Our Views: John Bel Edwards, Allies Reset Accountability | Our Views

When John Bel Edwards emerged on the political scene 15 years ago, he was a staunch and articulate ally of teachers’ unions, school boards and superintendents – the educational institution in most Louisiana communities.

As governor, he has continued in that role since his time in the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, in their recent victory, he and his allies did not serve the interests of quality education or financial transparency. The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has rejected an overdue new formula for evaluating public high schools.

During the lengthy process of public hearings and debates, essentially five members of BESE supported the reform of the formula. But it takes six votes to pass anything, and the governor has three appointments on the 11-member board. Despite false claims of limited debate and confusion over the proposals, BESE folded its tent.

It’s the wrong call.

In that debate, Education Superintendent Cade Brumley has worked for the good of the system, proposing a new formula that would encourage schools to do better on tests and give schools extra credit for the types of industry certifications students can work towards and have rewarding careers after the High School.

The current formula is obviously broken. And superintendents and local school boards, backed by the governor, want it to stay that way.

Today, 70% of high schools enjoy a state A or B rating, although college entrance, ACT scores, and other ratings do not match those ratings. Totally out of sync with reality. Only 41% of elementary and junior high schools achieve such good grades.

Something has gone wrong.

Under the proposed new rating system, grades for many high schools would almost certainly fall, putting principals and local board members under fire from parents and others.

The new system would have required a lot more from students for their school to get an A grade, such as: B. Passing two college-level exams and earning 12 dual matriculation credits with a C-plus or higher in key subjects. Schools would not get points for students who only complete a high school diploma.

Superintendents instead wanted to give schools credit for students who scored 17 on the ACT college test. That’s the 35th percentile.

This attitude is a devastatingly awkward embrace of low expectations. It’s also a way to avoid giving taxpayers the information they need to gauge how well the system is working for their dollars.

A family with children or grandchildren in school will have more frequent interactions with the system, giving them insight into how well the purpose of the educational spending is being met. But all taxpayers contribute to the schools; Performance scores and letter grades are critical to their knowledge of how schools are performing.

BESE wasn’t even influenced by New Orleans’ Leslie Jacobs, a former board member who was the architect of Louisiana’s accountability system during the late Gov. Mike Foster’s tenure.

“We need to make high schools different,” Jacobs said.

Unfortunately, the die-hard opponents of reform won the day amid hours of turmoil of complaints and confusion over the technical aspects of Brumley’s plan.

Count a win for the establishment and another loss for the kids of Louisiana.