State planning career education overhaul

State education leaders are finalizing a proposal to make sweeping changes in Louisiana’s long-troubled career education program for public high schools.

“It is time we remove the stigma of career education,” state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday evening during a public forum on the plan.

The revamp, which is called Jump Start, is touted as a way for school districts, colleges and businesses to re-energize career and technical education, and ensure that students have the technical skills to land what economic development officials call a wave of top-paying jobs in Louisiana.

Backers contend the overhaul will give students more time to decide on careers or college, offer additional and improved workplace and industry training during high school, and better fund classes that, White said, generally cost more than traditional literature and other courses.

“We have to revitalize, we have to resuscitate, we have to give the system a jump-start,” White told superintendents, other educators and business leaders who gathered at Baton Rouge Community College.

The public forum on Tuesday was one of the final gatherings after nine months of statewide discussions.

Similar meetings are set for Wednesday in Alexandria, Thursday in Lake Charles and Jan. 30 in Bossier City.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to act on parts of the plan at its March meeting.

The state Department of Education, in documents that accompanied the plans, noted that one in four high school students fails to graduate and that, of those who do, only 28 percent obtain a two-year or four-year diploma.

“Simply put, too few young adults in Louisiana have the skills and credentials to assume the high-wage jobs offered in today’s Louisiana economy,” the department documents say. “Missing from this picture is a different choice for students and families; a state-of-the-art system of career and technical education.”

Critics contend that the state’s career program has been stigmatized as one for low-performing students. Only 1 percent of high school graduates earn a career diploma, and state officials say few students have the option of selecting courses linked to high-wage careers.

Under the draft plan, ninth- and 10th-graders would take common coursework.

However,they also would pursue elective courses, including career planning and, for those pursuing a career diploma, experience in career skills by using public-private teams that include officials of two-year colleges, local industries and workforce development agencies.

Eleventh- and 12th-graders would follow a sequence of career courses, workplace experience and industry credentials.

Students would have to earn a statewide or regional Jump Start credential to earn a career diploma.

The changes would be phased in between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 school years.

The draft proposal would also end the practice of requiring students to declare a “career path” in the eighth grade, which White said is too early.

The upgraded career education courses would be funded in part by increasing state aid for those classes, which a task force recently recommended and which BESE endorsed last week.