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Q&A: John White, point person for K-12 changes in Louisiana schools

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Written by
Gannett Louisiana
From: The News Star

Louisiana’s new superintendent of education, John White, answers questions about his new post and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposals to change K-12 public education.

–What brought you to Louisiana?

 

White: I came to Louisiana for really two reasons. (Joel Klein, chancellor of New York Public Schools) and I had become really close with Paul Pastorek and had grown to admire Paul’s and the state’s approach to education in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans, and as we did that, Paul showed us the other things he was doing in Louisiana. I began to understand the longer legacy of education changes in Louisiana under Governor Foster and others and really came to see where the dialogue on education in Louisiana was a more frank and, I thought, children-oriented one than certainly the dialogue in New York had become, and I think still is.

 

–What are your thoughts on the governor’s education reform package?

 

White: I am very excited about his agenda because I think it really does address the most immediate and necessary changes across the school system of Louisiana. When you are in the parish systems, they tend to acknowledge these are, whether you like them or not, lasting and important reforms that work, especially toward families who have been too long underserved by our system.

 

–What are the major components of the governor’s plan?

 

White: It has aligning early childhood education under a quality-oriented set of standards, and it’s a very critical move. For too long we’ve allowed the funding streams to determine which early childhood programs get with accountability systems, and that’s inequitable and wrong.

 

The teacher agenda — I think is just a set of logical proposals. When I’m in parish systems, I see that we have an evaluation system that is unable to do much of substance other than say you’re effective or you’re not. We’re not, as a state, doing a lot in the way of compensating teachers in a way that ensures that we retain quality teachers, and we are not really doing a lot to speed the development and removal of very, very low performing teachers. And we’re not doing a lot to increase the salaries of new teachers so that we can keep them and compete parish to parish or state to state. All of these things are about giving parishes the incentives and the mandates to change the way they operate in ways of managing their work force as it regards tenure, compensation, the way layoffs are done. All of these things are things that no matter whether we have an evaluation system, if we don’t change the regulatory frameworks and the statutes in this state, districts are not going to change the way they do things.

 

What about the scholarship portion of the plan? How do we accommodate the number of students eligible for transfers?

 

White: The governor’s plan doesn’t call for every student to take a voucher; it just says a certain number of kids are eligible for vouchers. I wouldn’t anticipate that the scholarship program is taken up by nearly the number of kids eligible for it.

 

—How do you define an effective teacher?

 

White: There are universals of an effective teacher. An effective teacher always sets ambitious goals. On a minute-to-minute, day-to-day, week-to-week and unit-to-unit basis and then an annual basis and invests kids in those goals. A student should always be able to tell you what they are working toward. Provided a student can say that, then the teacher can build strong relationships with the child and his parents. And then the teacher has to be able to assess the progress toward the goal pretty deftly and adapt instructional strategy to the needs of the child. If you can do that you’re going to be OK. The problem is that requires very different skill sets — a relationship skill set, a communication skill set, and a critical thinking skill set, all in the same person. I think that in the end that’s why teaching is so unbelievably difficult because beyond the enormity of the task, (it’s) the complexity of the task. This is a massively challenging profession, and we need to be rewarding it to every degree possible.

 

—What are your thoughts on the implementation of the commmon core curriculum?

 

White: I do have some concerns that the state is moving toward really, really increased standards that put us on the national playing field and tie us to a global bar, called the common core standards, which are being implemented across the nation. I don’t think our teachers really appreciate or are even close to fully appreciating the enormity of the shift toward these new standards. If we’re smart, we’ll use this to start a discussion about the quality of student work being produced.

–How do we help recruit and maintain our teachers, especially in our rural districts?

 

White: I think with our Race to the Top money we can do more to create incentives for parishes to recruit science, engineering and math teachers. In the end, I think that if parishes can’t create a supportive environment and tweak their own financial systems in ways that allow for more compensation on the front end, we’re not going to be able to retain our teachers. The reality is our school systems are pouring literally millions of dollars into salary increases at the top end or in the middle for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with things that have any bearing on student achievement whatsoever, including a master’s degree or professional development credits or a doctorate degree — all of which are nice to have, but none of which have been shown to have an impact on student achievement as opposed to experience, your effectiveness and your rating in the classroom, which obviously has a bearing on student achievement.

 

—What do you think about the potential battle you may face in implementing these ideas?

 

White: I don’t think that everything that is being talked about is nearly as draconian as people think that it is. Let’s see what the govenor’s package says around compensation. It says that if you’re ineffective, which is the bottom 10 percent of teachers every year, you don’t get a raise. That doesn’t seem to me to be crazy that the $1,500 increase that all teachers get every year, the bottom 10 percent are not going to get. All we’re saying is there are three things that have been proven to matter, content knowledge in your area, experience and how good you are. Those are the three things that matter. We’re not telling districts that we are going to set up your salary schedule for you, but (we’re saying) please when you have a salary schedule, put it around that. Because the current system basically shifts thousands of dollars into these credits that are not shown to have a relationship to student achievement. I don’t know what in there will negatively impact teacher’s lives. The vast majority of teachers will be rated effective because the vast majority of teachers are effective.

—The News-Star, Monroe, La.

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Written by demon53

January 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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