You are here: Home / News / Ground Zero

Ground Zero

LASAL Students Unpack Louisiana Education Policy
Ground Zero

LASAL students engaging in discussion in their HNRS seminar.

A program unlike any offered at other universities in the nation, the Louisiana Service and Leadership Program (LASAL) at the Ogden Honors College equips students with a unique set of knowledge and skills cultivated for solving specific, chronic problems in our state. This fall Associate Professor of Political Science Belinda Davis and Associate Dean of the Ogden Honors College and Director of the LASAL program Granger Babcock team-taught HNRS 3025, an upper level seminar as part of this program called Ground Zero: Louisiana and the Education Reform Movement.

“One of the things we focus on with LASAL is the chronic poverty in Louisiana,” Babcock said. “And one of the solutions that is always offered is better education. If you give people a good education, you give them a ladder out of poverty.”

Babcock explained that the course is structured to investigate the effectiveness of reforms in place that were designed to close the achievement gap between wealthy white students and poor, at-risk minority students. This is accomplished by taking a close look at the reforms themselves, and how viewpoints from the right to the left seek to resist or advance them. Students also look at education policy on a national level to contextualize where Louisiana stands in certain areas compared to the rest of the country.

Babcock and Davis, with his experience as co-director of LASAL and her expertise in public policy, make a great team for the job. “He’s interested in how we got here and I’m interested in what it produces,” Davis said. 

Davis hopes above all that students will walk away from the course as critical consumers of information.

“I want them to think about the source of a report and how it might influence its findings,” she said. “I also want them to pay attention to the research designs that produce findings. Are they well done? Are they unbiased?” 

For his part, Babcock wants students to see the course as revelatory.

“I would expect that students would understand after they finish the course that, despite strong arguments being made for programs like vouchers and charter schools as a means to close the achievement gap, the gap isn’t closing,” Babcock said. “Things need to be changed, adjusted, or even discontinued.”

He said that at that point, it is up for the students to actively think through the problem, why the problem isn’t working, and what possible solutions could be proposed.  

“It’s a unique opportunity to study something in real time,” he said. Which is where Dr. Davis, an expert on public policy, comes in. Her expertise brings insight to the classroom that allows students to look past propaganda and understand statistics so that they can examine policies plain-faced. “She’s able to dig in and find out what is true and what’s not true,” Babcock added.

“Dr. Davis and Dr. Babcock are equipping us with so much knowledge of this burgeoning education system,” Political Science senior Haley Grieshaber said. “We are getting such an expansive and overarching view of education in Louisiana, and it is truly readying us to be leaders in our community.”

Grieshaber noted that the diversity within the classroom has created a great learning dynamic with varying viewpoints and in-depth discussions. “Not only did we come from different education systems (traditional public schools, private Catholic schools, public magnet, etc.), but also we all are pursuing career paths ranging from Healthcare and Public Policy to Engineering and Political Communications.”

Sophomore Mass Communication and Political Science major Frederick Bell agreed.

“What I really love about this class is the awesome and thought-provoking discussions,” he said. “We’ve delved into the debate regarding the effectiveness of voucher programs and charter schools and how they compare to traditional public schools and it has been incredibly enlightening.”

In acquiring such an in-depth knowledge of this state-specific issue, over the past few months these LASAL scholars have become equipped to engage in discussions on this issue and to navigate education equity in their respective fields and as citizens.

“The LASAL upper division seminars are designed as case studies,” Babcock said. “LASAL scholars will get really familiar with the context of specific issues and see how these same issues are still affecting our state today.” 

Story by Jordan LaHaye.