BESE and MFP 051117

BESE President Gary Jones, of Alexandria, left, and Education Superintendent John White on Thursday, May 11, 2017, at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that approved a revised budget request to fund public schools next year.

Photo by Sarah Gamard of the LSU Manship School News Service

Let’s be real clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has deep disagreements with John White, the state superintendent of education.

But here’s one comment in a prominent national educational journal that shows where White is leading Louisiana toward common goals in quality, under the guidance of teachers at the local level: “We had lots of buy-in,” says Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “There’s some sense of stability to how education is being delivered to students.”

Lest we think that the lion is lying down with the lamb, Carter’s comments were about the teacher leadership organized and promoted by the state department as Louisiana’s curriculum standards were overhauled. While a Louisiana version of the “Common Core” educational standards was the subject of often bitter political debates, the good that it can do depended all along on implementation.

The journal Education Next chronicles in depth the innovative ways that White’s department has made teacher evaluations the basis for choosing materials for use in the classrooms. While local school boards, principals and teachers choose how to teach, the department has made available evaluations of what are the best texts aligned to our semi-Common Core academic standards.

For textbooks and other materials rated in the top tier by the teacher-judges, the state has made it easier for local systems to purchase the higher-rated materials.

Broadly, the idea is to make academic standards and curriculum materials more effective for the teacher in the classroom. And if it is a concept that many states want to achieve, national researchers believe Louisiana is doing a better job than others.

A RAND Corp. study of the state’s efforts found that teachers in Louisiana had a better understanding of the new academic standards and were acting on their knowledge in the classroom, far better than the teachers sampled in other states.

Education Next also interviewed Joanne Weiss, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan. She has brought education officials from more than a dozen states to Louisiana, as a consultant to the Council of Chief State School Officers. "Local control is a central feature of American public education, but Louisiana’s reforms offer a glimpse of how to thread the needle, honoring community control while encouraging high-quality curriculum statewide," Education Next wrote.

The policy journal went into considerable detail about the ways that White’s department has worked with local schools and parish officials, rather than in confrontation with them. Teachers at Lake Pontchartain Elementary, in St. John Parish, were among those interviewed.

It’s a positive that LFT has the intellectual honesty to approve of good things that happen under White’s watch, whatever disagreements exist on other issues. We believe that there is a great deal that can and should unite Louisiana officials in the realm of education reform.

While much of curriculum reform is below the radar, it appears to be a very solid positive for Louisiana under White’s leadership.