By any measure the number of public high school students earning career diplomas is up dramatically – 23 percent last year versus just 2 percent in 2013.
That rise took place under a state overhaul – called Jump Start – aimed at making career and technical fields more appealing to students.
But state officials said Monday they are about to launch a new effort – dubbed Jump Start 2.0 – aimed at attracting still more students. The new push is also designed to let more students earn the top industry credentials.
Only 1 in 4 career diploma graduates today collect certificates for high-wage, high-demand jobs, with the rest getting certificates for lesser-paying jobs.
Traditional high school diplomas require 23 course credits. Jump Start students have to get at least nine of those 23 in careers they plan to pursue, like welding or information technology.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday praised Louisiana's fast-growing program aimed at reinventing career education.
About 9,500 high school graduates – 23 percent of the total – received a Jump Start diploma last year, the first graduating class to do so since the overhaul began in 2014.
Jump Start 2.0 aims to build on the initial success by boosting the number of students earning career diplomas to nearly 40 percent.
Most of the other 60 percent or so of high school graduates head to two- or four-year colleges and universities.
The 18-member Accountability Commission, which advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, was briefed on the changes Monday.
State officials hope to present a "blueprint" to BESE in April, and the re-branded Jump Start could take full effect for the 2020-21 school year.
The latest push, which began last June, has included meetings between state officials and teachers, counselors, economic development experts and career and technical education leaders.
"We have gone literally all over the state," said Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent in the state Office of Student Opportunities.
The revamped Jump Start also includes new steps aimed at helping to erase the stigma that lingers for those who pursue welding and other careers rather than college. Bradford said a survey of 630 teachers, school leaders and others showed that 65 percent believe career and technical education carries a negative connotation.
Four students who are pursuing Louisiana’s revamped career education path said Tuesday the courses are changing lives.
Possible changes include devoting a day at school for students who earn an industry-based credential, which can pave the way for a job, and ensuring Jump Start students are singled out during student of the year celebrations.
Most such events today focus on academic achievements, said Alex Mathews, who works in the state Office of Student Opportunities. "We don't like to talk about industry-based attainment the same way," Mathews told the commission.
The state offers about 50 credentials that can lead to jobs in construction, auto repair, energy, transportation and health care.
Louisiana's bid to re-energize its career education program got a $2 million boost Wednesday to expand the effort.
Bradford said about 90,000 have been issued so far.
A top credential would qualify a high school graduate for an entry-level job as a welder. A lesser one would allow him or her to become a welder's helper.
A labor market economist commissioned by the state who reviewed credentials earned in 2018 found that only 1 in 4 Jump Start graduates were prepared for a high-demand, high-wage job.
Louisiana's top school board Tuesday took action that will allow 200 students in the Baton Rouge area – and soon public school students statew…
One of the goals of the revamped Jump Start is to increase that rate, as well as improved student "soft skills," like workplace communications.
The state Department of Education's website for Jump Start is also in line for an overhaul.
"That website isn't necessarily the most user friendly website," Mathews said.
The aim is to make it more useful for students, counselors and parents, simplify policy rules and assist career and technical education leaders.
Plans for a new version of Jump Start carry cost concerns.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said during the public comment part of the meeting that the state needs to provide districts with the resources to handle a "major shift" in the aim of the program.
Other plans include narrowing today's roughly 50 credentials into 16 career paths, professional development for counselors advising students and expanded leadership academies for career and technical education leaders.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators and a member of the commission, said she is concerned about how well the state is preparing students for future jobs.
Bradford said the blueprint will focus on top jobs from 2016-26.
Debbie Schum, another commission member, said career pathways need to dovetail with student interests.
Schum, who is executive director of the Louisiana Principals Association, said the state also needs to be flexible enough to add new career pathways.
She said bicycle repair is listed among the top 15 jobs nationally for growth.