• Swamp Watch

The Broken Record of The Education Swamp

Superintendents Have Used Same Tired Arguments Against Higher Standards For Years

As the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education prepares to, once again, debate long-delayed changes to the state's accountability system for schools, they will once again hear a mountain of opposition from school superintendent's around the state, led by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

For years now, the Superintendents and other education swamp leaders, like the Louisiana School Boards Association, have sounded like a broken record anytime discussion of higher standards comes up. Arguments we can expect to hear this week include "it costs too much", "we need more time", "there's too much opposition", "morale will go down", among other arguments. Of course, the cost argument should ring hollow, given the large amounts of COVID relief funds schools have left and the blatant use of those dollars as a slush fund in districts across the state.

But, many of these arguments are not new, and the same Superintendents who will use them tomorrow have been spouting the same thing for years.

Take Michael Faulk, the Executive Director of LASS. Back in 2016, Faulk was still Superintendent of the Central Community School System. When his district, and districts across south Louisiana were devastated by the historic 2016 floods, he used it as an opportunity to say the state's accountability system should be suspended statewide, even in places that had no impacts from the severe weather that year. BESE eventually did suspend letter grades for that year, but just in the districts affected- a reasonable accommodation.

Then, in 2017, Faulk, still the Superintendent in Central, helped lead the fight against changes to the accountability system that would remove "curved" grades, which artificially inflated school performance, saying the changes were moving too fast, risked "upheaval", and pushing for delay after over a year of debate (sound familiar??).

Faulk, as the Executive Director of LASS, later argued for hiding school performance scores- and any data related to student performance, after COVID-19, admitting he was worried the public would hold Superintendents accountable for the poor performance, saying "Consequences we’re looking at- the Contracts with principals’ performance objectives, contracts with supervisors’ performance objectives, contracts with superintendents’ performance objectives”. The consequences Faulk worries about are for him and the leaders of the swamp- not the consequences students face from getting a subpar education.

Six years later, Faulk is still using the same, tired arguments, warning this latest effort to improve standards would lead to "unintended consequences" and pushing for delay.

Even before Faulk's time with LASS, the organization was using the same arguments. During the 2017 debate, then-LASS President Hollis Milton, currently the Superintendent in West Feliciana Parish, also argued that Superintendents needed more "dialogue" on the proposed changes, again asking for further delay after years of debate. Milton also used the now-recycled argument about morale, saying of letter grades in general that "Accountability needs to bring gentle pressure to all of us...but when it becomes Draconion, it affects morale".

The Louisiana School Boards Association joined Milton and Faulk in pushing for a delay, with then-Executive Director Scott Richard saying "Do you want to jump on the horse while it is running or jump on the horse the normal way? A September date certainly makes more sense." LSBA also used another argument that has resurfaced this year, claiming that delaying the push for higher standards was important to avoid "running the risk of a state plan that has tremendous opposition." As the education swamp's history shows, they will always oppose higher standards, guaranteeing significant opposition to any plan to help Louisiana students achieve- so this is a convenient excuse for them.

Another long-time Superintendent who has helped lead the fight against this latest push for higher standards is Dr. Kelli Joseph of St. Helena Parish, who has argued the new changes are "inequitable" and "discriminatory". She too is singing the same tune as she was in 2017, when she felt so strongly about the changes she contracted a researcher to publish a 16-page report to say that higher standards were inequitable and discriminatory. Joseph also joined other education swamp leaders in pushing for delay in 2017, saying "There are still a lot of questions out there. We don't know where we are going." 5 years later, Joseph is resorting to the same arguments to avoid accountability for the poor performance of schools in her district.

As these same education swamp leaders and organizations prepare to, yet again, argue against higher standards and ask for "more time", stakeholders should take a look at their history. They are not opposed to this specific plan- they are opposed, have always been opposed, and always will oppose, raising the bar for students in their districts. After all, they have their contracts to worry about.

You can read all of our past stories on Louisiana's education swamp here.

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