I was pleased to see this long interview / chat with Paul Pastorek, Lousiana’s Schools Chief on the Rick Hess blog. Pastorek says that RttT has been a great success but that many state and education leaders, let alone the Department of Education, may not understand just how much effort it takes to tackle reform. Pasterak should know. His state began work on these kind of reforms well before Obama came to office, and well before RttT was anything more than a gleam in the eyes of education reformers.

Here’s what he tells Hess about the reform effort currently, as spurred on by RttT:

He wonders, though, whether the Department of Education and too many states have been insufficiently attuned to the implementation challenges. He said, “I personally think implementing some of the components of these plans is going to be extremely challenging… There are states, like Louisiana, that have effectively implemented these reform strategies. But having done so, I can attest to the fact that it takes a lot of work to get there. And I think some may be underestimating the resources and energy that these kinds of initiatives require.”

Pastorek expressed reservations about the push for states to include as many districts as possible in their reform proposals: “I said this many times, in the [finalist] interview and publicly, that I didn’t think we could handle more districts than we were trying to include and yet achieve the objectives we were trying to achieve… Implementation at the scale the federal government has proposed, at ninety percent, which is implicitly what they’ve required, is going to be immensely difficult.”

While Louisiana’s proposal seems to have been dinged by reviewers for not including enough districts, Pastorek said, “We intentionally limited the scope of our effort in Louisiana because I did not want to be overly ambitious and end up with failure. At the end of the day, you can say what you want to say about our proposal–and a lot of people have been critical of our proposal for not being inclusive enough–but if you’re going to be this ambitious, you have to make choices. You’ve got to have focus. And you’ve got to make sure the state and the districts have the ability to do what’s needed.”

Can school systems reform? I think they can, and so does Pastorek, but I thought his last comments to Hess were insightful:

I think what they [DOE folks] care about is whether you can drive change in schooling all the way down into schools through policy. I think that we’ve seen that you can, but that it [comes down to] a question of focus and implementation.”

My thinking is that it’s not just about policy. Policy helps. Policy is like the runway for the running jump. But the more integral part here to education reform is the parents and the local communities that can get behind the action and implement. This may be what Pastorek is saying, but I don’t know exactly who he refers to when he mentions “implementation.” That ought to be the teachers, the unions (in some states), the administrators, and surely the parents. But I don’t know for sure.

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