Our Views: Better path to reforms

In the 2013 Legislature, Gov. Bobby Jindal managed to preserve most of the initiatives pushed in the previous year in public education. However, it was not easy.

The pushback from teachers and their unions has been substantial, against Jindal and against his allies on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In one case, a repeal bill for one of BESE’s changes to school accountability standards, the measure passed the House and was sidelined only on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Education Committee. It does not get much closer than that.

The lesson is not only about the power of the governor’s office in Louisiana’s Legislature. It ought to be about the importance of building public support for education reforms, particularly among teachers and local school board members across the state.

Look at the restiveness of Louisiana’s teachers about the state’s new evaluation system for them. They ought to be treated to fewer slogans and more time spent with them in serious talks about where public education is headed. That kind of initiative might generate support for the Jindal policies — and avoid the kind of pushback that occurred in the 2013 Legislature on these issues.

That’s why we were pleased to see Jindal-backed Education Superintendent John White launch more of a grass-roots consultation with educators and others interested in changes to the current state diploma system.

At issue is the current, and we believe confusing, system of three types of high school diplomas. White has suggested issuing two diplomas, one certifying a student is college-ready and another saying the student is career-ready. That seems a sensible change, although one wonders why a single diploma — showing that a student has been effectively educated — is not a better idea.

Our views on the question aside, we liked the series of statewide public meetings that White held to talk about the topic. More are planned once details of the new proposal are firmed up. Any overhaul of diplomas is several years away, but whatever the plan eventually adopted, we think it will be better-received because of the department’s outreach on the subject.

Education reform is, unfortunately, a very divisive topic these days. Each side, whether supporters of traditional public school systems or advocates for charter schools or private-school vouchers, tends to demonize opponents. “They are failing children,” cry promoters of one nostrum or another. “They are elitists and corporate tools,” cry others. Jindal’s patronizing description of “defenders of the status quo” in education is an example of this apocalyptic rhetoric.

This moralizing impatience fuels bitterness that gets in the way of the sprawling and increasingly complicated system of public education in Louisiana. White’s discussions about the diploma changes is a better way to pull teachers and administrators and elected officials and business leaders into a dialogue and not a witch hunt.

Patience is a virtue in education reform, and the spadework of consultation serves the state better.