POSTED: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 6:04am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — The state legislature held a special meeting Monday to ask questions about how Common Core State Standards will impact Louisiana. But many people felt they only got half the answer.
The House Education Committee received presentations  from State Superintendent John White and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer. Following their remarks, lawmakers peppered them with questions for several hours, including a couple of emotional exchanges.
But only those two were allowed to share their thoughts with the committee.
"You really can't have a fact-finding conversation when there's only one side speaking," stated Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
State Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) opened the hearing by indicating that everyone will have a chance to talk about their concerns will Common Core, but Monday would not be that time.
"However," he said, "the public will have ample opportunity to provide testimony at future legislative meetings on this issue."
"But any public meeting, according to the public meeting laws, is supposed to allow public comment," countered Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators. "So I'm very disappointed that they are not following that law."
Common Core is a set of standards and guidelines for what students should learn by the end of each school year. Most states have adopted it as a way to make students more competitive in the global marketplace, though some have made slight modifications.
Louisiana adopted Common Core in July 2010 after a three-month public comment period, with a five-year implementation period.
Teachers say they believe in the theory behind Common Core, but implementation has been a tremendous challenge thus far.
"We were pretty much thrown the deep end of the pool and told, 'sink or swim,'" Meaux claimed.
"Everybody wants higher standards, of course," Monaghan said. "There's not a parent out there saying, 'please, don't have high standards in the schools.' But they want these standards to actually be meaningful."
A main tenet of Common Core is that students should learn to think critically. Instead of giving the right answer on a test, they should be able to explain how they got it, or explain multiple ways to reach a conclusion.
White said teachers need to teach the same way, but the unions argue the state has gone too far in that regard. In years past, the state department of education would provide the curriculum that teachers needed to follow. Beginning this year, the state only made suggestions, leaving up to districts the decisions about what to teach and how.
"We want (students) to be able to think through this problem, and you have to have a lesson that allows them to get there," White said. "I think that's really hard. I think it's worth it. But in order for kids to think independently, teachers need to be able to think independently, and that's a big shift."
"Teachers are never adverse to ramping up the rigor," Meaux stated. "But to throw teachers into a set of standards that they haven't had time to digest, and they have no curriculum for, and basically have not really gotten their hands dirty with the standards, I don't think that that's fair."
Some of the representatives told White and Roemer that their school districts cannot afford all the new computers
they are mandated to provide. Part of Louisiana's transition to Common Core includes switching from LEAP and iLEAP tests to the PARCC exam. LEAP tests are taken with paper and pencil, while PARCC is designed for computers. Louisiana schools will need to provide at least one computer for every seven students in order to take the tests.
Many rural or poor districts will struggle to reach that ratio in time, even though White and Roemer argued that technology should have been a priority years ago.
"Yes, I understand it's a bigger struggle in East Feliciana than perhaps a larger district," Roemer mentioned, "and therefore we need to work with East Feliciana to make sure they're able to meet these standards in a way that suits their needs. And if there are ways for us to help them on the technology, then we'll certainly look at that."
While Common Core was approved in Louisiana in 2010, it has not been a focal point for politicians and educators until the last few months. Monaghan believes in part that the pressure of the looming deadline has shown how large the implementation problems are.
"Kentucky signed on in 2010," he mentioned as a point of comparison. "But, for the next three years, Kentucky concentrated on implementation of this big idea. We went off as a state into many different policy directions. We had teacher evaluation, we had the fight over tenure, we had vouchers. So, whereas one ship could've sailed smoothly, perhaps with some difficulty of explanation, as a state, we were all over the page in regard to the alignment of policies."
"It's a large state with a large number of schools and a large number of teachers. And to expect any plan to go out and it be seamless, to expect any plan to go without any hitch is an unrealistic one," Roemer admitted.
Roemer and White told the committee they feel confident the state has done its job in making Common Core successful, and laid the blame for any difficulty with local leaders.
"It's probably going to create some anger amongst our superintendents, and our principals, and our districts," Meaux said of that argument. "It's not helpful."
White told the committee that five years should be enough time for schools to prepare themselves for Common Core, and that transition years were built into the implementation process to help everyone get a better feel for it.
"I certainly understand teachers' concern and principals' concern," he stated. "I think the key thing is, let's take some of the pressure off of them. Let's not put them under the gun on issues of evaluation and such. Let's let them learn over this course of the next couple of years so that, by the time that these tests do come in one and half years, that they'll be fully ready."