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Louisiana's Imminent Graduation Option Draws Fire


UPDATE: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed legislation creating a career-focused diploma for high school graduates. Critics says it will lower standards (see below), though Jindal, echoing the views of other supporters, argues that it will help students who would "otherwise slip through the cracks." Expect these tensions between advocates of higher standards and those who call for alternative graduation options to play out around the country.

ORIGINAL POST: As states raise course-taking and graduation requirements, Louisiana officials have gone in a different direction. Whether it's a better or worse direction for students is a matter of opinion.

The state appears set to approve a new curriculum, which emphasizes career skills, as an option for high school students. Currently, high school students in Louisiana who pursue a traditional college-prep route must take four units of math, English, science, and social studies/social sciences, according to this story in the Baton Rouge Advocate. There’s also a less-demanding option. Under the new measure, which was approved by an overwhelming margin in both chambers of the legislature, some students would be allowed to graduate earning four units of English, with more freedom as to which courses they take, and four math credits, a few of which could be tied to career-oriented tracks. They would also be required to take three science credits, two of them tied to career options; three social studies credits; and seven other career-oriented credits, the story says. One especially controversial piece of the legislation would lower the passing requirements on the state's 8th grade English and math test, in allowing some students to pursue the new curricular option. Here's a recent description by the state Department of Education:

"Under present standards, students must score Approaching Basic and Basic in English and math on the state’s 8th grade LEAP test in order to advance to the 9th grade. However, if [the bill] clears the Senate, students who are 15 years old, or who will turn 15 during the upcoming school year will be allowed to progress to 9th grade and pursue the career diploma if they score Approaching Basic or higher on either the English or mathematics portion of the LEAP test. In fact, all students will have the option of pursuing the career diploma."

The measure, which Gov. Bobby Jindal says he will sign, was opposed by a number of school officials who contend that it will lower standards in the state. The critics include state schools Superintendent Paul Pastorek and the Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit business-advocacy organization. The state's education department, in explaining its opposition, notes that the Louisiana students can already pursue numerous career tracks through the college-prep diploma. But lawmakers see the new path as necessary to prevent dropouts and give students a greater range of course options that will keep them interested in school.

“They don’t see any relevance in reading Beowulf and Chaucer and trigonometry,” state Sen. Bob Kostelka, a Republican sponsor, said of those students.

“It is ludicrous to say we are dumbing down education,” Rep. Jim Fannin, a Democrat and bill sponsor, told the Advocate.

How does this mesh with Louisiana, just this month, agreeing to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in which states agree to refashion their standards, tests, and professional development to blend tech literacy, communication, and entrepreneurship into classes covering core academic content? How might Louisiana’s decision shape the thinking of lawmakers in other states who are worried about students failing to keep up with rising academic expectations? Perhaps the biggest question is this: If states are going to allow career tracks to graduation, what's to prevent students from slipping into courses that don't challenge them or prepare them for a two- or four-year college, or a demanding job?


It dismays me to think that if the students cannot/will not rise to our expectations, that the entire system is going to make adjustments to curriculum. And how is it that eighth-grade students who do not pass either math or english are allowed to enter high school without being prepared. Perhaps career alternative schools would be a place where they can master the skills necessary to enter high school. Sad, sad day in LA.

I actually applaud Louisiana's efforts. This is not about lowering academic standards for those who want to pursue academic college. It is about providing a viable option for those that are not interested in academic college path. Many of our current irrational educational practices stem from the unwillingness to accept that not everyone is interested in pursuing academic paths. Rather than lowering academic expectations for all, this may actually allow to maintain high academic expectations for those who are interested, while replacing them with better options for those who are not.

First let me say that I am for the change in diploma requirements and provision for an alternative tech diploma. Having said so, I am aware that choice also brings with it responsibility. Rather than lose kids who can't pass the LEAP, I would prefer to give them an option that will lead them to graduation and thus a better paying job. In our society today, dropping out is not a viable option for any child. Of course, street-wise kids will see an opportuntity to fly through high school without challenging themselves. To avoid this, school counselors and educators in Louisiana will need to be more directly involved with students and their parents to assist them in making the best decision as to which diploma route is best for each individual child; something which should already be part of the educational experience in all Louisisana high schools. Ignoring the fact that some kids do not want to go to college has not erased the dropout problem in Louisiana. We must do what makes sense to rectify this problem. We cannot continue to do what we have always done and expect a different outcome. That's just insane.

When did we start to think that everyone needs to go to college? There are other options for a successful life--and there are other paths to happiness. Allowing an education that permits learners of all types to excel can only be better in the long run.

Perhaps the perception of postsecondary needs a facelift also...I don't think it's necessarily that young people don't need continued education at the postsecondary level but that postsecondary options need to be refined for these students who don't seek a traditional academic option at the university setting...we know that not all students are booksmart per se, but everyone whether they become scholars, professors, blue collar workers, etc. need continued education in the 21st century. I don't think education in general should stop after a diploma but perhaps the type of continued education needs to also be refined for those students. If they are engaged, interested, and learning, whether it's through books or hands on experiences, the pursuit of learning needs to continue. Once we capture their interest in something, it's our job to provide options for their ongoing progress.

Do I read correctly that 8th grade students in Louisiana take exams to enter 9th grade? Wow. We in California don't expect our students to demonstrate 8th grade knowledge until they take the High School exit exam.

I'm a Louisiana native, 72 years old. I was a science program coordinator for 2 years at LSU (1995-1997)and spent the next 7 years teaching at a Louisiana public high school. I taught in Santa Fe, NM, NYC and DoDDS Germany from 1959-1995. and in Bangkok 2005-2008. We must must provide practical, hands-on opportunities for learning job-related skills. The "approaching basic" level is barely functional, but stops many from passing on to high school. Too many education "experts" have no direct contact with real kids in real school situations, and advocate policies that ignore realities in favor of pompous slogans. Please, somebody breathe some pragmatism into education everywhere!
James P. Louviere

If education worked, over 80% of Americans would get what they need from formal schooling by age 16 - and they could move on. I know this is the wrong forum to say this... but most people don't want to (or need to) stay in school for decades. Thanks to over-education, we have created a large and miserable "adolescent" (i.e., immature adult) population. Anything that gets people out of fake social-control world of school and into the real world (where most education takes place anyway) is a good thing.

If students do not see relevance in Chaucer or "Beowulf," it is because their teachers are no longer allowed to teach them properly. Why? Because "state standards" (if they are like those in NH) focus only on the most "technical" (read:testable) aspects of literature, such as technique, genre, literary devices. And, yes, this is indeed irrelevant to 90% of students!

A good literature teacher allowed to do his/her job will make clear to students that all classic literature speaks to the human condition, which is timeless. It teaches us to live and die, to be better humans and have better lives. No, its purpose is not to demonstrate the best use of a semi-colon or the technique of internal rhyme! Of course, teachers who do work towards making classic pieces relevant to students may these days be out on "improvement plans," etc., for not teaching "the standards." Trying to do both --"the standards" and relevance-- is impossible due to lack of instructional TIME, which is constantly being whittled away by silly administrative "initiatives" of one sort or another.

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