Archives for category: Louisiana

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Mercedes Schneider’s wonderful blog!

I learned about it last night, too late to mark the actual blog birthday.

Mercedes is one of the sharpest, smartest voices of the Resistance to privatization. She is a hero of the Resistance thanks to her incisive, brilliant exposés of “reform” hoaxes.

She is a high school English teacher in Louisiana. She has a Ph.D. in statistics and research methodology. She could have been a professor but she wanted to teach high school students.

I started my blog in April 2012; she started hers in January 2013. We exchanged emails, and we met when I came to speak in Louisiana. We became fast friends. Mercedes has been a regular at annual conferences of the Network for Public Education, where she most recently gave lessons on how to obtain tax forms and other public data about “reform” groups, which sprout like weeds, with new names, lots of money, and the same set of actors.

Mercedes is relentless. While teaching and blogging, she wrote four books over the past decade.

In 2014, her first book was A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of Public Education, a vivid portrayal of the cast of characters who pursued privatization and teacher-bashing while calling themselves “reformers.” Might as well have called themselves “destroyers,” because that’s what they are.

In 2015, she published Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, with a foreword by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

In 2016, she published School Choice: The End of Public Education?, with a foreword by Karen Lewis, the late and much-loved President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

In 2020, she gathered her advice about research and published A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies.

In her blogday post, she reflected on some positive developments in the past decade

Of course, the fight continues, but allow me to celebrate a few realities:

  • Bobby Jindal is no longer governor of Louisiana, and his 2016 presidential ambitions were a flop.
  • John White is no longer Louisiana state superintendent. In fact, he is not a superintendent anywhere at all.
  • Michelle Rhee is no longer DC school chancellor. She, too, is chancellor of nowhere at all.
  • Hanna Skandera is no longer NM school chief. She, too, is school chief of nowhere at all.
  • Joel Klein holds no sway over NYC schools. Chief of nowhere.
  • Teach for America (TFA) is losing its luster. Though it tries to reinvent itself, the bottom line is that the org depends upon class after class of willing recruits– a well that appears to be hitting bottom.

Yes, the fight continues. But today– today I take a moment to celebrate just a wee bit.

Happy Blogday to me.

I celebrate Mercedes too and happily name her to the honor roll of this blog.

Love you, Mercedes! May you keep on making a difference.

Mercedes Schneider takes issue with the new authoritarians who are imposing book bans in the name of “freedom” and limiting free expressions of views they disagree with in the name of of “choice.”

She writes:

We are certainly in an age in which the term, “free speech,” is indeed not free because of increasing conservative pressure to shape speech into that which a minority of extreme, right-wing conservatives would agree with.

Of course, that is not “free speech” at all.

In my school district, the St. Tammany Library Alliance is combating the right-wing conservative push to ban library books not to its liking. In its campaign declaring “Libraries Are for Everyone,” the Alliance is circulating a petition that states the following:

St Tammany Parish is a welcoming community to all and we stand firmly against banning books. As such we endorse the following statements:

  • We believe that all young people in our Parish deserve to see themselves reflected in our library’s collection.
  • We know a large majority of Americans (75%) across the political spectrum oppose book bans.We stand in opposition to the St Tammany Parish Accountability Project’s proposed “Library Accountability Board” ordinance because we believe parents should not be making decisions for other parents’ children about what they read or what is available in our public libraries.
  • Banning books from public libraries is a slippery slope to government censorship and a violation of our first amendment rights.
  • We hold our library Director, board and library staff in high regard and trust them to do their jobs.

We are united against book bans and we ask that our Parish President and Council pledge to act to protect the rights of members of our community to access a variety of books, magazines and other media through our public libraries.

Those truly adhering to and protecting free speech are at risk of losing their jobs– and under increasing pressure to modify their speech in order to please the extreme, disgruntled few.

I gladly signed the petition. Even though it is not likely that I might choose to read certain books harbored in my local public library, there is something much greater at risk if I try to impose a self-tailored book purge, and that something is freedom itself.

Freedom is not freedom if I tailor the freedom of others to suit my own preferences.

A great irony is that some of the same folks who would shape education and curriculum into their preferred image also promote themselves as great advocates of “school choice.”

Mercedes goes on to describe examples of “choice” that is no choice at all.” Freedom is curtailed when one group of people can curtail the rights of others to disagree.

Please open the link and read her warning about the threat to democracy posed by today’s narrow-minded ideologues.

The New Orleans Tribune pulled the mask off the charade of reform in New Orleans. The much-heralded experiment of turning every public school into a charter school is a failure. In the latest state ratings, more than half the schools received a grade of D or F.

The newspaper’s editorial board writes:

It has been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

Well, NOLA Public Schools must be certifiably insane; because here we are — 17 years deep into a so-called education reform movement; and this year’s recently released school performance scores continue to reveal the what we have long known — this reform was and is a farce and a failure.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, laws were rewritten to make the takeover of public schools in Orleans Parish easier. The minimum school performance score needed to escape being considered a failing school was raised from 60 to 87.4 so that more public schools in New Orleans could be taken over by the Recovery School District. Veteran teachers were summarily fired without cause. School buildings and resources were turned over to quasi-private charter management organizations. Our children were and still are bussed all over the city.

Then in 2019, the reformers really dug in, and the Orleans Parish School Board got out of the business of operating schools all together, turning over every campus to a charter operator and an unelected and unaccountable board.

And all of this for what?

If any of this maneuvering would have resulted in success, we would have nothing to say.

But there are 65 charter schools loosely operating under the cavalier control of the Orleans Parish School Board, and based on the 2022 school performance scores released in November by the Louisiana Department of Education, more than half of them are D and F schools. In other words, they are failing or close to it. In fact, if the SPS of 87.4 that was purposefully raised to take over public schools in 2005 were applied right now all but four of the 65 NOLA public schools could be taken over TODAY!

Let’s say it again, another way — if the same standard that was intentionally changed to takeover and destroy public education in Orleans Parish in 2005 were applied to the 65 public charter schools operating under NOLA Public Schools today, a full 61 of those schools would be considered failing by the state RIGHT NOW!

All of the teachers and administrators should be fired without cause; their buildings and resources should be turned over to the RSD; their students and the money that follows them should be scattered to the wind.

Of course, that’s not going to happen. In order to mask the failure of this corporate takeover of public education masquerading as a reform movement, the minimum SPS has been lowered over the last decade and half, indicative of the fact that this so-called reform has never been about improving educational outcomes for our children.

And the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has refused to revisit its accountability policy.

That is because this reform is and has always been about power and control over resources, contracts, assets and the dollars that follow every student. It was never about the students….

So we ask: Where’s the reform . . . the change . . . the miracle results touted as the public school system in Orleans Parish was pillaged and plundered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?

We know the truth. The miracle was a mirage…It’s time to recall this reform! It is time to return public education in New Orleans to real local control so that another generation of children are not left by the wayside.

The New Orleans Tribune is an African American newspaper, so its views will be ignored by the powers that control the legislature and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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.