Archives for category: Louisiana

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).

Yowsa.

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.

Mercedes Schneider is back to work teaching high school English in Louisiana. She is doing her best to keep her students socially distanced, though she hasn’t figured out how that will be possible when her class size reaches 24.

But the silver lining is that her students are wearing masks! They are not acting stupid and refusing to protect themselves and others! That’s good news for them and for her.

Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the Supreme Court’s four liberal justices to strike down a Louisiana law that would have severely restricted access to abortion.

The Washington Post reports:

The Supreme Court on Monday provided a victory for abortion rights activists, striking down a restrictive Louisiana law that would have left the state with only one abortion clinic.


Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court’s liberals in the 5 to 4 decision. It was a blow to conservatives who had hoped for a dramatic change in the court’s abortion jurisprudence in the first case heard by a court reinforced by President Trump’s two conservative appointees.


Instead, Roberts said the Louisiana law could not stand given the court’s 2016 decision to to overturn a similar Texas law in 2016.
“The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike,” Roberts wrote in concurring with the decision. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”


Roberts ‘s vote was all the more striking because he dissented in the Texas case. He said he continues “believe that the [Texas] case was wrongly decided.” But he said the question was whether to “adhere to it in the present case.”


It was perhaps the most dramatic example of Roberts’s new role as the pivotal member of the court, and indicated that while he supports restrictions on abortion, he is unready at this point to overhaul the court’s jurisprudence supporting the right of a woman to choose the procedure.

A side note: in states where protestors have refused to wear face masks, some have chanted, “My body, my choice!”

Ironic. Do the anti-maskers support abortion rights?