Our Views: A pause on policies?

Down at the State Capitol, much of the legislative session may be taken up with education bills.

What is taught in classrooms and tested in exams — that is the Common Core controversy. What makes a good teacher and how do we measure it — that’s involved in debate on tenure bills. Who’s in charge of schools — that’s the flurry of interest in a variety of ways to reorganize the large East Baton Rouge Parish public school system, threatened by breakaway efforts like those that led to separate Baker, Zachary and Central schools.

Amid all these bills, what are the fundamentals?

That question is not as easily answered as we would like.

Each element of school policy addressed in each bill has some importance, but if there is one lesson in watching decades of public school reform efforts, it is that no silver bullets are available.

What we have are legislators and citizen activists and teachers and experts thumping blindfolded at parts of the elephant. The elephant hasn’t budged that much, but if anything, the thumping gets harder as the results seem harder and harder to come by. Or even, as the East Baton Rouge Parish school superintendent says, as schools get better by many measures, the appetite for thumping increases.

That is why, although we appreciate the initiative shown by some of the latest proposals, we wonder if the idea of lawmakers getting into a new burst of radicalism this year is particularly wise in a more global sense.

Yes, the 2012 changes pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal were far-reaching and some of them have been challenged in the courts, but by and large, as the governor notes, they are still state law.

Add to that the changes over several years in increasing academic standards, the Common Core initiative among most of the states. Getting to where we want to be with Common Core will take years, but many bills want to tinker with or even stop the transition — as if lower academic standards are good for anybody.

We’re not saying we don’t like innovation, and we see some good points raised in Baton Rouge through the variety of proposals to improve East Baton Rouge Parish schools. Still, governance changes — the sort of things that have echoed through the debates in both Baton Rouge and Lafayette schools in the past few years — maybe this year a case of piling on “innovations” before teachers and principals in the trenches have been able to absorb those of the legislative session of two years ago.

There are enough players, such as the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who have considerable powers to change things without new state laws. It’s not as if voters won’t get a chance to weigh in on school policies in board elections in the fall, particularly in key elections in Lafayette Parish.

So there is a time in public policy when activity makes the water so murky that more stirring is the enemy of clarity. We might be wrong, but if the Legislature adjourns June 2 without having done much in the area of public education, that might be a pretty good outcome in the long term.