Monday, January 30, 2012

Jindal's Good Ideas

Not everything about Governor Jindal's reform plan is wrong or misguided. There are definitely some good ideas in the plan that should be considered. Here are some suggestions for making important parts of his reform package work.
  • Streamline the Tenure Process and Remove Political Influence: All teachers want from tenure is a fair process that provides a review for possible errors or bias in the event they are recommended for dismissal. Sometimes personality conflicts occur on the job that have nothing to do with a teacher's performance. In rare instances there may be an effort to remove a teacher so that a politically favored person can have the job. That's what tenure should prevent. If the changes maintain reasonable due process, it is good for everyone to streamline the tenure process.
  • Revising Teacher Pay Schedules: The Governor is right about wanting to allow flexibility in some areas of  teacher pay. It is a good idea to provide a special incentive pay supplement for teachers who agree to teach in some of our most difficult turnaround schools. This extra pay could easily be justified by the fact that more work is expected of teachers in a school with a high proportion of at risk students. One of the most critical areas in such schools is a major effort to improve communication with parents and to produce an increase in positive parental involvement. It takes extra time for teachers to communicate with parents, often after regular working hours. It is not a good idea however to "rob Peter to pay Paul". The governor proposes in his speech that pay increments for years of experience be abolished so that the money can be used to pay those who are more deserving or valuable. What about an experienced teacher who has put down roots in a community and who has a family to support and a mortgage to pay? Does it make sense for a school system to pay more to an inexperienced teacher who is much more mobile and will more easily leave the school system no matter what he/she is being paid. The Governor also suggests in his speech that persons who take advantage of alternative certification methods to become teachers should be allowed to receive higher pay from "day one". How can such higher pay be justified when the person has not yet demonstrated the ability to teach? In considering pay for experience, there should be such a thing as a social contract with long time employees that rewards commitment to the school system. Part of Jindal's plan would destroy that social contract and the loyalty long time employees have to a school system. Instead of forcing local systems to reduce the pay of some teachers to pay others more, the state should help fund incentive pay to attract good teachers to difficult to staff positions.
  • Paperwork Reduction: The Governor talks about reducing needless paperwork that takes away from teaching time. Great idea! Often the state's efforts to ensure compliance with all kinds of mandates generates huge amounts of time consuming paperwork for administrators and teachers. Teachers need this time for classroom planning and for actual time with students.
  • More Flexibility With Education Dollars: The Governor wants to request a waiver from burdensome federal regulations on the use of federal dollars. Many federal mandates on the use of federal funding have not produced acceptable results. Yet many local educators believe they can get better results by using the funds in more productive ways. The same may also be true of state funding. With money as tight as it is today, flexibility would be a welcome change.
  • Early Childhood Education: This is one area where effective programs have been shown to produce good results for students for their entire school careers. Any change that would ensure that the most effective programs such as LA-4 are expanded would be desirable. Many educators question however, why the Governor recently passed up possible federal funding in this area.
  • Empowering Teachers: Both Governor Jindal and Superintendent White talk about empowering teachers. This is also a good idea because teachers are smart and empowering teachers would recognize their status as professionals. I do not see anything however, in the Governor's reform proposals that would empower teachers in any way. On the contrary many of the proposals place teachers in constant jeopardy of suffering from mistakes in a rushed evaluation system, reduction of due process rights, seniority rights, and subject teachers to whims of the State Department of Education. This is the opposite of teacher empowerment.
Those are the potentially good ideas in Governor Jindal's reform package that could make improvements in our public education system. The problem is that some of the Governor's other initiatives such as more vouchers, and more charters will take vital funding from public schools at a time when MFP freezes and increases in mandated costs have already devastated local school system budgets.

The worst thing about the Governor's reform package is that as presently proposed it will make it even more difficult for educators to close the achievement gap for our high risk students. Struggling schools in high poverty areas need the best administrators and the best teachers and, yes, even more resources. The new evaluation plan is guaranteed to drive the best teachers and administrators away from such schools because the system will be punishing educators for factors over which they have no control. In addition, the vouchers and charters will only draw away the highest potential students from high poverty schools leaving the students that are more expensive to educate. Finally, switching to site based budgeting may make it more difficult for school systems to allocate extra resources to such schools.

It is unfortunate that the Governor's good ideas may be overshadowed by the destructive ones.