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Somewhere in Louisiana....There is a Vision of a World Class Education - Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Listen Up!
 
Somewhere in Louisiana There is a Vision of a World Class Education
 
Leaders from the National School Boards Association 11-state Southern Region came together for a Leadership Symposium held in New Orleans this week. They came long distances to hear a presentation of what that vision might be.
 
Louisiana’s State Superintendent of Education, Paul Pastorek, was provided an opportunity to make the case that Louisiana is making good progress toward achieving such a vision. In his ninety-minute time slot allotment there was an ample opportunity to do so.
 
He might have said that he is fortunate in following a giant among leaders who provided his state with a set of standards that are judged among the top five in America.
 
He might have said that that Louisiana leader provided him with a curriculum and grade level expectations that stand among the top five in America.
 
He might have boasted that his predecessor, with significant leadership from Louisiana’s school boards, left him with one of the best pre-K programs in the world in LA4.
 
He might have noted that following in that great leader’s footsteps he has seen to the development of one of the nation’s best student information systems and that this system is in the process of emerging an outstanding Dropout Early Warning system.
 
He might have told his audience that Louisiana teachers are now being provided with incentives and opportunities for professional development that are matched by few others, and that the growth in national accreditation, by Louisiana’s teachers, is among the most rapid in America.
 
He might have suggested that these building blocks for a world class education are beginning to produce results. The first cohorts of LA4, for instance, are now achieving a full year and a half better than their counterparts who did not have the advantage of LA4.
 
He might have noted, in passing, that the U.S. Department of Education recently revealed that Louisiana’s English Language Limited program produced, in 2005-06, the only state results that met Adequate Yearly Progress in Mathematics in all of the U.S.A.
 
He might have gone further and suggested that new attitudes toward professional development of school leaders, principals and school board members are being cultivated in preparation for the final leap toward world class.
 
He might have even admitted that the testing regime designed for determining student AYP has been recognized as being sufficiently flawed as to require tweaking. That, perhaps, is why after years the U.S. DOE has yet to fully approve our accountability program.
 
He might have observed that even laboring under a flawed testing program significantly fewer than ten percent of our schools are in danger of being found unsatisfactory.
 
He might have suggested that even though Louisiana’s students boast one of the three largest portions of at-risk students in America, those students from the most poverty stricken families are performing at the national average for their cohorts in the NAEP testing program.
 
He might have provided an aside that said that white students who come from families with greater financial resources are not being overlooked. That they too perform at the national average for their cohorts on the NAEP tests.
 
He might have posited that the results of all these achievements might be even better if the flawed testing regime were being used to measure progress of students. That was the design criteria for the test. It is not the ideal for determining school, district or state performance. It does not take into account the fact that Louisiana’s student pool is the least wealthy in America; nor that the student health condition is at the bottom of the list among all American student pools. It does not take into account that seventeen percent of Louisiana’s student population attends tuition-paying private schools and that situation is larger by ten percentage points than any other state in America. No doubt these students are among the most advantaged and best performing students in the pool.
 
Nowhere did he mention that the schools taken over, in New Orleans by the state Recovery School District, are slowly making progress toward AYP because the funds provided are sufficient to install rooms full of technology, longer days of teaching, higher paid teachers, and more days of operation than are allowed in more poorly funded traditional schools elsewhere in Louisiana.
 
Nowhere did he mention that these facts are among the strongest warnings that students are at-risk of subpar student achievement, and that Louisiana is busy at strengthening child care programs from pre-natal forward.
 
Unquestionably Paul Pastorek is an outstanding leader.
 
Without doubt he is passionate in his desire to see to it that all students regardless of health condition or family poverty level is provided with the opportunity to be all that he can be.
 
No doubt the Superintendent is doggedly pursuing rigorous goals that seek the best opportunities for Louisiana’s children.
 
However, he availed his opportunity to present such achievements and such goals to suggest that school boards might have outlived their usefulness. He suggested, instead, that perhaps charter schools and school-based leadership may be the wave of the future.
 
He apparently believes that an authoritarian central control, coupled with singular local control of each school will yield better results for students.
 
Undoubtedly his observations are grounded in flaws found in some school board operations. But to paint all local school boards with the same broad brush is to coat change with distasteful coloration and to stray from actuality.
 
To suggest that public schools should be operated in the same manner as businesses is to overlook a central fact that public schools cannot choose their markets. The constitution provides that the state give all students equal opportunities for an adequate education.
 
The superintendent might well have observed that he has created, for the first time, an outreach to local government, district superintendents and school board presidents.
 
He might have added that he is disappointed that these public officials are slow to embrace the opportunity to impact the direction of change necessitated by the development of a world class education. However, he should not conclude, in these early transformative days, that such an effort will not ultimately bear fruit.
 
It is certain that no education stakeholder should be willing to accept less than the best we can do. These students look to us. We are, as Coach Boone told his audience in New Orleans, their future.
 
Certainly none of the remaining obstacles to world class education should be advanced as an excuse for less than sterling performance of our public school system.
 
However, in the recesses of every stakeholder mind is the realization that patience is a virtue; that Louisiana’s youth are a product of generations with low expectations; and that it will take time to build momentum for change.
 
Working together was the topic of a keynote address at the NSBA Southern Regional Conference in New Orleans. The twin coaches of the Alexandria Titans described how their 1971 National Champion football team achieved their goals and became subject for a blockbuster motion picture.
 
Creating dissention among Louisiana stakeholders in public education, and continuing to tarnish the image of the developing world class program offers little evidence that success will be forthcoming.
 
During World War 2 Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson of the famed Carlson Raiders, a U.S. Marine Corps unit, adapted a Chinese term: gung ho has signified the spirit of working together, with enthusiasm and dedication to reach a common goal.
 
If not now, then when should Louisiana strive to come together with a positive program that will harness all stakeholders energies?

 

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