highschool graduation 051519

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed comments on the announcement that, for the first time, Louisiana’s public high school graduation rate exceeds 80 percent — 81.4 percent. Behind Reed are, left, state Superintendent of Education John White and Iberville Parish Superintendent Arthur Joffrion Jr.

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Over the last 24 years, the state has had only three Superintendents of Education: Cecil Picard, Paul Pastorek, and John White. Now with White announcing that he is stepping down, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has a major decision to make about who his successor will be.

Across the country, education superintendents come and go, almost like revolving doors. That Louisiana has had only three superintendents in more than two decades is highly unusual. And the fact that their leadership has set Louisiana on a consistent path of reform and educational improvement is something we must strive to continue.

The areas where we have made bold changes are almost too many to mention. But they include strong school accountability, greater transparency for parents and taxpayers, major improvements in early education, continuing expansion of high-quality charter schools, higher academic standards, better teacher preparation, and a much stronger focus on equity to ensure that all children have opportunities to succeed.

More importantly, we have seen positive results from these policies. Test scores have shown long-term improvement even as we have increased student expectations. Louisiana’s growth in student performance over the last decade places us among the top ten states nationally. And we have more students graduating, more going to college, and more earning TOPS scholarships than ever before.

While we must admit that challenges remain, we cannot deny the progress that we have made. And we have to recognize that this has happened because we had a continuity of leadership in our state superintendents who not only helped chart a course for Louisiana, but were committed to staying the course even in the midst of political opposition that too often put power and money ahead of students and families.

There are those who would prefer to take us back to the old days when there was less accountability, fewer choices for parents, lower expectations for students, and the belief that some kids — just because of their circumstances in life — could not learn. In a world where education is the vital ticket to prosperity for our people and our state, we cannot allow that to happen.

Maintaining continuity in public policies is difficult. Politicians, administrations, and personnel change all too frequently. But Louisiana has enjoyed a rare period of continuity in education policy, it has paid off in significant dividends for our students, and we should strive to maintain the momentum we have achieved.

Barry Erwin

president, Council for a Better Louisiana

Baton Rouge

Our Views: Though relatively unknown, Louisiana's BESE members have made progress on key issues