A gathering on Wednesday in West Baton Rouge Parish pointed out the giant split on how to fix Louisiana’s public schools.
On one side were officials of the Louisiana Association of Educators, who are unhappy about a new state law that will link annual teacher evaluations in part to student achievement.
On the other side were key leaders of the Louisiana Department of Education.
They not only say they believe in the change, they also note that, unless state legislators have a change of heart, the law is the law.
Yet the gulf on how to rate teacher performance points out something bigger, which is about to play out in races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The division boils down to two questions.
Will student achievement in Louisiana get off the bottom of many national lists through sweeping changes in school operations?
Or is the push for state takeovers of troubled public schools, charter schools and more rigor for students and teachers a misguided quest that threatens public education?
BESE frequently splits 6-5 on key school issues.
The LAE, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents often make up one side of the argument.
And they are often pitted against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, business groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Aside from the specifics of individual disputes, the differences go much deeper.
Generally speaking, the camp that backs sweeping changes contends that public schools are not working.
People in that camp say the state has to try nearly anything and everything to improve student achievement.
Giving school principals sweeping new authority on how schools are funded?
Firing teachers when student test scores fail to rise as the state expects?
All three topics should be tried, or at least on the table for discussion, they say.
Teacher unions, school board members and superintendents are just as passionate in criticizing all three of those ideas, and many others.
They say public schools need tweaking, not a radical overhaul.
And they contend that more dollars in a historically underfunded public school system would go a long way toward repairing things.
Those and other arguments will play out when seven of BESE’s 11 seats are contested in the Oct. 22 primary.
Every election includes a candidate who backs major changes in public schools, and at least one who believes that repairing public schools first requires an end to misguided efforts by self-styled reformers.
A similar split surfaced on Wednesday, when LAE leaders pleaded with state school officials crafting details of Louisiana’s new system to rate teachers annually.
Linking half of a teacher’s review to the growth of student achievement is a huge mistake, LAE Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones said repeatedly.
Later that day, Penny Dastugue, who is president of BESE, said the linkage makes perfect sense, especially since the top factor in student success is teacher effectiveness.
“The board is not going to retreat,” Dastugue said. “The board is not going to slow down.”
Will Sentell covers state education issues for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.