Thursday, January 23, 2020

Louisiana's K-12 curriculum is not preparing students for college or for life!

Part I of a two part examination of our failing graduation standards

The Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education announced recently that only 18% of our students are succeeding in college.
At the joint meeting of BESE and the Board of Regents in December 2019, the Commissioner of Higher Education, Kim Hunter Reed, reported on studies that reveal that:
 of 100 ninth-graders, only 45 enter college and 18 will earn a two- or four-year degree.
This is a tacit admission that the big push for college prep by BESE and the Department of Education for the last 20 years has been a dismal failure. But the Advocate report of the joint meeting quotes the education leaders promising to double down on college prep for all by offering more dual enrollment courses. The only positive result of this version of college for all is that now, vo-tech courses will be added to the menu.

During the school years spanning from 2000 to 2015, our state education officials had abandoned almost all support for career and vocational education in our K-12 schools. BESE had shifted to pushing virtually all students to take a college prep curriculum without regard to student aptitude or preferences. At the urging of education reformers, BESE had adopted the Core 4 curriculum for high school graduation which was designed to prepare all students for college. The education reformers and business leaders breathed a sigh of relief that soon almost all students in Louisiana would be prepared for college. The assumption was that even students who chose to seek technical careers that did not require college would benefit from this superior, more rigorous education. But those of us who study the dismal performance of many of our graduates in the classrooms and on state tests know that most students have not benefited from the new standards which are really far from rigorous. This blog has revealed that students can pass some of the supposedly rigorous college prep courses by knowing as little as 10 to 20 percent of the tested material. If the college prep courses of today had the same rigor as 30 to 40 years ago, more than half of our students would not graduate. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote in January of 2010 titled The Wrong Future,  predicting that the Core 4 curriculum would produce the opposite of what was intended. My only mistake was that I thought that the Core 4 courses would maintain a reasonable level of difficulty.

As a result of the heavy emphasis on enrolling almost all students in the Core 4 curriculum, the Vo-Tech departments of most high schools were decimated and hundreds of highly experienced vo-tech teachers were laid off. By focusing on college prep for all the education reformers had just about strangled vo-tech out of existence.

But starting about 2015, Superintendent John White and his staff realized that a large number of students were falling though the cracks created by Core 4. Someone pointed out to Superintendent White that there was a provision in state law called the Career Diploma that was designed to provide a good alternative to students that could not, or would not attend college. The only problem is that the Career Diploma had been denounced by reformers as a watering down of standards. White realized that if he somehow renamed or rebranded the program as part of his school reform campaign, maybe by calling it something new like "Jump Start program", it may become acceptable to his puppet masters at LABI and across the reform community.

 So the Career diploma was rebranded as the Jump Start initiative. The career diploma law had been passed by the legislature at the request of many local superintendents in the 2009 legislative session. Unfortunately the career diploma had been sabotaged by the previous State Superintendent, Paul Pastorek, who wanted to promote only college prep . But even White's recent efforts have fallen far short of what was contemplated by the authors of the career diploma law. The Jump Start courses are designed only for high school juniors and seniors, severely restricting vo-tech courses in earlier grades. Under John White, the career diploma is intentionally regarded as a second class diploma, which does not bring schools the recognition or credit they get from offering college prep courses such as AP. White's administration has refused to provide the  career exploration activities for middle school students that have been in state law since before 1998. As teachers spent more and more time in the school year drilling students for the college prep Common Core based state tests, there was no time in middle school to implement any vo-tech exploration courses.

In addition to the short changing and stigmatizing of vo-tech training,  instruction in the arts, physical education, health, social studies, and civics, have all been neglected so that students could be drilled incessantly in preparation for state tests that were expected to insure success in college. The most useful education to most students for future careers was all but abandoned and sacrificed in the push to prepare all students for college. Unfortunately this sacrifice was in vain, as is demonstrated by Louisiana being ranked second to last among the states in ACT performance and by having only 18 percent of students succeeding in college.

Note: Soon after I posted this blog, one of my readers texted me asking for an explanation of the poor college performance of our students after a much larger number started taking the college prep curriculum. Here is my best guess:

Soon after the adoption of the Core 4 curriculum for high school, several other changes were made. (1) The state started awarding high schools credit on the school grading system for a better graduation rate. Pressure increased on principals and teachers to pass almost all students even in the so called college prep courses. (2) The state stopped requiring that students pass their 8th grade LEAP tests in order to enter high school and BESE stopped requiring most remediation for students who failed. (3) Louisiana shifted to the Common Core standards (4) The cut scores for passing the high school end-of-course tests were lowered to extremely low levels. All of these factors resulted in more students graduating high school (some of them as functional illiterates). That's why so many students can't handle college. Its all about the law of unintended consequences. Unfortunately, our education leaders don't have a clue about the real results of their "reforms". Even with the new changes proposed by BESE and the Board of Regents to add more dual enrollment, we can expect further declines in college success because the full effects of the decrease in standards have yet to be observed.

Vocational and technical education is a most vital need that has been neglected nationwide
This excellent article in Forbes magazine makes the case for bringing back modern vocational training to our K-12  curriculum. I strongly recommend that all persons interested in improving our school curriculum read the entire article.

The Forbes article points out the following "Yet despite the growing evidence that four-year college programs serve fewer and fewer of our students, states continue to cut vocational programs." 

I would add that pressuring virtually all of our students to take a college prep curriculum in K-12 education, leaves literally no time for teaching modern vocational skills or even vital life skills including proper nutrition,  physical education, and money management. Medical researchers know that many of our graduates will live a life shortened drastically by the onset of diabetes and heart disease directly caused by a cheap fast food diet. Louisiana has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation (35%) but our schools have no time to educate children about healthy diets, nor is anyone teaching them how to cook! (remember home economics?)  These critical needs of our students are being neglected so that our education reformers can continue to chase the illusive "college for all" dream. 

Watch for Part II of this post titled:
Some of our graduates don't even know how to tighten a nut!