Superintendent John White and Louisiana Federation of Teachers state president Steve Monaghan engaged in a lively debate over Common Core State Standards. 


Superintendent of Education John White and Steve Monaghan, head of one of the state’s largest teachers unions, went head-to-head at a panel discussion on Common Core in Baton Rouge on Friday (Feb. 21).

While both were careful not to place blame on the other for hiccups in the implementation of the tougher education standards, or to speculate on causes of the lively debate around that process. But, both continued to urge others to see the issue from their perspective and frame their side of the argument as one that focuses on students and teachers, and not politics.

“We have an achievement gap in this state. We have an achievement gap in this state and we have an achievement gap with other states,” White told those assembled in the auditorium of at the Baton Rouge Community College’s Magnolia Performing Arts Center.

Pacing back and forth on the stage, White was visibly keyed up when discussing the need for Louisiana’s often poorly performing students to be encouraged harder to excel: “We have standards and we have standardized measurement because we want to ensure equality. We want to expose where there are inequities, and we want to solve it.”

Monaghan shot back in a long tirade against the program. While he said he wasn’t there to “bury Common Core,” he pointed to some teachers’ concerns with their unfamiliarity with the program and worries that students would under-perform in the face of the standards.

“I am president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and we support higher standards,” Monaghan said, “We do not support the reshuffling of the deck. We do not support creating it here and not there.”

Monaghan said the question he found “most disturbing” is “are we marching in the same direction we always have: high aspirational goals, but at the end of it there will be children there will be adults who will be damaged by the process that wasn’t really thought out?”

The panel was part of a three-day event called the Louisiana Leadership Summit, sponsored by BRCC, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and advocacy group One Voice. State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a strong advocate for Common Core, chaired the panel.

Monaghan said he and his colleagues in other teachers and school administrator groups are keen to work with White and the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal on the issue.

The LFT is currently still embroiled in a legal dispute with the Jindal administration on changes made in 2012 to the teacher tenure and local control laws and has been meeting with representatives from the governor’s office on how to fix the problem legislatively.

White said he disagreed with Monaghan’s characterization that there wasn’t enough public discussion on Common Core before the standards were implemented this past fall. He added he’s seen “incredibly inspiring things happening in the classroom” with regard to Common Core.

“I have faith that all of our teaches will get there, provided time.” He added he believed “a good school is a good school no matter what standards, and a struggling school is a struggling school.”

Monaghan, to applause, responded: “I agree a good school is a good school. But, there are communities that are dying in Louisiana and around this country.”

The Common Core State Standards and their affiliated tests will be a major focus during the 2014 legislative session, which begins March 10. A bill to opt Louisiana out of the affiliated tests have already been filed, while multiple lawmakers have indicated they will try to block or tweak the standards through legislation.