School chief defends standards in capital
State Superintendent of Education John White reiterated his support Tuesday for tougher academic standards and blasted what he labeled as a static public school establishment.
In a speech in Washington, D.C., White said students in Louisiana have long ranked between 45th and 49th.
He said the state is “struggling with the idea that measuring our kids on a common bar with those across the country is somehow commensurate with an outside takeover of public education.”
White did not specifically mention Common Core, which includes yearly benchmarks public school students will be expected to meet.
His comment referred to a sudden controversy over the guidelines, which have been adopted by Louisiana and 44 other states.
White and other backers say the standards will improve student achievement and allow state-to-state comparisons on how students fare in the classroom.
Critics contend the new guidelines will pave the way for a federal curriculum.
About 200 Common Core opponents rallied Saturday outside of the building that houses the state Department of Education.
In addition, the issue has sparked heated meetings in St. Tammany and Livingston parishes amid questions and concerns by parents, teachers and others.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed for White’s selection as superintendent, offered comments last week that added fuel to the controversy.
Jindal said he is concerned about a “federalized curriculum” but also said he favors rigor and high academic standards, sparking questions on exactly where the governor stands on the issue.
Curriculum, testing and other changes that go with the overhaul have been moving into public schools since 2010.
They take full effect during the 2014-15 school year.
White made his comments during a 75-minute speech and question and answer session at the American Enterprise Institute.
The group calls itself an advocate of expanded liberties, more individual opportunity and a strengthened free enterprise system.
White alluded to the Common Core flap in a part of his comments devoted to the nation’s polarized political climate.
He said that, among both the political left and right, “an aggressive form of populism has asserted itself in the rhetoric of our day.”
White, who called himself an education reformer, devoted most of his comments to criticism of what he called the public education establishment and need for change advocates to get re-energized.
He criticized elected local school boards nationally, most of which he said “aren’t focused on real issues of student achievement.”
White also chided federal education aid offices, “our impenetrable schools of education” and federal paperwork rules.
“These establishment bureaucracies run our education system,” he said. “But we have little to say about them.”
White said the public school establishment “has existed to make rules, to hedge against any chance of risk. In a word, the establishment has existed to say no to the people on the ground.”
He said most central school district offices are “professional fiefdoms rather than managed organizations” and that the most crippling condition in public education “is not incompetence but learned passivity.”
White said the public school reform movement needs to be refreshed.
He said that, in Louisiana, 81 percent of students end their schooling without a four-year college degree, roughly half of children enter kindergarten unable to count to 20 and only 29 percent of special education students graduate on time.
“Who’s fighting the establishment authority?” he asked, a reference to what he called the need for renewed efforts to tackle those challenges.