Although we like bipartisanship in Louisiana as much as the next guy, the most memorable recent cause joining the right and the left in Louisiana has turned out to be a miserable flop, as last Saturday’s election results clearly showed. We’re talking about opposition to new Common Core standards for Louisiana public schools, a reform that managed to irk both conservative tea party activists and liberal teacher unionists, two agitated constituencies of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively.
But for voters beyond that vocal minority, the manufactured controversy about Common Core — a frenzy worthy of the Salem Witch trials — failed to resonate in the Oct. 24 races for seats on the state’s top school panel, the 11-member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Advocates of the Common Core standards swept all six races decided in Saturday’s primary election. Two remaining seats head for runoffs, in the Baton Rouge and Shreveport areas.
This wasn’t quite the pitchfork-wielding populist groundswell that Common Core critics predicted months ago if the new educational standards moved ahead. Those threats found a forum in a legislative hearing at the State Capitol that lasted into the night — a rhetorical marathon that aspired to the political pageantry of a panel on Benghazi. Meanwhile, in the vast echo chamber of talk radio, Common Core-ophobia seemed epidemic enough to give leading politicians pause.
With his eye on Iowa, Gov. Bobby Jindal flip-flopped from Common Core friend to foe, as did U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the Metairie Republican courting votes in his gubernatorial run.
With Vitter now in a runoff for the state’s top job, and Democratic rival John Bel Edwards appearing to toe the teachers union line, now would be a great time for voters to revisit where these two candidates stand on Common Core. Are they ready to continue defying the Common Core consensus affirmed by voters in last weekend’s elections? And what does it say about their judgment that both Vitter and Edwards capitalized on Common Core concerns that have turned out to be a populist paper tiger?
We think that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is in good hands, after similar election results that advanced reforms in 2011. Three incumbents from that race were re-elected and three newcomers are generally aligned with the push to overhaul public schools.
“These are people who have been very explicit in their support for accountability, choice, standards, the Recovery School District and the broader reform agenda,” said former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, one of the architects of the state’s push to overhaul public schools.
Two incumbents who have frequently dissented on the reform agenda were defeated: Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge.
While it was a good day for education policy, it is far from a done deal that the new BESE will be as stalwart as the old. The runoffs decide two seats, but the new governor also gets three appointments on BESE. Would Vitter or Edwards appoint Common Core opponents to those seats, or make appointments that reflect growing acceptance of the standards as an agent of reform?
The question is an important one, since Louisiana Superintendent John White, who has advanced the reforms, needs the support of a majority of BESE members to remain on the job. The debate over Common Core is winding down. The current BESE board and the Legislature agreed to move up a statewide review of the new academic standards and we believe that an honest assessment will reinforce them rather than junk them.
Both candidates for governor are officially committed to high standards of academic achievement in classrooms. What do they mean by that? Their attitude toward BESE appointments will tell us a lot.