Educational reform ignored in Louisiana
With a major national election just a month away, the stakes continue to get higher. A well-educated workforce is the key to pulling the country out of the present economic doldrums. But in election contests nationwide, and particularly in my home state of Louisiana, improving public education is rarely if ever mentioned as a campaign issue.
Congress eagerly jumped into the economic fray and fixed the banks and Wall Street, but left creative ideas to upgrade public education on the sidelines. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently, “We need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Our educational failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness.”
In every study conducted that reviews how to make the country more productive and competitive, emphasis on math and science tops the list. In national surveys, Louisiana math and science scores rank at the bottom. The state has lost a number of startup companies to other cities like Dallas and Atlanta because of the lack of potential employees with math and science skills.
Yet, math and science achievements are far from being buzzwords of the state’s educational and political leaders. Recent state economic grants of several hundred million dollars went to a sweet potato processing plant and a poultry plant that hires chicken pluckers. Now if we could just give state economic incentives for Louisiana farmers to grow “poke salad,” a traveler could buy a complete meal at a stand on the side of the road.
A bright spot of logic in Louisiana comes from Shreveport cardiologist, Dr. Philip Rozeman. He has been a guest on my radio show, and he thinks, with good reason, that educators and politicians spend far too much time on adult issues, like who runs the school boards, teachers unions, and how charters schools are licensed. “Often, adult issues dominate the debate and children’s issues are pushed to the side.”
Our family spends part of the summer in rural Western North Carolina where certain schools have pushed “children’s issues” to the front burner. Shanequa High School is located in in Gaston, N.C. where most of the students are black and many are from low-income families. The school hours go from 7:30 am until 5:00 pm, with two hours of mandatory homework, along with Saturday morning classes every other Saturday, and three weeks of summer school.
There are no teachers unions here and teachers are attracted with high pay, and the freedom to be creative in raising the level of student interest. The results? All 48 graduating seniors were accepted to at least two colleges and all will be attending one next year.
In my home state of Louisiana, far from expanding the school day, some districts have gone to a four-day school week. When the New Orleans Saints opened their season on a Thursday night a few years ago, schools in the New Orleans area shut down at noon. Got to get ready for the game, right?
Our family adopted several local children’s homes here in the Baton Rouge. In talking to the kids, they expressed their frustration that when they left school and came back to the group home, no computers were not available. One thirteen year old told me: “We can’t get help for our homework and projects over the Internet like the rest of the kids have at their home.” We supplied six computers along with Wi Fi accessibility. Immediately, the student interest in studying improved and grades went up.
In a state like Louisiana, where abundant natural resources have been a disincentive to finding a good paying job, the basic qualifying education rate has been dismal for years. But with mineral production slowing down, this should be a wakeup call. A well-educated work force will attract more advanced industries with high tech designs. The path to a future of prosperity in all states, but particularly in Louisiana, is knowledge.
Someone needs to ring that bell.
Jim Brown is a former Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and state senator from Ferriday. LA. Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show airs each Sunday morning from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream. at www.jimbrownusa.com.