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

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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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AFT On The Bayou Union Spends Less In Louisiana, But More On Charter Organizing in New Orleans

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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) spent less overall in Louisiana in the past fiscal year than it did in F.Y. 2016, but the union boosted its funding for charter school organizing efforts in New Orleans by more than forty percent.

An analysis of expenditure data from AFT’s 2017 annual report to U.S. Department of Labor shows that the union spent $2,326,573 in Louisiana during the fiscal year that ended June 30th, a slight decrease from the from $2.49 million it spent in the state in 2016.

About a quarter of AFT’s spending went to political activities, which included nearly $125,000 in payments to the political action committee of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, as well as a $15,000 contribution to Defend Louisiana, a super PAC behind Foster Campbell’s unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate last fall. In addition, AFT spent nearly $370,000 to influence last year’s Orleans Parish School Board elections, as I exposed in a previous blog post in January.

A diagram showing the distribution of AFT’s F.Y. 2017 spending in Louisiana.

AFT also invested heavily in organizing activities across the Bayou State. It gave nearly $192,000 to Red River United to support recruitment in Bossier, Caddo, and Red River Parishes. AFT spent another $184,000 on organizing in Monroe and $147,000 in Jefferson Parish.

Furthermore, AFT’s most recent annual report suggests that the union is stepping up its efforts to organize charter schools in the Big Easy. In F.Y 2017, AFT national poured $412,926 into its New Orleans Charter Organizing Project, a significant increase from the $292,000 it allocated in 2016. In all, AFT spent more than $850,000 on its New Orleans-based activities in the past year.

Although their recruitment efforts in the city have had mixed success, AFT’s willingness to spend substantial sums of money in New Orleans makes clear they still pose a serious threat. Over the past four years, AFT has steered more than $1.6 million to organize New Orleans charter schools and roll back the city’s reforms.

We need to remain vigilant to ensure that never happens.


Explore the data:


Read AFT’s 2017 annual report:

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LaLege

A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?

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On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.

Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.

Some background on H.B. 568

The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.

Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).


Read more about how researchers use student data:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.


So what’s with the veto?

Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:

“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”

The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.

Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.


Read House Bill 568:


Read the Governor’s Veto Message:

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