The recent article on public school performance by Will Sentell is to the point. After decades of being at the bottom of educational achievement, Louisiana is still in the nation’s basement. But Sentell’s article is wrong on one significant detail.
He reports that the latest bid to improve schools began when former Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed a series of sweeping changes through the Legislature in 2012. But Jindal and Company actually undid a series of significant improvements that had already begun bearing fruit.
I represented the Louisiana School Boards Association on a commission that was formed by Jindal’s predecessor, Mike Foster. It included representatives of two teachers’ unions, the state Principals’ Association, the Superintendents’ Association, BESE, the House and the Senate, and LABI, the state’s major lobbyist for business and industry. As I recall there were PTA members too. In short, the commission represented virtually every public education “stakeholder.”
The commission worked for a year and presented BESE with a plan that was approved unanimously and sent to the Legislature, which approved it too. But key provisions were never funded, and it just gradually withered away.
The plan intentionally refused to “grade” schools on the grounds that no two schools — and no two school districts — are alike. Instead, it required each school to compete with itself — growing 10% over the preceding year’s academic score. Schools that didn’t get extra help, but if they still didn’t grow, were to be “reconstituted” — principals could be fired and faculties could be reassigned.
The plan also had what was called an “8 1/2 Grade” where kids could be promoted to high school but repeat any eighth grade subjects they had failed. It was never funded.
When Jindal took office, school grades replaced school growth. Schools in middle-class areas scored higher than high-poverty schools, a “grade gap” that still exists today. Then Jindal, his captive BESE and legislators began a series of budget freezes and budget cuts which strangled already poorly funded public schools, all in the name of “parental choice” which led to vouchers and charter schools. The evidence clearly shows it hasn’t helped.
Who to blame? Everybody.
And even if the “perfect” system were put in place today, it would still take a generation to even reach the national average.
former school board member