Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Education superintendent sets marker for more changes

25th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Philip Stelly
Contributing Writer

Nine-year-old Charlie Cooney sat in one corner of the auditorium of Chateau Estates Elementary where he completed a worksheet on alligators. “I have to get this done by tomorrow,” said the third-grader who flipped the pages of an open book, then scribbled his answers on a worksheet.

Cooney remained focused on his homework and ignored the hubbub surrounding the presentation a few feet away by State Education Superintendent John White, who announced a new round of educational initiatives ultimately aimed at removing Louisiana school system from the bottom rung of educational achievement.

Despite all of the changes to the state’s education system, Louisiana ranks, at best, 47th out of 50 states on national assessments of educational progress.

Before a packed auditorium and to an online audience, White announced a five-point plan which is designed to address deficiencies in early childhood education, to encourage curriculum changes by empowering teachers, to improve outcomes for students with disabilities, to more closely tie career education with careers, and to work with school districts to curb the number of F-rated schools.

White said he hopes to implement these new initiatives, dubbed Louisiana Believes 2013-2014, with a lot of input from school districts and without new state funding.

Presently, only half of children entering kindergarten are considered “kindergarten ready,” or being able to identify all 26 alphabets and count to at least 20. He blamed a patchwork of standards.

White called for a unifying the state’s fragmented system of early education. He is seeking pilot proposals from school districts to form a better network for identifying Louisiana’s youngest learn­ers, educating all four-year-olds, and training their teachers. A request for proposals will go out at the end of the month. Once the pilot projects have been evaluated, the superintendent expects to implement a statewide system for educating kindergartners by 2015.

White also called for an end to a top-down approach to curriculum development and asked the state’s teachers to help shape curriculum decisions. As a precursor to more teacher involvement and more rigorous educational standards, White said his department has created a “Teacher Tool Box,” which has resources created by teacher for teachers. This initiative also expects to train a cadre of 2,000 teacher-leaders who will support their peers with more effective teaching methods. “This is the kind of trust and support our teachers deserve,” White said.

When it comes to educating students with disabilities, only 29 percent of these students graduate from high school in Louisiana. In the neighboring states of Arkansas and Texas, the graduation rate for this student population is 75 percent. By this summer, White said his department will move forward with special education reforms that will reward school systems for improving graduation rates for students with disabilities.

White noted that only 19 percent of Louisiana students who enter college, actually graduate from college. Moreover, too few students graduate from high school “career-ready.” To address this issue, White wants to make changes to the career diploma program to “actually prepare kids for a career” particularly in major state industries such as oil and gas refining. The superintendent’s plan would require two years of workplace-based or technical college education while students are in high school. A blueprint to reshape the career diploma will be announced in April.

White also outlined an effort to reduce the number of F-rated schools that now account for about 63,000 students. He called for expanding partnerships to turn around F-rated schools or creating alternatives to them. Using existing budget dollars, White said a new fund called the Louisiana Believes Fund will provide match dollars to districts willing to overhaul F-rated schools. A request for applications will be released in late March.

Chateau Estates was chosen for the announcement because 75 percent of the students are reading at or above grade level. White credits the school’s academic success to parental involvement, quality teaching and a strong administration. “Rather than being an isolated case, let’s make schools like this the rule,” White said.

Charlie Cooney would probably agree, as soon as he finishes his homework.

This article was originally published in the February 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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