Superintendent Paul Pastorek on Charters and Turning Around Low-Peforming Schools

In Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action 2009, I interview Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek about turning around low-performing schools, the role of charter schools, and the challenges and future plans for school improvement in Louisiana.

Here is a sample of what Pastorek had to say:

There was an article I recently read titled, “Try, Try Again.” I think it epitomizes our strategy. We’ll give a school to a charter operator. We’ll let them work it. If they fail, we’ll bring in another charter operator and if they fail, we’ll bring in another charter operator until they get it right. That strategy is appropriate when we try to restructure businesses, and we don’t always succeed in restructuring businesses. Likewise, when we try and restructure schools, we don’t always succeed, but I would rather give an organization outside the state an opportunity to be successful. If they’re not successful, we’ll take them out of business and bring somebody else in.

I think one of the interesting features of charter schools in New Orleans is that we’ve created an incubator for charter schools. And we’ve actually replicated that model and launched an incubator in Baton Rouge. This ensures that we aren’t putting all our eggs into the national charter operator basket.

We want to bring in small operators. We want to offer real opportunity for creativity and innovation, and so we’re trying to cultivate a charter landscape that involves a healthy mix of experienced charter providers as well as people who don’t have experience or a track record operating charters.

By the way, now that the state is in its second year of awarding charters in the Baton Rouge area, we’ll see an influx of more experienced charters come to the Baton Rouge area. We’re seeing some really high quality people express an interest in Baton Rouge—and they are coming with very creative ideas and options.

I’m very optimistic about our efforts around charters in the Recovery School District, because I don’t think the strategy of a state takeover, where we try and run schools using the traditional district command-and-control will work anywhere. And frankly, that approach doesn’t and can’t effectively deal with low achieving schools. So if we can avoid the command-and-control approach and utilize charters for our low-performing schools, I think we will achieve a better outcome.

The full interview is here.