If there’s been a common theme of education reformers in the past two decades, it’s that the traditional and bureaucratic structures of school systems are potential barriers to change, that central offices and centralized administration and leadership of schools are a relic of industrial days.
Gov. Bobby Jindal was once considered a school reformer. Yet now he has decided that the menace of central planning comes not from traditional school systems but from the reform initiative, Common Core standards, that he championed and helped establish in Louisiana schools.
We cannot entirely understand what would lead the governor into this conversion, although many — including Chas Roemer, the Republican head of the state’s education board — consider it purely “presidential politics.”
A backlash against the Common Core standards is obviously a political factor. Yet to call new and higher academic standards for schools a Commie plot takes this debate into la-la land.
“Let’s face it,” Jindal said in his latest statement on Common Core. “Centralized planning didn’t work in Russia, it’s not working with our health care system and it won’t work in education. Education is best left to local control.”
Who are the commissars of this Red revolution in Louisiana schools?
Common Core is in fact Jindal’s own policy, one he backed with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and with the Jindal-backed state superintendent of education, John White. Paul Pastorek, of New Orleans, a former Louisiana superintendent and another Republican, was a leader of the drive in the states — not the federal government — in developing higher academic standards for schools.
Forty-five states banded together to develop Common Core, and the democratic process — not any education Politburo — has adopted them in Louisiana; at the school level, the freedom teachers have is untrammeled to develop curricula in the classroom.
That’s an important distinction for educators that Jindal is missing: Standards are the knowledge and skills that students at each level of school should know; curriculum is how standards are taught in the classroom. The two work together. But the idea of a “national curriculum” is a false accusation against Common Core.
If there are problems — and with something this ambitious and far-reaching, there are bound to be challenges — the democratic oversight of public schools remains the path toward correction.
The facts don’t support this “federal takeover” parallel from Jindal, but unfortunately the scales have fallen from the governor’s eyes even as the new standards are taught in many schools. Derailing the development of new tests and other materials for the standards would be an administrative nightmare.
We hope that reason overrules politics and Jindal rethinks this bizarre notion of how his own policies are now akin to those of the old Soviet Union.