SADOW: BESE Lays Eggs On Accountability, Standards

In the past week, Louisiana educrats won a pair of victories at the expense of the state’s children.

Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week has taken up a number of matters, including two that have generated controversy at the opposite ends of the age spectrum. One would have altered accountability standards for high school, while the other attempts to implement revised standards for early childhood learning.

The former would make a few major changes. Scoring that could elevate a school into the top A grade per student could come only if the student earned college credits simultaneously and it increases standards on the student growth component, while the system maintained its policy that students who score a 17 on the ACT, which is in the 35th percentile on the college readiness exam, would generate no points for the school.

Several interest groups, most notably the Louisiana Superintendents’ Advisory Council, a panel formed by BESE representing the leaders of the state’s 69 school districts, complained that implementing these would drop scores and make schools look less capable. Not stated is this would pique families’ interests in accountability and thereby likely increase criticism of existing leaders, elected school board members, and teachers – all of whose special interests also complained about the new plan – in many districts.

Yet clearly the existing standards don’t accurately reflect, by overestimating the quality of, the job many schools are doing. As supporters of the change point out, the state has some of the lowest student achievement scores in the country with only 37 percent of students realizing proficiency in all subject areas yet 70 percent of high schools have graded A or B, and of those graduates who go on to college – any with a diploma can gain admission at least to a community college in Louisiana – about 10,000 per class require remediation over subjects theoretically they should have become proficient in with a high school diploma.

Unfortunately, BESE unanimously ended up delaying implementation of these with an eye towards more study; since the changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2025 academic year, some slack exists. Still, that needs to happen expeditiously with only slight modification to the proposed scoring system; anything more deviational would leave the flawed one in place.

With the changes for the youngest, BESE did the opposite in acting imprudently. With only Republicans James Garvey and Michael Melerine objecting, it advanced towards rule promulgation an update of early learner standards. A portion of the rubric was cribbed from ideas culled from a paradigm promoted since the 1990s, social and emotional learning.

While the idea has benign origins – it’s an attempt to impart character but without an appeal to classic notions of virtue – and research shows can bring benefits to children’s learning, its nebulous nature also has made it prone in recent years to hijacking by ideologies of progressivism and relativism, most prominently critical theory. A growing number of jurisdictions have implemented it and used it as a tool to inject racially and sexually divisive concepts into education of the youngest.

Earlier drafts showed the thumbprint of this in the proposed overhaul. For example in the last one prior to BESE consideration this week, four-year-olds were asked to “Identify self as a unique member of different groups,” including by race, and three-year-olds would be able to “Describe oneself using personal characteristics,” including by gender and skin color.

Prior criticism apparently got the authors’ attention, because exemplary references to these categories didn’t appear in the final draft. However, by removing these kinds of references, that reinforces the open-ended nature of these standards that would permit introduction of these concepts at the classroom level through the initiative of teachers and/or administrators determined to impart critical theory as foundational to society and human relations.

Thus, BESE erred in allowing this to proceed (although perhaps not entirely surprising since only last year its then-leadership opined in public that racism institutionally existed) and now forces the Legislature to clean up. In Louisiana’s rule-making, with this to the point of promulgation the text of the new rule goes to the legislative committees that oversee this area of policy, each chambers’ Education Committee, after publication in the Louisiana State Register. The committees then have about a month to act upon it, including its rejection.

However, the governor then has a say, and Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards faithfully carries water for educrats – SAC endorsed this – so he likely would disapprove of either committees’ rejection and thus allow the new standards to come into being. The Legislature could respond next spring by passing legislation forcing BESE to clarify certain ways of fulfilling the standards would become impermissible, but Edwards then likely would veto that with override prospects uncertain. As a result, while many districts will issue guidelines that would comport with such a law, some won’t and the indoctrination of children will occur at least until a governor by contrast more interested in genuine education takes office.

So, badly done by the BESE majority, although one bright spot from its meetings emerged. Superintendent Cade Brumley, who advocated for changing the accountability standards and against the learning standards as is, received a satisfactory evaluation and will continue in the top spot. Nevertheless, educrats 2, children zip.

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