A transformation in performance expectations for public school children is underway as local school districts, such as St. Charles Parish Public Schools, begin their efforts to enact new academic standards.
The new expectations are part of the Common Core State Standards initiative, commonly referred to simply as Common Core, which will begin rolling out in the 2014-15 school year. However, some parents and legislators are worried that it gives the federal government too much control over what is taught in classrooms.
Louisiana, along with 44 other states, have adopted the standards that were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers and are anticipated to increase the educational requirements of school children throughout the country.
In 2012, Louisiana was ranked 49th nationwide in student achievement and the United States, which has steadily been declining in comparison to other first world countries, was ranked 17th in the world in a study on educational achievement.
Common Core mandates that school districts develop a framework aimed at increasing mathematical understanding, improving English language arts capability and furthering literacy in history and social studies as well as technical subjects.
The Common Core is part of the larger “Race to the Top” education initiative passed in 2009 that awards states for increasing performance standards as determined by the federal government.
Much like the No Child Left Behind Act that was the standard before it, Common Core will require students to take standardized tests at the end of the year. However, instead of taking state developed tests, such as the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP), Common Core students nationwide will begin taking Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests.
Local educators have already said they anticipate PARCC tests to be more difficult than LEAP tests. Proponents of the Common Core say this is because achieving educational standards under the program will require more analytical thinking rather than memorization.
However, the program does not mandate what reading lists or the topics courses should cover, but rather sets expectations for what educational abilities children ideally have attained at certain grade levels.
For example, the reading portion of the literacy standard expects fifth graders to pick up on themes in stories, be able to discuss characters and accurately explain what a text says. For math they will be expected to analyze patterns and relationships in algebraic terms as well as solve real world geometry problems. Although the Common Core delivers expectations, it allows each school system to develop the path to be able to better meet those expectations.
St. Charles Parish Public Schools Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker said she stands behind the Common Core standards.
“St. Charles Parish Public Schools is in support of the Common Core State Standards. We continue to work towards full implementation of the standards across the school district,” Gomez-Walker said. “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.”
However, some parents and legislators throughout the state are starting to push back against the program. Most notably a rally was held at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge on Sept. 28 that was attended by more than 200 parents and educators who are part of the group Stop Common Core in Louisiana.
Despite Common Core supporters such as Gomez-Walker stating that the standards will be implemented on a local level, Tea Party backed Stop Common Core in Louisiana takes the opposite view, writing on their Facebook page “National standards would give the federal government more power over education at the expense of parents and communities.”
More recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal has made similar statements against the Common Core despite support of the program from Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chad Roemer.