Superintendent White Says Louisiana Believes

In his state of education address called “Louisiana Believes 2013 – 2014,” state superintendent of education John White acknowledged the “renaissance of public education in Jefferson Parish.”

White spoke to a large crowd gathered at Chateau Estates Elementary School. Before speaking about the state’s plan to improve education in the next year, he praised Chateau principal Colleen Winkler for the school’s impressive test scores and excellent teacher collaboration that led to those results.

In his address, White recognized the many and varied challenges that face public education in the state, including Louisiana’s rank in the nation; serving children with special needs; college and/or career readiness; graduation rates; and the number of students who currently attend schools that have received an “F” grade from the state.

The mission going forward, he said, is to tackle those challenges with a solid plan that “puts Louisiana’s children on a level playing field with every child in America.”

Approximately half of Louisiana’s children enter kindergarten without the ability to recognize the alphabet or count to 20. To improve kindergarten readiness, parishes are invited to apply to become part of a pilot network to identify every 3 – and 4-year old, measure their progress, and train teachers to work with pre-school children. Parishes selected for the pilot will be announced in April and implementation will occur this year. White expects to expand the program statewide in 2015.

Another issue White addressed was the move to common standards and common assessments. Nationally, Louisiana ranks at the bottom on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In two years, Louisiana students will take the same test as every other student in the country, allowing the state to compare its yearly results to other states.

“This will be a difficult transition,” White said. “It will be hard for our educators. It will be hard four our parents to grapple with this change. It’s going to be hard for our students who will be challenged by even harder material.”

In order to empower teachers to teach, a toolbox will be created and teachers will receive training from teacher leaders. This will be essential as teachers adapt to the changes in curriculum and evaluation.

White also discussed how we can provide a better education for students with special needs and how we can prepare all students for life after high school.

A special education blueprint will be released this summer to focus on students with special needs. This is critical, White said, because only 29 percent of students with special needs graduate from high school in Louisiana – the second lowest rate in the nation.

College graduation rates are also low in the state, with only 19 percent graduating from a four-year college and 15 percent graduating from a two-year college.

“More than half the jobs in our state require an education beyond high school,” said White. “We need graduates who are prepared for an increasingly demanding workforce.”

The plan is to restructure the current career diploma to ensure that it prepares students for careers.

According to White, Louisiana has 175,000 students across this state, but only 2,400 are in the career diploma program.

“We can up our graduation rate by invigorating the system,” he said. “We should expect that by the time students finish high school, they can have a workforce credential.”

Finally, White discussed the need to turn around the state’s failing schools. Nine percent of students in Louisiana attend a school that is rated F, a figure that White called unacceptable. “No child in our state should wake up every day and attend a school that is rated F.”

To help improve failing schools, the state will create the Louisiana Believes Fund, which will provide matching funds to districts willing to turn around or replace F schools. More information on the Louisiana Believes Fund will be released in March.

White conceded that none of his ideas are revolutionary or new, but they are needed to ensure that every child has a chance.

“We owe it to our kids and to their kids to forge a path ahead for all kids in Louisiana to realize their futures,” he said.