The Hayride

On Louisiana Public Education, The Establishment Has Lost The Confidence Of The Public

On Louisiana Public Education, The Establishment Has Lost The Confidence Of The Public
December 14
11:23 2011

Virtually every time we do something on public education in Louisiana or the reform thereof, the comments under the posts invariably contain vigorous, if not shrill, attempts at casting blame upon parents, politicians, or society in general for the woeful performance of the state’s public schools. The suppliers of said excuses usually declare themselves to be teachers, toiling away thanklessly in the trenches and beset by unfeeling conservatives who want to take away what little they have.

The education establishment won’t stop fighting to hold on to the status quo; that was clear Monday when Lottie Beebe, the only member of that establishment to win an election to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this past fall, strode into a panel discussion on education reform at the Pelican Institute’s Legislative Policy Orientation and assailed the prospect of naming John White, head of the state’s Recovery School District, as the new education superintendent.

But Beebe was quickly brushed aside by the panel’s moderator, and BESE members Chas Roemer and Penny Dastugue made it clear they didn’t see her having much sway in regard to White’s appointment as her term begins. Beebe and the state’s educrats are demanding a national search for White’s prospective job, which is an attempt to prolong the process and in so doing hopefully redefine what Louisiana is looking for as a leader of its K-12 educational efforts.

They’re not going to win that fight. BESE’s current composition insures that White will get the job. But the educrats have a bigger – and deeper – problem. Namely, that voters in Louisiana have taken measure of their work product and found it to be unacceptable. The voters in this state have decided they’ve had enough of what the current system has to offer and they want something new.

What’s more, they see that something new and like it fine.

Two polls surfaced today which provide some perspective as to how deep Louisianans’ dissatisfaction with the current state of educational performance in public schools really is. The first was picked up by the Baton Rouge Business Report this morning…

A recent survey of “likely Louisiana voters” shows widespread dissatisfaction with public education in the state. The survey from Southern Media & Opinion Research Inc., conducted twice annually, is funded by Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, whose Alliance for Better Classrooms political action committee was very active in the recent Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education elections. When asked to grade public education in general, just 4% of respondents gave it an “A,” while 36% gave it a “C,” 29% gave it a “D” and 13% gave it an “F.” Survey results also showed:

  • 26% say the quality of public education is improving, 31% say it’s getting worse, and 41% say it’s staying the same.
  • 53% say they’re dissatisfied with public schools in their own parish, compared to 41% who are very satisfied.
  • 67% say they support Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to reform public education.
  • 25% say the main problem Jindal and lawmakers face is education; 22% say jobs and unemployment constitute the main problem.
  • 90% say they support changes that would require tenured teachers to undergo periodic approval to keep their status.

Grigsby’s efforts at school reform are well known, and it’s a valid criticism that some of the numbers in SMOR’s poll could be cooked – you can make a poll say whatever you want if you ask the questions the right way.

Even so, when two-thirds of the public says they like what Jindal wants to do with education – which it’s well known involves the Teach For America/charter school/teacher accountability/school choice model – it’s clear a majority exists against the status quo. The BESE elections were obvious manifestations of that, Beebe’s good fortune on Election Night notwithstanding.

And then there’s another poll; this one coming from researchers at Tulane and reported in the Times-Picayune involving what folks in New Orleans think of White’s work with the RSD and the charter schools down there…

About two-thirds of public school parents feel the city’s post-Katrina school system is an improvement over what existed before, according to a new survey commissioned by Tulane University researchers. About 98 percent agree that it’s important to be able to choose which public school their child attends — one of the most distinctive and controversial features of the new system — and 86 percent say information about their options is readily available.

Overall, the survey results suggest parents are happy with the system of autonomous charter schools that has evolved over the past six years and are optimistic that things will continue to improve.

The T-P had a graph of the poll results worth including here…

The difference between 2009 and 2011 in terms of measuring improvement is stark. It’s quite clear that a couple of years into the experiment of a New Orleans school system consisting mostly of independent charters, folks have seen the benefits and have bought in.

Remember SMOR’s poll – statewide, the numbers are 26 percent saying schools are improving, 41 percent saying there’s no change and 31 percent saying they’re getting worse. 26-41-31 statewide, where most schools operate on the traditional model, and 74-21-6 in New Orleans with the charters.

People like choice. People want a market.

The educrats are on the wrong side. And they’ve lost this fight. It’s as simple as that. They can scream about Jindal and the Republicans and Chas Roemer and John White all they want, but at this point those guys aren’t their problem.

Their problem is the people of this state. And if their response is that the people are ignorant or stupid, then the question to ask is, “Well, who’s responsible for those people being so dumb? Where’d they go to school and who taught them?”

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  1. Ryan Booth
    Ryan Booth December 14, 14:24

    The thing that hurts the establishment so badly is that Teach For America teachers outperform Louisiana teachers as a whole.  When you consider that TFA teachers didn’t get an education degree and have virtually no teaching experience when they start, that fact is simply shocking.  And that’s true even in traditional schools, so school management isn’t the issue so much as teacher quality.  What’s the difference?  TFA teachers are smart.  They are highly selective and take the best applicants, a significant contrast to the education graduates coming from the bottom rungs of grades and ACT scores.  The long-term solution, then, is not so much “getting rid of the bad teachers” so much as making sure that they don’t get in to begin with.  Louisiana needs to significantly raise its hiring standards.

  2. Billyweldon
    Billyweldon December 14, 14:39

    The “not politically correct” answer is: The parents, in general, don’t care…so the children don’t care.  Sorry!  It’s not the teachers!  Sometimes a single parent parent cares but is working two, or even three, jobs to keep the family going and has no time to “care.”
    I know that not all of the teachers are fantastic.  But I also know that many, many of the kids have been raised in a culture which fails to appreciate the need for education and this has gone on for generations.  Until that culture can be “conquered,” there’s little chance of a successful educational system in Louisiana.  Are Arkansas and Mississippi having any better luck?  If so, we need to find out how and why.
    Education is the key to it all!  It starts with the parents at the age of two!  And with a  little effort, it can end with an advanced degree, a great job and career!  Education is the key!

    • MacAoidh
      MacAoidh December 14, 14:53

      Why should the parents care when some local petty tyrant from the school board dictates to them what school their child will attend and none of the responsible officials within the school system or school itself are incentivized to treat that parent or his/her child as a customer?

    • pantera1968
      pantera1968 December 14, 16:29

      I care quite a bit and my children know that I will not accept them treating their teacher with anything but the utmost respect.  The problem is that the kids who disrupt, who are most likely the same kids you describe, seemingly can’t be separated from the kids/parents who do care.

      So here in Jefferson Parish we have a magnet school program which tries to separate the “smart” kids.  Only problem is that, just like many things in this area, it’s not what you know but WHO you know.  In the meantime kids who aren’t accepted into the magnet schools are left with the kids/parents who don’t care.Wouldn’t it be easier to separate the kids/parents who don’t care?  They should absolutely still receive whatever resources any other child receives but why should my child’s education suffer because of another child’s behavior?I certainly pay my property taxes each year and I really like the fact that my kids are exposed to many different types of kids in school.  All that I ask is that my child not be held back because of others.  Is that unreasonable to ask?

      • MacAoidh
        MacAoidh December 14, 16:40

        Why is it necessary for parents to be dependent on a school system to satisfy those needs rather than having the power and resources to find a provider on their own to do so?

        • pantera1968
          pantera1968 December 14, 17:00

          It is certainly not necessary and I wish it wasn’t the case for sure.  That would be the best case scenario.  

          • MacAoidh
            MacAoidh December 14, 17:09

            Well, that’s what unrestricted school choice, which is the direction the voters chose this fall and the new people in charge of the state Department of Education promise, is all about.

    • Clifflbullock
      Clifflbullock December 14, 18:36

      I’m a parent and I care enough NOT to send my kids to public school. Desegregation destroyed the neighborhood school system, seperated teachers from parents, suppressed the desire of good teachers to stay in the system, and annihilated public trust in teachers unions and their state controlled bureaucracy. Now forty years later, the remnants of that system have trapped the poor. Poor parents have no where else to go. Yet tachers unions have fought tooth and nail using the children as a sheild to protect their rice bowl. I don’t give a damn what they do in Mississippi or Arkansas. How would one “conquer” the culture you decry? Through coercian and indoctrination? Been there done that. The market place is deciding the issue and only the good teachers, fairly compensated, will survive. People do care and they have shown it by voting with their feet. They have also recently begunvoting with the ballot and both those who have left the system and the poor still in the system  are coming to the same conclusion. Tenure must be subordinated to results. Parents must have a choice in the market place. Good teachers have nothing to fear. But those who have worthless degrees from worthless state universities and remain tnured despite poor performance must be Fired. Freedom is the key! Free markets and free choice!

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 14, 16:04

    My understanding is that John White only has three years of experience as a classroom teacher, and only five years of experience in public school administration (primarily in New York City), including less than one year of experience as Superintendent (of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, starting in May of this year).  The State Superintendent is a challenging leadership position that will require experience and wisdom, and a long-term commitment to making change; is there any harm in conducting the national search that Beebe suggests, other than delaying the selection of a Superintendent by a few months?  Haste makes waste.  And the people do indeed like choice and competition; why not have some choice and competition in the selection of a State Superintendent? 

    • MacAoidh
      MacAoidh December 14, 16:19

      That position would make sense if it wasn’t obvious to the people the voters overwhelmingly put in place to deliver a specific vision of the state’s educational future that White is the best candidate to implement that vision. If Jindal or Dastugue wants to call Michelle Rhee and ask her if she likes shrimp etouffee and LSU football enough to come to Louisiana, then maybe it’s worth considering. Otherwise, White’s the obvious choice and it’s a waste of time not to hire him on.

      Three years of classroom teaching, or 30, isn’t particularly relevant. What’s relevant is whether he’s committed and competent enough to deliver results within a specified educational strategy. The majority of the people who will vote on this question already believe he is.

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous December 14, 20:04

        Michelle Rhee, and any other qualified candidate, should be given a fair opportunity to apply and be considered for the position, and the best candidate should be selected from that applicant pool.  That’s how the business world does it, and I believe the practice works pretty well.  Regarding what is “obvious to the people”, I have no authority to speak for the “people”, and will not do so.  However, I do not recall seeing John White’s name on the election ballot, and any claim to a popular mandate for his immediate appointment without a competitive hiring process is tenuous. 

        • MacAoidh
          MacAoidh December 14, 20:16

          Actually, that’s not particularly true. For positions of high leadership most hires are made on the basis of the hiring party seeking out the person they want and making an offer. If no such home run hire is made, then an applicant pool process usually ensues.

          If you’re going to hire an Urban Meyer or Rick Pitino as your team’s coach or Brad Pitt to star in your movie, you don’t ask them to interview or audition.

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous December 14, 22:30

            With respect to Mr. White, I am not sure that his limited service in public school administration has earned him enough figurative “box office” success to deserve a comparison to Mr. Pitt, or any other icon of success.  Or earned him an exemption from fair competition with other candidates that might be interested in and qualified for the job. However, reasonable minds can differ, and  I  think we have both made our points.  

            • Kla
              Kla December 19, 08:17

              I agree that Mr. White three years of teaching and the fact that he just recieved his masters online makes him a shoe in for the most important job in this state’s DOE, especially since there are people out there with doctorial degrees in education with their own proven models of educational systems that work. However, what is best for Louisiana does not matter, since Governor  Jindal already has the BESE votes he needs. It is not that we educators are not for reform, its just that we do not think the destruction of public education for profit is the way to go.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous December 17, 13:23

      You must be a teacher with tenure.  If not, it appears the “status quo” makes you happy.

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous December 19, 12:24

        I am not a teacher.  Nor am I happy with the status quo.  My argument is for a careful, fair, and competitive search (rather than a hasty decision to pick a political preference). 

        • Kla
          Kla December 21, 07:58

          Since when is “the good buddy network”, the most inovated way of choosing the most qualified person for a high level position. This sounds like the status quo to me. But, thats Louisiana politics is it not?

  4. Pub
    Pub December 14, 20:15

    Running a department of education or a school system should be left to administrators. Their field experience is immaterial.

    You can lay 50% of the blame for the sorry state of the current educational system at the feet of promoting good teachers out of classrooms and into administration – a field they are totally clueless in. That is done because administrators are typically paid on a formula of 1.34 or 1.66 times a tenured teacher’s salary. That was set up by the aforementioned clueless participants.

    The other 50% of the blame is allowing fomer teachers and administrators to run for and hold school board seats. Boards that run institutions should never be populated by people from that institution. So much inside Baseball, tunnel vision and past comradarie with the troops destroys any institution governed that way.

  5. Renee Baker
    Renee Baker December 14, 21:53

    Because Jindal has the votes on BESE to put the person in the position that aligns with him philosophically. We all knew the platforms of those in the BESE race. Gripe all you want you non-reformers but the will of the people was spoken. How much education and in the system would you like? Guess I could also ask how much income is ok with you?! My kids are in public school in Ascension Parish. The most wonderful district yet their school received a C! Not exceptable to me and something must be done!

  6. Hroberts
    Hroberts December 15, 06:52

    Maybe we (AND the members of BESE) would do well to recall exactly why we have the notion that the general public has a right to an education, to begin with.  Where did this notion that society has an obligation to provide an education to all its citizens come from, and on what grounds does the notion rest?  Maybe if we re-learn this bit of history, we might return to the effective delivery of that education.  We also need to recall that the responsibility of society is to make the education available, not to indoctrinate: it is the responsibility of society to ensure the horse has water, not to make him drink. 

  7. Jim Ryals
    Jim Ryals December 15, 09:35

    Education begins in the home.  When a parent doesn’t care, a teacher is going to have a near impossible time getting a kid motivated.  That said, too many bad teachers are protected by tenure and the incestuous union/school board hand shake.  This leads to a system in which bad teachers over time crowd out the good.  It is time to end the tenure system and public employees’ unions. 

  8. Parent
    Parent December 15, 15:18

    I don’t know if any of you remember the issue of the Scotlandville High School. That school was abandoned in order to bus its children all over the parish in the name of “equality”. After remaining dormant for a time, when Baton Rouge Magnet High reached the point of over crowding, it was decided that anyone living North of Choctaw would have to go to the “new” Magnet School being set up in, yep you guessed it, Scotlandville High School. For several years, the school flourished, graduating numerous students who, like those being taught at Baton Rouge Magnet High, went on to college, and great careers in the business world. I know, because I had one child graduate from Baton Rouge Magnet High, and two others who graduated from Scotlandville Magnet High. All three have great careers, and are doing quite well, thank you.
    Now then, next phase. Suddenly, students who once went to Scotlandville, as well as their younger siblings, decided that they wanted to go back to Scotlandville High. As I remember it, several hundred local students were returned to Scotlandville Magnet High. The only problem was, they weren’t “magnet” students. Within a very few years, the entire school was on the list to be taken over by the charter school system. So much for “equal rights”.

  9. ItalianTeacher2
    ItalianTeacher2 December 17, 08:12

    The Reforms we Need:

    1.  Teacher tenure should be removed.
    2.  Bus driver tenure should be removed.
    3.  Hiring and firing decisions should be removed from school boards, and this authority given to principals.

    (These three changes would make a world of difference in the operation of public schools.  Too often principals cannot get rid of poor teachers because of political influence on the school board.  For instance, I attempted to have a poor teacher dismissed.  A local man visited my school and informed me that the mayor of the neighboring city had the votes necessary to keep the teacher’s job.  (The teacher and the mayor were gambling buddies.)  The teacher was not fired but was transferred to another school.  The next year he was transferred to another high school in our district where he is still crippling students.  One doesn’t have to be a genuis to learn that a teacher who is politically connected will not be dismissed so we choose not to fight the battle.

    Reforms we do NOT Need:

    Charter Schools

    1.  The RSD is often touted as the number one district in terms of growth in Louisiana, yet almost 80% of the schools received a D or F.

    2.  John White and Jindal focus on growth in New Orleans, but in terms of failure for traditional public schools, which have much better grades than the RSD. ( I believe the % is around 44%.)   If the governor wants competition then at least be truthful to the people of Louisiana.

    3.  Charter schools are supposed to offer innovative teaching methods, but they really have nothing that cannot be found in traditional public schools.  They have one purpose:  to earn a profit.

    4.  I doubt very seriously the validity of the survey paid for by one of the millionaries who bankrolled the BESE election.  In any case, Jindal did not tell the people of Louisiana that these charters have little to no accountability.  They have boards appointed by the leader of the charter, and some of these charter corporations require their board members to sign a letter of resignation upon appointment.  If a board member gives too much trouble:  “I accept your resignation.”  This has been one of the major gripes in the RSD–there is no elected accountability. 

    5.  Charter schools are not normally representative of the community in which they operate.  Those charters operating in inner-city environments usually perform just as poorly as did the traditional public schools.  I challenge anyone to show me a failing school, and I will show you a school full of minority children 99% of the time.  No charter is going to cure the ills in the minority community.

    6.  Jindal and White do not tell the public that charter schools have three years before they receive a School Performance Score.  Wow!  They have three years before any accountability formula is applied to that school.  If after three years they do not receive a good grade, they close that charter and reconstitute the school under another charter.  According to the DOE research, a poor teacher for one year is very difficult to overcome, yet these charters go for three years before being evaluated.  Why should this be so?

    7.  Charters also select their students and drive away poor students into the public schools.  You will never convince me that charters are better until you draw a physical line in the dirt and require them to educate EVERYONE who enters the front door.  St. Mary Parish has a charter who always waits until after the February 1 student count–we are talking MFP money–to send their poor students back to the traditional public schools in St. Mary Parish.  They then crow about how much better they perform than the traditional public schools.  (This can be verified if you care to contact SMP.)

    8.  I also predict that these charter schools will RESEGREGATE the public schools in Louisiana.  It is already happening in states who have gone with charters, and their is evidence in Louisiana that it is beginning to happen in our state.  Anybody care to go through another civil rights movement?

    9.  Lastly, Chas Roemer speaks of John White’s leadership and courage to make change.  It doesn’t take much courage to be a hatchet man and close schools.  I consider what I did as being courageous:  I took a failing school and transformed it into a high-performing school without having to make it a charter, and we still educate all who walk through the front door.

    • Kla
      Kla December 22, 09:28

      I disagree with you 3 reforms. If tenure is removed all school employees will be friends and relatives who may not be the best people for the job. Who should be fired are administrators i.e. supervisors and principals who do not follow up with due proccess proceedures when an employee is not doing their job. The policies for due proccess are there and will work if they are followed, but that may be too much work for administrators. Besides that making a policy to get rid of tenure would be a violation of due proccess laws.

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