Nov. 1, 2013 06:00

Opposition - and support, for that matter - to Common Core is forging some unlikely partnerships.

RE: By Walter Pierce
Nov. 1, 2013

Uncommon Allies
Opposition - and support, for that matter - to Common Core is forging some unlikely partnerships.

In a recent broadcast of his eponymous Comedy Central program, comedian Stephen Colbert, in a "report" about Common Core, quipped, "I'm all in favor of raising standards. If we can help even one kid do better in school, we will help all the kids who copy off that kid."

The line elicited a rapturous guffaw from the audience, and unfortunately there's a grain of truth in there.
Mass media, online predators and childhood obesity notwithstanding - not to mention, but I will, every child who competes getting a trophy - kids today are under siege. Maybe they always have been, but I don't recall my pre-Internet childhood of five TV channels and a strange phenomenon called "outdoors" being all that complicated.

Like all the fuel that makes Colbert's engine run, Common Core is a controversial topic, and it's galvanizing an opposition of odd bedfellows, albeit for different reasons.

Tea Party groups are ag'in it. The group in general and also locally might be more concerned right now about circling the wagons as the establishment GOP finally turns on it, but Common Core, like the Affordable Care Act, comprehensive master planning and anything with tax in it - syntax, for example - is blinking on the teapsters' radar. Tea Party reps turned up at a state school board meeting last month in Baton Rouge to haw about it. Distilled, the Tea Party opposition to Common Core is about big government; that is, top-down administration of public education by an over-arching Uncle Sam.

In fact, CC was developed at the behest of the National Governor's Association beginning in 2009; states had input on its development and most, but not all, have begun implementing it in their public schools. The idea behind it is a uniformity of educational standards: ensuring third graders in Utah are learning the same thing as their peers in Florida.

Common Core is more or less just No Child Left Behind, i.e., a bunch of standardized testing albeit with higher standards. And that's where Louisiana Progress comes in.

I got an email in late October from the liberal policy group announcing its opposition to Common Core. Among Louisiana Progress' objections to CC is that it continues No Child Left Behind's over-testing of kids, forces teachers to "teach the test" rather than exercise creativity and lines the pockets of big testing companies.

This newspaper hasn't taken a position on Common Core. There are so many arguments for and against it, it's difficult to sort this thing out. Generally, if the Tea Party is against it, I'm for it. But Louisiana Progress makes a strong case that CC furthers the transformation of teachers and students into edu-bots. And just as opposition to it brings together odd ends of the political spectrum, so to does support.

Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper is for it, and the Lafayette Parish School System has begun implementing it. Jason El Koubi, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce's new president/CEO, is enthusiastically for CC, so much so that he wrote a column endorsing it in a recent issue of our sister pub, ABiz. State Superintendent John White supports it, and his boss Gov. Bobby Jindal seems to be for it to the extent he can support it without making the tea pot boil over. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an Obama appointee, is all hands on deck.

Rank-and-file teachers seem to feel rushed into integrating the standards and worry that many students will fall into a gap between the old curriculum and CC's more demanding standards, which could affect teacher evaluations. Lottie Beebe, a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member and the superintendent of St. Martin Parish Schools who's been a consistent, outspoken voice for teachers on BESE, put it well in a recent newspaper article when she said of CC implementation, "We're building the plane as we fly it."

Public education in Louisiana and the U.S. no doubt needs to improve, but I would wager it's not as bad as those who sound the alarm about our "failing schools," many of whose motives, I suspect, are driven more by seeing dollar signs in the privatization of public education.

But Colbert is right, raising standards is good. Kids need a solid education. And hugs. If we could just get our arms around their pudgy little bodies.

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