Friday, January 20, 2012


The big question these days, is how do we educate our children; to best prepare them for the future? It's a great question and we have to explore the conversation from time to time. Our governor, Bobby Jindal, has a plan to allow vouchers for some kids at schools earning a C, D, or F on the school performance scores. Jindal also wants to change the way that tenure is earned and make it easier to fire teachers who are not effective.

This is a conversation we need to have. I work in a high school and I see the challenges faced every day by the educators who work in that school. The school where I work is a wonderful high school with a long, storied tradition of academic excellence. Those teachers still produce some of the smartest students I've ever seen, yet the school only earns a "C" in the accountability score, while also showing the highest ACT average in the parish. There is a jarring dissonance in those two facts and that dissonance is mainly a factor of the school system.

First, we have a large population of special-needs children. I revel in the time I get to spend interacting with those children, but the simple fact is that they count against the school. They'll never graduate, so they count as drop-outs when they leave. Those students alone increase our drop-out rate to a point where it's virtually scandalous.

Second, our school's main population zone is low-income, minority students who struggle with traditional education, at a school that stresses academic excellence. It is not uncommon to find a 17-year-old freshman who recently came to the school from the 8th grade. If that student buckles down, gets serious about his education and passes every class, he'll graduate at age 20 or 21. A sizeable percentage of those students drop out as well, simply because they're not prepared to start high school. They've already been programmed to fail. Don't misunderstand, I'm not down on kids that might be at-risk, but when you send a kid to high school at age 17, don't be surprised that he drops out at age 19.

Third, the public schools have to accept nearly any student who walks in the front door. Public schools don't get to pick and choose their students.

So, those three factors mitigate against a very successful high school. Our students win academic competitions, dominate literary rallys, earn scholarships at an astounding rate, but the simple fact of the special needs kids and at-risk students keep the school performance scores low.

If a kid decides to take a voucher, where is he going to attend school? If five hundred of those kids decide to take a voucher, will there be enough desks at the private schools to accept them?

Lets level the playing field here. Adjust the definition of a drop-out to reflect reality. Find out which schools are truly in need of supervision. Accept the fact that one-size-fits-all education isn't going to work for some kids. Then, lets talk about whether we should be in the business of accepting federal tax dollars if those dollars come with onerous pre-conditions. I'd rather see us forgo federal tax money if we could have greater control over the way we educate our students.

This is a conversation we need to have.

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