Education + Change = Angry Teachers’ Union Bosses

This, from the Advocate, is so typical it’s surprising it even made news at all:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to trim public school red tape does nothing to reduce any such burdens on teachers, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said.

“Nothing would provide these front-line educators with greater autonomy or more professional discretion,” LFT President Steve Monaghan said in a letter to Jindal dated Monday.

The governor last week said he will back legislation to trim red tape and make it easier to improve schools.
The plan would allow school districts to seek four-year waivers from state laws or policies, with some exceptions.

Jindal calls his plan “The Red Tape Reduction Act.”

But Monaghan said the proposal “appears to be no more than the latest in the long history of top-down reform measures that have failed to recognize the expertise, voice and value of classroom educators.”

He noted that, while Jindal’s plan included praise from education leaders and good-government groups, none came from classroom educators.

Under the plan, school districts could seek waivers that govern curriculum, textbooks, teacher/student ratios and tenure, which protects teachers against arbitrary dismissal.

“None of these have been identified by teachers as impediments to student achievement,” Monaghan said.

The legislative session begins March 29.

That’s not much of an article, and it’s almost impossible to tell much about what the Governor is actually proposing based on the Advocate’s reporting on it. So instead, let’s look at what the Times-Picayune has to say about it. Strangely enough, it’s an AP story – one wonders why the Advocate couldn’t be bothered to post the AP piece on their site. And from the T-P’s piece, we find that:

  • There is a link to Jindal’s actual proposal (external links from Advocate articles? Pshaw! Such insanity!)
  • According to the Picayune, Monaghan’s letter said “We were hopeful that the coming legislative session would be more collaborative and less contentious. That hope is not reflected in the proposals outlined in the so-called Red Tape Reduction Act.” That quote seems a little more newsworthy than anything in the Advocate story, given the tone it throws off.
  • In the T-P story, we have an actual quote from Jindal’s executive counsel Steven Waguespack on the matter. Waguespack says that the proposal aims to give individual schools or school districts more freedom to structure themselves. “This is an optional tool for districts to consider,” is the quote which appears in the paper.
  • The New Orleans paper also reports that the state’s education secretary Paul Pastorek is actually behind Jindal’s proposal, which would seem a morsel of information the Advocate might consider passing on to its readers.

Without going into too much more of an analysis of the Advocate’s reporting on this topic, the picture being put forth is an ancient one – public education in Louisiana sucks with a small number of exceptions, most of those exceptions revolve around schools (or at least small independent districts) able to make independent decisions on how they operate, the governor is attempting to introduce more leeway to more schools in an effort at inspiring innovation and immediately the teachers’ union bosses come frothing at the mouth in an effort to put a stop to it and maintain the status quo.

I will say that all the freedom in the world within the public schools isn’t likely to produce educational gains unless the parents and children are also given the freedom to choose which schools they wish to attend, and that seems a flaw (or at least a missing piece) in Jindal’s proposal. But we can be perfectly sure any move toward introducing market forces to education would generate exponentially larger opposition from Monaghan and his ilk; time and again the teachers’ union bosses in this state (just like everywhere else) have proven they’re interested in three things:

  1. More money and more job security, despite the fact that in the real world more often than not the two are mutually exclusive;
  2. A less accountable, less demanding workplace despite the obvious indication that if those conditions are met student performance will suffer; and
  3. A system as centralized and bureaucratized as possible so as to allow the LFT and the other teachers’ unions to apply the maximum amount of pressure on a minimum number of decision-makers in order to secure the conditions they’re looking for.

Monaghan’s quote about how the teachers aren’t complaining that the conditions Jindal’s proposal seeks to alter are affecting performance is an amusing one. So because the Monaghan’s teachers aren’t complaining, nothing needs to change? Have LFT members been marching on the state capitol in outrage at Louisiana’s educational rankings? Not that I’ve noticed. Are they up in arms about lousy test scores and failing schools? Maybe the papers just aren’t reporting on it.

This is not to say our teachers are unconcerned about educational performance, and it’s not to say they don’t have tough jobs which ought to be made easier with better pay (when it’s results-driven), better working conditions and more interested and motivated students to work with. We all want that.

But most of us also want innovation and competition in the schools, not bureaucracy and a system shackled to the same methods which placed the state in the bottom five nationally in performance. The guess here is that there’s a reasonably large constituency within the ranks of the state’s teachers for such changes – not that you’d ever know it listening to Monaghan. Because if the system was ever decentralized and some school administrator somewhere used his or her freedom to build a better mousetrap, that might threaten Monaghan’s little rice bowl. Can’t have that.

Jindal needs to ignore the little satrap atop the LFT. The state legislators need to ignore him as well. Given the state of Louisiana’s public schools in general and the massive improvement being made in New Orleans through the use of school choice and charters, any effort made to put the maximum amount of control as close as possible to the individual schools is sure to generate opposition from Monaghan and the rest of the union gentry – and, almost axiomatically, likely to produce better education in our state.

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