The Louisiana Senate struck a blow for educational standards and improvement last week. It did so by summarily defeating a resolution requesting the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to cease implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in public education.
The topic of educational standards may sound boring, but the resolution elicited more than two hours of sometimes surreal testimony in the Senate Education Committee.
So what is the Common Core initiative?
It's a voluntary program launched by the National Governors Association in 2009 that 45 states — including Louisiana — have joined thus far. The goal is to align educational standards across the country to provide a clear understanding of what students should know and be able to do at various stages of their development.
It's not a standard curriculum, and it doesn't tell teachers how to teach or how to run their classrooms. It's simply a set of standards that suggests, for example, what types of math equations a student in fifth grade should be able to perform or at what level a sixth grader should be able to read and comprehend. The standards set a level of rigor for students that has been lacking in Louisiana. They're designed to prepare students for the real world in a way that's relevant and reflects the knowledge and skills they'll need to succeed in college and beyond.
Listening to some of the debate, you might have thought it was part of a plot to undermine the youth of Louisiana. The words "communism" and "socialism" were tossed around, along with the suggestion of a federal plot to control curricula.
Fortunately, there was also testimony from educators who are implementing the Common Core standards. They praised it for its rigor, saying it will help raise student achievement in Louisiana and give us a better indication of how our students perform compared to those in other states.
The Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) supports Louisiana's ongoing implementation of the Common Core. We do so for a variety of reasons that we think make common sense:
• Louisiana's previous standards and LEAP tests were developed 16 years ago and were right for the time. Although we have raised our standards, they are still lower than national standards. This is evident when you look at the performance of Louisiana students on the state LEAP tests compared to the national NAEP assessment. Louisiana's minimum is not enough.
• The world's economy constantly changes. Our kids need to know more to compete and succeed — not just nationally but also here in Louisiana. We must identify and teach what young people need to know and do in academics, creativity, critical reasoning, communications and more. Louisiana's future belongs to those who have a strong, competitive academic foundation and are adaptable.
• States, districts or schools are not restricted in any way from adopting additional standards outside the Common Core, which is merely a set of basic goals for knowledge and skills based on higher expectations. Common Core also encompasses professional development, better use of technology and feedback for teachers, students and parents.
Concerns that have arisen in a few states seem to center on the speed or quality of implementation, not the standards themselves. If there is a lesson to be learned from the experience of other states, it would be that Common Core is most successful when proper time and support are given to train teachers and prepare students prior to testing.
The bottom line is simple: The Common Core is not being forced on Louisiana by the federal government; it's not a national takeover of public education; and it doesn't threaten Louisiana's sovereignty.
Safeguards need to be in place to ensure it is implemented appropriately and that student privacy rights are protected. But Louisiana also needs to move forward. This is the next phase in the evolution of our school accountability model. It builds on our successful efforts of the past, and we should embrace it without delay.
— Barry Erwin is the president of the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), an organization that focuses on issues of importance to the state.