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Mercedes Schneider

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Mercedes Schneider is an English teacher at Slidell High School in St. Tammany Parish on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. In recent years, she has emerged as a prolific and vitriolic anti-education reform blogger. Her favorite targets for abuse are the Recovery School District and Common Core. As a result, Mercedes has become a favorite of Diane Ravitch, who often brings attention to Mercedes’ work on her blog.

Click on the link below to read a post I wrote in response to one of Mercedes’ pieces in Huffington Post on Louisiana’s School Performance Scores that was riddled with errors.

Deconstructing Mercedes

The one thing that is clear to anyone who’s attempted to read Mercedes Schneider’s blog is that she’s angry: angry at John Merrow, angry about Common Core, angry about evolution, and angry at Teach For America, along with a whole host of other things. However, she reserves her greatest fury for t…

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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NOLA

NOLA Public School Enrollment By Letter Grade: 2018 vs. 2005 Schools Still Have A Way To Go, But We're Light Years From Where We Started

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As I detailed in a post last week, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) recently released annual school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS) for the 2017-18 school year.

A conversation on Facebook spurred my curiosity to find out how many students were attending A, B, C, D, and F-graded schools in New Orleans.

I pulled February 2018 Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) enrollment data, matched it with school letter grade data for each New Orleans school, and tallied the number of students attending schools at each performance level. (You can see my spreadsheet with this data here.)

Finally, I created a chart showing the number of students attending schools at each letter grade…

A little over two-thirds of New Orleans public school students attended schools graded “C” or better last year. Ten percent were enrolled in “F” schools last year, although that number has likely shrunk, as three of those failing schools (Mahalia Jackson, ReNEW McDonogh City Park, and Sylvanie Williams) closed at the end of the 2017-2018 year.


Read my earlier take on NOLA school performance:

The Grades Are In… | PE + CO

On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released annual school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS) – which are akin to number grades – for the 2017-18 school year. For the first time, the formulas used to measure school performance incorporate students’ growth from year to year on state standardized tests.


Now let’s look at the distribution in 2005…

I then decided to take it a step further and create the same chart for New Orleans students in 2004-2005, the last full school year prior to Hurricane Katrina.

However, there’s a few things that I need to mention about the data. To start, Louisiana’s accountability system didn’t assign letter grades to schools until 2011; back in 2005, schools only received School Performance Scores (SPS). Therefore, I used the 2011 grading scale to assign a letter grade for each New Orleans school in 2004-2005.

The grading scale used by the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011.

The second, more important point is that the performance bar for schools has risen significantly since 2005. Not only has the state adopted a more rigorous set of academic standards in ELA and math based on the Common Core, but the grading scale has shifted, making it more difficult for schools to get an “A”.

Furthermore, this year, LDOE stopped grading schools on a curve used to ease the transition to the state’s new standards. Previously, schools received SPS points for students who scored “Basic” or above on the state’s standardized tests. Now, students have to achieve “Mastery” or above to be counted in their school’s SPS score. In short, if New Orleans schools in 2005 were judged by today’s performance standards, the number of “F” schools would be much higher.

Finally, the enrollment data used for the chart below comes from the October 2004 MFP count.

With that said, here’s how many students were enrolled at schools at each letter grade in 2005…

This chart illustrates how dismal the situation was for New Orleans’ public schools in 2005. Nearly two-thirds of the city’s students – more than 39,000 kids – were stuck in failing schools. Only 16% were enrolled in schools graded “C” or higher.

Clearly much has changed in the past thirteen years. While we still have too many kids in “D” and “F” schools, not only are more kids attending better schools, but they’re performing at a much higher level.

That’s something people said couldn’t be done. We proved them wrong.

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Charters

A Sibling Dispute In Court Could Spell Trouble for Smothers Academy Charter School's CEO Is Accused Of Financial Impropriety In Lawsuit Filed By Brother

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The CEO of a local charter management organization, which was investigated by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) after a report on this blog raised questions about its management and financial practices, is being accused of financial impropriety in a lawsuit filed by his own brother.

On March 28th, I published a post – “Red Flags Everywhere” – which highlighted troubling issues at Smothers Academy, a Type 2 charter school in Jefferson Parish. It noted that the school appeared to be in violation of state ethics laws prohibiting nepotism, seeing that Smothers Academy’s CEO Damon Smothers had hired his brother, Kemic Smothers, as the organization’s legal counsel and director of procurement. The piece also drew attention to several concerns surfaced in Smothers Academy’s F.Y. 2017 audited financial statements, including the assertion that Damon Smothers had spent over $9300 on the school’s credit card for personal expenses.


Read my original piece on Smothers Academy:

Red Flags Everywhere | PE + CO

A review of documents from a Jefferson Parish charter operator that applied to run a historic high school in New Orleans has revealed that the organization could be violating state ethics laws and has been flagged for serious deficiencies in its management and accounting practices.


 
A week later, LDOE officials sent a letter to Eddie Williams, president of the board of directors of Smothers Academy, requesting documentation related to the problems identified in their audit. On April 17th, LDOE sent a second letter to Williams, which formally notified the board that Smothers Academy was in violation of the state’s nepotism laws and instructed them to terminate the employment of either Damon or Kemic Smothers by June 30th. As a result, Kemic was fired that same day.

Yet it appears that he is refusing to go without a fight.

Court documents reveal that Kemic is now suing his brother Damon (along with Smothers Academy, Inc., two members of the board of directors, and the school’s CFO Mark DeBose) for breach of contract, violation of the whistleblower statute, retaliatory discharge, and fraud.

Smothers Academy CEO Damon Smothers (left) is being sued by his brother Kemic (right), who previously served as the school’s legal counsel and director of procurement.

In a petition filed with the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in July, Kemic claims that he was summoned to an April 5th meeting with his brother and CFO Mark DuBose in which they revealed that Damon had “gifted himself” $20,000 drawn from the school’s bank account without the knowledge or consent of the board of directors. They then asked Kemic to devise a way for Damon to keep the money without having to inform the board or repay it. However, Kemic refused, noting that the unauthorized allocation of funds was almost certainly illegal.

Kemic goes on to assert that he was subsequently terminated on April 17th – as opposed to June 30th when his contract officially ended – for refusing to help Damon hide the $20,000 he had taken from the school’s bank account. According to the lawsuit, “Damon Smothers insinuated that Kemic Smothers was not a team player and that he should have found a way for Damon Smothers to avoid repaying the $20,000.00.”

It should be noted that accusations made in Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit are simply that: accusations. The court has not ruled on the merits of the case. Nevertheless, in light of the board’s lax financial oversight and Damon’s questionable use of the school’s credit card, these latest allegations should be investigated to ensure that Smothers Academy administrators are not enriching themselves at the expense of their students.


Read Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit against his brother:

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