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Jindal Pushing Vouchers, Changes to Teacher Performance

States across the country are debating or making sweeping changes in education policy, and it seems that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to get into the act.

The Republican is calling for a major expansion of private-school vouchers and other derivations of school choice, while also asking lawmakers to curb a number of teacher job protections rooted in seniority—a step taken by several states recently.

"Today, we say to parents, 'tough luck,' if you happen to live where there aren't a lot of options," Jindal said in a speech this week, announcing his proposals. "We say 'tough luck,' if you can't afford to pay to send your student to a private school. The current system is unacceptable and unfair."

Jindal said he wants to create a statewide voucher program that allows students attending a school that receives a "C" mark or lower on the state's grading system to receive public money to attend a private school.

He also called for expanding students' virtual education options, and allowing high school students who graduate early to use one-half of the dollars that would have been spent on them to attend college. That idea would seem to bear simliarities to a program signed into law in Indiana last year.

Jindal also said he wants to "ban the practice of using seniority to make personnel decisions of any kind" in teaching. He would do away with "last-in, first-out" policies, which require the most-recently hired educators to be the first ones to lose their jobs during layoffs, and make it easier for school districts to make salary adjustments for teachers based on merit.

Speaking to a gathering of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the governor argued that there is broad frustration among teachers at having to work alongside ineffective colleagues. He drew a comparison to private sector employment and suggested that school practices would not be tolerated in the private sector. He spoke of the shortcomings in how teachers are evaluated and rewarded by describing a "hypothetical company" and its employees.

"They are expected to keep working hard even if they have colleagues who are not working hard next door," Jindal said. "They are expected to make up the work that is not being done by their colleagues by working even harder."

The governor went on to criticize a system that he said rewards teachers for length of service, not performance, and makes it difficult to remove low-performers.

"Our system today often crushes talented teachers and makes their jobs harder, not easier," Jindal added, according to a transcript of his speech. "If any actual business was set up like this, they would go under in a matter of months. That's what's about to happen to our education system. This is one of the most critical professions we have in Louisiana, and yet we are strangling it by chasing the talent away."

Jindal seems to be suggesting teachers leave the profession because of ineffective colleagues down the hall. Is he right?

Research has suggested the ability to recruit and retain teachers hinges largely on working conditions—but those conditions seem more tied to administrative support—as my colleague Debbie Viadero reported in a story a few years ago. Conditions that teachers say undermine them tend to include problems with administrators, heavy courseloads, student-discipline issues, and lack of resources (lack of pay is not typically a top concern).

On the other hand, the story notes that having collegial, motivated colleagues is often cited as a positive among educators, as is not having to work in isolation.

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