House committee rejects bill to scrap Common Core

by Walter Pierce

Jindal was out of state, fundraising for his nonprofit organization.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A measure that could have jettisoned Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was rejected Wednesday by the House Education Committee, despite the last-minute backing of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Lawmakers on the committee voted 12-7 against the proposal by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, that would have Louisiana draw up its own state-specific education standards through a 30-member commission that would have sidelined the state education board.

By the same vote, the committee rejected a bill by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, that sought to prohibit the standardized testing associated with Common Core.

The debate is one of the highest-profile clashes of the legislative session, centered on what education standards the state should use to teach its public school students and what tests should judge what they learn. The issue divides education leaders, teachers and parents.

"We're not giving up," Geymann said after the vote that killed his bill.

Geymann said his bill would create a process that would be more transparent, would involve state and local control and would be of the same quality or better than Common Core. The state-specific standards would need support from lawmakers before they could be rolled out in schools, under the bill.

"These standards are going to be high. The question is: Are they going to be ours or are they going to be someone else's?" Geymann said.

But critics said Louisiana shouldn't abandon Common Core standards, which they said are rigorous benchmarks that better prepare students for college and careers.

After months of dodging the issue of where he stands on Common Core, Jindal's office submitted cards of support for both Geymann's and Henry's bills. But no one from the Republican governor's office publicized the position or spoke at the committee hearing, which stretched over nine hours. Jindal was out of state, fundraising for his nonprofit organization.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to phase in the Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states as a way to compare performance and add more rigorous training for students.

Supporters, including business leaders and Superintendent of Education John White, say the standards promote critical thinking and raise expectations for students.

White, the governor's hand-picked education leader, said shelving Common Core would end the ability to measure children against their peers in other states and would cause teacher confusion by disrupting what they have started teaching.

"How does this bill help the children of the state of Louisiana? I have to tell you I have yet to hear a good response to that question," he said.

Backers of Geymann's bill said the standards didn't get enough public and legislative review and implementation was poorly handled. Critics of Common Core said using the multistate standards shifts Louisiana to a nationalized education system that removes local control.

"I don't want our children experimented with by the federal government. I don't think it's appropriate," said Sandra McDade, who said her grandchildren attend public school.

Leaders of organizations representing local school boards and superintendents said the roll-out of Common Core was uneven, with teachers having to write their own curricula, classrooms given few resources and parents provided little information about the standards.

"Superintendents feel like it's time to slow down and get the implementation of high standards right," said Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, who supported Geymann's bill.

BESE member Holly Boffy said changing standards doesn't address the challenges of applying new standards in classrooms and testing.

"This is going to be devastating if we are required to start over," said Judy Vail, Common Core specialist and accountability coordinator for Calcasieu Parish public schools.

Lawmakers questioned when the new standards would be developed.

"I don't want to run into the problem of everyone's out in limbo for 10 years," said Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, who opposed the bills.

Henry said if the commission created under Geymann's bill determines that the Common Core standards are the best education benchmarks for the state, it could keep them in place. But he said the commission would give parents the ability to discuss their concerns.

"We've got to get them comfortable," Henry said.

Boffy said the appropriate place to discuss education standards is through the 11-member statewide education board, which has held several public meetings on Common Core.

"I really have an issue with the Legislature doing BESE's job," Boffy told Henry.