Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2018

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How a good argument for education falls flat

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is a smart and well-educated man. Jindal, who wants to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, has an important message when it comes to public education in the United States. His message has some solid answers to some very basic questions.

I have a question for Gov. Jindal? Why did you deliver your message like a third-grader?

First the message or, at least, the salient parts of it.

“America has a moral imperative to improve our education system. There are certainly many practical reasons to take action. We have gone within a generation from being a country that clearly ranked first in educational achievement and attainment to one that now ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other industrialized countries ...

“We cannot maintain our economic or security status as the world’s lone superpower based on such results in a economy increasingly driven by technology. Studies have shown that improving educational results is one of the most effective ways to boost health outcomes, lower incarceration and crime rates, prevent welfare spending, grow the economy, and improve our quality of life.”

At this point let me take a break for a vote. All who believe what Gov. Jindal says, raise your hands. Looks like it is nearly unanimous approval.

There’s more. “We have long believed that a child’s outcome as an adult should not be determined by the circumstances of his birth. A child’s race, gender, geography or socioeconomic status should not determine how well he does. We instead embrace the idea that any child willing to work hard and get a great education can grow up to become the next president of the United States, entrepreneur, engineer, doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, mom, dad, professional football player, or whatever.

“Our children only grow up once, and they deserve the best education we can give them …”

I hear an almost unanimous chorus of approval once again. In fact, right here in Clark County, one of the major issues we face at the political level is whether we are going to allow the forces of the status quo — those invested in the way things are, which is not very good right now — to stop the prospects of reform, which hold out the promise of better schools and, therefore, more successful children.

In our School Board races, the issue becomes one of whether we support Superintendent Dwight Jones and his difficult and, yes, sometimes painful reform agenda, or whether we want to undermine this effort and revert to the status quo. If you believe anything Gov. Jindal has been saying, the answer is clear — reform.

But, I digress. Back to Jindal’s message: “There are certainly many education reforms that compete for attention and resources and have become fads over time. ... The research, however, is clear that the variable with the greatest impact on student achievement is the effectiveness of a child’s teacher. Nothing else comes close. ... I am not sure you need a study to tell you having a great teacher in every classroom should be our top priority, but our policies seem designed to accomplish the opposite.”

Jindal then cited many examples of how an effective teacher can affect a child’s future earnings by tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars during his or her lifetime. So let’s hear it for good teachers. That is what Superintendent Jones is shooting for, and I believe that is what every parent and every citizen should be trying to achieve.

So, here is the point:

Jindal goes on to point out the absolute need for effective reform of a brilliant idea — a public education for every American. He even suggests, among a number of good ideas, something that every person in business knows to be the truth and every parent knows instinctively: “We must end hiring, firing, promotion and payment policies based on seniority rather than effectiveness.”

In short, it was a long dissertation on what is wrong with our public education and what can be made right with a few significant reforms — just like the ones being undertaken here in Clark County. But then he fell way short for a man who wants to lead.

He fell into the trap of a political hack. He took a great idea, one that would be accepted wholeheartedly by the citizens of every state and every city because we all know what he is talking about, and made it an attack on President Barack Obama.

He blamed the president for spending billions of dollars during the recession to keep teachers, police officers and firefighters working across the country and not requiring local school districts to hire and fire on some federally mandated schedule. Huh?

When the top priority of this country was to keep people working — the Republicans call that JOBS — Jindal is castigating the president for doing just that. And then he has the nerve to demand that the federal government impose its will on local school districts across the country! Am I the only one who thinks I have fallen through the keyhole into some GOP Wonderland?

Can you imagine if those billions to keep our teachers working came with strings from the federal government? Jindal would have been among the first to cry foul and invoke the limited powers clause of the Constitution. He would have railed against the federal mandates. Instead, he is advocating them. Again I say, huh?

Sorry, Governor, you can’t have it both ways. And the worst part of all this is that you took a very compelling argument — one I know you are passionate about — and ruined it by forcing people to line up on either side of the political divide.

Once you blamed President Obama for doing something good without doing something bad along with it, you turned half the electorate away. Once you decreed that the federal government should have imposed its will on local governments and school boards, you lost the other half. Instead of keeping your argument about schools and our kids, and how to educate them the best way we can so they can fix in the future the mess we have made in the present, you lost the argument. And that argument should not be lost!

But that is what politics does these days. It subsumes good ideas. For the country to win, it is not necessary for one side or the other to lose. To suggest otherwise, as you have done, Governor, is a third-grade proposition and not the hallmark of an educated leader. You can and should do better than that.

A quality public education is not a matter for politics. It is a matter for parents and citizens who will depend on today’s young people for tomorrow’s rewards. We ought to be smart enough to get that part right.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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