Education Reform, Innovation and Improvement

I live in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is a phenomenal place to live if you want spicy, fried food and a great culture. The people are generally friendly (though I much prefer Vermilion Parish, which is where I work) and there is a lot to do. However, when it comes to politics in the area… well, the Acadiana area (which includes Lafayette and several surrounding parishes) is wonderful in promoting the stereotypes of Louisiana politics.

Lafayette Parish’s school board has been wrestling with whether or not to allow charter schools into the parish. It’s been met with fierce opposition, and one of the groups that opposed it initially is back with a whole new name and everything.

“The idea is to provide an alternative to the current education conversation, particularly as it relates to privatization efforts in Lafayette Parish,” Espinoza said. “We believe that public education should be fully democratic, we believe that every child has a right to an equitable education, and so we’re asking for that. We’re more about policy advocacy, and one of our intents is to really emphasize experience-based research.”

The more you read that paragraph, the more you’ll realize that someone just went through a bunch of education Wikipedia pages and picked what sounded good. Unfortunately, there isn’t much this particular person said that translates into actual reform. What she is really calling for is more of the same.

“We believe that public education should be fully democratic” is possibly one of the strangest things I have ever heard and I am not exactly sure what it means. Does it mean that you want education policy to be determined by people who are voted democratically? Probably, but there is still the problem of the lack of real innovation in the classroom outside of new technology. We get a new computer lab here, or a new bit of interactive equipment there, but teachers have largely been doing the same thing for ages (Common Core implementation in some areas notwithstanding).

There is also the idea that if you capitalize the “D” in “fully democratic,” then you can see a larger problem in the education system. But, I digress.

“We believe that every child has a right to an equitable education” sounds very pretty, but is another meaningless phrase. Just say “same education,” because it’s obvious what you’re trying to say. Every kid should be subject to the same (failed) teaching policies and practices. There is no room for deviation because (gasp!) something might work better.

“We’re more about policy advocacy, and one of our intents is to really emphasize experience-based research” the lady says, which is the same thing that has been going on in education for years. The biggest flaw in that statement is that, by wanting to block privatization, you don’t get the innovation and the added “experience-based research” that the private sector could provide because they are willing to spend the money to make a better product.

It comes down again to the idea that privatization is automatically evil because capitalists are only concerned with making money. Nevermind the fact that the drive to make money leads the private sector to innovate and improve the product they are selling. I’m not one to automatically dismiss public education (I married a woman who’s life dream was to teach teenagers… which is weird because she met and started dating me when I was one, and I could’ve sworn I drove her mad), but there comes a time when you do have to admit something just isn’t working.

Public educators are often so dismissive of anything that breaks the monotony of their profession largely because it could affect them for the worse. Louisiana allows teachers with C averages in college to teach. We had tenure requirements that really only required you live three years into your teaching career to get it until Bobby Jindal changed that. I was born in Natchitoches, Louisana, which ranked consistently in the bottom 10 parishes in the state, and Natchitoches has a university that specializes in education for God’s sake.

Privatization does two things for education. The first is that is encourages innovation and reform within itself in order to survive in its market. It has to provide a better alternative to public schools (not just the same thing, or else who would attend them?). The second thing it provides is competition to public schools, forcing them to improve themselves, as well. It’s one reason I largely prefer Georgia trying out a statewide charter system over Jindal’s voucher program, but the voucher program is another way to go in getting schools to try harder.