By Robert Mann
When it comes to writing fiction, Gov. Bobby Jindal is quite talented. Actually, it’s a pretty good bet that Jindal didn’t really write the op-ed under his name in today’s Monroe News-Star. There are too many grammatical errors in the piece for it to have been written by a Rhodes Scholar.
The ungrammatical irony is rich, however, because the subject is education.
“If we want Louisiana’s economy to continue to grow and remain a top destination for new businesses investment, we must put a premium on student achievement,” Jindal writes. “Ask any job creator what he values most, and chances are they’ll tell you it’s a highly skilled workforce. That’s why we need to make sure every child has the opportunity to get a great education so they have the skills to succeed in the workforce.”
Besides the two pronoun-antecedent conflicts (that’s an automatic D in my class), Jindal’s assertion is hard to challenge.
But when Jindal takes credit for educational reforms, that’s where he runs headlong into an assertion-truth conflict.
“The inflection point to change our education system happened over seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans’ school infrastructure — a system that frankly was already failing our kids. The storm made us rethink the way we deliver services to our people — especially in our education system. So we set out to improve our schools in New Orleans and across the state to make sure we focused on what’s best for parents and students.”
Just who is the “us” and “we” he’s talking about?
Turns out the big policy change for which Jindal claims credit – creation of the Recovery School District – didn’t even happen under his watch. The Louisiana Legislature created it and then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed it into law in 2004.
(Interesting side note: The RSD’s staff does not appear to know when its organization was created. Its website says, erroneously, that it was created in 2003. Blanco, however, took office in January 2004.)
In Katrina’s wake, Blanco led the effort to pull failing New Orleans schools into the RSD.
In his op-ed, Jindal further muddies the water over the RSD’s provenance by leaping over years of struggle right to 2008 in order to brag about the purported success of charter schools. He never once mentions that Blanco placed the bulk of New Orleans schools under RSD supervision years earlier.
Quite a feat of deception:
“In 2008, we started a scholarship program in New Orleans to give parents with kids trapped in failing schools a choice. We also fought to expand school choice beyond New Orleans in 2009 by removing the state cap on charter schools. This year, 104 charter schools are educating nearly 57,000 students across Louisiana. We created the ultimate tool in 2011 to empower parents and improve Louisiana’s education system: we stopped hiding failing schools by attaching letter grades to school performance.”
Later in the piece, Jindal brags about “his” accomplishments, claiming as his own everything from creation of the RSD to his more recent “reforms”:
“Because of these reforms, our students have made incredible progress. In New Orleans, where many of our reforms were started, the results are staggering. In 2005, 77 percent of New Orleans students attended a failing school. Today, 29 percent of students are in a failing school. Since 2007, the percentages of students in New Orleans that are reading and doing math at grade level have more than doubled.
“Statewide, the results also show we are moving in the right direction. In 2009-2010, 50 percent of our schools would have been considered a “D” or “F.” In 2011-12, 36 percent of schools are now receiving a “D” or “F.” The number of schools earning an “A” rose from 98 in October 2011 to 163 in October 2012 — a 66 percent increase. Louisiana’s cohort dropout rate has decreased from 17 percent to 14.6 percent between 2010 and 2011. Overall, our state’s cohort dropout rate represents a four-point decrease since I took office, when the rate was 18.6 percent.”
Interesting numbers and great results, right?
Not so fast. Notice that Jindal is very specific with his numbers and grades when it comes to the state as a whole. But when talking about New Orleans schools, he’s not quite as specific. Wonder why?
It turns out that the RSD schools are actually the worst in New Orleans, as this Times-Picayune story from last December noted: “As a whole, the direct-run RSD schools are the worst performing in the city; none earned higher than a D grade in the 2012 academic evaluations.”
“When the 2012 [Baseline School Performance Scores SPS]/letter grades were released, the RSD-NO was quick to respond with the spin that 2012 results again supported the claim that that the [Louisiana Department of Education’s] model for turning around failing schools had been extremely successful. They claimed that their schools had made incredible gains in New Orleans for 2012 in spite of the fact that the failing bar had been raised from 65 to 75. The RSD’s District Performance Score (DPS) increased from an “F” (69.2) to slightly above the new “F” cutoff score of 75. Its new DPS was 76.7 which is equivalent to a “D”. ROR’s position is that a label of “D” hardly qualifies any school district to rejoice. While not indicating failure, it does indicate that a district is performing very poorly academically.
“Did the RSD-NO’s DPS gain represent significant progress in 2012? When viewed in the context of the most important annual growth indicator of the LDOE, (i.e., the SPS Growth Target), it is not. Sixty-seven percent of the 60 RSD-NO schools failed to achieve their growth target for 2012. When viewed in this context, one would hardly consider the 7.5 point DPS growth of the RSD significant considering the performance of the majority of its schools. Also note that the RSD’s public relations spinners have rarely, or never, addressed the significance of this extremely crucial school indicator when assessing gains or growth.”
So, one of the signal educational “reforms” of recent years – about which Jindal brags constantly — was not his creation, nor is it anything approaching a success.
Indeed, the RSD is a spectacular failure.
So, when Jindal was looking to make his mark on Louisiana education, who, exactly, did he place in charge of running the state’s elementary and secondary educational system? Why, the former superintendent of the RSD, John White.
So, Jindal has entrusted the education of our children to the person who ran the worst school system in one of the worst education states in the nation.
At some point, when the press and public begin to take notice of that sorry fact, don’t be surprised if Jindal finally starts giving Kathleen Blanco proper credit for creating Louisiana’s Recovery School District.
- Jindal, McDonnell tout education reforms (sfgate.com)
- Does Bobby Jindal have a prayer? Here’s one (bobmannblog.com)
- Bad Teacher? Blaming teachers is distracting us from what’s really hurting our schools (bobmannblog.com)
- Gov. Bobby Jindal: “Pull Your Kids Out of the Public Schools.” (teapartyeconomist.com)