s use of the Common Core standards, with plans to have them fully in place by the 2014-15 school year. They are being incorporated into standardized tests given each spring to Louisiana’s public school students.
But a tea party-led movement is seeking to derail those plans.
Critics of Common Core say that by using the national standards, Louisiana is abdicating local control of its curriculum to the federal government, calling it a “nationalization of education.” They’ve also raised concerns about privacy issues in sharing student data and the costs of the technology upgrades involved in the testing.
“What began as a plan to develop standards that states could adopt voluntarily has now become a tool of federal coercion,” state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said in a letter to Jindal urging the governor to stop state use of the Common Core.
Supporters of the standards, including Superintendent of Education John White, say the uniform benchmarks will better prepare students for college and careers with more rigorous teaching and testing. They say that Common Core is not a curriculum and that teachers and school leaders decide how and what to teach.
“The Common Core standards are basic descriptions of reading, writing, and math skills that allow Louisiana students to see how they perform compared to students across America. While curriculum and textbooks should continue to be chosen by local educators, Louisiana students should all have the chance to compete nationally,” White said.
Common Core divides Republicans and education groups alike. That makes it tricky territory for Jindal, who is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate and who touts both his conservative credentials and his education achievements as governor.
Under pressure to backpedal on Common Core, Jindal is left to choose among groups who have supported him in many initiatives and who could bolster his national political ambitions.
For now, the governor has largely punted the issue.
Jindal’s suggested he has “concerns” about the national testing standards, but he’s asked BESE and White to weigh whether those concerns should prompt a state exit from Common Core.
That move buys Jindal a bit of time. But as many in the education community point out, that doesn’t get the governor out of the mix.
Jindal appoints three BESE members, his supporters make up a majority of the board and he helped get White chosen as superintendent. He’s got sway over education decision-making and whether BESE decides to change course.
Plus, the education board isn’t the only entity that can decide about the state’s participation in Common Core. The Louisiana Legislature could seek to ban its use, which would have lawmakers asking where Jindal stands on the issue.
The Senate earlier this year rejected an attempt by state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, to stop implementation of the national testing standards in public schools. But Rep. Henry has said he’ll file similar legislation for the 2014 regular session of the Legislature.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.