Archives for category: Louisiana

In Louisiana, a middle school librarian has said. “Enough is enough.” She is standing up and fighting against the vigilantes who have targeted school libraries.

Amanda Jones has filed a lawsuit against two men who have harassed her and other librarians.

Amanda Jones, a librarian at a middle school in Denham Springs, Louisiana, filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday, arguing that Facebook pages run by Michael Lunsford and Ryan Thames falsely labeled her a pedophile who wants to teach 11-year-olds about anal sex.

Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, was alarmed and outraged by the verbal attacks, which came after she spoke against censorship at a Livingston Parish Library Board of Control meeting. She said she’s suing the two men because she’s exhausted with the insults hurled at educators and librarians over LGBTQ materials.

“I’ve had enough for everybody,” Jones said in an interview. “Nobody stands up to these people. They just say what they want and there are no repercussions and they ruin people’s reputations and there’s no consequences.”

Lunsford did not respond to requests for comment. Thames declined to comment.

Nationwide, school districts have been bombarded by conservative activists and parents over the past year demanding that books with sexual references or that discuss racial conflict, often by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ, be purged from campuses. Those demands have slowly moved toward public libraries in recent months.

Thank you, Amanda Jones!

Stephen Sawchuk wrote in Education Week about the ways that public controversy about “critical race theory” is affecting the drafting and revision of state history standards. He looks closely at three states that revised their history standards in 2021: Louisiana, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

For months, GOP officials and FOX news kept up a steady and alarming drumbeat, falsely claiming that public schools were indoctrinating white students to hate America and to be ashamed of their race. This weird notion was suddenly discovered in the last year of the Trump regime, when beating up on public schools became a cultural wedge issue. The governor’s race in Virginia showed that the campaign against CRT was effective in rousing people’s fears.

As Sawchuk shows, the effort to twist U.S. history to leave out anything bad that happened in the past is working its way into state standards. Message from the GOP, FOX News, and Chris Rufo: Teach lies about U.S. history!

He writes:

Spiked drafts. Allegations of political interference. Confusing terminology. And thousands of angry comments: The volatile debate over how to teach about America’s racist past is wreaking havoc on states’ processes for deciding what students will learn about history and social studies.

In state after state, commentators and politicians contended that proposed expectations for social studies embedded “critical race theory”—even as the educators sitting on the panels writing the new standards defended them for providing an honest, if sometimes challenging, view of America.

Education Week reviewed hundreds of standards and thousands of pages of public comment relating to the standards-writing processes in South Dakota, Louisiana, and New Mexico, all of which took up revisions in 2021, and interviewed writers, educators, and state officials. Across the three states, we found:

  • None of the three states’ drafts mentioned the term critical race theory, but in written comments, people attacked dozens of standards in Louisiana’s and New Mexico’s drafts for purportedly embedding it.
  • In South Dakota, state officials removed about 20 references to Native Americans from the draft submitted by the standards-writing panel—then scotched the draft altogether.
  • The critiques about CRT in Louisiana led the writers to recast some standards and to delete others. And public comment protocols in Louisiana were changed out of fear for the writers’ physical safety.
  • The teaching method of having students take civic action to address classroom and local problems—an approach some conservatives contend is indoctrination—was mysteriously cut from both Louisiana’s and South Dakota’s drafts.
  • About 1 in 10 of some 2,900 pages of comments on the New Mexico standards referenced CRT, often citing language in the draft about “social justice,” “group identity,” and “critical consciousness.” Those terms also attracted confusion from district leaders wondering how those tenets should be taught.

The findings illustrate how the fallout from the confusing and often misleading debate about CRT stands to alter history education in U.S. schools through subtle—but material—changes to day-to-day teaching expectations.

“Standards provide teachers with cover to teach hard things—controversial things,” noted Lynn Walters-Rauenhorst, an instructor and student-teaching supervisor at the University of New Orleans, who was among the writers of Louisiana’s draft. “If we don’t have standards that support deep inquiry about things that may not be the easy topics to cover, then teachers aren’t going to do it.”

And the discord stands as another testament to how the country’s polarization has affected K-12 policymaking at large.

“The uncivil discourse centering around these issues is detrimental not only to the process, but really, it’s also detrimental to these embedded ideas in our constitutional democracy of compromise, of listening to each other, not always agreeing,” said Tammy Waller, the director for K-12 social studies at the Arizona education department.

Arizonans, she noted, faced some controversies over topics like civil rights and the LGBTQ movement when completing the state’s 2018 social studies revisions, but ultimately officials were able to complete a set everyone could live with. That is getting harder.

“In the past I feel like we could have disagreements, and even really intense disagreements, but in the end, it wasn’t a zero-sum game,” Waller said. “We felt like we had something bigger that we were responsible for.”

Critical race theory—originally an academic tool for analyzing how racism manifests in public policy—has morphed into a catch-all term wielded by critics of districts’ efforts to rid schools of systemic racism.

Since the topic exploded in the national discourse last year, a media frenzy has focused on sensational incidents, like reductive diversity trainings for administrators on “white supremacy culture”; a handful of fired teachers and principals who led controversial lessons about racism; and, most recently, on the removal of books written by Black authors from school libraries dealing with themes of racism.

Those are important stories. But states’ revisions to history standards have attracted far less attention, even though they stand to affect millions more students.

Unlike education expectations in reading, science, or math, history standards serve a unique civic function. They are the starting point for textbooks—the narratives that make up most students’ first, and often only, introduction to the American story. In theory, the discipline also gives students an introduction to the tools historians use to interrogate, question, and revise those narratives.

Crafting these K-12 standards is by definition a normative process. It demands that states reach consensus about what students should know. And implicitly, the standards either help tee up—or elide—the difficult and subjective question about the extent to which our country’s practices have matched its ideals.

That question is especially relevant for K-12 students, who are now 54 percent Asian, Black, Latino, and Native American. Where—and how—are these students reflected in this complex story? What does their inclusion or erasure mean for their understanding of who they are as Americans? To what extent should K-12 teaching reflect academic scholarship, which has produced increasingly rich insights over the past three decades about cultural history, especially the experiences of women, Black Americans, and immigrants?

States update teaching standards—the key guide for the content and skills that teachers must cover—about once every seven years. Teachers are legally and professionally obligated to cover these standards, which are usually drafted by panels of teachers, content experts, and lay people. The public also offers feedback before final versions are adopted by state boards of education. …Read more

To illustrate these complex issues, take one representative standard currently under debate in Louisiana in grade 7. The standard, a broad one, directs teachers to explain events and ideas in U.S. history between 1789 and 1877, “including, but not limited to, the Whiskey Rebellion, Indian Removal Act, Fugitive Slavery [sic] Act, Reconstruction amendments.”

As currently written, the standard highlights uneven progress towards true participation in the American democratic experiment. But several commentators in the state suggested replacing those examples with touchstones emphasizing expansion and enfranchisement, though mainly of white Americans: “Jacksonian democracy, Texan independence, Manifest Destiny, and Reconstruction,” they wrote.

What the state standards address also has huge implications for the type of instruction teachers deliver. The current political climate means few teachers are likely to put their careers on the line to go beyond the text of the standards. In some 14 states, officials have passed vaguely worded laws or regulations that constrain how teachers can talk about race and gender. Administrators have largely advised frightened and confused teachers by the mantra: Keep to the standards.

“Teachers are not going to stick their neck out to teach something they think they ethically should talk about, but isn’t going to be assessed,” said Walters-Rauenhorst. “There’s no upside for them.”

EdWeek selected the three states—Louisiana, South Dakota, and New Mexico—for analysis because all three issued at least one draft set of standards in 2021, and received public feedback on that draft.

Other states in the beginning of rewriting their standards are already starting to see the same sort of contention. Minnesota, midway through its own process, has faced tensions over an ethnic-studies portion of its standards; in Mississippi, legislators filed a bill in November to outlaw critical race theory just weeks before the state education department posted a history draft for review….

LOUISIANA: A CRT Reckoning Awaits

Image of a proposed Louisiana standard.

One by one, the commentators stood up at a June public meeting, one of three that the standards-writing committee held to present updates. And one by one, they condemned the state’s draft history standards for purportedly including critical race theory or indoctrinating students.

A typical example: “There is no reason to make students feel guilty,” one speaker said. “We should teach the good things about this country.”

Another: “If you want to continue to talk about slavery, [you should] go to China now…”

Now it’s unclear what will happen to the draft, which is set to be taken up by the state board of education in March.

“I went to law school; I learned critical race theory in law school; I have a Ph.D. This is not something we use in K-12,” said Belinda Cambre, a social studies instructor at a lab school located at Louisiana State University who contributed to the draft. “Really the whole issue saddened me more than anything else, that it could be so weaponized to turn people against talk of diversity.”

The criticism took its toll. Even before the Louisiana department opened up an online public-comment portal, the writers had made significant changes in response to the bruising June feedback.

By August, they had removed the word “equitable” from one kindergarten standard. (That word, along with “equity,” is considered shorthand by some critics for critical race theory.)

Some revisions reframed a standard in a more optimistic way: One in the high school civics course originally called for students to “examine issues of inequity in the United States with respect to traditionally marginalized groups.” In its rewritten form, it calls on them to “analyze the progression and expansion of civil rights, liberties, social and economic equality, and opportunities for groups experiencing discrimination.”

By far, the most substantive revision to the draft was the deletion of one of the overarching skills for students—meant to be embedded across the grade levels and courses—called “taking informed action.”

This thread aimed to get students to take civic action to address classroom, school, and community problems—they might, for example, brainstorm ways to reduce waste or prevent bullying at school. Now, the entire practice has been removed—an irony, given the robust civic participation by those Louisianans who showed up to critique the draft at the June meeting….

Louisiana’s board-appointed State Superintendent Cade Brumley, a former social studies teacher, wrote in a July op-ed that the standards should strike a balance between critique and patriotism, but should not include critical race theory, which he defined as “suggest[ing] America was intentionally founded on racism, oppression, supremacy.” By October, he said that he could not recommend the draft as written.

This post is Mercedes Schneider at her best, pulling together the strings of a tangled web involving money, power, TFA, Chiefs for Change, John White, the Rhode Island $5 million contract, and Julia Rafael-Baer.

Read it to the end. It’s rich with details that show how an ambitious young person can monetize her TFA experience and her network.

There is big money to be made in the education industry. Unfortunately, not for classroom teachers who devote their lives to their students.

Mercedes Schneider teaches high school English in Louisiana. Here is her report on life after Hurricane Ida:

Hurricane Ida hit four days ago. I’m able to post this using my phone, which I can recharge by plugging into 200 feet of extension cord coming from my neighbors’ house. (They installed a generator that runs on natural gas just two weeks ago.) it’s 85 degrees in my house, but as a result of that generous extension cord offer, I have the luxury of an oscillating fan. My mother is staying with me, as are her five chicks hatched a few weeks ago. They are in a cage in my living room, with a light compliments of said extension cord.

School is “closed until further notice.” I found out from a woman kind enough to look up the school website on her phone, which was functional since the tower of her carrier made it through the storm. We were both waiting in line to enter the hardware store the day after Ida. Like most people, she was there to buy a generator. I needed batteries for numerous devices now of primary importance post-Ida’s-wrath-on-everything-electrical.

When COVID hit, it seemed that much of American ed, our district included, viewed online learning delivered via laptop as the solution, not only during a pandemic, but also as the solution for dodging any ills that might close school. However, remote education is heavily dependent upon infrastructure that can be destroyed in a moment by the likes of Ida— electricity is the biggie, with the (not really) wireless a near second.

Miles and miles of mangled poles, towers, and wires.

And no one is talking “learning loss.” But there sure is a lot of creative problem solving happening and loads of neighborly kindness.

Living through difficult situations is its own education. Seems like that ought to go without saying.

Louisiana hIgh school teacher Mercedes Schneider is required by law to file a financial disclosure form every year, and she never misses the deadline. State board member Kira Orange-Jones is also required to file a financial disclosure form but she misses the deadline year after year, even thought is supposed to be fined for late filing. Orange-Jones is also a senior Vice President of Teach for America. Another mystery in her paperwork is her residence. Her husband, writes Schneider, resides in New Mexico. Where does Orange-Jones live?

Schneider writes:

Orange-Jones is notorious for failing to file her personal financial disclosures and is years in arrears on associated fines.

On August 11, 2019, I wrote a post about Orange-Jones, who at that point had not filed her personal disclosures for 2018 or 2017– and whose residential address was in question because her husband filed his personal disclosure using a NM address. I also included info on BESE meetings Orange-Jones missed.

The next day– August 12, 2019– Orange-Jones filed those missing 2017 and 2018 disclosures, but her filings were incomplete, and she has yet to pay the associated fines ($4300; see page 14 of this “failure to pay late fees” list).

Orange-Jones’ last ethics filing was on November 04, 2019, to amend info on her 2017 disclosure.

Since then, no new filings from Orange-Jones.

No 2020 filing. Not even a 2019 filing.

One big question continues to be Orange-Jones’ residential address. As of 2020, is she living in Louisiana or elsewhere? The public cannot answer this question in a timely manner based on Orange-Jones’ ethics disclosures because her latest filing is for 2018.

I recently interviewed Raynard Sanders, a veteran educator in New Orleans, about his new book The Coup D’etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal of a Public School System.

You can watch it here.

He spoke at length about the blatant racism involved in the takeover and privatization of the city’s public schools. The state leaders (white) had been eager to find a reason to seize control of the district, which had a majority black school board. Ray says that the state commissioner cooked up a tale about missing millions of federal dollars. This same commissioner obtained an audit that showed there were no missing millions, but he continued to keep the story alive to undermine confidence in the elected school board. When the hurricane devastated the city, it was the perfect excuse for the white elite in the city and the state to grab control of the schools, their budget and their personnel. The hurricane became a rationale for firing the mostly African American staff, which was the backbone of the city’s black middle class, and replacing them with young white Teach for America recruits. It is a sobering interview.

Mercedes Schneider reports here on the absurd class sizes assigned to teachers in Louisiana in virtual classes. The teachers are not “teachers,” they are in charge of case loads. They are using a canned curriculum called “Edgenuity,” and she says that it can easily be gamed by students to get higher marks. Education? Not really.

She writes:

Unlimited enrollment is particulary obvious in the virtual high school numbers.

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).


First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

First-semester English II, 299 students; first-semester English II Honors, 68 students– same teacher.

Alg II, 220 students; Spanish II, 208 students; Spanish I, 193 students; Computer Science, 93 students; Pre-calculus, 81 students; Algebra III, 72 students; Algebra II Honors, 57 students; Pre-calculus Honors, 29 students; Spanish III, 3 students; Business Math, 49 students. All. Overseen. By. One. Teacher.

How thin can you spread your peanut butter and still call it a sandwich?

When a single teacher is responsible for tutoring and regularly communicating with 400, 500, 600, 700 students on a pre-fab curriculum that students are expected to primarily complete independently, you tell me how much quality education is transpiring here.

Louisiana has been firmly in the grip of “reformers” (i.e., believers in privatization, Teach for America, and high-stakes testing) for many years. The “reformers'” biggest coup was the complete demolition of public schools in New Orleans, in the years following the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Buoyed by funding from out-of-state billionaires, the proponents of disruption took control of the state board of education (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). Apologists for privatization still point to New Orleans as their proof point of success, but the state has recently assigned grades of D or F to about half of its schools.

In January 2012, John White, one of the stars of the privatization industry, was selected by the state board as superintendent of the state. He served for eight years. During that time, Louisiana dropped to near the bottom of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

After White resigned, the state board chose Cade Brumley, an experienced Louisiana educator who had held district superintendencies in the state

After reformers hyped the “success” of reform in the state for 15 years, Brumley recently revealed that reading scores had declined in the early grades.

A new report shows reading scores for Louisiana’s youngest students have plunged for three consecutive years, raising red flags over arguably the state’s top challenge for improving achievement in the classroom.

The issue is getting new attention after state leaders learned last week that reading levels for students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades have all steadily dropped.

More than half of students in all four grades are performing below grade level, a potential harbinger of major learning problems.

“Clearly what we are doing is not getting the results that our kids deserve,” state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Former state board member Leslie Jacobs, who was one of the most outspoken cheerleaders for the demolition of public schools in New Orleans, said that Louisiana needed to follow the Florida model. Florida gets high fourth-grade reading scores by gaming the system; it holds back third-graders who are not up to grade level. This artificially inflates the state’s scores on fourth-grade NAEP. By eighth grade, however, the Florida readings scores are mediocre; you can’t hold back the low-scoring readers forever.

Mercedes Schneider teaches English to high school students in Louisiana.

In this post, she describes her triumphs of recent months: one hurricane after another has swept across her state. COVID threatens. DeVos expresses her contempt for public schools and their teachers, like Mercedes.

Yet she feels triumphant!

Well, Betsy, my public school is a good school, and I am a good public school teacher.

In the last several weeks, seven new students have enrolled in my Eng IV classes. Six arrived from other schools. That would not happen in a private school. There is no obligation to enroll whoever shows up on the private school doorstep. But we enroll students as they arrive, and each one enters my classroom with a circumstance that I must figure out how to navigate so that the student can become part of my class as successfully and seamlessly as is possible.

It is quite a challenge, but we do not turn students away. We. Do. Not. Turn. Students. Away. That is profound, and the likes of Betsy DeVos, steeped in her ideological bias, completely misses it. 

Then there are the numerous specialized situations in which students and their families find themselves, circumstances that necessitate individualized, often instantaneous and creative, solutions. Longterm illness and disease. Comprehension issues. Physical limitations. Psychological challenges. Homelife instabilities...

The bottom line: My students and I are moving forward, despite COVID, despite hurricanes, despite DeVos.

And that, my friends, is success.

For the past thirty years, school choice advocates have claimed that the best way to improve education was to give families public money to send their child to a private or religious school. The very fact of “privateness,” they said, meant better quality. This turns out not to be the case. Students never receive a voucher that is enough to pay for elite private schools. Typically, the voucher schools are lesser quality than the public school the cHold leaves, because voucher schools are not required to have certified teachers. In recent years, numerous studies show that children who leave a public school and go to a voucher school lose ground academically.

This study was published in 2018. Its findings are consistent with studies of voucher effects in the District of Columbia, Ohio, Indiana, and other states. Voucher schools are free to teach scientific nonsense and fake history. In Florida and elsewhere, they are free to discriminate against groups of people they don’t like.

Atila Abdulkadiroğlu, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters write in the Journal of the American Economic Association that participation in Louisiana’s voucher program “lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and also reduces achievement in reading, science, and social studies. These effects may be due in part to selection of low-quality private schools into the program.”

Despite the negative effects of vouchers, Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, and a host of school choice advocacy groups have continued to demand more and more funding for low-quality, unaccountable voucher schools. This funding is subtracted from public school funding, through a variety of schemes. Whether it’s a tax creditor a “scholarship,” individuals and corporations are diverting money to private schools that belongs in the state coffers to support public schools.