On Thursday evening, the State Superintendent of Education’s office sent a press release to media outlets across the state, including my inbox.
Getting past the opening paragraph took time.
Here it is:
Yesterday Governor Bobby Jindal signed three pieces of legislation calling for major changes in Louisiana’s Pre-K-12 education system. Wasting no time, today, State Superintendent of Education John White announced he is launching an extensive statewide outreach initiative, Louisiana Believes. White said he is asking educators to work with him on the formulation of a comprehensive plan to make certain these reforms are implemented to achieve one central objective: ensuring all students, at every grade level, are on track to attain a college degree or succeed in a professional career.
Shortly after I left full-time journalism in 2008, I spent a year and a half teaching in local public schools. I will be among the first to agree with the governor that the education system needs a major overhaul. It is indeed largely broken. I will also say I know many educators who put their hearts and souls into providing the best education possible for their students. But the point of that paragraph that troubled me most was the state Superintendent of Education’s comprehensive plan’s central objective: ensuring all students, at every grade level, are on track to attain a college degree or succeed in a professional career.
Rather than focusing on the myriad of problems and issues with the legislation Jindal pushed through, I’ll start with a few obvious questions about White’s central objective:
– When in history has every person in any education system worked on grade level with plans to go to college?
– Where does anyone get the idea that a successful education is being on track to attain a college degree or succeed in a professional career?
– Define professional career.
– Since we don’t live in a society that solely needs professionals, how would we plan on functioning if the state Superintendent’s utopic objective were achievable?
When I read the press release, all I could think of was The Emperor’s New Clothes. I realize the lack of political correctness required to stand behind the obvious fact that every student is not college bound (or is capable of being college bound) and would wager that anyone who’s worked in education recognizes the impossibility of the superintendent’s stated objective for just that reason. A grassroots movement demanding a strong dose of reality and common sense be incorporated into the state plan would go a long way in saving time, energy and loads of money/frustration. Why not have a realistic and healthy goal in mind — along the lines of, “every student achieves to his or her maximum ability”? How could anyone believe additional bureaucracy is going to eliminate the reality of a bell-shaped curve?
Educators who have spent time in regular classrooms, especially in the last few years, realize the barriers some students face — barriers caused by both medical and psychological issues that plague some children and will never allow them to read on a high school level. To put those students in classrooms where the only goal is one they will never be able to achieve is disheartening and worsens an already dire situation, causing even more behavioral issues.
Our school systems desperately need more opportunities for those children who won’t go to college. There is honor in physical work or learning a trade. Why take that away? An education system whose primary goal is perpetually out of reach further ostracizes and disengages the students most at risk. Those students also deserve to be motivated, and the best way to motivate them is to create opportunities where they are capable of succeeding too.
Jan Risher’s column appears Sundays. Email her at email@example.com.