Grace Notes: Lessons to be learned from how once-red-hot Common Core battle was resolved _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- The Louisiana House and Senate Education committees heard testimony Tuesday on revisions to the long-debated Common Core academic standards. Senate Education Committee Chair Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, and House Education Committee Chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, sit on the raised back row dais. Also considering testimony, front to back, are Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, and Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge.

The big news about the once-high temperature Louisiana battle over the Common Core education standards is that it appears to be over. The bigger news, arguably, is that the issue itself long ago dropped off the front page.

Not that this week’s approval of Common Core revisions by both chambers of the Legislature, along with a stated endorsement from Common Core critic Gov. John Bel Edwards, isn’t a major deal. It is, in fact, an impressive accomplishment, the product of an intensive review process led by a 26-member committee that worked for more than 9,000 hours to address educator and parental concerns and make the reading, writing and math benchmarks more flexible and clear.

Equally impressive is how the people who crafted last year’s legislative compromise that set up the process managed to depoliticize the hot-button issue and refocus attention on what’s happening in Louisiana classrooms.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal had nothing to do with putting together the plan. In fact, he was busy at the time stoking conservative resentment over alleged federal overreach -- a maneuver that had little to do with the substance of the standards and everything to do with the assumption that fighting Common Core, which President Barack Obama embraced, could be a winning issue among Republican presidential primary voters. And indeed, presumed GOP nominee Donald Trump talks of getting rid of Common Core, although it’s not at all clear that he understands it’s a state-level initiative.

Jindal, of course, knew perfectly well that Common Core was proposed by a bipartisan group of governors, because he was one of those governors before he felt the winds change (the Obama administration later linked some funding to state adoption of standards such as Common Core).

Once Jindal decided to backtrack, he went all in, but his allies in the Legislature never managed to overcome strong support from lawmakers sympathetic to the school reform movement -- again, as Jindal otherwise was. One attempt to end Common Core died in the House Education committee when business-minded Republicans joined with Democrats from the Legislative Black Caucus; voting on the losing side were a handful of more conservative Republicans and Edwards, a Democrat whose union and school district supporters also had reservations.

The compromise that set up the review process grew out of that longstanding stalemate. And by taking the discussion out of the political realm, it successfully shifted the focus away from conspiracy theories and back onto how to better implement and improve the standards themselves.

The process has drawn positive reviews from a wide array of combatants on both sides, so much so that it may be worth trying with other hard-fought, overly politicized disputes.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if one byproduct of this long fight over education policy could be an actual teaching moment?

‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.