Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, who campaigned challenging some of the assumptions of school “reform” proponents, will enter office at a time of ferment in the education field.
Teachers unions, among Edwards’ biggest supporters, have been understandably lukewarm toward most of the changes, since a lot of them directly affect teachers’ livelihoods.
Job protection is lost under charter schools, and some teachers who switched from conventional public schools to charters have had to rethink their retirement planning if they’re not allowed to participate in the state teachers’ retirement system. Standardized testing has not been a teacher favorite, either. They think it saddles them with “teaching to the test.”
And then there’s Common Core; consider it teaching-to-the-test on steroids.
Neither Democrat Edwards nor his Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, supported Common Core, though Vitter came to his opposition a little late in the game. Vitter’s change of heart was part of a move among conservatives — Gov. Bobby Jindal was months ahead of Vitter on this — who claimed Common Core amounted to a federal takeover of education.
Common Core was one of those issues that made bedfellows of political enemies. It was supported by business groups and favored among many Republicans for a long time. It also had strong support from President Barack Obama and his outgoing secretary of education, Arne Duncan. Teacher unions were wary of the standards, and that put them on the same side as those conservatives who saw Common Core as an Obama power grab.
Now concern about Common Core is growing in not-so-conservative circles. Deep-blue Massachusetts is coming up with a new test. It doesn’t give up on Common Core completely; it will still use content from PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. But Massachusetts will be able to change the test on its own. In New York, the state’s Board of Regents is struggling with a math problem: Fewer high school students are passing a tough new algebra exam designed along Core standards.
So when it comes to Common Core lately, change is in the air. With a presidential election looming, the call for change will only grow louder.
Edwards doesn’t see charter schools or private-school vouchers as forward-looking education policy, either. Both charters and vouchers have been heralded as important reforms, but both also are issues where the positions of teachers unions align with those of some of the better-off and higher-performing school districts in the state, including, for example, St. Tammany’s.
The school districts worry that vouchers and charters take state money away from systems that are performing admirably, seemingly running counter to the purpose of educational reform. If a school system is working well, why take money from it?
Speaking to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers convention last week, Edwards complained about the lack of transparency in the voucher program, with kids using the tuition scholarships to go to “schools that we know next to nothing about.”
As for charter schools, Edwards told the LFT, “in those districts that perform well under our accountability system, the final decision as to whether a new charter opens ought to rest with that school board.”
Whatever Edwards has in mind for education, he still has to deal for now with schools Superintendent John White, who has championed all of the reforms, from Common Core to vouchers and charters.
Educational quality in Louisiana is a long-standing issue. Some of the proposed fixes have lost their luster, and everything is getting a second look. And now, a new governor gets to take a whack at the problem.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.