Monday, November 21, 2011

Jindal Gets His Board

Governor Jindal and his big business supporters won a decisive victory in the remaining 3 BESE runoff elections. All three of the winners had been supported by the Jindal/Grigsby/LABI machine. With at least 10 times the money spent on Jindal aligned candidates, the election results were a foregone conclusion. In addition to his BESE takeover Jindal also may well have enough support in the legislature for most of his remaining education "reforms".

The appointment of John White, a relative amateur in the management of public education, to the State Superintendent position now seems assured. Next year, even more than in the past few years, BESE will be mostly relegated to doing the bidding of the Governor and his Superintendent. I would expect little controversy and minimal debate at future BESE meetings.  All the Governor's priorities should be approved expeditiously. Too bad they will be the wrong "reforms".

What changes can educators expect? It is likely the the legislature will be convinced to repeal the tenure law in the next legislative session. School systems will be allowed to dismiss both new and experienced teachers with minimal procedural protections. Chances are a law will be passed removing seniority rights of teachers relative to layoffs and other employment benefits. Expect the value added teacher and administrator evaluation to go into effect on schedule without regard to the results of the pilot program. The State Department of Education will accelerate the takeover of low performing schools as the minimum SPS score goes to 75 at the end of the 2011-12 school year. In many cases, local school systems will be allowed to continue administering a school if they agree to draconian reorganizations such as faculty and administrator replacement or conversion to a charter school. The legislature will probably approve the expansion of the voucher program for parents sending their children to private and parochial schools. Some vouchers may be reserved for students attending so called "failing" schools. Expect the legislature and the State Department of Education to use funding or reduction of funding to local systems as an incentive for school systems to adopt reforms. A possible incentivized reform may be the implementation of merit pay systems based partially on student test scores. Expect pressure by the state to replace a certain percentage of teachers based on those deemed to be "producing" in the bottom quartile of student performance.

Why do I believe these are the wrong reforms? Primarily because I do not believe teachers are responsible for the low performance of students in most cases. The really important factors and effective remedies such as early childhood education and school discipline reform will be ignored. Instead everything from the definition of a failing school to the criteria for teacher evaluation will be based primarily on student test performance. When merit pay is established based primarily upon student performance, there will likely develop a major morale problem among teachers and even administrators.  Education research confirms that teachers perform best in a collaborative work environment where there is trust and cooperation among teachers and between teachers and administrators. The punitive reforms championed by the Governor will needlessly damage such collaborative work environments. Administrators will be buried in paperwork mandated by the new complex valued added evaluation if Louisiana follows the lead of other states that have initiated such programs. Newspapers may publish teacher value added scores including the teacher's name as was done recently in Los Angeles.  Schools in high poverty districts will be drained of higher performing students and teachers by the very reforms that are intended to improve schools. This will cause an accelerated spiraling to lower performance for such schools. Such a result will only give ammunition to those who would use a voucher system to fund more students to private schools. As local schools deteriorate, school taxes will fail to be renewed causing an underfunding of public schools. Opportunities for low income students to close the gap will actually diminish in this environment.

Even so the relentless push by the state to graduate a larger percentage of students could cause rampant cheating by local systems on credit recovery and even on state LEAP and exit exams. Somewhere down the line it will be found that Louisiana will be increasingly issuing empty diplomas. Already there is a serious disagreement between LEAP scores and NAEP scores for Louisiana students.  NAEP scores and ACT scores show no significant improvement despite the huge expenditures on testing and test related remediation.

Jindal be careful what you ask for! Although my concern here is only for the future of public education, Jindal's takeover of education may backfire. There is so much that could be done to truly improve opportunities for our students and to make teaching a profession everyone can be proud of. Instead it looks like Jindal and his supporters are going to take us in the opposite direction. When that happens the Governor may find that his ownership of and mismanagement of education is his downfall.