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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

This Article was mentioned on

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?


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



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