At a time when other states are backing away from education policies that shake-up the status quo, Louisiana is charging forward with reforms aimed at raising student achievement.
On Wednesday, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved a plan that will dramatically transform teacher preparation in Louisiana. Beginning in 2018, students entering education programs at state colleges and universities will spend a year-long residency in the classroom of a mentor teacher prior to graduation. They will also complete a new competency-based course-of-study that requires them to master the skills and knowledge they need to successfully transition to teaching.
State education officials turned their attention to teacher training after a 2014 survey of educators found that more than half felt unprepared for their first day of school. In response, the Louisiana Department of Education and Board of Regents joined forces to launch the Believe and Prepare program, a teacher training pilot involving 41 school districts and 24 teacher preparation providers that became the basis of the overhaul plan approved by BESE this week.
By all accounts, the Believe and Prepare approach has been a success. Shavanda Washington, a Louisiana Tech graduate who completed the one-year classroom residency through the pilot program, told The Advocate it was best decision of her college career. Likewise, mentor teacher Lisa Allen said that having a full-time student teacher in her classroom allowed her to spend more time working with struggling students.
Nevertheless, some education leaders called on BESE to reject the changes. Officials from the teachers unions and school boards association – groups that have generally opposed the reform policies embraced by the board – repeatedly raised concerns about the long-term financial sustainability of the plan. However, their arguments were largely rendered moot by a $67 million federal grant that the state was awarded earlier this month to help pay for the overhaul. In the end, the need to ensure that Louisiana students have effective teachers trumped all other concerns, as it should.
Unfortunately, aspiring educators all across the country are graduating from teacher training programs unprepared for the real-world challenges they face in the classroom. Instead of standing idly by and waiting for higher education officials to address the problem, Louisiana’s K-12 policymakers seized the initiative. As a result, they’re helping ensure that public education in Louisiana continues on its upward trajectory. Hopefully their example will inspire education leaders in other states to follow suit.