Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jindal, Public Education Haters May Cause Revolt

Governor Jindal apparently believes he has a mandate to totally revamp education in Louisiana. The problem is his education reform ideas are mostly based on bad assumptions that when implemented will fail and may very well cause a revolt among educators!

Important reminder: If you live in one of the three BESE districts with runoff eclections, please remember to vote Saturday, Novemeber 19 for Givens in District 2, Songy in District 6 and Guillory in District 8. ( Ask your friends and relatives to help also)

Jindal and his pro business "public education hater" friends don't have a clue about the real problems in education. They assume (incorrectly) that most of the problems with low student achievement are caused by lazy, incompetent teachers and administrators and can easily be fixed by just getting tough on educators. "Tighten the screws on educators, fire a certain percentage of low performers and student scores will go up." Too bad it's not that simple. The Governor's so called "reforms" are so radical and so wrong that educators will finally say "Enough is enough, we're just not going to take it anymore." This conflict may even backfire and damage Jindal's plans for higher office!

Educators and many others are beginning to figure out that Jindal's intentions are not sincere, but are based mostly on creating the illusion that he is an education reformer who deserves public support for his greater political ambitions. He proved this recently by turning down critical federal funding for early childhood education which is one of the most vital and proven programs for boosting performance of our students. Then he helped his business friends by sabotaging a wonderful plan to fund high speed Internet access to rural areas, because it may compete with private Internet providers who did not want to develop these unprofitable markets in the first place.

Recently, Jindal sponsored legislation that assigns schools a letter grade rating that greatly distorts the efforts of educators in our most critical high poverty schools. The new system produced an amazing result: All the alternative schools got "F" and all the magnet schools got "A".  Hey I've got it: Why not convert all alternative schools into magnet schools so they can get "A" also? This is basically how simple minded and impractical the Jindal programs are.

Next year the Jindal reform forces will impose a new teacher evaluation system that will base 50% of a teacher's evaluation on student test scores. But most teachers teach subjects that are not part of the state testing program. So the state will come up with some hurry-up testing or base all evaluations on math and English scores. Also, no one has figured out how to factor in student poverty. Let me guess at the results: The teachers in the alternative schools and very high poverty schools will all get "F" and the teachers in the magnet schools will all get "A"! What will be the end result of this? Any teacher with any self respect will start pushing immediately for a transfer out of any poverty school to a school serving more privileged students. But the high poverty schools are where we need the strongest teachers! What kind of reform produces the opposite of its stated goal?

School principals in Tennessee and Long Island, New York are already on the verge of revolt because of their value added teacher evaluation system implemented as part of their "winning" Race to the Top funding. The evaluation program is so complicated, so time consuming and so counter productive that principals believe that they can no longer run their schools effectively.

In addition to the crazy evaluation scheme described above, the reform forces want to put in merit pay based on the new flawed evaluation,  revise the teacher retirement system and replace it with something cheaper, want to take away some of the powers of elected school boards yet allow non-elected charter school boards to operate without oversight, want to do away with teacher tenure, and want to grant vouchers for parents sending their children to private schools and privatize as many schools as possible. This is a recipe for disaster in public education!

Look, I know teachers. I have been a teacher, and I have represented teachers all my life and I'd like to describe for you the typical teacher.  Most teachers are dedicated and hard working, and most care deeply about the success and welfare of their students. Most did not get into teaching for the money. Recent studies have shown that merit pay for teachers does not work. Contrary to recent media opinion, most teachers are smart and work hard to reach all their students. Teachers have been willing to put up with many ridiculous mandates that had little to do with good teaching and have put up with disrespectful, disruptive students who do not care about learning and with many parents who refuse to do their part all because they love teaching and they love their students.

But most teachers have the courage of their convictions and eventually they are willing to take a stand when they have been pushed too far. I have spoken to many teachers recently who say that they are tired of being forced to teach to the test instead of using their creativity as teachers to really reach and motivate students. They have had enough of stupid mandates and lack of respect from politicians and reformers who have no idea what it is like in the classroom. At some point they will stand together and say it's not worth it anymore to implement counterproductive mandates and to put up with more abuse. At that point they are likely to shut down the entire education system until someone is willing to listen to teachers as the true voice of public education. This is where Jindal's reform movement is taking us!

1 comment:

Brady Yoon said...

What I think the real problem with public education is not that it's somehow horribly bad. It's not. I went to public schools, and they're what they are like most institutions in our world; imperfect, well-intentioned, and satisfactory in probably more ways than they are not.

No, the real problem is that the public education system always can claim that it's "trying to do its best." If you look at an athlete in the Special Olympics, and they say that they're genuinely trying their best, it would be morally repugnant to malign them or to question their sincerity, and say outright that "your best is not good enough for society, and it just doesn't cut it."

The problem with public education, I believe, is quite similar. The system is really trying its best. It's trying to reform itself from within, the teachers are dedicated to doing their personal best in doing their jobs, and it's a complex system where outsiders point fingers and where everyone who has never taught someone is "an expert" on the issue of education reform. It can get frustrating indeed, and I fully understand.

But the problem is that your best simply isn't good enough for what we want to see in the American education system. We want a system that doesn't have to be motivated externally for improvement, but does so organically and is so good that there are no complaints. We want to see the education system be ahead of the reformers, having already implemented the reform suggestions and outsiders' calls for change. Public education has the opportunity and the funds to quiet all of its critics, simply by exceeding all expectations and making all of their critics eat their words about the inefficiency of government.

But you won't do that, and you can't do that, since the system is always stuck at the level of "good enough based on our standards that we've defined on what quality is and isn't." The system has the unearned privilege of being able to define its own standards and say that it is meeting them in a way of "Hey don't blame us, we're doing a good job and trying our best!" But that defense lies in the fact that you're meeting your own standards - it is an entirely circular kind of argument for that reason (you can't measure your own success by what you define to be as success independent of the external environment in an objective way).

Large institutions tend to become this way, namely in that they set a target that they want to hit, and get close most of the time. But it's taking aim at the wrong target, so to speak. The precision is spot on, but the accuracy is questionable at best, and totally wrong at worst. In other words, the random error is minimized but the systematic error is uncontrolled. The people recognize this and call for change, but the system resists it by saying that they're hitting the target. After decades of this deadlock, people are frustrated and look for change outside the system.