For some time now, CABL has been concerned about HB 612 and SB 259 which seek to create a new career diploma for high school students.

They were particularly troubling when first introduced but over the last several weeks, they have been amended and changed through every step of the process. In doing so they are much improved. But we still have serious concerns which we outline in our position below.

Now that it appears the last compromises have been reached on this legislation, we wanted to get input from highly-respected national organizations who work directly in the fields of education reform, standards and career opportunities to give us their analysis of these bills.

We contacted three groups that have worked closely with our state on these very issues: Achieve, The Education Trust and Jobs for the Future. They, too, expressed concerns similar to ours in a letter sent to us on June 10.

While all three organizations praised Louisiana as a national leader in education reform, they raised serious concerns about this particular legislation. They write: “The creation of a new career readiness diploma as a less rigorous alternative to the Louisiana Core 4 diploma is particularly worrisome. In attempting to design a work readiness path for students, you may inadvertently recreate the type of tracking system that leaves many students, particularly poor and minority students, unprepared for good careers and for further education after high school.”

They go on to say “the idea that students bound for the workplace need a lower level of education than those bound for college is a flawed premise that is not supported by research. In fact, the research shows just the opposite: a convergence around a core set of knowledge, skills and competencies that all high school graduates need to be prepared for the post-secondary training and education that will open doors to well-paid, family-sustaining jobs and careers.”

That’s one of the points CABL has been making. The letter concludes by saying “Our organizations strongly encourage you to take additional steps to ensure that the Core 4 (diploma) does not become devalued and that the desire to have a career readiness focus does not result in lower standards for Louisiana students.”

We concur and urge lawmakers not to allow this legislation in its current form to become law and set Louisiana on a course that is clearly in the wrong direction.

CABL Position on Career Diploma Bills
CABL applauds the intent of the authors and supporters of this legislation, which is to give high school students more options and help prevent them from dropping out. That is a laudable goal and we appreciate the attention this important issue has been given. But we believe this legislation is not the right way to do that.

CABL opposed the bills when they were first introduced. They contained many, many problems. The good news is that through the process of the last several weeks, a number of those problems were worked out through intense negotiations between the authors, the administration and education Superintendent Paul Pastorek. But not all of them.

As these bills stand now two fundamental problems remain:

1. Certain students would still be able to pass the eighth grade LEAP test if they fail in one of the two major subject areas of English and math. The current standard to pass is to receive a score of at least “Basic” in one and “Approaching Basic” in the other. That in itself is not a high standard but this legislation would allow some students to be promoted with scores of “Approaching Basic” and Unsatisfactory.” That is not acceptable.

2. These bills would allow any student – even those who passed the LEAP test and had good scores – to opt into the career diploma option at age 13. There are three problems there. First, students shouldn’t have to be making career decisions at age 13. Second, if they opt into the career diploma, they would essentially be trapped on a path that would lead them to a diploma that would not get them into a university if they later decided that’s what they wanted to do. Third, the standards in this career diploma path are so low, students would not be eligible to qualify for a TOPS Tech or TOPS Scholarships – even if they had good grades and were succeeding in school.

We have one other major concern. The one thing we don’t want to happen is to have this path to a career diploma become a “dumping ground” of sorts for kids who with more attention and remediation could, in fact, go on and succeed in school and receive a regular high school diploma. We don’t want to encourage kids who are struggling to aim lower. Many kids struggle, but many of them still go on to graduate from high school and even college. We want to help them set their sights higher.

Finally, we must remember that BESE currently offers a Career Option Program for very low-achieving students. It has nearly 70 career majors in career and technical fields that are already approved by BESE, lead to a GED and are in compliance with federal law. The problem is that many local districts and high schools are not offering students these existing career opportunities and as a result, the programs we do have in place are underutilized. Which is another reason CABL advocated for school board reform.

For a decade now, Louisiana has received numerous national accolades for our school accountability system. Though test scores have not improved at the rate we would like to see them, we have made progress. Lowering our standards is not going to speed that progress. Instead, we fear, it will tempt students and parents to take the easy way out when we should be challenging our kids to learn more.

CABL believes this legislation is dangerous for our future. Rather than have the Legislature dictate an entirely new program of high school career options that significantly lower standards, it makes more sense to determine why school boards aren’t offering the career programs we already have in place.

Though it is late in the process and good faith efforts were made by all parties to repair this legislation, serious issues remain. We urge our state leaders not to allow this legislation to become law and address our dropout problems in ways that do not lower standards and do not reduce options and opportunities for our students.

DID YOU KNOW?

- A new Diplomas Count 2009 report shows that, nationally, 69% of the Class of 2006 graduated with a regular high school diploma. Specifically for Louisiana, the Class of 2006 had a 62% rate. Get the study as reported in Ed Week.

- If all the public schools in New Orleans were still in one school district, it would have had a District Performance Score of 66.4 for the 2007-2008 school year. See report by Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University.

 


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