My friend and former colleague Jackie Ducote is the most knowledgeable and dedicated education reformer ith whomI have had the pleasure of working during the decades-long effort to raise Louisiana from the lowest levels of education achievement. She once wrote a primer about failed education reform efforts titled “A Long Journey to Nowhere.” It chronicled the multitude of positive education reforms enacted over the years and how most were at some point repealed, challenged in court, set aside by the next governor, never funded or buried in the vast education bureaucracy. After the recent announcement by Gov. Bobby Jindal that he plans to act unilaterally to kill the Common Core State Standards adopted four years ago, Jackie may add yet another chapter to the sad legacy of education reform in Louisiana.
Those who attempt to move learning forward in this state should not be thin-skinned or faint of heart. They will be opposed at every juncture by others who represent the interests of school employees instead of students or who think their political careers can be enhanced by keeping the status quo in place. Sisyphus could be the poster child for education reform in Louisiana. He was condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a rock up a mountain, always thinking he would succeed on the next try but always tumbling back to the bottom.
The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Governors Association — which included Jindal — and the superintendents of education in each state. They were not developed by the Obama administration. They do not create a national curriculum to be used in classrooms. The curriculum is created at the local level to implement common-sense standards in math and English that will increase rigor and lead to higher levels of student achievement. More than 40 states are using the standards, and that broad application provides a key measurement tool for determining the progress each state is making in using greater rigor to advance learning.
BESE, our state board of education, and the Louisiana Department of Education adopted the standards in 2010 and have been working with local school districts to develop curriculum and train teachers. Pilot testing was done this spring with promising results. After all of that planning, commitment and preparation — not to mention millions of dollars spent — the project is now threatened by political cross-currents.
This is not a liberal versus conservative issue. There is nothing “liberal” about having reasonable standards that fifth-graders should master in math in order to have a reasonable chance to measure up to other fifth-graders in the U.S. and other countries. There is nothing “conservative” about developing critical thinking skills that are all too often missing in high school graduates today and are in high demand in the workplace. Unfortunately, much of the controversy surrounding the Common Core debate today is centered on politics and not sound education policy. I spent 25 years writing weekly newspaper columns that I think firmly established my conservative bona fides for all to see. As a conservative, I am appalled at the government action by imperial edict that President Barack Obama has imposed in Washington on issues such as immigration and “climate change.” I am equally appalled by Jindal’s attempts to unilaterally override the Legislature and BESE as they move forward with the implementation of the standards that are another necessary ingredient to get Louisiana out of the mud and onto a path of greater achievement for our students.
In almost 40 years of public policy involvement in Louisiana, I have stood side by side with governors, elected officials, reformers and teaching professionals to give all students a chance for a better quality of life through stronger educational achievement. I have fought to overcome every back alley and wrong turn on that “Long Journey to Nowhere.” It is time to act on what helps students achieve higher results, not on what plays to primary voters in Iowa or South Carolina.
It is time to take the rock away from Sisyphus. Enough is enough.
Dan Juneau is the former president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.