Have You Seen Louisiana’s Ambitious, Though Achievable, Growth Goal?

The Department of Education has released its latest proposal to submit an educational growth plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was passed in 2015 to replace the abysmal No Child Left Behind program developed and implemented under George W. Bush.

ESSA itself is a pretty good act, as it requires states to set standards and grade schools, but it leaves that up totally to the states. Under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, we’ll probably see even more pushing to get the states to run their own education systems, rather than rely on federal involvement.

Louisiana’s plan, released by John White on Monday, is in no small way ambitious, however, I really do think it’s achievable. The Times-Picayune seems to have similar thoughts, and ultimately weighed in via an editorial that is not as bad as you might assume.

The state’s approach is to get more young children into quality preschool programs to help those who are behind catch up and to provide continuing services for students who are still behind by middle school.

Schools also need to close gaps in what is offered across Louisiana. More than one-third of eighth-graders statewide attend a school that doesn’t offer Algebra I, according to the draft plan. Among high schools that are majority African-American, about 25 percent don’t offer chemistry, 70 percent don’t offer advanced math courses like calculus and 90 percent don’t provide advanced science classes such as physics. Those sorts of gaps hamstring students, particularly those who want to go on to college.

Louisiana committed itself 20 years ago to do better by its children. With this new plan, the state is essentially renewing that promise. We must make good on it.

See, the thing is that we constantly bicker about education reform without really doing much. Democrats who opposed Betsy DeVos all talked grandly about reform in the sense that they want to support and strengthen public schools, as though that is something that DeVos, an education reform advocate, is against. 

When it comes time to actually try to implement reform, however, we waver and ultimately decide to put something down on paper that in practice ends up being worthless (see: No Child Left Behind). The state’s current plan, along with other education reform efforts, are all meant to do the same thing: force schools to strengthen themselves.

For schools to get an “A” grade, the proposal says schools need to show:

  • Student demonstration of Mastery of skills, as indicated by standardized testing.
  • A school ACT score of 21 (schools still earn points for their school if they score 18-20 on the ACT).
  • A 90 percent graduation rate (rates of 75 percent and above still earn points).

The current system under the Department of Education only calls for Basic on skills, an 18 on the ACT, and a 75 percent graduation rate.

This is a pretty big and pretty ambitious leap for many schools to make in just eight years – the plan is set to go into affect in the 2024-2025 school year. Many schools currently scoring an “A” could very well be knocked out of that status when this goes into effect.

But, we know all this now, so that should mean schools can prepare and begin work toward achieving these goals. Districts, too. However, the sad fact is that there will be resistance to this plan, as there always is, by people who think these efforts are just meant to shut down schools rather than to improve them.

That’s why there are so many advocates shouting against any type of reform. These are largely people content with a status quo that sees children deprived of real opportunity. The efforts of White and DeVos, through policy and activism respectively, along with others all are meant to have the same results: strengthening public schools. The problem is that it is not an immediate cure.

And there’s the rub. Very few people are willing to put in the work long term to improve the status of schools. This plan – again, set to be in full effect by the 2024-25 school year – is completely achievable if schools start working toward the goal now. But, resistance and stubbornness being what they are, you’re going to find plenty within the education system (and without!) who are so critical that they reject the changes entirely and keep doing what they do currently.

We absolutely owe it to our kids to push for these higher goals and standards, and give them the best education we as a state can. But, that requires far more work and far more change than many people would like.

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