The polarizing Paul Pastorek, for now state superintendent of education in Louisiana, shortly will leave the building. He also will leave the state’s elementary and secondary education system better off and with promise that necessary reforms may continue under his successor.
Many in the system, frankly, hated Pastorek’s guts. That’s because he broke the mold – a mold of professional educrats and politicians who for decades through their fealty to mediocrity, trendiness, politics, patronage, and good-old-boy/girl networks consistently delivered an educational product over which any self-aware Louisianan should have blanched with shame. Year after year the state scraped the bottom of the educational barrel while these figures kept finding every excuse imaginable for their poor performance, how anything but the most incremental change was doomed to failure, they claimed, when they themselves spectacularly and persistently failed students, families, and taxpayers.
And they caterwauled as Pastorek kept the momentum going with reform efforts first implemented a decade before his arrival – although he had played an important role in them as a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education – and continued to expand on them, backed most of his tenure by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Charter schools, a proven success in the state, went from their infancy to growing success and importance. Dabbling in voucher-like scholarships, merit pay followed, recently adding teacher evaluation based more of actual performance, and the pedal never was taken off the gas in raising standards and expectations.
Meanwhile, many in the establishment howled when they found challenge to their past policies of allowing teachers without mastery in the subject areas in which they taught (regardless of whether they were “certified” in it), tolerating school bureaucracies that spewed functional illiterates into bleak futures, letting seniority and who someone knew be the primary factors in staffing, looking the other way as discipline problems escalated, cooperating with unions whose sole function is to transfer as many taxpayer dollars to their members for as little work by their membership as possible, and resisting every form of accountability based upon what students actually knew and could do with that knowledge. Under Pastorek’s leadership, some of these pathologies began reversing, while at best limited progress was made with others. But, as a whole, as noted by generally rising test scores and fewer troubled schools, things improved.
Perhaps Pastorek’s single-mindedness and irascibility were necessary to buck this deadweight, which had other negatives. He arrogantly asked for – and got – a salary worth more than the job her performed, and maybe the promise of an even bigger one finally encouraged him to leave. But with all of the resistance he had to face and the negativity that came with this job from the establishment and its entrenched interests, it almost was worth it.
Hopefully we can get someone in the office that is committed to changing the state of education. Pastorek had good ideas and we need to follow through with them. One idea I really liked was putting more power back in the hands of the principals and taking it away from the school board when it comes to personnel.
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