Lowering the bar on Louisiana’s education

Who knew solving Louisiana’s drop-out problem would be so easy? Just create a new diploma that’s a lot easier to get than today’s. More students will be able to graduate. So the drop-out rate will fall.

For Louisiana legislators, this path-of-least-achievement is the way to fix a difficult problem: defining the problem out of existence.

We strongly disagree with this approach.

That the state Senate unanimously passed the so-called “career diploma” bill offered by Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, is a sign that the Legislature is willing to brush this problem away without grappling with the serious underlying issues.

The Kostelka bill’s approach is mirrored in another measure by Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, in the House.

Kostelka’s bill started by reducing the credits needed for English and mathematics to graduate from high school. The bill mandates that the 70 local school boards create a career diploma or something of that nature to let youngsters out of school without meeting the minimum standards now required.

The alternatives to regular English or math presumably would be easy enough to pass that the schools’ statistics would look better.

But a society filled with holders of second-class diplomas won’t be a pretty sight.

We do not doubt the sincerity of the concerns of Kostelka, Fannin and other legislators who are frustrated with the dropout problem.

As Kostelka, a former judge, noted in Senate debate, the consequences of dropping out end up in courtrooms.

The senator is right, up to a point: The problems that created cases for his court were caused by a failure to educate children. That’s not the same thing as failing to graduate them.

That’s why the dumb diplomas proposals of whatever stripe fail to wrestle with the problem of education. The bills are about getting children out the door with some kind of minimum credential. We ought to be focusing on what is needed to keep them in school and educate them.

We believe the bills are shortsighted. Chas Roemer, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, pointed out the problem in a letter to Gov. BobbyJindal.

The debate is not about whether all students are college-bound, Roemer said. It’s about the levels of knowledge needed to make a decent living in modern society; according to Jindal’s work-force leaders, that’s more – not less – than the level of education in the current diplomas.

Roemer also is correct that the proposals water down the accountability program at its roots. LEAP test standards for promotion to high school would be lowered, by order of the Legislature, bypassing BESE and professional educators who today determine the standards.

Students would be eligible for the career track in high school if they achieved the level of “approaching basic” in eighth-grade LEAP tests. That’s a very low standard.

“A standard of approaching basic in either math or language does not even begin to reflect a student with the appropriate skill set to succeed in high school, much less life,” Roemer said.

The governor is urging Kostelka and others to work with Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek on the measures. But we don’t see why anyone would be interested in legislative intervention to lower LEAP standards.

Backers of these new bills are not bad guys, but they focus on the symptom and not the illness.

Vastly better career education programs are urgently needed. Those are entirely compatible, we think, with drop-out prevention and with academic standards that ensure a high school diploma is something a graduate can be proud of.

– The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.