If Louisiana’s climb toward better education is a steep one, there are markers on the hillside that suggest we’re getting somewhere.
While low among the states, Louisiana’s graduation rate from public high schools is at its highest level in 2014, at 74.6 percent — up nearly 10 percentage points in less than a decade.
It’s a record of progress that owes a lot to the movement for accountability, higher teacher pay and professionalism, and higher academic standards.
None of which come easy, from the classroom level to the policy level.
The latter is much on the mind of Education Superintendent John White, who faces pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal and others to back down from new, higher academic standards dubbed Common Core.
“The irony in all of this is that there are pieces of legislation that are seeking to stop this progress and are doing things that would take us back in time,” White told reporters. Common Core opponents want to scrap the standards during the 2015 legislative session, reverting to 2004 school benchmarks — just about the time that new efforts started to pay off, in the graduation rate and other measures of improvement.
Whatever the outcome of the legislative session beginning April 13, the graduation rate is a solid report statewide, but the good news is unevenly distributed.
In two key districts along Interstate 10, graduation rates actually declined in East Baton Rouge and Lafayette parish systems. Suburban districts, often with lower poverty rates than those that drag on urban districts’ performance, often did better: Ascension, Zachary and Central schools were above 80 percent, and Livingston was almost there at 79.5 percent.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in its regional report card on public systems, noted that progress is being made but “there is still much work to do,” according to Chamber President Adam Knapp. “The sobering reality is that the jobs being created today cannot wait until workforce supply catches up.”
That economic impact is certainly felt by businesses today. The good news is that more students are leaving school with a diploma, and in a separate report, the state department noted an increase in fall college applications by graduates.
Still, the national average graduation rate of 81 percent in 2013, the last year available, suggests that Louisiana still has a ways to go.
The legacies of decades are not easily overcome. Families that started behind in life desperately need education to get a grip on their futures. The resources to put into the classroom to support teachers and their vital work are not unlimited and in some systems can be downright scarce.
We can’t turn back the clock but neither can we rest easy on what has been achieved so far.