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Resignation call sign of progress in improving education

The clearest signal that Louisiana’s Superintendant of Education Paul Pastorek is doing something right has come with the call for his resignation by the polar opposite of excellence in education, a teacher’s union.

Over the past two years, Pastorek has not opposed wider introduction of charter schools and vouchers and merit pay ideas, initially opposed a measure that became law that will reduce standards in secondary education, and supported several changes that would have depoliticized public education in the state. As these preferences are diametrically opposed by teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators has called for his head.

Investigating the goals of each shows why this collective would make such an unusual request. Teacher unions’ goals include transferring as much taxpayer wealth as possible to teachers in exchange for the least amount of work and supervision. If they care about quality at all, they prefer there to be as little as possible because the more demanding that standards are, the more work a teacher must do and the greater ability and intellect they must have. By contrast, Pastorek has been adamant on the issue of standards and has allowed the increased use of innovations such as charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay, all of which have the effect of demanding more from teachers (which, with pay for them rocketing upwards, is appropriate).

Concurrently, they threaten the hold that unions have over education in the state, a major reason why achievement historically has been so poor. As these kinds of measures erode the state monopoly over education and the political influence over it, it becomes more difficult for unions to have easy access to policy-making as decentralization creates more points of influence and parties to contest for it. Accentuating standards and introducing competition while reducing bureaucratization steers policy away from the environment in which unions can most effectively exert power, where a concern to put everything at the lowest common denominator rules. Make striving for excellence the standard and unions lose because simply they are not conceptualized nor designed for this, instead as they are created to protect jobs and benefits the most effective way to do so is to have the lowest possible performance standards.

Thus, the two are at an impasse because Pastorek’s desires (and, by implication, those of the voters who put most the members of his employer the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education into office and Gov. Bobby Jindal who put in the remainder) contradict theirs. And a call for his dismissal only can mean he is perceived by the union leadership as a grave threat to its wishes.

Which these, of course, have nothing to do with quality education or the best interests of school children and people of the state. Board members and Jindal have indicated strong support of Pastorek, and wisely so. The opposite of what opponents of excellence in education want only can be positive for Louisiana elementary and secondary education.

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