A conversation with Louisiana’s State School Superintendent
At the start of the school year, we talked with the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Cade Brumley, on the KTBS-3 Education Checkup podcast. Dr. Brumley is from Northwest Louisiana and started his teaching career in Caddo Parish. He was the school superintendent in DeSoto and Jefferson Parish before taking on his current position at Louisiana’s Department of Education. We summarized his thoughts on PreK-12 education in Louisiana to share with 318 Forum readers.
In a detailed discussion of early care and education, Dr. Brumley noted, “Over the last few years, we have had a tremendous influx of federal dollars for early care and education.”
In fact, “we provided more funding for early care and education than at any other time in Louisiana. The legislature really prioritized and they made a historic investment.”
But even with that investment, he said we won’t be able to service as many kids because of the federal funding cut after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, over the last few years, we have stabilized our state’s child care sector. He noted that “people do not realize the cost of child care and its impacts on the majority of young parents in our state – not just children from the lower socioeconomic sectors.”
In delving into early literacy efforts in Louisiana, Dr. Brumley noted that Louisiana’s improvement in reading is fashioned after the “Mississippi miracle” of improved literacy in our next-door state neighbor. The results are from returning to a phonics basis for teaching reading.
Dr. Brumley was proud of Louisiana leading the country in fourth grade reading growth, as noted in the nation’s report card. He describes Louisiana’s literacy efforts as “back to the basics and teaching kids phonics – the ability to understand sounds and how those sounds come together.” He notes that Louisiana is “going all in on the phonics-based approach … that parents loved this because it makes sense to them and they can work with their kids and teach their kids.”
Dr. Brumley spoke of the initiation of screeners in grades K-3 three times per year that are short and brief and give the teacher information on how to better educate. He notes the screeners will notify parents in a very transparent and honest way about their child’s ability to read. Dr. Brumley notes, “Now we have solutions. ... We now have a set of interventions in K-3 to improve reading levels in our elementary students”.
Dr. Brumley also talked about the importance of safety in our schools. Physical safety procedures are now in place in our school buildings, but he also focused on emotional safety. He noted, “Anxiety, depression and suicide rates in children post-pandemic are much higher, and our schools realize now more than ever the importance of concentrating on the whole child, not just academics.”
Dr. Brumley expressed concern that our state’s lowest national test scores are in social studies.
He notes only 12% of our graduates score proficient in U.S. history. He states, “I tell people this is not only an education issue but a national security problem. There is great promise in a new set of social studies standards and increased rigor in our state.” In grades K-3, the focus is especially on the American story and a focus on people, places and papers that have been most significant over the course of our history. ... Fourth- and fifth-graders will focus on world history.”
Dr. Brumley notes sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will take American history with Louisiana history embedded chronologically. He notes new civics and U.S. history standards will exist at the high school level.
He identifies the new standards as the new “freedom framework” for Louisiana’s students.
Dr. Brumley has led serious discussions about changing the high school experience and how we can transform our high schools to be more responsible for the needs of today. He notes, “Today in the state of Louisiana, 80% of students are on university pathways, and 20% are on career pathways.
At the same time, the university’s graduation rate is 20%. The question is what can we do to strengthen all the choices as students graduate from high school. When students don’t make it to graduation and a university, they are often left with debt and without a specific skill to become employed.”
Dr. Brumley said, “That is why when you look at the colleges in Louisiana, we see the average age is 27. It is because for a decade of someone’s life, they are trying to figure out, “What am I going to do now? How am I going to support myself?” And I think we have an opportunity in high school to really shape that with some policy changes and decisions to better prepare students for that next step after graduation – whether it be college, career or military service.”
After listening to Dr. Brumley, it is easy to see Louisiana is in the midst of improvement in education.
There is a dedication by our educators to provide great opportunities to the children in Louisiana, and there is leadership to turn hope into success.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He has a weekly podcast,
“Education Check Up,” on KTBS3.com. He has recently received lifetime achievement awards from the NW Louisiana Medical Society and Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL).