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Your LFT Connection - January 2012

Dear Colleague,

Just before Christmas, Governor Jindal invited the Federation, legislative leaders and other stakeholders to have a conversation about education. During this more than two hour long meeting, the governor listened politely to all comments and repeated his promise to continue meeting and keep listening as he prepares his “bold plan” for education.

The governor did not did reveal specific initiatives or any details; he said he will unveil his plan sometime later in January.

However, the governor’s public statements during and following the December meeting give us a sense of what he may mean by a “bold plan for education.” He has consistently stressed the following overarching themes:

The governor says that teachers are “the backbone of education,” and acknowledges that many other variables do impact student achievement. 

We appreciate his point, and applaud his understanding that other issues affect student achievement. However, we are also very aware that policies and laws reside in the world of small details. These details will ultimately reveal our governor’s appreciation for our role as educators and his real understanding of the many variables impacting student achievement.

He believes that ineffective teachers who want to improve should get the help they need to be more effective, and those who refuse to improve should be removed from the classroom.

Few would quarrel with this point. At every opportunity, we have made it clear that LFT supports a fair, accurate assessment of every individual’s performance. (Some refer to this as 360 degree accountability).

Again, though, the devil lies in the details. And the details prompt us to question whether the current “value added model” can deliver a fair, accurate assessment.

This is a legitimate question for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Fewer than a third of teachers can be evaluated using VAM.
  • More than two-thirds of teachers (those in non-tested/non-graded areas) will be evaluated using instruments which are just beginning to be piloted.
  • As it stands now, the grievance procedure which has afforded teachers a measure of due process has been essentially gutted.

We understand that not all value added models are alike. We’re also aware that the debate over their generalized use and the limits of their usefulness is anything but settled. Nonetheless, any evaluation system backed by the state and funded by taxpayers must be explainable, defensible, fair and accurate.

The governor says that school systems need “the flexibility to evaluate and move (out of the classroom) teachers who are unwilling to perform.”

To be fair and accurate, Governor Jindal has not called for an end to tenure. But remember that the hot rhetoric of the recent election cycle included a call to abolish teacher tenure. In that context, his comments foretell that “tenure reform” will be on the legislative agenda.

As the Federation has repeatedly reminded our leaders, tenure does not assure lifetime employment. Tenure does not stop school systems from removing ineffective educators. Tenure exists to protect teachers from politically or personally motivated discipline and to afford each educator the right to teach according to the best practices in the teacher’s field of expertise.

Gov. Jindal believes that parents must be given more “choice” regarding where they send their children.

If the governor’s use of “choice” proves to be a euphemism for spending public education funds on private and religious school vouchers, then our governor truly misunderstands where “choice” really lies with voucher schemes.

Since introduced by free market economist Milton Friedman in 1955, vouchers have failed to garner broad popular support because most people understand that these choices are really made by the private business or school and not by parents.

If his call is for a radical expansion of charter schools, we urge the governor to reflect quietly on his own musings. He has correctly noted that there are really no magic bullets to address student achievement. There are good charter schools and there are poor charter schools. However, state oversight of charter school operations is already inadequate and we’re rightfully concerned that expansion will open the door for profiteers, scam artists, and out of state corporations more interested in the bottom line than educating children.

Governor Jindal has stated that he has a plan. Soon, speculation will end, and he will publicly unveil his plan. Between now and that revelation, we urge you to contact the Governor’s office at 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free), or contact him through his Web site at www.gov.la.gov. Share with him your professional, personal message concerning teacher evaluation, tenure, performance based compensation, and school vouchers.

If you need additional information about these topics, please visit the LFT Web site at http://la.aft.org

As always, LFT will take a principled stand based on our core values. We will work with the administration and legislature wherever possible. We will not hesitate to oppose them when we feel that their agenda is not in the best interests of professional educators and the children we serve.

Sincerely yours,
Steve Monaghan, President