Thursday, March 8, 2012

School Reform -- Louisiana Style. Are We Next?

Nancy Flanagan, who writes Teacher in a Strange Land, published a letter she got from a friend of hers. The letter described Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's Education Summit held in Baton Rouge on January 30, 2012. The letter writer, said Flanagan,
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.
The Education Summit included Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent John White and, according to, education reformers from across the country.

In a preview of the summit, announced that the summit boasted "a distinguished list of speakers."

The distinguished list included the aforementioned former governor Jeb Bush who brought devastation to the public schools of his state and Joel Klein, Executive Vice President of NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch's information empire. Mr. Klein is a former Chancellor of New York City public schools.

And, of special interest to us was guest speaker, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett.

Nancy Flanagan's teacher friend describes some of the action...
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..

...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."

...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...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?

...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.)
Read the entire letter at

Diane Ravitch also discussed Louisiana in her latest post titled, Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education at her Bridging Differences Blog.

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