Despite dip in graduation rates, strong education efforts must continue

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It was discouraging to see that Louisiana’s high school graduation rate fell slightly in 2019 compared to the previous year. The drop wasn’t huge – 1.3 percentage points – and our graduation rate remains above 80-percent, which is a milestone Louisiana cracked for only the first time in 2018. But it sends a message that we need to pay attention to.

The report from the state Department of Education wasn’t all bad. State high schools graduated 2,500 more students in 2019 than the year before and more students continued to qualify for TOPS scholarships. But our overall high school graduation rate remains among the lowest in the country and we still lag peer states like Arkansas, Alabama, and even Mississippi who are performing much better.

That tells us a couple of things. One is that we have to double down on some of the things that we know will work to improve graduation rates. These include initiatives such as dual enrollment, Jump Start, and advanced placement. Each is a little different, but they all have one thing in common – they help students earn college credit while they are still in high school.

This is important for a number of reasons. One is that students who participate in these programs get a head start on college and are exposed to college-level work in a way that shows them they can be successful in a postsecondary environment. It also smooths their transition to higher-level course work and provides an incentive to not only graduate from high school, but to continue on to a college or university. Once they do, the data show their chances for completion are increased.

Efforts like these, which we have been building on over the last several years, must become an even greater priority.

The other thing to note is that this school year will be starting out like no other across the entire state. The COVID outbreak has left the education community with many questions – how much did the school closures in the spring hurt kids, what will school look like when it opens in August, and how long will it be before education as we knew it returns to some semblance of normal?

No one really knows the answer to any of those things. What we do know is that this school year is critically important and more will be asked of our teachers and principals than ever before. Parents who have had to step in to fill the gap in their children’s instructional time because of school interruptions should probably keep doing that even after school starts. Everyone needs to do everything they can to make sure our kids can continue on a path toward future success.

The Louisiana Board of Regents has set what is probably the most important goals we have had in Louisiana in years – to raise the education attainment rate of citizens with a postsecondary credential of value to 60-percent by 2030. Achieving that goal would be one of the absolute best things we could do to improve our state and make a better future for all of our citizens.

But we have to stay on track. Right now, the drop in high school graduation rates is a pause on our trajectory, but it cannot become a stop. COVID is an obstacle, but we can’t allow it to knock us down. There is a lot of talk now about resilience. It can mean many things, but for us it should be about reaffirming our goals to better educate our people, and finding the resolve and persistence to ensure we succeed.

CABL is a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide organization that works on issues in the public interest. It does this by raising citizen awareness, advancing sound public policies, holding government accountable, and fostering civic leadership. CABL values cultural diversity within its programs, and is dedicated to seeking and advocating for solutions that will move Louisiana forward. Learn more at cabl.org