White was on hand at the Lafayette Parish School Board Wednesday to discuss the plan and hear from board members, something he’s done and will continue to do for school boards across the state as Louisiana moves forward with the new measures to increase student achievement.
The state education superintendent told board members that Louisiana is moving toward “fundamentally different” standards for students and educators alike, noting that the state’s shift to Common Core Standards means Louisiana’s public education system will be ranked among the 46 other states making the same transition to Common Core.
“It’s not going to be, ‘How did Lafayette do? Or how did Vermilion do? It’s going to be how did Oklahoma do? How did Massachusetts do?” White explained. “We’ve got two years to make the shift to, ‘How did Louisiana do?’ with exactly the same test, exactly the same bar as the 46 other states implementing these standards.”
White also touted the state’s new course choice program, which allows businesses, colleges and other online educators to offer courses outside of the traditional school setting, as a way “open up avenues for industry itself to come in and begin the training of future employees — for high school credit — trained by the people who best know what the workforce needs are.”
Taking a minute to dispel what he called myths coming out of Act 1 and the legislative session, which among other measures makes it harder for teachers to earn tenure, White said contrary to rumor, “it does nothing to reduce teachers’ salaries or retirement.”
“Current teachers who have tenure are not affected,” White said. “No one loses their tenure status. Teachers with ineffective ratings lose their tenure, but they have the opportunity to get it back. And no teacher loses their job after one ineffective rating.”
As expected, board members had questions about the state’s new voucher program that funnels public school dollars to private schools who accept low-income students from failing public schools. The voucher program has been among the most controversial pillars of Jindal’s education reform.
Board member Mark Babineaux questioned whether voucher schools will have to undergo the same teacher evaluation system as public schools, to which White said no. White explained that all public school students attending voucher schools will be required to take the same standardized tests administered in public schools, and voucher schools with 40 or more students will earn a performance score based mostly on test scores and a few other factors, much like public schools. If the private school’s performance score falls below the outlined benchmark, the school will not be allowed to accept more voucher students.
“Traditional schools have to be at an F for four years before going into Recovery School District. Private schools that aren’t acceptable for one year don’t get to accept new kids into the program,” White explained. “Same bar, swifter accountability.”
But voucher schools accepting fewer than 40 students will not face the same consequences. As widely reported when White announced the voucher accountability plan in July, private schools with less than 40 voucher students — roughly 75 percent of the schools on the voucher list — will only have to publish their voucher students’ standardized test scores. There are no automatic repercussions for private schools with poor test scores if they take in fewer than 40 students.
The state super offered repeated praise to Lafayette Parish for its own district turnaround plan as crafted under the direction of Superintendent Pat Cooper.
“I can’t think of anything more exciting,” he said.