There’s A Lot Of Pushback To Jindal’s Education Reform Package

Gov. Bobby Jindal made it clear last week he isn’t going to accept any arguments from those who oppose his ambitious plans to reform the state’s public education system. He was defending the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s selection of John White as the next state superintendent of education.

“The bottom line for those who want to make excuses is, they need to get out of the way,” Jindal said in defending the man he hand-picked to direct his education reform effort.

Just who are the opponents to the governor’s program?

Teacher unions will be the most vocal, but many local school boards will be working behind the scenes to hold on to their power and their state education appropriations. They have already demonstrated they won’t give alternative charter schools a green light in their school districts. Approval of charters has come from BESE, which has OK’d most of the charter applications it has received.

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, hasn’t pulled any punches in her opposition. Haynes said after she and others met with the governor in one of a series of meetings that he seems ready to ignore union input and move ahead with “ill-advised” ideas.

“I didn’t like a lot of what I heard,” Haynes said. “My heart was broken, and my Christmas was basically ruined, but I hope for more conversation.

“He was very nice, very cordial. But they basically stacked the room with those who believe they are going in the right direction and told me they were going forward.”

Teachers aren’t happy about the already enacted plan to tie 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to student achievement. Fooling around with tenure, which they see as important job protection, is another major concern. Public charter schools also cause them heartburn. And talk of using state money to pay tuition at private and parochial schools through vouchers is equally troubling for the public education establishment.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, has worked with the governor in some areas, but he calls vouchers “a bizarre idea.” He said, “The way we look at it is any money dedicated to a voucher system is money that could be well used in traditional public education, whether it is higher ed or K-12.”

Then, there was this acid response from a newspaper reader:

“What they should do is give vouchers to the parents of the really bad kids and get them out of the public school system altogether. If these private schools and their teachers are so much better than those in the public schools (which they aren’t), then those bad kids should do very well in those private schools and become model students.”

Another reader said, “What still bothers me is that people outside education know so much that they think they can solve problems without knowing much if anything about child development or early childhood, elementary and secondary education…”

The critics don’t seem to bother Jindal. He has the state superintendent he wants, and White will help the governor convince legislators his reform program will yield the results he claims. The governor has done his homework in the legislative arena, and says he is confident his plans will win bipartisan support.

Maybe so, but it may not be a quick sell. Local school boards, teacher unions and other opponents will be buttonholing lawmakers during their session beginning March 12 to try and get them to slow down Jindal’s reform train. However, their next election is still four years away, and the odds are they will be more inclined to take some risks early in their terms.

The governor also has facts to help bolster his case. Student achievement in Louisiana public schools got an “F” for the second straight year in a report The Advocate of Baton Rouge called “the most sweeping national look at education conditions.” The study, called Quality Counts, was issued by Education Week magazine.

White said the bad grade “represents the academic progress of our students, underscores the urgency of our work, the critical need for reform and the need to focus our efforts and dialogue on raising student achievement.”

One reader said, “… The “F” grade clearly is indicative of the failure of the primary purpose of the public system — to provide for an educated electorate and workforce. The public system does neither successfully …”

Yes, the governor has his critics and some of their arguments need to be considered during legislative debate on his proposals. However, Jindal has public support. And the bottom line clearly indicates the current public education system isn’t getting the job done.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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