Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lawmakers say state is lowballing dropout rates

Louisiana's school dropout rate is much higher than has been reported by the State Department of Education, according to lawmakers trying to create a separate diploma track for students who don't intend to go to college.

Sen. Bob Kostelka of Monroe and Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro have introduced identical bills that would allow struggling students to choose a career major for high school instead of a college prep curriculum.

The lawmakers contend that if students see a practical application for their studies - and the possibility of a job - they would be more inclined to stay in school and graduate.

Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek is sticking with an old tired argument about the necessity for rigor in our schools. The logic proceeds something like this: too many students are dropping out of school, so we need to make it harder to graduate. He's apparently forgotten that, once upon a time, relevance was considered as important as rigor in defining a curriculum.

And if Kostelka and Fannin are right, relevance is desperately needed, because the true number of dropouts has been lowballed by the State Department of Education.

DOE contends that about a third of ninth-graders never complete high school, which is pretty bad, considering that the national average is one in four.

What those figures leave out, though, is that a significant number of students struggle with the eighth grade LEAP test and drop out BEFORE ninth grade. That makes the actual dropout rate closer to 50%, say Kostelko and Fannin.

Obviously, we are dealing with a significant number of kids for whom college is not an option. But that does not mean they should be discarded (which is what happens now). They deserve an opportunity for a meaningful education that prepares them for decent jobs.

That's what the career course bills are all about. It's not watering down the curriculum - it's about making the education system work for all of our children.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell has a story about the issue here.

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