Friday, January 29, 2010

The Wrong Future

Are Louisiana Schools Training Students for the Wrong Future?

We hear much today from the State Superintendent and particularly the High School Redesign Commission about making certain that our Louisiana graduates are “college and career ready”. The state plan for College and Career Readiness adopted by BESE in January, sets a goal of an 80% graduation rate by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. At the same time the plan also aims to increase the percent of students graduating by completing the LA Core 4 curriculum in high school from 58% to 72.5%. The Core 4 curriculum is aligned with entrance requirements for most 4 year colleges. So when the State Department says they want students to be college and career ready upon graduation they mean mostly ready for 4 year colleges. (See the paper on “Restoring Value to the High school Diploma by Dr’s Grubb and Oakes that points out that the phrase “College and Career Ready” really means primarily College prep). In Louisiana, we have seen the gradual erosion of technical and skills courses from the high school curriculum as graduation requirements have increased in the academic area. College prep courses in Math, English and foreign languages have pushed out courses in business skills, auto mechanics, electronics, healthcare professions, welding and construction skills.

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.

The effect of La’s Education system on dropouts: Governor Jindal pointed out recently that instead of directing high school graduates to 4 year colleges where the majority of such students never complete a 4 year degree, most students should attend Community and Technical Colleges. When school guidance counselors were asked about the result of requiring all high school students to remain for two years in the Core 4 curriculum, they overwhelmingly believed that this requirement would increase dropouts. The adopted goal of graduating 72% of public education students in the Core 4 curriculum may have two unintended consequences; (1) The dropout problem will continue or worsen (2) The true college prep students will find their prep courses are somewhat watered down to accommodate the majority of students who are not academically inclined.

The Study the Dept. of Education hopes no one will see: During the legislative battle over the Career Diploma, legislators asked the State Dept. of Education to produce a study on LA’s graduation rate, by following a cohort of students starting with the 7th grade. The results were shocking to say the least. (Click on The LA 7th grade Cohort Rate to see the full study). You won’t find this study anywhere on the Dept. web site, but it is available here! It showed that even if given 2 extra years to graduate, approximately 42% of Louisiana students fail to receive any type of diploma. Not even a GED! In addition, there has been no improvement in the true graduation rate in the past few years. Take a look at what is happening to African American males in our education system.

Is the LA education system selling a product 42% of students refuse to buy? Much of the success of America’s free enterprise system is built on the idea of offering customers a wide variety of choices of products. The people in Russia used to hate their system that churned out dull standardized products. The attraction of the great variety of products from America did as much as anything else to destroy socialism. Yet what we offer our customers in LA schools today is much like the standard dull products of socialism. Our student dropouts today complain that school is boring and irrelevant to their interests and ambitions. Is Core 4 really what 72% of our students want and need?

The Career Diploma may not realize its full potential. The authors of the Career Diploma law (Senator Kostelka and Representative Fannin) envisioned that this legislation would encourage public schools to offer alternative career pathways for the majority of Louisiana students who will not attend 4 year colleges. The idea was to entice more students to stay and complete high school with courses that prepared students for a rewarding career soon after high school. Unfortunately the course requirements and graduation testing adopted by BESE at the urging of the State Dept. and the HS Redesign Commission, may not be different enough and practical enough to convince the thousands of at risk students to complete high school. A student today without a high school degree is hardly eligible for any real future.

What’s your opinion on this critical issue? Would you please complete the poll at the bottom of the page and let me know if you think LA is on the right track? As an educator in the trenches your advice to the decision makers is vital. Thanks in advance for your participation.