John White Gets A Favorable Performance Report From BESE

You could see this in a number of ways, but the Louisiana Education Secretary received a grade of 3.2 on a four point scale from the 11-member state education board yesterday.

Louisiana’s top school board has given state Superintendent of Education John White a positive job evaluation, but no more job security than the month-to-month deal he’s had since the new board’s term began in January.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education reviewed White’s performance in a closed-door session Wednesday (Aug. 10). BESE President Jim Garvey said White’s evaluation was “favorable.”

Though no document was released, White said he was given a nearly 3.2 rating on a 4-point scale, what he described as “effective proficient,” a similar ranking to what he has received each of his four years on the job.

“My whole evaluation is contingent on the results that students and teachers are achieving, and by and large, they’re showing progress,” White said.

But he added the evaluation shows “we have some real challenges.”

“Those challenges mainly are, we’re not translating enough of our high school graduates into college graduates and secondly that our students with disabilities and English-language learners are not making progress at the same pace as the rest of the state,” White said.

One takeaway from White’s evaluation is that despite Gov. John Bel Edwards, a more or less sworn political enemy, having three appointments to the 11-person board he doesn’t have a majority to get rid of White and install someone friendlier to his teacher union pals. There is no majority for White to get a new contract, either, so he’s going to stick around on a month-to-month basis until a stalemate on the board is broken.

Which isn’t a particularly ripe situation for the institution of any major reform plans beyond what White has already instituted.

But that’s OK by BESE chairman Jim Garvey, who cautions patience.

Garvey acknowledged Louisiana remains ranked in the bottom tier of states on education performance, but he said the state has made significant strides and is going in the right direction, increasing student achievement at a pace that is faster than other states.

“Over the past 50, 60, 100 years, we have dug a deep hole. And we are working fast to get out of it,” Garvey said. “But it takes a while to get out of a deep hole.”

A number of educational rankings have come out of late and Louisiana’s public schools fared terribly in all of them – including a dead-last ranking by WalletHub, whose rankings of the states on a wide swath of metrics have come under criticism, but nevertheless reflected badly on White. In no rankings has Louisiana fared higher than 47th.

On the other hand, Louisiana has always had bottom-five placement in public school performance despite middle-of-the-pack per-student spending. That was true before White settled into the job and it’s true today.

White’s been bashed over and over again – by the anti-Common Core people, by the teacher unions and most recently by Republican State Representative Kevin Pearson of Slidell, who Monday called him a failure and demanded his resignation. Pearson’s attack might have been a bit premature, based as it was on the WalletHub release. White’s office responded to Pearson, and BESE has echoed his statements, that 4th grade improvements last year were tops in the nation, ACT scores have increased for three years in a row and the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.

And yet Louisiana is still among the worst performing states in America when it comes to public education.

Louisiana also has the highest percentage of its school-aged children in private and parochial schools in America. Those kids are thought to perform at a level closer to the national average, though there are no scientific numbers to prove such a contention.

The obvious answer, if the private school kids fare better than the public school kids, is to greatly increase school choice – which is one of White’s suggestions. But the state voucher program is being strangled by the current governor.

As a ground-level view of public education in Louisiana, our readers might find this first-person account of a parent’s ordeal surrounding the first day at a public school diverting. It’s a column by J.R. Ball of the Times-Picayune, whose daughter chose to attend Lee Magnet High School after having been a Catholic school student in elementary and middle school. And it reflects precisely the level of organizational incompetence everyone expects from public education.

John White can’t fix that. One wonders if anyone can.

The market could fix it, but at this point it’s clear the market won’t get a chance any time soon.

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