Bills, policy proposals, and campaign platforms, oh my! But what makes for good education policy?

Bills, policy proposals, and campaign platforms, oh my! But what makes for good education policy?

It’s that season again, where education policy proposals abound.

Another class of high school seniors will be graduating soon. While it would be great to have a 100% graduation rate, we know that some students will not meet the requirements to receive a diploma.

As we’ve seen over the past few years, this is the time of year when some seek “emergency” waivers of graduation requirements, so some unprepared students are allowed to walk across the stage. Past proposals have been connected to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or natural disasters.

This year, a few groups have begun pushing for waivers or special graduation requirements for students whose native language is not English and who have struggled to learn and demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Louisiana’s legislative session is also about to begin.

Although it’s a fiscal session where the focus will be taxes, lawmakers can file up to five non- fiscal bills, and already, there are about 20 bills related to K-12 education. They address the posting of the national motto in schools, school choice, charter school autonomy and operations, literacy, students’ gender and pronouns, required high school courses, teacher licensure and compensation, and powers of local school systems versus those of the state. Expect several more to be added to this list as well over the next few weeks as lawmakers finalize their bills ahead of the filing deadlines.

And, finally, another election season is underway in Louisiana, with incumbents and new candidates for state education board, state legislature, and governor beginning to express their views and share their priorities at events and in the media, including on education. Already they’ve begun talking about teacher pay, literacy, STEM, testing, and career training. It’s a lot for voters and those most influenced by these policies to make sense of, especially when what most people want to know is whether what’s being proposed will help kids learn better? Will proposed changes take Louisiana’s public education system from the bottom to the top (or even the middle) of the good lists? Will they help parents better support their own kids’ unique needs? While there’s been steady improvement in some areas of public education over the past few decades, Louisiana continues to trail most other states in student outcomes as well as those in the southeast region, though per-student spending is one of the highest.

Just 31% of Louisiana’s public-school students are performing at or above proficient levels per results of the most recent state assessment (LEAP), which measures student learning of state academic standards. This is still down from 36% in 2019; only three school systems in the entire state are back at pre-pandemic student performance levels (one being St. Helena, which had and still has only 7 percent of students performing at or above proficiency). Nine systems posted declines from 2021 to 2022 and need to show strong growth going forward.

So back to the important question about the many proposals to “fix” one or more aspects of education in Louisiana. What questions should parents and other voters ask as they read and hear about proposed education changes and hopefully engage in the process?

Here’s a start:

  •  How will this help kids? (I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually the most important question of all, given that some proposals stand to benefit school systems or adults more than the children being served.)
  • Does this increase or lower expectations for student learning? Is it based on a successful model used elsewhere or backed by evidence, showing positive results for students?
  •  Will it help kids just in the short-term, or will it actually help kids learn and develop skills that will allow them to succeed as they transition to adulthood, college, and/or the workforce? Will this help students graduate high school without needing remediation in college? Will this help students be able to get and keep a well-paid job?
  • How will this help parents and communities advocate for their kids? Will it increase access to information about student learning, school performance, and how school finances are being used? Will it empower parents with more options and resources to address their child’s learning needs?
  • Does this enable more high-quality schools to open and more education providers to serve Louisiana children and families, or does it restrict their ability to be of service out of fear of competition?
  •  Will this expand opportunities for educators and other education entrepreneurs to teach and support students in both traditional and new innovative ways, leveraging technology, research, and what we now know about how children learn best?
  •  Does this empower schools and educators to operate with the autonomy they need, while still holding them accountable for positive student outcomes, good use of tax dollars, and responsiveness to parents and communities?

It’s a critical time for parents and voters to engage on education issues with their elected state leaders, telling them what they need to help children thrive and what they believe will best move our state forward. Pelican has released Louisiana’s Comeback Agenda, which contains a chapter on education, and looks forward to sharing thoughts on specific policy proposals soon. Other groups, including public school leader associations, teachers’ unions, advocacy organizations, and lobbyists representing various interests, will also be weighing in heavily.

Your voice as a parent, a concerned community member, and a voter, matters, and we hope you’ll use it in the coming months as state leaders determine the future of education in our state.

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