White discusses wholesale changes to state's education system

By By John Guidroz / American Press

Half of Louisiana’s students entering Kindergarten know the alphabet and can count to 20, state Superintendent of Education

John White told the American Press editorial board on Monday.

“A lot of the challenges we see in

Louisiana are because our kids get so far behind so quickly,” he said.

“By third grade,

half of our students are below grade level in either math or

English-Language Arts, or both. These facts are pretty stunning.”

White spoke about “Louisiana Believes,” which includes Acts 1, 2 and 3 approved during this year’s legislative session.

Under Act 3, the Board of Elementary

and Secondary Education can establish a “unified system” of pre-K,

which, he said will

fix the current “fragmented system.” In December, the state

Department of Education will submit a report to the board detailing

the new pre-K system, White said. The board will review it and

submit it to the state Legislature. He said the goal is to

implement the new system by 2014-2015 school year.

“This is to create one system of

unified funding and accountability,” White said. “It will be a real

shift for day care providers

and the Head Start Program.”

The other components of “Louisiana

Believes” include the move to the Common Core State Standards and the

implementation of

Compass, the state’s new teacher evaluation system. Earlier in the

day, White visited students and teachers at South Cameron

High School and Midland High School to see how Compass and the

Common Core Standards are working. He is currently visiting

schools in 26 parishes.

White said he believes teachers statewide are focused on implementing Compass and setting student achievement goals. He said

the Common Core Standards teach students to learn more detailed skills over time.

“We started working with (teachers) this year by moderately changing our tests,” White said.

Changes to the accountability system include no points for students performing below the basic grade level, and bonuses for

helping improve a low-performing student.

White said the “Louisiana Believes” plan includes believing in students, families and educators. He said the work with students

starts with early childhood education.

With families, he said the department received a record number of charter school applications, and that 5,000 students out

of 10,000 applicants were placed in the scholarship program for non-public schools.

“The best plan for school choice is

making every school a good choice,” White said. “These programs address a

relatively small

number of students across the state, but because they are students

in the most challenging circumstances, I think they show

promise, especially for those families.”

White said only 121 out of the state’s

385 high schools offer advanced placement courses. Currently, he said

the state is

the lowest performing in the nation in advanced placement courses

and has the lowest number of students taking AP tests. White

said 300 teachers were trained this summer to teach advanced

placement classes.

Through the Course Choice program, he said the department has asked corporations, including industry-based providers, to help

train students for career and high school credit. White said the state has received several applications for the program,

and that state law requires those applicants to be reviewed by BESE on a three-year term, based on academic outcomes.

White said teachers need to be empowered to be decision makers, and that the accountability system by itself will not improve

education in the state.

“The other half of the equation is how do you unlock the creative potential of our educators,” he said. “We have too much

of a compliance (and) mandate-driven culture right now in our schools.”

Those changes are being made by reorganizing the state department into a set of “network teams” that bring together school

districts based on location and demographics, White said.

“We’re going to put the state’s best educators there to support you and your plans to adopt Common Core Standards, rather

than have different offices that come and tell you how to do your business,” he said.

If the state holds teachers accountable for student performance, White said that teachers must be empowered. He said that

can happen by removing the comprehensive curriculum, and trusting educators to make decisions on what activities to teach

and which textbooks to use.

He said Act 1 has helped empower superintendents and principals by allowing them, instead of school boards, to decide which

teachers should be allowed in classrooms.

White said putting all of the education changes into place will take time and that the state is in the “start of a significant

shift in education.”

“We shouldn’t be under the impression that all of this is going to have a system-wide change effect in three months,” he said.