For years, the Louisiana public school system has struggled to improve. But over the past several years, the state has taken big steps to improve its education policies — and the education of the state’s children, from birth to grade 12.
Our recent research for the nonpartisan RAND Corporation suggests that the reforms undertaken in recent years by Louisiana’s Department of Education have been ambitious. Parents can help their children benefit from the reforms by being informed about the changes and knowing how to take advantage of new resources.
Here are four big changes adopted in the last few years with suggestions for parents on how to make the most of them:
Early childhood education programs now have performance ratings. School performance scores for Louisiana have been around since the late 1990s, but since 2017, parents have been able to access this type of information to help inform early childhood education program choices, too. Previously, parents had to dig for information to help them decide among the approximately 1,500 publicly funded early childhood programs serving infants through preschoolers. To help improve accountability, ratings for publicly funded early childhood programs are now shared online and updated yearly. Strides have also been made in recent years to improve how program quality is measured and make it easier to understand and compare programs. The state’s Department of Education has created a video to help parents understand how Early Childhood Performance Profiles are put together.
Last year, the state released the Louisiana School Finder, a website that allows the public to search for all publicly funded schools and early childhood centers — and supplements the school performance scores site. Currently, academic performance in any given school can be reviewed, and the data is broken down by specific groups (e.g. economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, or students of color). That said, academic performance is only one measure of how well a school is doing at a single point in time and does not take into account longer-term efforts to help students improve. So when the School Finder information is updated in the fall of 2018, it will also include information on how much students in a particular grade and subject improved from last year, or their growth, so parents can understand how the school helps students to advance.
The curriculum has changed. In an attempt to raise student test scores, Louisiana set new goals for K-12 student work that are in line with national standards. Reviews of popular textbooks for mathematics, English language arts, science and social studies are now publicly available, and these reviews are intended to help districts, schools and teachers choose high-quality materials that have the best chance of helping students master standards. The state is also providing teachers with training in how to use these materials. Everyone — including teachers — should expect a learning curve as they adjust to new teaching materials.
More high-quality options are available to graduates. The need for skilled workers in the region and the nation continues to grow. Louisiana has taken firm steps to help its high school graduates be better prepared for college and the workforce. First, all students are now required to take ACT college achievement test and complete financial aid planning in order to graduate. Fulfilling these college-ready demands might be extra work for families, but students who might otherwise rule out college will find out if they meet the requirements and how they can pay. The state also allows students to participate in dual-enrollment programs that allow them to obtain college credit while in high school, reducing the college credits they need to pay for to earn a college degree. Individual high schools should have more information about college-ready requirements and course options.
Students who do not want to commit to a four-year college plan can access other high-quality opportunities through the state’s career education Jump Start program. This option helps students obtain industry credentials and experience needed for employment as a welder, nursing assistant or multiple other options that are in demand and pay good wages. The program tries to provide students with skills employers want and also prepare them to continue their education at a technical college.