After two years of legislative, legal and policy fights, Louisiana taxpayers are about to get a chance to say whether and how Common Core should be changed.
The first of six public hearings statewide on the volatile topic is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center.
Four panels composed mostly of educators will gather for a six-hour session to review the math, English and writing benchmarks that have triggered bitter arguments since 2013.
“Making sure that the Common Core standards will fit the needs of our Louisiana students, educators, citizens and parents,” said Regina Sanford, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the St. Tammany Parish school system.
Sanford heads the Standards Committee, a 26-member panel of teachers, principals and others who will oversee the review and make recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Feb. 2.
Three subcommittees of 29 members each will tackle the nitty-gritty of the standards and submit their findings to the Standards Committee.
The subcommittees cover kindergarten through second grade; English language arts for grades three through 12; and math for grades three through 12.
Three of every four subcommittee members are educators.
The review stems from action by BESE and the Legislature, which in June finalized a three-bill package aimed at curbing the seemingly endless debate over Common Core.
Whether the new process does that remains in dispute.
And whether the review sparks a major overhaul, as Common Core opponents hope, or tweaks what is being taught today, as backers predict, also is unclear.
“I don’t know what to expect,” said BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge and backs Common Core.
“What I hope is they find things they can improve,” Roemer said. “I don’t know if that will be a great deal of change or a small amount of change.”
Jane Smith, a BESE member from Bossier City and a Common Core critic, said during the panel’s meeting last week that the review stems from “a lot of hours and a lot of stress” in the Legislature.
One factor that boosts chances for a valid review, Smith said, is the fact that a new law gives legislative committees and the next governor the right to veto any changes recommended by BESE and the Standards Committee.
“There is no incentive for the panel not to do a good job,” she said.
The most vociferous critics of Common Core want the academic benchmarks replaced entirely. But the state Department of Education says on its website that the study is to “improve what exists today rather than start from scratch.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, officials of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta will boil down highlights of nearly 29,000 online comments.
They came from 723 people, with 60 percent identifying themselves as educators, according to the state Department of Education.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association and a member of the Standards Committee, said the large amount of online input is telling.
“Based on the volume of comments from educators, there are obviously some serious concerns that need to be addressed,” Richard said.
Math and English standards for students in lower elementary grades, including the order in which topics are taught and whether the timing makes sense for the age, are among the focal points, he said.
Smith made the same point and said teachers are aware of the concerns.
“That is why I think we are going to see meaningful change,” she said in an interview.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the Legislature’s chief critics of Common Core, said the age at which material is taught, how it is presented and testing are his chief concerns.
“If you deal with these three areas, we should relieve most of the concern,” he said.
Under a law sponsored by Geymann, hearings on Common Core are required in all six congressional districts.
Future ones are set for Shreveport, Oct. 12; Alexandria, Oct. 14; Crowley, Oct. 15; Covington, Nov. 12; and New Orleans, Feb. 2.
BESE has to make recommendations by March 4.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.