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Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education

The governor of Louisiana is on a mission to dismantle public education. A former Assistant Secretary of Education explains why this spells disaster -- for our nation as a whole.
 
 
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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.

 
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