Grace Notes: Lessons to be learned from how once-red-hot Common Core battle was resolved _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- The Louisiana House and Senate Education committees heard testimony Tuesday on revisions to the long-debated Common Core academic standards. Senate Education Committee Chair Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, and House Education Committee Chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, sit on the raised back row dais. Also considering testimony, front to back, are Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, and Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge.

Gov. John Bel Edwards endorsed revisions in the Common Core academic standards Tuesday, ending a 34-month controversy that divided the Legislature, state leaders and Louisiana’s top school board.

Edwards took the action shortly after the House and Senate education committees approved the changes after a hearing devoid of the anger and passion that dominated so many previous gatherings.

The review by the governor, a Common Core critic, and lawmakers was required under a compromise approved by the Legislature last year in hopes of ending bickering over the guidelines in reading, writing and math.

In a prepared statement, Edwards praised the work of those who did the review and educators who took part in the process.

“We can now all pull together and focus our energy and resources exclusively on increasing student achievement,” he said.

Earlier in the day, leaders of the 26-member Standards Review Committee told lawmakers educators spent more than 9,000 hours over a seven-month period reviewing and adjusting the benchmarks.

“We had Louisiana experts at the table,” said Regina Sanford, chairwoman of the committee and a veteran St. Tammany Parish educator.

“It was very important that we get the standards that Louisiana students need,” Sanford said.

The Senate Education Committee approved the changes 5-2.

The House Education Committee did so without objection.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed the revised standards in March, a quiet ending after previous sessions marked by heated arguments.

During a 31/2-hour hearing Tuesday, backers of the changes far outnumbered critics.

Addressing lawmakers, Lauren Trahan, a teacher, said the best thanks “you can give for all the hard work that has been done is to approve this.”

Several committee members praised the work of the review panels, which consisted of 80 percent educators.

“I am unbelievably impressed,” said former House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge and a member of the House panel.

Backers said the changes give teachers more flexibility, clarify some of the original academic benchmarks and better spell out what students are expected to learn in each grade.

If the plan wins final approval, about 20 percent of the 1,287 math and English guidelines would be modified starting with the 2016-17 school year.

Opponents charged that educators failed to go far enough in their work.

Tiffany Guidry, a former educator and mother of three in Lake Charles, criticized Common Core.

“I live this every day with my children,” Guidry told the committees. “I have decided I am going to home school my children.”

Edwards, a Common Core critic, has said the revisions should be substantive.

Educators who have followed the issue said they are confident the governor will endorse the changes, or let them take effect without action, rather than reopening the controversy.

Backers of the changes who appeared Tuesday included the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry; ExxonMobil; Council for a Better Louisiana; BESE President Jim Garvey, a Metairie attorney; Education’s Next Horizon; Stand For Children, an education advocacy group; and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

On the other side, Leslie Truax, a Lake Charles history teacher, agreed with advocates on both sides of the issue that Common Core arguments need to be resolved.

“We are ready for the fight to be over,” Truax said.

That said, Truax argued the proposed changes need to be returned to BESE for more work.

“Let’s get it right,” she said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell.

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