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To defeat school reform, opponents try false portrayal

You could accuse supporters of the educational establishment in Louisiana, invested in a one-size-fits-all, command-and-control monopoly of secondary and elementary education in the state because it serves the needs of special interests comprised of politicians, unions, education bureaucrats and liberal ideologues, of just not getting it. You could argue that the massive repudiation for their failed ideas suffered at the ballot box this past election cycle they refuse to acknowledge. But that would sell at least some of them short as they try to stave off defeat by other means.

One such example comes from an opinion piece circulated to major newspapers across the state, dutifully reproduced by outlets. In it, the communications director of the leftist Louisiana Progress presents the group’s strategy to cope with forthcoming policy changes that threatens its worldview and that of its ideological fellow-travelers – by using straw men and distortions to attempt to create a consensus rejecting expansion of the very ideas that haltingly have begun turning around the system.

Several of its assertions present problems in coming to an honest appraisal about education policy in the state.
The author declares, “For most of the past decade the policy debate over improving public education has centered on accountability and testing, not on student learning or growth.” This demonstrates an obvious misunderstanding to the point one must wonder whether it is designed to mislead intentionally: accountability and testing have been built precisely on the idea that it improves student learning, by ensuring the proper system is in place to foster that learning, and then to be able to gauge accurately the level and change in that learning. In trying to separate the two, the author creates an entirely false dichotomy.

But the author immediately gathers more straw and gets to work, by writing, “In this debate, teachers are often seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.” No serious reformer displays this attitude. Policy advocates wishing to improve delivery of education rightfully recognize the current system allows substandard teaching to continue, if not flourish. This regime fails to ensure that teachers not knowledgeable in their subject areas are ejected from the system in a timely fashion, refuses to reward quality in teaching by linking pay to performance, hinders the ability to provide an appropriate learning environment, and allows special interest politics to intrude on personnel decisions. Indeed, reformers see capable teachers as perhaps the biggest part of the solution, and argue they should be given the tools and incentives to succeed, wherein the current system mediocrity and politicized agendas all too often get enforced.

The author’s apparent blindness to this truth next produces this fantasy passage: “What is missing in the discussion is public school reform that looks at the way schools are organized, teachers are trained and compensated and the way decisions are made at schools, school boards and the state.” Reform efforts over the past decade have done nothing but concentrate on all of these areas: introducing charter school opportunities, limited voucher programs, increased welcoming of alternative certification pathways, and advocating merit pay, improved discipline, and a host of reforms aimed at school boards, which regrettably met defeat at the hands of the very interests for which the author shills.

Thus, the author issues a complete fabrication when he claims, “But, we focus all the energy on a narrow view of accountability.” And then to close he delivers his pièce de résistance in wondering whether hope for the better “will bear fruit unless we watch, understand and act to promote the health of our schools?” This begs the question about whether the author is more interested in the “health” of schools or that of children’s intellect, but, as demonstrated above, recent reform measures built around accountability, such as allowing schools to pursue charter status if they fail consistently, because they focus on achievement promoting children’s intellectual health inevitably link to having well-functioning schools, as the latter serves as the precondition for the former.

Remaining consistent to the piece’s theme, this ending represents one last inappropriate attempt to divorce current and advocated reform efforts from the idea of quality education. It also displays either a shocking ignorance concerning education policy or deliberate diversion from reality to try to build a case for ideas supported by the education establishment and its special interest allies that have underserved Louisiana’s students for decades. These opponents of increasingly successful reform measures cannot wish them away by creating illusion about them for the purpose of making their discredited agenda look less ineffective.

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