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On standards, timid describes education policy-makers

When it comes to education political leadership in Louisiana, these appointed and elected officials seem to expend more effort to putting brakes on trying to solve problems than to deal decisively enough with the underlying problem itself.

At the highest level of education in the state, for months political forces have put big pressure on the university system to come up with ways of increasing degree completion rates, with some politicians even claiming the institutions were dragging their heels on this. Finally, in its last meeting, the Board of Regents did make changes to baccalaureate schools – although they hardly could be described as bold ones. Open admissions largely would cease with the exception rate to standards also being reduced, less essential classes no longer would qualify for consideration in the admission decision, and some places would marginally increase their standards – in two years. There was no real reason these GPA standards and exceptions cutbacks could not have been implemented for this fall, if not for January, 2011, nor that standards could not be raised further; after all, a 2.0 is the minimum required to graduate in high school and open-admissions community colleges are available.

As tepid as this was, at least it was some action. More shamefully, legislators of the House Education Committee at the behest of local politicians from the elementary and secondary level roundly rejected state Rep. Rickey Hardy’s HB 186 which would have set a minimum 2.0 grade point average standard for participation in any extracurricular school activity. Hardy pointed out this already was law in neighboring states.

After years of prodding, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association finally passed a regulation raising it from 1.5 to 2.0, but only for grades 9-12 (some junior high students participate in varsity activities), where Hardy’s bill would apply down the sixth grade, and obviously does not cover all activities. And it could change the standard at any time, so the bill is needed.

Yet opposition was led the by the group that should endorse that academics come first, the Louisiana School Board Association. Worse, the arguments made by its president, East Baton Rouge board member Nolton Senegal, reveal a puerile mindset that would leave doubt that these arguments would come from somebody who actually has a job overseeing education.

Senegal criticized Hardy for not including emphasis or money in his bill for tutoring to help students raise their GPAs. In other words, Senegal was saying it should be the job of education governance to assist student-athletes to reach the 2.0 standard – which is one requirement to advance a grade level or to graduate – but not to help students not expected to participate in athletics? Otherwise, why would he have levied this criticism? If all students are expected to reach that level, why must only those in athletics be given special help?

Senegal also asserted that students below the 2.0 standard were not joining up to participate in other extracurricular activities. Even if this is currently the case, why not establish the standard for the same reason as athletics – academics should be the primary concern of any student, and extracurricular activities only are privileges to be enjoyed after fulfilling the basic mission of adequate academic progress? And, as Hardy pointed out, if not a problem then why was the bill worth opposing on these grounds?

Yet as bad as the logic was behind this, 11 of 15 panel members voted for this reasoning. I’ll resist commenting on this in light of in what schools the majority of them were educated and what standards they faced in their prep days.

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