Like the latest skirmish in a much larger war, anger over Common Core bubbled up in St. Tammany Parish again Thursday night, when the parish’s School Board — which last year passed a resolution opposing the controversial new standards — held a special meeting to discuss how the standards are playing out in the parish’s public school classrooms.
The topic was scheduled to come up at the board’s regular October meeting, but parent clamor led the board to schedule the special meeting. Parents and teachers responded in droves, packing the board’s meeting room to capacity and spilling over into another room with a video feed.
Parents vented on the Common Core standards in general, as they often have before, but many singled out specifically the math being taught, calling it confusing and not age-appropriate.
Cherie Cattan, her voice shaking, said her second-grader had regressed under the new materials.
“Many of the word problems read above a second-grade level,” she said.
Friday would be her two children’s last day in St. Tammany public schools, Cattan said. “They are no longer going to be victims of this awful curriculum,” she said.
Sara Wood, a frequent and vociferous critic of Common Core, told the board that by allowing a curriculum developed in other states to be used to teach local students, they were allowing themselves to be co-opted into giving up local control of education.
“All that Common Core comprises is wrong in every way,” she said.
Cheryl Arabie, the school system’s assistant in charge of curriculum, gave a presentation explaining the role that state law has in determining academic standards, which filter down to students through the curriculum and instruction and are evaluated through assessments.
Arabie said the pool of resources available to teachers is constantly expanding and being refined, while acknowledging that the math program cited by many parents as the chief problem, Eureka Math, is a part of that pool.
Stacey Alexius, a curriculum specialist in the school system, said the curriculum is constantly under review, based on feedback from teachers and parents.
She also pointed out that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is supported by major college readiness tests, like the ACT and the College Board, which operates the SAT test and provides Advanced Placement course curriculum.
Common Core is a set of math and English language arts standards that were adopted by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 but have been phased in over several years. The current school year is the first year that students were to be tested on the new standards.
Some opponents of the standards have decried them as a federal takeover of the education system. Parents have charged that the curricular materials used to teach the standards are confusing, anti-American and even anti-Christian. They also have decried the data collection by the consortium that developed some of the tests for Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
One of those opponents is Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former supporter of the standards, who has tried to block the state’s use of the PARCC tests. The fight has pitted Jindal against a former close ally, Education Secretary John White.
Proponents of the standards, including many business groups and education reformers, have argued that a common set of standards among states would help narrow the gaps in achievement between students in different states and would better prepare those students for college or careers.
Although 46 states initially adopted the standards, at least partially, two states have since dropped them and three others are using them only until local officials can develop new state-specific standards, according to a Louisiana legislative auditor’s report.
Despite the controversy, surveys have shown that knowledge of the standards is relatively low. About one in two Louisiana residents had not heard of Common Core, according to an LSU study. In national surveys, more than half of those questioned said they had not heard about Common Core.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Sept. 26 to correct the spelling of Cheryl Arabie’s last name.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.