I Still Have Hope for Louisiana

For over twenty-two years, I have only worked in one state and for two different schools, one private and one public. Most people in Louisiana, especially in Acadiana, don’t move far from home, or their mother’s home cooking, and that has stayed strong with me. Louisiana presently has a disappointing governor, an unqualified education secretary, a compliant BESE Board, but an increasingly recalcitrant legislature who are the only hope left for teachers and students. Louisiana’s COMPASS evaluation system does a wretched job of ranking teachers, has more flaws than Swiss cheese, and pigeon-holes teachers into only one style of teaching: group learning. Louisiana has also adopted Common Core before it was even finished, a program now routinely denounced by experts from its own validation committee (see Dr. Sarah Strotsky and Dr. James Milgram) and attacked on all fronts by parents, teachers, and educators. Common Core and Engage New York, the curriculum designed to match Common Core that Louisiana adopted because they lack the courage to design their own, has been a disaster in its first full roll-out, more proof of the incompetency at the state department of education. Louisiana’s educational leaders routinely act first and then think later, trying to mitigate the damage from implementing programs without due diligence, playing their educational fiddles while Rome burns. In the past two decades, I’ve always seen Louisiana avoid the brink, but the last three years have brought new levels of brinksmanship and recklessness I never thought possible. So many embers now become so many ashes.

And yet. This state has so much potential and I still have that foolish hope that betters days will greet us.

I just berated another debater on the way she denigrated a fellow state, but all the recent deluge of writings that flow across my computer screen have made me realize how grateful I am to teach in Louisiana and not North Carolina, a state where my sister resided for several years while working on her nursing degree. North Carolina pays their teachers less than Louisiana parishes, and that east coast state had a colossal fight between the governor and the superintendent of public instruction when the governor tried to reduce her authority over public education. Diane Ravitch’s most popular post on her prolific website concerned a North Carolina school teacher who finally quit when facing the insurmountable hurdles that educators in that state go through. (http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/27/nc-teacher-i-quit/) That resignation letter is an extensive indictment of the many ills that state battles in their attempt to educate their youth.

2013 ranked as a watershed year for education in North Carolina–and not in a good way. The legislature decimated public education, eliminating 8,000 positions, cutting paychecks so badly that the state went from 25th in salaries to 45th in just five short years, and removing all incentives for getting advanced degrees. Like Louisiana, North Carolina wiped out tenure, has provided money it doesn’t have for student vouchers to attend alternate schools, and still supports the wrong-headed belief that students scores are the only thing that matters. They did however include a one-time $500 pay raise for its top performing teachers… based on that same belief of higher student scores.

Louisiana gives me hope, and I guard it with my life. Individual district superintendents like Jerome Puyau and school boards like St. Tammany Parish have bucked the system and are fighting back against Common Core and high-stakes testing. BESE Board member Dr. Lottie Beebe valiantly speaks out against the tyranny of the BESE Board enabling Education Secretary John White to do whatever he wishes. The Louisiana legislature has the power, however, to alter the course of BESE and the Department of Education, and while Senator Conrad will fight it tooth and nail, he is but one voice against a growing, angry chorus of Louisianians who are assailing the legislature. Representative Cameron Henry has made it public his intention to file legislation in 2014 to remove Louisiana from Common Core completely. And not the least important are the bloggers, including Louisiana regulars Crazy Crawfish (http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/), Mike Deshotels (http://louisianaeducator.blogspot.com/), Mercedes Schneider (http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/), and Lee P. Barrios (http://www.geauxteacher.net/).

I still have hope for Louisiana. I’ve taught approximately 3,500 students in twenty-two years and many of them have grown to become responsible, well-adjusted individuals who question just as much as I do the changes Louisiana is experiencing. They want a better future for their children and they understand better than most that the present upheaval will only harm not help. They love their children, their lives, and their state. They are the hope to which I cling.


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