The Hayride

Louisiana’s Children Won The Education Reform Battle Last Week

Louisiana’s Children Won The Education Reform Battle Last Week
April 11
09:27 2012

Last week marked the end of one of the most acrimonious legislative fights in the modern history of Louisiana. This battle concluded with the passage of an unprecedented package of bills that will dramatically reform education delivery for the future of our state’s 800,000 plus school age children. This should have been an effort that all members of the legislature should have clamored to join. Unfortunately it turned into a very predictable fight between those legislators, led by the Governor, whose concerns were with the children versus those who had placed the best interests of grownups and the unions first. Thank goodness that for the first time in memory a strong team of reform minded legislators were able to overcome what the Governor called the “Coalition of the Status Quo”. This success will inure to the great benefit of the future of Louisiana, its children.

We as Republicans have much to be proud of. The majority of Republican legislators stuck together through a withering series of debates as well as numerous attempts by the opposition to amend the bills in a way that would have watered down their potential. It must be noted that a small but solid group of conservative Democrats defied the leadership of their Party to join Republican legislators. These courageous Democrats, in the end, made the difference in the Senate vote.

In retrospect perhaps what was must disheartening, but not unexpected, was the venom exhibited by those who stood for the status quo. The pro-reform legislators were accused of being everything from fascists and Nazis to hypocrites! They were subjected to “rallies” featuring hundreds to thousands of anti-reform participants, fired up by union leaders and fueled by massive mis – information campaigns.

Sadly, lost in all the rhetoric was one underlying fact, the reforms were never an attempt to disrespect teachers or their profession. Instead the basic concept of the bills was, according to the Governor, “to put a great teacher in every classroom”.

In order to somehow prove that this legislation was an attack on teachers and the public school system as a whole, the opposition went to great extremes to focus their efforts on the Governor’s proposed scholarship program. Ironically testimony indicated that, at least initially, very little impact will result from this scholarship program. In contrast the opponents ignored the fact that these bills contain many strong reforms that will change the face of education for generations.

Perhaps the most important element of the proposed reforms is the effective re-structuring of the duties and responsibilities of the School Boards, the Superintendents, and the Principals. When fully implemented, this reform alone has the potential to create a powerful management hierarchy that will make traditional public education what it was intended to be, a system that delivers the finest education possible to all children no matter their circumstances. Clearly the success of traditional public education is a key element in the philosophy of this reform legislation.

The people of Louisiana owe a great debt of gratitude to the Governor, House Education Chairman Steve Carter, Senate President Alario, House Speaker Kleckley, and all of the pro-reform legislative allies. Not to be overlooked must be the tremendous efforts exhibited by business and civic groups statewide. All of these reformers have exhibited great political courage and that courage will pay great dividends. They are true Louisiana heroes!

As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee I want to be first to express my thanks to these heroes and to the staff of the legislature that worked so tirelessly to get the job done.

Finally I want to thank the teachers of Louisiana for their dedication and hard work. We are all counting on them and I am confident that our faith in them is not misplaced.

Conrad Appel
Senator
District 9
Chairman, Louisiana Senate Education Committee

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8 Comments

  1. Lee Barrios
    Lee Barrios April 12, 04:30

    Senator Appel your continued misrepresentation of teachers has not gone unnoticed. The real status quo is the testing regime of the last twenty or more years that has stood in the way of qualified
    educators to bring meaningful and effective reforms that would improve real learning and not just a fruitless focus on raising test scores. We will soon look back on this destructive and backward period in public ed history and clearly see the underlying agenda.

    • Clifford Bullock
      Clifford Bullock April 13, 21:17

      Where in this piece does the Senator denigrate teachers? Why threaten the man over just this siiue? The testing regime failed because no one was testing the teachers. Tenure has become a form of political patronage. We are 49th in education. Don't get caught up in the side show. Good teachers have little to fear. In fact their services will be more visible to the marketplace. Tenure makes you marketable only to your current employer. Performance and experience mean everything in the private sector. For Gods sake Lee give it a chance. if it fails we slip to 50th? Maybe, and we tear it down and start again. Being 49th year after year just ain't gettin it.

    • Lee Barrios
      Lee Barrios April 16, 17:22

      Typical response from a business perspective. Teachers and children are not products of the marketplace. Why did you go to public schools and attend a public university? Just curious. I would welcome a conversation on these issues with you AFTER you have read and can explain and therefore intelligently discuss the provisions of the teacher evaluation bill and the value-added mathematical equation. One simple question – why dismantle public education rather than improve it? The answer is simple – profit.

  2. Gaye Ingram
    Gaye Ingram April 26, 06:52

    Senator Appel, like you, I still can scarcely believe that the Louisiana legislature passed these bills, that members had the courage to support them in the face of an obviously angry education lobby. It's way past time we in this state looked at education as if it could be achieved and as if it were all–all–about students' learning.

    I have spent all but five years of my adult life teaching in Louisiana classrooms, first in a university English department and then in a private secondary school, where I developed and taught in a program for academically gifted learners. I never walked into a single classroom that I did not feel compelled to succeed. I was pretty much willing to do anything reasonable to guarantee the success of my students. The only way I knew to measure my success was in the success of my students. If those students demonstrated skills, knowledge base, and attitudes the course was supposed to inculcate, that was a good start toward success. That included performance on standardized tests. In fact, I welcomed tests like the SAT and ACT in the high school program because those scores backed my work up. I told my students that those tests measured what was expected in "the real world." I've never had occasion to think otherwise, though as a teacher of writing and literature, I also am sensitive to their limitations. I wanted more, but that was a start.

    I am tired of all the self-serving talk about the irrelevancy of standardized testing—the lament that teachers will "only teach to the test." Well, good! If that's the only way they know to direct their classrooms so their students meet real-world standards, then fine: use the tests. Every teacher should be certain his students' mastery levels meet the standards for their grade and ability level. That's what the "real world" is about.

    I attended the public elementary and secondary schools of this state and took my undergraduate degree in a state university. I am proud of that. I had always intended for my children to do the same thing. The superiority of the quality of education available to them in the private system was so great in my location that my husband and I most reluctantly enrolled them in a private school. It was costly and not entirely the world we wanted for them. But education happened there. The sights of that school were set high. I hope the day comes when all students in this state have the opportunity to attend public schools where that can be said without qualification.

    A decade or so ago, I tutored a black kid from a school district in northeast Louisiana, a country district over on the Mississippi River. He had scored 10 and 11 on the ACT, when 36 was the total possible, and a former coach had told him he might be able to go to college on an athletic scholarship. Friends connected us. For one week, I worked with him on English and reading, and my daughter, then a college student, worked with him on math. Half a day for each discipline. He was a bright, sharp boy, but he was uneducated. He was a fast study and a diligent homework-doer. Yet he did not know what a right angle was. He had taken the same math course–then called "consumer math"–three times in high school and been given credit for basic math, algebra, and geometry on his transcript. He did not know the basic sounds of the letters of the alphabet. This was a boy with good grades and no education. After that one week's work, he scored 21 on the ACT, a phenomenal gain. Just think what he could have done had his teachers felt obliged to teach him, had he attended school in the daylight instead of the shady world of low-expectations and teacher-and-administrators cheating!

    So I am proud of all of you who found the courage to believe the children of our state are just as bright as children elsewhere. Yes, problems will arise in implementation. Anything new is always onerous at first. Nor will the road be straight because as private schools have learned, parent support and home stability are important influences on children's learning and as a people, we've not had very high expectations of all our children. But now we will just have to work harder to overcome such obstacles, to change old attitudes. The first step was to affirm the belief that Louisiana children can learn. And that teachers must teach. Not a bad legislative season's work!

  3. Gaye Ingram
    Gaye Ingram April 26, 06:52

    Senator Appel, like you, I still can scarcely believe that the Louisiana legislature passed these bills, that members had the courage to support them in the face of an obviously angry education lobby. It's way past time we in this state looked at education as if it could be achieved and as if it were all–all–about students' learning.

    I have spent all but five years of my adult life teaching in Louisiana classrooms, first in a university English department and then in a private secondary school, where I developed and taught in a program for academically gifted learners. I never walked into a single classroom that I did not feel compelled to succeed. I was pretty much willing to do anything reasonable to guarantee the success of my students. The only way I knew to measure my success was in the success of my students. If those students demonstrated skills, knowledge base, and attitudes the course was supposed to inculcate, that was a good start toward success. That included performance on standardized tests. In fact, I welcomed tests like the SAT and ACT in the high school program because those scores backed my work up. I told my students that those tests measured what was expected in "the real world." I've never had occasion to think otherwise, though as a teacher of writing and literature, I also am sensitive to their limitations. I wanted more, but that was a start.

    I am tired of all the self-serving talk about the irrelevancy of standardized testing—the lament that teachers will "only teach to the test." Well, good! If that's the only way they know to direct their classrooms so their students meet real-world standards, then fine: use the tests. Every teacher should be certain his students' mastery levels meet the standards for their grade and ability level. That's what the "real world" is about.

    I attended the public elementary and secondary schools of this state and took my undergraduate degree in a state university. I am proud of that. I had always intended for my children to do the same thing. The superiority of the quality of education available to them in the private system was so great in my location that my husband and I most reluctantly enrolled them in a private school. It was costly and not entirely the world we wanted for them. But education happened there. The sights of that school were set high. I hope the day comes when all students in this state have the opportunity to attend public schools where that can be said without qualification.

    A decade or so ago, I tutored a black kid from a school district in northeast Louisiana, a country district over on the Mississippi River. He had scored 10 and 11 on the ACT, when 36 was the total possible, and a former coach had told him he might be able to go to college on an athletic scholarship. Friends connected us. For one week, I worked with him on English and reading, and my daughter, then a college student, worked with him on math. Half a day for each discipline. He was a bright, sharp boy, but he was uneducated. He was a fast study and a diligent homework-doer. Yet he did not know what a right angle was. He had taken the same math course–then called "consumer math"–three times in high school and been given credit for basic math, algebra, and geometry on his transcript. He did not know the basic sounds of the letters of the alphabet. This was a boy with good grades and no education. After that one week's work, he scored 21 on the ACT, a phenomenal gain. Just think what he could have done had his teachers felt obliged to teach him, had he attended school in the daylight instead of the shady world of low-expectations and teacher-and-administrators cheating!

    So I am proud of all of you who found the courage to believe the children of our state are just as bright as children elsewhere. Yes, problems will arise in implementation. Anything new is always onerous at first. Nor will the road be straight because as private schools have learned, parent support and home stability are important influences on children's learning and as a people, we've not had very high expectations of all our children. But now we will just have to work harder to overcome such obstacles, to change old attitudes. The first step was to affirm the belief that Louisiana children can learn. And that teachers must teach. Not a bad legislative season's work!

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