Education Opinion

Ed “Reform” in Louisiana. Coming Soon to Your State?

By Nancy Flanagan — March 07, 2012 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What has happened down here is the winds have changed
The river rose all day; the river rose all night.
Some people got lost in the flood. Some people got away all right.

Louisiana 1927, Randy Newman

Diane Ravitch’s brilliant, must-read blog, Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education, caused me to pull out an e-mail I got from a teacher buddy in Louisiana a few weeks back. My friend is a National Board Certified Teacher, with a long and distinguished career in education. She wasn’t invited to Bobby Jindal’s education summit--but a Teach for America corps member she’s mentoring was, and urged her to attend, saying that she’d learn about the exciting innovations planned for public education in Louisiana.

So my friend took a day away from the classroom and drove up to the Capitol with her mentee. She took notes all day, and sent the following dismayed message:

The Education Summit in Baton Rouge was an invitation-only event for 800 carefully selected people. As we stood around at registration, waiting for the doors to the main hall to open, it quickly became obvious that some of us were there merely as observers; the rest were stakeholders.

When the doors opened, we were instructed to go to the front tables if our nametag had a table designation on it; if not, we were to find a seat in the back. Thus began the division of the haves and the have-nots. Sponsors, legislators, school board members, TFA, chamber of commerce, Business Report, BESE, and other stakeholders were of course seated at reserved tables in the front.

Those of us who are really in the education business (teachers, principals, superintendents, university people) were left to fend for themselves and find a seat. At lunchtime, the haves got lunch served to them; the have-nots left the room to stand in the buffet line for their share of rubber chicken and mushy green beans.

Morning began with introductions from Rep. Steven Carter and Senator Conrad Appel; both met with rousing applause from the front, not so much from the back. Jeb Bush took the stage to tell us what a wonderful job he had done (singlehandedly) in Florida to fire bad teachers, raise the graduation rates, and buck the teachers unions. He quoted General Petraeus, saying we must “focus on the big idea and not let go.” He also predicted that, “over the next five years you are going to see some train wrecks around the country as standards go higher and people fail to meet them.”

Bush said that new Common Core standards will create enormous opportunity for kids. If we create high, uniform standards for everyone, then everyone will meet them and America will be back on top. By having a voucher system, we’re putting pressure on the system so that it will get better. And finally, Jeb said “Governor Jindal deserves a lot praise for putting his plan out there and making it public.”

The love fest among the “haves” continued with the next speaker, Dr. Howard Fuller, from The Black Alliance for Educational Options. He spoke about the need for strong leaders (something our state has so far ignored, choosing to blame teachers instead). He said the current educational system itself is “dysfunctional.” As a teacher, I appreciated most of what he said, especially since it made the front of the room squirm a little.

When Dr. Fuller was finished, Paul Pastorek got up to introduce the next speaker, who is obviously an old buddy of his - Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Instruction. The love fest at this point became nauseating.

Did you know that Mr. Bennett has singlehandedly reformed public education in his state, too? And that he’s made a lot of enemies along the way? He believes that the system will be fixed with...competition. (And did you know that he was once a coach?)

Governor Jindal was next, but first we had to watch a video of how successful the “reform” in New Orleans has been - a few testimonials by parents touting the wonderful new system. Then Jindal read his script quickly, never looking up.

One of the only things he said that struck me was that “we’ve taken steps to reward our teachers...” Is that why he took away the stipend for National Board Certified Teachers? Did you know that having a great teacher can change a child’s life? Really? Finally--we should not be wasting money on failing schools. Give that money to parents as vouchers so they can choose. My question: What will be left for them to choose from?

Lunch, and then a fiery speech by Joel Klein. He’s part of the gang; they stopped just short of slapping each other on the back or high-fiving at their astounding success. Klein began by telling us how privileged we were to have John White as our state superintendent. Klein said three things must change if we are to have a better system:

1. We need national standards.
2. Choice and competition will cause us to be better and innovate.
3. Professionalize teaching and make teachers our “heroes.”

Then a “panel discussion” from Ben Austin, Director, Parent Revolution, California; Scott Shirey, Executive Director, KIPP Delta Public Schools, Arkansas; and Marc Sternberg, Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning, NYC DOE. (All three are TFA alums, and I really had trouble focusing at this point, so I took a break, took a walk - there were more people milling around in the lobby than there were in the room listening.)

Mary Landrieu, who was the only woman at the speaker’s table was next. She stopped short of endorsing Jindal’s plan, was very careful to say that we are at a tipping point but not that his plan was the answer. She did agree that choice is a “tool to engender competition, which is good for a system that has gotten lazy.”

Then John White spoke for about 5 minutes, starting with a “funny” story about how he took this job so that he could get more Twitter followers. Well, at least the front of the room laughed. I ducked out at that point.

The whole day was kind of like one long Super Bowl commercial for the next best thing in education. It was a cheerleading session created by Teach For America, its sponsors and friends to promote the privatization of public education. I wasn’t wearing the right cheerleading uniform - but neither was the rest of the back of the room...

In her blog, Diane Ravitch wonders: “Why are the elites of both parties so eager to hand children and public dollars over to private corporations? Why are both parties complicit in the dismantling of public education?” Good question.

I just heard from my friend. Her Teach for America mentee is leaving teaching at the end of the school year, because she wants to “work in policy.”

As Randy Newman says: Some people get lost in the flood, but some get away all right.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)