Letter: Trust people closest to kids

Louisiana schools have made extraordinary progress in the last year. Graduation and literacy rates are up. Teachers are teaching to higher standards. Families have more choices than ever before.

Louisiana Believes, our state’s plan to ensure every child is on track to a college degree or a career, starts with two simple ideas:

First is that Louisiana’s children are just as smart and capable as any in America. They should be on a level playing field with peers across the country, and they should be denied no opportunity.

Second is that if you believe in children, you must also believe in the adults who know and love them. You must have faith in the power of parents and teachers to change lives.

This is why Louisiana’s plan for change gives decisionmaking power to the adults closest to the kids.

The decision to hire classroom teachers now belongs to principals, not bureaucrats or school boards. We have ended the top-down curriculum and state rules that tell teachers what and how to teach every day. And we have offered parents a choice of schools, no matter their income level.

Rather than prescribe answers from on high, Louisiana Believes calls on the adults closest to kids to make choices on kids’ behalf.

The state’s new educator effectiveness system, called Compass, represents a tremendous accomplishment for our state’s educators. Teachers set nearly 100,000 goals for their students this year. Administrators visited tens of thousands of classrooms to observe teachers and provide guidance.

As we look ahead to Compass’s second year; however, we should remember that our state has achieved progress not because of the brilliance of state programs but because of the commitment of the people closest to students. Compass must not become another box-checking process from the Baton Rouge bureaucracy. It should be a tool that helps educators make decisions for their students.

At next week’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting, I will suggest that we end prescriptive rules governing the length and number of classroom observations; principals should be in classrooms regularly, as a matter of habit, not because of a government rule. Just as important, I’ll share my opinion that next school year principals should make personnel evaluation decisions for themselves, using all relevant information, but not leaning on Baton Rouge to make the final call on an individual educator’s performance.

To be sure, empowerment requires accountability. Principals who give struggling teachers a wink and a smile should be called to account for their decisions. But we will not continue to make progress without trusting the people with whom we entrust our children every day.

Compass should be guided by that value, next school year and beyond.

John White

state superintendent of education

Baton Rouge