Differences do exist between the Chicago teachers, whose seven-day strike ended last week, and those in Louisiana. So it’s hard to make comparisons, particularly between a large city and a small state.
Teachers, both here and up there, share anger at teacher evaluation programs, which impose standardized tests to define student progress and were a key issue in the Chicago strike.
Teachers also share the same frustrations: At being blamed solely for failures in public school education, at being vilified as a pampered class by elected officials and their supporters, and at the politicalization of real problems.
“To dehumanize the profession of education by top-down accountability rules and blasting teachers during the legislative session as the cause for the lack of progress in student achievement begs the question,” said Scott M. Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
The annual MetLife survey of public school teachers, released March 7, showed a dramatic 15 percent drop in teacher job satisfaction since 2009. Four times more teachers — about 29 percent — said they were searching for new jobs, the survey showed.
The flashpoint of all this frustration is teacher evaluation programs that elected officials in this state and others have pushed as the panacea for ailing public schools, Richard said. He criticized efforts in Louisiana to judge the effectiveness of teachers with a one-size-fits-all test that accounts for about half the evaluation score along with reliance on what he calls a “very complicated algebraic logarithm.”
“What we’re seeing is an attack on public employees all across the country. And in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is just part of that movement,” said Albert Samuels, who teaches political science at Southern University.
Across America, school administrators and elected officials wonder aloud if the Chicago strike will spread. How about to Louisiana?
The answer is not likely, for two reasons.
First, the leaders of the two competing teachers unions here say Louisiana’s teacher evaluations haven’t fully kicked in yet, so the impact on individuals is hard to articulate now.
Secondly, not to put too fine a point on it: the two unions compete. The thousands of teachers in Chicago are represented by one union and speak with one voice.
The leaders of both local teachers organizations, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators say they can get along on the big stuff.
“We have different philosophical beliefs,” LAE President Joyce Haynes said.
But she added that the two unions are not far apart when it comes to teacher evaluation issues.
“Teachers are expecting one clear voice that’s in their interests,” LFT President Steve Monaghan said. “We shouldn’t be fighting on the small differences between the organizations. It’s counterproductive.”
Back in the day, when the national organizations with which the two local unions are affiliated were formed, the two sides differed, basically, on whether teaching was a profession or a trade.
One group, the American Federation of Teachers, is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and refused membership to principals and other managers with the ability to hire and fire.
The other organization, called the National Education Association, opened its membership to all, including those who commanded others in schoolhouses.
In most parts of the country, members of the two organizations effectively have merged. But in some parts of the South, with little tradition of an organized work force, competing associations continue.
“All the polling that we have ever done internally suggests that, if given a choice, the teachers in the state of Louisiana would like to see both organizations come together,” Monaghan said. “To me, the day that happens and there is a unified front for teachers, it’s going to be a great day.”
In the meantime, Louisiana teachers will watch how the teacher evaluations evolve.
Labor action may wait for a few months until evaluations start finding veteran teachers, certified teachers, respected teachers coming up short on the standardized tests and formulas, Haynes said.
“That’s when we’re going to have a problem, and that’s when frustration really crystallizes and we can come together,” she said.
“It’s going to be a very difficult spring, there’s going to be a lot of anger,” Monaghan said. “And that’s going to drive the rest of the story.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.