Career education overhaul proposed

A proposal to remake Louisiana’s career and technical education offerings will eventually affect about 25,000 students, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

The plan, which is called Jump Start, envisions school districts, two-year colleges and private firms forming regional teams to offer course and workplace training for high school juniors and seniors.

Those students would split their school days between workplace training, such as learning how to be an electrician or welder, and traditional courses.

They could then earn credentials that are supposed to qualify them for high-paying jobs after high school or more college.

The state’s career education program has been criticized for years as doing a poor job of preparing students for jobs.

White said that, in the past, he has handed out high school diplomas to students without knowing where they are headed.

“And they are facing a world that demands they be skilled and have credentials to validate those skills,” he said. “We can do better.”

How quickly school districts embrace the overhaul and the logistics of forming the support teams are among a host of questions surrounding the launch.

Previous efforts to upgrade career and technical education have failed, and only 1 percent of high school students earn a career diploma now.

Last week, special education advocates complained that Jump Start is not crafted to aid those students.

The proposed overhaul has been discussed for the past year, including hearings around the state.

White said that, aside from some similar components, he is not aware of any other state with a similar program.

The plan would allow students to wait until they are high school juniors to make decisions on whether to pursue career or university paths rather than the eighth-grade, which is generally done now.

The state has about 700,000 public school students, including 75,000 high school juniors and seniors.

The changes will take effect statewide for the 2016-17 school year.

White said the initial rollout is likely to attract hundreds of students, and then up to 25,000 “within the next several years.”

The state is offering grants of up to $75,000 for teams of school districts, colleges and businesses that start early.

A committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to review the proposal on March 6.

The full board will do so on March 7.

Students can take Jump Start classes whether they plan to pursue a career after high school, a community or technical college or a four-year university.

Those who plan to earn a career diploma have to follow a Jump Start curriculum, which would include nine of 23 units required for a diploma.

Jobs in construction, engineering, manufacturing, energy, transportation and health care are considered key employment targets for Jump Start graduates.

The state Department of Education released scenarios that it said illustrate how the changes will work.

Under one example, an 11th- grade student who wants to be an electrician would split her day between classes in English III, financial math and basic electricity and a bus trip to a local industry, where she learns how to use power tools.

The schedule is supposed to help provide the academic training to attend a technical college with hands-on experience to land a quality job.

In another example, a high school senior who wants a certification in manufacturing might spend half a day at school taking classes in applied chemistry, English IV and a class that offers mock job interviews.

The afternoon would include a trip to a community college for two more classes, including one in environmental automation.

The routine is supposed to pave the way both for the manufacturing certificate and technical college training to land a job in a high technology firm.