Staying the Course in Public Education

Something rather remarkable has happened in public education in Louisiana over the last 24 years. During that time, the state has had only three Superintendents of Education: Cecil Picard, Paul Pastorek, and John White.  Now with Superintendent White announcing that he is stepping down, BESE has a major decision to make about who his successor will be.

Across the country, education superintendents come ago, 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.

In Louisiana, we seldom seem to think of ourselves as national leaders in education policy, but if you talk to knowledgeable people in other parts of the country, you learn very quickly that we are. 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. There are more career and technical education opportunities and more chances for students to earn college credit while still in high school. 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.

Certainly, we made adjustments along the way, but we didn’t tear down the good policies that came before, we built on them. It is critical that as BESE considers a new superintendent for this new decade, that we maintain that same resolve.

To be sure, there are those out there who do not want this to happen. 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 circumstance – could not learn. In a world where education is the vital ticket to prosperity for our people and our state as a whole, 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.

That’s why we applaud BESE for the consistency in direction it has shown over the last 20 years. In so many ways it has put the needs of our children above the temptations of politics. In choosing a new superintendent we fully expect them to do that again, and our state, and its future, will be all the better because of that.

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