Aug 09, 2012
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Louisiana children went back to school.

Like proud parents, our state should be pleased with what its students accomplished last year. Ten thousand more Louisiana students passed state tests than did the year before. Over the last decade, our graduation rate has increased by 11 percent. Louisiana schools have made real progress.

At the same time, only 71 percent of our young people graduate from high school in four years. And fewer than 20 percent graduate from college within six years of graduating high school. This is in spite of an economy that is making increased demands on workers; half of all jobs in Louisiana require some education after high school.

With this in mind, the state legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made significant changes in education policy over the last six months. Those changes have been the source of unprecedented attention and debate.

So, like anxious students the night before that first day of school, our state awaits the new school year, wondering how things will be different.

For nearly 6,000 students, the new school year will mean a new school that came by way of a publicly funded scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. This program has a simple premise: if parents are dissatisfied with their schools they should have a choice of alternatives, irrespective of how big their checkbook is.

From all the news coverage, you would think this is the most significant change our state’s schools will experience this year. But our state’s plan for improvement in education, Louisiana Believes, is a plan for all 800,000 Louisiana students. And the most exciting and significant changes are taking place right where they should be: in our public school classrooms.

For example, expectations for the work our students produce will change significantly this year. This fall, teachers will begin using the Common Core State Standards to guide their expectations for what students should be able to do. Adopted by 45 other states, these standards mean our kids will take the same tests as students across the nation starting in 2014-2015. Louisiana teachers – 6,000 of whom trained on the new standards this summer – will create lessons and student assignments using the standards as guideposts starting this year.

Expectations for our teachers will also change. Louisiana’s Compass teacher effectiveness system will ensure that every teacher has a measurable goal for what their students will achieve, and that every teacher is regularly provided feedback on how they can improve.  Six thousand educators have already learned the Compass system inside and out and are working with teachers on their individual plan for improvement starting now.

And students will see more options than ever before in their schools. Businesses, universities, online technology groups, and educators are developing proposals to be “course providers,” allowing Louisiana families a choice of rigorous career or college preparation not always available in traditional schools. Students will have more access than ever before to jobs preparation in construction, engineering, automotive technology, and petrochemical processing. At the same time, Louisiana students will have more Advanced Placement options available than ever before, allowing rigorous college preparation before a young adult ever sets foot on a college campus.

There has been a lot of talk about choice and a lot of talk about change. Important as private school choice is for some Louisiana families, there is no more exciting place to be right now than in a Louisiana public school. Our state made the choice to change, for all of our students, no matter which school they attend. And now we’re seeing it happen, in all of our schools.

It’s going to be a great year.

John White
State Superintendent of Education