Taking school reformers to task: Louisiana Chief John White on fixing K–12 reform
About This Event



Listen to Audio

Download Audio as MP3
Event Summary

For the past two decades, US school reformers operated outside of the education establishment. Today, however, many ideas surrounding accountability, teacher evaluation, and school choice have become commonplace, and this brings new challenges and opportunities. Although he is a self-proclaimed school reformer, John White, Louisiana's hard-charging superintendent for education, raised a yellow caution flag for his reform compatriots in a keynote address at AEI on Tuesday.

White cautioned: "We reformers, no different from anyone else with authority, risk becoming part of the establishment we resist: well-funded, doctrinaire, and more focused on policy than action." As such, White argued, the school reform movement needs to shift gears to focus on sustaining early successes, faithfully implementing new legislation, and broadening appeal to include rural and middle class parents.

White proposed three steps to achieving these goals: prioritizing national responsibility to all students over self-righteous sympathy primarily for low-income, urban students; refreshing the reform narrative to include discussions about how to help students in the middle class or rural communities; and creating a viable strategy for implementing new ideas.  He concluded that doing so will help ensure that today's reformers "do not fall victim to the hubris of past reformers, who failed to see that legacies are made through great people and great organizations rather than great policies and programs."
--Daniel Lautzenheiser

Event Description

American K–12 schooling is awash in a sea of good intentions and ambitious reforms.  In recent years, well-intentioned advocates have enacted numerous reforms on issues surrounding teacher quality, charter schooling, and digital learning. Will these reforms deliver on their promise and endure for generations to come, or will they become short-lived fads that at best underdeliver and at worst perpetuate the very problems they intended to solve?

At this event, Louisiana’s influential state chief, John White, will argue that in order to maintain their positive influence on the American education system, today's reformers must be cautious not to create a status quo of their own. He will offer thoughts from the field on how education reformers can ensure that their efforts drive lasting change.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page and join the conversation on Twitter with #FixingK12. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


12:30 PM
Registration and Lunch

1:00 PM
Opening Remarks:
Frederick M. Hess, AEI

1:05 PM
John White, Louisiana State Superintendent

1:45 PM
Audience Question-and-Answer Session

2:15 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at [email protected], 202.862.5843.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at AEI. An educator, political scientist, and author, Hess studies a range of K–12 and higher education issues. He pens the Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up and has authored influential books on education including “Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, 2013), “The Same Thing Over and Over” (Harvard University Press, 2010), “Education Unbound” (ASCD, 2010), “Common Sense School Reform” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), “Revolution at the Margins” (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), and “Spinning Wheels” (Brookings Institution Press, 1998). He has edited widely cited volumes on education philanthropy, urban school reform, how to stretch the school dollar, education entrepreneurship, what we have learned about the federal role in education reform, and No Child Left Behind. He also serves as executive editor of Education Next; as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program; on the Review Board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education; and on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 4.0 Schools, and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high-school social studies teacher, Hess has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University.

John White is state superintendent of education for Louisiana. He began his career in education as an English teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, NJ. He then went to work for Teach for America (TFA) in New Jersey, where he coached and mentored new TFA recruits before becoming executive director of TFA–Chicago two years later. Under White's leadership, TFA–Chicago doubled the number of teachers recruited to work in South Side and West Side schools, and the organization established one of the most innovative principal training programs in the country, matching successful TFA teachers with Harvard University and the Chicago Public School System for training as principals. In 2006, White was asked by New York City Chancellor Joel Klein to join the senior leadership team of the largest school district in the country. There, White served as deputy chancellor of talent, labor, and innovation, leading negotiations for the city with the United Federation of Teachers, implementing a citywide teacher effectiveness system and negotiating New York State's bid for Race to the Top. Additionally, as deputy chancellor, White launched and led the Innovation Zone, a network of 100 21st-century schools that use technology to personalize student learning. Before being named deputy chancellor, White served as chief executive officer for New York City's Portfolio Division, leading the city's efforts to turn around more than 100 failing schools and start 500 new charter and district schools. White became superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) in May 2011, where he launched “12 commitments to the city of New Orleans.” The district made good on each commitment, overhauling the remaining failing schools in the RSD, establishing a unified enrollment system, and expanding the New Orleans school construction program to ensure that every school building in Orleans Parish would be rebuilt or renovated. He was appointed state superintendent of education for Louisiana in January 2012. White is a 2010 member of the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI Participants


Frederick M.
AEI on Facebook