Culture, Science & Faith

Education Reform as Envisioned by Bobby Jindal

The Louisiana governor issues a three-point plan for fixing broken schools.

Feb. 11, 2015

Some Republican presidential hopefuls are singing songs that are music to conservative ears. The latest comes from Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who along with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has released a research paper entitled “America Next.” The Republican pair promote major reforms to undo the government education catastrophe.

Jindal outlined his three-pronged reform plan beginning with an exquisitely apt analogy: “Would you trade your brand-new car for an Edsel? Or your iPhone for an antiquated mainframe computer the size of your living room?”

“[M]any American children,” says Jindal, “face a similar situation each day when they head to school.” They don’t receive a quality education due to “[a]rchaic obstacles – a tenure system first developed early in the last century, and an education bureaucracy in Washington created as part of the Great Society five decades ago.”

“Reform along the principles outlined in this paper,” reads the introduction, “will restore the balance in education toward parents and teachers, and away from the bureaucracies.”

The first objective is education choice – allowing parents to control their children’s schooling. Schools, most teachers and unions resist this idea with every tool at their disposal. Nevertheless, Jindal says money spent on education should “follow the child” rather than following bureaucrats’ demands. “No one cares more, and knows better, about children than the parents who bore and raised them.”

Put parents in charge, and schools must compete to retain children. Good public schools will become better and bad ones fail, while charter and other non-traditional schools thrive. While vocational courses have largely disappeared, these practical courses appeal to many high school students. The same holds for art and technology. Money directed by the parents will result in its being better spent.

More than 60% of staff in the average school district are not teachers. Though educationists want smaller classes, studies have shown that school size is much more important. With parents in charge, the number of small schools would grow dramatically, causing a proportional decline of non-teaching positions, thereby saving taxpayer money. One of the best-received parts of Jindal’s plan is educational savings accounts that give people with modest incomes a chance to send their kids to the best schools.

The second prong of the plan involves backing Big Government’s big nose out of neighborhood schools. Not so long ago, schools operated on a largely neighborhood model and performed far better. As late as the 1960s, a high school diploma was a ticket to the job market where the vast majority of adults established themselves in careers while their college friends were still in school.

But along came the “Great” Society, introducing frequent and ever deeper intrusions into states’ education systems. Federal dollars became the hook that kept schools on the line, and school quality decreased as spending increased. Now, addicted to federal money, schools are coerced into following federal mandates. “Common Core,” says Jindal, “represents Exhibit A of why federal control needs to revert back to states – and ultimately to local school boards wherever possible.” He also urges the reduction of government data collection, restoring student privacy rights and sharing more information with parents.

The third proposal involves “liberating teachers” by ending forced union membership, making evaluations more practical, giving principals more autonomy in running their schools, ending tenure and seniority, and restricting collective bargaining to salaries rather than petty complaints.

States generally require two years of education courses at an accredited college to earn a teaching credential. Yet education courses are notoriously easy and so full of socio-babble that many highly qualified individuals are driven away.

Jindal proposes “reforming training, preparation and certification requirements.” Training should be relevant and meaningful and should require fewer courses. Emphasis should be on preparation. “[We] should remove impediments to entry, but make permanent retention a tougher bar to achieve (referring to teacher tenure).” Teaching shouldn’t be a job that someone takes because there’s nothing else to do. Teaching should be a passion.

The plan concludes that we have “a moral imperative to provide a quality education to each child.” Yet as Jindal admits, these reforms face stiff opposition from unions and their alter egos, the Democrats.

Nevertheless, progress is occurring. Jindal highlights improvements in his own state of Louisiana, including the rising graduation rate in New Orleans and the plummeting number of failing schools. There are other positive signs as well: 10 states have no tenure, charter schools and homeschooling outperform public schools and earn more support every year, and parents finally recognize that schools are failing and want them fixed. If 2016 is good to conservatives, including the election of a conservative president, we just might see some of these reforms after all.

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