LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

I know its reaching, but I thought I’d give everyone a little Easter reference with this surprise post.  Smile

Before I left LDOE 3 years ago I was asked to help assemble some de-identified data for a research outfit named CREDO.  At the time most of my colleagues didn’t know who CREDO was or what they were all about.  (It turns out they are a pro-charter funded propaganda machine masquerading as legitimate researchers.)   We had a standing policy not to provide this type of data to anyone. . . except a few local research universities like ULL we had established contracts with – to provide analysis services to LODE for specific grants.

Then came John White and CREDO.  We’d been telling CREDO “No” for years because the amount of data they wanted was excessive and the time involved with compiling it was also going to be pretty steep.  John White was not the State Superintendent when he started giving orders through Erin Bendilly, a Jindal appointee.  This request was one of those, and it was coordinated, reviewed, and delivered by Kim Nesmith, the “Data Quality Director” and department’s FERPA enforcer.  (The fact that this request was  being forced through quickly on John White’s behalf was confirmed by both Kim and Devora Davis, head CREDO researcher, in a conference call.)

happy Easter

FERPA tidbit:

US DOE requires State agencies to select a number between 1 and 10 to mask all their student level data to conform to FERPA. Kim actually required the department go one step further.  She insisted we mask by using less than (<) and greater than (>) symbols in the ones digits in most numbers reported.  (We can still derive the specific numbers from the percentages and enrollment numbers but I won’t tell if you won’t)


(You can Download the full report example if you’d like.)

Another provision of FERPA calls for agencies to restrict access to data – keep it private from those that don’t need that access to perform their specific role or function.  While I dealt with the student data of all students, I did not need to have access to their medical records or diagnoses, or their specific Special Education classifications.  This role was handled by the folks that worked directly with this data and these students in our SER system or those folks who produced necessary reports to the Finance department.  For the nine years I worked there, I did not have access to that data.

New Orleans based, Research on Reforms filed a lawsuit to discover just what data LDOE had released to CREDO.  When ROR eventually prevailed I learned what else LDOE had provided to CREDO.  (LDOE first denied the existence of this MOU until I agreed to testify for Research on Reforms.  Then LDOE argued that they could choose whomever they wanted to evaluate their programs and did not need to provide equal access to anyone else to cross examine the claims.  The first judge agreed, but the appeals court overturned this ruling.)

It turns out LDOE violated their own very expansive MOU.  What follows is a description of a few things that should not have been sent.

For instance, it turns out that LDOE sent quite a bit of detailed data on non-public students, their DOB’s, their teachers, their special education conditions, schools, etc.  Non-Public schools were not part of the research project and not part of the MOU.


Here’s a snapshot of some of the NPB (Non-Public School) records.  Hundreds of non-public schools’ data was disclosed – without their knowledge I would imagine.


And here is some of the specific data elements they handed over on nonpublic and public students – some of which is specifically prohibited and some of which should have been because it was outside the scope of the study.  This shows the full Date of birth (not just month and year) as well as any section 504 classifications and also identifies one student as blind and another one as deaf.  (Note: these records are from completely different sections and do not match up to any of the schools shown above.)


Of course if that’s not enough, they also included the specific teacher and the course they took with that teacher for each student. (Note: each snap shot is from different records to prevent identification of students.  Something LDOE might have considered.)


To make sure researchers could identify and use all these codes, LDOE created a decode file with useful tables like this one for Special Education classifications.


You will note in the study, none of this info is necessary, and if you look at the final CREDO reports none of it was used – but it was provided unnecessarily.

LDOE also can’t make the claim they did not know what they were providing or that they were unaware that to provide it was a violation of FERPA.  Most of the files, like the one containing Special Education data, carry a pretty convincing warning.

This report contains personally identifiable information or information that when combined withother reports and/or information a student’s identity might be revealed.  Personally identifiable studentinformation must be kept confidential pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)codified at 20 U.S.C. 1232g.  Information in this report cannot be disclosed to any other person,except for employees of a student’s school or school system who must have access to that information in order to perform their official duties and for those other persons and entitiesspecified in 20 U.S.C. 1232g.


In this case, LDOE provided this information without any masking for every school in the state (including Non-Publics).  They provided a file that contains the school, school year, grade, age, ethnicity, disabilities, gender.  They provided this information for counts as low as one single student.

You would think a Student Privacy Director and Data Quality Director would know better, wouldn’t you?

According to the MOU, here is the scope of the study:




The dubious nature of the decision to provide all the data they agreed to provide aside, I don’t see any reason to provide private school data, let alone disabled student data.  Do you?

This is an example of why LDOE needs to be fully transparent and properly overseen.  There is no telling how many other data sharing agreements LDOE has entered into that most of us are completely unaware of.  LDOE is apparently incapable of even adhering to their own internal privacy decisions and their own MOU’s.  This is not an example of a rogue department providing data accidentally.  This is an example of LDOE’s top privacy guru, the Student Privacy and Data Quality Director reviewing and assembling the data, personally, before handing it over to strangers in California.


It’s only a combination of chance and persistence that I stumbled across the details of this agreement and am able to share my findings with you.  How many more agreements like this are out there that are unknown to us?  How poorly have they been reviewed?  I can’t actually say.  Someone outside of LDOE needs to review these types of disclosures (All of them)  – before they happen.  It is important for the public to have an accounting of both what was promised, but also what was actually delivered.  Frankly, if LDOE doesn’t understand their own data, they shouldn’t be providing it to others.  I also question whether they should be collecting it all or storing it for decades in the first place.

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana


Recently I was contacted by The Progressive to write an overview of charter schools in Louisiana.  I have been watching this “experiment” unfold from a fairly unique perspective.  My first look was as a State of Louisiana Employee just after charter schools were becoming established haphazardly around the state.  When I started at LDOE I was told of some of the misdeeds of previous operators, and I struggled alongside some of them to get their data reported accurately and in a timely manner.  Our initial operators were mostly standalone outfits and not altogether bad and some with the best of intentions if not the best business sense or relevant experience.  For the most part these early operators were homegrown and unconnected to external forces and influences and my bosses had no strong feelings about them either way.

As my tenure at the department lengthened, and new Education Reformer obsessed State Superintendents came to the fore like Paul Pastorek and John White, charters schools took on a new, more sinister dimension and set of goals.  I finally left the Department in February of 2012 to start my blog.  My naïve plan at the time was to reveal some of the misdeeds and to try and reverse the tide of all the negative trends and policies being enacted by out of state interests and pirogue-loads of out of state money.

What follows is the intro of my original piece I submitted.  My full piece was close to 5000 words and not entirely complete and my allotted space was maxxed at 2000 words.  I worked with the editors at The Progressive to streamline my piece, but I will be publishing parts of my original work in various future blog posts – so my time and research was not wasted.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work with some national media sources and I hope you find the pieces I will write now and in the immediate future informative and useful.  I start off with a brief into on the charter movement as we see it today.

Albert Shanker, a former President of the American Federation of Teachers Union (1974 – 1997) is sometimes credited with founding the modern charter movement in 1988.  His idea was to create an environment focused on serving the neediest students. The basic premise was for charters to work collaboratively with school districts and their most challenging students.  Ideas that proved the most fruitful would be shared and applied throughout the public systems to make them stronger and more responsive.  As originally conceived, Charter schools were to be R&D laboratories, and their research would be used for the benefit of all public school students.

In 1991 Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie, education reformers from Minnesota, altered Shanker’s idea to one that would appeal to entrepreneurs, and squeeze out educators.

Nathan and Kolderie instead proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate and apart from local district control. That opened charter doors not only to teachers but also to outside entrepreneurs. Competition between charters and districts was to be encouraged.

By 1993 Shanker realized some significant flaws in his ideas and renounced support of his own idea, but by then it was too late.  Private industry and education reformers had spotted an opening, a new market, and would spend the next two decades ramping up resources and propagating propaganda to exploit it.

These resources would go to fund pro-privatization with an eye toward profit margins rather than children:

  • Candidates like Bobby Jindal, Barack Obama, Dannel Malloy and Scott Walker
  • Agendas like American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) and Democrats For Education Reform (DFER)
  • Organizations like Teach For America (TFA), Stand For Children (Stand) and the Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO)
  • Charter Sponsored Media and Movies like NBCs Education Nation, Waiting for Superman, and Won’t Back Down

These groups cover vast swaths of the political spectrum and use a cunning and effective combination of statistical sleight-of-hand, repetitive messaging and empathic emotional pleas to lure people to their banners and crusade.  To the casual observer, which most folks are, these forces offer beacons of hope; hope to the messages of despair they themselves seeded beforehand.  Their messages are wrapped up in pleasingly packaged message so many of us find so compelling and alluring:

Free enterprise and American spirit and ingenuity will come to the rescue of our “failing schools” and flagging nation! 

Research institutions like the Cowen Institute at Tulane and CREDO (a conservative Hoover offshoot based on Stanford’s campus lend it a liberal air) were funded or founded with the express purpose of promoting charter schools.  Publicity campaigns were rolled out to advertise the higher standards and quality of charter schools.  Charter schools were initially advertised as having better academics (although usually with fewer certified teachers and less experienced teachers) and being less expensive (usually they are much more expensive when factoring costs to communities and grants).  Charter schools were marketed in much the same way as margarine, Vioxx, and cigarettes.   As is so often the case with miracle products, as the data is eventually analyzed objectively, and the full ramifications understood the tragic flaws are revealed.

Research now shows that charter schools are most often no better than public schools with the same demographics, and sometimes they are much, much worse.  Rather than admit defeat, pull their products, or actually try to make them live up their previous advertising the campaign was switched to one of “Choice”.

Amazingly, I was just informed today that even the head of the CREDO institute has grudgingly come to this conclusion on her own.

Her reasons for why states need to exert more control raised a few eyebrows. A self-described supporter of free markets, Raymond said a totally free market is not appropriate for schools.

“It’s the only industry/sector where the market doesn’t work,” Raymond said.

But it’s “Choice” with capital  C!  It has to be good, right?

Who doesn’t instinctively favor “choice” and freewill in a free society? It sounds liberating.  It sounds positive. Unfortunately it’s also an illusion.  Good “choices” only exist in clever online marketing ads sent to your Facebook account (with happy children of the same race as your own as determined by Big Data Algorithms) and in the mailers stuffed in your door handles and mailboxes.

Charter schools and their advocates go out of their way to obscure data and bash public schools so parents can’t make an informed choice.  States are run and overseen by officials bought with charter money to ensure this.  You can’t make a good choice with bad data and with only bad choices available.

“Parents can’t be agents of quality assurance,” Raymond said, stressing the need for better information to be available to parents as they pick schools.

When outsiders think of Louisiana and charter schools, they often think of Katrina and New Orleans.  New Orleans is now a 100% charter operated district. Charters are a manmade disaster heaped upon a natural one.  Hurricane Katrina was the once in a 100 year natural disaster that charter school operators and their allies chose to exploit.

I worked at the Louisiana Department of Education during this time.  I would learn later that while many New Orleanians were drowning in their homes, choking on the oily toxic flood waters, expiring from exposure on their rooftops, or furiously evacuating if they had the wherewithal, operatives at the Department and from the New Orleans area and State BESE board were meticulously conspiring to remake the city’s education system to their liking.   Many people perished, and we may never have a full accounting of the deaths.  On Monday, August 29th, 2005 canals were breached across New Orleans.  Public education also died that day.  Louisiana’s loss and the Nation’s shame was to become the Charter Movement’s gain.

The words of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan about Katrina will forever live in infamy for me and many of my friends, family and people.

…let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.

If you would like to see the next part of this story check out this month’s issue in The Progressive you can purchase a digital copy to support work of folks like me or wait until later this month when it is released.

This is just a test of the emergency blogcasting system

I am experimenting with a new application for producing blog posts from my smartphone that integrates with WordPress.  I find I have little time these days to sit behind a computer screen at home and pound out some posts and I have thoughts throughout the day I would like to share on various issues.  I now have 30 minutes I  have to wait in a doctors office after receiving allergy shots so it seemed like I should start using that time more productively than playing scramble or candy crush. 


Here is an example of some of our latest Math Homework for my second grader from Houghton Mifflin.   As you can see (assuming the image imports correctly) the wording and font choice for the last problem is atrocious.  1s, ls and Is all look the same and this problem makes no sense as written.  I had to rewrite the problem based on reviewing the rest of the worksheet to see what they were angling for. Here is what I came up with.



p style=”text-align:left;”>Unfortunately my daughter still didn’t understand the purpose of the assignment…and wrote a correct answer (14 tens does equal 14 tens) …that I imagine is not the answer the writers were looking for.

Eureka, EngageNY, and HM are not the only problems here; curriculum-wise. Clearly simply choosing another provider won’t fix all the problems. I have minor to major issues with almost any math homework assignment I pick up. Granted, some could be fixed with better proofreading. But some of this content appears tragically flawed in that even the answers they are looking for are overly contrived,  unhelpful seeming, or confusing to children (and sometimes parents).

I have been mulling some ideas or how we can rebuild our own standards and curriculum.  I hear some other folks are working on some substitute ideas as well.  I am eager to start rolling back the most destructive educatuon reforms and failed Coommon Core experiments once I get elected to BESE. In the meantime hang in there and continue bringing this fight to your local school boards, parents groups and media. We are making headway and the CC, at least the math side, is on the defensive. 

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

Recently I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I knew my blood sugars were trending higher for years, and I had resolved to lose 50 pounds this year to prevent this outcome from occurring. 3 months into this year I had lost 25 pounds . . . and I learned I had uncontrolled fasting blood sugars in the 400s. 3 months ago I had my blood sugar levels checked and they were creeping up into the pre-diabetic range, but I was fine. I had a lot of warning signs that something was wrong, including blurring vision I attributed to getting old, a dramatic increase in being thirsty I attributed to giving up sodas and exercising more, and a dramatic increase in confusion and forgetfulness I chalked up to just being busy. If readers recall, I travelled to Austin in March but managed to leave my suitcase with all my belongings at home in my front yard. I also was supposed to appear on Frances and Friends a few weeks later but lost my phone, directions and mind. I’ve also managed to forget my daughter’s soccer ball and every practice I took her too, although thankfully I usually remember the kids. I’ve also been having trouble sitting down and composing blog entries and night from fatigue and an inability to focus. (To, those of you who have submitted information to me to create stories or research, I am moving slower but still making progress now.) Now that I am getting a handle on my condition things are starting to firm up and my confusion seems more obvious now in retrospect. I’ve been running labs, seeing doctors, dietitians and specialists and what seems to be the consensus is that taking steroid shots back to back to address my Pneumonia and Bronchitis in February and March overwhelmed my pancreas and triggered my condition. I went from just entering the warning zone to a serious case of uncontrolled diabetes over a few months. Fortunately, I was working with my doctor while I was trying to lose so much weight and get in shape and we caught it right away.  If  my condition had remained untreated until an annual physical I would have ended up in the hospital, if I was lucky.

So where am I going with this do you ask?

I did what many of us probably do without thinking. I went to the after-hours clinic, told them I was sick and needed to get well fast, and asked them to load me up with shots and whatever they could give me to get me back on my feet as fast as possible.  “I don’t have time to be sick,” I told them.  Getting an appointment with my primary care physician is always harder, but he has all my medical history and is more qualified, has more experience, and is more familiar with my case history and medications. I was trying to save up as much time as I can to go to meetings, to get blog posts done, to meet with parents, to attend and present at conferences and to still have time for my job and my family so I couldn’t afford to take time for more mundane matters like a common cold. Without considering the consequences, I chose the easiest path. As a result I made myself much sicker with what might be a permanently debilitating condition. (I do have a slim chance of reversing it if I take extra special care of myself over the next 6 months and lose some more weight. Things I should have done before so I would not have been put in the position I am now.) I did not know that getting steroid shots and oral steroids could trigger diabetes and I thought I was being proactive and taking care of myself.  As I’ve learned since, those treatments dramatically raise blood sugars and for those of us in Louisiana already a little overweight, this can rapidly accelerate a process that would normally take years. I’m writing this in part to warn folks about steroids and diabetes. Sometimes steroids may be necessary, when you have Pneumonia like I did for the first round, but maybe not if you just have a cold or Bronchitis and you’ve recently received them. It’s great that you want to do something quickly, but quick or unresearched actions can cause much more harm than good.

In case you were wondering, this is where the School Reform critique comes in. A lot of times we try to apply quick fixes that are nothing more than ineffective Band-Aids to our problems in our daily lives and in public policy.

That’ll fix it!

This type of fix gives us the satisfaction of saying we’ve quickly addressed a problem and a visible verification of the fix. However simple Band-Aids may not be ideal solutions for brown recluse spider bites, or structurally damaged vehicles in previous picture. The Band-Aid solution does not make the car pictured safer, doesn’t permit the doors to open, and applying that Band-Aid means the passenger side window has to remain open. . . but we can say we fixed it!  It didn’t cost us as much a door replacement, paint job and body repair, but it was quick and required little effort or long-term commitment on our part.

This is the way much of modern-day school reform works in the US.

Allow me to show you some examples.

Charter Schools

Charter schools were first marketed as a way to provide quality educations, to help underserved populations like the disabled or Limited English Proficient, and to differentiate emphasis on instruction (say charter schools for Engineering, Math, the Arts or Foreign Language immersion.) When it was discovered that these schools often performed worse, failed to provide certified teachers or staff for special education students, and that serving high needs populations was expensive and reflected poorly on charter school’s rankings compared to schools with average populations many charter schools opted instead to appeal to the wealthiest and least cumbersome students. What started as an easy fix, if the local school system is not working, slap a charter school or three on it, turned into a serious threat, a disease on public education. Charter school mania is a disease that now threatens to devour the host.

Larvae devouring host caterpillar

What started out as a quick fix to apply to ailing public education systems to provide a quality education for some of the students is actually making education worse for most of them by siphoning off financial resources, teachers, and students and leaving the hardest to educate students behind.

[I urge you all to support HB 703 currently pending a vote in the House Education committee. This bill restricts the spread of charter schools into A, B and C districts, like has recently happened to Iberville and Lafayette, by requiring these schools get approval of the local school boards. If you believe in local education, I urge you to contact the members of the House Education committee to support this Bill.]

Common Core

  • Colleges are claiming they face a problem of too many children requiring remediation.
  • Businesses are claiming High School graduates are not career ready when they graduate.
  • Testing and textbook companies are complaining about all the different version of textbooks and tests they have to prepare every year.

To them, the obvious solution was to create a universal standardized curriculum that everyone would have to take and pass to graduate. This, simple enough seeming solution, created many problems.

Not all education is testable. You cannot test the arts with bubbles. You cannot test a student’s drive or thirst for additional learning. You cannot test a child’s creativity (which Common Core stifles) on a standardized test.  These aspects of education are whittled away to nothing under Common Core. This will create a generation of education hating test bubble makers, not the creative class that is responsible for our place as the greatest inventors and artists with the greatest per capita renewable economy on the planet.

The Common Core curriculum that was created is not rigorous, just tedious. Tedium does not equate to rigor except of the “mortis” variety. Advanced Math and Calculus was not included in Common Core. Students will not be STEM ready without that exposure. Colleges will have to provide that instruction and remediation, just as they have been. However fewer students will want to pursue those types of careers because of how obnoxious the math has become.

Companies will not have more employees ready to complete upon graduation. This curriculum was never tested, it is being piloted on a massive scale without any supporting research that it works. Early indications are that Common Core math is producing lower test scores in all states that adopted compared to those state’s previous math scores, and compared to other states that did not implement the Common Core math.  Common Core does not work and will and will make our children worse off.

Now there is so much chaos as a result of pushing Common Core, sight unseen and untested, that states are having problems pulling out of it. Students and parents are getting frustrated and pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them, or enrolling them in non-public schools that have rejected Common Core. Experienced teachers are fleeing the profession in record numbers, and newer teachers are leaving in droves as well. The rushed and unresearched manner is which a universal curriculum was pushed upon the Nation through trickery, bribery and deception is ruining public education for millions of children and families.

 Closing “Failing” Schools

One of the favorite tactics of school reformers is closing the schools they have defined as “failing”.  Whether the school is actually “failing” the students is beside the point.  All a school has to do to be defined as failing is have a concentration of poor students, students with disabilities or English Language learners.  Schools are not judged based on whether they serve children well, simply based on demographics.  To become a successful school all one needs to do is attract wealthier students and dissuade poorer students from enrolling as was the disabled or students from recently emigrated families.  Reformers trot out the occasional High performing High poverty school to “show” us that poverty doesn’t matter, but when you look at these cases a little closer you find numerous mitigating factors including dramatically increased funding, a poorly defined “poverty” measure, cheating or high concentration of wraparound services and highly qualified teachers that reformers claim are unnecessary.  The believe simply moving these children to “successful” school will magically make them become overachievers, and negate the impacts of poverty, abuse, neglect and apathy. This is not true.  All this does is mask the problem while the schools poor children are evicted from are turned over to privatizers who often perform worse than the schools they replace and are successively shut down and rebranded year after year to disguise the massive, systemic failures of the charter movement.

Rather than recognizing how often charters fail, States like Louisiana point to the numerous closures and claim success!  This is the free market in action, and we are holding these schools “accountable”.  Meanwhile no one seems to actually care what happens to the children and communities.  They take and claim for granted that these children have been “helped” by this displacement, but they are careful not to track them or allow anyone to report on their outcomes.

They know the truth, and they fear it.

Poverty matters

It is true that poverty can be overcome.  It’s not the sole determinate in whether a student is successful, but it is a major component and not one that can be overcome by simply opening up Rocketship Academies staffed with teachers trained for 5 weeks and implementing Common Core. Overcoming the reductive impacts of poverty on educational outcomes requires hard work, money, determination and a significant time commitment.  This is not something most education reformers want you to hear.  They want to inject the education system with magic steroid shots in the form of High Stakes Testing, VAM teacher evaluations, charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core, and a parade of poorly trained fresh-faced can do chanting recruits from TFA and the New Teacher Project.  They want to reduce funding to students and channel it educational entrepreneurs and data harvesters who will claim to have the latest and greatest data potions to improve educational outcomes without the hard work such endeavours have traditionally taken in the past.

Reformers want to be in charge.  They want to “believe” that their reforms will improve the outcomes of children, while they make a tidy profit on the side.  Louisiana’s John White is a typical reformer.  He is so invested in this philosophy that he even renamed the official Louisiana Department of Education website “Louisiana Believes”.  He has formed Louisiana Believes committees and recruits to support his message and preach his gospel of reform.  What he has also done is prevent anyone impartial form getting access to any data that unequivocally disproves his “beliefs”.  John White “believes” his reforms are working, or at least that is what he is trying to brainwash the state of Louisiana and the nation into believing.

The reality is much different.

If John White had any faith in his beliefs he wouldn’t need to hide his data, and contract with shill organizations like CREDO, Stand For Children, and the Cowen institute to produce poorly research propaganda to support his “beliefs”.

If reforms were working they could show us the proof and that would shut people like me up once and for all.

The truth is, there are no quick fixes for what ails Education and our society.

We are the wealthiest Nation on earth and yet have perhaps the largest income and wealth gap as well. Reformers have correctly identified that this poverty is impacting our children, and our nation’s competitiveness.  This poverty does pose a threat to our global position as a world leader and a lack of a proper education does impact future earnings for children as they become adults and makes it more likely these children and their families will end up on public assistance or perhaps incarcerated.  Those negative outcomes have a significant cost to our society and changing those to positive outcomes could result in a substantial net benefit.  The answer is not reducing our educational funding, closing schools with at-risk students, forcing children and teachers to Race To The Top or be the Children Left Behind.  The answer is not a quick shot in the butt, or crossing our fingers and “hoping” Common Core works (in a generation).

The answer is the same as it has always been. Hard work.  Focus.  Determination. Dedication.  Adequate Funding.  Squarely addressing our problems, not hiding from them or disguising them or saying “Screw it, if I can’t fix it at least we can make some money off this problem” as I see many of the latest education entrants doing.   Our public education system was not perfect, but now it is sick with all the quick-fix reform “treatments” we’ve heaped upon it.  We can reverse this illness before it becomes fatal.  But to do so, it will require we abandon the harmful quick-fix approaches and buckle down for some slow-going old-fashioned hard work.

I ask that you help me do this.

I will do the same.

Let’s check back in six months and see where we are.

The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

There is a very complex case of craziness surrounding John McDonogh High School. The more I look into this school, the more examples of financial mismanagement, exploitation, theft and cheating I manage to run into. This school has been exploited for publicity by a bizarre but extensive cast of characters; everyone from Oprah Winfrey, Arne Duncan, Morning Joe, RSD, John White, Mitch Landrieu, Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter Schools, Future is Now Schools: New Orleans, and Digger Phelps. Despite reports of many millions of dollars being raised to support and rebuild John McDonogh, I’m told the building still reeks of mold and urine, and is covered with asbestos, mold damage, termite damage, boarded up windows that leak when it rains. It is rat infested and littered with droppings, and this was a school being touted as the home of a future culinary institute.

Almost 2 years ago John White, Digger Phelps and Arne Duncan revealed their vision of what the future would hold for John McDonogh, 2 years thence on the Morning Joe morning show. In their vision, 35 million dollars that had been allocated for repairs would transform the school into a culinary nirvana, and a sparkling gem of learning and pride for the community surrounding it.


Digger touted the new gymnasium he had built for the school and Morning Joe flashed pictures of what were led to believe were remodeled sections of the school. He and John White did some mutual backslapping and congratulating each other on all the commitments they were making, including bring a top notch culinary institute to John McDonogh. That sounded impressive, and I’m sure all these folks got a lot of kudos for talking a good game. Digger was a former nationally renowned basketball couch, so I’m sure talking a good game is ingrained his is psyche. But when you talk a good game, collect the kudos, and then the children you say you are helping still live surrounded by broken and leaky windows, walking through rat dropping covered floors, and breathing in asbestos and toxic mold, 2 years after you highlight a problem, 8 years after Katrina when funds were allocated to rebuild the school, that’s where your help turns to exploitation.

Since we’re on the topic of exploitation, I believe exploitation is when a Billionare produces a show touting a high school as the most dangerous in the United States.


Take a look at this excerpt from an article produced by education reporter Kari Dequine Harden for the New Orleans bureau of the Advocate.

New Orleans — The John McDonogh Advisory Committee, a panel of community members that advises the charter operator for the high school, made its feelings about the reality show “Blackboard Wars” clear at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

The committee passed around an open letter calling the show, produced [by] the Oprah Winfrey Network, “a source of negative, exploitative depictions of the students and the school.”

The advisory board’s letter was addressed to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Winfrey, the show’s producers and charter operator Steve Barr.

Three out of six episodes of the hourlong show have aired to date. The first begins with images from a 2003 shooting in the school’s gymnasium but never mentions that the incident, which left one student dead, occurred a decade ago.

Nearly every student featured in the first three episodes faces some sort of challenge—from teen pregnancy and homelessness to bipolar disorder and lack of parental acceptance because of homosexuality. Every episode aired thus far has shown scenes of out-of-control classrooms and students fighting inside the school.

The letter points to words like “most dangerous,” “most under-performing,” and “worst,” saying that such “blanket statements stereotype our school and our students,” and “reinforce low expectations.”

“Students who are repeatedly told that they are violent, troubled and beyond redemption will soon come to believe it . . . this rhetoric drives away families and students who believe the exaggerations and lies about John McDonogh,” the letter said.

For course even the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu got in on the bashing of John McDonogh with this statement:

In an interview last month, Thompson blamed the contentious “most dangerous” label on Landrieu, who said in his 2012 State of the City Address that in 2011, a McDonogh student was more likely to killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.

Wow, that’s quite a statement. I’m sure that wasn’t an exaggeration? I’m not sure where he got his stats but according to what was sent to the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011, (when I worked there) that school was not labeled as dangerous or persistently dangerous.  (I prepared that data through 2011-2012 before I left) I’m pretty sure even by Louisiana’s absurd definition, a dozen or so students dying would have shown up the report, not to mention making national and international news. Speaking of reports and exploitation again, I found this statement by Principal Barr particularly disturbing, though not surprising.

In a January interview about the show in California, Barr stated that out of 261 students enrolled during the 2011-2012 school year, “Any given day you never saw more than 60 kids at the school.” According to the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, McDonogh’s attendance rate that year was 89 percent.

This is the former principal, a leading charter school advocate, telling on himself. If what he is saying is true, the attendance rate should have been closer to 22%, not the 89 % this school reported to the state. That’s really quite an admission, but I actually believe him. . . the second time. Charters and RSD schools, especially in New Orleans, are free to report whatever data they want to report. No one verifies their reporting, and in fact, the Louisiana Department of Education would rather charter operators like Barr report completely fabricated attendance rates like 89% rather than the 22% Barr publicly asserted he witnessed. It also allows charter operators to get more money for students that stopped attending. These are state and federal dollars being spent.

We should have audits of these schools and their data quality as it directly translates to funding at a time when our state is cutting back on services to the poor, universities, and healthcare, we are letting private charter operators openly admit to sending in fabricated data which is almost certain to have resulted in overpayments from our coffers. If this were all the problems, this would be a headache, but this is only the beginning of the indictments of I can make about how this school, and how the entire RSD circus is being run.

I have at least two more pieces to go into. There is really too much going on to be covered in single post. In my next installments I will show you current photos of John McDonogh today to show you where the money isn’t going, and the nonsensical reasons being offered. I will also reveal what may very well be a RSD and charter wide scandal. Each of these topics deserves own attention and post, but consider my intro a teaser for what’s to come. . .

The Crawfish Bump!

The Crawfish Bump!

Congratulations Crawfish patriots!

In the last 48 hours after making this post we helped Shannon Puckett increase her funding for her Kickstarter Documentary Defies Measurement by more than 23% and contributors by almost 40%!

Since this is my first endorsement, and since I can plausibly say I had something to do with it (ok maybe Shannon’s excellent pitch had more to do with it, but still. . .) I’ve decided to call this effect the “Crawfish Bump”.

But we have much more bumping to do. If you haven’t contributed or bugged your dying rich and senile uncle that nobody likes into contributing, now’s your chance! Shannon needs your money and we need her film and story. If you donate, we can both win! If you were listening to NPR last week in Baton Rouge you heard a very extensive pledge drive. If you’re like me it probably drove you crazy! If you procrastinated and missed out, now is your chance to mend your conscience! Donate to this equally good cause and I will forgive you for your tardiness.

Note: You might still get a phone call from Ira Glass for not contributing, I can’t help you there, but at least I can tell Ira your dollars did not go to waste on all those cups of coffee he asks you to do without! I won’t even ask you to do without your morning coffee, espresso, or even your sissy mocha latte cappuccino spritzer with extra whip. That can be our little secret. All you have to do is donate, or cajole someone else into giving. Simple right!?!?!

So what are you waiting for?

Here’s the link to Shannon’s Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/937247555/defies-measurement

Here’s the link to her youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16lnlJqh_WY

Now let’s get that bump growing!


Did I mention the largest crawfish contributor gets an autographed crawfish? To win, just post your amount as a comment. I will notify the winner by the e-mail linked to the comment…


This goes for previous Crazy Crawfish directed contributors.

Please Join My Anti-CREDO Crusade

After posting my critique of CREDO’s funding sources and shoddy statistical work and unfounded conclusions I was contacted by a few folks who had published critiques of these CREDO frauds earlier. At first I was chagrined that I had not found my fellow bloggers posts and reports earlier – I consider myself relatively up-to-date on most of the shenanigans and reform players, but I’ll admit CREDO snuck by me. My momentary embarrassment quickly turned into a resolution to ensure CREDO becomes synonymous with the Reform movement and fraudulent studies. If I didn’t know about them (as obsessed as some might say I am about fighting reformers), it’s a good bet not very many people in the mainstream have a clue. I tried to analyze why I never questioned them as a possible imposter and I came up with a few possibilities as to why they fit so nicely in my reformer blindspot.

  • CREDO makes a big point of listing their affiliation with Stanford whenever they mention their name or introduce themselves (which conjures up very liberal leaning feelings and images.) However CREDO is actually the bastard offspring of the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank and corporate toady, both of which are funded by Pearson and the Walton [Walmart] Family Foundation – two of the biggest corporate reformers on earth. The Hoover fellows, two of which are affiliated with CREDO are some of the most pro-charter, pro-reform, anti-child folks you will ever find, Margaret E. Raymond, Director and supreme CREDO commander, and her husband, public education guerrilla terrorist
    Eric Alan Hanushek.
  • CREDO attacks virtual schools in their “studies.” Virtual schools are easy sacrificial lambs. No one expects those students to do better. Virtual schools market their services based on flexibility and occasionally lower cost, not quality of instruction, so such findings do little to impede their expansions. Because CREDO appears critical of other reformer initiatives it lends them an air of legitimacy in the eyes of many. I wonder if CREDO would be as critical of virtual charters if they started funding CREDO, as charter schools and charter associations currently do?
  • CREDO is the only entity outside of state DOEs even able to get access to the data. Certainly as much data from as many states as they have. They get vast quantities of data, and I falesly assumed they would use everything they got, and I knew if they did they would discover many significant caveats to charter “success.” It did not occur to me that they would suck up such great quantities of data, but use (or report) such a relatively small portion of it. My own experience working with them and talking to them blinded me to the real possibility that they would take all that data in the hopes of finding any possible ray of charter sunshine, but when failing to find one they would mask the true results by summarizing very broad sets of data and show charters in the most positive light they could manage.
  • CREDO touts their affiliation with a university and professors. Most people would assume (or like to assume) professors and universities are immune to political pressures and the whims and wishes of corporate donors. I realize now that is very naïve, but it was a comforting thought to have while it lasted. CREDO has violated that informal compact between citizens and universities by producing poorly reasoned, fallaciously propagandized, rubbish. They have intentionally ignored mitigating factors, like charters with selective admission standards, differences in degree of poverty, massive funding disparities, differences in degree of disability, and mischaracterized RSD (Recovery School District) schools as TPS (Traditional Public Schools) in order to show a positive separation between charters and TPS schools.

CREDO has intentionally abused our preconceptions about independent researchers, Stanford, and university independence to insert their agenda into a national education narrative. They did not disclose their affiliations, they did not disclose the limitations of their study, they did not disclose very very obvious mitigating factors like charter schools with admission standards based on test scores and past performance in declaring charter school students do better than TPS students. They did not examine the disparity in funding for charter schools versus TPS schools which can be 30% or more in states like New Jersey and New York where those numbers are published in this critique by Bruce Baker on CREDO. In Louisiana They intentionally conflated RSD, collectively the lowest or second lowest performing school district in one of the lowest performing states with TPS schools. They allowed and encouraged their research to be used an endorsement of charter schools which even their scanty and intentionally vague and misleading “research” fails to back up. They translated their results into an intentionally misleading meaningless number, number of extra school days of learning, when placed in the proper context of less than .5% of that impact being attributed to a charter school.

I would ask that you refer to these great posts by mother crusader.

This post details where CREDO gets its money and the affiliations of the key CREDO staff. Bet you didn’t know this about the head researcher on the latest CREDO report, Devora Davis:

Devora Davis, Research Manager 

Devora was at the State Board of Ed Meeting talking about the study, and has been in the press quite a bit too.  Guess what Devora did before she came to CREDO?  She was a research analyst for KIPP.  

You can follow this link to listen to Davis on KALW in San Francisco talking about charters with the KIPP Chief Academic Officer for the Bay Area, and Jill Wynns President of the California School Boards Association.  Wynns does an amazing job defending public ed, and Davis sounds a lot more like a charter cheerleader than a researcher.

This post details how the head of CREDO, Margaret Raymond is one of the key charter pushers and key reformers. Great person to head an “independent” study on charter effectiveness, eh? Here is my favorite section from Darcie’s post but please read the whole thing for a clearer more disturbing picture.

2005 Chartering 2.0 Leadership Summit

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website still has a report posted about the event.

Last summer, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools gathered some of the nation’s leading charter school advocates and other education experts to plan for the next generation of charter schooling.

The event, “CHARTERING 2.0,” was inspiring and thought-provoking and provided valuable guidance on how to improve charter quality as the movement grows to scale.

This next excerpt is Raymond’s points to her charter school audience on how to wage their coming “war” against traditional schools, back in 2006. Is there any doubt she is using CREDO to wage the PR part of the campaign of attrition and battle plan she is describing?

I have three points.  First, change is the last thing districts will do.  Second, there are predictable indicators of where districts are on the change curve.
Third, the charter movement isn’t yet making a strong case for competitive response from districts. 

I study the emergence of markets in industries dominated by monopolies. Certain lessons can be learned from these instances that can be applied to the charter world.  Monopolies have enormous power and do not change happily or easily; they can expend resources to avoid change.  When threatened, they launch a series of wars.  First is the war of entry: prohibiting new entrants into the market.  They try to set high barriers through law and regulation.  In general, the monopolist is dismissive of potential entrants. 

The second war is of survival—they launch games of irritation.  These include delaying tactics, non-responsiveness, and nonpayment.  They try to limit the discretion of the new entrants.  The public relations strategy is to smear the new opponents, often personally. 

Third is the war of containment.  They will heap on as many costs as possible to wear you down, such as more reporting requirements and cost studies. The public relations battle becomes more aggressive and organized. 

Fourth is the war of elimination; the biggest indicator is the legal challenge. The opposition forms into coalitions designed to destroy the new entrants. 

After all of these wars, you will see change.  But you have to survive first.

A final point: if chartering is to win the political and policy battle, it must demonstrate that it can either produce much better results or much greater efficiency (same results with lower costs).  Charter schools haven’t done either yet.

This last CREDO critique describes how CREDO is advocating a policy that benefits it largest clients, by encouraging large charter chains to replace all public schools, and shutting out smaller, unproven, (and no doubt less generous to CREDO) charter operators. This is the endgame, the plot revealed. Today’s “reform” has never been about providing quality education to children, not about innovation, it’s about profitability and wrestling a public good, the public education system, into the coffers of the larger wealthier charter chains. It’s about holding children and taxpayers upside down and shaking every last penny out of their pockets.

This report’s findings challenge the conventional wisdom that a young underperforming school will improve if given time. Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly,” said Dr. Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director and the study’s lead author. “Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.” 

“We have solid evidence that high quality is possible from the outset,” Dr. Raymond said. “Since the study also shows that the majority of charter management organizations produce consistent quality through their portfolios – regardless of the actual level of quality – policy makers will want to assure that charter schools that replicate have proven models of success.”   

CREDO is the Benedict Arnold of researchers, a traitorous abomination that is waging this secret war on our school systems and students to enrich itself, its donors and its clientele. Now CREDO has even turned on its own, newer charter operators, to solidify a new status quo of corruption and profiteering over even the ephemeral promise of innovation charters once were thought to offer as their primary selling point. In the end, all that we will have accomplished is socializing the loss of our nation’s children, while privatizing the profit of our education centers in the hands of a few.

Who said our politicians learned nothing from the banking crisis? They learned to replicate it, with CREDO leading the way. Well done, CREDO.

I encourage all of my blogger brethren to out this imposter with their own analyses, or to consider leaving their previous CREDO critiques as a comment to reference.

Thank you