If you needed confirmation that Gov. John Bel Edwards embraces attitudes about education that work against progress, look no farther than remarks he made recently to a pair of special interest groups he counts as allies.
At a gathering of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and the Louisiana Association of School Executives, Edwards called grading of schools “not that fair,” questioned evaluating teachers on the basis of how much their students improve throughout the year as measured by testing, and suggested that more rigorous teacher apprenticeships would discourage future educators from obtaining education degrees in favor of alternative certification, judging that path as easier.
His comments on internships proved both uninformed and insulting to the half of state teachers who entered their profession through alternative certification. Across the state, a number of schools that have converted to charters have improved significantly while using faculties largely comprised of teachers hired with alternative certifications.
Most of these schools went to charter status after the state took them over because they flunked the grading system Edwards panned. He based his skepticism of schools evaluation on anecdotal evidence of his own children’s school, saying it graded poorly yet provided what he deemed superior education, and also on a union-funded, anti-school reform report critical of grading schools. It's long on polemics, using arguments that have nothing to do with educational quality; the report is also short on actual data analysis.
Edwards accepted the political left’s dystopian view that schools and teachers can do little to educate poor students unless there's a massive infusion of more tax dollars. That philosophy essentially absolves educators when poor students don't do well. Per-student spending in Louisiana ranks right in the middle of the states and District of Columbia, even though its per capita income registers slightly below average. Meanwhile, the academic achievement of Louisiana's students falls at or near the bottom on almost every measure.
The error in this thinking comes from misunderstanding the cause of poverty. For most of the able-bodied of working age, poverty does not merely come from a lack of money, but the lack of values needed to earn a good living. Therefore, rather than throwing money at a problem, government should create incentives for people to embrace success-oriented ideas like thrift, industry, and delayed gratification.
Edwards did exactly the opposite when he reversed then-outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to halt food stamps for unemployed, able-bodied single individuals of working age who did not pursue education or volunteer. Similarly, Edwards’ recent education speech invoked anti-success values. He implied that a school grading system partially relying on student academic progress — also proposed as part of teacher evaluations — would not improve school performance. In reality, such a system encourages schools to avoid poor results and rewards them by attracting more enrollees.
That’s really what’s at stake here for the organizations that heard Edwards’ remarks. They want the status quo — and no outside threats to their bureaucratic model of one-size-fits-all education. After all, if the state takes over a school, its administrators lose their jobs, and district executives lose power and resources. A rigorous accountability system combined with strict consequences shaped by school choice threatens their environment.
Attitudes like the governor's shortchanged Louisiana students for generations, and only in the past two decades have reforms such as meaningful accountability and school choice begun to change that. Edwards and those who think like him need to stop putting the agenda of adults ahead of the needs of children.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.