Charters Reform Unions

Yes, Warren’s Education Plan Would Do Harm To Many Families

Elizabeth Warren is the candidate with “a plan for everything,” including public education. There are some good ideas in there—such as ending zero-tolerance discipline policies and $100 billion in “Excellence Grants” for any public school (including charter schools, believe it or not.) 

But tucked away at the end is a poison pill under the subtitle: “Combating the Privatization and Corruption of Our Public Schools.” Sounds ominous, but is it accurate? 

Not even close. Some of the union-approved talking points found include:

  • “Charters … strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color.”
    Does Warren realize more than 60 percent of charter students are students of color? And that study after study finds that these students fare better in charter schools than kids who look like them in traditional public schools? Pssst, including the state she represents in the Senate, where “charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes.”
  • “Ban on for-profit charter schools.”
    First of all, the federal government can’t do this, as charter laws are written by states. Also, only 12 percent of charters are for-profit, and exist only in Wisconsin, California, Michigan and Arizona. This is a favorite red herring of hacks like union shill Peter Greene, intended to mislead the public into thinking that charters are somehow “stealing” public dollars.
  • “Ban self-dealing in nonprofit schools to prevent funneling resources to service providers.”
    This is rich. Yes, there are flagrant cases of charter schools funneling money to for-profit service companies to enrich their leaders. But this problem is hardly unique to charters. Traditional districts and schools are and have always been rife with financial fraud. This is an accountability and oversight problem that curbing charter growth does nothing to prevent. In reality, charters are as good as the laws which create them. Just look at Massachusetts, where Warren praised her home state’s charter laws as “successful, thoughtful, and innovative.”

Parents of Color See Through It

In response, dozens of parents of color called out Warren’s pandering plan and demanded she do better by families who’ve been left out and behind by the very school districts she verbally praises but personally avoided for her son. More recently, she told the NEA that: “If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Go help get more resources for it.”

Many of these parents specifically select charter schools because of generational deprivation at the hands of school districts. For those who can’t afford private schools, there are few other options. Yet, in attacking what little opportunity public education affords these parents, Warren persists.

Naturally, the union-funded status quo defense apparatus sprung into action, calling the parents’ motives and intelligence into question. Worse yet, some on Twitter claimed the fuss was much ado about nothing and the parents “incoherent”:

Rachel Cohen’s since-deleted tweet.

When Warren writes, “as President, I would eliminate this [federal] charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools,” this is an imminent threat to families with limited education options. This is a direct threat to what many families consider a lifeline for their children.

No, parents like Warren and Diane Ravitch aren’t concerned about losing charter schools as an option (or relegating them to the same bureaucratic backwater that plagues districts), because they simply send their kids to private schools or (gasp) the ultimate bastion of privilege and segregation in public education: magnet schools.

If only Warren spoke about the entrenched interests of the education blob as she did on a recent NYT podcast about the financial sector:

I just didn’t care about the banks and the big donors. If you thought I was wrong in what families needed, tell me. But nobody ever did. You know what everybody said to me? It’s a great idea, but don’t even try to do it because the banks call the shots—the big money calls the shots. And they’re gonna keep this from getting done.

Replace “banks and donors” with “union leaders and bloated district bureaucrats” and she’s spot on.

Don’t be rope-a-doped by salacious union-talking points disguised as serious public policy. Much of Warren’s plan is driven from a tremendous point of privilege. She shouldn’t be surprised when parents who don’t buy the charades check her and insist on a refresh to her plan that takes into account their lived experiences.


Why Is NBC Taking Sides In The Public Education Debate?

Last week, NBC announced it will host a nationally-televised forum for Democratic presidential candidates on December 14th that will focus exclusively on public education issues.

NBC’s Public Education Forum 2020, which is being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, will be moderated by MSNBC Live host Ali Velshi and NBC News education correspondent Rehema Ellis.

A string of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are scheduled to attend the event, including Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Tom Steyer.

Nevertheless, this won’t be your typical presidential campaign town hall. That’s because NBC is organizing the forum in collaboration with the American Federation of TeachersNational Education Association, and a handful of organizations that the two unions fund. Plus, the event is closed to the general public and press access has been strictly limited.

As a result, those tuning into the forum shouldn’t expect to see a balanced discussion of the myriad challenges facing America’s public schools. Instead, the format of the event suggests that AFT and NEA are using the forum to litmus test Democratic presidential hopefuls on issues like charters, testing, and accountability. Although Velshi and Ellis are serving as moderators, the candidates will be answering questions posed by a select group of teachers, education activists, and community members.

Something tells me they won’t be framing their queries in a way that puts education reforms in a positive light.

The big question is why NBC agreed to participate in – and lend legitimacy to – what is clearly a PR stunt cooked-up by two of the most powerful special interest groups in Democratic politics. Perhaps network executives were fooled into believing that the organizations behind the event represent a diverse cross-section of constituencies and viewpoints, a perception those groups have been trying to create in the media. For example, a recent article (without a byline) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette claimed the various organizations involved have “different needs” and “often disagree on issues.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the groups have substantial financial ties to AFT and NEA and nearly all sing the same tune when it comes to education.

Although journalists like Rachel Cohen or Ryan Grim are usually quick to point out the funders behind education groups, they have yet to bring attention to the fact that AFT and NEA are bankrolling this coalition. Therefore, I’ve taken upon myself to flesh out the financial and organizational ties between the unions and the groups involved in the upcoming forum below…

Alliance for Educational Justice

The first thing to know about the Alliance for Educational Justice is that doesn’t actually exist, at least in a legal sense.

AEJ is not registered as a non-profit (or for-profit) organization, it has no physical address, and it doesn’t even have its own website. It only has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, both of which churn out a steady stream of anti-charter and anti-reform posts.

Tax filings indicate that AEJ is actually an advocacy campaign launched by the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland, an organization that has received financial support from AFT and other union-funded groups.

Center for Popular Democracy Action

The Center for Popular Democracy is a Brooklyn-based advocacy organization that works hand-in-glove with national labor unions, including AFT and NEA, to advance their agendas in states and communities across the country. They do this by organizing and underwriting a network of state and local “grassroots” activist groups, which now includes 61 organizations in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

As of November, annual filings with the U.S. Department of Labor showed that the Center for Popular Democracy (and its sister 501(c)(4), Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund) have received nearly $4.52 million in funding from AFT and NEA since F.Y. 2013.

AFT president Randi Weingarten previously served on CPD’s board of directors, but now serves on the organization’s Strategic Advisory Council, along with representatives from the AFL-CIO, NEA, SEIU, and the Working Families Party.

Journey for Justice Alliance

Like AEJ, the Journey for Justice Alliance isn’t an actual organization, but an advocacy campaign run under auspices of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization in Chicago. Jitu Brown, who claims to be Journey for Justice’s executive director, is in fact an employee of KOCO.

AFT, NEA, and the Chicago Teachers Union have given the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization a combined total of $653,000 since F.Y. 2013. KOCO also gets significant financial support from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, including $320,000 between F.Y. 2015 and F.Y. 2018.


A lot of ink has been spilled about the NAACP’s controversial call for a moratorium on charter schools, so instead of explaining their (hypocritical, illogical) positions on education issues, I’ll simply refer you to this piece from my friend Chris Stewart, which paints a damning picture of the NAACP’s charter school betrayal.

The NAACP has ties with the teachers unions that stretch back decades and the organization has long benefitted from their financial support. According to annual filings from the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT and NEA have contributed more than $1,400,000 to the NAACP and its affiliates since 2012.

Network for Public Education Action

The Network for Public Education is an anti-education reform organization founded by Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, and Carol Burris in 2014. NPE opposes standardized testing, charter schools, accountability, and teacher evaluations, while promoting a cult of personality around Ravitch and peddling her books.

Tax filings show that the Network for Public Education has received $340,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, which has $53 million in assets and is directly controlled by CTU. In addition, AFT and NEA have steered an additional $95,000 to NPE since 2015.

Schott Foundation for Public Education

The Schott Foundation for Public Education works in lockstep with AFT and NEA on three key areas. First, it provides grants to a network of anti-reform non-profits – from small local groups to national organizations like Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education. Second, as I noted in a 2017 op-ed in The 74, Schott organizes and underwrites trainings for its nationwide network of grantees, many of which focus on organizing and communications strategy. Finally, Schott engages in policy development and has published dozens of reports opposing charters, accountability, and standardized testing.

According to U.S. Department of Labor disclosures, Schott has received more than $1.3 million from the national teachers unions in the past five years, primarily from AFT. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post that revealed that Schott’s 501(c)(4), the Opportunity to Learn Action Fund, essentially served as a conduit for union money. Not only did ninety-nine percent of OTL’s revenue come directly from AFT and NEA, but it was used to underwrite several of the unions’ pet projects, including the anti-reform documentary “Backpack Full of Cash,” narrated by Matt Damon.

Voto Latino

Voto Latino is a nonprofit civic media organization that seeks to increase the involvement of Hispanic and Latinx citizens to become involved in the political process through voting and activism. Voto Latino is probably the least partisan group involved in the upcoming forum and hasn’t taken a strong position on education issues. It was founded in 2004 by the actress Rosario Dawson, who happens to be the girlfriend of Sen. Cory Booker, a rare pro-charter voice in the field of Democratic presidential candidates.

Still, Voto Latino has received at least $110,000 from NEA and $117,000 from the AFL-CIO.


Explaining Elizabeth Warren’s Charter School Hypocrisy In Nine Tweets

On Thursday, the National Education Association released a video of an interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, in which she was asked about her position on charter schools. In her answer, Warren rejected the idea that charter schools are much-needed options for families (particularly low-income families of color) who have been failed by their traditional public school systems.

Instead, perhaps channeling the plutocrats she so often rails against in campaign speeches, Warren insisted that those parents should essentially pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

“If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school,” Warren said, ignoring the fact that charter schools are public schools. “Go help get more resources for it. Volunteer at your public schools. Help get the teachers and school bus drivers and cafeteria workers and the custodial staff and the support staff, help get them some support so they can do the work that needs to be done.”

As might be expected, charter supporters are up-in-arms over Warren’s comments, which come on the heels of a widely-publicized protest by black and Latino charter school parents at one of her campaign events in Atlanta two weeks ago.

Warren met privately with the protesters after the event and promised to reconsider the anti-charter positions outlined in her education plan. She also told the assembled parents that her children had attended public schools, which wasn’t actually true, as her campaign admitted in a statement following the meeting.

While her daughter spent most of her K-12 career in public schools, Warren sent her son to an elite prep school outside Philadelphia, as I explained in a thread I posted on Twitter and have included below…


The Network for Public Education’s (Union-funded) Friends

The self-described mission of the Network for Public Education, the anti-education reform organization founded by Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, centers on “building alliances with grassroots groups across the nation” that oppose all the usual boogeymen: standardized testing, charter schools, school and district accountability, teacher evaluation, etc.

Who exactly are the groups in NPE’s coalition? To find out, I took a look at the national organizations listed in their May 2019 Grassroots Education Newsletter.

As I illustrate in the graphic below (click it to get a closer look), nearly all of the organizations highlighted in the newsletter have received funding from either the American Federation of Teachers and/or National Education Association, according to the unions’ annual financial disclosures to the U.S. Department of Labor.

NPE’s national “grassroots organizing” partners primarily consist of groups that receive teachers union funding.

Taken together, the national organizing partners listed in NPE’s newsletter have received over $2.36 million from AFT and NEA since 2013.

So much for being “grassroots” organizations.

At the same time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these groups have financial ties to the teachers unions since NPE feeds from the same trough. Tax filings show that the Network for Public Education has received $340,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, which has $53 million in assets and is directly controlled by CTU. Plus, AFT and NEA have steered an additional $95,000 to NPE since 2015.

In other words, in spite of NPE’s insistence otherwise, it’s little more than a front for the teachers unions.

What a joke.

Does The Guardian Really Consider This Journalism?

If you’re seeking balanced, nuanced reporting on U.S. education issues from professional journalists, you won’t find it in the pages of The Guardian these days.

Even a cursory review of their recent output makes clear that the bulk of their education coverage is at best amateurish and at worst laughably biased, and largely comes from freelancers who apparently get little guidance or pushback from the Guardian’s editors.

Case-in-point: The paper’s most recent article on the looming threat of a strike by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, “‘There’s no paper in the classroom’: Why Los Angeles teachers are moving toward a strike,” written by freelance journalist Michael Sainato.

To put it bluntly, it reads as if Sainato drafted his story around a set of talking points he received from UTLA’s public relations team, who were also good enough to provide him with a list of folks he should interview.

Freelance journalist Michael Sainato wrote the Guardian’s recent piece on the looming UTLA strike.

According to Sainato’s skewed portrayal of the situation, the district isn’t hurtling towards a shutdown due to the the political ambitions of UTLA’s leaders, or the unreasonable and fiscally irresponsible demands they’ve made in contract negotiations with L.A. Unified officials. Instead, he gives readers the impression that UTLA’s impending strike is part of a broader wave of teacher activism sweeping the country, while placing the blame squarely on the teachers unions’ perennial boogeymen: underfunding of schools, overcrowded classrooms, standardized testing, and of course, charter schools.

It’s an easy case to make, especially since every single person he quotes in the piece is in lockstep with the teachers unions. However, what he fails to disclose in his reporting is that nearly all of the individuals quoted are actually officials in either UTLA or groups with close organizational and financial ties to the union.

All four teachers (for reference, there are nearly 27,000 teachers in LAUSD) who appear in the article – Elgin Scott, Julie Van WinkleVictoria Casas, and Matthew Kogan – are members of UTLA’s board of directors. Kogan also serves as a vice-president with UTLA’s state affiliate, the California Federation of Teachers.

UTLA board members Elgin Scott, Julie Van Winkle, Victoria Casas, and Matthew Kogan.

In spite of their positions in the union hierarchy, none of the four are able to make a compelling case for why UTLA needs to disrupt the education of LAUSD’s 735,000 467,000 students by walking out. Victoria Casas, for example, wants UTLA to force the district to scale back its standardized testing requirements, citing the Dibels assessments that she has to administer to her elementary schoolers three times a year. Yet it only takes about three minutes to administer the Dibels per child, which would probably amount to less time than she will spend handing out candy to her class over the coming week.

The article also quotes Rudy Gonsalves, described as the director of Reclaim Our Schools L.A., who says that the $11,000 LAUSD spends on each student every year is “way below the national average” and “significantly below what we need for a student to succeed in a traditional school.”

Yet once again, Sainato fails to correct some misinformation. First of all, the district spends approximately $16,000 per pupil, which far exceeds the national average of $11,642 in 2017, according to the latest figures from the National Education Association’s annual Rankings and Estimates Report.

Moreover, Rudy Gonsalves can’t be the director of Reclaim Our Schools L.A., since no such organization exists. Much like the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, ROS-LA is nothing more than an advocacy campaign backed and largely funded by the teachers unions. In reality, Gonsalves works for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE. As I’ve reported elsewhere, LAANE receives funding from several teachers unions and the California Teachers Association holds a seat on its board of directors.

Screenshot from LAANE’s website.

While Sainato could be forgiven for missing things like Gonsalves’ ties to LAANE, it’s much harder to explain away his omission of so many other central elements of this story. There isn’t a single sentence in his entire 1,500-word article about the LAUSD’s dire financial situation, which L.A. County officials have warned could soon bankrupt the district. He makes a point of mentioning LAUSD Supt. Austin Buetner’s previous career in finance, but says nary a peep about the skyrocketing costs of the exceedingly generous healthcare benefits mandated by UTLA’s contract. He repeats the hackneyed claims of UTLA leaders who accuse LAUSD officials of being in the pocket of rich privatizers, but fails to raise the awkward question of whether it’s appropriate for the teachers union to sidestep the democratic process by pursuing policy objectives through closed-door contract negotiations.

When taken together, it’s hard to make case that the Guardian’s latest piece on the showdown in Los Angeles meets the journalistic rigor that you would expect from a legendary 197 year-old newspaper, and honestly, that’s pretty sad.


A Dubious Distinction, But Well-Deserved

Education media watchdog Alexander Russo released his annual roundup of the “Worst Education Journalism” yesterday and once again the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss landed at the top of the “Worst Journalist” list.

This dubious distinction is well-deserved, as Strauss jettisoned her journalistic principles years ago when she effectively turned her column, “The Answer Sheet,” into a high-profile (and high-traffic) platform for a rotating cast of education reform opponents.

Alexander Russo

Although the Post tags her pieces as “Analysis” (as opposed to straight journalism), which the paper defines as an “interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events,” readers will find little actual analysis in her work. Instead, Strauss essentially republishes the work of others, who all happen to share the same anti-reform outlook, while adding an often flattering introduction of the author, which in many cases appears to be cut-and-paste, as seen below.

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“What she’s doing — stealing bylines that should rightly go to her contributors, essentially  — is simply wrong to me, even if her contributors give her permission to post their work,” Russo said in explaining why he once again singled out Strauss on his dishonor roll. “Her page is also lazy. Instead of helping readers sort through complicated issues or giving us an unsparing analysis of both sides, she’s pandering to her readers’ baser urges.”

That last point is really the crux of the problem with Strauss’ output at the Washington Post: it is completely one-sided. Instead of presenting readers with views from both sides of the education debate, Strauss turns to the same anti-charter/testing/accountability folks again and again to share their views.

For example, Strauss has published (and/or extensively quoted) pieces from Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Educationtwenty times since January 2017.

During the same period, Strauss has published or extensively quoted works from the National Education Policy Center twelve times.

The same goes for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a.k.a., Fairtest), whose work has made a dozen appearances in the pages of the Answer Sheet over the past eighteen months.

All of these groups receive funding from the teachers unions (in the case of the National Education Policy Center, we’re talking millions), a fact that you won’t find disclosed in their essays or Strauss’ introductions. Meanwhile, contrasting views from pro-reform voices are nowhere to be seen.

In short, Valerie Strauss has given education reform opponents one a hell of a soapbox from which to broadcast their propaganda, but she’s left her readers with a distorted view of education policy issues. It’s hard to see how that aligns with the mission of the Washington Post – whose motto is “Democracy dies in darkness” – but as Russo has noted in the past, those in charge at the paper don’t seem very concerned.

Perhaps it’s because reformers haven’t made enough of a stink about it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of periodic posts looking at the anti-reform propaganda published by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.


Mile High Madness

On Saturday, state delegates of the Colorado Democratic Party passed an amendment to the party platform opposing the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform1 and calling on the organization drop “Democrats” from its name.

The vote followed an ugly scene on the floor of the party’s state assembly meeting, in which delegates loudly booed DFER Colorado state director Jennifer Walmer as she attempted to defend her organization, noting that the group is supported by a slew of prominent Colorado Democrats and is “focused on the idea that every child deserves access to a high-quality education.”

The jeering continued as others rose to oppose the platform amendment, including a charter school teacher and a delegate who urged the assembly to reject what he said amounted to an education reform “litmus test.”

DFER Colorado state director Jen Walmer was booed and shouted down by delegates as she attempted to defend the organization.

“I don’t think I have ever had a darker day as a Democrat because that is not my party,” Walmer told Chalkbeat after delegates passed the amendment. “I work with people who have dedicated their lives to inclusion and equity and pushing back on the hateful rhetoric of Trump and DeVos, and I just saw that same hateful rhetoric in my own party. It was a horrible display of unity.”

Part of a concerted strategy?

Not only was it a horrible display of unity, but it was the latest example of what appears to be a concerted strategy to get anti-education reform positions enshrined in Democratic Party platforms, and by extension, to marginalize reformers within the party.

It’s an effort that has its origins in 2013, when the California Democratic Party passed a resolution, co-sponsored by the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, that attacked DFER as a front for “corporations, Republican operatives and wealthy individuals dedicated to privatization and anti-educator initiatives.”

Interestingly enough, two years later that very same resolution ended up in the hands of a secret, NEA-funded group of teachers union officials and anti-reform activists called the Louisiana Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. As I documented in a series of blog posts in 2016, I used public records requests to secure more than a year’s worth of the group’s internal correspondence, in which they fleshed out a strategy to secure a statewide moratorium on charter schools. The documents also showed that LAROS was planning to present its own anti-DFER resolution, modeled on the one passed in California in 2013, to the Louisiana Democratic Party.

The thirty core members of LAROS included officers from the Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers and long-time anti-reform activists like Karran Harper Royal.

The teachers unions and their allies subsequently pulled off a public relations coup when they rammed through a series of last-minute amendments to the national Democratic Party platform in the weeks leading-up to the presidential convention in 2016. The changes opposed the use of test results to evaluate schools and teachers, upheld the right of parents to opt-out of testing, and criticized charter schools.

These things matter.

Some pro-reform Democrats respond to these efforts to hijack party platforms with a shrug. They insist platforms don’t really matter and they can point to significant numbers of Democratic voters and elected officials who support things like charters and school accountability.

These are both valid points. I mean, how many of us has read their state Democratic Party platform cover to cover? (Me neither.) And yes, it’s true that there are plenty of Democratic voters and officeholders who agree with reformers on education issues. But those aren’t the folks we need to be worried about.

We need to worry about the registered Democrat outside Boston who doesn’t really understand charters, but heard they’re promoted by billionaire Republicans and therefore votes against raising the charter cap. We need to worry about the freshman Democratic lawmaker who might be inclined to support school accountability legislation, but is afraid the teachers union will attack her for supporting the “Trump-Devos agenda.” We want the parent in Los Angeles to understand that when their school board member backs a unified enrollment system, it doesn’t mean he’s a “privatizer” intent on destroying public education.

Yet when our opponents are able to get their policies adopted in Democratic Party platforms, it generates headlines that make it harder for our messages to reach those folks. It also makes reformers and the issues we champion appear out-of-sync with the party mainstream, even though these very same policies were championed by the Obama Administration.

Arne and Barack: The original Democrats for Education Reform.

DFER and other pro-reform Democrats shouldn’t cede the field when it comes to these intramural fights. It means there needs to be an effort to get reformers elected as delegates, members of state Democratic Central Committees, and other positions of influence within the party. We also need to ensure we’re at the table when things like platforms and endorsements are being debated. Otherwise pro-reform Democrats could find themselves not only shouted down by their party, but possibly crowded out of it.

  1. Full disclosure: I am an (unpaid) advisory board member for the Louisiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, although the thoughts expressed here are exclusively my own. 

Mystery On The Bayou

Results from the latest round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – also known as “The Nation’s Report Card” – were released on Tuesday.

Nationally, performance on the bi-annual assessment of fourth and eighth grade students remained more-or-less unchanged from the previous administration of NAEP in 2015, although the average score on the eighth grade reading exam did see a slight uptick.

Unfortunately, the NAEP results for my home state of Louisiana were even more disappointing. Fourth grade reading and math scores both fell, while eighth grade reading and math scores remained flat.

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As might be expected, opponents of Louisiana’s education reforms have seized upon the results as evidence that those policies have failed, and in particular have sought to pin the blame for the NAEP score drop on State Superintendent John White.

For example, Michael Deshotels, a former executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators who is now a paid lobbyist for the union, claimed in a recent blog post that the NAEP results prove White “has failed miserably at all his efforts and our children have suffered while he experimented with untested, unsound theories.”

Michael Deshotels and John White.

In truth, Deshotels’ attack is little more than a politically-motivated and wholly unoriginal cheap shot from someone who’s been on the losing side of Louisiana’s education reform battles over the past 20 years.

Every time NAEP results are released, education advocates of all stripes attempt to tie the rise or fall of scores to policies they either espouse or oppose. Consequentially, every two years education experts find themselves compelled to remind everyone that it’s very difficult to establish a causal relationship between NAEP scores and specific policies. Folks like Deshotels (or “statistician” Mercedes Schneider) who insist that this year’s NAEP scores “prove” that Louisiana’s reforms have failed clearly haven’t gotten that message in their heads.

Nevertheless, the drop in Louisiana’s NAEP scores is something of a mystery for a couple of reasons. First of all, the state saw statistically-significant jumps in fourth grade reading and math scores in NAEP in 2015, yet those gains were reversed in the recently released results. It’s hard to discern the possible causes behind the decline because there hasn’t been any radical shifts in education policy over the past two years. There also hasn’t been a dramatic overhaul or controversy (like we experienced during the transition to Common Core) that one could point to as a possible explanation.

More students qualified for TOPS last year ever before, thanks to the steady rise in ACT scores.

The overall drop in NAEP scores is doubly confounding when one considers that so many other measures of educational progress in the state are trending in the other direction. On Tuesday, the same day NAEP results went public, the Louisiana Department of Education announced (hat tip to the comms folks at LDOE on the timing 😏) that the Class of 2017 was the first in state’s history to have more than 50 percent of students qualify for the TOPS college scholarship program, thanks to the steady rise in ACT scores over the past six years. Moreover, the state has made significant gains in its cohort graduation rate, A.P. participation and test results, and college matriculation over the same period.

In an effort to explain the decline, State Superintendent White has raised the question of whether the shift to computer-based testing in the most recent NAEP assessment could have negatively impacted scores, especially in poorer states like Louisiana where many children have limited access to technology. Previous studies have shown that students tend to do worse on digitally-administered exams when compared to the traditional paper-and-pencil format.

Officials with the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP exams, maintain that they took several measures to ensure that the switch to computer-based testing would not have an impact on the results and have promised to release further information on those steps to White and other state education leaders who request it.

While the cause(s) behind the drop in Louisiana’s NAEP scores may remain a mystery – at least for now – it’s important to keep in mind that we shouldn’t blindly jump to conclusions. This year’s disappointing results should certainly prompt educators and policymakers to step back, reassess, identify opportunities for improvement, but there’s plenty of evidence to show that public education in Louisiana has made tremendous progress over the past decade.

A single set of NAEP scores doesn’t suddenly change that fact.


March For Our Lives In New Orleans

I was one of thousands who participated in the March For Our Lives protest in New Orleans this weekend. I got to tag along with two dozen eighth graders from Paul Habans Charter School who participated in the march as it wound its way across the city from the Faubourg Marigny, through the French Quarter, and all the way to Duncan Plaza outside City Hall.

Here are some photos and videos from the event…

Eighth grade students from Paul Habans Charter School, dressed in brightly-colored tie-dyed t-shirts they designed for the event, prepared to march at Washington Square Park.

The march began with protestors streaming out of Washington Square Park in the Faubourg Marigny.

Habans students, with bullhorn in hand, led chants as the crowd of protesters marched through the streets.

The huge crowd of marchers extended as far as the eye could see.

Supporters appeared on sidewalks all along the route of the march.

The street was clogged with marchers as the procession made its way down Decatur through the heart of the French Quarter.

The students from Habans got a real-life lesson in civic engagement and their enthusiasm drew cheers from the crowd.

At the rally in front of City Hall, the eighth graders from Habans were invited up on stage to explain why they were marching.

The Habans students even ended up on the local news on Saturday evening.