Stephen Waguespack Jun. 16, 2014, 6:04pm


“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”

I don’t know if the 19th-century American writer Elbert Hubbard was a dad, but if he was, I am pretty sure he said that quote shortly after returning from a family vacation to the beach.

Last week, my wife and I took our kids to the beach for a few days of fun in the sun (and an occasional rainstorm). As a father of three young boys, I spent most of the week throwing balls, horsing around the pool, blowing up rafts, and hauling unnecessary gear through the sand. While it was not always physically relaxing, it was the perfect way to celebrate Father’s Day and the ending to a long and successful legislative session.

Now back in the office and ready to work, it is appropriate to briefly reflect on the victories won by LABI and our coalition partners this session.

Several pieces of our aggressive lawsuit reform package became law to help improve Louisiana’s legal climate, and each victory was hard fought and well earned. We defeated numerous legislative attempts to increase minimum wage mandates on Louisiana small business owners and passed legislation to bring competition into our plumbing code and reduce construction costs for Louisiana consumers.

For the first time, we will offer bold incentives to our state’s higher education system to partner with industry and invest in curriculum that meets high-demand job sectors thanks to passage of the WISE Fund. Other workforce victories include the passage of legislation to encourage employers to hire trained prisoners upon their release, as well as a pilot program to improve the workforce training delivered locally to prisoners. Lastly, we helped defeat attempts to roll back the Common Core State Standards this session, despite several attempts to force the state to pull out and start from scratch.

Speaking of Common Core, let’s discuss a couple of points on this issue.

First, successfully implementing these standards is one of the most important steps we can take as a state to meet our exploding workforce demand. Improved performance in math and reading is not an unnecessary luxury we can just casually pursue; it is a mission-critical step we must take as soon as possible.

A sense of urgency is needed to fill the booming industrial job growth in the years ahead and the 69,000 STEM-related jobs the state will gain between now and 2018.

Louisiana students rank 48th and 50th in reading and math, respectively, while U.S. students rank 17th and 26th. Nearly a third of Louisiana students who attended college in 2012 needed remedial courses. By 2020, 56 percent of state jobs will require a degree beyond high school. The workforce demands of the global economy are not simply knocking on our door; they are huffing, puffing, and about to blow down our entire straw house if we don’t quickly improve our educational foundation. We had better start laying some brick soon.

Second, if these standards actually mandated federal education curriculum our members would be the first in line to oppose them. LABI members are extremely frustrated with the ever-increasing role the federal government is playing in the daily lives of our citizens and businesses and we will continue to pursue efforts to reverse that trend. This includes opposing new job-killing mandates from federal agencies and holding our elected officials in Washington accountable for their actions. Free markets work and the American people can be trusted to live their own lives. We don’t need government trying to live them for us.

Third, we need to remember that these standards have been a long time in the making. In January 2010, Louisiana adopted these math and English standards with the goal of better preparing our students for college and careers, and to put them on a level playing field with students across the country. Draft standards were first released for public review in March of 2010 and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) adopted the standards in July of that year.

In 2011, BESE approved full implementation of Pre-K English and math standards aligned to Common Core for the 2013-14 school year. In 2012, Act 275 was passed into law, which said:

“Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, standards-based assessments implemented by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in English language arts and mathematics shall be based on nationally recognized content standards that represent the knowledge and skills needed for students to successfully transition to postsecondary education and the workplace."

Last year, BESE adopted policies to support local school districts during the transition to Common Core standards and PARCC testing, ensure local control of curriculum development, strengthen parental input, and protect student privacy. In December, BESE approved policies related to the transition to Common Core regarding letter grades, educator evaluations, and student promotion that would essentially protect schools, school districts, and teacher evaluation results during this transition.

This spring, PARCC field tests were conducted in 68 traditional school districts and 20 charter schools, involving nearly 45,000 students and almost 2,000 teachers; and this summer, over 6,000 teachers will receive training on the PARCC assessment.

In addition to passing legislation this session to put additional safeguards in law that protect personal information of students and parents, the Legislature appropriated $2.2 million for technology upgrades to help prepare schools for full implementation. Louisiana is currently in its fourth year of a five-year plan for increasing our standards; we are on the cusp of implementation.

Look, let’s be honest. A successful transition to higher standards can be messy, confusing and tough. These standards can be difficult to implement and scary to comprehend. They can show us the reality of our educational system and the severity of our challenge to improve it. They can shine a light on what we have avoided for decades and some are justifiably apprehensive.

However, we cannot put our head in the sand on this challenge. Like a summer vacation to that sandy beach, a transition of this magnitude can be expensive, physically exhausting and mentally taxing. Just like that family vacation, it can also be one of the most rewarding things we do. It won’t be a walk in the park, but it can resemble a trip to the beach. Let’s get to work. Surf’s up.

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