Saturday, May 28, 2016

Excellent reporting on education legislation

Ganey Arsement has once again done a great job of summarizing the latest actions of the legislature on education issues. I highly recommend the Educate Louisiana blog to my readers!

The small amount of progress made recently in correcting some of the major mistakes made during the Jindal administration in "deforming" education demonstrate how important it is that educators band together through their professional unions (LAE, LFT, and LAP) to insist that the voice of professional educators be heard.

The runaway destructive attacks on our public schools will only be corrected by a concerted effort by educators and public school parents.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Long Awaited Career Opportunities Being Expanded

State Superintendent John White deserves credit for working hard recently at expanding opportunities for our upcoming high school graduates. This story in highlights White's recent push to invigorate the career diploma program in Louisiana and New Orleans in particular. White understands that the first step in making needed change is to admit that we have a problem. His announcement in New Orleans that most students there are not even close to being prepared for the job market is that important first step. Yes, New Orleans faces a crises in workforce readiness, and many of the K-12 schools there have been going in the opposite direction with little success for the last 10 years.

White came to that understanding over two years ago when he announced the launch of the Jump Start program. Jump Start includes the nuts and bolts that were needed to build a viable and effective career education program in Louisiana.

Take a look at this article in Bloomberg News that highlights how Germany has developed options in their education system that appeal to the interests of over 50% of its students while supplying Germany's economy with the most highly skilled workers in the world.

When the Career Diploma law was passed in Louisiana in the 2009 legislative session, Louisiana was right in the middle of promoting a college prep-for-all initiative. I want to give special credit to then Representative Jim Fannin and State Senator Bob Kostelka for being ahead of their time in recognizing the need for a modern career training program in our schools that would prepare the majority of our students who don't want or need a 4 year degree.

The state superintendent at that time, Paul Pastorek did not want anything to do with Career education. He considered vocational careers to be second class, low expectation goals not worth pursuing for our Louisiana students. Pastorek had been pushing for more and more students to take an option that BESE had recently adopted for high school graduation called the Core 4 curriculum. The Core 4 had been developed partially in response to Louisiana Board of Regents recommendations for the kind of high school curriculum that would prepare a student to enter our 4 year colleges without the need for remediation. Sound familiar? Sure, that's the same argument now being used for the Common Core State Standards. What Pastorek did not know and what John White did not know initially is that college prep-for-all does not work. Sure you want to challenge all students with high expectations, but not all high expectations involve a 4 year college degree. Some of the best high expectations for many of our young people include the development of workplace skills that are more effectively focused in the vocational technical or service categories than in higher education. That's what our employers are looking for in most employees today, of course along with a minority of workers that do need 4 year degrees.

Now the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and LABI, some of the biggest advocates of college-prep-for-all, just recently decided they want to do something about the shortage of skilled labor as the region gears up for major expansions of the chemical industries.  But the problem is these groups have still not figured out that the Common Core curriculum is not suited to career options other than those that require 4 year degrees. There is also no evidence whatsoever that the CCSS will prepare students for college. Our only salvation for the true college prep students in Louisiana is that Advanced Placement courses are now taking the place of the watered down courses that used to be our college prep curriculum. Superintendent White has also been instrumental in pushing for more AP courses. The idea is to expand opportunities for all students recognizing that our student population will not respond well to a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

With all the hoopla about the headlong rush to implement the Common Core Standards so that we can "make our schools great again", one very large group of students was forgotten and neglected. That would be the over 50% of our graduating students who need real, useful career training. What we are finding now of course is that it is foolish, impractical and counter-productive to try to get all graduating seniors ready to tackle 4 year college degrees. Nationwide, and world-wide in the most industrialized countries the average percent of the population who want and need 4 year or higher degrees is still less than 50%. So why so much emphasis on getting all students ready for college? Here in Louisiana, it was thought that it could do no harm to push almost all students through the Core 4 curriculum just in case they decided to go to college. But what resulted was that we ended up almost killing vocational/technical Education in our schools while at the same time watering down the college prep curriculum so that almost all students could pass. Right now a student in Louisiana can pass the Geometry end-of-course test with only 32% correct answers on a mostly multiple choice test.

Our education reform culture in Louisiana and in this country has created a stigma that is attached to all students who do not go on to college. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and LABI did much to create that stigma for the non-college bound. Now they want to remove it so that our schools can scramble to fill the huge gap that is developing in the skilled workforce.

What most employers who are actually hiring young people in our state want are healthy young people who have, or are willing to acquire skills in both high-tech and low-tech careers. One personnel manager of a large employer recently announced at one of the forums on workforce development that what he is looking for in new employees is relatively simple: They need to be able to pass the mandatory drug test, they need to show up on time at the job every day, ready to work, and they need to be committed enough to their work to learn the skills needed for the job. That same employer said that it would be a tremendous bonus if he could find high school graduates who had actually attained a few critical job skills while in high school. But he knew that this was too much to ask in this environment. He would be satisfied with getting people who were dependable and willing to learn and work at the jobs he had available. Right now our schools are just not geared up to produce such workers, but White seems to be determined to greatly expand opportunities for our graduates in the coming years.

Superintendent White has just released data indicating that because of Jump Start, our number of career diplomas awarded in Louisiana has already grown from just 2% to 12% in just 2 years! Part of the key to success is the partnering with local employers and regional community and voc-tech colleges. Most of the career diplomas being awarded now either lead to immediate employment or to a maximum of only 2 years of additional training in job specific skills.