Reforming Education:
A Passion for Change

"To position the United States for the future, substantial investments are needed in research, infrastructure, and education. The most important of these is education." - The Competition that Really Matters, Center for American Progress

America is falling behind other countries in preparing children for jobs in key industries, early childhood education, and per capita number of college graduates, according to the study The Competition that Really Matters by the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation. Within a faltering national educational record, Louisiana’s education system ranks very low compared to other states. A March 2012 report by the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives stated that Louisiana ranks between 46th and 48th in the country in 4th and 8th grade English and math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a common student learning metric. However, in the 2012 edition of the annual Quality Counts assessment of American education and reform initiatives, the state showed a more positive trajectory in several important areas. Louisiana’s most recent ranking was 23rd nationally and a grade of C+, including a national 2nd place ranking for standards, assessment, and accountability.

Louisiana was ahead of the No Child Left Behind curve on accountability and assessment when state government under Governor Mike Foster began collecting and studying relevant K-12 education data in 1997. The foundation for new systems and reforms was laid early, including new transparency protocols that included public exposure of individual school performance. In 2003 under Governor Kathleen Blanco, the state responded to the dire situation facing many schools in the New Orleans area by creating the Recovery School District (RSD). The role of the RSD would be to take over and turn around failing schools across the state, work that gained prominence following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2007, Centenary alumna Rayne Martin ‘96 entered the fray of education reform in Louisiana, going to work for the RSD where she served in several roles, including Chief of Staff to the Superintendant. She grew up in the tiny Louisiana hamlet of Castor and attended a K-12 community school with roughly 200 students and a graduating class of just 17. Martin recognized her burning passion for change at a young age and flexed her activist muscle early by protesting middle-school worksheets she viewed as “symbolic of an entrenched culture of low expectations.”

“I was always okay with it for myself, but it really bothered me that my friends were getting robbed of the opportunities that we would talk about when we were 12 years old.”

She recounts an experience from her high school days as one of the reasons she is committed to reforming and improving public education. One of her best friends talked to the school’s guidance counselor about preparing for college and asked about taking the ACT. The guidance counselor told him that he was not college bound and insisted taking the exam would be a waste of the $25 test fee. When Martin found out, she stepped in and helped her friend register for the test. She is proud to say that her friend is now the only alumnus from her high school graduating class to have earned a graduate degree.

Martin’s passion quickly translated into action and accomplishment at the RSD. She was soon placed in charge of the state’s application for “Race to the Top,” a competitive federal grant program that encourages states to implement dramatic education reform measures. In response to that application, Louisiana was selected as a finalist. She was also the lead author on the Louisiana Education Reform Plan, a 200-page strategic plan for drastically improving student learning outcomes across the state.

In 2010, Martin became the Chief of Innovation for the Louisiana Department of Education where she managed a large staff and a budget of $60 million. Her involvement included a focus on building awareness around key reform issues and building both statewide and district-level capacity for new initiatives and standards. She helped write new parameters for performance evaluations of both teachers and principals, gathering input from over 10,000 Louisiana educators. Her work contributed to improvements in identifying and supporting excellent teachers, and Louisiana ranked 11th in the nation for “Teaching Profession” in the 2012 Quality Counts survey.

Earlier this year, Martin continued on her mission of improving education when she became the very first Executive Director of Stand for Children in Louisiana. Stand for Children is a national, nonprofit organization with the mission of ensuring that all children graduate from high school prepared for college. She works directly with parents, community groups, and policymakers to increase local demand for excellent public schools and drive policies to improve educational opportunities for every child.

In her remarks at the 2004 Centenary College President’s Convocation, Martin said “life is about serving others.”

“It was through my Centenary education that I learned how to learn, how to think for myself, how to lead a team, and how to intelligently articulate my views.” As a leader engaged in the challenging realm of education reform, she employs these qualities to help improve education and life opportunities for children both today and in the future.