Like most of the folks in Louisiana who have fought against Common Core and various forms of education reforms, I have watched and followed newly elected Governor, John Bel Edwards, very closely. Why? Because for 8 years in the legislature he fought against the same reforms that we were fighting, and throughout his campaign, he repeatedly stated the changes he would make, if elected. Here we sit, three weeks into his role as governor, and we’ve not seen any definitive statements, or heard even an inkling of reassurance that he is going to keep his commitment. Now, there has been a few glimmers of hope within the K-12 transition team, but for the most part, those were negated by the opposing forces that were also on the team. It even seemed that the three appointees to the BESE were a clear indication that we had been fooled. I have tried to keep a positive attitude despite being surrounded by a barrage of negative comments. Naturally, when the opportunity arose to meet with the governor and ask him directly what his plans are, I jumped at it.
I’m going to share something personal about myself that I’m a little embarrassed by. I have been cursed with the inability to turn off my brain. Not only is it constantly churning, but it must process multiple thoughts, at all times. If ever I find that I am thinking about only one thing, the subconscious takes over, and I find other things to think about. Very early in the gubernatorial campaign, I discovered that John Bel Edwards, and I, are the same age. In fact, we were born just five days apart. Believe me when I say that this single fact has occupied a portion of my mind for an embarrassingly enormous amount of time.
As I sat alone awaiting the governor’s arrival, this fact slipped into my mind almost as though I had carried it there in my pocket. I began processing it, along with thoughts about the weather I had just driven through, my son’s Math grades, my father’s heart problems and what I would eat after the meeting. While I’m doing this, the governor arrives and introduces himself. Now, I’m also ashamed to admit that the older I get, the harder it is for me to keep those thought processes separate so that they don’t become a jumbled mess. I was frantically trying to do this while listening to the governor. In each corner of my mind, I was processing a different thought. The thought about the governor and I being the same age transformed into an analysis of a Virgo (which we are) and the characteristics of a typical male Virgo. In a short amount of time, I concluded that we have a lot of similarities. Still listening to the governor. I thought about how a Virgo responds to conflict. Typically, a Virgo will analyze every possible logical and emotional detail. You never feel resolved until a practical solution is in place. Personally, I hate conflict. This led me to start thinking about how did this quality lead him to where he is; and me, where I am. Still listening to the governor. Then, all of a sudden, my worst nightmare began to happen, and I couldn’t stop it. Two of my thought processes converged and became one. While listening to the governor and processing zodiac theory, my thoughts crossed paths, and suddenly, I was only thinking about him, and the other processes disappeared.
I’m sure you are wondering why I chose to share this experience with you. The fact of the matter is…until that very moment, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what John Bel Edwards has undertaken. I mean, for real. A nearly $2 billion budget shortfall. Why shouldn’t I expect him to prioritize and put education on the back burner? These are the two things that I realized. First, while the governor has certainly been focused on the budget and the special session, education has definitely not been ignored. Second, when you have a destination and announce your planned route, occasionally, you have to modified your route because of roadblocks, if you still want to get to your destination. Would you go back and start over, or would you adjust your route to get back on course? Bottom line is…while John Bel Edwards may not be able to handle things in the manner he said he would, he still intends to stay with his original goals. What are they? Restore dignity to teachers, reduce assessments, maintain funding, support the arts, make learning fun and make teaching rewarding. Perhaps, he feels the same way about conflict that I do? What if the solutions are in the details? Do all of the things that have angered us have to be removed for things to be right, or can removing their effect on us have the same end result?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but this is what I think. Governor Edwards is married to a teacher, and he has emphatically stated that he supports public education. His past actions prove that. If he changed his course now, it would be much like me asking my father, my brother and all of their railroad working friends to elect me to the board of directors, and then I dismantle the railroad. It ain’t gonna happen. Not if I want to remain a member of the family. I choose to believe that Edwards has the same commitment to his wife.
Below, you will find short summaries of the various topics discussed. He stated that much of this is already in motion and all involved are in agreement. I hope that this blog is able to relieve some of the stress and fear that many are experiencing. The feeling that I left with is that John Bel Edwards is not my governor. He is not your governor. He is our children’s governor.
Funding: The governor stated that he remains committed to maintaining the MFP formula at 100% of its current level. The disclaimer is…in the last legislative session, they added $44 million to K-12 funding that was outside of the MFP, but treated it like it was a part of it. He has asked LDOE to include the $44 million in their requested budget. There is a possibility that it may not get accepted, but a worst case scenario would be last year’s funding minus the $44 million.
Music and Art: As a subset of the funding conversation, the governor stated that he will do everything possible to ensure that we not only keep the music and art programs we have, but add back the ones taken away. He fully supports the “educate the whole child” concept. One thing he said that stuck with me, and I am paraphrasing, “If you only expose a child to a narrow set of standards, using a narrow curriculum designed to produce a particular result, you rob a child of the opportunity to discover who they are meant to be.”
ESSA: The recent passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act has granted states a lot of authority in determining how to assess students, evaluate teachers and define accountability. He intends to take advantage of this.
Assessments: His goal is to reduce testing to the bare minimum with the goal of one state assessment each year in K-8; no more than a week. Again, ESSA provides this flexibility. At the high school level; reduce the total number of tests by half. The goal is to de-emphasize the labeling of students and give teachers the freedom to teach things that matter and not teach to the test. He said he would also urge BESE to discourage districts from progress monitoring with excessive use of programs. Teach; not test.
Evaluations: There is already a movement to revise the teacher evaluation plan by restructuring the percentages and the type of assessment used. He emphasized that the VAM model in Act 1 is history. It is inappropriate. The changes will result in real, meaningful processes to evaluate teachers and provide feedback.
Standards: While he did not mention Common Core, at all. He talked briefly about the standards review process. He stated that IF the standards were accepted by the legislature, and he didn’t veto them, we would have acceptable Louisiana standards. He emphasized IF. The bottom line is, if all of the previously mentioned things take place, the standards are less important, to me.
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