Education Louisiana Style: “First We Kill All the Teachers!”

Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the complexity of the legal system. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that.  It is an accurate quote of the character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, but contrary to popular belief, the proposal was not designed to restore sanity to commercial life. Rather, it was intended to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution, thus underscoring the important role that lawyers can play in society. The same logic may apply to the present attack on the educational system of Louisiana.

The Louisiana version of how to fix the the State’s educational system: “First we kill all the teachers!” While legislators say most constituent feedback concerns proposed controversial retirement system changes, most of what they are hearing from the governor’s office is about his education agenda.

The governor’s large education package is contained in only a few bills, according to Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge. And the administration is putting on a March Madness type full-court press. Whether planned that way or not, legislators say Jindal’s release of his pension reform plan has sparked the most public opposition but also has deflected controversy from the education plan. According to Carter, the Governor “… took a triple dose of his ADD medicine. I think it worked.”

But now citizens need to look at the consequences of the proposed changes. Because of severe budget problems facing most states, thousands of certified and qualified teachers are expected to be laid off next fall. All states combined are expected to lay off over 100,000 teachers. At the same time Teach for America plans to place between five and six thousand non-education major college graduates as teachers in public schools this coming year. In Louisiana, the Recovery District provides employment for a large number of TFA teachers each year. And Jindal consistently states that this “D or F grade” district is a success!

So why would major charitable contributors continue to fund the Teach For America organization with up to 50 million dollars this year to recruit 5,000 new unqualified college graduates to teach in states that are laying off up to 100,000 certified teachers? These insane statistics tell us a lot about how cynical influential people in this country have become about the teaching profession. TFA recruits are given about six weeks summer training in teaching methods before being allowed to fill teaching positions in mostly urban schools. Schools that should be getting the most expert experienced teachers possible. And this is the teacher base Louisiana will count on for the future of the State.

The progress of several bills, namely Senate SB603 regarding tenure, SB597 on failing school student transfers to private schools that will allow tax dollars to follow the student and SB591 for standards and regulation in preschools warrant close attention. The masses are attracted by great rhetoric and pressure, yet few have thought through the implications and the losses Louisiana would sustain if our current system is gutted without a better replacement plan.

The immediate cuts to the budgets seem to be the end that most legislators will accept. They are very short sighted! And the easiest example to put forth is the fact that there has been NO proven long-term success of the Teach For America program ANYWHERE. Motivated bright college graduates are full of vigor that is needed in the classroom, but are the test scores consistently improved? The answer is NO.

Yes, the system needs to be fixed. Yes, the State retirement system is in horrible shape. Yes, legislators feel the pressure of the governor. But we should not act as lemming who run over the cliff. We must have long term plans that are developed by professionals. I challenge any legislator to start seeking medical treatment by doctors who are not accredited and licensed. The analogy of “Kill all the teachers” just doesn’t seem to be the correct answer.