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Education Reform in Louisiana is Working So Why Are Some Politicians Denying It?



With all of the attention given to New Orleans this summer around the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, you may have missed the good news that’s come out about the performance of students from across Louisiana. The positive results released over the past several months show that the policies advocated by Superintendent John White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) are beginning to bear fruit.

Here’s a quick recap of the highlights…

I. Cohort Graduation Rate Hits All-Time High

Over the past decade, the cohort high school graduation in Louisiana has jumped by over 10 percentage points to 74.6%. In fact, the cohort graduation rate has steadily increased over the last four years and the latest figure represents an all-time high for the state.

More importantly, an increasing number of traditionally underserved students in Louisiana are persisting through high school to receive their diploma. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the graduation rate for minority students increased 2 percentage points, while the rate for students with special needs increased by 6.1 percentage points.

II. Big Gains in Advanced Placement

Another main focus of Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in the past few years has been Advanced Placement (AP). BESE adjusted the state’s accountability formula to give high schools an incentive to expand their Advanced Placement offerings and allocated funding to districts to assist with the costs of AP exams and teacher training at College Board AP Summer Institutes.

Just a few weeks ago, State Superintendent White announced that a record number of Louisiana students earned college credit-eligible scores of 3 or higher on AP tests in 2015. This represents an increase of 20% from last year and an astounding 89% increase since 2012.

Furthermore, African-American students have benefitted from the increased focus on Advanced Placement. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of African-American students earning college credit-eligible scores on AP exams jumped 30%; since 2012, that number has increased 146%. These gains are particularly noteworthy seeing that a recent report from the College Board revealed that African-American students were “the most underrepresented group in AP classrooms and in the population of successful AP Exam takers.”

Graphic from the College Board.

Graphic from the College Board.

III. ACT Performance Continues To Improve

Louisiana students broke another record when LDOE announced ACT test results back in July. This spring, 24,619 students earned a college-going score of 18 or higher in 2015, an increase of 34% since 2012.

Back in 2012, BESE adopted new high school progression policies that made taking the ACT test a requirement for graduation. Once again, African-American students benefitted from the new policy, as the number of black students earning a college-going ACT score of 18+ has jumped 44% since 2012. In addition, the number of Louisiana students receiving qualifying scores at all levels of the statewide TOPS college scholarship program has also risen, as shown in the chart below.

But Don’t Tell That To The Unions’ Candidates…

Given all the good news about the performance of Louisiana’s students, one would expect that officials would be lining up to applaud the significant progress we’ve seen in public education over the past four years. And for the most part they have, except those beholden to the teachers unions.

The state’s two main teachers unions – Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) – have a launched a joint effort to elect anti-reform candidates to public office this fall. Ironically, their political advocacy campaign is called It’s Time to Get it Right, as if the gains we’ve seen in academic performance and college readiness could somehow be construed as getting it wrong.

One of the candidates the unions are backing is Lottie Beebe, who represents BESE’s 3rd District and also serves as the Superintendent – God help them – of St. Martin Parish Schools. Beebe spent much of her first term trying to block the very education policies that have resulted in the academic gains we’re seeing today. Beebe fought particularly hard against the Common Core State Standards, in line with both LFT and LAE who have sought to undermine Common Core in an effort to derail the state’s accountability system.

Beebe announced she was running for reelection in August as part of an anti-education reform slate called Flip BESE, which is comprised of candidates pulled from the anti-reform, Common Core conspiracy fringe. Since her announcement, Beebe has publicly denied all evidence of progress in our public schools, even going so far as to claim that LDOE has simply been making the results up. In a recent letter to The Advocate Beebe stated:

“Ironically, Louisiana cannot believe the claims that the 2012 reforms work, because they cannot be easily verified by independent sources…[T]he department also changed its metrics for calculating graduation rates and the number of students who go to college in order to improve these scores. When Louisiana’s citizens hear claims of academic progress over the past four years, they should be mindful of the questionable source of this information.”

While Beebe’s claims are disturbing coming from someone on BESE, if you’ve been listening to the Democratic candidate for Governor, John Bel Edwards, you might believe that public education in this state has gone to hell in a handbasket. Edwards, who apparently still believes that an ol’ timey coalition of state employees and labor can propel him to the Governor’s Mansion (I’ll believe it when I see it), has jumped into bed with LFT and LAE and embraced their message. Back in June, he launched a totally unprovoked and unwarranted attack on one of their biggest enemies: State Superintendent John White.

Why is John Bel Edwards attacking John White when Louisiana's students are improving?

Why is John Bel Edwards attacking John White when Louisiana’s students are improving?

In a prepared statement, Edwards said:

”I have no intention of allowing John White, who isn’t qualified to be a middle school principal, to remain as Superintendent when I am governor. We have so many highly qualified candidates right here in Louisiana that we don’t need to go looking in New York City for our next head of K-12 education.” 

If that statement wasn’t insulting enough, Edwards then proceeded to make a series of unsubstantiated accusations about improprieties involving White and the Louisiana Department of Education, in what was clearly an effort to question the progress we’ve made in public education under White’s leadership.

When he's not hanging out with third graders, John White has been implementing policies that have raised academic achievement in Louisisna

When he’s not hanging out with third graders, John White has been implementing policies that have raised academic achievement in Louisiana

Attacking John White and the positive reforms he’s implemented adds little to the current debate, nor does it reflect the will of most Louisiana voters who want high-quality, accountable public schools in exchange for their tax dollars. Moreover, if Edwards is serious about his pledge to Put Louisiana First, he should put the needs of state’s children and working families first; that means acknowledging and building upon the progress that’s been made in public education, rather than turning against it.

I thought it was "Put Louisiana First" not "Put Louisiana Federation of Teachers First"

I thought it was “Put Louisiana First” not “Put Louisiana Federation of Teachers First”

In the final assessment, education reform in Louisiana is working, no matter how much some politicians like Lottie Beebe and John Bel Edwards might want to deny it. Admittedly, the path to improvement hasn’t always been easy, but Louisiana’s children are benefitting because of these efforts. At the end of the day, our children’s success is the only thing that matters and that’s something voters should keep in mind when they lineup to cast ballots in October.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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MatthewWaltonDon’t Let TOPS Changes Become Barriers For Poor Students – PE + COHouse Bill 185 – PE + CO: Louisiana Education Legislation UpdateKeith Leger, Ed.D.Lee Barrios Recent comment authors
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Don’t Let TOPS Changes Become Barriers For Poor Students – PE + CO

This Article was mentioned on

House Bill 185 – PE + CO: Louisiana Education Legislation Update

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Keith Leger, Ed.D.

likes this.

Lee Barrios

@petercook @cjuneau28 Peter – Quoting yourself to give credence to your own position?

Peter C. Cook

@cjuneau28 Back at you – most definitely think teachers & admins are #1 resource. Thanks for what you do.

Cassidy Juneau

@petercook Ok. I understand your viewpoint. Thanks for the dialogue.

Peter C. Cook

@cjuneau28 Obvs, teachers/admin come first, but I also believe JW has introduced policies that have benefitted kids. It’s not either/or.

Cassidy Juneau

@petercook That’s my point. You didn’t mention them. I’m saying that I disagree as to who has raised the achievement of students.

Peter C. Cook

@cjuneau28 At what point did I discount the impact of teachers or administrators? In fact, where did I even mention them in this instance?


After Janus, The Drought? LAE & LFT are downplaying the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, but both are subsidized by their national unions



The United States Supreme Court handed public sector unions – including the teachers unions – a major defeat on Wednesday with their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which a majority of justices agreed that mandatory agency fee laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union public employees.

In the 21 states with agency fee laws, public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements were required to pay fees to the union to cover bargaining costs, even if they refused to join. Because agency fees only offered a small discount when compared to union dues, many individuals felt compelled to become members.

Screenshot from Education Next.

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down those laws, many observers expect that public sector unions will lose anywhere from 10-30% of their members, and by extension, a big chunk of their revenues. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García admitted her union expects to lose at least 200,000 members over the next 18 months, depriving them of around $28 million in funding.

What about Louisiana?

Louisiana, of course, is a right-to-work state, meaning that public sector unions here are unlikely to see a drop in their membership, but the Janus decision could have a significant financial impact on the state’s two teachers unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

In an article in The Advocate on Wednesday, officials from LAE and LFT sought to downplay the potential fallout from the ruling, insisting that any impact on their organizations would be minimal. They also wildly exaggerated the size of their respective unions, with both LAE and LFT claiming around 20,000 members.

LAE president Debbie Meaux and LFT president Larry Carter.

Mike Antonucci, a researcher who has been writing about teachers unions for decades, released figures on Wednesday showing that LAE had 10,461 members in 2016-17, of which only 9,416 were full dues-paying members. While precise numbers are not available for LFT, data from tax filings and public records requests show that the union receives far less in dues payments than their counterparts at LAE, while charging their members more on an annual basis. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that LFT is even smaller than LAE’s 10,000 members.

Those tax filings, along with annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, also reveal that both LAE and LFT are heavily subsidized by their national unions. According to tax returns, LAE reported $3,291,199 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, although Department of Labor reports show that nearly 30% of that money came from the National Education Association.

Data from IRS 990s and U.S. Department of Labor annual reports.

Likewise, LFT reported $1,809,239 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, but nearly 27% of that total came from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Moreover, as I’ve noted in previous posts, AFT also provides substantial funding to its local affiliates, like the United Teachers of New Orleans, Jefferson Federation of Teachers, and Red River United.

Will the money dry up?

Up to now, LAE and LFT could depend on their national unions to provide a substantial portion of their annual budgets, but the Supreme Court’s decision this week means that steady stream of funding could begin to dry up in the not-too-distant future. While It’s unlikely that AFT and NEA will completely cut-off subsidies to their affiliates in right-to-work states like Louisiana, there’s no escaping the fact that there will be less money to go around.

How that will ultimately impact the activities of Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers is yet to be seen.

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The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in



Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.

A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.

The sign outside Red River United’s offices in Shreveport.

The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.

An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”

She continued:

“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”

Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.

Gibson’s emailed response in which she refused to refund dues to the three teachers.

A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response

Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.

To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.

The small print from Red River United’s membership form.

Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.

So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.

Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME this spring.

I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.

Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.

Read Red River United’s membership form:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Unapologetic Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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