Connect with us


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.



17 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
Dr. Vera TriplettCitizen EdChris ButtimerRachel MageePeter C. Cook Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
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


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:

Continue Reading


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:

Continue Reading



RSS Feed

Subscribe to my RSS feed to get updates in your news reader. Follow


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
  • 28225 Tweets
  • 2901 Following



Send this to a friend