With only a day’s notice and with less than a month before the beginning of the school year, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White rolled out a set of academic standards for private schools participating in the newly-launched voucher program. Christened as “Louisiana Believes,” it represents the centerpiece of Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reform initiative. And although the initiative was swept through the state legislature through a series of somewhat shady maneuvers, Governor Jindal and Superintendent White were, nonetheless, subsequently required to provide an objective criteria by which they would evaluate the merit of those private schools seeking public subsidization, criteria they provided with only a day’s notice to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval.
Instead offering anything meaningful, John White spat out a completely meaningless, totally unenforceable, and intellectually dishonest directive, shielding at least 75% of schools that qualify for public subsidization from any actual accountability whatsoever and reserving his right to accomodate the remaining 25% at his sole discretion.
The students awarded the state’s vouchers, as of now nearly 7,000 students in number, will not be subjected to the standardized testing that the state’s public schools undergo. Instead, they will have to take the Scholarship Cohort Index, a 150-point exam that is similar to the exams the public students take. Unlike in the public schools, however, the tests’ scores will not prevent a student from moving to the next grade.
Still, if the students average lower than a score of 50 in their second year, their new school will not be allowed to take on any more voucher students — though the students will be allowed to remain, and the taxpayer money will still be funneled to the schools.
But these standards, according to White, apply to only 25 percent of the schools receiving voucher students. The remaining 75 percent will still be required to take the tests, but they will only be forced to post the results publicly.
White also inserted a clause that would allow the waiver of any punishments if “the school has improved by more than 15 points on the [SCI] over the last four school years.” That is, if a school has gone from, say, 15 to 30 on the SCI over the first four years — remaining well-beneath the minimum threshold — it would not only retain its current voucher students, it could recruit new ones.
“The whole thing is a sham,” Les Landon, the PR Director with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told TPM. “The thing that sticks out is that the superintendent has given himself authority to waive accountability rules that they’ve established, so what does one do?”
Meanwhile, Mr. White, a transplant to Louisiana by way of New York and Illinois, attempts to argue, publicly, that his policy ensures fairness and equitable treatment for all schools, both public and private, despite the obvious truth: He’s a liar. There’s no apples-to-apples comparative analysis involved here. He and Governor Jindal want to divert tens, if not hundreds, of millions in taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into the coffers of privately-held religious institutions, and neither of these men are in any hurry to hold those private schools up to the same scrutiny by which they evaluate our public system.
Make no mistake: Regardless of the spin that Governor Jindal, his administration, and Superintendent White attempt to put on this issue, as I’ve stated before, this has nothing to do with ensuring accountability; it’s about justifying unaccountability. Both of these men, insidiously and under the banner of parental choice, are lying to you, to me, to the people of the Great State of Louisiana, and to the entire nation. It’s a sham, an attempt at a massive redistribution of public wealth into the hands of a select number of politically-acceptable, religiously-right, profiteering con-artists.
Superintendent White’s claims that all private schools will be held to the same standards as public schools are quickly disintegrated by the actual facts and are immediately recognizable by those of us who don’t instinctively believe in this man’s inherent integrity. He, with the support of Governor Jindal, seeks to give tens of millions, every year, to private, religious schools that teach pseudo-science and creationism, schools that rely on textbooks that are filled with anti-intellectual hogwash, schools that teach “scientists” are all sinful people, that the Loch Ness monster is real and therefore disproves evolution, that the KKK really wasn’t all that bad on civil rights issues. And Superintendent John White and Governor Bobby Jindal are completely cool with that, just as long as the voucher students in those schools can pass a standardized test. To them, apparently, that’s the only thing the matters.
And by the way, they’re not asking the other kids in these schools to submit to and pass those tests. Nope, just the poor kids on vouchers. If those kids on vouchers are pulled out of class and prepped for the standardized test, well, it MUST mean that their school is performing quite well, thank you very much. And if you disagree, you’re nothing more than a unionist activist who hates parents.
Less than 24 hours after Superintendent White announced his “academic accountability” plan for voucher schools, it was embraced by a blogger at the Fordham Institute, a fact that Mr. White was happy to report:
Here’s the problem: The blogger at the Fordham Institute, well, it turns out his “blog,” only a year or two ago, was edited and published by Governor Jindal’s Policy Director, Stafford Palmieri, who also served recently as Jindal’s point person on education policy. That’s not a coincidence; it reeks of back-room coordination. Why? Because before Ms. Palmieri was a member of Governor Jindal’s staff, the Fordham Institute criticized Louisiana for its anti-science education policies, most notably the Louisiana Science Education Act, which it called “a devastating flaw.”
I, for one, refuse to have the wool pulled over my head: If the good folks at Fordham, a conservative think-tank, considered the LSEA to be a “devastating flaw,” then, surely, they’d recognize the much more egregious scam of having taxpayer dollars funding New Earth Creationist schools. It is not merely coincidental that Ms. Palmieri once edited this very website or that, on the same day it was announced, it was the first to endorse John White’s plan.
But much more importantly, this is not, exactly, a conspiracy theory. If it were, then it’d be the worst one ever. The other “think tanks” who relied on Fordham’s analysis, like the Heritage Foundation and the Pelican Institute, BREAKING NEWS: You’ve been had.
Ms. Palmieri, the Jindal Administration, Superintendent White: They just hedged their bets that the rest of us wouldn’t be able to so easily connect the dots here. Either way, it’s a blatant attempt at deceptively attempting to manufacture consent for the school voucher program. They want to believe their critics, like them, also live in a windowless echo chamber.
A plug for Superintendent John White: Follow him on Twitter, @LouisianaSupe. He’s nearly as flexible as our Olympic gymnasts.