A crisis in education

Festivals abound in October
October 19, 2011
Grand Réveil Acadien!
October 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the problems with elementary and high school education in this state. Now the state Department of Education has published grades for each school and each parish.

The results: extremely disappointing. Forty-four percent of the schools in the state earned grades of D or F. Besides calling the grades “unacceptable,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said (and I agree) that at least the grades are “straightforward and do exactly what we wanted, give parents a clear, accurate picture of the performance of the school their child attends.”

So how did the Tri-parish area fair? Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary each received a C. If you look at the entire state, an argument, albeit a flimsy one, could be made that our area is at least better than 44 percent of the rest of the state. But average is not what any parish needs. Our children are too important.

Meanwhile, some folks believe their grades aren’t fair. I know a lot of students who say the same thing about my courses. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Student: “Dr. Chiasson why did you give me a D? I really studied hard. Last night, for example, I studied almost three hours for that midterm exam.”

Me: “First, I didn’t give you a D. You earned it.”

Student: But I studied really hard.”

Me: “Perhaps you didn’t study enough.”

Terrebonne Supt. Philip Martin probably didn’t mean for his comments to reflect it, but he sure sounded like a whining student when he got his parish’s grades. “We’re not happy with where we are, but I don’t think we deserve this grade,” he said. “Parents are going to see that C and think things are worse than they really are.”

What they are, Mr. Superintendent, is average. Don’t try to sell a C as something else. It isn’t becoming.

Lafourche Supt. Jo Ann Matthews seemed to take a similar tack: “It’s demoralizing, and frankly, damaging to K-12 education.”

Why? How? Are these grades not fair? Are they inaccurate? Or do they just say that our educational system in the Tri-parish area is average?

Let me add this, however. I don’t believe the schools are being graded on the right criteria. By and large, these performance scores are based on standardized test results and, to a lesser degree, attendance, dropout and graduation rates. All the schools are handcuffed with the standardized tests and, as I wrote in my previous column, standardized test scores show one thing: that students were prepped for the test, not that they were learning the fundamentals to math, science, English, etc. The Nicholls students I see have problems in some of these areas but generally lack one basic, fundamental and absolutely necessary skill: critical thinking. If the schools are teaching tests and not fundamentals that lead to critical thinking, then, in my humble opinion, the educational system is constructed to fail. Anyone can memorize. People who succeed in life, think.

OK, enough sermonizing. Let’s move on to a few particulars. Two of the three parishes had one “A” school. In Terrebonne, Mulberry Elementary scored an A-plus. In St. Mary, Berwick High scored an A. In Lafourche, both Bayou Boeuf Elementary and Sixth Ward Middle School scored B-plus, while South Lafourche High received a B and Chackbay Elementary a B-minus.

Now for the less than successful grades:

In St. Mary, schools earning a D included LaGrange Elementary, Raintree Elementary, West St. Mary High, Franklin Junior High and B.E. Boudreau Middle. Scoring lowest was Franklin High.

In Lafourche, schools graded D included West Thibodaux Middle, Raceland Upper Elementary, East Thibodaux Middle, Bayou Blue Middle, Raceland Lower Elementary and W.S. Lafargue Elementary. Scoring lowest was Raceland Middle.

In Terrebonne, schools graded D included Grand Caillou Middle School, Evergreen Junior High, East Houma Elementary, Village East Elementary, Elysian Fields Middle, Southdown Elementary and Oaklawn Junior High. Scoring lowest was Ellender Memorial High.

For those who see the glass at least a quarter full, no Tri-parish schools earned a grade of F.