Standards too low?

Louisiana should not dumb down school curricula to deal with a high-school dropout problem.

That may please some legislators and other officials, because it defines away a tough problem. But we hope that most leaders in the state don’t want to take some easy way out, because there are terrible consequences for issuing a generation of students a watered-down diploma.

Perhaps the graduates will have a diploma and feel better about themselves. But what happens when they go out into the work force and try to function in a computer-organized society?

The question is not faced by the critics of today’s system.

In one way, we agree with some of the statements made by officials genuinely worried about the dropout issue. About four in 10 students won’t finish high school in four years. Even if they drop out, at least they should have some job training along the way, something to allow them to be productive.

At the same time, work force training simply cannot replace today’s high-school curriculum. Students have to learn to think. Training them in only rudimentary shop skills in high school leaves them without the training – literally – in thinking, reading, calculating.

The political answer to this question is clear: Make it go away. Give diplomas by watering down today’s curriculum. Algebra is too tough. Heck, for some lawmakers, English is too tough.

Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, suggested to BESE that some students would be better served reading a John Grisham novel rather than classic literature. We’d not take this sort of thing very seriously, but Hoffman is vice chairman of the House Education Committee.

What else do we leave out? At age 18, students become voters. They ought to at least be taught somewhere that there’s a House and a Senate, and that governors are not the same as presidents.

One of the critical problems with the critics’ arguments: It’s difficult to teach technical skills in high school.

Postgraduate technical colleges have a hard enough time keeping up with the equipment and teacher training to make their classes relevant to the work force. This would be a huge problem, perhaps an insuperable problem, in high school.

Further, work force training of adults is difficult to perform in a way that makes students ready for a specific job. The economy is changing fast. Will high schools be able to know what jobs are needed? Will there be shop classes in refrigeration technology when the market is saturated with people doing that work already?

Businesses need trainable workers. Employment in a decent job today typically requires more training than high schools can provide, even if you dump every classic author and every algebra text from the high-school curriculum.

Students need the ability to think. They have to get that in a classroom, puzzling through algebra and American government and, yes, “Romeo and Juliet.”

The answer to the dropout issue isn’t to ignore the problem. But the consequence of a dumbed-down curriculum not only ignores today’s problem, it ignores the problems of a few years down the road, for students who have not had the basics they need to participate in a technological society.

– The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.