If Governor John Bel Edwards has his way today, setting higher goals for Louisiana students could be delayed by a year or two and possibly even die on the vine.
Today, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote to either give the governor the delays he’s seeking for the federally required accountability plan, or give state Superintendent John White the green light to submit it to Washington next week and start putting it into action this fall.
To be clear, federal law allows states to choose to submit their plans in September, but doing so would set Louisiana schools back at least one full school year. It would also give status-quo seekers more time to weaken the plan and keep parents and other education stakeholders in the dark about what’s really happening in Louisiana schools.
A Diploma That Isn’t Worth Much
If Gov. Edwards gets what he wants, many parents will continue to believe that going to an A or B school and getting a diploma means their kids are ready for college, or to start their careers and move out. Sure, for some students that will be true, just as it’s always been. But for too many, that diploma from a Louisiana public school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And neither are school grades.
In 2013, the Louisiana Department of Education found that an increasing number of students were getting the basics of math and reading (the state’s goal), but the basics weren’t cutting it. When these students got to college, they were forced to take remedial classes to get their academic skills up before they could pursue the types of classes they went to college for in the first place.
A 2017 report found the trend unchanged: Roughly 61 percent of Louisiana high school grads required developmental or remedial math courses and 42 percent of students required developmental or remedial English courses during their freshman year in college.
Students, teachers, parents and school leaders thought they were basically on track if the school had an A or B. After all, it meant many were meeting the state’s goal for basic math and reading skills. But they weren’t—a good reason to push for higher goals.
And that was the plan in 2013: Slowly raise the bar for school grades by 2025. But it got stalled before it could even pull out of the driveway thanks to a retooling of state academic standards.
Now, Gov. Edwards is calling for delays in the name of transparency. But the new plan isn’t the problem. The wool is already being pulled over parents’ eyes under the current system. Setting higher goals for schools to get an A is more transparent because it gives parents a truer picture of how well schools are delivering on their promises to families.
A National Challenge, Louisiana Can Start Addressing Now
The gap between “success” in K-12 public schools and being ready to start college isn’t a problem that’s isolated to Louisiana. In California, more kids are graduating high school, but fewer are enrolling in college. Tennessee was trying to figure out why so many of their students were struggling in college and discovered many students graduated without meeting graduation requirements. Alabama had a similar problem of inflated graduation rates.
Across the country, states are struggling to give parents an accurate sense of how well schools are actually serving students, and by extension, what having a diploma really means. That makes it hard for parents, like me, to know if our kids are going to get a good education at the schools available to us. Or if there are extra actions we need to take or conversations we need to have with our local school boards or principals.
Louisiana is set to decide what it’s going to do about it this week. Will the board side with the governor, who seemed almost giddy about “a chance to delay letter grades,” or with Superintendent White, who wants to get going on a plan that was really meant to be put in place years ago?
We’ll soon see.