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.
Suburban districts did better: Jefferson was at 71.9 percent; St. Tammany, 79.5; St. Bernard, 79.0. Significant good news comes from New Orleans. The system run by the Orleans Parish School Board, including a number of selective admissions schools, was at 89 percent, but combined OPSB, charters and Recovery School District data pleased Leslie Jacobs, head of the Educate Now! policy group.
The overall Orleans rate did not improve, but the graduation rate for black males was significantly above the state average. That is a group of great concern to policymakers. Orleans schools also outperformed the state on graduation rates for students with disabilities, a significant issue.
Yet the growth of the city and the region demand more workers, and the basis of a qualified workforce starts with a high school diploma, and then training after high school.
That economic impact is certainly felt by businesses today. The good news is that more students in the region are leaving school with a diploma. In a separate report, the state department noted an increase in fall college applications by graduates, a noteworthy increase being in Orleans schools.
Still, the national average graduation rate of 81 percent in 2013, the last year for which data is 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.