(Photography by Collin Richie: Kathy Edmonston)
The recent Board of Elementary and Secondary Education elections were basically a clean sweep for business interests that support Common Core and Superintendent of Education John White, with a glaring exception: Kathy Edmonston. The vociferous Common Core critic had never run for public office before winning the BESE seat formerly held by Chas Roemer, although she has served on the Ascension Parish Republican Party Executive Committee. She has worked since 1994 as a liaison between families and Ascension Parish public schools. While Edmonston likely will be an anomaly among the elected BESE members, she hopes Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, who is critical of White and Common Core, will appoint three members who see things her way.
What motivated you to run for office?
Since the onset of Common Core, it’s been extremely difficult to make a difference with children. We’re losing teachers because of the mandates of excessive testing. That’s the reason I ran for BESE; something needs to be done. I also have issues with accountability and transparency with both the state Department of Education and BESE. I believe some data is being skewed.
People have been complaining about overtesting and “teaching to the test” for many years. How is Common Core any different?
We had testing, but we have never had anything like what we have now prior to Common Core.
Why do you believe Common Core is bad for students?
Everybody does the same thing at the same time. “One size fits all” does not work. What used to be taught in the third grade is now being taught is the first grade, and what was taught in the fifth grade is being taught in the third grade. It’s almost not age-appropriate. Obviously, there are a group of children that are very bright, and no matter what you get them to do, they’re going to be successful. I’m concerned about the vast majority.
BESE appears to have a pro-Common Core majority for the new term, and White’s staunchest critics were defeated. Can you make changes in that environment?
That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. Gov.-elect Edwards has three appointees, and he’s against Common Core, so I think he will appoint people that are closer to me.
If Common Core is so disliked, why wasn’t that reflected in the election results?
Most of the elected members to BESE didn’t run as Common Core supporters. If they had, it would have been difficult for them to be elected, because the majority of this state is against Common Core. It is almost laughable, the money that was brought in from outside the state to win these elections. There is money and control involved in promoting Common Core and charters. It makes me leery.
Do you see any potential for change through the standards review committee that has been created?
It’s stacked with pro-Common Core people. The most experienced educator on the committee resigned because she said she it seemed like a cut-and-dried issue. I think it’s headed for a rebrand; they’ll get rid of the words “Common Core” to make it look like something different.
What do you believe is the proper role of charter schools?
I really don’t trust the process that we have right now for charter schools. In New Orleans, we’ve had a massive takeover of the schools by charters. There is not transparency and accountability that there should be for those charters in New Orleans. I believe in local schools controlled by local communities. I would not like to see BESE make the decision on a charter school unless it is absolutely necessary. If the locals want a charter, and the local board has responsibility, that makes me feel a lot more comfortable than when BESE takes over that responsibility, especially when the locals have said no.
How will you decide whether to support keeping John White as education superintendent?
I would want to see if the data the department is producing is accurate. I would want to look at the charters in New Orleans. I want to review the changes to how special education is overseen.
Your campaign website links to an article that says the department lowered the passing scores needed on key tests to artificially boost graduation rates. I assume that’s something you plan to investigate.
Absolutely. I wish I could give you a clear-cut answer about what’s going on, but to be honest I don’t think anybody can.