Louisiana’s Educational Establishment Is Facing Rough Times In The Next Four Years

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overwhelming re-election to a second term has him more determined than ever to push his education reform movement to the limit. Louisiana was one of 17 states that have made significant changes since 2009, the National Council on Teacher Quality said in a study released last week.

Jindal needs only one more vote to get his super majority on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Nov. 19 general election odds are in his favor. The governor has to have 8 of the 11 board members’ votes to name John White, Jindal’s choice, for state superintendent of education.

BESE sets policy for the state’s K-12 public education system. Jindal wants it to concentrate on improving teacher evaluations, take a look at ending teacher tenure and encourage the development of more charter schools in the state.

White was appointed by former state superintendent Paul Pastorek to head the Recovery School District that sets policy for previously low-performing schools in the New Orleans area and in other parishes. Here is what the Times-Picayune of New Orleans said about White’s philosophy in a Tuesday story:

“… He believes in giving parents a choice about where they send their children to school, whether that means offering private school vouchers or establishing charter schools that take students from beyond their immediate neighborhoods,” the newspaper said. “In New Orleans and in his previous role as a deputy chancellor for New York City schools, he’s been unafraid to push for radical change in the face of intense resistance.”

However, White and Pastorek have one major difference. The Times-Picayune said White seems more interested in winning consensus on major decisions. Pastorek didn’t much care what other people thought about his reform efforts.

Jindal upset the public education establishment when he pushed a 2010 state law that links half of a teacher’s annual evaluation to student achievement. The Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers opposed the law.

Teachers also fought former Gov. Buddy Roemer (1988-92) when he came up with a controversial teacher evaluation program. Political analysts said it was one of the major reasons he failed to make the runoff in his 1991 bid for a second term.

Roemer’s son, Chas, is carrying on the family tradition. He is a reform candidate in the Nov. 19 runoff for the BESE seat from the Baton Rouge area. Caroline Roemer Shirley, the former governor’s daughter, heads the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Jindal didn’t have a problem getting re-elected last Saturday. And he took unprecedented action for a Louisiana governor by using his political stroke to back candidates for BESE who are favorable to his views. One of his victories saw the election of Holly Boffy of Youngsville to the 7th BESE District seat held for three four-year terms by Dale Bayard of Sulphur.

Boffy’s election will be a sign of things to come. The former Louisiana teacher of the year has been outspoken on the need to end teacher tenure, the system that gives job protection to educators after three years of probation. Opponents of tenure argue that it makes it almost impossible to get rid of poor-performing teachers, but earlier efforts to change it have been unsuccessful.

Joyce Haynes, president of the LAE, defended tenure in a letter to The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge.

“… Tenure protects K-12 public school teachers from false allegations of wrongdoing, coercive education practices and political reprisals,” she said. “It has a long history in this state; the process has been ‘acceptable’ for decades …”

Gov. Jindal has taken bold steps to ensure education reform kicks into high gear. He backed House and Senate candidates and gave them political contributions before the election. After winning handily, he personally selected Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, as the next speaker of the House and Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, as president of the Senate.

The governor will also have a heavy hand in selecting committee chairmen and committee members. You can be certain he wants reform-minded legislators on the critical education committees in both the House and Senate. It is obvious he isn’t going to take “no” for an answer when it comes to having his way.

Business interests and good government groups also believe public education isn’t measuring up, and they will be in Jindal’s camp for additional support. They agree with the governor, who said Louisiana citizens “are fed up with failing schools.”

The Council for a Better Louisiana summed up the current situation well.

“The good news is that Louisiana appears poised to enact another round of solid education reform and stands a good chance of having a reform leader as superintendent,” CABL said. “That’s where we need to be. It would be a shame to have come as far as we have and then stop the progress. As hard as some groups have tried to set us back this election year, it looks so far like they’ve failed.”

Local school boards, school superintendents, teacher unions and other defenders of the status quo are in for a tough four years.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.



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