Louisiana’s Education Programs Increase in National Ranking

Louisiana’s education system has been making positive strides, as indicated by the latest state rankings from the U.S. News & World Report. This widely-cited report includes education as one of the components of its annual Best States rankings, which evaluates all 50 states. In the 2023 rankings, Louisiana has moved up five places for Pre-K-12 education, now ranking 41st, according to this news release from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Dr. Cade Brumley, the State Superintendent of Education, attributed this improvement to the unwavering commitment of educators and policymakers to enhance the quality of education in Louisiana. “In a state long-challenged with educational outcomes, this movement is welcome news; however, we have a long way to go and must keep pushing forward.”

This uptick in performance aligns with positive data released earlier this school year on “The Nation’s Report Card,” also known as the NAEP. In that report, Louisiana’s fourth graders ranked first in the country in reading growth. According to the U.S. News & World Report, from 2019 to 2023, Louisiana has made an overall improvement in its Pre-K-12 ranking by five spots, moving from 46th to 41st. Categorically, Louisiana has seen the following improvements among all of the states:

College readiness has improved by two places, from 42nd to 40th; High school graduation has improved by eight places, from 45th to 37th; Math scores have improved by six places, from 50th to 44th; Reading scores have improved by 10 places, from 48th to 38th; and Preschool enrollment has improved by six places, from 15th to 9th.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jenna Chiasson commented on the results by saying. “I commend the teachers of Louisiana who have shown such dedication to our students. They remained focused on academic excellence and these gains are the direct result of that relentless pursuit.”

These developments are a testament to the efforts of Louisiana’s educators and policymakers to improve the quality of education in the state. The progress is especially noteworthy considering the many challenges Louisiana’s educational system has faced in recent years. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that Louisiana’s students have access to high-quality education that prepares them for success in college and their future careers.

Through their Pre-K-12 rankings, the U.S. News & World Report evaluates a range of factors related to education in each state. These factors include college readiness, high school graduation rates, math and reading scores, and preschool enrollment. The rankings are based on a variety of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics, the College Board, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In addition to these factors, the U.S. News & World Report also considers a state’s educational policies and funding.

The rankings take into account a state’s commitment to early childhood education, the availability of resources and support for teachers, and the state’s investment in education as a whole. By evaluating all of these factors, the U.S. News & World Report provides a comprehensive picture of how each state is performing in the area of Pre-K-12 education.

Other factors that have contributed to Louisiana’s improvement include: the state’s overall school performance score racing pre-pandemic levels; Louisiana students in grades 1-3 growing on the Fall Reading Report for a second consecutive year; Louisiana’s students earned the most significant year-over-year increase on state assessments since 2016, Louisiana’s students earned the most significant year-over-year increase on state assessments since 2016; and Louisiana’s 4th graders led the country in reading growth and the state’s overall ranking moved from 46th to 42nd among the states from 2019 to 2022 on NAEP.

In conclusion, the U.S. News & World Report rankings have played an essential role in evaluating the educational system’s progress in Louisiana and across the nation. The latest rankings indicate that Louisiana is moving in the right direction, and with continued efforts, the state’s educational system can achieve even greater heights.

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Louisiana Farm to School Program Provides Knowledge and Resources

A Louisiana Farm To School program from the LSU AgCenter has been promoting school gardening practices, gardening education, and local food procurement to Louisiana students and educators, and it’s set to expand its operations. According to this article from The Advocate. Since 2017, the program, Seeds to Success, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Louisiana Department of Education, is set to provide expert training of agricultural literacy and knowledge to both students and teachers.

Today, 981 schools throughout Louisiana are participating in the Seeds to Success program, meaning that over a half a million students are being reached by the program and its benefits. In addition to this participation rate, nearly 70% of the participating schools are serving food that is locally or regionally sourced. Additionally, 52.9% of the schools are providing food, nutrition, or agricultural education to their students, and 36.5% of the schools have their own edible gardens on campus.

Crystal Besse is the Program Director of the farm to school program, Seeds to Success, and she describes one of the design aims of the program by saying, “Seeds to Success is designed to increase access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economy.” Carl Motsenbocker is the program’s executive director, and when describing how the program is operating at this time of year, he said, “it’s like I’m busier than I’ve ever been. It’s like … isn’t it time to slow down a little bit? But there’s just so much work to do, and that’s been a great thing for us.”

Motsenbocker began the Seeds to Success program after years of recognizing that there was a growing need in the state for more widespread, healthy eating practices. Motsenbocker had also worked on a similar program at Slow Food Baton Rouge; the program involved school gardens growing seasonal produce. Slow Food Baton Rouge eventually led to the founding of Seeds to Success. In describing the origins of the idea, Motsenbocker said, “I started back in the 1990s doing service projects and putting in gardens at schools, working with kids growing food. I realized we needed to start younger, that we’ve got to get the kids when they’re little to eat better fruits and vegetables. They’re supposed to be eating five servings a day, but the average American eats barely one.”

At Seeds to Success, they boast of a plethora of programs, although it is worth mentioning the two main ones that have captured their current attention. It is impossible to overlook the Louisiana Harvest of the Month program, which meticulously showcases a myriad of Louisiana crops that can be locally and seasonally grown. The program is renowned for its superb high-quality videos that have been produced by the local PBS affiliate LPB. The videos cover a wide range of topics, from crawfish to rice, and ingeniously demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the two crops. The program also offers a rich assortment of resources on how to grow and cook these crops to perfection. Another notable program that has taken center stage is Seeding LA, which was launched in 2021. During its inception, Seeding LA generously distributed more than 1,600 seed packets to various Louisiana schools, and in addition, over 1,000 seed starter kits were also distributed to deserving teachers.

At Seeds to Success, their farm to school endeavors are not solely concentrated on students. A significant portion of the program is geared towards farmers, with the aim of assisting them in expanding their reach and selling their products to a broader range of institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Through this program, not only does it promote healthy eating habits, but it also creates a substantial economic stimulus, making it a win-win for everyone involved. By providing the necessary resources and support, Seeds to Success helps farmers maximize their potential and develop sustainable business models, which in turn helps boost the local economy while providing nutritious food options to communities.

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Lab School to Be a Center of Learning, Teaching, and Education at UL Lafayette Campus

It was recently announced via this informative article from The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, that the school has found a home for the ULL Learning Lab. The Learning Lab will be a laboratory school that will be housed in a two-story, 70,000-square foot building in UL Lafayette’s Research Park.

The building that will host the ULL Learning Lab was originally occupied by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is a federal agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it was recently announced that the building would be transferred to the University by U.S. Senator John Kennedy.

The Interim Dean of the ULL College of Education and Human Development, Dr. Paula Montgomery, spoke about the Learning Lab saying, “beyond a cutting-edge learning and teaching environment, the Learning Lab will be a hub for teaching practice and theory, education-based research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Acquiring a home for the lab school moves us that much closer to opening its doors.” Dr. Montgomery mentioned that the Learning Lab will offer students an expansive education that will feature the following: model teaching methods as well as an innovative curriculum that will encompass both interactive and outdoor learning experiences.

While there is not a set date on when the Learning Lab will be opened, ULL professor and the college’s former dean, Dr. Nathan Roberts explained that “renovations to convert the building into a space for innovative learning, teaching, and research is one of the priorities.”

Dr. Roberts was instrumental in the implementation of the lab school. He explained that initial proposals for the Labwould call for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students to enroll at the school with the eventual expansion through Eighth grade during the first several years. Eventually, this would lead to a high school, as the framework is based on “substantial interest from parents of potential students, school administrators, public officials, and community organizations. So, we’re excited to have the capacity to serve a wide range of people and foster partnerships.”

Essentially, the Learning Lab will be operating as an independent school district in the same manner as LSU andSouthern University’s lab schools. Additionally, it will be funded with a blend of tuition and state support. Furthermore, donor support will also be an essential aspect of the creation of the Learning Lab and its activities. UL Lafayette plans to fund the Lab School as a part of the largest comprehensive funding initiative in the history of the University. UL Lafayette plans to raise $500 in its campaign, which is titled “Together: The Campaign for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

One of the aims of the Learning Lab will involve it being a place for the majority, if not all, of ULL students studying and training to become teachers to be able to gain valuable classroom experience by observing and participating in the lab school in addition to their field experiences in local area school districts. Dr. Aimee Barber is an assistant professor in ULL’s Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction, and she also co-chairs a faculty and staff committee that oversees the establishment of the school.

Dr. Barber explained, “the intent will be to immerse our teacher candidates in a space that enables them to not only learn about global best practice, but actually implement best practice as part of their teacher preparation. So, in their junior year, they will be immersed in laboratory school classrooms in preparation for their final year, which is a year-long residency in area public schools.”

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Online Mathematics Master’s Degree at Nicholls Ranks Nationally

It was recently announced via this news release from Nicholls State University that the school’s online mathematics master’s degree was highly ranked among the top online master’s programs in the nation. Nicholls’ online mathematics master’s degree was ranked among OnlineMastersDegrees.org’s Top 31 Degree Programs, where it came in at number 21, placing it in the top 6% of the regionally accredited postsecondary institutions. According to the news release, the online mathematics program at Nicholls had earned this “top honors for overall quality, affordability, and commitment to student success.”

As per the Department of Mathematics at Nicholls, “the faculty of the Department of Mathematics at Nicholls State University is dedicated to preparing students to adapt to the needs and demands of a technologically oriented society. This new Master of Science in mathematics is uniquely designed to serve teachers seeking professional development.”

The Department of Mathematics’s curriculum for their newer, educationally-focused Master of Science in mathematicsis designed to strengthen the content understanding of secondary math teachers enrolled in the program so that they are enriching their knowledge of logic, mathematics, and technology. In addition to these areas, the program also enriches their knowledge and understanding of curriculum and instruction methods.

In order to rank the online degree programs, OnlineMastersDegrees.org (OMD) analyzed over 7,000 accredited universities through the use of data that was pulled from the individual schools and from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The data science team at OMD then applied a proprietary algorithm in order to rank all qualifying schools for each of the different master’s degrees specialities.

OMD had originally started back in 2020 in order to support online learning at the master’s level, so that the option could become more viable for those wanting to go back to school for a higher degree but might not be able to physically attend classes on a traditional campus. The site’s user-friendly interface and research-based content work together to assist students in finding scholarships, resources, financial aid, and to connect with accredited universities and colleges across the country. As a result, OMD has become a one-stop-shop for a potential prospective student’s cursory google searches when questioning how, where, and when they can apply for a Master’s degree program.

Because of this, it makes the online mathematics program at Nicholls State University all-the-most equipped to meet a prospective student’s inquiries and needs by being on this nationally-ranked list of the best online degrees in the nation. OMD’s list is accompanied with several resources to help a student decide if an online master’s degree is the right step for them, and this includes a list of the benefits of earning an online master’s degree in mathematics. Some of the benefits include: being able to advance in your career while studying, having the opportunity to learn advanced concepts, and setting yourself up in for the ultimate degree.

OMD also explains that with an Online Master’s Degree Program, you’ll be able to learn by writing, “every master’s in mathematics online program has a similar set of core courses that everyone needs to take at the graduate level. Beyond that, there are electives, which students can use to create a unique concentration or fit into a concentration already laid out by the school. Below are some of the more common courses you can expect to encounter. Keep in mind that some schools require a capstone project or thesis, while others require an examination. Students learn about the qualitative behavior of solutions on nonlinear differential equations, bifurcation methods, strange attractors and chaos, fixed pointed and periodic orbits. They also learn how these systems apply to fields like engineering, biology, physics, chemistry, and more.”

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Teacher Pay Increased by BESE’s New Funding Formula

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) recently unanimously adopted a new statewide K-12 education funding formula for the 2023-24 school year, as per this news release from the Louisiana Department of Education. This new Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula not only aligns with the recommendations made by the Louisiana Department of Education, but it also addresses the key areas of teacher pay, support staff pay, workplace development, and operational costs.

The new formula includes across-the-board salary increases of $2,000 for certified teachers and $1000 for non-certified support staff. Additionally, BESE had approved the addition of a differentiated compensation provision for teacher salaries, established in the MFP formula in the form of a $61 million block grant program.

Under this new provision, school systems would receive money to fund stipends for teachers who are working in critical shortage areas, as defined by BESE. Additionally, stipends can be funded for highly-effective teachers, as defined in state law and BESE policy, teachers working in schools with an economically disadvantaged student population rate of 85% or higher, and teacher leaders working to support their peers.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley commented on the new formula adoption by saying, “I’m pleased to see our MFP proposal move forward with a market-responsive approach for the first time in Louisiana’s history. This will be a statewide game-changer for directly targeting pay toward staffing needs and teacher quality. Business and industry partners frequently shoulder the need for employees trained in career and technical education. Dedicating funding to our school systems specifically to support apprenticeships will encourage this career readiness approach to be lifted across Louisiana.”

Also, BESE added a projected $21.5 million to the MFP to help school systems meet their ever-increasing operational costs. The Board increased the formula’s Mandated Costs Allocation from $100 to $133 per student in order to support health insurance, retirement, transportation, and other operational costs that are incurred by school systems. This reflects the rate of inflation from 2009 when this operational component was last increased.

Additionally, the new MFP formula includes a projected $1.5 million increase to the formula’s Supplemental Course Allocation, dedicated to state-approved apprenticeship programs. These funds would be distributed to school systems based on the number of eligible students and with an enrollment limit of 250 applicants annually across both semesters. Systems that are designated as rural by the United States Census Bureau would also receive $3,500 per enrolled student, and non-rural systems would receive $2,500 per enrolled student.

BESE President Dr. Holly Boffy said, “the formula approved by the Board today supports key priorities for K-12 education in Louisiana. As the first step in the state’s education funding process, BESE’s passage of the MFP formula provides $257 million in teacher pay raises for teachers, including $2,000 for all teachers and another $60 million to meet our greatest staffing challenges in the classroom. The new MFP also increases aid for schools and districts struggling to cover rising expenses, and supports career and technical education through dedicated funding. We look forward to working with our partners in the legislature throughout the budgeting process to ensure that our students and educators receive the financial support they deserve.”

The MFP formula is set to determine the cost of teaching every K-12 public school student in Louisiana. According to the state’s constitution, BESE must create a formula for allocating state funding to public schools and submit it annually to the Louisiana Legislature. The final resolution describing the BESE-approved formula is set to be delivered to the Louisiana Legislature for review. According to state law, the Legislature may accept or reject the BESE-submitted formula but cannot alter it. BESE also asked the legislature to send the formula back to the Board so that a 2.75% increase to the formula’s base per-pupil amount and additional money for dual enrollment programs may be added should the Revenue Estimating Conference recognize additional funds throughout the budget approval process.

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Three Louisiana Educators Receive Nationally-Acclaimed Milken Award

It was recently announced by the Louisiana Department of Education via this news release that educators from Ascension, West Baton Rouge, and Lafayette Parish have each received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

The $25,000 Milken Educator Award was awarded by Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken and Louisiana Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley to Ascension Public Schools first-grade teacher Elise Frederic, West Baton Rouge Schools fifth-grade teacher Dereka Duncan, and Lafayette Parish third-grade teacher Corrie Campbell. The issuing of these awards is often kept such a close-held secret that recipients do not know that they are in the running for the award until they are visited by the Superintendent and Milken himself.

By design, Milken Educator Awards are bestowed upon early-to-mid career educators for what these teachers have already achieved early on in their careers and “for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award. In education circles, the Milken Educator Award is known as an immensely high honor, akin to the Academy Awards, as the honor is often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching.” Being selected for such an award is meant to both “inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues, and communities.

Elise Frederic serves as an accomplished first-grade teacher at Lakeside Primary School in Prairieville, Louisiana, and she is described as continually helping “each child set daily goals and pair[ing] students strategically to address their specific needs. Her laser focus on literacy delivers in spades.” In the 2021-2022 School year, more than 90% of Frederic’s students had achieved mastery on district benchmark assessments in English and 70% had achieved mastery in Math.

Lowell Milken commented on Elise Frederic’s success by saying, “virtually all people can name at least one teacher who has had an extraordinary impact on their lives. Elise Frederic is that kind of foundational teacher whose care and compassion have helped shape young learners into future leaders. Equally impressive, Elise is an exceptional instructional role model for her peers in the school, district and broader community.”

Dereka Duncan is a well-regarded fifth-grade science teacher at Cohn Elementary School, and she has reportedly worked on “revamping the fifth grade reading curriculum to align with Louisiana ELA standards.” Because of this commitment, “Cohn has reached an all-time high progress index of 90%, resulting in an A on the growth index score for the first time.”

Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley said the following about Dereka Duncan: “Students do more than learn science in Dereka Duncan’s class, they participate in experiences that allow them to see themselves as scientists, engineers, and researchers. She is the type of transformational educator who will help move our state forward.

Corrie Campbell passionately teaches both English Language Arts and Social Studies at Green T. Lindon Elementary School in Lafayette Parish. According to LDOE, at Campbell’s previous school in New Iberia Parish, “Campbell created a fourth-grade writing challenge based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students examined characters’ reactions when their rights were threatened, then shared their work with peers for feedback. The writing unit served as an extended lead-up to the Newberry Award writing contest in fifth grade.”

Dr. Brumley commented by saying, “Corrie Campbell has a hands-on approach to teaching that’s resulted in remarkable student growth and achievement. Not only does she focus on reaching every child, but she also serves as a mentor to her colleagues.”

Nationwide, there were up to 40 elementary educators awarded a Milken Educator Award this season. The Milken Awards Initiative has awarded more than $73 million in individual awards and more than $140 million in funding since 1987.

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