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Explainer: The Disconnect on Opportunity Youth There are not 26,000 young adults out-of-school or unemployed in NOLA



In the face of overwhelming evidence that the New Orleans’ education reforms have worked, critics have been forced to change their messaging strategy. Instead of denying the results outright, opponents now maintain the district’s academic gains amount to a Pyrrhic victory, bought at the expense of local teachers and the city’s most disadvantaged students.

Thus, every anti-reform diatribe written about New Orleans this summer portrayed the mass layoffs of teachers after Katrina as part of a diabolical plan to privatize the school system (which as I’ve shown, wasn’t the case). You might have also noticed critics like Karren Harper Royal throwing around this statistic, too:

It’s easy to imagine folks out there reading that stat and thinking to themselves: “26,000 New Orleans kids are either out of school or unemployed?!? Guess the reforms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.” Of course, that’s exactly the point critics are trying to make – and they keep making it, again and again.

The first to raise it was NPR’s anti-edreform beat reporter, Anya Kamenetz, who asked the question of whether the city’s decentralized charter-based system was behind its high number of disconnected youth:

Anya Kamenetz got the ball rolling...

Anya Kamenetz got the ball rolling…

Later, Jennifer “Edushyster” Berkshire used this statistic in her piece bashing New Orleans in Salon that I picked apart back in August:

Edushyster said it.

…Edushyster followed up…

Andrea Gabor also used it as ammunition against the city’s post-Katrina reforms in her error-filled op-ed for the New York Times two weeks ago:

Andrea Gabor said it too.

…Andrea Gabor couldn’t help herself…

And soon thereafter, another one of my favorites, Mercedes Schneider, regurgitated this stat in one of her legendary rants against the RSD on her blog:

....and Mercedes goes four for four.

….and Mercedes brought up the rear.

There’s just one problem: they’re not actually getting the facts right.

Earlier this spring, two studies brought attention to the plight of so-called “Disconnected [or Opportunity] Youth,” defined as 16-24 year-olds who are neither in school, nor working. The first report was issued by the Cowen Institute at Tulane University and the second was issued by the Social Science Research Council. Both were based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) 2013. Both found that approximately 18.2% of the 16-24 year olds (about 26,200 people) in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area qualified as “Disconnected Youth.”

However, the Census Bureau defines the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area as the 3,203 square miles of land that makes up the toe of Louisiana’s boot [see the region in yellow below]. It includes eight parishes – Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany – which together had a population of 1,241,949 in 2013, according to the ACS.

For reference, the 2013 ACS estimated New Orleans’ population as 376,006 – i.e., the city only accounted for about 30% of the total population in the New Orleans Metro Area.

That’s not to say that New Orleans doesn’t have an unacceptably high number of young people disengaged from school or the workforce, but the fact is we don’t know that number. What is clear though is that the number certainly isn’t 26,000 and critics like Royal, Kamenetz, Berkshire and Gabor shouldn’t be using those stats to paint New Orleans and its school reforms in a negative light.

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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Dr. Vera TriplettCitizen EdChris ButtimerRachel MageePeter C. Cook Recent comment authors
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Dr. Vera Triplett,2013:721248252125786112_favorited_by_1358096533

Dr. Vera Triplett

Dr. Vera Triplett

RT @petercook: @VeraTriplettPhD See: – she throws around that number in a misleading way.

Citizen Ed

@chrisbuttimer @petercook Didn’t your school have a 30% gap between black and white kids? Defending that is kinda white supremacist to me?

Chris Buttimer

@petercook No1 fights harder on Twitter 2 uphold white suprmcy & neocolonization thru defense of neolib ed rfrm than u Peter. U keep doin u!

DFER Louisiana

RT @PCunningham57: Debunking the “disconnected youth” stat in NOLA. No one does it better than @petercook…

Rachel Magee

RT @PCunningham57: Debunking the “disconnected youth” stat in NOLA. No one does it better than @petercook…

J. Gordon Wright

RT @PCunningham57: Debunking the “disconnected youth” stat in NOLA. No one does it better than @petercook…

Peter C. Cook

RT @PCunningham57: Debunking the “disconnected youth” stat in NOLA. No one does it better than @petercook…

Peter Cunningham

Debunking the “disconnected youth” stat in NOLA. No one does it better than @petercook…

Peter C. Cook

Hey, I made a cool map. Check it out here: #NOLAed #LaEd #edreform


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
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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