I’m optimistic about changes in Louisiana, but with reservations
January 16, 2016
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by Lamont Douglas

For the year ahead, I am optimistic and excited about educational gains moving forward in my city and state. A movement for getting more parents engaged is slowly picking up steam in my community and a gradual move is better than none at all. Citizens are starting to join in on the conversations surrounding issues that affect our kids’ future. Educators, mentors, support staff and administrators are finding their niche in New Orleans’ vast education diaspora. Although there are issues that are in need of addressing, we are moving forward in many positive ways.

On January 11, our state will swear John Bel Edwards into the governor’s office. Once that occurs, Edwards will then be faced with a $1.6 billion dollar shortfall and he will likely take extreme measures just to keep the bills paid.

In my recent reading of many articles, conversations with colleagues and my memory of events, I know that healthcare and education are usually battling for first and second place when it comes to budget cuts. I know that it doesn’t matter what a candidate may say on the campaign trail, when he is staring at numbers that don’t add up and a decision has to be made, education is prime for cutting and our children suffer in the long run.

Edwards has appointed some great people who have deep experience in education to his transition team. He has brought on State Sen. Ben Nevers as his chief of staff. Nevers has an extensive education background, including serving on the Bogalusa City School Board. Edwards has also appointed several local individuals to his higher education committee, Calvin Mackie of STEM NOLA, Ron Maestri of the University of New Orleans and Renee Lapeyrolerie, former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

My hope is that the education background of Senator Nevers, the appointments of local distinguished individuals and the presence of our wonderful new First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Hutto Edwards, who was a public school teacher in Hammond, Louisiana, is enough to have Edwards recognize the value of a strong education system. Also as parents and citizens we need to continuously remind Edwards that we are fully aware of his moves as it pertains to education.

Another concern that I have is our soon to be governor’s thoughts and past actions regarding education:

  • Edwards spoke against the Public School Voucher Plan, but then changed his tone and said the program should be limited to low-income families.
  • He said he would reverse the Common Core State Standards that Louisiana has adopted, believing they create unnecessary burdens on schools.
  • He doesn’t agree with standardized testing connected to teacher evaluations.
  • He said that if he was elected he probably wouldn’t keep John White, the state education superintendent, past the end of his contract regardless of what the elected Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members suggest
  • He is backed by the two teachers unions in the state. Also, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers officials have held key jobs in his campaigns.
  • He has called for greater accountability from charter schools.

I have learned as an engaged parent who has spoken to various members of my communities, that I can’t be totally for or totally against any particular set of issues. I believe a good practice is to become knowledgeable about an issue by researching, gathering information and talking to the people it will affect. I also have become aware of the importance of school choice. Different methods of delivering a curriculum is key to children’s success and to furthering the gains we have accomplished. In New Orleans we promote school choice and we received the top ranking as the best city for school choice from the Fordham Institute. Yet as an avid listener and advocate on the ground, I still know we still have a long way to go with offering the best school choices as it relates to a family’s structure and lifestyle.

I would like to caution Edwards to take a careful look at what has and hasn’t worked in schools, lest we put any gains that we are still working towards in jeopardy. I know there has to be some method of testing the effectiveness of our schools that doesn’t place heavy burdens on the shoulders of our children through standardized testing and that doesn’t alienate great teachers or suppress their talents. But I do believe educators should be held accountable. I feel that accountability has to not only come from districts, charters and educators but from all of the citizens who are affected by the system that is in place. I believe that there should be an evaluation of the standards but lower expectations or a watered down curriculum are not options. I believe that the school board should be able to represent the people and that affiliations with teachers unions shouldn’t hinder what the people have voted for in a fair election.

We have to become innovative and take a few large steps outside of the box. The people of Louisiana can no longer embrace stereotypical ideas, alliances or practices that offer simple solutions to a diverse group of issues. The reset button has been pressed. Are we gonna play a better game?

 

This is republished from the Second Line Blog.

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