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|La. improving under Pastorek|
Louisiana's unions and school boards have taken aim at Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek.
They don't like his style, they don't like his proposals to limit local board meddling in school hiring decisions, they don't -- in the case of the school boards association -- even want to have coffee with him any more.
They're wrong. Meeting with Pastorek can be a difficult experience, as he isn't interested in just passing the time and exchanging pleasantries. He's far too busy, sometimes abrupt, and earnestly focused on making Louisiana schools work better for students.
Louisiana still isn't doing a good enough job at education. And there is no reason why unions, school boards or other education groups should not question or even oppose Pastorek initiatives.
Still, this "he ought to quit" and "we don't trust him" drumbeat from interested parties tells you more about politics and self-interest than about education, or Pastorek.
So, against the deeply political education establishment that doesn't like Pastorek, let's weigh two other factors, more objective considerations about how national experts view Louisiana's recent efforts in school reform.
Two groups have looked at the complex rules written into the federal stimulus law to govern distribution of $4.35 billion of "Race to the Top" funds -- money that states taking the lead in education reform can win in a national competition.
One group is the New Teacher Project, which produced a report analyzing the criteria for the Race to the Top grants.
Grant eligibility guidelines include a slew of factors, many of them technical in terms of generating and using performance data for schools, and some of them more obvious, such as improving teacher training. Many of these factors have been among those pushed during Pastorek's tenure at the head of the state Department of Education.
The New Teacher Project took a first look at the states. Two were ranked as extremely competitive for the grants. Louisiana is one of them, and Florida is another.
Another measure of Louisiana's standing among school reformers: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken note of how complex the Race to the Top criteria are, and how difficult it will be for states to apply for the funds by the end-of-year deadline. To help states with promising educational reforms in place, the foundation awarded grants of $250,000 each to 15 states to help with the application process.
Once again, Louisiana is one of the states tapped.
Both indicators point to Louisiana doing some things right. Not every success in schools is due to Pastorek, as he'll be among the first to admit; some of the school boards that vociferously opposed Pastorek's bills in the last session of the Legislature are posting some great improvements in LEAP test scores and other quality indicators.
In the good things happening in Louisiana education, there's a lot of credit to go around.
At the same time, Gov. Bobby Jindal had a sensible take on the spate of criticism. Jindal noted that not everyone is going to agree all the time.
He's right, and Pastorek ought to try to make disagreement into something that is handled less disagreeably.
But we don't see any case for replacing, or even muzzling, Paul Pastorek. His energy and commitment -- even his impatience -- are surely some of the good things happening in public education.
He should keep it up.
--The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
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