[Editor’s Note: Superintendent John White recently took The Advocate to task for what he believes is disproportionate representations of aggrieved public school teachers in the newspaper’s Letters to the Editor section. Board of Secondary & Elementary Education District 3 member Lottie Beebe, meanwhile, demonstrates that skepticism about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package isn’t limited to rank-and-file educators.]
The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator, I’m disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.
Here are some passages that illustrate a common thread:
“We, the public school teachers of East Baton Rouge schools, can’t educate children who don’t want to be educated. We can’t educate children whose parents don’t care and are not involved.”
“ … the state is going to require that very poor students take the ACT … . The weaker of these students are not college-bound students who have no intention to attend college, yet he has to be compared and compete.”
And one writer simply stated, “Poverty is a significant factor affecting academic scores,” leaving it at that — as if that absolves us of any responsibility to educate the child.
I’m so disappointed in these comments for two reasons. First, they betray a mindset that forsakes the American dream. They show a sad belief among some that poverty is destiny in America, defying our core value that any child, no matter race, class or creed, can be the adult he or she dreams of being. Yes, poverty matters. Yes, it impacts learning. And that fact should only embolden us to do everything we can to break the cycle of poverty so another generation of children does not face the same challenges.
Second, and perhaps more disappointing, is that these letters were written by professional educators. The media would have you think that most educators oppose change. Even The Advocate editorial board used the number of teachers showing up at the Capitol during a weekday as evidence to prove teachers’ collective objection to change.
But as an educator, I can tell you that our views are as varied as are the individuals in the profession. There are 50,000 teachers in this state, and it demeans them to say that the loud voices of those who chose to take a day off speak for the majority, who spent that day working with children. It further demeans them when they are represented in these pages as excuse-makers who see poverty as only a barrier to success and not as the reason to do the job in the first place.
Not all teachers support all of the proposals. Some support none. But all deserve better representation in these pages. Our teachers are soldiers in the fight for social justice in America. As with all soldiers, they joined the battle for different reasons and have different stories to tell. But they have not given up on winning. That’s the real story. The media should start printing it.
— John White, superintendent, Louisiana Department of Education
While much has been said about accountability regarding traditional public schools, I think it is time for accountability in areas outside of the education arena. To quote the Senate Education Committee chairman, in a letter to his Senate colleagues, “Crime, broken families, drugs, poor health, poverty, high insurance rates — these social ills pervade our society and our state!” He further states, “We, as representatives of the people, take our jobs seriously; and no matter how much we spend, no matter how much we legislate, we can do little or nothing to solve these problems.” (This declaration appears worthy of a letter grade: F).
Welcome to the world of educators. The Legislature is the body who creates the laws that have tied the hands of those within the public education arena. Yet, they continue to legislate although it has been acknowledged the problems can’t be solved! So the solution is to attack traditional public schools and blame educators for the ills that plague our society. There are no solutions offered other than school choice, vouchers and charters. What happened to the Legislature’s responsibility to traditional public education?
Often it is said, there are those who complain without offering solutions. I will offer the following: A responsible approach is to work toward changing a culture that has perpetuated poverty and a dependence on entitlements for years; to fund universal pre-K programs — the research reveals the achievement gap can be reduced by 50 percent; reinstate the 2.75 percent MFP funding for the last three years which would allow school systems to continue after-school tutorial programs, pre-K programs, and maintain much needed personnel to assist with school improvement efforts; collaborate with university personnel to assess their needs for strengthening teacher preparation programs; and approve legislation with no earnings limit that allows for quality retired teachers to return in a substitute capacity. They are the trained experts who will effectively impact learning during extended medical leaves.
In closing, I recognize there is room for improvement in education. I don’t embrace charters as the silver bullet, nor do I believe vouchers are the solution, particularly, when equal access is not available to all students. The education reform being touted is a Band Aid approach to a much greater problem. The sad reality is there is an admission that our society is broken and the legislators only know one area to fix — education — and the approach being touted is flawed.
— Lottie P. Beebe, BESE District 3
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