Does The Advocate have any reporters who look for the good in education and know how to analyze educational data? For example, the table of data that resulted in “The Color of Opportunity” headline showed that the number of black TOPS recipients increased from 1,793 in 2003 to 2,685 in 2014, a 50 percent increase, while white recipients increased from 11,536 in 2003 to 11,773 in 2014, a 2.1 percent increase. For Asian-Americans, the increase over the same period was from 333 to 502, another 50.8 percent increase. The increases for American Indians and Hispanic were 50 to 139 (178 percent) and 172 to 548 (219 percent), respectively. In fact, the 13.7 percent overall increase resulted 98.3 percent from minority increases and 1.7 percent from white Louisiana residents.
A second inference was TOPS recipients are from high-income families and don’t need the award, even though they earned the award — no matter that all the TOPS students are the ones most likely to graduate with important credentials.
Further, all students with unmet needs, including TOPS recipients, receive financial aid. The Federal Pell Grant Program and Louisiana Go Grant Program together provide about $226 million a year, and beyond that, there exists the legislative hardship tuition provision, the LSU Pelican Promise program, the federal student loan program and a host of other sources of student aid.
There is, however, a major unfairness in Louisiana, and that is the thousands of infants born into families that don’t provide in the first three years of life the love, affection and communication required to develop their brain to make learning easy. Some of these students meet the challenge and work unbelievably hard to earn a TOPS award and a college degree. Others don’t have the opportunity to overcome early childhood neglect, and allowing them in a four-year university is like teaching swimming in the Mississippi at flood stage. Bad things happen.
Even so, Louisiana has made massive progress by creating a substantial community college system, enhancing the vocational-technical schools and supporting many other occupational opportunities.
The physics department at LSU just received major international recognition for making a substantial contribution to the detection of gravity waves that will provide for a much better understanding of our universe. What is much less well-known is that physics has given us about nine ways to study the magic of the human brain. Those instruments are already telling us that an infant’s brain is the most powerful and adaptable learning machine in existence.
James H. Wharton
retired LSU professor and chancellor