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The Bottom Line A Look at Louisiana’s School Transformation

“Local Control.” Often we presume comprehensive systemic alignment at a state level in our K12 system will remain a suggestion in practice. There is truth to this. States determine the standards all students should meet in order to graduate. It is up to the local districts to decide methods and with what courses and materials students employ to attain these standards. Certainly there are a few checkpoints along the way through standardized testing. However in most states these test have no bearing on the individual student. Rather the results inform how the school district is doing in educating to the state standards. In the end, the secondary Principal approves course credits, and the Superintendent of the district signs off on the diplomas.

The concept of coherence, that states have the power to align curriculum, standards, professional development, and formative and summative assessments, is a new conversation. Louisiana is a leader as it looks to create increased academic achievement for all students in a system that includes public, charter, and parochial schools alike. The first step, was implementing the same accountability systems and assessments through all types of K-12 schools. The next step was to listen to the state’s teachers, who have expressed wanting to professionalize teaching and participate in a team which develops solutions around the needs of students and staff. Teachers asked the Department of Education for a support network. This network now has between 6000-7000 teachers throughout Louisiana, who have become the movement for curricular alignment.

Teachers have advocated to their local school boards and administration for high-quality curriculum. While it is not mandated, there are financial incentives for the districts. The state recommended curriculum is placed in three tiers. If a district selects a Tier 1 curriculum, both the curriculum and professional development are essentially free. There is 80% adherence in the Tier 1 recommended math curriculum, as well as high adherence in Tier 1 early childhood, social studies, science, and English language arts materials. Teachers are now seeking to be certified mentors and certified content experts. Louisiana’s goal is to have 2000 mentors and 1000 content experts. The content experts work with the Tier 1 professional development vendors to train teachers on using high-quality curriculum.

What other systemic transformations are happening in Louisiana?

There are big shifts in the process of becoming a teacher. Louisiana is moving from the classic six-week teaching experience to a whole year residency program. This model has been met with some apprehension, however stakeholders agree it produces prepared competent teachers. Along with pre-service changes, there is a ‘mentor educator’ certificate now in place.  Five hundred educators have attained this certification, based on successful leadership as a ‘content expert’ (those teachers leading curriculum professional development locally around the state). Louisiana plans to move toward earning a ‘mentor educator’ certificate as the path to becoming a principal, if the mentor educator chooses.

Legislative mandates to transform teacher evaluation and compensation have been in place since 2012.  Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on observation and fifty percent is based on student learning outcomes. The teacher compensation changes (beyond including a year of residency before licensure), include tenure only being earned after attaining five of six of the highest ratings on evaluations over three years.

Systems alignment and support for student success is the focus of Louisiana Believes.  It is designed to ensure that every child is on track for college or a professional career; it includes secondary governance structures creating partnerships with early learning, career technical education, the K12 system, and post-secondary education. One outcome is students are now required to complete financial aid forms for higher education and/or workforce development, in order to graduate from high school. This vertical and programmatic coordination is contributing to improving student ACT (American College Testing) and NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores statewide.

Louisiana is finding a balance between respecting local school decision making, and uniting their various models of K12 education around evidenced based curriculum and support. Student scores are increasing and teachers are feeling respected by being part of decision making state wide. As the administrative leadership roles in schools are filled with this active mentor educator pool, ACTE is certain students will find continued greater personalized success.

Louisiana is transforming their education system.

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The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?