St. James Parish School Board gets lesson in Common Core

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

By David Vitrano

LUTCHER – Many people across the state — and the nation as a whole — have been hearing the words “common core” frequently of late, but few have a firm grasp on what the term actually denotes concerning the current state of public education. As such, St. James Parish Public Schools’ Administrative Director of Teaching and Learning K-12 Anne Detillier, with the aid of Superintendent Alonzo Luce, tried to shed some light on the set of standards for the members of the Parish School Board.
Luce noted that the Common Core Standards have received copious amounts of negative press recently and that these reports usually focus on one of three areas: an increase in homework, a decline in grades and the subject matter. He added that while the latter has probably garnered most of the attention, it is in reality the least valid of the complaints.
“Very clearly, Common Core is a set of standards,” said Luce.
He said although several examples of Common Core “curriculum” have surfaced, in reality teachers are not bound to follow any particular curriculum and have a wide variety of resources that conform to the standards to choose from.
He said the other two have a bit more validity because “in some instances Common Core has upped the standards.”
Detillier, through an extensive PowerPoint presentation, explained why Louisiana, along with all but five states in the nation, has chosen to adopt the set of standards.
“It’s about shifts, and it’s about the approach,” she said. “Common Core puts the problem solving on the front end. It’s a different approach.”
She said the standards encourage communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity among students.
In the years since the introduction of LEAP testing, many educators have felt like they serve the test, rather than the other way around. Because Common Core is more about reaching specific standards, it actually frees the teachers up a bit more.
“A lot of the details are left up to the local and district level,” said Detillier.
Still, others worry about a more subversive form of control, that of the federal government in doling out aid. Participation in Common Core could give districts a leg up when securing Race to the Top funds or No Child Left Behind waivers. When Florida Gov. Rick Scott notified U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan the state was withdrawing from Common Core, he cited “the federal government’s overreach into our education system.”
Despite this, Detillier said local complaints focus more actual content and the speed with which both students and teachers have had to adjust to the changes.
“Our teachers are stressed out,” she said. “There’s no denying it.”
Common Core also arrived with the new COMPASS system of evaluation, so there has been much to cope with since August.
“We’re going to keep working with our teachers,” said Detillier, who noted that several professional development days have been added to the calendar to prepare teachers for next year’s implementation of the PARCC standardized test, which is a national assessment.
She said another struggle for teachers is obtaining resources that conform to Common Core.
“We purchased a lot of resources this year in ELA and math across all grade levels,” she said, noting that even resource publishers had trouble keeping up with the rapid implementation.
“They couldn’t get this stuff published fast enough,” she said, adding, “We need change, but how much and how fast are issues.”