College & Workforce Readiness

La. Drops ‘Career Major’ Graduation Requirement

By Erik W. Robelen — March 03, 2004 3 min read
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Louisiana’s state school board has abandoned a new graduation requirement that would have called on all high school students to select “career majors” and take a series of electives in their areas of concentration.

Leslie R. Jacobs, a member of the board of elementary and secondary education, said the state body had never intended to add a new hurdle for graduation, and was not aware until recently that the mandate was contained in a policy approved last year.

“We didn’t even know about it until a reporter called us on it,” she said. “It was never publicly discussed. So it’s been undone.”

She added, “There is a very strong consensus on the board that this is a good thing, working with students this way, but there was not support for making it a graduation requirement.”

The board by voice vote acted on Feb. 19 to waive the policy, which was to go into effect starting with this school year’s freshman class. Apparently, the requirement had prompted some complaints from parents and students.

Donna Nola-Ganey, an assistant superintendent in the Louisiana Department of Education, agreed that the graduation requirement had gotten lost in the shuffle. “It wasn’t clearly communicated to [the state board],” she said.

At the same time, she emphasized that school districts are still required to offer their students the so-called career majors, which allow them to concentrate on electives related to a particular career or academic path. And students in the 8th grade must come up with a five-year education plan, to be updated each year, to help them focus their talents and interests.

Ms. Nola-Ganey stressed that the goal is not that 8th graders should know exactly what they want to do with their lives.

“That’s not at all the intent,” she said. “It’s a way to get families to sit down with their kids and try to think about: What do you want to concentrate on in high school?”

Stems From State Law

In 1997, Louisiana enacted the Career Options Law, which sought to place a greater emphasis on career awareness and career planning in the early stages of a student’s education.

Building on that law, last May the board approved a policy that dealt with several issues, including the career-major graduation requirement.

Under that plan, students would have had to choose from up to 68 areas of concentration outlined by the state, such as college preparatory, carpentry and construction, business administration, and automotive technology, or they could have developed their own. They would have been required to take four electives tied to the area, plus a computer course and one more related course.

But this provision was never discussed by the board before the broader policy was approved last year. Instead, that meeting focused on other measures to create new “diploma endorsements” for high school students under which they may choose to graduate with a “career/technical” or “academic” endorsement.

Those endorsements will include various requirements, such as completing an industry-based certification program, active participation in work-based learning programs, and completing Advanced Placement courses, according to a summary by the state education agency.

Not everyone was pleased by the board’s recent reversal on the graduation requirement.

“I felt like once it was passed and we had already told the students and the parents this was the new requirement, ... that this was a step backwards,” said Shelia S. Woods, the supervisor of career and technical education and guidance for the 19,000-student Bossier school district.

“Instead of taking an art class, a music class, just a hodgepodge of electives, this was going to help them concentrate on one area so that they would be better prepared when they left high school,” she said.

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