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Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012, 12:48 pm

Three Louisiana School Districts Cancel Classes For Teacher Protests

By Allison Kilkenny

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Hundreds of teachers in Louisiana converged on the state Capitol Wednesday in response to proposed education policy changes from state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Teachers have taken issue with Jindal's proposals to change teacher evaluations, tenure and retirement plans, as well as charter school creation and regulation.

Hearings are scheduled today and Thursday at the Capitol on bills that would expand a state-financed private school tuition program, make it easier for private groups to run public "charter" schools, and make changes to teacher tenure practices.

"The governor lit this fuse," said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, in response to Jindal's claim that protesting is harming students. "The governor chose to run his bills this week, not us. How can you expect, if we want to have a democracy, for people not to show up? The problem is not teachers exercising their rights; the problem is government trying to keep them from doing so.

As Monaghan made this comment to the Times-Picayune, Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), passed by and mocked Monaghan, saying, "We don't need to teach -- let's take the day off to lobby."

Monaghan stressed the need for time to debate the bill.

"We've got one 46-page bill. You can't have a legitimate debate about that in eight hours."

"Folks are not going to have a fair hearing or the bills are not going to have a fair hearing because of fast-tracking this opportunity for people to hear the bills all in one day," said state Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge). "We've never done this before on such a major issue and fast-tracking it through the whole process is really not going to vet the bills as much as they should be vetted."

Over one hundred amendments to the bill were introduced on the floor of the Capitol Tuesday night, giving individuals on both sides of the educational reform debate little time to understand what all of the add-ons entail.


"If we get rid of tenure and they're able to lay off all veteran teachers, and I'm one of those veteran teachers, who the hell are going to teach the new teachers," one teacher posed to the crowd gathered.

"Good teachers have nothing to fear. These bills will give them a chance to be rewarded, to be compensated more, to be identified and recognized the way they should be. [For] teachers that want to improve, this will give them professional development, real-time data on how their students are doing [and] real opportunity to become even better teachers," Jindal explained.

A 2009 study performed by researchers at Stanford University showed that Louisiana's charter schools outperformed traditional schools in both reading and math, although nationally charter schools in 15 states as well as Washington D.C. performed slightly worse than their traditional school counterparts.

Margaret Raymond, the lead author of the study, commented that charter schools doing worse outnumber the ones doing better by a ratio of 2:1. Furthermore, charters did worse by black students and Hispanic students than traditional schools, but better by students living in poverty. 

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.

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