Condoleezza Rice talks education reform at Baton Rouge summit

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Higher expectations for students were the topic of an education summit Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge. Governor Bobby Jindal and  Condoleezza Rice made up the panel to discuss reforms for K-12 education.

Rice and Governor Jindal say the national push to get the United States closer to the top rank in education will be a boost for students. 

"We're number 17," Jindal said referring to where the United States ranks in comparison to other countries. "We're number 25 in science and math." As a country, he says something has to be done to put the U.S. back at the top, where children can compete with the rest of the world.

"Do you know that today if you are a child in Korea, you learn in third grade what American kids learn in fifth grade, even if they are in the best schools," Rice said.

During the discussion, Rice said she believes all students are capable of learning. She says the key to not being trapped in the circumstances of your birth, is to be ensured a quality education.

Governor Jindal says that's one reason Louisiana is adopting the Common Core Standards. That's a new curriculum of skills students need to grasp in each grade level, in core subjects, to stay on track for college or a career. According to the Louisiana Department of Education this will allow students here to compete against kids in other states and the world.

"Every district has to change the way they're teaching, upgrade the way they're teaching," Jindal said.

Last week, East Feliciana Superintendent Henderson Lewis told 9News, his district was told by the Department of Education that his schools are not ready for this academic change. For example, some of the new curriculum requires work to be done on a computer, but the districts technology is not up to date.

"Every time it rains in our district, you can count on technology going out," Lewis said in an interview last week. Lewis says he was told their technology is only 51 percent ready.

The state, however, says East Feliciana is close to being ready and they will have a year to prepare for the changing education standards.

Then there's the issue of money to make these changes possible. The superintendent says the district was unsuccessful in passing a tax that would help upgrade the schools and get the needed materials for the new curriculum.

To that Governor Jindal says, "State dollars have gone up ten percent in last five years, so education funding has gone up per student. Every district is going to have to make this a priority in teaching our kids."

Dr. Lewis says his district may be getting more funding, but East Feliciana is predicted to lose more students next year. So he may actually end up with less money to operate on. He adds, the system is already in a budget crunch.

Condoleezza Rice says parents should have the option to leave a district that's failing, and enroll their child in a better school.

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