Fresh from his overwhelming re-election victory, Gov. Bobby Jindal has unveiled an audacious education reform agenda that built around an expanded school voucher program, new charter schools, a rigorous teacher evaluation system and a revamped tenure system. With the Louisiana state legislature set to go back into session this coming March, the governor is expected to win broad support for many of the proposed changes.
If so, the voucher program, which is now limited to New Orleans, would go statewide. Low-income families with a child enrolled in a school that has received a C rating or lower could use public dollars to cover the cost of private school tuition.
Jindal also favors using the new “value-added” teacher assessment to deny automatic tenure for teachers that do not received high marks. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, 50 percent of evaluations for teachers in academic classes will be based on the LEAP and iLEAP test scores, while the other 50 percent will be based more on subjective criteria built around classroom observations to determine how effective instructors are in motivating students. A pilot program that involves nine school districts and one of the charter schools is already underway.
“This is historic change and an important step forward for our education system,” said Brigitte Nieland, vice-president and communications director of the Education and Workforce Development Council for Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “For the first time, teachers will be evaluated based on how their students perform. This is about transparency and accuracy.”
The state’s teachers unions, Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), have been critical of the value-added model and object to it being included as part a tenure reform package. They point out that most teachers fall into “non-core” areas they do not involve tests. Union officials are expected to roll out an alternative reform agenda sometime later this week.
“Governor Jindal is to be praised for proposing such a far-reaching school choice and public education reform agenda. Competition is healthy for education,” Americans for Limited Government (ALG) President Bill Wilson said, adding, “the labor reforms will make the public education that the government is responsible for more competitive.
Gov. Jindal would also to “fast-track” charter school operators who have a history of success. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, most New Orleans public schools were placed under state control in the Recovery School District (RSD). Charter school operators now run most of the schools in RSD.
“We can’t wait for another generation of students to graduate from high school unprepared for the workforce and higher education — or to dropout before they even get there,” said during an address to the LABI earlier this month. “This applies not only to K-12 education, but to early childhood education as well.”
New Orleans is now recognized as an incubator for education reform. The city played host to a celebration last Saturday that marked the kick off of National School Choice Week.
Gov. Jindal is scheduled as one of the featured speakers at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington D.C.