-- Opinion --
Steve Monaghan / Contributing opinion writer
When cultural historian Jacques Barzun wrote "Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition," he could have been describing the education “reform” movement pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies in Louisiana. Jindal’s approach to education is typified by an apparent disdain for those who have made the profession their life’s calling.
The governor’s attitude about teachers emerged in a speech before the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry a year ago, in which he first outlined the radical overhaul that would become the hallmark of his education agenda. Jindal inaccurately and unfairly asserted to those influential business leaders that teachers “are given lifetime job protection…and short of selling drugs in the workplace or beating up” their students, teachers couldn’t be fired.
“Not only is this not a factual statement,”I said at the time, “but evoking images of those specific behaviors in reference to educators is unjust and insulting.”
The governor has often been quoted as saying that, prior to his overhaul, Louisiana teachers retained their jobs simply because they “keep breathing.” As proof, he and his supporters said that only a small percentage of teachers had been found incompetent and fired. That ignored the fact that about half of all teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it. What other profession suffers such an exodus? One would naturally expect a higher level of competency among those who survived past their fifth anniversary.
As part of this assault on public school teachers, Act 1 (2012), a hodge-podge of policies that all but abolished teachers’ due process rights and tied their professional futures to an unproven new evaluation system, was steam rolled through the legislative process.
Simultaneously and in the same manner, Governor Jindal pushed Act 2 (2012), through the legislature. This bill comprises the most overreaching efforts at privatizing public education ever conceived in the United States.
Act 2 was so big, so bloated with various unrelated schemes, and was rushed through the system with so little scrutiny, that few paid much attention to its details.
The act is best known for funneling public education dollars to private and religious schools. Some of those have been shown to be woefully inadequate in curricula, facilities and, ironically, teacher quality.
But Act 2 encompasses much more than vouchers, and provides public funding for all manner of private and quasi-public education alternatives, without appropriate safeguards to assure the instructional quality of the programs.
Under these so called reforms, public tax dollars flow to largely unregulated voucher schools and other so-called “course providers.” (Those can be any individual, business or institution that has an idea for providing an academic course and receives approval from the governor’s education department.)
Act 2 is replete with examples of disdain for teachers as well as for public education in general. For example, the act deletes any requirement that teachers in charter schools be certified, but grants automatic certification to anyone who is approved as a “course provider.”
If non-traditional schools are to be part of the reform mix, then there should be ways to compare their achievement with that of public schools. The governor and his allies steadfastly refuse to consider measurements on privatized education that allow the public to accurately assess the academic results in those schools.
That coincides with a second hallmark of the Jindal agenda: a blind faith that private is better than public, and that profit is a guarantee of quality.
Across the United States, some $500 billion a year is spent on public education. In Louisiana, our Minimum Foundation Program budget is $3.41 billion. The privatizers want a big piece of that, and have donated millions to politicians who support this agenda. They have been rewarded with an astoundingly lax system of accountability.
The purpose of any real reform should be to guarantee all that children have equal access to high quality, well resourced public schools regardless of geography or economic circumstances. The reforms should be based on research which demonstrates the efficacy of the program or policy. No such research was presented to support these reforms as they were pushed into law.
So there you have it. An apparent lack of respect if not outright disdain for the profession of education, in combination with extreme ideological and profit motives have spawned these misbegotten reforms.
Fortunately for parents and the taxpaying public, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ constitutional challenges to this agenda have served to heighten public awareness and to encourage greater scrutiny.
Even though appeals are pending, there is a growing awareness that this agenda is not the right direction for education reform to take in Louisiana.
Our message to lawmakers is simple: these laws are terribly broken, and we're depending upon legislators to fix them.
Steve Monaghan, President, Louisiana Federation of Teachers
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