Giving Compass' Take:

• Phyllis W. Jordan asks Louisiana's state superintendent of schools John White on what he has learned about education reform during his tenure.

• White has pursued ambitious education reforms in Louisiana. What can other places interested in sweeping reform learn from his experience? What hurdles did Louisiana encounter, how did they deal with them, and what can other states do to avoid or overcome these obstacles?

• To learn about difficulties facing rural schools, click here.

In his seven years as Louisiana’s state superintendent of schools, John White has introduced new academic standards, new curricula and, now, new ways to measure student success. It’s an ambitious attempt to bring school reform to the classroom, and a campaign fraught with challenges. FutureEd talked to White about the work and the lessons he’s learned about scaling instructional reform, finding the right balance between state and local control, and the value of building standardized reading tests based on what students have studied in English, social studies and other subjects.

How have you scaled new standards and stronger instruction statewide? That’s a tough task.

We have effected important changes in the standards across subject areas—in the way teachers are prepared, in the materials they teach, and in the way they measure student learning. But change in the daily habits, strategies, and approaches—the methods—of thousands and thousands of teachers, there are a lot of forces influencing those methods. Even now, even with strong curriculum and regular preparation supporting the curriculum, for example, we see some old instructional habits hanging out. Implementation can be messy, especially across the scale and fragmentation of an entire state. What’s important is to have a way of learning where the instructional potholes are and to address them.

What advice would you give at this juncture to other states who want to ratchet up their curriculum and instructional systems?

I say all of this acknowledging that Louisiana has a long ways to go, in many respects, and has much to learn from others. But the first advice I would give is that you have to take on what is important in the classroom. And as I said earlier, our take has been that you can talk all you want about assessments and the accountability ratings systems, but it really means quite little unless it is undergirded by strong standards, strong curriculum, strong systems of preparation, strong systems of ongoing professional learning.

To a certain extent, teachers are hearing conflicting messages. They’re prepared on one system. They are given curricula on another system. Their formative assessments speak another language. And their ongoing professional development providers speak something wholly different. Of course, that’s going to be very frustrating. So my advice is to understand the multiple voices that are speaking to teachers. And to the degree that they’re contradictory and counterproductive, try to reconcile them.

Read the full interview about education reform by Phyllis W. Jordan at Education Next.