What’s Wrong with Education in Louisiana and Some Ideas On How to Fix it

Louisiana Voters,


A few months ago I had a meeting with Lane Grigsby about my candidacy for BESE.

For those of you who don’t know, Grigsby is one of the chief funders of the education reform movement in Louisiana. Investigative journalist Lee Zurik did a multi-segment story on corruption in Louisiana politics called Louisiana Purchased, and he discovered that Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and one of the chief supporters of LABI (the pro-privatization business lobby) was one of the most prolific funders of political candidates in Louisiana and was able to bypass many of the individual spending limits by having family members, PACs he formed, and as many as 17 companies he owned or controlled donate the maximum allowable amount to candidates he was supporting.


I wasn’t seeking funding. I was seeking some understanding of why he was getting involved in education and why he held the stands and beliefs he did. (Grigsby apparently didn’t know who I was which is why he agreed to meet with me. I knew I was diametrically opposed to him on almost every issue.)


While we disagreed on almost everything in our meeting, Lane brought up a very important point that I was overlooking.

“Besides kicking out John White, what are you actually going to do to improve education in Louisiana?”

My focus had been on fighting the BESE board, LDOE, and returning ownership of the public education system to the people of Louisiana.  I hadn’t really considered what I would do if I was placed in a position where I could actually work to improve things!

For the past two months I have been doing much less talking and writing and much more listening and analyzing.  This is probably not going to win me more votes, but getting elected is not really the most important thing, is it?  Improving our education system and the outcomes of our children and thus the future of our people and our state is a much more important long-term goal.

Win or lose the upcoming election, I believe I’ve already accomplished my short-term mission of showing how ordinary people can get involved with their government to try and make things better.


But let’s get back to the whole improving education part.


Despite all the “reforms” Louisiana has undertaken over the past decade our outcomes really haven’t improved all the much, now have they?

10 years ago Louisiana was in a 5 way tie for 44th place (out of 52 States + DC + territories) on the NAEP exam for 4th grade Mathematics. (NAEP is a long term national test used for comparing states to each other and to themselves longitudinally.


For a snapshot of what this lack of growth looks like over time, refer to the chart below. Notice how the gap between Louisiana and the rest of the country has only widened under the current administration and their misguided policies.


In 2013, Louisiana was just 2 tenths of one point (out of 500), ahead of Mississippi. We’ve actually lost a lot of ground compared to other states, despite the continuous claims of success issued by Lousiana’s state Education Board, Governor Jindal – now finishing up the 8th year of his term consecutive terms and running for President, and the Louisiana Department of Education – which both implemented the reforms and then internally evaluated itself on them. When the 2015 NAEP scores are released I expect Louisiana will have finally accomplished the unthinkable, allowing Mississippi to pass us up and thereby becoming the lowest academically performing state in the nation. That will be quite a first.

All of this lack of progress was achieved despite numerous reformers we were promised would work, and are continuously told are working – based on internal metrics the LDOE manipulates every year internally to collect kudos for their achievement and to buy more time for their allies in the private sector that many top executives at LDOE have previously worked for, or hope to work for someday.

Over the past decade we were told:

  1. Charter schools will solve everything with market driven incentives! 
    1. Charter have some anecdotal success, but many perform much worse than the public schools the replace.
    2. More than 10% of our students are enrolled in charter schools.
    3. Either the presence of charter schools are driving down the performance of traditional schools
    4. Or charter schools are performing so poorly they are offsetting the gains of traditional schools.
    5. The “best” charter schools by test scores, are usually simply the best at keeping the wealthiest students and most involved families engaged.  This is why Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies build new schools in brand new secluded and pricy subdivisions like and refuse to provide busing.
    6. Lafayette illustrates another facet of charter behavior: the bait and switch. Charters are advertised as a way to help out or replace struggling schools. Lafayette Parish, one of the top school districts in the state, had some schools in poorer areas that were not performing well.
      1. “However, the shiny new schools were built about as far away from the poorest communities as they could be. Charter Schools USA opened up two charters in new housing developments named Sugar Pond Mills and Couret Farms, which sell new shotgun-style houses on small lots of land for as much as half a million dollars each.
      2. These schools are theoretically open to the entire state, but do not provide transportation. They also require many hours of “service” from parents. Service time increases per child enrolled. Charter schools offer enrollment to all children on paper, but in the real world they do whatever they can to keep out the riffraff.”
      3. See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187950/behind-charter-facade#sthash.NAqRGD4V.dpuf
    7. This results in less diversity in our public schools, fewer schools with motivated or engaged parents and students.  No doubt this will help some, but help all?  Over the long term this has caused our state’s performance to stagnate or even decline. We already have some elite schools like Benjamin Franklin and Baton Rouge High.  This trend is likely to create a few more of those elite schools, and many, many, more subpar schools that are recycled through new charter operators every few years.
  1. Common Core’s high standards will push kids to try harder! “We’ve been too easy on those pipsqueaks up to now, but with more rigor and higher expectations comes unprecedented success!   If we just “believe” in our children, they will do better.
    1. To drive home this message the Louisiana Department of Education even changed its homepage and signature to this motto, “Louisiana Believes.”
    2. Honestly, does anyone really think the only thing that has been holding us back all these years is simply a lack of believing?
    3. We had the second or third highest standards in the nation prior to Common Core was adopted in 2010, and we ranked second from last in achievement.  Massachusetts had the highest standards and they ranked first in achievement.
      1. There is very little correlation between standards and achievement any more than there is a significant correlation between charter schools, vouchers, choice, and achievement.
      2. There is, however, a strong correlation between achievement and poverty.
        1. Our poorest schools have our lowest School Performance Scores and our schools with the fewest poor children have our highest SPS scores.
        2. This is generally the same situation across the nation and as a result the community schools of the poorest children are the ones inordinately impacted by school takeovers and privatization – with no discernable positive impact in performance for the community as a whole.
  1. Unions and their bloodsucking ways are the monkeys on the backs of our children and impediment to performance because they protect so many bad, lazy teachers. 
    1. Having inordinately powerful unions does not appear to be an important factor in terms of student achievement.
    2. However strong unions are a significant impediment to privatization which is why charter groups and their supporters like Stand for Children, and temp teacher providers like Teach For America advocate for policies that weaken unions and grant them greater market access.)
      1. Louisiana has relatively weak unions; Massachusetts has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, and is also one of the highest achieving states.
      2. You might even make the case that stronger unions build better outcomes for students.
        1. I won’t do that because I think it is not the most significant factor, not something Louisiana would accept culturally, and not an outcome one can influence directly very easily or very quickly.
  1. All Louisiana needs is some real “accountability.”  If we hold lazy teachers and crappy schools accountable they will know we mean business and work harder.  If they don’t we’ll take em over and the next guy will work harder. 
    1. We’ve increased testing and “Accountability” impacts for schools and school districts steadily over the last 15 years.
    2. Whether you believe it or not, every Superintendent of Education manipulates the outcomes of these results (although White is the most egregious) to show they are doing a good job.
      1. The scoring should be handled outside of LDOE by an independent auditor no matter who is in charge to prevent political interference on the outcomes –  if we’re serious about these scores being meaningful.
  1. We live in the technology age but somehow we haven’t inserted data ports directly into children’s brains to upload everything they need to succeed.  Before we do that, let’s give them all laptops and see if that does anything. 
    1. Giving laptops to every child helps Apple and Dell meet their sales quotas, but we aren’t boosting our scores or outcomes dramatically with these devices.
    2. Often these devices become a distraction, toy, or massive headache for IT departments to maintain and replace.
    3. Universal laptops or ipads are not a one-time cost, but a massive permanent cost.
  1. Having more recruits from elite universities become teachers will fundamentally transform the teaching profession into a more professional and respected calling.
    1. All too often these temporary teachers from glorified staffing agencies like Teach For America, City Year, and The New Teacher Project are ill prepared with 5 week training courses on how to teach.
    2. Their presence has had the exact opposite effect. Teaching has become less respected because people are led to believe anyone can become a teacher with a 5 week training course.
    3. The vast majority of these recruits are gone in 5 years, most after the first 2 years. This leads to greater instability and turmoil in districts already experiencing turmoil.
    4. The temporary presence of students from elite universities hasn’t really improved teaching overall, but it has led to a dramatic increase in education startups and new crop of education leaders.
      1. TFA Leaders like John White and Kevin Hoffman primarily hire likeminded TFA recruits and drive off local talent and experienced personnel.
      2. While these folks are usually very smart and committed, they are not better than the experienced teachers they displace or drive off
    5. Even if we wanted to replace every teacher with TFA, The New Teacher Project, or City Year recruits the supply cannot outstrip the demand. This is leading us to become dependent on an outside constant influx of new teachers and leading to shortages of experienced teachers and talent within our state.

Will collecting zillions of points of bio-metric data be the silver bullet we were waiting for? 

Will providing data to third party vendors (and hackers) help our children learn faster?

If these ideas were the panacea we were looking for it certainly would be convenient for a lot of folks; primarily the ones selling these ideas or products.

The truth is, to overcome the impacts of our entrenched generational poverty will require a lot of work from a lot of folks and a lot less “believing” and hoping and standard raising.  If a kid can’t reach the monkey bars, moving them two feet higher won’t help.  If kids can’t read, giving them even harder books and more tests to show they can’t read, won’t make them read more proficiently.  What I found helps my kids is when an adult (or child) lifts them up to where they can reach those monkey bars and feel comfortable hanging from them.

Kids want to achieve, but most don’t want to be overly frustrated or reminded of their failures, or how other kids are far ahead of them, constantly. 

Our schools have been plagued for many years by poverty, apathy, and acceptance.   In many parts of the state we have allowed our schools and systems to fall into disarray.

Our more affluent parents have abandoned the schools and they have taken their resources and parental involvement with them.  Out of these ashes we’ve had some outstanding new school districts form with the backing of their communities, like Central and Zachary. (Obviously Baker is still a problem.)

However the solution is not having the state/RSD come in and take control from the locals or chartering the school to a company based out of New York or Michigan.  Rather than simply punishing low performance or problems, and completely pushing the locals out of the way, we need to work with these folks and help guide support them.  This is what the LDOE used to do when our scores were going up – serving in an advisory and support capacity. This is what we need to do resume our climb from the performance dungeon the education reform movement has commissioned us to – while they drained our coffers dry.

In New Orleans we have many local communities seeking to have their schools returned to them, like the perpetual failure John McDonogh.

Rather than ignore and disregard these folks the state needs to embrace them and their efforts.

We won’t have successful community schools without the community.  We have mobilized communities in many parts of the state. This BESE and LDOE ignores them, mocks them and alienates them.

Many public school parents of means are taking their kids out of public schools to homeschool them.

Those are not victories, but tragic losses we must reverse now, before it’s too late!

Some of you folks on BESE and the House and Senate Education Committees might consider the people showing up to BESE meetings and Education hearings and giving you guys a hard time are the problem, but that is exactly backwards! They are exactly the folks you want on your side.  They have energy and passion and care about their school systems, their children, and their neighbors children.  You won’t be able to fix the schools from the outside if you don’t include the parents and community members on the inside. The few token parents Stand For Children busses in for meetings (and buys lunch for) don’t really count.

BESE members Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey doodle on their cell phones when parents are speaking to them about their troubles and problems.  They ignore criticism and different points of view and evidence that is contrary to their pre-determined stands.  BESE members Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones rarely speak and represent the CCSSO and TFA respectively as their full time jobs so they owe their allegiance not to our state or people, but to their employers.

Many of the folks driving education reform have serious conflicts of interest or ulterior motives.

  • Charter schools and technology vendors are going to tell you they are the solution.
  • Test vendors are going to tell you the only thing that you need is more tests with more details.
  • John White is going to tell you he needs more of all these folks because they represent future job opportunities for him.

What we really need doesn’t cost a lot of new money, require fancy new technology, more tests, or more vendors of any type.  We simply need to get back to basics and the three Rs as described two hundred years ago by Sir William Curtis.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic (Reckoning)

Most importantly we need students focusing on improving their reading proficiency and composition abilities. We need to redirect funds from programs we don’t need, that haven’t been proven, or that have been proven not to work, to helping students read more, better, and faster.  This takes practice and finding subjects that interest them.  This takes a time commitment.  This does not require every student to proceed/read at the same pace at the same time.  Student’s should be helped to improve without regard to test scores, without practice tests or test prep which is excessively boring and not conducive to long term learning or retention.

Our children need to learn to read and to be engaged by the material in interesting ways.  We need to eliminate teaching to the test and return to teaching and learning for their own sakes.  This will, as a matter of course, improve test scores.

If children can’t read, can they really understand or learn science, history, economics or civics?  Many of our behavior problems at higher-grade levels are because kids are bored or disengaged because they can’t follow along – because they can’t read or haven’t learned the earlier material.  However when kids have real behavior problems, that are disruptive to the class and school, they need to be removed to allow teachers to teach and other students the opportunity to learn.

Common Core introduced a lot of new “reading” in the math portions, but this is what is giving most children the most trouble.  My daughter was required to read and write for her math homework in first grade when she was still just learning to read and write.  Reading and writing about math problems is not very interesting to a 6 year old.  Common Core (specifically the Tier one Eureka Math LDOE has selected) is trying to address the reading/writing problem in the most frustrating and counter-productive way imaginable to improve children’s reading and writing skills.  Changing an existing standard here and there won’t fix that underlying issue. Revising the entire approach to and eliminating unnecessary frustration is a much greater problem than any individual standard.  The current standards revision process  (that only allows for comment on existing standards) is not likely to address this underlying structural problem.

Common Core does not encourage children to learn on their own, it encourages them to learn only the minimum necessary to pass a test.  The PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT exams do not measure the ability to learn, and thus do not measure potential. As a result of the single-minded approach to improving test scores we are depriving students of the ability and joys of learning for its own sake, and our test scores are not improving.

Louisiana, if you really want to fix education, you need to examine the motivations of folks that are pitching their ideas to you and stay focused on your chief goal – fixing education outcomes and preparing children for a lifetime of learning – rather than being tied down by a single solution, candidate, or ally.

There’s not much money to be made with my solution so I doubt many people will want to buy into it.  However if you would like support me and my vision you will have a chance to vote for me on October 24th.

If you would like to help in a more direct way my campaign website is listed below.

Thank you for you time.

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE in district 6



SPEDGate: How the Louisiana Department of Education is Misappropriating Millions of Dollars a Year from their Federal Special Education Funding for Cronies and Political Favors

What follows is an investigative story about the Special Education program run by the Louisiana Department of Education which reveals how numerous players have profited by funneling Federal IDEA funds to their own pet projects and personnel.

This illegal misappropriation of public money has left many special education students, parents, and district staff without the support those federal funds were mandated to provide.

My story has many twists, turns, and villains, but I will try to lay out the details as clearly as I can.  This story exposes what appears to be criminal behavior and corruption at our highest levels of government.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than I know or will be able to relay here, but I will present what I have and let the public, legislators and law enforcement agencies decide if this matter is worth investigating further using tools beyond my power.

A few months ago I received a letter from a concerned Special Education activist in Louisiana.  This source to whom I have given anonymity provided some internal documents prepared by the Louisiana Department of Education which were distributed to certain Louisiana legislators.  Much of the information provided had been previously relayed to me over several years, but I have been unable to prove those assertions, until now.

The first element that was revealed to me is that LDOE has destroyed the Special Education Department.  Most of the staff who previously dealt with Special Education issues were reassigned or fired,  but LDOE kept the money the federal government was providing specifically to support special education staff.  To justify this, LDOE allocated these funds I to 129 different staff members across the department, many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Special Education.  I have provided a list of these allocations as attachments labeled “salary” and “salary 2”.  I’m told this documentation was provided to Representative John Schroeder when the department was trying to make a case that they did not have the necessary staff to comply with Act 833. (Act 833 was signed into law in 2014 and requires LDOE to provide alternate graduation requirement guidelines for certain disabled students.)


salary 2

According to guidance documents I have provided, it is acceptable for LDOE to allocate salaries on a pro-rata basis.  However, this basis must be determined by the employee for the amount of time they actually spend solely on Special Education issues.  Employees are required to sign off every week on “Time-and-Effort Certifications” like the one shown below:

Cert schedule




As you can see, employees are supposed to document how much time they spend on actual Special Education focused issues and to then sign this affidavit.  Their supervisors then sign off on this form.  However employees at LDOE do not enter the percentages.  Their supervisors provide documents with these percentages already filled out, or they instruct their employees what numbers they must use based on how they have been allocated for budgeting purposes, not based on any actual work.  Many of the LDOE employees allocated to Special Education couldn’t work on Special Education issues if they tried.  Employees that have tried to refuse committing fraud have been threatened with immediate termination by their supervisors.  One source I interviewed relayed a story I had been told several times before.

“…when one LDOE employee said he/she did not want to sign the verification sheet – because it was untrue – the person was told the alternative was to be fired.”

Some state employees are blackmailed into committing payroll fraud every week.  They cannot reveal this because they cannot prove the supervisor told them they would be fired for not signing the sheet, and if they confess to committing the fraud, the supervisor can claim they were ignorant of the situation and the employee acted on his/her own.  This would result in the employee being fired and then subject to criminal charges.  (This is how many criminal organizations and gangs trap people in cycles of crime.  Once you commit a crime, that crime can be held over you to keep you silent and to blackmail you into additional criminal activity.)  Below is one of the relevant federal directives:

Support for Salaries and Wages of an Employee Working on a Single Cost Objective

The Appendix to 2 C.F.R. Part 225 (formerly OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments) requires an employee whose salary and wages are supported, in whole or in part, with Federal funds to document his/her time spent working on Federal programs in order to ensure that charges to each Federal program reflect an accurate account of the employee’s time and effort devoted to that program.  The Appendix addresses two types of documentation:  semiannual certifications and personnel activity reports.

Personnel activity reports

If an employee works on multiple activities or cost objectives, a distribution of the employee’s salary and wages must be supported by a personnel activity report (PAR) or equivalent documentation.  The Appendix lists instances of multiple activities or cost objectives for which a PAR is required — that is, if an employee works on –

  • • More than one Federal award.
  • • A Federal award and a non-Federal award.
  • • An indirect cost activity and a direct cost activity.
  • • Two or more indirect activities that are allocated using different allocation bases.
  • • An unallowable activity and a direct or indirect cost activity.

A PAR must –

  • • Reflect an after-the-fact distribution of the actual activity of the employee.
  • • Account for the total activity for which each employee is compensated.
  • • Be prepared at least monthly and coincide with one or more pay periods.
  • • Be signed by the employee.

Employees are told what to put on their timesheets and if they refuse to do so and sign off on them, they are threatened with termination.  That is clearly not what the USDOE had in mind when they issued their guidance.

LDOE was asked about their special education resources, alignment and composition in a December 17, 2014, Joint House and Senate Education Committee hearing.  They responded on January 5, 2015, describing how they had reorganized internally to better address Special Education classes concerns that could potentially span across the department.  Here is the question they answered and LDOE’s response:

8. Please identify the Department’s Special Education staff and describe their support of local school systems.

Historically the Department has been organized into a fragmented system of divisions in which various elementary and secondary school sectors have been isolated – not only special education, but also career and technical education, curriculum, educator support, assessments, accountability, federal programs, early childhood education, and more.  This structure did not foster planning or collaboration among divisions, nor did it reflect the real-world environments of public schools where all of these needs must be addressed every day in the same schools, even in the same classrooms.  The isolation of special education staff, in particular, ran contrary to the goals of inclusion for students to be able to participate in and benefit from the total educational experience as their non-disabled peers.

Because special education is a service for student who need it, and because all Department of Education staff and local school system staff are obligated to providing that service, not just “special education” staff, the Department began integrating special education supports throughout the agency:

Network Teams: […]

Program Staff: […]


memo 2

Most of this passage is gobbledygook designed to take up space and bore the reader into dozing off and accepting LDOE’s presumed expertise on the subject.  The section I’ve highlighted is the basis under which LDOE is operating. Their reasoning is not supported by federal laws, regulations or policies, but it does describe the philosophy they are providing to legislators.

In plain speak, what LDOE is saying is:

“Because all school systems have or could have disabled students, and all support staff provide information for all students (which include disabled students), all employees support disabled students.”

This is not just wrong but the opposite of what the federal government has provided this funding for.  LDOE knows this is wrong, but they are willfully ignoring the laws and relevant federal guidance because no one is holding them accountable for following state and federal laws and policies.

LDOE is using earmarked Special Education funding as a way to boost employees’ salaries and employ personnel for the programs they deem more important that Special Education.

As a result:

  • Many initiatives such as 833, an alternative pathway for disabled students to earn a diploma, are faltering.
  • Students are being denied services and corporally punished for their conduct related to their disabilities.
  • Parents are being told to fill out invasive surveys and are required to provide information illegally in order for their children to receive services.
  • Charter schools are not only refusing to provide disabled students services but are being paid money for services they never provided.
  • The state and RSD are being sued on a regular basis because of their handling of Special Education.

Here is one of the of the class action settlements related to violations of special education students’ rights (ironically hosted on the LDOE’s website, www.LouisianaBelieves.com)

Some of the complaints against RSD and LDOE involved students with disabilities being repeatedly locked in closets or disciplined for minor infractions until they could be expelled.

Leskisher Luckett, whose third-grade son was repeatedly locked in a school closet as a means of punishment, described the effect this discrimination has had on her son. “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My son, my 9-year old son, is too young to give up on his education.”

Robyn Flanery’s daughter began suffering from profound emotional troubles upon entering the seventh grade. But rather than receive any type of services to address her condition, she was repeatedly punished for minor infractions until she was finally expelled from the school she had attended since kindergarten. Ms. Flanery reported that this led to even greater emotional trauma.

These situations are largely attributed to the fact that special education coordinators across the state are lacking in guidance (have lacked it for years), direction and training on special education issues.  The state is provided millions of dollars annually to employ staff to support school district personnel, but they are shirking these duties.  Taxpayers are not getting what they are paying for.  Instead, taxpayers are now also paying for lawsuits and settlements because disabled children and their parents are suffering abuse, neglect and ignorance as a result of the incompetence and lack of expertise of staff employed by the LDOE.

For this story, numerous parents and other sources involved with Special Education in Louisiana were interviewed and asked to provide their thoughts on LDOE and their handling of Special Education for the state.

Liz Gary, a mother of a student receiving special education services in St Tammany,  and a staunch Special Education rights advocate in Louisiana had this to say about LDOE’s recent changes to how they handle (or don’t handle) Special Education training and oversight:

The state department has offered no training, professional development or oversight in years.  They believe their webinars and newsletter is all that is needed.  Unfortunately, as you know, they have let a lot of experienced people go and replaced them with inexperienced people.  It is not good.  If districts are not doing what they are supposed to do there is no one to monitor them because the state department is not doing it.

Districts are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  I’ve heard this refrain many times for years. This cry has only gotten louder since State Superintendent John White destroyed the Special Education department in the name of improving coordination and efficiency.

White and his staff dismissed, demoted or drove off most of the qualified and experienced staff members and replaced them with politically driven appointments like the current Special Education Policy Director Jamie Wong.  Jamie spent a few years teaching pre-k and kindergarten in DC as a TNTP teacher.  (TNTP is The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the now discredited Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America Alum who is widely believed to have rigged test scores and overlooked or even encouraged cheating during her tenure as the Superintendent of DC public schools.)  Jamie now earns $95,000 a year at LDOE with only a few years of teaching experience.  Not so coincidentally, Jamie Wong is married to Michael Thomas Wong, one of the chief campaign strategists for Senator David Vitter who is widely presumed to be Louisiana’s next governor.  It appears that Michael Wong is paid at least $90,000 to serve as Vitter’s Capital Area Director, and  gubernatorial campaign advisor and strategist.  Michael’s salary for just 6 months of last year was $43,318.54.


Sources have claimed that Jamie’s job is a quid pro quo from John White to David Vitter, who is presumed to be John White’s next boss as the Governor of Louisiana.

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps that was just the icing on the cake, but what I want to know is why no one else in Louisiana or at the Department of Education was considered qualified for her position? I’m having trouble understanding why a recent college graduate living in DC (someone with a few years of teaching experience and a degree in political science from Southern Mississippi) is in charge overseeing all Special Education for the State of Louisiana, or why she was appointed when folks with 30 and 40 years of Special Education teaching and experience and PhDs were cast aside.

Dr. Laureen Mayfield, President of the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA), had this to say about LDOE’s recent attempt at implementing Act 833:

They are not rolling out the training until August, after school has begun for many of us. The Special Education Directors and Supervisors in the state have clearly communicated to LDOE that they needed advanced training on writing IEPs for students pursuing an alternate pathway to graduation under Act 833. In addition, LASEA members have repeatedly expressed that they do not need “IEP Writing 101” for beginning teachers, but instead, higher level training for experienced teachers who just need guidance on developing thoughtful, effective IEPs for Act 833. The drafts modules that have been shown to a stakeholder group, however, appeared to be basic “what is an IEP and how do you write it” information—which is exactly what LASEA clearly communicated they did not need. We will not know until August if LSU listened to feedback from directors, or if the modules will “have Act 833 embedded in them” by including a slide or two quoting from the legislation.

LDOE has as many as a third to one half of their workforce reportedly dedicated to Special Education issues.  According to LDOE’s own report to the legislature in January, these staff members were imbedded across all areas of the department, particularly curriculum, and yet they had to obtain a quarter million dollar contract with Alan Coulter at the LSU Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for Act 833 which is what the preceding comments are referring to.

However, instead of actually providing that training, the Human Development Center produced a basic “IEP 101” course because LDOE, under John White, with 129 special education staffers, had lost the capacity to do even the most basic Special Education task.

One former attendee of previous professional development sessions hosted by LDOE (in the pre-John White days) reminisced about how LDOE used to tend to Special Education issues:

Pre-White [and former state superintendent Paul Pastorek] the Special Ed Directors from the entire state, including those in charters, met for quarterly meetings in BR with the Special Ed State Director and all the SPED staff. It was a whole day meeting and they updated us on everything–changes to laws, innovative practices, etc.

In addition to that, an Ad Hoc group […] met monthly with Susan Batson and all the SPED staff at the LDOE. We went over everything going on of importance, including vetting and discussing any changes they wanted to make to bulletins. We talked and “argued” professionally until we all came to consensus. They also kept us up to date on all changes we needed to know about, listened to our concerns, and actually addressed them.

I also spoke with former staff members from LDOE to get their take on what had happened. Here is one of the descriptions:

You can point out that every student with disabilities in Louisiana has been affected by the greed and political aspirations of our so-called leaders. Districts have no guidance from LDOE because anyone with any knowledge or experience in special Ed has been run off either by layoffs or out of sheer disgust over the way things are being done. They (districts) are left to figure it out for themselves. The districts with stronger special Ed leaders are surviving; those with weaker leadership – not so much.

One parent from Central had this to say.  Her children were denied Special Education services at Tanglewood elementary because she refused to fill out an offensive questionnaire asking about her elementary children’s sexual experiences and drug use and if anyone might have abused them.

Things are much better homeschooling. Two of my kids were finally able to skip a grade, so now they are working at a level that actually challenges them. My two that needed IEPs are getting one on one and are able to work at their own pace. And I’m NOT accountable to BESE :) Maybe they’ll get their act together, and a few of them will get unseated. Maybe John White would be de-throned. Then I would maybe consider public school again. I looked at the website for Tanglewood so I could give you the name of the lady who told me my son could receive “intervention” but no “services” unless I filled out that stupid paper. She’s not on there anymore, so I don’t know what happened with her.

Of course refusing services because a parent refused to complete an illegal questionnaire is illegal, but despite 129 employees being paid at LDOE with Special Education funds, there is literally no one to train these folks, no one to oversee them, no one for parents to complain to and obtain any help.  Parents are forced to either subject themselves to illegal requirements or have their services illegally denied.  Parents are forced to withdraw their kids and homeschool them or simply forced to watch their kids suffer while LDOE and John White doles out SPED funding to vastly unqualified political appointees.

St Tammany and Central are by no means the only school systems suffering from neglect and malfeasance.  Most of our districts are suffering in one way or another but cataloguing all the stories would require several volumes.

This last story clearly illustrates the situation.  I contacted Kathy Edmonston, the Parent Resource Facilitator for the Ascension Parish School System, to get her take on Special Education in Louisiana under LDOE’s guidance. (Kathy is also a District 6 candidate for the upcoming 2015 BESE election.)    She had this to say about how disabled children are faring in her parish school system:

Hey Jason. Thank you for taking time to express concern for our SPED kids.  They are struggling so much with the new standards. My title is Parent Resource Facilitator for Ascension Parish School System.  It looks as if it has been forgotten at DOE as it is difficult for parents to find any one there to talk to when they are experiencing difficulty in their schools. I have not been told so, but it seems that SPED department at state department has been dismantled. We in Ascension have done pretty well moving along with Act 833. It will be more fully implemented this coming school year.  The transition has been difficult as the DOE has given very little guidance.  If there had not been an ACT 833 steering committee established to stay on them, I am not sure if we would have gotten any direction!  Fortunately, we have a very good SPED director in Ascension who didn’t wait, but started digging right away and communicating with other parishes, so at the end of the year, most of our teachers knew what to do.  Since the implementation of the current [Common Core] standards, our SPED students are experiencing lots of stress and difficulty because they are taught and tested on standards that are above their academic functioning level.  It is so sad.  Parents have nowhere to turn, and teachers can’t answer their questions!

When I explained to Kathy many of the things I’d heard from the Ascension Parish leadership and that everything there was peachy keen, she had this to say:

Nothing is going peachy anywhere in the state right now!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ascension is struggling just like all other parishes in the state with the new “transformation” we are experiencing.  Our parents, teachers, but most importantly, our children.

I’d say that about sums things up nicely.

Note: ( Liz Gary was not a member of SEAP.  This piece has been edited to reflect that change.  We apologize for this error.)

Responses to the Pink Common Core Unicorn

Responses to the Pink Common Core Unicorn

For those of you who missed it last week, our local education deformers cowering behind their ABC PAC, placed pink unicorns on each of our legislators desks with a message stating some of the things they had heard about Common Core were as mythical as the unicorn.

I’ll be honest, when I saw the tagline:

“Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

I really thought this was an effort by my crowd, the anti-Common Core crowd.  It would have made more sense and been much more appropriate.

You see, we’ve been fighting the lies spun by big business and mainstream media about Common Core for years.  Each lie we debunk is quickly replaced by a new ludicrous and/or unproven claim.  Much of the strategy of the Common Core movement has been to accuse the other side of their weaknesses before we could point them out.  This is where vague statements like “a mile wide and an inch deep” come from when describing our GLEs which where ranked second in the the nation prior to Common Core, and include much of the same material, except staged in developmentally appropriate ways (like requiring kindergarteners to solve word problems before they can read) and without all the bizarre and intentionally misleading word problem gibberish, and inefficient and contrived ways of solving what should be simple math problems.

Another recent, popularly repeated lie (so it must be true), involves stating our old GLE’s (which were ranked second in the nation prior to Common Core) are complete crap, and returning to them would be a giant step backwards and a disaster, according to State Superintendent John White and his fluffy headed sidekick, BESE President Chas Roemer.

This is peculiar since most of Louisiana’s GLE’s mapped to Common Core content, but Common Core ditched a lot of our material, like cursive writing, learning multiplication tables, and preparing students to take Algebra before High School so they can take Calculus before college.  85% of the content within Common Core mapped to our GLE’s. However our GLE’s actually contained more material introduced in more developmentally appropriate ways.

A little known fact is that LDOE actually spent 1.6 million dollars with WestEd to compare the two and build a crosswalk table to help with the transition from our GLE’s to Common Core, but then decided to move the adoption schedule up a year and ditched all the information they just spent 1.6 million dollars acquiring. The reality is the exact opposite of what Common Core supporters tell you.  Common Core is taking us backwards and lowering our standards.  Common Core proponents promised us the world with their “internationally benchmarked” standards, but all we got was a lousy unicorn and a hefty recurring bill for disposable worksheets.

So Common Core supporters want to have it both ways.  They want to complain that our old standards were crappier than Common Core (even though they covered more advanced material and more material) and at the same time they want to say they had too much, that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Which is it?  It doesn’t matter.  No matter what anyone says they simply argue whatever is most advantageous at any given point in time, with any given person or group, and their drones regurgitate their talking points verbatim, without really understanding what they are saying, and without any proof or evidence to back up their statements.

This is actually a good example of what is wrong with Common Core.  It was never proven to be effective, nor to be more advanced in any way.  The available evidence actually indicates the opposite is true.  Rather than actually try to back up their statements or provide evidence for their assertions, they resort to fluffy pink unicorns, because really, that’s all the evidence they have to offer.  It’s about as substantial as everything else they claim, which is to say pure fantasy.

So now these folks are creating more of the same lies and gibberish, but somehow believe prancing around delivering pink unicorns to legislators will win them some allies.  I hope that wasn’t their thinking, because from what I read online, some legislators were none too pleased with this prank.

State Representative Brett Geymann had this to say about the unicorn stunt on his Facebook Page:

Is this what they want to teach our children?

The ruling class elitists placed a unicorn on our desk to mock the parents who want to rid our state of Common Core. This is offensive and disgusting and every person and every group that is listed as a supporter of this PAC should resign immediately. This includes any member of LABI and the Chamber in SWLA. Your money is being used to promote Common Core and to mock the parents who are fighting for their children. I will not sit by and watch these elitists do this. The line in the sand has been crossed. To those of you who are fighting so hard to get Common Core out of our state, please know we are all in and will fight to the last day in this session. Big business has lied to the people about Common Core for their own self-interest. I have never witnessed anything so offensive as this in politics.

A teacher with 37 years of experience named Candyce Watsey had this to say to Community Coffee after reading they were a staunch supporter of Common Core:

Dear Customer Service Representative:

I know that you do the best that you can do; so do I. So I would like to begin by making it clear that I do not hold you responsible for the misguided position on Common Core that Community Coffee has adopted.

My family on my mother’s side is from New Iberia. I remember as a child that my grandmother and great aunt brewed demitasse in an enamel drip coffee pot on the top of the stove, painstakingly adding very hot water by the teaspoon to… the coffee grounds until a beautiful, rich brew was ready, served in demitasse cups with only sugar as an accompaniment. For me, my great aunt heated rich milk and poured it with just a bit of the demitasse into a large mug, sweetening it into a perfect coffee milk. To this day, and I am 60 years old, that is the best coffee of my life.

The coffee? Community.

Why is this venerable company tying its fate to a flawed, federal initiative that will only weaken the Louisiana flavor of our schools?

This is my 37th year as a teacher in Louisiana, and I am staunchly opposed to common core.

So, if I don’t tell you how to make your coffee, could you please refrain from telling me how to teach school?

You know your business; I know mine.


Candyce Watsey
Covington, Louisiana

Note: The website where Mrs. Watsey and other saw Community Coffee listed as a supporter of Common Core has since been taken down.

When I visited the unicorn website I was treated to more lies, fabrications, straw man arguments, and truth twistings that would impress a twizzler addict.  Common Core really is a pink unicorn, but what Louisiana needs is a break from the false promises and fantasy of Common Core was promised to be, but clearly wasn’t for thousands of children and parents across our state.

What we need is a healthy dose of reality.  I hope we can find a way to deliver this message to our legislators before it is too late.

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.

The Seabaugh Solution Apology and Explanation

VAM (Valued Added Modeling) is garbage.  It does not work. Louisiana’s system is especially flawed. The underlying premise behind VAM is also flawed, and no VAM assessment (good or bad) should be trusted.  Before I wrote about the Seabaugh Solution I wrote numerous articles about this.

I probably have have dozens of articles where I discuss the fallacies of VAM.  Others around our state have written dozens more.  As a data analyst by trade myself, this misuse and misapplication of data is especially infuriating.

Recently, a series of articles I wrote about an Louisiana Department of Education conspiracy to adjust the entire VAM system to benefit 3 teachers in Caddo was rediscovered, and made popular, but without all the backstory and context.  (I hope those that are promoting that story will also promote this one.)

This conspiracy was actually named the Seabaugh Solution by John White’s staff.  John White, and several of his executive TFA staffers recruited from out of state, carried out this deception after discovering it was flagging our best teachers as our worst teachers.  Please let this sink in.  They understood that VAM was identifying our best teachers as our worst teachers, and they have continued to promote this charade to this day.  Their behavior is well into the loathsome territory here, folks.

A number of native Louisiana citizens working at the department at the time were outraged by this perversion of the VAM system. They could not have disclosed it without jeopardizing their jobs and careers.  Nevertheless, at great personal risk to themselves, they notified me and fellow blogger Tom Aswell, at Louisiana Voice, so we could alert the public to this travesty being perpetrated against our teachers.  Please read Tom’s story for more specific details and background.

My intent was never to involve the specific teachers.  (VAM only has a 25% accuracy rate at best.)  Internally these teachers were sometimes referred to as ineffective by VAM calculations, and by other less flattering terms.  However the truth is in fact the exact opposite.  I was trying to make an ironic point by referring to them as “crappy” when both John White and Alan Seabaugh knew, or claimed to know, the exact opposite was true. The students of these teachers scored consistently at the top – for the entire state.  These teachers initially labels as “ineffective” were in actuality some our best teachers. VAM had classified them as our worst.

Legislators need to understand this and ban VAM from being used in the future for any punitive purpose.  They are knowingly persecuting and hanging innocent teachers in a politically motivated witch hunt that is none of their business in the first place.  LDOE is a state agency and not them employer of these teachers. LDOE should not be making judgments about them from afar; especially based solely on a  few pieces of data that were never meant for the purpose they are being used.

Sadly, these truly outstanding teachers were not alone.  Many teachers across the state are classified as ineffective because their students scored so well it was impossible for them to improve.  Others were classified as horrible because they were teaching some of our most disabled, neglected, homeless, limited English, and poverty stricken kids and learning and improvement is not always linear. VAM assumes all kids will improve at a completely linear rate regardless of teacher or circumstances and teachers are responsible for any and all deviation from that rate.  That’s just ridiculous assumption.  Furthermore, for a child to contribute the maximum points to each teacher ever your would require exponential improvement; which is impossible.  These tests have a finite range.  You can’t improve beyond 100%.  As illustrated by the need for the Seabaugh Solution, for VAM to work for teachers with students performing in the upper ranges, the tests would need to have no upper boundary, they would have to be worth an infinite amount of points.

Teachers have resigned in shame and have even committed suicide  across the nation after being unjustly defined by VAM systems as inferior.

LOS ANGELES — Colleagues of Rigoberto Ruelas were alarmed when he failed to show up for work one day in September. They described him as a devoted teacher who tutored students before school, stayed with them after and, on weekends, took students from his South Los Angeles elementary school to the beach.

When his body was found in a ravine in the Angeles National Forest, and the coroner ruled it a suicide, Mr. Ruelas’s death became a flash point, drawing the city’s largest newspaper into the middle of the debate over reforming the nation’s second-largest school district.

When The Los Angeles Times released a database of “value-added analysis” of every teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in August, Mr. Ruelas was rated “less effective than average.” Colleagues said he became noticeably depressed, and family members have guessed that the rating contributed to his death.

I was actually trying to highlight a real problem for out teachers across the state.  I am trying to prevent more, Rigoberto Ruelas tragedies, in our state.  Great teachers labeled have been and continue to be labeled as terrible by a terribly inaccurate and unjust data system.

Part of the problem is how the state has expanded its reach into places it has no business being in.  The state needs to get out of our local classrooms.  It is not helping.  John White’s department of Education is tearing our teachers and students down while claiming it is building them up.  As your teachers what they think about the LDOE’s involvement in their classrooms.  As the Seabaugh Solution shows, even LDOE can’t trust LDOE’s own data.  John White even said this in his conversation with Alan Seabaugh.

I beg you, please do not refer to these teachers as crappy, inferior, ineffective, or anything other than mistreated by a system I was trying to expose as outrageously unfair, dehumanizing and debasing.  The legislature may not have understood this at the time, but they should understand this now.  Anyone who supports VAM is attacking our teachers and children for political points.  It’s not a coincidence that a psychologist, and not a professor of mathematics, designed and endorses this system.  It’s not just that VAM is “a little off”, it’s actually completely backwards and entirely unreliable.

The outrage here is that John White and his executive staff fully understood the implications of what they were told.  Top teachers were being lambasted and shamed by an unjust data system.   John White knew his staff tried dozens of ways to calculate the VAM numbers and could not find a credible way to prevent some of our greatest teachers from being classified as “crappy” so White gave these teachers “bonus points” as he often does for charter schools he’s trying to save from his accountability system, which is also flawed.

Initial supporters of VAM may have had the best of intentions, but VAM is not the answer and never will be because the underlying premise is flawed.  VAM is victimizing our teachers.

Instead of conceding this, LDOE and John White simply added bonus points to certain teachers and shifted the curve downward to classify a new set of teachers as ineffective.  This new set of teachers might have been outstanding too, but they did not have an Alan Seabaugh willing or able to speak for them.

The State needs to discard VAM once and for all.  Not only is evaluating teachers none of their business, LDOE and John White are knowingly doing a horrible job, and playing favorites in the process.

My deepest apologies to the teachers involved.  My intention was to highlight the flaws in VAM to prevent what happened to you from happening to others.

Background On the High Stakes Testing Opt Out Movement in Louisiana

Unless you are already opting your kids out of testing this spring, most folks have probably only heard about this movement to “opt out” (parents refusing to permit children to take) of high stakes tests in Louisiana in the past couple weeks.  Here are some recent stories:

The opt out movement has been building momentum in this state and throughout the country for the past few years.  I have been consulted numerous times by various organizers of this movement to promote it or provide information about possible consequences and implications.  I actually don’t have a firm stand one way or the other on the “opt out issue” but I have been linking people up with individuals that do for the past year or so.  A few of the opt out information providers in our state are Ann Burruss from Lafayette and Lee Barrios from St Tammany.  You can generally find them on Facebook if you have any questions and want to keep up with the latest developments.  This post is not going to delve too deeply into whether parents should or should not do this.  I will leave this for them to decide. What I did want to do is provide some background on this issue.  I found the background on this situation to be lacking in most mainstream outlets.

First let’s define what High Stakes Testing means.  This is a term that has come to mean annual tests that are tied to consequences for teachers, students, schools and districts.  Low scores on these tests can mean teachers are fired, students are retained, schools are closed, districts are seized by the state.  For a pro side you can review this edreform site that describes what education Reformers are hoping to accomplish.  For the argument against High Stakes testing you might try looking through www.fairtest.org and this link: http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html

High Stakes testing became all the vogue in 2001 with the passage of NCLB (No Child Left Behind act).  NCLB is actually being debated and right now in Congress and even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is telling Congress that standardized testing has gone too far and needs to be scaled back.  (The original was co-authored by John Boehner and Edward Kennedy so you know it has to be good, right?)

Today some school systems may spend a third of their class time taking standardized tests or preparing for them.  I’ve spoken with parents in districts in Louisiana that claim test prep booklets sample tests start getting sent home in January for the high stakes tests we give in April each year.  Parents are outraged about how much time is consumed in taking and preparing for tests, and I don’t blame them.  I send my kids to school to learn, not to take or prepare for tests endlessly.

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.  I honestly have no idea where any of that stands right now.  One judge has ruled the state can’t block White from procuring the tests.  Jindal has vowed to seek repayment of any funds spent that way.  Lawsuits are still pending. I’m not sure anyone else can tell you how this will ultimately play out with any degree of certainty either.

Still, John White has made it clear Louisiana will be giving the PARCC exam this Spring and districts need to be prepared for it.  According to previous statements and decisions by White and BESE, no students will be held back based on this exam, whatever it is.  No teachers should be penalized based on the scores their students get for this year either.  However (SPS) School Performance Scores will still be based on these test results.  Schools and districts that do poorly on these mystery exams could be subject to seizure by the State Recovery School District (RSD) and handed over to charter operators.  Students that “opt out” will be assigned a zero on the exam.  If schools end up with a lot of zeros it could severely impact their SPS score and make takeover very likely if the school is already in a borderline achievement category and has been for several years.

Louisiana has not defined a formal way to “opt out” of testing.  Currently tests are mandatory.  Some parents are writing letters to their principals that they wish to opt out of testing.  It’s unclear whether any principals will honor these requests. My guess is students that get sent to school will be given tests regardless of any letters.  To prevent this from happening parents are considering keeping their kids home on testing days and makeup test days or bringing them to school late.  These would be considered unexcused absences.  I would caution parents that do this that they could run afoul of LRS 17:221 and LRS 14:92.2 that outlines possible fines and jail time for parents of kids who are habitually absent or tardy (truant). Enforcing those laws would probably be worse case scenarios but some districts might play hardball with parents trying to keep their kids home during testing. Some parents have taken a third route.  They have instructed their kids to bubble in all the same answer or to make “pretty pictures” on their scantron answer sheets if they have given tests against their parent’s permission.

I’m not very clear on what the value of these tests could possibly be.  Unless John White made a secret deal with PARCC to get the assessments for free (he is still a PARCC Governing board member so I wouldn’t rule that out) or PARCC has accepted the risk of contentious legal battles over any payments made, they are not true PARCC assessments.  They will not be comparable to last year.  They will not be comparable to next year. They may be rigged to be similar to PARCC using combinations of last year’s test and new items the state may have used micro contracts to generate.

What I can tell you is this.  These test booklets have already been printed or are in the process of being printed by DRC, the State’s longtime testing vendor.  When I worked at LDOE 3 years ago it took months to print the hundreds of thousands of test booklets they have to prepare each year.  DRC needed enrollment data from us in November or December to “precode” (pre-fill site code, name, DOB, grade level, etc) the majority of the test booklets give to students.  Someone should be able to require John White turn over a sample test booklet to see how they are portraying the test they will be giving in a few months.  Will they be calling it PARCC, iLeap, iPARCC, ParccLEAP?  Who knows?  What I am sure of is I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision on this till at least next year.

Would you like to see a sample/practice PARCC test?


I was recently told by a parent that they tried the 7th grade math portion with their child and failed miserably.  Common Core, which these tests are based on, was not phased in.  That means many kids in higher grades will not be able to pass these tests because they were never taught the material.  Because these tests are designed for kids to fail initially in the higher, unprepared grades as has happened in States like New York that gave these exams last year, parents are concerned this will lead to school takeovers anyways, as well as some mental anguish for their children.  In some schools these tests are emphasized a great deal and a lot of stress is put on kids to perform.  Some kids can shrug it off, and others can take this type of failure pretty hard and it can damage their self-esteem.

I know from experience I hate this type of situation.  I’ve had teachers that tested us on subject material we were not taught or even assigned and it did impact my attitude towards school and my teachers in very negative ways.  I lost respect for those teachers, lost respect for the subject material, and tuned out.  It did not inspire me to “try harder”.  It just made me think tests and schools were stupid.  Perhaps now I would handle that differently?  It’s hard to say, but children are not little adults.  Scholastic achievement might be tied to their self-esteem and identity, and they may not have other experience or achievements to anchor themselves.  If I had this concern, if I thought my children would be impacted like I was, I can guarantee I would consider opting my children out.

LDOE has not audited themselves since Katrina

According to a new article written by Jessica Williams at the Times Picayune, the LDOE has not performed an internal risk assessment since 2006, the same year the state was impacted by Katrina.  They could also not show how they were auditing any programs internally.


The Louisiana Department of Education did not effectively audit its $5 billion operation in the 2014 fiscal year, state auditors said. According to a legislative audit released Monday (Dec. 1), state education officials had an internal audit plan for that year, but could not show that they had actually audited any programs.

This information jives with what I learned when I was investigating some payroll fraud claims by current and former employees of LDOE. When Paul Pastorek and then John White took over management of LDOE, they did not want anyone snooping in their business (legislatively required or not.)  They allowed the audit department to dwindle to zero supervised employees (as employees left or retired they reallocated those audit positions to their own executive staff) and just a single audit manager responsible for auditing the disbursement of over 5 billion dollars annually as well as the oversight of all day to day operations of the 500-700 or so LDOE employees and their paper timesheets.

I tipped Daryl off to LDOE’s inability to perform even the most basic of audits, the lack of personnel, and the rampant abuse by John White’s executive staff of “working” from home (as reported by numerous time keeping staff), over the summer.  We discussed the issues with proving payroll fraud with a complicit boss covering for them, as well as the possibly of performance audits.

I learned from internal staff that the auditors from Darryl’s team had stumbled across rampant disregard for rules and abuse and were aggressively auditing LDOE –  for the first time in at least a decade.  LDOE is responsible for one of the largest chunks of our 25 billion dollar annual budget (if not the largest) and for years had been escaping any oversight whatsoever.  Most of their metrics for evaluating themselves are flawed, their conclusions are biased and often quite absurd non sequiturs –  as pointed our recently by a professor from Harvard.

Are you happy with the current BESE rubberstampers that approves expenditures like this?

The report also highlights the misdeeds of an embattled eastern New Orleans non-profit director, as previously outlined in a June audit. Former Open World Family Services Inc. executive director Kim Cassell spent $307,500 in public education funding on travel, pet-grooming supplies and other personal expenses, state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera noted.

The state Education Department distributed nearly $1.6 million in federal grants that Cassell’s organization used to operate. She now faces three felony criminal charges.

The education department’s failure to effectively audit increases “the risk that errors and/or fraud could occur and remain undetected,” Purpera added. The department managed $5.1 billion in public revenue in 2014.

The audit reveals that 5.1 billion dollars of your tax dollars may be going anywhere as far as John White and 8 of the 11 BESE members may care.  Daryl could not audit all of the programs, he was only able to audit the auditors and their audits (or lack thereof).  Most fraud and abuse should be detected by the department long before Purpera’s team needs to get involved.

That means there are many more dog grooming expenditures out there yet to be discovered, and which probably never will be.

Special thanks to BESE member Jane Smith for putting me in contact with Darryl and fighting so valiantly for the cause she has recently joined.  I am also very thankful for BESE member Lottie Bebee for being a fierce and tireless defender of our state and children and BESE member Carolyn Hill for fighting alongside them.