Addressing Louisiana’s Middle Skills Challenge
Middle skill jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, currently account for 57% of Louisiana’s labor market, but only 46% of the state’s workers are trained to the middle skill level.
Notwithstanding gradual improvements that the state is seeing in every key metric of college and career-readiness, the capacity to build a capable middle skilled workforce continues to be plagued by years of (a) inadequately funded education policies and programs, (b) lack of appropriate or necessary policies, and (c) failure to lift all boats by ensuring an excellent education for historically disadvantaged children. Persistent gaps in education equity, access, and excellence are hindering Louisiana’s economic progress:
- For at-risk children ages birth to three years old, there are critical gaps in access to publicly-funded early care and education services. In addition, the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides early care and education funding assistance to families in poverty, has been cut nearly 70% since 2009, resulting in 25,000 fewer families receiving CCAP support.
- In spite of modest gains overall, the results of elementary and middle school achievement tests in English Language Arts, Math, and Science show that achievement gaps continue to persist between historically disadvantaged students and their peers. From 2016 to 2017, the gap between the percentage of White students scoring Mastery and above (45%) and African American students scoring Mastery and above (19%) widened by one percentage point.
- In 2017, 11% of Students with Disabilities scored Master and above as compared to 35% of Students without Disabilities who scored at that level. Equally concerning is the fact that only 1 in 10 Students with Disabilities and 1 in 5 African American elementary and middle school students are achieving Mastery and above.
- Although the number of students graduating with a credentialed diploma is increasing, more than 11,000 students in the Class of 2016 did not graduate on time. Twenty-four of Louisiana’s 69 school districts (excluding Recovery School Districts of Baton Rouge and Louisiana), have a cohort rate of at least 85%. In 2005, only two districts had achieved that distinction. Forty-four districts have rates that declined over the past year.
- While nearly half of high school graduates in Louisiana are earning a credential during high school, this opportunity is not being experienced equally by all students. Economically Disadvantaged students, African Americans, and Students with Disabilities have less access to college or career opportunities than their peers.
- For the class of 2016, African-American students in Louisiana public schools had a statewide cohort graduation rate of 71.4 percent—10.6 percentage points below the graduation rate for White students. Among African-American male students in Louisiana, the high school graduation rate is 64.3% or 12.7 percentage points below the statewide rate for all students.
- Approximately 100,000 (21%) of Louisiana citizens ages 18 to 24 years old do not have at least a high school diploma, ranking the state 45th in the United States for 18 to 24 year olds with a high school diploma or equivalent. Nearly 600,000 adults ages 25-64 years old in Louisiana who do not have a high school diploma or GED. It is estimated that 44% of these individuals are not participating in the workforce.
Meeting the demand for trained middle skill workers will require that Louisiana:
- Adequately fund the statewide network of early care and education, particularly for at-risk children and low-income families.
- Ensure that implementation of the federal Every Students Succeeds Act achieves the intended goal of providing an excellent education for all public school children.
- Expand work-based learning programs in every school district for in-school youth and at least regionally for out-of-school youth.
- Invest more state dollars in basic adult education and adopt adult learning best practice models that are producing strong outcomes in other states.