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From the Editor: 2020 Census will count for something in St. Mary

You may remember from previous stories about Census Bureau estimates that the population of St. Mary Parish shrank by nearly 9% in the recently ended decade. Berwick didn’t have the biggest estimated loss, 9.6%, but it may have been affected most because the town is near the population threshold for becoming a city.
Berwick Mayor Duval Arthur pointed to a different estimate, an LSU product based on a different method, that showed an increase.
Theoretically, at least, this is the year we find out who’s right. And you can take part in that process.
You can, almost literally, make people count.
You can learn more 8 a.m.-noon Jan. 31 at the New Patterson Community Center, formerly Patterson Junior High, 1101 Church St.
It’s a Census Bureau recruiting event for people who may be interested in working on the 2020 Census, the national roll call required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution.
Bonnie Sherman, who is directing the Census effort in St. Mary Parish, recently told the Patterson City Council that 500 people will be employed in the count locally.
“We are HIRING,” says the flyer. “Join our team.”
The event will also offer general information on the Census.
Officials have made a special effort this time around to encourage people to take part in the Census, both in responding to the forms that get mailed and to visits by Census keepers.
Some areas of St. Mary have been identified as especially prone to undercounting because of the income status and ethnicity of their residents.
An undercount could have implications for places like Berwick. But the impact would be much broader.
I’m awaiting a copy of “The Fifth Risk” by New Orleans native Michael Lewis, who has also written books-turned-movies such as “Moneyball,” about the way advanced statistics turned misfits into a playoff baseball team; “Blind Side,” about a homeless kid who became a pro football player; and “The Big Short,” about the way Wall Street lured needy people into bogus mortgages to be packaged and sold to unsuspecting investors.
Those books were about the way markets sometimes underestimate the value of people because they’re poor or look funny or whatever. “The Fifth Risk” talks about the real value of the vast pile of statistics gathered by the federal government.
The Census brings those two ideas together.
We often hear about the thousands of dollars in federal aid that local governments lose when a single person gets missed by the Census. But getting the numbers right is important when it comes to deciding which council or congressional district we live in, how many of our people are aged and require home visits or residential care, how many young people our schools must be prepared to educate and how, how many of our people are of working age and how have jobs, and on and on.
Staffer Jaclyn Breaux reported last week on the reaction by some St. Mary teachers to the news that state Superintendent John White is leaving that job. To summarize: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
White was at least the third Louisiana superintendent whose primary job was to put in place and run the system for improving the quality of education in our public schools.
The first, in this era anyway, was Cecil Picard, who died of ALS in 2007 and has become a sort of patron saint of Louisiana education. An elementary school in Maurice and the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development have been named for him. Significantly, Picard was a former legislator who had experience in consensus-building and compromise.
Later came Paul Pastorek, a sometimes prickly successor given to saying things like, “Aren’t you tired of hearing teachers blame parents for poor performance in schools?”
Maybe. Maybe it’s not the smartest thing to put it just that way.
Then came White. He was young, 36 at the time of his appointment, and looked younger. His teaching experience was on the administrative side, not the classroom. He’d directed Teach for America and led the all-charter Recovery School District in New Orleans, the wisdom of which is itself a matter of controversy.
Through White’s eight years as superintendent, the importance of public education improvements only grew. So did the feeling that our testing regime is just another numbers game, that we’re testing when we should be schooling.
It’s odd that in his time of bitterly partisan politics, education reform is a rare subject on which conservatives and liberals find common ground. And yet education reform is as divisive as any issue up for public debate.
For conservatives, the keys seem to be global competitiveness and school choice. For liberals, the most important goal is to reduce the achievement gaps between black and white and between low-income students and those from more affluent homes.
A consensus emerged, both at the state level and in federal initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, that we’ll rely heavily on standardized tests, rising standards, and some public funding for charters or even private school vouchers as a way to innovate. But it’s a fragile consensus.
White was sometimes criticized because he wasn’t a classroom teacher. Maybe the real shortcoming is that he wasn’t a politician, in the best sense of the word. The real lack here has been a leader who could build support among teachers and parents for a way to reach a desired goal, whatever that may be.
Bill Decker is managing editor of The Daily Review.


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