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Guest Column: A Plan to Improve Education in Louisiana

March 28, 2017

By: Brigitte Nieland

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will hold a special meeting to consider the submission of a state plan to improve public education. The plan is required under the federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA). State Schools Superintendent John White will ask BESE to submit the plan on April 15th so implementation can begin in the next school year.

The proposed ESSA plan calls for increased transparency in school letter grades, with an immediate end to the generous “curve” built into current school letter grades. It will include a mechanism to reward student growth, while still showing where students are performing. It encompasses intense focus on historically underserved groups such as special needs and economically disadvantaged children. It begins the transition to a new proficiency standard (Mastery instead of Basic) that most other states use. A portion of the new school grading scale is for non-tested factors, such as chronic absenteeism, or access to arts or foreign languages.

The plan calls upon schools to have a path for every student to reach the Mastery proficiency level by 2025, while incorporating flexibility for differences in communities. It is the result of a bipartisan effort that has been working on a student-centered plan since the ESSA law passed in December 2015. The state has engaged in 125 meetings around the state in the past year, receiving stakeholder input from all interested parties.

The proposed ESSA plan unites a very diverse group of stakeholders in advocating both for the plan and for an April submission. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), Louisiana Federation for Children, Urban League of Louisiana, Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Equity in All Places, Deaf Focus, and Louisiana Parent Training and Information Center released a joint statement calling for submission of the plan at the earliest date possible. Business, civil rights groups, parent and educator organizations, and groups that work for children with special needs all believe that the right to a quality, equitable education is urgent.

The plan should move forward but, for some reason, the school board association, teacher unions, superintendents’ association, and the administration want to delay it from being submitted in April. This is just the latest example in a long history of delay after delay holding back progress. These groups are seeking to submit the plan in September 2017, after the start of the next school year. Having the new standards in place when the school year begins is clearly a more practical approach. We must no longer tolerate generation after generation of kids not getting the education they deserve because adults resist the changes that everyone knows we need. We are better than this. Parents and kids deserve better than this.

A Chicago Tribune editorial from 2002 stated, “another year suits an administrator’s timeline, not a child’s.” This is as true today as it was then. BESE should continue to act in the best interest of students and families, submit the plan (which can be tweaked along the way if necessary) in April, and not allow any delays to postpone educational opportunity for every child.