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State Superintendent talks education goals during stop in Shreveport-Bossier

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State Superintendent John White speaks at Centenary College in Shreveport last week. (Jennyne Pinter/Press-Tribune)

By Jennyne Pinter, newsroom@bossierpress.com

State Superintendent of Education John White spoke Thursday, March 14 at Centenary College in Shreveport as part of a speaker series presented by the Community Foundation of North Louisiana.

White’s presentation discussed the five topics his appointment has focused on, beginning with early childhood education. He said that while there is no substitution for loving parents who provide a stable home life, it is necessary to recognize the importance of education-centered childcare for young children.

“In today’s world,” White said, “Whoever is taking care of that youngster is probably going to work. There just aren’t that many places where there are two parents and one of them can afford to stay home. And if we’re going to dig kids out of the cycle of poverty, the first best thing we can do is help mom and dad get out of the cycle of poverty.”

White

White went on to explain that in order to break that cycle of poverty, parents need to be able to work, which in turn means that childcare needs to be more readily available.

“It can be a professional learning experience,” White explained and referenced Head Start as well as the incorporation of preschool programs into the public schools.

In order to achieve this throughout other childcare entities, he believes that there are three things which can make it possible: increasing pay for childcare teachers, growing the number of spots available in childcare services and moving these systems into local oversight rather than state direction.

White then moved into his second topic, saying, “The most commonsensical and yet the most elusive mystery in public education is: ‘Why does the average teacher have standards that tell them what a kid should be able to do, a curriculum that teaches them a bunch of other stuff, and a test that measures something that’s not even in the curriculum in the first place?’”

White proposed that teachers were overwhelmed by not knowing which standard they were actually being held to and were responsible for. 

Thirdly, White discussed the difficulties that new educators encounter when they are first entering the schools as teachers. He questioned the rationality of assigning someone completely inexperienced in the classroom with the same responsibilities and expectations as a seasoned professional. White noted that the final year of a teacher’s college education should be a classroom residency rather than more study related to the student’s major.

“My theory on this is that nobody should have to be a first-year teacher. Your first year as a teacher should be your second year working in a school.” 

Alternatives to higher education were then discussed. White said not enough attention is being paid to the future for students after they receive their diplomas. White stated that while 90 percent of Louisianans graduate high school or have a GED, only 20 percent obtain a four-year degree.

“We have set up a system that sells that vision (a university degree) as a singular vision of success,” White said, “When there are so many other paths to a good living in our state and in our country. We have to get away from the notion that the four-year university is the only and singular path to success because the reality is simply is much more complicated.” 

Finally, White urged equity in the school systems, noting the intertwining of social inequality with success academically is easily recognizable

“Our system is rife with inequity. Our system is patently unfair to poor people. Our system,  in spite of desegregation efforts, has remained segregated.”