Monday, May 16, 2011

Whither White?

Everybody now knows that newly minted Recovery School District head John White is Gov. Bobby Jindal's pick to replace Paul Pastorek as the state superintendent of education. But who is he, and does he have a realistic chance of becoming superintendent?

White is just 35 years old, and fresh from his last job as deputy chancellor for the New York City school system. His main duty there, according to blogger Mike Deshotels, was "to close down low performing schools and to convert as many schools as possible into charter schools. He was also working on a system to evaluate teachers using student test scores."

Prior to his New York experience, White taught for two years as a Teach for America recruit, and then went to work as the Teach for America executive director in Chicago, according to this New York Times article. Aside from his abbreviated teaching stint, White's academic credentials include certification from the Broad Superintendents Academy.

The Academy's Web site claims that it takes "executives who have experience successfully leading large organizations and a passion for public service" and, after 10 months of training on weekends, "places them in urban school districts to dramatically improve the quality of education for America’s students."

There is no indication that White ever led a large corporation. However, he does have a qualification that seems very important to the Jindal administration - he, along with the new executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the governor's education advisor, emerged from Teach for America.

That distinction does not impress a new coalition of education organizations, which includes the LFT.

As Monroe News-Star reporter Barbara Leader writes here, the coalition wants Jindal and BESE to follow state law, which says that when the state superintendent leaves, he is to be replaced by the deputy superintendent for the remainder of the term, unless it is longer than a year.

There is a deputy superintendent already in place, and there is therefore no need to hurry up and find an interim to fill the job until next January.

And if that's not barrier enough to the governor's wishes, it appears that enough BESE members have problems with White's credentials to block his appointment. This article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell reveals that four of the 11 BESE members would vote against confirming White, and since a two-thirds majority is required, it looks like his outlook is dim.

Not that any of that makes much difference if the governor really has his heart set on White as the new superintendent. Our whole form of government is set up to make Louisiana's governor the most powerful in the nation. There are many levers of power that Jindal can tweak to get his way.

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