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Common Core standards face push back by some Louisiana parents and politicians

June 9, 2014 at 6:27 PM EST
Just a few years ago, the push to create a set of K-12 educational standards enjoyed bipartisan support. Governors across the country got behind the Common Core, including Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state ranks near the bottom for high school achievement. Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Shauna Sanford reports on a growing battle in that state over the standards.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Educators and lawmakers across the nation are engaged in ever-escalating disputes over a set of education standards known as the Common Core. The rules once enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, but that is eroding.

Just last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill to repeal and replace them. And that followed a similar move by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Now, a third Republican governor, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, is heading in the same direction.

We have a report from Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Shauna Sanford.

It’s part of a collaboration with our American Graduate team, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

SHAUNA SANFORD, Louisiana Public Broadcasting: Seventeen-year-old Christian Meyers of Denham Springs, Louisiana, looks like a typical high school student, but his English classroom is considerably different than most. It’s his family’s kitchen table.

Christian is homeschooled and had been studying Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel “The Scarlet Letter” with his teacher and mother, Beth.

BETH MEYERS, Common Core Opponent: When she looks at her child, what bothers her?

CHRISTIAN MEYERS: Somehow, her sin had gone into the baby.

SHAUNA SANFORD: Beth Meyers is a former English and literacy teacher and last year she and her son both decided that homeschooling was the best way to get him ready for college.

BETH MEYERS: I had never, ever thought about homeschooling before. In fact, I had a fairly negative view of homeschooling as a teacher, because a lot of times the kids that came into my classroom who had been homeschooled in the early part were generally two to three years behind.

SHAUNA SANFORD: But Meyers says she changed her mind after Louisiana, along with much of the rest of the country, adopted and began implementing the Common Core state standards in 2010.

Common Core was designed by state leaders and school superintendents to ensure children in participating states met the same math and English benchmarks from kindergarten through high school. Advocates say they are more rigorous than previous standards and will ensure both parents and students of the quality of public schools.

But opponents like Meyers aren’t convinced, especially, she says, after she saw what her son was studying in his Common Core-approved American literature textbook as part of the new curriculum.

BETH MEYERS: And that first chapter was bouncing all over the place. Ben Franklin got two paragraphs with a couple of pages of his aphorisms. And then he was bounced into pages of Dan Rather interviewing people.

There didn’t seem to be any foundational, philosophical material that I feel is critical when they go to college.

SHAUNA SANFORD: Beth Meyers has since joined a chorus of voices opposed to Common Core in Louisiana and has heard about many other parents who are thinking about or actually pulling their children out of public school because of it.

NARRATOR: Thanks to the unprecedented collaboration among states, young people…

SHAUNA SANFORD: But just a few years ago, the push to create the set of K-12 educational standards enjoyed bipartisan support. Governors across the country got behind it, including Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, a Republican.

MAN: Let’s reach higher. Let’s invest in our teachers.

SHAUNA SANFORD: Some business groups and large employers in the state, including ExxonMobil, came out in favor of Common Core, too, saying Louisiana needed a better-educated work force.

ERIC LEWIS, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Louisiana Chapter: In Louisiana, we still remained ranked 48th amongst high school graduates or high school achievement. And, so, to me, that’s struggling.

SHAUNA SANFORD: Executive director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options in Louisiana, Eric Lewis, agrees. Lewis, who is also a parent of three, believes Common Core raises the bar for public schools and will make Louisiana students more competitive with their counterparts across the country.

Thus far, more than 40 states have adopted the Common Core.

ERIC LEWIS: We have got to make sure our children are able to be productive citizens, but that they’re also prepared to thrive in a global world in the years to come.

SHAUNA SANFORD: But Lewis and other supporters are having to fight to keep Common Core in Louisiana schools. Originally, a majority of states signed on to Common Core, but earlier this year, Indiana was the first to back out and now, as opposition grows here in Louisiana, some state lawmakers have pushed to do the same.

This year, bills that would have repealed the standards were introduced in the state legislature. Former teacher Amy Dutsch, who started the Louisiana chapter of Parents and Educators Against Common Core, supported the move. She began homeschooling her two young sons last year after learning more about the standards.

AMY DUTSCH, Common Core Opponent: The main big problem I am finding and I believe is that there’s no more local control.

SHAUNA SANFORD: Even though the federal government didn’t develop Common Core, the Education Department did provide states financial incentives to adopt the standards and it is funding the creation of the assessment tests. Those tests will measure, in part, how well students are meeting those standards, and that worries Dutsch.

AMY DUTSCH: Standards always drive curriculum. I don’t care what they say. As a teacher, you know that standards drive curriculum.

SHAUNA SANFORD: The pushback against Common Core has been so strong in St. Tammany Parish, where Dutsch lives, that the school board voted last year on a resolution urging the state to drop the standards altogether.

MAN: The St. Tammany Parish school board opposed the Common Core state standards since the idea was first introduced.

SHAUNA SANFORD: But despite that resolution and a last-minute apparent change of heart by Governor Jindal, none of the bills passed. In an op-ed published in USA Today, Jindal explained his new thoughts about Common Core.

“Centralized planning didn’t work in Russia. It’s not working with our health care system, and it won’t work in education.” And he said, “If the feds dictate the standards of measure, the local curricula will have no choice but to follow.”

YOLANDA BRAXTON, Common Core Supporter: We wanted the governor to know that we as parents are in support of Common Core.

SHAUNA SANFORD: The governor’s about-face didn’t fit well with everyone, though, including Yolanda Braxton. The mother of three public school students led this group of parents and educators to Louisiana’s state capitol.

YOLANDA BRAXTON: And with Common Core, it begins to hold people accountable, not just one person, but everybody is held accountable to doing what needs to be done for the kids. And accountability is important.

SHAUNA SANFORD: The man tasked in many ways with implementing Common Core in Louisiana is state Superintendent John White. He announced that he would delay by two years the date when students, teachers and schools will be judged by the assessment tests, saying that it gives district more time to prepare.

Even so, he still strongly supports the Common Core and believes backing out would be a big mistake.

JOHN WHITE, Superintendent of Education, Louisiana: Imagine that our state said to the rest of the country, we don’t think our kids are capable of being educated to a standard that’s as high as California’s or New York’s or anywhere else in between. What would that say to companies thinking about doing business here? What would it say about their employees thinking about moving here? What would it say to our families here about the jobs of companies that are operating in Louisiana?

SHAUNA SANFORD: Back at the Meyers’ homes in Denham Springs, both mother and son are happy with their decision to homeschool.

Christian, who struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, says that he and his mom figured out a pace that works for both of them. Eventually, Christian wants to be a nurse anesthetist, but, for now, his focus is set on finishing high school, which, at his current pace, he should be able to do next year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find much more on the Common Core standards, the political battles and the effects on teaching and learning on our Web site. Just click the Education tab.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen,a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.