Saying they hoped to generate enough grass-roots support to get rid of Common Core, three St. Tammany Parish legislators told a small crowd in Slidell on Wednesday night that they are committed to working to remove the controversial state standards from state classrooms.
State Sen. A.G. Crowe, of Slidell, and Reps. Kevin Pearson, of Slidell, and John Schroder, of Covington, all Republicans, said the standards represent an intrusion by the federal government into local control of schools.
In an effort to galvanize support for removing the standards, Crowe and Schroder said they are attending town-hall meetings around the state so that legislators can get a feel for how their constituents feel about the topic. Similar meetings have been held in Alexandria and Lafayette, and others are planned for Shreveport and Bossier City.
Crowe offered a resolution in the Legislature in 2013 and a bill in 2014 to block the standards, but both failed.
The gathering Wednesday night — held in the cavernous Northshore Harbor Center in Slidell — drew about 80 people, a smaller crowd than the ones that have at times packed the St. Tammany Parish School Board meeting room.
Unlike the most recent School Board meeting, when some teachers spoke in favor of the Common Core-aligned Eureka Math curriculum, Wednesday’s comments about Common Core were uniformly negative.
John Mason said he had taken some of his children’s math homework to his church and his business, and no one at either place was able to decipher it.
April Donahue offered a similar sentiment, saying she struggled to help her 12-year-old daughter with math.
Other speakers offered more sweeping critiques. Lee Barrios said the testing associated with Common Core is a tool that outside interests could use to control schools’ curriculum.
Schroder challenged the Common Core opponents at the meeting to call Jim Garvey, a Common Core supporter who represents St. Tammany Parish on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“They are the state school board,” he said of BESE. “They are acting with their constitutional authority.”
Schroder also bemoaned the absence of teachers at the meeting, saying that if they don’t like the standards, they should speak up.
Wednesday’s event was just the latest in a series of Common Core-focused meetings in St. Tammany. Earlier, the School Board held three meetings to discuss Eureka Math, a Common Core-aligned math curriculum that critics said was confusing, not age-appropriate and riddled with errors and typos.
After several hours of deliberation and over the objections of some teachers, the School Board opted to remove Eureka Math from the system by the end of the current school year, by which time administrators say they will have adopted a new textbook. That textbook will have to be aligned with Common Core State standards, however.
The imbroglio over Eureka Math was just the latest in a long series of anti-Common Core flare-ups in St. Tammany, which has been a hotbed of opposition to the new educational standards and approaches. A dedicated group of parents, some of whom have vowed to pull their children out of parish schools because of Common Core, have pleaded for the school system to reject the standards altogether.
Opponents have accused Common Core of many things, including carrying an anti-American agenda, harvesting student data through a testing consortium and amounting to a federal takeover of education. The standards have been praised by business groups on the grounds that students need to learn more critical thinking skills in order to maintain American competitiveness in a global marketplace.
In the face of the pressure in St. Tammany, school administrators have said they are hamstrung by state law, which allows BESE to set the standards for the entire state. Some have encouraged the opponents to take their fight to Baton Rouge.
The issue has created a rift between Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Education Secretary John White. Jindal, a former supporter of the higher standards, has sued to prevent the Department of Education from purchasing the Common Core-aligned tests, a suit BESE is contesting.
Crowe proposed a Senate resolution in 2013 that would have blocked the Common Core standards from being imposed on school districts. That resolution failed, and the Senate took the unusual step of removing it from the files. In 2014, he sponsored a bill that would have scrapped the standards in favor of new ones crafted by Louisiana teachers and parents. That bill failed in committee.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.