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Look again at Common Core, LFT urges

(Baton Rouge – October 14, 2013) The state’s highest education board should seriously consider delaying the full, consequential implementation of Common Core State Standards until problems threatening the success of our children and educators are addressed, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee will discuss “the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and accompanying (high stakes tests) in Louisiana, including the technology requirements of school systems and the implications of halting the transition to Common Core State Standards” at its meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

“While the Louisiana Federation of Teachers supports the noble intent of higher standards to prepare children better for a constantly changing world, parents, teachers, and elected officials have all expressed serious concerns,” LFT President Steve Monaghan said. “Quite frankly, the noise is deafening.”

Last July, Monaghan said, the LFT unsuccessfully urged state officials to accept an offer from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to waive the imposition of high-stakes Common Core tests for at least a year.

“We believe that the ideas behind Common Core have merit,” Monaghan said, “but like so many other education reforms that have been imposed recently, there has been a failure to prepare and provision our teachers, our children, and communities for the changes.

“It is absolutely morally wrong if we do not try with all of our energies to prepare children for an uncertain future,” Monaghan said. “But, it is equally offensive to damage students and their teachers through a horrible implementation process.”

The state’s pledge to implement Common Core standards went hand-in-hand with a request for a waiver of sections of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that some claimed were overly burdensome, Monaghan said.

“The state’s original waiver application included a promise to establish comprehensive resources for teachers. That included content crosswalk documents, correlation charts to the existing curriculum and a phase-in of the new curriculum. Apparently, that waiver application was amended and the promised support withdrawn. The Louisiana Department of Education scrapped the transition, and passed the burden on to teachers and schools."

“As a result,” he said, “teachers and local school districts are struggling to beg, borrow or improvise curricula to meet the standards.

“It’s like asking doctors to investigate a new disease, invent a drug and bring it to the market while treating a full patient load,” Monaghan said. “It’s unfair to teachers, students and the schools that will be judged on the success of Common Core testing.

The Federation president outlined a list of concerns that he plans to share with BESE when the committee meets on Tuesday afternoon:

• LFT believes the Department of Education and BESE have done a very poor job of preparing our teachers for Common Core standards.

While states like Kentucky and Arkansas have spent the past few years preparing teachers, students and communities to understand and to meet Common Core standards, Louisiana chased a series of policy misadventures, which included Act 54 of 2010 and Acts 1 and 2 (2012). It was as if key decision makers had forgotten their commitment made to CCSS in 2010.

• LFT believes that the state has shirked its responsibility to prepare local school systems for Common Core standards.

Instead of providing curricula or assisting with the development of curricula aligned with Common Core standards, the LDOE made it clear that teachers and each local school system are on their own in finding and developing curricula that align with the new assessments. Many teachers were directed to Web sites to master a completely new and still incomplete curriculum just days before school opened in August.

At the same time, five years of frozen funds have left school districts hard-pressed to meet regular expenses, let alone find costly new educational programs aligned with Common Core standards.
School infrastructure is woefully inadequate to handle the technological requirements of PARRC tests, which must be taken online by students. Wide swaths of the state lack necessary broadband access. Many schools do not even have enough computers on which students can take the tests. Some, it has been reported don't even have the necessary electrical capacity.

• LFT believes the state may be setting Louisiana children and Louisiana schools up for failure by imposing rigorous new standards too quickly.

Students are required to tackle many concepts in earlier grades than before Common Core went into effect. As a result, children will be expected to grow two to three grade levels in one school year, and pass tests based on the new standards.

Opponents have charged that the math being taught is confusing and overly complex. Child development experts have challenged the age appropriateness of some of the standards. As mentioned earlier, the noise is deafening.

All PARRC tests must be taken via computer, including computations, even though many students have not been adequately prepared with keyboarding skills.

Louisiana children and schools will be compared to children and schools in other states with a much different implementation narrative.

• LFT is concerned about the role played by corporate interests in the development and implementation of Common Core standards and testing.

Concerns have been raised about how companies that run testing will store, use and share student data. Educators and parents have raised questions about the appropriateness of learning materials and methods associated with common core standards. They deserve answers. Again, the noise is deafening.

Therefore, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers stands with organizations such as the Louisiana School Board Association, which have urged more transition time, the minimizing of negative consequences associated with the implementation process, and the provision of real support from the Louisiana Department of Education.  

The committee is slated to begin its meeting at 2:30 P.M. on Tuesday. However, rules allow it to begin up to one-half hour earlier than scheduled. It may also begin later than scheduled if earlier meetings run over their time limit.

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