Video: Education in America Today with Louisiana Superintendent John White

Ahead of his on-Grounds conversation with the Curry School community, Louisiana State Superintendent John White discusses the state of American education with Curry School Dean Bob Pianta.

On Friday, October 11, the Curry School welcomed special guest John White – a UVA alumnus and Louisiana's State Superintendent of Education since 2012 – for a conversation with the Curry School community about the state of American education today. Before the event, we sat down with White and Curry School Dean Bob Pianta for a live discussion on the evolution of education policy and why the connection between research, training, and practice is so vital for the future of American education.

Read a few highlights or watch the full conversation below.

On Merging Research and Practice

Pianta: "We've talked for a long time about how our work – whether that’s the preparation of professionals or the research that we do – is out in the field. The relevance of what we do, the impact of what we do, the quality of what we do depends entirely on the ways in which we can engage with partners in the field."

White: "I think under Bob’s leadership, Curry has really been a national leader in insisting that colleges of education be present in the daily lives of schools, and that schools be present in the daily lives of colleges of education. There’s no way that we’ll have, not just a prepared teaching force, but success in all realms of our education system if those two systems aren’t extricably linked. ...  I do think that as a country we’ve lost the connection. I want to be here and within academic institutions to be a voice insisting that change."

On the Accountability Era

Pianta: "From my vantage point, the debate 25 years ago was whether public education could actually change in any systematic way. ... I think what standards-based accountability as proven to us is that public education can change. It’s a system that’s moveable and malleable – it’s not easy, but it has been shaped. The argument now about, should it be shaped in this direction or that direction, that’s a good argument to have. This is an iterative process."

White: "If I have a concern today, it’s actually less about whatever problems exist with standards-based reform, it’s more about the problems in our politics that are not allowing us to keep pace with the changes of the world and moving our education system even more forward. I couldn’t point to a single really substantive bipartisan policy idea that’s been advanced in the past 3-4 years on a national level in American education, and that’s a real problem."

On the Achievement Gap

Pianta: "What’s very interesting – that people do not recognize, and that schools should get tremendous credit for – is that there’s a sizable gap between children growing up in poverty and non-poor kids when they enter school. That gap actually closes somewhat – it doesn’t close entirely, but it closes somewhat over the course of time. So public schools are providing all kinds of resources that are helping most children, even those who are coming to school not performing as well, make progress at the same pace that their peers are."

White: "The achievement gap is a function of what happens outside of school and what happens in school, and I think we shouldn’t position schools as solving the achievement gap as much as we should position them as being a serious driver of positive contributions toward it."

On Hopes for the Future

Pianta: "I think the challenge for us is figuring out what are the aspects of education that are best supported by technology, and what are the aspects of those experiences in learning that are best supported by teachers facilitating interactions in teams and more complicated problem-solving and projects. I don’t know that we know that answer right now. I’m hoping in 10 or 20 years that we’ve figured that out a little bit, so we can efficiently and effectively harness the value of technology, and efficiently and effectively harness the value of teachers that are in these classrooms."

White: "I hope that more kids are spending more time out of the traditional classroom and in, say, the workplace. I think we’ve confined our kids unnecessarily to the school as the sole venue in which they’re receiving formal education. I’d like to see them more on college campuses, working more at apprentice-style environments or internships, getting a more worldly view as part of their transition out of school. On the other hand, I’d also like to see classrooms, in many ways, look a little more reflective of the classical model. ... I'd like to see more deep discussion."