John White Softly Singing New Tune

Sep 27, 2016

State Education Superintendent John White, the oft-embattled head of Louisiana K-12 education, is walking a less controversial path these days.

“We cannot return to a time when K-12 education and the tools teachers use in the classroom are the subjects of daily political headlines,” White told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday.

White was brought in by former governor Bobby Jindal to lead the charge for massive education reforms. Many parts of the 2012 plan have since been ruled unconstitutional, and toward the end of Jindal’s term the two publically butted heads over Common Core.

Now White is dealing with Governor John Bel Edwards, who has said he’s no fan of the State Supe.

“The governor has been fair to me in his dealings,” White told the press at the luncheon. “He’s been very transparent with me, both interpersonally and in public, about his views on education.”

With a First Lady whose profession is teaching, perhaps that’s part of White’s new tune.

“I’m looking forward to bringing to BESE -- in October – a pathfinding policy which professionalizes teaching in Louisiana once and for all,” White said of the latest initiative. “Just as lawyers, doctors and architects, our teachers should receive a full-year residency in the classroom, so that teaching can be treated as a white-collar profession.”

It’s a plan the Louisiana Board of Regents is encouraging. But White came to work in education through an alternative path – Teach for America, which gives new college grads summer-school training in team teaching, then puts them in classrooms as solo teachers. And he’s not discounting that track, even as he pushes for the new residency plan.

“I think there need to be multiple paths into the profession,” he said, when asked about Teach for America.

And in 2012, White push for education reform including being the front man for legislative passage of VAM—value added metrics. That requires half a teacher’s evaluation to be based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. Teachers hate it, though White still defends it.

“It’s a quality-control mechanism. Has it gone too far? Perhaps.”

The new federal education law – ESSA, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” – is limiting state testing.

“The state must confine its testing to no more than 2-percent of the instructional minutes per year – period,” White explained. “And we are committed to doing that.”