Barry_Erwin

In just the last few days two different, well-respected and independent national organizations did something that doesn’t usually receive a lot of publicity. They offered strong praise for Louisiana’s education improvement efforts.

Both were commenting on the state education improvement plan submitted by Louisiana in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA was enacted by Congress in 2015, and it marked a major shift in the federal government’s oversight of public education. On the one hand, it gave states greater flexibility over various aspects of their education systems, but it also required them to submit plans detailing how they would improve classroom performance and close the achievement gap that exists among various groups of students.

So what did those organizations have to say about our education efforts? “Louisiana’s new education plan is one of the most promising in the United States,” said the non-partisan Alliance for Excellent Education.

A second peer-reviewed study commissioned by the Collaborative for Student Success added that we have a high-quality plan that “presents a strong vision for students in the state and it sets high expectations for results.”

It went on to say our effort “is grounded in strong standards and assessments, it places a strong emphasis on academic proficiency and growth, and its clearly defined school-rating system will ensure that stakeholders, schools, and students will have a clear understanding of how schools are serving all children.”

These are not just idle words. They’re a strong validation by recognized organizations and a peer-reviewed process that Louisiana is on the right track in improving educational opportunities for our children. Beyond that, they repudiate the positions taken by some who tried to leave the impression our plan was seriously flawed and that submitting it would be “irresponsible.”

Is the plan perfect? Of course not. There are always things we can do to continue to improve, but there’s little question right now that Louisiana’s plan is regarded as one of the best in the country. The assertion from the state’s school boards that it was “universally opposed” by districts across the spectrum raises questions about why there would be such divergent views expressed between the independent national reviewers and much of Louisiana’s education establishment.

It also raises questions about why state Education Superintendent John White and the policies he has championed are now coming under attack with a questionable lawsuit, when the overall body of evidence indicates our students are showing improvement. Over the last five years, our graduation rate is up significantly, we’re showing strong growth compared to other states, ACT scores continue to rise, and more than half of our students who graduate are doing so with a credential above and beyond just a high school degree.

Clearly, there seem to be agendas at play besides the education of our children.

That’s why the meaning of these new reviews should not be lost. Louisiana is making progress in the classroom and national peer groups are giving validation to our plan to accelerate that progress for the future. We still have much to do, but we shouldn’t let the constant naysayers make us believe we’re not moving in the right direction for our students.

Barry Erwin heads the Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that studies statewide issues.