John White and Bobby Jindal have mixed two smart sounding messages in a way designed to punish people for being poor. It sounds good when you say, “poverty is not an excuse for poor performance.” It sounds good when “we refuse to allow poverty to be an excuse for poor performance.” Who could disagree with such uplifting “sounding” messages. You might think these guys are the champions of the poor based on these messages. John White has changed the State Department of Education website to reflect his positive sound message of “Louisiana Believes.” Who doesn’t want to simply “Believe” that belief alone is sufficient to overcome any obstacle? John White puts out SPS (School Performance Scores) that have point totals that go up or down, and “grades” A, B, C, D, F that we can all relate to. We instinctively know than an A is good, and we all want to get one, and an F is bad and none of us want those (although RSD, the state run Recovery School District designed to rescue students from poor performing schools, seems permanently mired in Ds and Fs.) Since RSD does so poorly, could it be that the folks running the RSD don’t “Believe” enough?

When Schools fail to achieve expected gains, without any additional support, John White closes them and declares them failures. He tells us all the teachers didn’t “Believe” in their students and their low expectations led to the low achievement of their students. Could things simply be as simple as that? That would be nice, and if this message and solution was working since we started undertaking this first under Superintendent Picard, then vastly accelerated under Superintendent Pastorek we should see patterns that divorce themselves from the generally accepted, tested and proven theory that poverty has an impact on performance. This does not mean poor people are stupid, or lazy (as some have told when I write on these topics) merely that the very poor lack many of the preparations and support wealthier folks have. Many of our children in Louisiana belong to families that are the working poor; families form one parent homes, families where both parents work multiple jobs. These are not lazy people, but people who often can’t enroll their kids in pre-k programs, take their kids to museums, or buy them all the age appropriate books and toys that would help prepare them for school. These are homes that parents may be working late and unable to help children with homework as often as they should, or at all. This does not make them bad parents, or the children unintelligent underachievers, but it does mean they need help to keep up with their better prepared and opportunitied peers.

When we have communities where poverty is the norm, not the exception, I “believe” performance suffers an add-on impact to lowering performance. Some people have accused me of being socialist for explaining that performance is closely tied to poverty, and not race. Some have suggested I am saying the government should take all the “wealth” from the wealthy and distribute it to the poor. (Technically that would probably make me a totalitarian communist type, but nevertheless, this is not what I am advocating, nor would it work.) If I gave you a test today and you have been poor your entire life, then gave you 50,000 dollars and had you take the test tomorrow, you would not do any better on the test (and possibly worse thinking about all the cool stuff you could spend those 50 gs on. I know I would.) The actual problem is rooted in income inequality over an extended period of time, but that is a complicated problem. This is the second smart sounding message that has been confused. Reformers tout that a good “education” is the first step toward eliminating poverty, so they believe they have to hold everyone “accountable”. . . but themselves. They want the hold the children responsible for getting better without resources, they want teachers to squeeze more performance out of their children as defined by what a standardized test can measure. What they don’t want to do is actually be responsible for addressing or identifying the real needs of children raised in poverty. Rather than focus on addressing the needs of the poor, they would rather tout the benefits of being rich and allow luck and perseverance be the sole determining factors for which kids escape poverty. That’s a pathetic cop-out. Children are not greyhounds, to be raced for our pleasure and rewarded only if they win the race. Children are not horses, some of which will win glory and some of which we be win only a future of Elmer’s fame.

certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)
certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)

Children are our responsibility and our future and we owe them more than “Louisiana Believes” slogans and “Accountabilty” for them and their teachers. We owe them a real hand-up, not a lecture about how they should do better, how their parents and teachers have failed them. We owe them a future. We own them resources, not virtual schools, which strip communities of resources, not “Recovery” schools like they are crack addicts in need of a detox or cure. We need to push them, not punish them by removing them from their communities and peers.

But before I go into what the data shows, let’s get back to some of the limitations of this data. First of all our poverty indicator is imprecise. Basically poverty as defined in Louisiana for the Department of Education is student who applied for Free and Reduced lunch or foodstamps. It is imprecise at a student by student level for the following reasons:

  • Not all families that qualify apply for aid
  • Poverty has cumulative impact, students well off most of their formative years and only have a year or two of insecurity may not be as impacted
  • Some students may have other mitigating factors such as a teacher in the home, or grandparents that can help students with homework

But when factored in as a general variable or characteristic of population you can tease out some correlations. Take for example this graph of Louisiana’s main school districts and their wealth index (a factor based on taking the inverse of poverty and multiplying it by 200 to put it on the same scale/ratio as SPS scores which also range up to 200 points.) (Click on the image for a better resolved picture, or refer to the excel insert further below.

This graph is sorted by SPS score, from highest to lowest. The SPS score is charted with the blue line. The Red bouncy line is the wealth index. I have built in two dotted trend lines which show how these two indicators are directly related to each other. Notice also how as wealth decreases (and concentration of poverty increases) SPS scores drop off precipitously. There appears to be an add-on impact to concentrating extreme poverty such as in the case of the RSD and St Helena Parishes. I would argue that parishes that show dramatic red lined dips below the green dotted trend line are actually doing much better for their students’, when factoring in the parish levels of poverty. Of course it’s important to understand that the analysis is only as good as the data we can get, and John White’s LDE (as I shall refer to Louisiana’s DOE until he leaves since his version is a corrupt dysfunctional mockery of the DOE I worked in) does not provide much in the way of data because they don’t want anyone to understand what is going on.

The solution is not to simply to pass out wads of cash to the parents of poor children. That would be like claiming to have cured someone of chicken pox by simply applying makeup to cover up the spots. What is important is that we recognize that poverty is a factor in how well students perform on tests which determines how well schools and districts are scored on SPS scores. Simply closing the low performing schools does not “fix” this problem; that is simply applying makeup to chicken pox. According to this chart some districts like Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard, West Carroll and Winn are doing very well considering their poverty compositions (although Orleans may be benefitting from having much of their higher needs population in RSD schools.)

Notes: I would caution against using this chart to highlight districts such as Zachary or Cameron as outliers without much more research. I’ve been told that Zachary’s poverty numbers may be under reported and I’ve been told by SIS coordinators from Cameron Parish that people in this parish often refuse to claim food stamps to apply for free and reduced lunch, even though many more qualify for them. This may result in showing Cameron artificially more “wealthy” than it actually is based on available data. Another factor possibly impacting Cameron’s lower than expected scores based on their wealth index is that they were severely impacted by two major hurricanes in the past 7 years causing major displacement and massive loss of housing school days and facilities. It also appears that while extreme poverty seems to exert a nonlinear downward pressure on performance as measured by SPS scores, wealth ratings above 100, or 50% seem to have a diminishing impact on SPS scores in the upper range. This would seem to imply that carving wealthier districts from districts below wealth score or 100, (or a district with 50% free or reduced lunch) will have a disproportionate negative impact on the district left behind, the poorer the district left behind becomes, the more their test scores will be impacted. Conversely, while a wealthier district will post higher than average SPS scores, increasing the wealth of such a district over 50% or less than 50% free and reduced has a diminishing effect on increasing SPS scores.

So what does this mean?

The SPS score is an inherently poverty biased measure. Districts with high poverty concentrations don’t stand a chance as all of their students will tend to score lower without massive intervention the state is not currently providing. Louisiana’s Accountability system will catch-up to them and throw them kicking and screaming into RSD, the Recovery School District.

If RSD is such as great thing why are parents in the school districts with RSDs complaining so bitterly about them and refusing to send their students to these schools, except as a last resort?

School districts are learning that the best way to evade state takeover is to increase the wealth percentage in their district either by splitting off into smaller, wealthier districts, by attracting wealthier students, or by disguising their populations by merging school populations in shadow school arrangements. Giving students more and more tests, punishing their teachers when they don’t do any better on them, and closing their schools, is a horribly dysfunctional idea. It’s like taking the temperature of kids when they go to the doctor for treatment for a fever, the temperature tests confirm they have a fever, and instead of giving them medicine or instructions for treatment, the doctor/nurse just keeps taking their temperature again and again with different instruments, and perhaps sticking those instruments in more invasive places. When the children don’t get better the doctor then blames the parents for doing something wrong and in some cases notifies protective services to take the kids away from their parents. . . putting them a Recovery Housing System. Once these children end up in the “RHS” and all we do is take their temperature again and again, telling them will just better if they really try. Would it surprise if they do worse and some die/dropout? The Recovery School District is a Big Government misguided Big Brother infirmary that is slowly killing our children and our communities. By its very nature of divesting itself of community roots, oversight, and harmony it creates discord with our children and the community into which it is forcibly inserted (without any lube I might add.) It does nothing to ensure children are treated, simply tested and tested some more and when RSD ends up as the worst of the worst among SPS scores( as it has done), who takes RSD over, the RRSD?

What if all these resources we spent taking over school districts, firing teachers, and displacing children were used instead to improve the schools in which they already reside – dozens of these schools now lay shuttered and vacant statewide while the children are bussed to campuses clear across their communities. This is done to disguise how poorly we’ve served these children while we hope taking their temperature over and over and telling them to “get better” will finally work. What if instead of just testing children and holding them “accountable” we held ourselves accountable as a society and worked to improve their plight? All this testing and test prep is not helping our students catch up, and it may actually be bringing everyone else down as well. In Louisiana to disguise this fact John White has changed the “grading scale” and intends to change it yet again next year and every year we continue to employ him. John White will guarantee the scores go up, for what they’re worth, but our students will eventually tire teachers just taking their temperatures when they show up for school, and who could blame them?

Kill the RSD, and hand the schools back over to their communities where they belong. The RSD experiment we’ve forced on our children has failed, and miserably so. Instead of spending all that excess funding on bringing in out of state charters temporary teachers, train the teachers we have, provide funding for universal pre-kindergarten, afterschool programs, restore music and the arts and provide tutors and recruit mentors from the community for children. There are thousands of people just waiting to help, if the state will back off and return to a support role instead of the tyrant it has become under Paul Pastorek and John White. Teachers are trying, but they can’t tackle this task alone.

I suppose it comes down to whether you want a solution or simply someone to blame? Bobby Jindal just wants a talking point for his futile presidential aspirations; John White wants to help out-of-state vendors, so they can hook him up for a lifetime of perks and positions once he leaves Louisiana. If you are a citizen of this state, if you care about the students, the children, the teachers, your fellow citizens, out way of life and our future, then you need to kick these guys out and take back our schools. Kill the RSD and rescue our teachers and students before it’s too late.

It’s about time we held our failing leaders responsible. RSD has been in place for almost 7 years and has mostly all new students, and every year it is vying for worst district in the state with two to three times the resources. In my book that deserves an F- and the creators of it should be held accountable.


21 thoughts on “The Grand Accountability Scam – Kill the RSD

  1. I agree with your assessment of what is wrong with the ‘reformers’ doublespeak, and what you are proposing by directing funding at schools with less wealthy populations is indeed socialism, and a mighty fine and commendable example. What too many airheads with their minds in the television don’t understand is that in order for any society to equalize opportunity among its members, some social programs are necessary, not just desirable, but absolutely and positively necessary. The rand fan neolibs with their ‘let the market control everything’ bull has been able to successfully penetrate the fossilized skulls of the weakminded masses and fill their hollow craniums with anti-societal pro-corporate manure while convincing them it’s in their (the masses’) best interests to privatize all public services. In the meantime, all their rights and rightful entitlements as tax paying citizens are being sold to the highest bidders whose profits are soaring to record heights, and the masses just get poorer and poorer. It’s a sad, sorry, simple minded and sold-out populace we live amongst. Will they ever learn?

  2. And the layoffs at LDE of the rest of the real educators begins in earnest again today. While still hiring and bringing in new tfa’ers, during the hiring freeze, they are right now deciding who has not drunk the koolaid. The non-koolaid drinkers who make the most money or the most waves will probably go first. Free up some of that money for vouchers or course choice or whatever.

  3. To anyone who hasn’t really looked at this situation, it doesn’t sound believable. There’s got to be a way to “educate” the allegedly educated people, particularly here in Orleans, about the way the RSD and its sordid catalogue of charter operators are ripping off the taxpayers (but I don’t know if the rich are in that category anymore LOL) and contributing to increased poverty and crime. Instead of looking at what is happening, the non-educated “educated” citizens of Orleans will no doubt decide via their knee-jerk racism that “you just can’t do anything with black folk.” I can hear them now . . . all the while not knowing the first fact about the dumbing down agenda of high stakes testing which only measures our level of basic ignorance! And we can’t even pass that sorry threshold here in Louisiana! The whole system is a true farce worthy of a latter-day Moliere. We are in deep shit.

    1. Its a classist and racist war they are waging using a number that is inherently biased against schools with more challenging students. Its a complete farce. All children do not have equal access to early learning opportunities and the poor lack the wherewithal to overcome deficiencies so these problems get compounded.  Parents need to organize and reject RSD and DOE biased standards and mandates.  We should introduce a subgroup measure to truly track performance of rich versus rich, poor versus poor, disabled, Limited English, 504, against their peers.  We should stop punishing districts and teachrs that work with more challenging students, and blindly rewarding districts and teachers based on luck and relative wealth as we do now.

      1. I’m curious to know how you really think this is going to turn out . . . I literally feel queasy many times thinking, observing, interviewing people about privatization because the alleged educated class (i.e., the rich, which I think of as $250k for family of four, and there are millions of those families out there) has been so convinced of its self-righteous right not to pay taxes since they don’t need to avail themselves of public services (public health, public schools, public housing, public universities, public libraries, etc) and yet don’t see the correlation between their burgeoning wealth and the decline/demolition of the middle and working classes whose only “fault” is they didn’t land where the rich folks did. They’re still contributing solid citizens with legitimate functions to perform for the greater good. It makes me crazy when I hear people say, we can’t afford it as a nation, when the truth is, we could afford a whole lot of great stuff if there was a real sense of civic responsibility and engagement alive and well in this country. But that’s what good public education should produce: solid citizens, and we’ve done our best to destroy it because the last thing the capitalists want is a sentient electorate who would kick their gluttonous butts out of power otherwise. I say, “We are all Mexicans!” Are you happy Bill Gates? Wendy Kopp? Leslie Jacobs?

        1. I’m doing my part to educate folks so they can see what’s going on.  I know others are as well.  Honestly if “we the people” don’t take our voting, organizing and protesting seriously and take real actions, to stem this tide of plunder from the plutocracy that currently rules us, we probably deserve what we get. 

          They are going after our education system to ensure a a trusty supply of unthinking, obedient drones to tend their fields and homes.  If they succeed, I see a real problem that might ruin our country to such an extent that only an external force could ever address the inequalities our ruling plutarchs and aristocrats are intentionally creating.


          1. Amen to all that. I’m hoping to contribute my part in a long-form narrative essay about my year observing, talking, interviewing, etc. here in New Orleans. It will be a dystopian tale and if nothing else, hopefully reach policy-makers and people with minds “out there” and help explain what the charter school movement is really all about down here in the land of the “model city.” We are as a nation moving toward an ever-increasing and more ominous mindset that has lost touch with founding principles, human decency and what the French touted as “the rights of man.” Your work is outstanding. I admire you, and more than anything else, appreciate knowing that I’m not going crazy seeing what I see while vast numbers of Uptown folks all around continue to walk around in their dollar-stuffed heads, feeling all smug and pleased with themselves, their houses, cars and pedigrees. Little do they realize that it’s all built on a shaky and quaking foundation.

          2. Brilliantly said, tragically said. I get tired shrieking into the wind, but it is a little soothing to read words of such sharp focus. Spot-on; thank you.

  4. At least 30 laid off today at LDE and word is up to 40 more. Not a tfa’er among them. When you look around the building you see mostly young white girls who look like they are playing dress up and wearing their mothers’ high heels and a BUNCH of young white men in suits selling things. You can almost see the money walking out the door.

    1. Mr. Tellman,

      I think what is happening at the LDE today is not a good thing, and I understand your frustration with the fact that experienced and hard-working people are being shoved out the door. It’s one we certainly share.

      However, as a young woman who routinely wears heels to work – my very own, thank you very much – I resent the tone of your remark. It is incredibly sexist and demeaning to the young but intelligent and just-as-hard-working women who support students in this state. I also take umbrage with the double-standard in your remark: the relatively young females are stupid “girls” who are out of their league in their mothers’ clothing, but the equally as young males are “men” in what I can only assume are their own suits, who are participating in very adult (albeit sleazy) sales.

      Please check your demeaning remarks at the door, and let’s keep this to a lively discussion of what actually matters. Discounting the mental abilities (and wardrobes) of hard-working and able women is absolutely not necessary. I would appreciate it if you would do some self-reflection as to why, exactly, in your world, young women are automatically written off, with no respect for how educated, accomplished, or intelligent they may be – especially when you turn around and demonstrate some degree of respect for the ability of the young men. At least they’re doing something in your skewed perception, even if you abhor it. There is literally no justification for that double-standard. I hope sincerely that none of the women you’re so quick to demean work directly for you.

      Also, for the record, I only wear these uncomfortable heels to work, because people actively perceive those who are dressed better as being more accomplished and better at their jobs. I know this is true for many others. Maybe you should think about that, as well, before you’re so quick to demean these women.

      1. Uh, a little overly sensitive, are you? Maybe you could try to read between the lines of what Robert was saying. You might find he was critical of both sexes, and equally so.

        Women who wear questionable, unsupportive footware to class are just as clueless as the “young white men in suits” about the context within which they trespass upon the cultural microcosms of these classrooms. Neither seem to display much awareness of, nor do their accomplishments result in well thought out reflections about the real world needs of their students. And by the way, it seems he’s not talking about REAL teachers, but TFA knockoffs, so why are you being so defensive anyway. The double standard you imagine, from my point of view, is only in your own mind. But, maybe you’d have to be able to read this from a man’s point of view as well; did you even try?

        Your reaction illustrates what many of us have been getting so frustrated over: a lack of keeping the focus on the children, and THEIR needs, not those of their “adult” overseers.

        1. “Focusing on the needs of children” is not an argument for being demeaning and rude. That is, in fact, a classic argument used against women who complain of sexual harassment – you’re “not being a team player” or “not focusing on the job”. As is “see it from a man’s point of view”. I don’t think I will, thank you. The gender-based POV is irrelevant here, and bringing it up actually serves to undermine the issue at hand – education children and serving their needs.

          I have no problem with having a nuanced discussion about what makes a good teacher, TFA or no, or what makes a good administrator, teaching experience or no. But what those teachers or administrators wear and how old they are is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how good they are at serving students and getting things done in a positive way.

          1. Jane,

            I think people are expressing their frustration at the situation. Young inexperienced women are being promoted to positions way outside of their experience, in part, because of the way they look and dress, in part because they belong to a TFA cult and in part because they have no Louisiana roots and will be loyal to those that put them in positions of power beyond their level of experience. I say this because these are 24 and 25 year olds with 2 years of teaching experience, without current certifications, being put in charge of evaluation systems for all teachers. They are tasked with instructing folks with 20+ years of experience how to be better teachers based on the misguided principals of the day, that are not backed by research, just by billionaires and BS.

            Surely this can’t be good for your cause of trying to dispel a negative stereotype that women get positions not because of what they know, but how they look and who they know? If you believe women should not be treated as sex symbols, or by their appearance, but based on their accomplishments, how does it look that most of the 50+ year old women who were at DOE with decades of experience and masters and PhDs in education, are being discarded like dirty laundry, while DOE is made over to resemble a twenty something singles mixer filled with overdressed, over scented, young men and women with next nothing in the way of experience and qualifications? These replacements have degrees in political science, 5 week training courses, and maybe one decent year of teaching under their belts before they are catapulted to directors, assistant superintendents and section leaders.

            I have no problem with young men and women dressing professionally, and working their way up based on their accomplishments, i do have a problem with them getting jobs over much more qualified and experienced people because of the way they look and who they know. When that happens, criticism of them for the way they dress and their lack of experience and insinuations about what “other” qualifications got them the job should be expected.

            I worked with both sets of folks before i left, and so I can speak from experience. Most of these mannequins had no experience, they were way under qualified, and their presence was insulting to folks who had dedicated their lives to education; the shitty pay and poor treatment for decades – only to be passed over by little girls playing dress-up.

            Most of the people replaced were older women with much more experience and much less makeup and without the stiletto heels. I respected them, because they didn’t overdo it, they dressed professionally, and they knew their stuff. Save the low cut tops, high heels, short skirts, and heavy make-up and perfume for the bars and mixers, or expect a little criticism. They “earned” much worse than that with their attitudes and dubious ascension methods.

  5. Curious…is there a way for teachers to start a “street protest” to have White removed without repercussions? Can we picket in front of the LDoE and demand a more effective native boy, like Warren Drake (ex-super of Zachary)? How many would it take to be heard? How do we get them to show up in force????

    1. We had what was supposed to be one a few weeks ago but sponsored by a lot of “official players” like LFT and such. Not sure it registered since it was hard to find coverage of it.

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