Sunday, June 30, 2013

Education for the Wrong Future

On January 24, 2010 I posted an article on this blog with the headline: Are Louisiana Schools Training Students for the Wrong Future? That is the question some educators were asking 3 and a half years ago as the State Superintendent and BESE proposed to greatly increase the number of students graduating with a Core 4 diploma. The theory was that if Louisiana pressured more of its high school students to complete a true college prep curriculum, then Louisiana could become a leader in turning out more highly educated workers who would be prepared for the jobs of the future.

So how has the "college prep for all" push worked out for Louisiana? According to the Advocate story today, sure enough, we were training students for the wrong future! But it was not just educators who were concerned several years ago that Louisiana may be pushing our students into the wrong path. The following are two paragraphs copied directly from my post of over 3 years ago.

"Is this the curriculum most Louisiana students need? Is it practical and feasible for 72% of our public school students to graduate with a Core 4 curriculum? Does this new push really prepare more students for college? If they do graduate from college, will Louisiana have appropriate jobs available?

What are the job prospects for grads? The Louisiana Workforce Commission recently pointed out that more than half of Louisiana’s recent college graduates are forced to leave the state to find jobs appropriate to their education. At the same time it was found that Louisiana has a serious shortage of skilled labor. Dan Juneau of the La Assoc. of Business and Industry (LABI) announced recently that Louisiana must shift emphasis in education toward the two year Associate degrees and Industry Based Certification in order to supply the labor needs of La Industry. Nationally, approximately 27% of students attain a 4 year degree, yet since the recession, many 4 year graduates have been enrolling in Community Colleges for reeducation in skills oriented training."

Even with Dan Juneau of LABI proposing that Louisiana shift toward the two year Associate Degrees, LABI nevertheless became a major proponent of the college-prep for all curriculum for high school graduation. As this blog noted in a post last week, instead of increasing, Louisiana's 4 year Bachelor's degree graduates have decreased in the last few years. This is despite the fact that the great majority of our high school graduates enroll in 4 year colleges after graduation. The problem is, most of them drop out without getting a college degree of any kind. Many of our students are ending up saddled with crushing debts from college loans and no degree or job with which to pay them back. Superintendent White announced recently that Louisiana's 4 year college degree rate is now down to only 19%!

Concerning the DOE efforts to upgrade low performing schools, many of the charter schools in Louisiana's Recovery District claim to be preparing their students for college. But the latest statistics show that such schools have the lowest college attendance rates in the state.  This blog has warned before that these kids and their parents are being sold an empty promise.

According to today's Advocate article, Louisiana expects to have a huge construction boom in the next 2 or three years, particularly in the Baton Rouge and Lake Charles regions. And because of the college prep for all craze, our schools have prepared almost no students for the construction trades. If the present trend continues, Louisiana will have to import thousands of workers from other states and other countries in the next few years to supply the construction industry while our Louisiana high school graduates sit around unemployed. This is what I have called our college prep and jail prep system.

When I was promoting the career diploma, 4 years ago, I took a framing square and a carpenter's level with me to one of my meetings with local superintendents. I asked the question, "How many of our graduates today do you think know how to use these two basic tools of the construction industry?" The answer was "Very few."  It is ironic that State Superintendent Pastorek around the same time in speaking to a large group about the need to beef up our graduation requirements said that all students needed to learn Geometry concepts. He suggested that carpenters could use the Pythagorean Theoem to figure out the slope of rafters in a building. This is not true of course, but a carpenter can certainly use a framing square to find slope or to lay out the slope of rafters. But I bet Pastorek did not know that!

When you have education policy based only on ideology and not on sound education and job market principles, you end up with what we are now facing in Louisiana. A total mismatch between our job preparation of students and the actual job market.

When I surveyed guidance counselors 5 years ago to find out why they thought so many students were not completing high school, their most common answer right after the one about lack of positive parental involvement was a concern by many students that the high school curriculum was not relevant and did not prepare them for a job. The guidance counselors felt that our high schools needed to provide more vocational/technical courses for students who were not going to attend college. So what did our brilliant state education leaders do? They basically killed the career diploma right after it was passed by the legislature and went right ahead with the "college prep for all" curriculum.

Now with the implementation of the common core, I fear it will be more of the same.

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