WAGUESPACK: It’s Just That Simple

Sometimes we just overcomplicate things.

Critics of former President George W. Bush accused him of many things over the years, but overcomplicating government was not one of them. He was pretty easy to figure out. He never saw a tax he didn’t want to cut or a terrorist he didn’t want to bring to justice. He was plain spoken in his approach with world leaders and we, as Americans, always knew where he stood. His tenure as leader of the free world was guided by easily digestible, simple to understand governing pillars that he stood by through thick and thin.

Similarly, the consumer products we most embrace are typically quite simple to understand. The iPhone, for instance, has revolutionized everything we do and its path to market dominance is the result of years of huge investments, countless hours of research, and complex manufacturing. However, the true consumer value of it is the smartphone’s simplicity in design and usage. Simple isn’t always easy, but it usually is the most attractive outcome.

Steve Jobs once said, “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”

There is something to be said for thinking clean and keeping it simple. Take, for example, the current disagreement between the Department of Education (DOE), the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the administration over the Common Core standards.

This all seems fairly simple to remedy in my mind. Since 2010, Louisiana has prepared for this moment. This is the year classrooms across the state plan to implement the Common Core standards and test our system’s ability to teach students in Louisiana appropriately. For years, educators have received training to do so. We are now four weeks away from the first day of school and literally on the verge of seeing this long sought plan go into action.

A handful of legislators introduced several efforts to stop this implementation during the recent legislative session. They were all defeated. The Legislature joined with DOE, BESE and numerous stakeholders to show support for the new standards and assessments. Having said that, the legislative debate did lead to legislation that aims to ensure the protection of student data and safeguard parental input on curriculum. Everyone agrees with those goals.

Now, at the 11th hour, we find ourselves in paralysis. Instead of using these last few weeks before the new school year to refine lesson plans, encourage our educators, and inform our parents, we are spending this time telling them we don’t know what standards the students will be held to or what tests they’ll take. The tireless effort of the last four years to prepare for this moment is now on the verge of being washed away and replaced with something no one can articulate, describe or embrace.

The solution is simple. The Department and BESE should be empowered to implement the standards and tests as planned. Rather than obstruct their path, we should work with them to closely monitor and evaluate the implementation and results from this upcoming school year. If any negative consequences occur, then next session the Legislature can debate and address those consequences at that time.

We can’t allow the “what ifs” and “maybes” to overcomplicate this issue. We have never let those subjective fears stop us before.

When we expanded parental choice through student scholarships, and opponents wanted to drown the program in regulations to protect against “what ifs,” we avoided that temptation and the program is now prospering. When Louisiana embraced new community partnerships to improve care in the charity hospital system, many cited the fear of unintended consequences as justification to oppose change. The “what ifs” and “maybes” did not prevent the reform, and early reports of the care throughout the new system are promising.

Every tough change is surrounded by “what ifs” and “maybes.” Those fears are easier to cite than prove. Sometimes they prove to be true, sometimes they don’t. Rarely can you know the outcome before implementing a tough change.

When in doubt, take the simple approach:  embrace change and be ready to respond if the “what ifs” and “maybes” prove to be true. We know our education system has underperformed for decades and the excuses for this track record have finally run out. No one can defend our past performance and cite it as justification for our current standards. Our employers and parents are desperate for improvement and our kids deserve nothing less than our best effort.

Our best effort in this case happens to be the simplest approach. Let’s not overcomplicate this issue. Follow through on the standards and testing plan we have prepared for the last four years. Monitor the implementation closely throughout the year. Be prepared to address any unintended consequences next session if we need to do so.

It truly is that simple.

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