Teachers' union dismayed by report praising Louisiana education reforms

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Monday, January 7, 2013 - 10:30pm

Louisiana came in first in the country in a new report about education reform. But educators have mixed opinions over whether or not that top ranking is a good thing.

Monday's report from StudentsFirst gives Louisiana a B- grade, which is tied with Florida as the best in the nation. StudentsFirst praises state leaders for changing the way teachers are evaluated and how they earn tenure, as well as for giving parents more options about which school their children attend.

"To be ranked high on this report is not our goal," said Chas Roemer, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. "Our goal is to have better outcomes."

Part of the reason why Louisiana could be ahead of the curve for reform is that the state has ranked so low for so many years on many national metrics.

"As a state that has been last in the country in most education benchmarks the last 25 years, we need to be aggressive," Roemer said.

Joyce Haynes, president of Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state's largest teachers' unions, said the reforms implemented by the state are dangerous to our students. And she blames partisan politics.

"All of the different things that's being used and railroaded through the state at this time, it's something that the right wing has decided to do in order to destroy public education," she said.

Haynes claimed that state leaders submitted the information for the report, rather than an independent source, leading to a self-serving result. She also pointed out that StudentsFirst receives much of its funding from the Koch brothers, the billionaires known for financing conservative causes.

"They simply are the right wing groups that want to privatize public education, that they've now decided that billions of dollars in education can be made," she said, referring mainly to charter schools which provide a profit for their operators.

"Everything that they want to privatize, to sell Louisiana to the highest bidder, that's a problem."

Teachers unions have taken the state to court recently over reforms implemented by Governor Jindal. But Roemer said he and other state leaders do not direct their focus toward teachers.

"My goal is not to satisfy the unions," he said. "I don't know that we'll ever satisfy the unions. Now, what I want to satisfy are the kids and their needs, so that they're prepared for college or a job."

Haynes says she believes reform is necessary. But until the teachers have a voice in the process, a report like this will be meaningless.

"We are the parents, we are the taxpayers, we are the experts in the classroom," she stated. "And until the governor talks to us and works with us. We're not going to get what we need for the future, for our children."

Roemer admitted that the state is not close to reaching the goals it has for our students.

"You're probably looking at a long time, and I can't put a number (of years) on that," he said. "But we're making progress.

"For too long, we've been the product of repeating the same things over and over and expecting a different result. We're going to keep pushing new things, new ideas. Some may work, some may not, but we're going to continue to make changes, we're going to continue to push forward until we can say with confidence that every child in this state, regardless of their race, regardless of their income, has a opportunity for a high-quality education in this state."

One of the factors that gave Louisiana a high score in the StudentsFirst report is the voucher program that allows parents to use state money to send their children to private schools. Haynes, however, counters that, "the 99% of our folks who are not applying, or who are not listening, and basically still believe in public education," show that parents do not want money diverted from public schools.

"One thing I have concluded is the government does not do that good a job of spending tax dollars," Roemer argued, "despite our best efforts. So let's bypass the government and let's give those dollars directly to the parents to make those decisions. They know better than I what's best for their child in most cases. My job is to give them as many good choices and as many good alternatives as I can, and let them choose."

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