Our Views: A big move for schools

It’s almost a cliché to talk about Louisiana education and the challenges of poverty. That last phrase doesn’t capture the depths of problems of too many of our families, from the inner cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to the grinding rural deprivation of the Mississippi Delta.

Yet Louisiana education is doing something right, despite these formidable obstacles, with a long-term commitment and some new strategies leading to a measurable improvement in schools.

The latest good news: an increase in high school graduation rates.

Superintendent of Education John White said the 73.5 percent graduate rate is higher for the third year in row, showing the impact of what White called innovation in public high schools.

The state is showing increases in the number of students doing better on the ACT college readiness test and in those getting college credit for Advanced Placement classes.

Like the graduation rate, though, all is not well and a great deal of work remains to be done. A 2012 report from America’s Promise, the group headed by former Gen. Colin Powell, found that Louisiana has been making commendable progress on key indicators like graduation rates. Yet our state may still be among the bottom ten for its graduation rate.

And as White says, the job markets are unforgiving. He said that “while most Louisiana jobs do not require a four-year college degree, the majority require advanced credentials and education after high school. Too few of our students are ready for that challenge as of today.”

If Louisiana’s graduation rate is not soaring just yet, the progress is encouraging, and White cited the systems in East Feliciana, West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes for making progress. A new job-focused program called JumpStart is a key state initiative for the future, and Gov. Bobby Jindal recently signed legislation to implement that plan. As White noted, Louisiana has a low graduation rate for special education students, but new efforts are being made to tackle that issue, as well.

To put the graduation rates in perspective, before Louisiana’s accountability system for schools was put into place by then-Gov. Mike Foster, the graduation rate was in the low 60s, meaning almost four in 10 students didn’t make it to the high school finish line.

That the rate is in the 70s, and rising, puts Louisiana in a much more competitive category. The national rate for 2012 graduates was 79 percent, but 2013 data is not yet available.

There is real progress, especially for students who grow up in homes without computers or books, where parents are hard-pressed to find time for their children while working two jobs. The ultimate answer to those problems, urban and rural, is a better education for better jobs.

We’re seeing real progress toward that goal, even if the obstacles remain substantial.