Diploma system changes topic at Lafayette meeting

The stigma associated with education geared toward preparing students for careers and the lack of teachers to teach technical courses are barriers to the state’s attempts to better prepare high schoolers for success after graduation, state Superintendent of Education John White told a group of educators Wednesday.

“Career education is not something for the low-performing kids or high-performing kids. It’s for all kids,” White said.

The superintendent met with Acadiana educators and community members at South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette on Wednesday for feedback on proposed changes to the state’s high school diploma system.

The system involves three types of diplomas: “Core Four,” for college-bound students, a basic diploma and what is called a career diploma. Proposed changes involve simplifying the three-diploma system to one with two tracks, university or career.

The separate designation — university or career — won’t help shake the stigma attached to career education, SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder told White.

“Why aren’t both diploma pathways a career (diploma),” Harder asked White. “Naming the pathways university and career you’re continuing that stigma. At the end of the day, everything is a career diploma. You just have a different start to get there.”

White said the idea of calling it the “Louisiana diploma” was previously nixed, and Harder’s suggestion would be considered.

Other aspects of the diploma change still under development involve accountability and funding.

White said each region’s school districts will work together with business, industry and colleges to identify workforce needs specific to the region to develop training programs.

Schools could be eligible for additional accountability points for students who become certified in high-wage, high-demand jobs.

White said changes in the way districts are funded to provide additional support for technical training will also be examined.

Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper said it can be difficult to recruit certified or credentialed instructors to train students in technical fields, especially when professionals can make $150,000 on the job and only about $45,000 teaching high school students.

White said industry partnerships could help districts fill that need — even if employers were willing to release a worker a few days or hours a week to work with students, White said.

“We’ve got to find a way...We’ve got a job boom and we’ve got a hole in (terms) of finding people who can teach,” White said.

Some educators in the audience were critical of a plan to require students who take college-credit courses while in high school to take a test administered by the college if the school want extra accountability courses.

White said the additional test was needed to ensure the course’s rigor and the student’s mastery of the college-level course.

White said the proposed changes are still under development and he’ll make another round of visits across the state before policy drafts are proposed.