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Roemer's education actions portend political promise

You’ll have to ask Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Chas Roemer whether he reads this space, but, regardless, he’s making a lot of sense that is targeting him as a politician to watch for Louisiana’s future.

In the area of education reform and improvement, Roemer has been the brightest spot statewide. He was the most prominent elected official to criticize the new state high school curriculum that threatens to produce a “dummy diploma” for too many of the state’s students. Now, not surprisingly given his former position as a charter school official, he has expressed strong public support for them.

Better, in statements made in conjunction with the Louisiana Charter School Conference, Roemer explained the political challenge to improving Louisiana’s educational system. Reiterating what has appeared in this space, Roemer said, “Charter schools are now a threat to a jobs program called public education …. It’s old-school politics and it will be a formidable opponent …. [causing reformers to battle] a system that does not work and those who want to protect it.”

Commendable about Roemer’s words is he doesn’t shy away from naming who are the opponents – teacher unions, representatives of local educational establishments, and some politicians – and their motives for opposing reforms such as charter schools, which have demonstrated in Louisiana better educational outcomes for students who often start from worse initial positions. Only by understanding who are the obstacles to better performance and their self-serving motives can the political effort be made to neutralize their influence, so Roemer bravely takes that extra needed step here for success.

In response sniffs the head apologist for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Stephen Monaghan, who insists union opposition to charter schools is not for ideological reasons then contradicts himself with this ideological appeal: “If Mr. Roemer’s idea is to lower the wages for educators, to deprive them of benefits, then we are definitely going to oppose those kinds of initiatives.” Note well the worldview here: to unions, education is all about jacking up wages and benefits to teachers as high as possible and has nothing to do with equipping children to contribute to their and their society’s well-being.

That’s the mindset Roemer and reformers must fight to prevail over parochial interests that damage the common good on this issue. Let’s also hope that Roemer takes the next logical step and supports efforts for greater teacher accountability such as regular subject area testing of knowledge in the areas in which a teacher is certified and teaches. No doubt Roemer is aware that this very issue was a great setback for his father as governor, so it is more than appropriate that he becomes the first state official with the foresight and guts to publicly get behind this effort.

It’s refreshing to see Roemer’s candor and willingness to speak with its attendant political risks because it’s the right thing to do. If he keeps up this style as a politician, his political career could eclipse his father’s.

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