While media attention is understandably focused on the recall effort aimed against Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, free market advocates should not lose sight of the pressure tactics applied against Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. This coming weekend “RecallBobbyJindal” will be holding petition signature drives throughout the state, which are not likely to get very far. But they are indicative of what reform-minded governors can expect when they secure policy changes that elevate taxpayer interests above union perks.
As an alternative to the “draconian Jindal approach” to education reform, the Louisiana teachers unions have offered up legislation that would revoke value-added teacher assessments, reinstate tenure and allow for school boards to have the final say over personnel matters.
In other words, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) are looking to restore the status quo and unravel meaningful policy changes, according to business representatives who supported Gov. Bobby Jindal’s agenda. Both union-backed bills were blocked in committee earlier this month, but they remain the focus of an intense debate that will figure into future legislative sessions.
The value-added teacher evaluations, which call for student test scores to be included as part of the teacher performance assessments, remain a major sticking point. The new evaluation method was instituted under Act 54 last year in an effort to “end blanket job protection in the form of tenure to teachers who are ineffective after one year,” a “fact sheet” from the governor’s office explains.
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.
But Dr. Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the LAE, is adamantly opposed to using standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations. The LEAP and iLEAP tests were never designed to measure the effectiveness of individual instructors, he said. Instead of accepting input and advice from education professionals, Gov. Jindal and his legislative allies locked out and resisted outside criticism, Walker-Jones, said.
However, the revisions to Act 54 included in Senate Bill 650, and the proposed tenure changes within House Bill 879 demonstrate that union officials are not serious about reforming the state education system, Rayne Martin, executive director of Stand of Children, said in response.
“What the unions are trying to do is to eliminate the idea that student performance should figure into teacher evaluation,” she said. “By putting up this legislation they have proven that they are not really serious. How a student performs should translate over to how a teacher is ranked, and whether or not a teacher should be given tenure.”
The new evaluation system, which is the subject of a pilot program in nine school districts, and the International School of Louisiana, a charter school based in New Orleans, bases half of a teacher’s evaluation on the value-added component, and the other half on observations and input from school principals.
In an effort to counter Gov. Jindal’s “extreme agenda,” Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) called for “multiple measures of student growth and “multiple data sources” that would better reflect teacher performance, LAE has argued.
“We have been hit with this argument that says we don’t want to include student achievement as part of the teacher evaluation, and this is nonsense,” Walker-Jones said. “There are a variety of ways to make sure students understand the material that is presented in class, it can be a pencil and paper test. But student growth can also be measured by questioning them, having them participate in projects and by classroom observation.”
Walker-Jones also said Jindal’s legislation effectively eliminates tenure and guts due process. Under the new system, a teacher would have to be ranked as “highly-effective” for five out of their first six years to receive tenure. After being rated as ineffective after one year, a teacher would lose tenure and become an “at will” employee. The “ineffective” designation established by The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) applies to the bottom ten percent of teachers statewide. Districts could start dismissal proceedings for teachers who are assessed as being ineffective over a two-year period. After three-years of ineffective ratings, a teacher could lose certification.
The bill advanced by Rep. Sam Jones (HB 879) would reverse the school governance changes included as part of the tenure reform bill (HB 974). These reforms empower school superintendents with greater latitude over personnel decisions and set limits on school board authority. Jones’s bill would shift authority back to the school boards and allow for binding arbitration if a teacher wanted to dispute a board’s findings.
“If there is any way to muck up and bureaucratize the system anymore than it already has been, this is the way to do it,” Brigitte Nieland, Vice President of Communications and Director of Education and Workforce Development for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “Putting in binding arbitration would be even worse than the status quo.”
Nieland also made it clear that her organization does in fact oppose tenure, but she also said it was incorrect for union officials to claim that it has been eliminated.
“Tenured teachers that do not receive an ‘ineffective’ rating can keep their tenure,” she said. “Although it is very difficult for new teachers to obtain tenure, as it should be.”
The policy changes Gov. Jindal has set in motion will ultimately work to the disadvantage of students and teachers, Walker-Jones suggested. The key organizations responsible for promoting tenure reform and the new teacher evaluation system lack the necessary expertise needed to implement education reform, he said.
“I don’t see anyone with LABI or CABL [Council for a Better Louisiana] with the experience to accurately gauge the work teachers do in the classroom,” Walker-Jones said. “I would never put myself up as someone who understands the complexities of business. Number one, schools are not a business, number two, classrooms are not a business and number three, we are trained professionals in what we do. They can sit down with us anytime they are interested in learning how a classroom works. I will debate anyone from LABI or CABL anytime, anyplace, anywhere in Louisiana.”
Stephanie Desselle, the vice-president of the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), noted that the education community is responsible for implementing the new evaluation system.
“Take a look at the pilot program and you will see that the new evaluation system is being designed and field tested by the educators,” she said. “The people who are the experts in teacher evaluation are the ones who are doing this, so the education experts are involved. The feedback is coming from the teachers, the superintendents and the principals.”
Nieland, the LABI VP, takes issue with the idea that the schools are not a business.
“They receive millions of taxpayer dollars to provide a quality service, and they get millions of dollars in contracts,” she said. “In many districts, they are the largest employer. They spend over $9 million a year. That’s a business and a big one.”
LABI would be glad to meet up with the teachers unions anytime, she added.
“I may not be trained classroom professional,” she acknowledged. “But since Louisiana is ranked 47th in the nation [out of 50 states] in educational attainment, it’s clear to me that I’m not the only one who lacks educational expertise.”