Common Core controversy: Superintendents weigh in

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

This is part two of a series examining the state’s newly Common Core educational standards.
LAPLACE – The superintendents of the three River Parishes have revealed mixed opinions about the impending shift to Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Assessments.
The Louisiana Department of Education has already begun issuing new writing prompts aligned with the expectations. By spring 2015, children in grades three through eight will be taking the new PARCC assessments. Some educators and parents have expressed confusion and even dismay at the new system. Mary Kass, activist and founder of the Stop Common Core Coalition, previously said that the problem isn’t having standards in general. The problem, she said, is taking the focus off of local education.
“If you really believe in how our country was founded, we should not advocate any decision-making with a higher level of bureaucracy. We should keep education local and within our state. It’s not about the standards because we can raise high standards within our state. We don’t have to sign on to a national top-down structure to increase answers,” she said. “I think people just want a fix for problems in this country, and instead of looking for local and state control, they keep looking further and further away to the ‘experts.’”
In contrast, Kevin George, the superintendent of St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools, seems confident the new standards, paired with PARCC, can provide students with vital skills. George previously worked with the DOE as a district support deputy network leader, where he helped school districts implement the new initiatives.
“If you go to any university in Louisiana, you will see a couple of new trends. One, enrollment in four-year universities is down, yet graduation rates have improved. You will also see an increase in community college enrollments. Our students are not graduating high school college ready,” he said.
“According to our local business and industry, our students are not graduating career ready. Students must be able to think independently, critically and be able to problem solve. The CCSS and demand that our students demonstrate the ability to do just that.”
In regard to parent fears concerning a lack of testing, George asserted that the PARCC assessment/CCSS alignment has been field tested the past two years in the state. He also compared data collection for the assessment to practices that are currently used in the education field.
“Student data has been tracked, recorded and reported for a long time in education. When a child takes the ACT, it is reported nationally and internationally. iLEAP, LEAP and GLE scores follow students throughout their lives and are used by universities. I do not see the PARCC assessments deviating from that,” he said.
St. James Parish Public School Superintendent Dr. Alonzo Luce feels the process as a whole has been too hasty. Luce said he has not received many questions from parents about the process in general since the schools have not been aware of the transition for very long.
“Instead of the CCSS being the issue, I think it’s more the rapidity in which it was implemented. I think there have been issues with the assessment — we don’t really know what it is. We’ve seen examples, but I would feel more comfortable if we’d wait until it came out and we all looked at it for a year before we just jump on the bandwagon with it,” said Luce.
“I, quite frankly, think we should have even slowed down implementing the CCSS until resources were more prevalent. We kind of moved into CCSS before all the curriculum materials were really ready.”
Luce offered some positives.
He said that CCSS could end up being a good thing in the long run since the standards are still rather broad, which means more local decision making. The superintendent added that there was likely a national push to move forward with the transitioning process, and that it would probably cause more harm to back out of it altogether, at this point.
“Common Core can potentially be positive. Some people say that some of the material is more liberal and has some things that may not be developmentally appropriate. We’re in a culture where we would not use some of the exemplars, but the standards are fine,” said Luce.
Finally, Felicia Gomez-Walker, the superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public School District, offered a concise opinion on the matter.
“St. Charles Parish Public Schools is in support of the Common Core State Standards. We continue to work toward full implementation of the standards across the school district. It is important to note that the standards are just that, not specific, mandated curriculum. The district continues to have authority over the materials used, such as textbooks. We do believe that there are certain aspects of the standards that need to be reviewed, but we support the objective of preparing our students to be college and career ready,” she said.