Another lesson in how chaotic is the state’s new approach to education can be found in a brief discussion by the state education board of a subject that should have been discussed at length during the 2012 Legislature, but wasn’t.
Instead, the board is just getting around to figuring out what was passed by legislators at the behest of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
A new state law allows uncertified teachers to teach in charter schools, public schools that are independently run and boosted by Jindal as a way to improve school performance.
But traditional public schools still are required to have at least 75 percent of teachers certified; the rule previously applied to charters as well.
Certification, including passage of a national teacher exam, was at one time widely thought to be an indicator of teaching quality. The new law requires only a bachelor’s degree to teach in a charter school.
“If it’s good for one, why isn’t it good for the other?” asked Walter Lee, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who is also superintendent of the DeSoto Parish school system.
“Why should we have such a difference?” he said. “They are both public schools.”
The short answer to Lee’s question is politics.
The governor favors charter schools, not the traditional systems of the type that Lee runs. Jindal frequently disparages school boards and others involved in traditional education systems as reactionaries and bureaucrats opposed to change. The long answer, according to charter backers on the board, is that charters face tougher standards — in that, if they don’t perform, they could get their charters revoked. But this rationale from Education Superintendent John White doesn’t stretch very far: Traditional schools can also be taken over by the state for bad performance.
Further, this change in teacher certification does, as Lee said, set up a double standard that BESE is supposed to enforce. Now, the board is in the unenviable position of saying that certification rules are bureaucracy impeding charters, but a quality standard that the law says must be followed in traditional public schools.
There are, in fact, responsible arguments about the usefulness of certification requirements.
We have long supported alternative certification programs, which are now more widely available, to allow mid-career folks to become teachers without going back to college for an education degree.
Still, the discussion that White alluded to is one that did not occur in the Legislature. His view was simply an assumption that was written into the new bills that piled changes into an already messy and often conflicted set of statutes governing public education.
It’s more ideological politics than educational policy — even if there is a reasonable basis for reconsideration of certification requirements.
Now we have a classical situation of what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander because the latter is a Jindal pet.