St. Tammany Parish teacher, blogger, and inveterate pessimist Mercedes Schneider desperately wants to believe New Orleans’ Recovery School District – and by extension, its students – have failed.
For years, she has taken to her blog to malign the district at every available opportunity, dismissing evidence of the RSD’s progress as either smoke-and-mirrors or outright lies concocted by the bureaucrats at the Louisiana Department of Education. In fact, it seems every other week Schneider announces she’s uncovered another “bombshell” about New Orleans’ charter schools, discoveries that promise to bring down those treacherous officials at RSD and their evil overlords in Baton Rouge.1
I. Schneider: All Bombast, No Bombshell
Her latest “bombshell” centers on the RSD’s 2014 ACT test results, which Schneider accused the LDOE of intentionally withholding because they reveal the district is failing. So Schneider took matters into her own hands and published what she said were Louisiana’s statewide ACT scores. Claiming she received the data from “a friend works in admissions at one of Louisiana’s institutes of higher education,” Schneider said she was obligated to publish them in “an effort to finally offer the public RSD research that has not been warped and refashioned into the hologram of victory by a very-pro-privatizing Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).”2
However, when LDOE released the official ACT results last week, they showed that Schneider’s numbers were incomplete and inaccurate.3 But when faced with the news that her ACT data was flawed, what did Mercedes do? Well, like any self-righteous anti-education reform crusader, she steadfastly refused to let something as nit-picky as objective facts stand in the way of her smear campaign. Over the past two weeks, she’s published a total of seven blog posts on the ACT scores, in which she uses faulty analysis to bolster her claim that the RSD is a sham.
II. Mercedes’ Inadvertent Case For Common Core Math
As I documented previously, although Schneider has a doctorate in statistics, you wouldn’t know it from her so-called “research” on the RSD, which is riddled with errors thanks to her sloppy methods and lack of context about New Orleans’ schools. For example, one of her recent posts looked at the percentage of students in the RSD who met the ACT requirements for TOPS – Louisiana’s public college and university scholarship program – which included a spreadsheet she created [see below] listing the number of TOPS-eligible students at each RSD high school. Schneider said her data shows “six RSD high schools each graduated less than one percent meeting the requirement, or 16 students out of 274 (5.8 percent).”
…Oh wait, no it doesn’t.
In fact, anyone who knows how to calculate percentages could tell you that more than 1% of students met the minimum ACT score requirement for TOPS at ALL six high schools referenced. I guess it’s a good thing Schneider teaches English and not math – thank god for small favors.
Furthermore, while Schneider also notes in the post that, “of the 16 active New Orleans RSD high schools, five graduated not one student meeting the Regents 18-English-19-math ACT requirement,” she fails to mention that one of those five schools is an alternative school, and another three either have closed or will close at the end of this school year.
This is a perfect illustration of Schneider’s modus operandi: she makes foolish mistakes and omits (or is unaware of) relevant facts because she isn’t trying to draw conclusions about the RSD’s performance. On the contrary, she’s already decided the RSD is a failure and simply tries to present data in a way that bolsters that conclusion.
III. The Real Story: Progress, Not Perfection
When we compare ACT performance between 2005 and 2014, the progress the RSD has made is clear. Let’s begin by looking at the Spring 2005 ACT Composite Scores in the 14 high schools that were taken over by the RSD after Hurricane Katrina:
2005 ACT Scores in High Schools Transferred to RSD
|School Name||2005 Grad Count||ACT Count||ACT Comp. Avg.|
|OPSB Takeover High Schools||1750||1068||14.4|
|Booker T. Washington||40||21||13.0|
|Frederick A. Douglass||63||36||14.6|
|John F. Kennedy||222||140||13.6|
|Joseph S. Clark||84||35||14.2|
|Rabouin Career Magnet||122||102||15.0|
|Sarah T. Reed||201||121||14.4|
|Walter L. Cohen||84||52||13.9|
The first thing to note is that nearly 40% of graduating seniors didn’t even take the ACT that year and it’s fair to assume that those students who did were considered by their school counselors to be “on-track” for college. Nevertheless, the average ACT Composite Score across those 14 schools was a dismal 14.4.
Now, let’s turn to this past year’s ACT scores in the RSD. Since the 2012-13 school year, all students have been required to take the ACT in order to graduate. Therefore, the ACT data from 2014 provides a much broader picture than the 2005 data, which excluded the 40% of seniors who never took the test. In spite of this fact, the average ACT Composite Score across the 16 non-alternative high schools in the RSD was 16.5, a gain of 2.1 points since 2005:
2014 ACT Scores in RSD High Schools (non-alternative)
|School Name||2014 Grad Count||ACT Count||ACT Comp. Avg.|
|RSD High Schools (non-alternative)||1043||1106||16.5|
|Sarah T. Reed||75||68||14.5|
|Walter L. Cohen||35||31||13.7|
|Algiers Technology Academy||51||53||14.9|
|Cohen College Prep||52||53||18.7|
|Dr. M.L.K. Charter||35||39||15.3|
|Joseph S. Clark||52||60||14.2|
|Lake Area New Tech||136||137||16.2|
|Sophie B. Wright||63||75||17.1|
We see similar gains when we look at TOPS eligibility between 2005 and 2014. Only 5.6% of students who took the ACT in 2005 received TOPS-eligible scores in the 14 high schools that were taken over by the RSD:
2005 TOPS Eligibility in OPSB High Schools Transferred to RSD
|School Name||10/1/04 |
|TOPS Tech |
|Booker T. Washington||50||40||2||0||2|
|Frederick A. Douglass||121||63||3||1||4|
|John F. Kennedy||284||222||8||0||8|
|Joseph S. Clark||135||84||1||2||3|
|Rabouin Career Magnet||122||122||10||4||14|
|Sarah T. Reed||244||201||2||1||3|
|Walter L. Cohen||113||84||5||0||5|
|OPSB Takeover High Schools||2424||1834||80||22||102|
On the other hand, this past spring, nearly 23% of graduating seniors received a TOPS-eligible score:
2014 TOPS Eligibility in RSD High Schools (non-alternative)
|School Name||10/1/13 |
|TOPS Tech |
|Algiers Technology Academy||58||51||3||1||4|
|Joseph S. Clark||74||52||NA||NA||NA|
|Cohen College Prep||53||52||10||16||26|
|Dr. M.L.K. Charter||39||35||2||3||5|
|Lake Area New Tech||132||136||24||8||32|
|Sarah T. Reed||92||75||3||0||3|
|Sophie B. Wright||81||63||9||11||20|
|Walter L. Cohen||43||35||2||0||2|
|RSD High Schools||1264||1043||115||124||239|
Admittedly, the data shows that we still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring that all students in the RSD are college-ready by the time they graduate from high school. And, perhaps the gains the RSD has made over the past decade seem insignificant to Mercedes Schneider because she has had the luxury of teaching in the whiter, more affluent, and traditionally higher-performing district of St. Tammany Parish on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain:
|Site Name||2005 ACT |
|2014 ACT |
ACT Avg. Chg.
|% FRPL |
|RSD-NO High Schools (non-alternative)||14.4||16.5||+2.1||≈ 91%||≈ 99%|
|Slidell High School||20.8||20.4||-0.4||≈ 49%||≈ 39%|
Still, the progress the RSD has made over the past ten years is significant, especially considering where we started back in 2005, and it will no doubt continue to improve – I just wouldn’t count on Mercedes Schneider ever acknowledging that fact.
- Editors’ Note: As of publishing time, no treacherous RSD or LDOE officials had been brought down. ↩
- Editors’ Note: LDOE officials would neither confirm nor deny the existence of these so-called “victory holograms.” ↩
- For the sake of brevity, I refrained from enumerating the lengthy list of disparities between the two data sets, but you can compare them for yourself here: Schneider’s 1/31/15 Data vs. LDOE Official ACT Results. ↩
Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education
On January 15th, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter Schools that have emerged over the past several months.
Last fall, the State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein to open a new charter school in Little Rock after Einstein officials assured board members that they would provide transportation to students. This was the same promise they made to the Orleans Parish School Board last year as part of their charter renewal agreement. As we now know, they cannot be be taken at their word.
For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I’ve decided to publish my original letter, which I’ve reproduced in full below.
Dear Board Members,
In September, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans to open a new K-3 school in Little Rock School District. Today, I am writing to urge you to reconsider that decision in light of a series of troubling revelations about Einstein that have emerged here in New Orleans in the intervening months.
On September 19th, just five days after SBOE approved Einstein’s charter application, the Orleans Parish School Board issued an official notice of non-compliance [see notice here] to Einstein’s CEO and board president for failing to provide bus transportation to students as required by the terms of their charter. District officials became aware of this breach-of-contract after a parent reported that Einstein had refused to provide yellow bus service for her two children (5 and 10 years old) and instead offered them public transit tokens. News reports subsequently revealed that Einstein had been refusing to provide bus transportation to dozens of students.
Six weeks later, on November 7th, Einstein was issued another notice of non-compliance [see notice here] by the Orleans Parish School Board for enrolling 26 students outside of OneApp, the city-wide enrollment system that assigns students to New Orleans’ public schools. In fact, the notice indicates that district officials previously investigated enrollment violations at Einstein in 2016 and had told administrators that the charter network needed to implement internal systems and procedures to ensure they were in compliance with the OneApp process.
These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children – regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status – have fair and equal access to our public schools. Since Hurricane Katrina, all of the city’s open enrollment schools – both charter and traditional – have been required to provide free bus transportation to children in pre-K through sixth grade, no matter where they live in the city. Moreover, the Orleans Parish School Board renewed Einstein’s charter last year on the condition that school provide transportation to its students.
In 2012, district officials launched OneApp to simplify the enrollment process by allowing parents to fill out only one application in which they rank schools in order of preference. These preferences are then fed into an algorithm developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which in turn, assigns students to schools. OneApp ensures that schools cannot engage in so-called “creaming” or turn away students with disabilities. All schools are required to participate in OneApp and all are prohibited from enrolling students outside of the system.
Nevertheless, Einstein’s leaders have responded to the school board’s warnings with outright defiance. As a result, the district is now seeking a court order to force Einstein to comply with the busing requirement. According to The Lens, a local non-profit news outlet, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto responded to the OneApp non-compliance notice with a letter stating they had “simply accepted children whose parents had chosen one of its schools — a hallmark of the charter movement.” She has also taken to the pages of the New Orleans Advocate in an unconvincing attempt to deflect criticism of the school, as if the rules should not apply to them.
Finally, I want to make something very clear: I am outspoken supporter of charter schools. As a former charter school board member and teacher, I have seen the impact that high-quality charters can have on the lives of children. At the same time, I also firmly believe that charter schools are only successful when they adhere to clear operational and academic standards. Given their blatant disregard for the terms of their charter contracts in New Orleans (and the possibility that they could lose their charter if they continue to defy the district), I would once again urge you to reconsider Einstein’s expansion to Little Rock.
If you would like to read more about Einstein’s charter violations:
- Einstein Charter Schools Deemed Noncompliant For Providing Inadequate Transportation (9/21/17)
- Einstein board prepares to fight Orleans school district over its failure to bus students (9/25/17)
- Einstein Charter Schools Push Back Against Transportation Policy (10/25/17)
- Busing dispute at Einstein schools is headed to court (11/30/17)
- School district reprimands Einstein Charter Schools for enrolling students outside OneApp (1/3/18)
- Parents, protesters picket Einstein Charter Schools over lack of busing (1/9/18)
Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.
Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA
All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers
For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.
Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.
Louisiana is ready for a new direction. https://t.co/eDLPMl5tEC
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) April 12, 2017
Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.
Unethical and possibly worse
Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.
According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.
In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…
- Although he called out sick on February 23rd, he noted in a blog post that he actually went to Baton Rouge to attend the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council;
- He took sick leave on March 29th, but again mentioned on his blog that he was in Baton Rouge at a BESE meeting;
- The same goes for May 18th (he also missed May 17th), when he was “sick” in Baton Rouge to introduce House Bill 536 with State Rep. Vincent Pierre, as he wrote in a blog post ironically titled, “HB-536: Who really puts children first?”
What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.
— LAE (@LAEducators) November 16, 2016
If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.
Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.
The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) November 17, 2016
Exactly why reform is needed
When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.
In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.
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