Gov. Edwards Loses, Louisiana Will Soon Have to Tell the Truth About School Grades

Mar 30, 2017 12:00:00 AM

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Knowing how well a school is doing is some of the most important information we as parents can have. It offers a starting point for raising questions to principals and local school boards. It gives us some muscle to call for changes when schools aren’t meeting the needs for our children. And if the school is doing well, it can also give us peace of mind that our kids are on track to be successful after graduating high school. In Louisiana, parents may believe they’re getting all of that with A-F letter grades for their schools, but they’re not. Yesterday, the state’s school board (officially known as the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education)  voted to change that. Louisiana education leaders have recognized that, for a long time, the state hasn’t been honest about how well its schools are doing.

The State Is Straight Up ‘Lying’

During a six-hour state board meeting yesterday, Jim Garvey, a board member,  noted that an A school in Louisiana is essentially the equivalent of a B or C school in other states, and that a B school would really be a C or D school. He said the state is straight up “lying” to parents and families about the value of those letter grades. State Superintendent John White backed that up. In the  draft of the state’s federally required accountability plan, his education department basically points out that schools are getting A grades for helping students do C-level work. The way it’s currently set up, if a school gets enough of its students doing basic-level math or reading, for example, they can get an A. But the basics aren’t helping kids succeed in college. White’s plan would raise the bar so that schools would have to help more kids get beyond basic if they want to earn an A. This was the main point of those who packed into the crowded room yesterday to fight for setting higher goals.

So, What’s the Big Rush?

The opposition, which consisted of the state’s superintendents association, principals association, school boards association (notice a trend here?) and their political allies like Governor John Bel Edwards—who wasn’t in attendance—argued that the plan should be delayed. Rep. Patricia Smith, a Democrat from Baton Rouge, put it succinctly. "We shouldn't be rushing to do something that will hurt students, hurt teachers and our state," she said. "Only 12 states are going to submit plans in April. What is the rush for us?" The rush, for those who don’t know, is to help Louisiana students. Right now, about [pullquote]61 percent of Louisiana high school grads need to repeat high-school-level coursework[/pullquote] in their freshman year in college, while 42 percent of students need these developmental or remedial English courses. Every year, thousands of students are graduating from “good” A and B schools thinking they’re ready for college only to be detoured onto the remedial track. That’s thousands of kids each year whose aspirations will be suddenly shot down simply because the state hasn’t been telling the truth about their schools. So yeah, there’s a good reason to rush. But there’s another big deception to quash. [pullquote position="right"]Louisiana isn’t “rushing”[/pullquote] like the opposition would have you believe! The roots of White’s plan for school accountability date back to at least 2013 when the state decided it needed to set higher goals for schools. And stakeholders like the New Orleans chapter of the Urban League and others representing parents and families have been engaging with the education department on this plan for more than a year. Urban League of Louisiana President and CEO Erika McConduit said she was “thrilled that Louisiana decided to put the urgency of change and progress for our students first.” It’s no small thing that White and those fighting for kids won out against the politically powerful education associations in the state. But the fight isn’t over. After the Louisiana Department of Education submits the plan to the U.S. Education Department in mid-April, White and others will have an opportunity to make additional changes before it’s finalized. Immediately after they lost the vote, superintendents and principals said they “hope to have meaningful dialogue to correct the various issues within the plan.” There may be some legitimate issues to correct, but anything that tries to weaken or delay the state’s school accountability system will only hurt students and families in the long run, and limit their power to improve their schools.

Lane Wright

Lane Wright is Director of Strategic Growth at Education Post. In addition to this role, he tells stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida’s governor, and he’s got a knack for breaking down complex education reform policy issues into easy-to-understand concepts. During his time at Education Post, and with previous organizations, Lane has interviewed teachers, students and local school leaders. He’s spent time watching them work in the classroom and helped them raise their voices on issues they care about. He’s also helped parents advocate—in the news, and before lawmakers—for a better education for their own kids. Lane, his wife, and three children live in Tallahassee, Florida, where his kids attend a public charter school.

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