The “RSD Miracle” and College Readiness in Orleans Parish: Where Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Getting You into Our State’s Colleges and Universities (Part 4 in a Series)

Part 4 of Bobby Jindal’s Anti-Tax Cult and John White’s “Reformers”: Working Together to Keep More Kids out of State Universities

After Mercedes Schneider found someone with Louisiana’s Class of 2014 ACT scores (which appears to be from the same source I use and have been writing about—the ACT EIS product), she wrote an important article, New Orleans RSD Parents: TOPS isn’t Happening for Your Children. Her argument is that there are so few students in New Orleans RSD that qualify for TOPS—even two-year TOPS Tech—that calling RSD a “miracle” is a fraud and that RSD needs to be audited.

But as I have been arguing, TOPS eligibility is only part of the problem. Students aren’t qualifying for admission to our state’s universities in the first place.

And nowhere is that more evident in our state than in Orleans Parish, especially in RSD schools and among its high poverty, underserved students.

The ACT is biased. Bobby Jindal’s GRAD Act and the corollary admission criteria take full advantage of that in order to keep “certain” students out of college. Those students are almost exclusively African American (almost 90% of the regional university enrollment drop in 2014), and while these exact data aren’t available yet for Louisiana, based on the data I do have they are more than likely lower income students, since performance on the ACT is clearly linked to income. They are the students and from the families who do not have a voice to begin with.

(Oh, and they can’t afford to go anyway since students are supposed to fund higher education, not the state, since tuition is the same as state funding in Jindal’s world. Can’t afford the “tax” to go to college? No soup for you! You can’t enroll students who both qualify for college AND can afford to go? No school for you!)

And John White’s cheerleading about ACT scores and the RSD Miracle! is perfect cover for Jindal’s sleight of hand. No, Dr. Sandra Woodley, our governor does not care to preserve access to needy students—many of whom are from Orleans Parish—and you won’t be able to increase enrollment in the UL System or in any other system without addressing the admission standards no matter how many resources you don’t have that you throw at that problem. Revenue and enrollment go hand in hand, and as I’ve said several times before, Jindal’s GRAD Act succeeded in decreasing enrollment (and almost succeeded more if it weren’t for the Board of Regents stepping in to soften the impact), not just higher ed funding.

First, let’s talk about Core 4, which the vast majority of RSD students and students in Orleans Parish in general are completing.

In my last post, I showed that more students in our state are graduating, and graduating with the Core 4 curriculum. A higher proportion of Orleans Parish students are graduating with core than across the state, even though it serves a large population of underserved students in poverty. According to ACT EIS, 85% percent of Orleans Parish RSD ACT testtakers in the Class of 2014 were black, 55% had family incomes under $36,000, and 37% had family incomes under $24,000. Ninety-five percent of RSD-NO’s 2014 graduates were black (not everyone who took the ACT graduated, or graduated from an RSD-NO high school, which accounts for the difference).

All Grads % Core African American Grads % Core
State 45678 73.60% 16687 65.90%
RSD-NO 1137 78.20% 1082 78.20%

Nearly eight in ten RSD-NO high school graduates completed Core 4.

According to the ACT, this should make them college-ready, right?

While Core 4 is not the same as Common Core, some of the same folks that brought us the CCSS travesty were behind the earlier college prep core balloon as well. Before CCSS became so, well, controversial, the ACT was “pleased to be an active partner in the Common Core State Standards Initiative” and claimed that its “Course Readiness Standards” (the foundation for Louisiana’s Core 4 curriculum) was fully aligned with CCSS. That URL now redirects to the “ACT College and Career Readiness Standards” page but the ACT’s curriculum standards haven’t changed… they are just no longer admitting they’re in with CCSS. I’ve been to multiple workshops and presentations given by ACT pushing “core” and going back 7-10 years ago when CCSS was in its infancy the two “cores” were discussed pretty much interchangeably at least in high school.

Why is this relevant? Well, the ACT claims that taking the recommended college prep core curriculum (which Louisiana’s Core 4 exceeds) prepares students for college-level work.

And maybe it does. But if that’s the case, it’s sure not translating to the ACT scores required to gain admission to Louisiana’s state universities. Only 141 RSD-NO students in the Class of 2014 met the minimum published admission standards (2.0 GPA, 18 ACT English, 19 ACT math). This means that only 12% of all RSD-NO graduates, and 16% of its Core 4 completers met the minimum ACT admission standards for our state universities.

In other words…

No College for You

Now to be fair, college counselors in RSD-NO know this and have been working with state colleges and universities to try and get students alternate ways to gain admission.

One effective way is through dual enrollment. A student who does not meet the ACT standard can take developmental coursework in high school in order to qualify for state university admission.

But since the game is rigged, the state does not make it easy.

The state used to fund dual enrollment specifically for this purpose. In fact, when the new criteria were first announced, the Regents promoted the Early Start program as a way for us to help get more students college-ready so that the admission requirements wouldn’t be “that bad.” And there was additional incentive for us since we are graded in GRAD Act for developing partnerships with high schools to prepare students for post-secondary education.

But, oops, that must have been a loophole that Jindal didn’t like. He canceled funding for that program in FY 2012. He did maintain funding for TOPS Tech Early Start which pays for technical education in high school. But since I argue that the whole point all along was to shrink university enrollment I’m sure he didn’t want to make it any easier for students to go.

Last year’s restructuring of Course Choice into Supplemental Course Academy did restore some ability for students to get tuition assistance to take developmental courses through dual enrollment. However, developmentals don’t help schools raise their SPS scores. Anecdotally, I know a lot of schools used SCA funding for ACT prep since ACT scores factor into SPS. Mostly through private providers. I hope it helped, although chances are I will know long before John White tells us if I’m still in the profession when ACT data become available.  But if taking that chance doesn’t work, it will be too late for the Class of 2015.

AP courses also help schools boost their SPS scores since they count in the Graduation Index. I know of schools that have promoted AP courses for their students over developmental education, which means that some kids are taking AP courses when they don’t meet state university admission requirements. So a kid that graduates with Core 4, gets the magic! ACT composite of 18, and takes AP classes is really valuable for the school’s SPS score. But since there is a really good chance that same kid won’t also have the English and math subscores required for university admission, what helps the school isn’t necessarily helping the student.

Finally, universities are not supposed to offer developmental education any more. Some still do just for dual enrollment, but not many. So that takes out one main way that universities can increase their GRAD Act scores plus ensure that students in their service areas are qualified for admission. This especially impacts the regional universities, particularly the urban HBCUs, which serve the populations most impacted by the criteria.

So there is a lot of pressure for schools NOT to allow their students to take developmental education through dual enrollment. I know that several still do, but that’s because they care about their students and are willing to take the hit on their SPS in order to get their kids in college. Since RSD-NO schools are all charters, they have a little more flexibility to do this (there is sometimes a silver lining until someone figures out it’s there and takes it away). But when so few students meet standards, it’s not going to be enough.

Now, people can make a valid argument that as long as students are continuing to post-secondary education that this isn’t a problem. The conventional wisdom is that too many students are going to four-year universities and not succeeding, when they really should be going to two-year schools.

But a funny thing happened on the way to that argument. Fewer Orleans Parish graduates are going to any state colleges and universities than before the new admission standards took effect.

Proportionally, more Orleans Parish graduates are going to two-year schools versus four-year schools. But even though more students are graduating, and graduating with Core 4, more are not going to any state school, especially African American students.

Unfortunately, since the Regents’ Statewide Student Profile System (SSPS) reports students’ parish of residency but not the high school students graduated from, I will not be able to break this down by school district. But since 28% of all 2014 graduates and 46% of all African American graduates were from RSD schools, they certainly factor in here especially among black students.

First, here are the freshman enrollment rates for Orleans Parish, along with my gap analysis, for the 2011-2014:

Year Graduates Core Enrolled Postsecondary Enrolled 4 Year GAP – Core to 4 Year GAP – Grad to Post Secondary % Gap Core to 4 Year % Grads in 4 year
2011 3737 3206 2678 1455 1751 1059 54.6% 38.9%
2012 3814 3283 2669 1575 1708 1145 52.0% 41.3%
2013 3944 3444 2883 1586 1858 1061 53.9% 40.2%
2014 3967 3566 2632 1402 2164 1335 60.7% 35.3%

Just as we saw when we looked at the state data last time, more students are graduating, but that doesn’t mean that more students are also going to state colleges and universities. While two-thirds are going to two-year schools, two-year enrollment is not growing as a result. At least 1335 students from the Class of 2014 did not go to any state college or university last year, or 33.7%, compared to the state where the gap was 19.5%. I say “at least” because while most fall students are recent graduates, not all of them are. Unfortunately, we won’t know for a couple years where they went instead, but based on the IPEDS data I discussed last time, they aren’t all going out of state or to private or proprietary schools in state. Many are going no where.

And—you guessed it—the situation is worse among Orleans Parish’s African American graduates, who despite the gap between graduation and college attendance, had been going to four-year universities at increasing rates (especially in 2013). That is, until the admission criteria stopped them in their tracks last year:

Year Graduates Core Enrolled Postsecondary Enrolled 4 Year GAP – Core to 4 Year GAP – Grad to Post Secondary % Gap Core to 4 Year % Grads in 4 Year
2011 2213 1720 1562 633 1087 651 63.2% 28.6%
2012 2303 1840 1515 649 1191 788 64.7% 28.2%
2013 2385 1956 1742 692 1264 643 64.6% 29.0%
2014 2371 2015 1526 534 1481 845 73.5% 22.5%

Over one-third of Orleans Parish’s African American 2014 graduates did not go to any state postsecondary institution. Not to UNO or SUNO. But also not to Delgado or Nunez.

We have succeeded in sending fewer students to state universities.

We have succeeded in sending a lower percentage of students to any state post-secondary institutions.

We have succeeded in growing our “opportunity youth” population in Orleans Parish and statewide.

This isn’t the way to send more of our high school graduates to our state’s institutions unless, of course, they are our prisons. Oh, wait, which we’ve privatized along with our schools and hospitals. So maybe they don’t really count.

Raising standards won’t fix the problem.

Privatizing and chartering schools won’t fix the problem. All that does is funnel even more money and resources to the private sector and away from our kids.

Addressing poverty will.

And one way to address poverty is to give students access to affordable public higher education. Even some conservatives agree on this one.

Another way is to support social programs that address poverty. Not happening in our state or even in our nation right now.

Some miracle.

Let’s give Bobby Jindal and John White a big hand clap. If this is what you guys intended, it worked brilliantly.

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One thought on “The “RSD Miracle” and College Readiness in Orleans Parish: Where Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Getting You into Our State’s Colleges and Universities (Part 4 in a Series)

  1. Pingback: Louisiana Higher Ed Confessions | deutsch29

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