Louisiana’s Dropout Numbers Don’t Add Up

Louisiana’s Dropout Numbers Don’t Add Up

For the past 5 years Louisiana has been reporting they have steadily decreased their event dropout rate.   In simple terms, an Event Dropout Rate is the percent of students in select grade levels (in this case grades 7-12 or 9-12) that are enrolled at some point during the year but then exit and are determined by other data (or lack of data) to have dropped out of school.  Because dropout calculations rely on future data (or lack thereof) dropout rates lag a few years behind the actual school year.

Currently the most recent data for Louisiana is the 2010 dropout rate from the 2010-2011 school year.  The 2011-2012 dropout rate should become available around November or so.  I can already tell you what it will say.  It will say for the 6th straight year our event dropout rate will have miraculously decreased!

I guess congratulations are in order for the Reform movement and all the school takeovers LDOE has been pushing through for select parishes like EBR and New Orleans.  (Oh, you didn’t notice that most of the rest of the state like Caddo Parish has been spared takeovers even though they have schools just as bad or worse than the ones already taken over?   That’s not accidental, it’s political, but that’s another article entirely.)

Now John White and the Teach for America Reformers will claim this decrease is due to their concerted efforts to keep students in school and to replace failing schools and ineffective teachers with better ones.  Unfortunately no one at the Advocate or Times Picayune are asking the tough questions – or any questions really.  They have deadlines to meet, and made-to-order press releases to publish.  They need to fill their pages with crap the Jindal Administration and LDOE pre-chews and regurgitates into their starving baby bird mouths.  Is it any wonder their economic model is failing?  But I digress.

Let’s look at some of the numbers here.  I hope to be able to present this evidence in a way anyone should be able to see something fishy is going on.  Since I was the one who wrote and designed the programming logic behind calculating dropouts, I can point out the weak points that could be exploited.  Earlier in my career I also worked with auditors (when we had them – we don’t audit these numbers now) to reveal which districts and schools were reporting suspicious looking stuff.  I will then reveal some of their tricks they are probably using now.

Notice in 2005 we had 9-12 dropout count of over 14,000.  This was the year of Katrina, but also the year we started taking over local schools and school districts and turning them over to RSD.  The next year we took over some more schools, but only in New Orleans and our dropouts still stayed relatively high, about 1000 less.   Come 2007-2008 our dropout rate went up a little.  This the first year we started taking over, or talking about taking over schools outside of New Orleans.  The next year our dropouts dropped to 12,000, then 8700 and finally about 8000 in grades 9-12 for 2010-2011.  By now we’ve taken over schools in East Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee and threatened to take over schools in a few handfuls of other parishes.  Schools get taken over in based on SPS (School Performance Scores) of which a component is the Event Dropout Rate which this table shows.

Not coincidentally, 2008 is the year two shadow schools opened in Iberville Parish.  Shadow schools are schools that are not declared to the state as “schools” but operate in every other way as a school.  Having one or more magnet “shadow schools” allows you to send/route you higher performing students to the state through lower performing ones, making them appear better than they are to parents and the state, and making them ineligible for takeover.  In fact, what is going on is the regular schools are getting worse as lucky kids go to the shadow schools and the rejected ones get stuck in crap schools that nonetheless look like they are improving or making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress.)

So what do shadow schools have to do with the miraculous event dropout rate improvement?  Well, they are both illusions designed by schools districts to avoid accountability sanctions of course!  LDOE is fine with this, so long as it looks like they’re plans are working they reward these ingenious districts.  Districts that don’t get with the dishonesty program are soundly punished and taken over.  If only they knew LDOE doesn’t have any intention of ever auditing them (they let all those guys go years ago.)

Now, you may say, “where’s the proof?  Where’s the smoking gun?  This is just speculation, and maybe all these fancy folks we hire from out of state are really having an impact on our students and state?”

Well, you could be right. . .  But if our students are not dropping out, then what’s the opposite of dropping out. . . graduating, right?   Over the last few years from 2008 – 2010 we had around 13-14 thousand cumulative fewer students dropping out.  So surely by the 2011 graduate count should be averaging around 6 or 7 k more students a year graduating?  The cumulative effect of 6500 more students staying in school every year for 4 years should equal around 24,000 more graduates or so, right? But at least for these first 4 years we should have around 14 or 15 thousand graduates more, if these stats are correct. (the numbers are even more prfound if we use the 7-12 grade dropoout numbers.  The difference there is now at 9 thousand fewer dropouts a year according to state figures.)

If you look take a look at these graduate counts you find we have more graduates in 2005, than we have even today.  While it’s true our student count decreased after 2005, it’s actually increasing at a slower rate than our student population is increasing.  Our student count has increased by 653786/696558*100= 9.3% since 2005.

Our graduate count has still not actually recovered to our 2005 count.  By that measure it would appear we are actually graduating a lower percentage of our students than Pre-Katrina and Pre-Reform, Pre-School Takeover.

Also note that while we have finally recovered to our pre=Katrina graduation count, almost 2000 more students are taking remedial classes.  During this same time frame we lowered our graduation requirements and introduce something called a career diploma (that is lighter on college level course work.  Do you think that could be related?)

So where are all these students going if they are not graduating?  Good question.  Let me tell you a little story:

I was working with one of the auditors, back when we verified school district data, when he showed me something that seemed a bit bizarre.  One of our dropout factories went from having around 30 – 50 dropouts every year to zero the next.  When I called to find out what was going on I was told this school had a new “no nonsense” principal.  He ran a tight ship.  He walked on water and his sh*t smelled like roses, if it smelled at all.  I was impressed, but just to be sure. . . I passed this site off to an auditor to investigate.  A few weeks later my accountability auditor came by and let me in on the secret. 

Apparently some of the rumors were true.  This principal knew his evaluation and job security depended on getting the dropout situation under control.  When he saw his preliminary dropout list he instructed his school secretary to “fix it.”  She did as she was told.   All of the students that exited the school but never showed up anywhere else were fixed.  Every student that said they were dropping out to get a job, or because they hated school or never thought they could meet the graduation requirements, was fixed.  Every student that joined an adult education program, just stopped going to school, or was expelled and never returned, was fixed.  “Fixed” meant changing every student’s exit code to indicate they had transferred out of state.  After every student on the preliminary dropout list was coded as transferring out of state the dropout problem was fixed and the principal looked great!

Some other tricks I saw back when we bothered to audit schools (back before the numbers carried any significant meaning)

  • Changing the grade level of students to grade 6 (or even grade 4 in one instance) so when they “dropped out” they didn’t get tallied in the official 7-12 dropout numbers.
  • After getting the money for the student based on the October collection, schools would delete students that dropped out form their roles for the entire year (this is a charter school favorite)
  • Going back to a year where dropouts were already finalized and publishied and changing student data to show a student had actually dropped out that year, instead of the current year.
  • Exiting students to any Non-dropout reason like out of state that can’t be verified or disproven by data (such as exit to non-public, or out of state)
  • Expelling students for 2 or more years – those cases are beyond the current capabilities of the dropout calculation to verify if a student has promptly enrolled after a 2 or more year expulsion (but they almost never return)

Schools are “fixing” their dropouts again, on a statewide scale.  The Dropout Event Rate is more important than ever now that it is a component of SPS (School Performance Scores.)  When faced with the prospects of having their school taken over by the state and handed over to a charter school operator that will in all likelihood do a job no better than you, and often quite worse, what would you do?  LDOE doesn’t care, as long as their plans and policies are “proved” effective, by data they know better than to scrutinize.

This works out for the politicians, political hacks, and charter school scoundrels running LDOE ( into the ground.)  John White and his cronies claim they are introducing these reforms for the children.  They bitch and moan about how the teachers and their unions and the”coalition of the status quo” is only looking after their adult issues (must be nice no to have to worry about adult issues but as a single guy in louisiana making almost 300k I imagine he doesn;t need to) and concerns, and not the welfare of “the children.”   I guess they just mean the children than manage to stay enrolled though their reforms.  Maybe next time we should ask which children he thinks he’s helping?

According to DOE our cohort graduation rate (the percent of students entering 9th grade that graduate in 4 years) is 70% ask John White next time you see him, “Do you really care about helping those missing 30%, those 20,000 flesh and blood children that drop out every year?  From where I stand it looks like you’re just interested in getting your percentages better, even if they are built on an illusion crafted solely to fuel your personal ambition.”

Maybe John White should worry less about adult issues like blaming teachers for the problems that are a result of poverty and really try to focus on the children?

Maybe if he had some children of his own, he’d give a shit?  Nah, probably not.  He’d put them in non-public school, like EBR’s BESE member Chas Roemer, while using public students to further his political career and agenda.

By the look of our numbers our dropout situation is actually getting worse, not better, but LDOE is encouraging school districts to modify which students we count to make our “numbers” and percents look better.  At our current our current rate of decline our offiicial dropout numbers could reach zero in a few years.  Despite what John White tells you, that’s not a good deal for Louisiana to Believe.


Education Related Projects – Status Report and Log

Current Education Related Projects – Intro

I just realized I’ve been working on a number of different projects to expose education abuses and to improve education for the children in my state with a passion I usually reserve for online gaming and good food and drink.  Admittedly I was motivated by spite as well as a sense of duty and justice.  I’ve found the spiteful aspect to be less sustainable since my “voluntary” separation from my DOE.  What has replaced it is a sense of hope as I’ve talked to numerous groups and organizations on children’s issues and education data and how my knowledge of Louisiana’s data might be leveraged for positive outcomes for the children in my state – my own children included.  As I get documents published or outcomes achieved I will update my readers here.  Whenever possible, I am taking a low profile and using third parties to request data and pursue shared goals.  I plan to use this page to update my goals and record some statistics on my progress.

Corporal Punishment

Louisiana is one of the few states that still authorizes and vigorously employs the use of large wooden paddles to smack children who are deemed to be misbehaving.  There are no state guild lines on when it is appropriate to use corporal punishment.  While I was at the DOE I saw stats that showed more than half the children in a given district were disciplined this way in just last half of the year.  (We only collected data for the last semester which has never to my knowledge been published yet.  I was one of the few people who actually saw it since I was the one responsible for gathering and reporting it.) Some children were paddled more than 30 times over the course of just a few months.  Children as young 3 and 4 and as old as 17 were disciplined this way.  It appeared that boys and minorities were more often the recipients of corporal punishment but I was unable to determine (due to lack of time and quality of data) if the ethnic bias was more closely related to poverty.  Districts with some of the lowest education outcomes as measured by School Accountability Scores appeared to have the highest rates of corporal punishment (such as the parish that used CP on more than half of their students in half a school year.)  It would probably take a researcher some time to tease out that correlation though.  At least one parish allows any adult in a supervisory capacity the authority to discipline their students using a 18-24 inch wooden paddle without any training or oversight.  One of the most alarming findings was that many if not all school districts discipline their disabled (Special Education) students this way.  There is no review process in place to determine If the behavior deemed to warrant the use of physical force may be related to their unique exceptionality (such as a student with Tourette’s Syndrome spontaneously and uncontrollably cursing.)  There does not appear to be any consensus on what behavior warrants corporal punishment.  Some districts use it sparingly for more serious offenses, while a number of districts may employ it for the smallest transgression such as “Willful Disobedience” which is often a uniform violation such as an un-tucked shirt or inappropriate footwear.

As of 7/22/2012

Organizations or Prominent Citizens Contacted Contacts Made   Promising future coordination or currently coordinating Data Requests   filed/filled Reports and articles   produced/published Outcomes
17 5 2/0 0/1 task force list

Blog entries posted:

A Modest Corporal Punishment Proposal for Louisiana

Goal: To eliminate the use of Corporal Punishment in Louisiana.

(It’s already been outlawed for use on animals and inmates, but children have fewer rights here apparently)

Other references to my blog vis a vis corporal punishment:



I have acquired a task force list of prominent Louisiana citizens and organizations that participated in a task force with their preferences listed as for or against corporal punishment.  I am tracking down the “Fors” right now.

I have made a few requests to DOE to provide CP data either in summarized or raw form for me to compile.  I may need outside pressure to get them to release it.  I am looking for allies to help me get that ammo which i can use to interest more mainstream media organizations and legislators in my cause.


Section 504 Children (basically students with learning disabilities)

While I was at LDE I designed a system to capture the 504 status for students in Louisiana.  By now we have 2 or three years of data.  From my discussions with the state liaison and even people within and outside the department of education it is apparent that Non-public Schools, many charters and a number of school districts do everything they can to discourage students from claiming to have 504 disabilities.  This discouragement will take many forms but usually results in the students needing to be withdrawn and enrolled elsewhere, being underserved and discriminated against, or parents having to take on a greater financial burden to ensure their children receive supplementary services, tutors, etc.

Some of you may not really know what “504” means.  I didn’t before i started working on the project to collect data on this situation.  Before I started designing the system for collecting this data I did a little homework on what it is.   504 refers to a section of the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) that prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of children’s disabilities if the schools receive federal funding.  (Even though most non-pubic schools don’t receive traditional per-pupil funding, they may receive other types of federal funding for technology and nutrition programs for instance.)  With Louisiana’s new laws allowing any non-public school to receive local, state and federal funding – non-public schools must be held to the same standard as pubic schools in providing services for disabled students covered under 504 or IDEA (Special Education.) or be in violation of federal law.  Many of these schools probably don’t realize this yet, so this issue will need to be made more public and to prevent non-public schools from denying less desirable (more challenging) students from enrolling and remaining enrolled.

Additionally, based on the statistics I viewed, (and backed up by anecdotal accounts relayed to me) that a number of districts refuse to provide the same level of services that most of their peers provide.  When you have most districts identifying around 5%  of their students as having a 504 disability and several large districts reporting rates of less than a tenth of a percent in a like sized district. . . that would seem to warrant further investigation and possible sanctions and corrective actions.  Unfortunately the Louisiana Department of Education has been instructed by the past two Superintendents of Education that they are no longer going to be involved in overseeing compliance issues (even though the federal government provides funding for positions for that purpose that LDE fills).  Therefore outside groups will need to take an interest in this data and pushing for greater oversight and equality for disabled students.

If you are still bewildered by the difference between Special Education(IDEA) children and 504 disabled children this graphic and link may provide some insight.


  • To educate legislators and other stakeholders about 504 status.
  • To improve consistency in reporting and defining 504 status in LEAs.
  • To encourage Louisiana to include 504 status as a component of the teacher evaluation system (currently students may develop a 504 condition such as a learning disability or vision issue that can impact performance.  The Value Added model does not currently include 504 status as factor in a students sudden declination in test scores.)
  • To encourage legislators to include funding for LEAs to address 504 conditions just as they do for at-risk students, LEP students, and Special Education students.
  • To educate charter schools of their obligations under section 504 of the disability act in regards to addressing student needs.

Shadow Schools (Non-Reported Schools)

Shadows schools is a term I invented so don’t go looking for in anywhere else.  I discovered “shadow schools” while working at the Louisiana Department of Education but I have reason to believe what i discovered is just the tip of a very large and growing iceberg.  A shadow school is a schools which operates from the shadows, off the official books reported to the state, federal government and judicial agencies.  That’s not to say the school districts don’t know what’s going on at these shadow schools.  Like the Mafia, they have two sets of books (or possibly more.)   This allows the school district to manage personnel and students at a building level, but report those same students and teachers from other schools that are defined.  Some people have been confused as to why someone would want to do this.  Is this really a big deal, if the student and teachers all get reported?  Louisiana’s former superintendent of Accountability actual made this argument in a meeting I was in, in front of a political appointee that appeared to want to sweep this situation under the rug.  He knew full well what this meant/means but he also knew if he made a big deal about it he would  be gone.   He’s still gone (that was going to happen anyways) but by ignoring issues like this he was able to avoid making waves and stayed a bit longer than most.

Here is what most anyone who deals with data and accountability ought to have been able to explain off the top of his head.

(sorry i left it hanging here folks but i really need more hours in the day)  These will all be filled out eventually.

Homeless Students


Bullied Students


Violence Against Teachers (or anyone in Education setting)


Miscellaneous Special Education Issues


Slaying Value Added Model (and Replacing with a Collaborative System)


Charter School Oversight Issues (lack of)


Eliminating Creationism and ID from School Science Curriculum


Shadow Schools: Does Your DOE Know Where Your Children Are?

Shadow Schools: Does Your DOE Know Where Your Children Are?
I know we provided funding for them. They must be around here somewhere. . .

Probably most of you haven’t given much thought to how state department’s of education collect their data on schools, teachers and students. Well having been in the biz for quite a few years, I do.

LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) aka School districts submit their data to the SEA (State Educational Agency) based on requirements that the state sets. (Not everything that is stored at the local level gets sent to the state. They can keep their bus route info for instance.) From that pool of data that states collect, states send data to various federal programs and agencies such as the Office of Civil Rights, EDEN, etc. However all of this sending is becoming more and more based on the honor system. States assume, or are being forced to assume due to budget cuts, that data being sent to them is honest and accurate. It’s not that you can continue do more with less indefinitely; when you cut budgets every year and increase requirements, goals and responsibilities.

What ultimately happens is you really just do less, in less obvious places.

Before the Reform era, and the STEM era (Science, Technology, English and Math) and this insane overemphasis on tests results in just Math and English, state agencies had people on staff who would deal with federal and state compliance (not to mention other subject areas but that’s a whole other article.) Compliance: you know, making sure the data being sent was accurate, making sure Special Education students weren’t being locked up in closets or confined to windowless rooms without receiving educational services, making sure first grade students weren’t being chained to desks, etc.

With the laser-like focus on improving Math and English scores, to the detriment of all else, the Louisiana department of Education has steadily cut back on compliance, audit and data collection personnel and spurned their oversight responsibilities. The past two Superintendents of Education, John White and Paul Pastorek, have made it clear in many a meeting and directive that they are not interested in obtaining quality data, in making sure LEAs understand and obey federal and state law. Their goal is in increasing test scores, and I don’t think they care how it gets done.

In last last meeting I attended, to paraphrase only slightly, John White informed us that if our role in the organization was not one that was leading to a direct and meaningful impact on an individual student’s math or science score, then our services were not going to be needed going forward. We were told that we should consider leaving, or we would be having a conversation with senior staff and some point in the near future and they would discuss our future, or lack thereof.

It was during this meeting that I realized it would be time for me to leave.

While I was making my preparations to leave, John White was cataloging the duties of every staff member at LDE. (I am told he is planning on laying off many of my former coworkers in the second week of April.) I was told by several sources that anyone who did not indicate they had a significant role in improving Math and English scores was on the chopping block, that much of IT would be outsourced, and that many staffers in non-core educational roles would be sent to other agencies such as DHH (Department of Health ad Hospitals) or Social Services.

Now you may be asking yourself, why should I care?

Well for starters, lets get back to the Shadow Schools I mentioned in my title. You see, many politically appointed people at LDE have know for years of the existence of schools that do not appear on our books. These are schools that have mascots, their own principals, buildings, and websites touting their “school” as a great place to be. Only problem is, those schools don’t exist; at least not to LDE or to the feds.

These schools come in two categories:

  • Magnet (High Performing)
  • Alternative (low performing career/ second chance / career / or discipline centers)

Since the purpose of my article is not to embarrass the specific districts, and since i don’t know every case where this is being done, it would unfair to name names at this point.

One of the ways the districts can get away with this, at least the reason LDE will try to float if asked, is that Louisiana doesn’t have a precise statute that defines a school, nor one that defines a program. The laws leave these definitions up the individual school districts to decide. Of course, nothing could stop LDE from clarifying their stand on these issues, or making rulings in some of the more obvious and egregious cases, or bringing this up as a policy issue for BESE to consider tightening up the rules, etc.

Of course i never said it was a good reason, just the one they would use.

Now why would this situation exist do you ask? Another good question!

Well from the LEA side its fairly simple. LEAs don’t want their schools taken over for having low SPS scores. The Alternative schools are filled with students with a history of academic difficulties. They will have lower attendance, lower graduation rates, higher dropout rates and lower test scores. Money is distributed to LEAs on a per pupil basis. If you distribute those pupils among all your other much better performing schools (well call them home based schools or schools where they might never have set foot in, but theoretically would have been enolled in if the alternative school did not exist.) This lowers the SPS scores of lots of schools just a little, so the district gets the money, keeps the school (which actually doesn’t exist to us) and the state isn’t stuck taking over a hopeless school. Win – Win.

The second situation is a little more tricky, so stay with me. Now lets say you have some really high performing magnet schools, but you have some really low performing schools about to be taken over by the state. If you just never report the magnet schools up to the state, but send the magnet students to the state as if they were enrolled at your low performing schools on an as needed basis you can boost those schools above the takeover line! I’m not quite clear on why the state has allowed this to continue, but I’m assuming it’s something political. . . perhaps a quid pro quo for not opposing all the tenure and charter changes.

I have to wonder how the state can rely on any of its data for teacher performance when the state really can’t be sure which teachers are teaching which kids. How can the state continue to take over schools when they haven’t even tried to ascertain which are schools and which are programs? That seems like a pretty big flaw to me. I have to wonder if LDE would be held in such high esteem with Arne Duncan if he knew of the shenanigans going on there.

I sure hope nobody tells him.

But meanwhile, and by all means, get rid of the rest of the data, compliance, finance and program people that might observe these sorts of things and try to do something about it. The were are just getting in the way of the “Reforms” we were going to implement anyway. The Reform Movement has much more important existential ills to cure and taking time to actually know where your kids are or preparing them to succeed would only slow them down. This movement has always been about greed and abuse of power. And lets face it, it looks like the wealthy and powerful have won. When the dust settles, and our education system is laying at our feet in a twisted, chaotic, dysfunctional mass; at least our kids will have learned one thing:

The Reform Movement won.