A war on public education in LouisianaBy Diane Ravitch
I went to Lafayette, La., last week to speak to the Louisiana School Boards Association. These men and women, representing their local schools from across the state, are trying to preserve public education in the face of an unprecedented onslaught by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. Jindal has the backing of the state’s corporate leaders, the nation’s biggest foundations, and some powerful out-of-state supporters of privatization for his sweeping attack on public education.
Gov. Jindal has submitted a legislative proposal that would offer vouchers to more than half the students in the state; vastly expand the number of privately managed charter schools by giving the state board of education the power to create up to 40 new charter authorizing agencies; introduce academic standards and letter grades for pre-schoolers; and end seniority and tenure for teachers.
Under his plan, the local superintendent could immediately fire any teacher — tenured or not — who was rated “ineffective” by the state evaluation program. If the teacher re-applied to teach, she would have to be rated “highly effective” for five years in a row to regain tenure. Tenure, needless to say, becomes a meaningless term, since due process no longer is required for termination.
The bill is as punitive as possible with respect to public education and teachers. It says nothing about helping to improve or support them. It’s all about enabling students to leave public schools and creating the tools to intimidate and fire teachers. This “reform” is not conservative. I would say it is radical and reactionary. But it is in no way unique to Louisiana.
Gov. Jindal is in a race to the bottom with other Republican governors to see who can move fastest to destroy the underpinnings of public education and to instill fear in the hearts of teachers. It’s hard to say which of them is worst: Jindal, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, or .... There are so many contenders for the title, it’s hard to name them all.
They all seem to be working from the same playbook: Remove any professionalism and sense of security from teachers; expand privatization as rapidly as possible, through charters and vouchers; intensify reliance on high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers and schools; tighten the regulations on public schools while deregulating the privately managed charter schools. Keep up the attack on many fronts, to confuse the supporters of public education.
The governors appear to be working from the ALEC playbook, ALEC (or the American Legislative Exchange Council) being an organization that shapes model legislation for very conservative state legislators.
Using the right coded language is a very important part of the assault on public education: Call it “reform.” Say that its critics are “defenders of the status quo,” even though the status quo is 10 years of federally mandated high-stakes testing and school closings. If possible, throw mud at the defenders of public education and say that they only have “adult interests” at heart, while the pseudo-reformers — the rich and powerful —are acting only in the interests of children.
Soon after I spoke, Jindal’s newly selected State Superintendent John White had a conference call with reporters to challenge what I said, which was odd because he was not present and did not hear what I said. He had no substantive response to my research review showing that charters, vouchers, and merit pay don’t produce better education. He had no substantive response to my critique of the vagaries of value-added evaluation of teachers. Instead, he pointed to the New Orleans model as a paradigm of “reform,” meaning, I suppose, the benefits of closing down public schools, turning the children over to private management, breaking the teachers’ union, and hiring inexperienced, uncertified teachers.
John White was selected by Jindal to lead the state after Jindal took control of the state board of education last fall. John White had led the New Orleans Recovery School District for only a few months when he was chosen to run the state. He is a former Teach for America teacher and a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Much of his time in New York City was spent closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools, the so-called portfolio approach (like the stock market, where you keep the winners and sell the losers). He had nothing to do with academic matters, with curriculum or instruction. So he is well-suited to what Bobby Jindal is trying to accomplish in Louisiana. By the way, it won’t surprise you to learn that Arne Duncan applauded Jindal’s appointment of White as state superintendent and called White a “visionary leader.” I guess, in Duncan’s worldview, a “visionary leader” is someone willing to shut down public schools no matter what the parents and local community say.
The New Orleans’ “miracle” is supposed to be evidence for the value of handing public education over to private managers and uncertified teachers. But the state’s own website contradicts that “miracle” narrative. The state education department rated 79 percent of the charters in the Recovery School District as D or F.
The state also reported that the New Orleans Recovery School District was next to last in academic performance of all 72 districts in the state. It has made gains, but only in comparison to its own low base line in 2007.
All this data was compiled before the Jindal takeover of the state board of education. Currently, researchers are having trouble getting any data from the state education department.
Why are the elites of both parties so eager to hand children and public dollars over to private corporations? Why are both parties complicit in the dismantling of public education? Why do so many Democrats at the top advocate what used to be known as the right-wing agenda for education? Is it all about campaign contributions? Why does the media let them get away with it? Why does anyone think that this will be good for our society in the short term or the long term? Why have the monied interests decided to privatize large swaths of public education? What happens to our democracy when the public sector is effectively whittled away or purchased by big money?
Ed "Reform" in Louisiana. Coming Soon to Your State?
The river rose all day; the river rose all night.
Some people got lost in the flood. Some people got away all right.
Diane Ravitch's brilliant, must-read blog, Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education, caused me to pull out an e-mail I got from a teacher buddy in Louisiana a few weeks back. My friend is a National Board Certified Teacher, with a long and distinguished career in education. She wasn't invited to Bobby Jindal's education summit--but a Teach for America corps member she's mentoring was, and urged her to attend, saying that she'd learn about the exciting innovations planned for public education in Louisiana.
So my friend took a day away from the classroom and drove up to the Capitol with her mentee. She took notes all day, and sent the following dismayed message:
The Education Summit in Baton Rouge was an invitation-only event for 800 carefully selected people. As we stood around at registration, waiting for the doors to the main hall to open, it quickly became obvious that some of us were there merely as observers; the rest were stakeholders.
When the doors opened, we were instructed to go to the front tables if our nametag had a table designation on it; if not, we were to find a seat in the back. Thus began the division of the haves and the have-nots. Sponsors, legislators, school board members, TFA, chamber of commerce, Business Report, BESE, and other stakeholders were of course seated at reserved tables in the front.
Those of us who are really in the education business (teachers, principals, superintendents, university people) were left to fend for themselves and find a seat. At lunchtime, the haves got lunch served to them; the have-nots left the room to stand in the buffet line for their share of rubber chicken and mushy green beans.
Morning began with introductions from Rep. Steven Carter and Senator Conrad Appel; both met with rousing applause from the front, not so much from the back. Jeb Bush took the stage to tell us what a wonderful job he had done (singlehandedly) in Florida to fire bad teachers, raise the graduation rates, and buck the teachers unions. He quoted General Petraeus, saying we must "focus on the big idea and not let go." He also predicted that, "over the next five years you are going to see some train wrecks around the country as standards go higher and people fail to meet them."
Bush said that new Common Core standards will create enormous opportunity for kids. If we create high, uniform standards for everyone, then everyone will meet them and America will be back on top. By having a voucher system, we're putting pressure on the system so that it will get better. And finally, Jeb said "Governor Jindal deserves a lot praise for putting his plan out there and making it public."
The love fest among the "haves" continued with the next speaker, Dr. Howard Fuller, from The Black Alliance for Educational Options. He spoke about the need for strong leaders (something our state has so far ignored, choosing to blame teachers instead). He said the current educational system itself is "dysfunctional." As a teacher, I appreciated most of what he said, especially since it made the front of the room squirm a little.
When Dr. Fuller was finished, Paul Pastorek got up to introduce the next speaker, who is obviously an old buddy of his - Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Instruction. The love fest at this point became nauseating.
Did you know that Mr. Bennett has singlehandedly reformed public education in his state, too? And that he's made a lot of enemies along the way? He believes that the system will be fixed with...competition. (And did you know that he was once a coach?)
Governor Jindal was next, but first we had to watch a video of how successful the "reform" in New Orleans has been - a few testimonials by parents touting the wonderful new system. Then Jindal read his script quickly, never looking up.
One of the only things he said that struck me was that "we've taken steps to reward our teachers..." Is that why he took away the stipend for National Board Certified Teachers? Did you know that having a great teacher can change a child's life? Really? Finally--we should not be wasting money on failing schools. Give that money to parents as vouchers so they can choose. My question: What will be left for them to choose from?
Lunch, and then a fiery speech by Joel Klein. He's part of the gang; they stopped just short of slapping each other on the back or high-fiving at their astounding success. Klein began by telling us how privileged we were to have John White as our state superintendent. Klein said three things must change if we are to have a better system:
1. We need national standards.
2. Choice and competition will cause us to be better and innovate.
3. Professionalize teaching and make teachers our "heroes."
Then a "panel discussion" from Ben Austin, Director, Parent Revolution, California; Scott Shirey, Executive Director, KIPP Delta Public Schools, Arkansas; and Marc Sternberg, Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning, NYC DOE. (All three are TFA alums, and I really had trouble focusing at this point, so I took a break, took a walk - there were more people milling around in the lobby than there were in the room listening.)
Mary Landrieu, who was the only woman at the speaker's table was next. She stopped short of endorsing Jindal's plan, was very careful to say that we are at a tipping point but not that his plan was the answer. She did agree that choice is a "tool to engender competition, which is good for a system that has gotten lazy."
Then John White spoke for about 5 minutes, starting with a "funny" story about how he took this job so that he could get more Twitter followers. Well, at least the front of the room laughed. I ducked out at that point.
The whole day was kind of like one long Super Bowl commercial for the next best thing in education. It was a cheerleading session created by Teach For America, its sponsors and friends to promote the privatization of public education. I wasn't wearing the right cheerleading uniform - but neither was the rest of the back of the room...
In her blog, Diane Ravitch wonders: "Why are the elites of both parties so eager to hand children and public dollars over to private corporations? Why are both parties complicit in the dismantling of public education?" Good question.
I just heard from my friend. Her Teach for America mentee is leaving teaching at the end of the school year, because she wants to "work in policy."
As Randy Newman says: Some people get lost in the flood, but some get away all right.