Broad & Walton Are Betting I Will Lose the BESE Election!

By Mercedes Schneider -

Broad and Walton Contribute a Combined $650,000 to Upcoming Louisiana BESE Election

Billionaires Eli Broad and Alice and Jim Walton have contributed a combined $650,000 to Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby’s PAC, Empower Louisiana, so that Grigsby might use it to try to retain a corporate-reform-bent majority on the state’s education board, BESE, from 2016-19.
The BESE election is scheduled for October 24, 2015.
According to Empower Louisiana’s campaign finance report (07-17-15 to 09-14-15), Jim and Alice Walton each donated $200,000 on August 20, 2015, and Broad contributed $250,000 on September 10, 2015.
The total on the above report is $763,710, which means that as of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).
Grigsby considers the above to be the desired course for Louisiana’s state board of education. According to the October 01, 2015, Advocate, he plans to spend his PARC’s predominately Walton and Broad money on 3 of the 11 BESE seats:
Grigsby’s group — it is limited to independent expenditures — will rely mostly on television and radio advertisements and direct mail.
Races where it will be involved include BESE vice president Jim Garvey, of Metairie, against challenger Lee Barrios, of Abita Springs; incumbent Holly Boffy, of Youngsville, against challenger Mike Kreamer, of Lafayette and incumbent Mary Harris, of Shreveport, against challengers Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, and Glynis Johnston, of Shreveport.
The group backs Garvey, Boffy and Davis in those contests.
Even as they are pouring money into the October 2015 Louisiana state board election, Broad and Walton are teaming up to promote more charter schools in DC, and Broad is trying to privatize half of the schools in Los Angeles (see here also).
Grisgby backs those who will deliver the Walton- and Broad-approved, test-score-dependent privatization agenda for Louisiana schools.
Oppose Grigsby, Walton, and Broad.

Flip BESE.

FLIP BESE 3  (Click to enlarge.)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Closed Charter Schools Bleed Education Tax Dollars

Today, the Center for Media and Democracy is releasing a complete state-by-state list of the failed charter schools since 2000. Among other things, this data reveals that millions and millions of federal tax dollars went to “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. The exact amount is unknown because the U.S. Department of Education is not required to report its failures, where money went to groups to help them start new charters that never even opened.
This data set also provides reporters and citizens of each state an opportunity to take a closer look at how much taxpayer money has been squandered on the failed charter school experiment in their states. The data set and the interactive map below are based on more than a decade’s worth of official but raw data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
This release comes as the U.S. Department of Education and industry insiders currently deciding which states to award half a billion dollar in grants designed to bolster the school privatization industry under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP).
As CMD has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.
For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, charter school students ran two and half times the risk of having their education disrupted by a school closing and suffering academic setbacks as a result of closure. Dislocated students are less likely to graduate. In 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%." He found that the effects persist "even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”
Hidden behind the statistics are the social consequences. According to 2013 paper by Robert Scott and Miguel Saucedo at the University of Illinois, school closures “have exacerbated inter-neighborhood tensions among Chicago youth in recent years” and have been a contributing factor to the high rate of youth incarceration.
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Then there are the charter schools that never opened despite tax money from a federal program to help more entities apply to create even more charters. Drilling down into the data of just one state in just one school year, 25 charter schools (or, really, prospective charter schools) awarded grants in 2011-'12 never opened in Michigan. The non-profit groups behind these were granted a total of $3.7 million in federal tax money in implementation and planning grants, and they also received at least $1.7 million in state tax dollars. These charter schools exist only on paper, in this case on grant notification forms and in databases of state expenditures.
As CMD has calculated, the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion in the past two-plus decades fueling the charter school industry that has taken money away from traditional public schools. And, as the Center for Popular Democracy has demonstrated, more than $200 million of that money resulted in fraud and waste over the past decade.
Click here for the full state-by-state list of charter schools that have closed between 2000 and 2013.

A Map of Failure

Source: NCES Common Core of Data Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey for school years 2000 to 2013. Data are available at For purposes of this analysis, schools coded in the survey as “closed since last report,” and “inactive-temporarily closed” were deemed closed. Schools that changed status from “charter” and “open” to “not applicable” and “closed” in subsequent year were also deemed to be closed charter schools. Additionally, schools coded as open charters in one year that then are missing from the survey for at least the next two subsequent years are also deemed to be closed.
- See more at:

How Disaster Changed the N.O. Education Landscape - Part III

Little did the rest of Louisiana know (and some still don't get it) how the "turnaround" of the New Orleans Public School System was only a prelude to the corporate reform agenda that has now infiltrated local school districts statewide.  Why should we care what happens in the city that care (literally) forgot?  When local democratic control is effectively removed from your local district you may begin to understand.  Don't let this happen on your watch!

A Perfect Storm Part 1: 17 Days in November

A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools is the first in a series of short videos, that reveals the real story behind the creation of the nation’s first all charter school district. These videos are made possible with the support of  The Schott Foundation and The New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable. They are produced in partnership with Bayou and Me Productions.
For the past seven years, state education officials and corporate school reformers have touted the dramatic turnaround of New Orleans public schools. National media outlets have published numerous articles and TV news stories of the miracle in New Orleans citing unprecedented academic achievement where parents finally had School Choice.
This first Perfect Storm video focuses on the illegal takeover and the academic failure of the Recovery School District. The film features interviews with leaders in the New Orleans education community who were faced with the daunting task of reopening schools immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

The Perils of using Disaster as a Catalyst for Change in Louisiana - Part 1

Some very good editorials are being published as we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.  I am going to re-post several of those that particularly strike a nerve with me because they cut through the rhetoric and defy political correctness.  They also provide context to the rape of our public school system in Louisiana which began with the takeover of the New Orleans Public Schools.

 An Announcement from Lt. General Russel Honore'
(U.S. Army Retired)
NEW ORLEANS (July1, 2015) - My fellow citizens of Louisiana, I come to you today as a humble son of this great state and servant of this great nation. I was fortunate enough to spend 37 years in the United States military, retiring in 2008 from the U.S. Army after my life's work as a soldier. Today I come to you with a heavy heart and request your understanding At the urging of many of my fellow citizens, I've spent the last few months thinking about running for governor of the State of Louisiana. I've been humbled by the support of so many, and it has laid heavy on my mind after observing the 2015 Louisiana legislature, which made it abundantly clear that we desperately need better political leadership in Louisiana.

As we look at the state of our State and its current affairs, I recall the stories the old folks used to tell on the front porch of our farmhouse. My family were subsistence farmers and they would gather on rainy days, talking about the promises of President Roosevelt and Governor Huey Long. Times were hard and the crops were thin. That conversation should have changed a long time ago. It has not. Times are still hard and the challenges -- maybe you could say disasters -- we have in Louisiana today are very much like they were in my youth.

Do a gut check: are we happy with the government we have? With who represents us? Think: Who has a record of working for us, and who promised to but actually went to work for their biggest donors? We must reshape our politics and reorder our priorities. We must get comfortable with speaking about the unspeakable, about how is it that we can be the nation's third largest energy producer and second poorest state.

We must demand that our politicians put a priority on working for citizens, not their donors. Yes, I know, money has always influenced American politics - so much and for so long we're not even very angry about it anymore. But if someone robbed your house, you would be angry. I'm telling you, big donors are robbing your house. For instance, donors were behind a law that allows hundreds of manufacturing facilities to enjoy a 5-year tax exemption, and then apply for a 5-year renewal, courtesy of our Legislature. Because of these tax exemptions, local governments are denied the tax revenue they need to provide essential services, including schools, police and fire, parks, roads and libraries, thereby increasing the tax burden on our working families. If that sounds too crazy to be true, please see the GreenARMY scorecard to learn how your legislator voted on that are important to you and your family.. Most of our professional political class put industry profits and their own over the safety of our citizens. That's you and your family I'm talking about.

The tax code they've shaped has looted our state. That's your money and your home. Your politicians argue and sign petitions and accuse the federal government of overreaching for trying to protect our air from being poisoned by coal plants, yet Louisiana can provide all the cheap natural gas our state needs. While we are champions of fossil fuels, we must understand that there is an expiration date on the Louisiana fossil fuel supply. Still, the Legislature and the Public Service Commission have all but gutted the solar industry in Louisiana -- that means fewer new companies and fewer jobs -- and last year our Governor signed a retroactive law that prevents our citizens from holding companies accountable for the destruction of our wetlands. Look, we all need our oil industry to be successful, we all depend on the gasoline they produce -- I filled two cars up this week -- but that does not give them the right to pollute our state and destroy our coast. My parents taught me to fix what you break and clean up after yourself. Your parents taught you the same.

We should have the best schools, hospitals, and roads in America because we've got the money, muscle, and brains to build them. But our politicians take pledges that drag our state into near bankruptcy, and our natural resources get looted by out-of-state and foreign companies that continue to reap tax breaks and pollute our home. Candidates running for office have to make their donor list public, and if you look at it, you'll see the top contenders appear to have more donors from out-of-state industry than Louisiana donors. We must flip the script. Business-friendly doesn't mean handing out corporate welfare. Pay your way and clean up after yourself.

That's what those old farmers on the front porch used to say. When times were hard and getting worse, they still held themselves accountable. We should demand no less from those we elect. But those conversations people used to have on the front porch -- one thing they always included was hope. They had hope. And today so do I. We are on the eve of a great time to be a Louisianan but only if our leaders are on our side.

I moved back to Louisiana after 40 years because I love Louisiana. In my youth sometimes Louisiana didn't love me, but Louisiana gave me a great education at St Alma Elementary in Lakeland and Rosenwald High in New Roads. Louisiana gave me opportunities: I was able to put myself through Southern University because Mr. Grover Chustz, Mr. Raymond Honore, and Mr. Al "Carburetor" Davis gave me work. Every kid who grows up in Louisiana should have the opportunity to learn and work hard. Every school child from pre-K to twelfth grade should have an I-Pad and two teachers in an air conditioned classroom 10 months a year We need TOPS for all students in their junior and senior years of college, and if they stay here in Louisiana for five years after graduation, or teach in our schools for four years, they should have four years of TOPS. Kids who go to one of our great tech schools or community colleges should not pay tuition for their first two years of study. We need to recognize that our natural resources belong to us, not whoever donates the most to a candidate, and our resources include air and water that don't poison people. Our hospitality and agriculture workers, our teachers and First Responders need to make a living wage. Our air and water quality must be monitored with 21st century technology, not 1970's machines. Water management needs to move out of the Department of Natural Resources, because oil and water don't mix.

For those who have offered themselves as candidates for governor and the legislature, please keep in mind that public service means serving the public, honoring the public trust and putting the people before donors and special interests We need politicians who stand up and lead, not lay back and cash checks. We need to stop being stuck on stupid, stop believing that slash-and-burn business methods create jobs, stop believing that starvation wages are good for the people of Louisiana. We need to invest in ourselves, not out-of-state political donors. Louisiana belongs to Louisianans. We must take care of our own because it's our own who take care of Louisiana.

I want to continue to serve the people of Louisiana, as an advocate for the government we all deserve. . . but after nearly four decades as a loyal and proud soldier serving our country, after much thought and reflection over the past several weeks, I've concluded that I can best continue to serve the state I love by, not by becoming a politician and running for governor, but by working with the good people of Louisiana to reorder our political priorities and hold all of our elected officials accountable to the people they swear to serve. The coming elections represent a golden opportunity for all of us: an opportunity to hold our elected representatives accountable and demand that those seeking our votes propose real solutions to the big problems facing our state and its hard working families. And to hold them to their campaign promises.

I look forward to spending the coming weeks before our statewide elections encouraging our citizens to become actively engaged in examining the records and policy platforms of the candidates for governor and the legislature. Our future is at stake, and we need everyone who cares about Louisiana to do their part by becoming informed, actively involved and turning out to vote.

Finally, I want to most sincerely thank my fellow citizens for their encouragement and prayers, and for the opportunity to continue to serve my state as a private citizen and advocate for a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Follow Gen. Honore' on Twitter @LtGRusselHonore


Disaster as a Catalyst for Change - Part Two

Dr. Beverly Wright produced this Letter to the Editor weighing in on the so-called Plan for the Future of New Orleans that was hatched by the powers that be, most certainly prior to the storm.  A Plan, like the plan to take over the New Orleans Public Schools, with the mark of Disaster Capitalism prominently displayed.

Much righteous indignation has been voiced over commentary after the storm that Katrina was a blessing in disguise, but where is overwhelming indignation that Katrina was a catalyst for some of the changes NOT welcomed by many of the City's disenfranchised?


Letter to the Editor

The Color Change:  White Washing a City
It Started with those Green Dots

Commentary by Dr. Beverly Wright, PhD
Dr. Beverly Wright
Dr. Beverly Wright
Let's just be "real" about how Black people feel their quality of life has, or is changing, ten years after Katrina. I can tell you this; Black folks know that things are changing, but at their core, they do not believe these changes will benefit them. They basically see a "New" New Orleans that is whiter and richer, and they see this happening at their expense. They can identify a number of actions taken by local and state government that have dramatically affected their lives. These include: (1) the Plan for the Future or the infamous "green dot map"; (2) the takeover of the New Orleans Public Schools by the state forming the Recovery School District; (3) the hostile takeover of public schools by charter networks; (4) the firing of all New Orleans public school teachers and personnel; (5) the suspension of the federal Davis-Bacon Act; and (6) the awarding of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to a handful of politically connected nationally-based contractors. In this blog, I will speak to one of them, the Plan for the Future.

In order to understand the real implications and the devastating results of these actions, we have to begin at the beginning. And for most African American and Vietnamese New Orleanians, it starts with the "green dot map." I remember my phone ringing very early one morning and it continued to ring with calls from friends, most of whom lived in Eastern New Orleans before the storm, asking me if I had seen the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate. I was living there at the time, having been wrenched from my home in "the East" by Katrina.

I recall running to the door to get the paper and immediately seeing why everyone was so frantic. There it was; a map of the city of New Orleans, with a large green dot sitting right on top of the area where our homes were located. As I looked at the legend that indicated these green dot areas were to be converted to parks and green space, I felt an incredible sense of disbelief that quickly morphed into anger. Even more incredulous was the additional twist that indicated these were also areas where a building moratorium would remain in effect until neighborhoods could prove viability. The city was going to turn our homes into green space and essentially prevent residents from rebuilding!

To top it off, there were other categories for rebuilding identified on the map which included; (1) areas where rebuilding was allowed (that's right, you guessed it; most of these areas were not even flooded); and (2) areas to be redeveloped, some with new housing for relocated homeowners, where "coincidentally," Southern University, the University of New Orleans and Dillard University were located. The city had invested so much in these institutions of higher learning that refusing to invest in the surrounding areas could not plausibly be defended even though these areas had been "drowned" by flood waters, just as much as some of those areas plastered with green dots. In this lies the fuel for the fire. 

Bluntly stated, most African Americans felt that this Plan for the Future "was an attempt to take their homes and not allow them to return to the city." The designation of the Uptown area - which most African American citizens know to be home to many affluent white families - as one in which rebuilding would be allowed; and conversely, New Orleans East and parts of Gentilly - well known to be predominantly African American and Vietnamese - as areas where neighborhoods must prove viability or simply be designated as suitable for green space, sealed the anguish, heightened the distrust of government, and bolstered the belief that Black people would not be treated fairly under this "Plan for the Future." 

While activism and community self determination beat back the "green dot plan," planners began to deny its authenticity by inferring that it was only a suggestion. Resettlement in these areas began despite the plan and to this day has been very successful through the shear will and energy of those residents who turned the onslaught against their communities into fuel for rebuilding.

But, I cannot say that this success extended to all aspects of recovery in these communities. What has failed is the ability of these communities, especially those in New Orleans East, to experience the enormous amount of economic development taking place in other parts of the city.

Residents have watched with dismay as "The East" has seen a proliferation of multi-family housing economically fueled by Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) coupled with an enormous shortage of affordable housing fueled by the destruction of public housing and astronomical increases in rents in areas that have traditionally been home to African American citizens. Gentrification in these areas is taking place at warp speed. 

As a resident of eastern New Orleans, I can tell you that the community feels betrayed by both local, state and federal government officials, whom they blame for the lack of amenities in their communities and an increase in disamenties, inclusive of crime, litter, and the proliferation of undesirable businesses such as pawn shops, liquor stores, halfway houses, and dollar stores on every corner. As one resident put it, "I should have known something was up when they began to build a dollar store at every I-10 exit in the East."

While the plan to stop rebuilding in the East by turning neighborhoods into green space failed; the plan seems to have another alternate phase, which I call "trash the neighborhoods, and they will leave." Most Black homeowners believe that they are being "run out of their neighborhoods." They see the new design for the city by these two telltale neon signs: (1) the reconstruction of "housing projects" through the use of former luxury apartment complexes, not designed for large families, nor having the amenities required for the safe and healthy upbringing of children); and (2) the "white washing" of traditionally African American neighborhoods, pushing poor people out to the suburbs (i.e. New Orleans East) where housing is more affordable- gentrification at the expense of the poor. 

The city of New Orelans' progress toward prosperity should have at its foundation, the inclusion of the well-being of African American communities. While my discussion here has focused only on the Plan for the Future, many actions listed in beginning of this blog, have stimulated change and movement towards the total transformation of the city. And I will say loudly and clearly, if city officials, federal and state government, urban planners, developers and realtors don't change the present trajectory of this transformation, New Orleans will become a city where Black folks used to live.

Dr. Beverly Wright is a sociologist and the Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Dr. Wright may be reached via email via

Big $$ Expected to Flow to 2015 Louisiana BESE Campaign

Reflecting on the 2011 BESE campaign in which I ran for the first time against my current opponent Atty. James Garvey, I found this report and thought it worth sharing with Louisiana voters.

Taxpayers should ask themselves which of the candidates this year will be most likely to continue squandering million$ to Teach For America run by BESE member Kira Irange-Jones for non certified instructors; New Schools For New Orleans whose former director now serves on the New Orleans School Board; RSD school contractors and engineers like BESE member James Guillot's company; charter schools like the recently closed Jefferson Community School whose founding member and chairman, BESE member James Garvey, contracted with Jefferson a Parish Schools to provide $85,000 per student for the 10 students enrolled at the time; BESE member Holly Boffy who has steadfastly promoted Common Core while employed as a full time "consultant" to the Council of Chief State School Officers with Supt. John White as governing board member making him her boss instead  of vice versa.  Then there is BESE president Chas Roemer whose sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley is Exec Director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Watch candidates' financial disclosures and campaign reports leading up to the October 24 election.

Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?

Matthew Cunningham-Cook | October 17, 2012

Last fall, a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive [1] in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815.

To support Orange Jones’s campaign against Givens, Eli Broad, billionaire head of the education reform organization the Broad Foundation and a major trainer and placer of school superintendents, chipped in $5,000. Reed Hastings of Netflix kicked in the same. Houston energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura gave a total of $10,000, as did Walmart heiress Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Greg. New York City’s second-wealthiest man, Michael Bloomberg, contributed $10,000 as well.

Kira Orange Jones wasn’t the only candidate for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who received previously unheard of levels of out-of-state cash. K12 Inc., an online education company, gave at least $12,000 to pro-reform BESE candidates and PACs. Siblings Alice and Jim Walton of the Walmart fortune gave more than $150,000 to candidates and PACs, and Michael Bloomberg gave a total of $330,000. In the end, only one candidate opposed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and education reformers actually won: Lottie Beebe, a public school personnel director who spent less than half of what her opponent spent. Compare this to the last BESE elections, in 2007. The total spent by all candidates in contested BESE races that year was just $258,596—roughly one-tenth of the 2011 total.

Why would out-of-state billionaires care about Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education? The state board must approve the governor’s nominee for the powerful state superintendent of education by a two-thirds majority, and the 2007–11 board would have been unlikely to approve Jindal’s nominee, John White. White had been in Louisiana for less than a year at the time, after coming from New York City to head Louisiana’s Recovery School District, which the BESE directly supervises. A Teach for America alum, White had previously spent five years working as a deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education under Michael Bloomberg. Louisiana’s education superintendent administers the state’s educational system, but of particular interest to wealthy donors, the superintendent recommends which schools should be eligible for accreditation and state support to the BESE, which ultimately approves. In the past decade or so, that has meant that the state superintendent and BESE discern which charter or voucher schools are eligible to provide instruction in the state of Louisiana.

* * *
Besides the efficacy of drone warfare, one of the most common areas of bipartisan agreement in Washington—and in state capitals across the nation—is that our public school system is broken, and the way to fix it is by ridding schools of costly hold-downs such as teacher tenure, seniority pay, training for professional development and traditional brick-and-mortar school buildings. These “reformers” push charter schools, punishment for failing schools and teachers and “school choice” in the form of vouchers for private, parochial and charter schools.
Nowhere has the school reform debate raged more passionately in recent months than in Louisiana, where earlier this year Jindal and his allies rammed two bills through the Louisiana legislature that drastically reduce local control of schools and teacher tenure. The bills, which went into effect in July and August, also dramatically increase the number of charter schools—both brick-and-mortar and virtual charters (despite the fact that the FBI is currently investigating an epidemic of online charter school fraud in Pennsylvania)—and potentially 380,000 new vouchers for low- and middle-income children in poor-performing schools around the state, which would create by far the nation’s largest voucher program. The vouchers can be used at 120 schools in the state, some of them parochial, some of them secular, some of them for-profit, some of them nonprofit—almost all of them private.

While much of the reporting on these bills has focused on the fact that they will significantly lower the quality of education in Louisiana—through the voucher program, the state has begun funding schools that refuse to teach evolution, teach that the Loch Ness Monster is an example of scientific proof that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted and claim that the Ku Klux Klan had some positive impact on this nation’s history—little attention has been paid to the influx of out-of-state money to advance the education reform movement in Louisiana. And although the media have presented the case of Louisiana as anomalous—Wonkette’s Kris Benson asked [2] “Is Louisiana not part of the U.S. anymore, or something?”—if one takes a longer view, it quickly becomes apparent that Louisiana is very much still part of the United States, and what has happened there is not anomalous but in fact is a test case for the privatization of education nationwide.
* * *
John White occupies a special place in the heart of education reformers around the country. After serving as a deputy chancellor of New York City schools for five years under Michael Bloomberg, where he autocratically created Quest to Learn, a middle school with a video game-based curriculum, and was one of the leaders of the DoE’s campaign to close schools the department classified as “failing,” White became superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District in 2011. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the district rapidly expanded to include almost all New Orleans schools, in addition to other schools rated as “failing” throughout the state. Almost immediately after White’s appointment, his name was volleyed around for the position of state superintendent of education. And after five years of working with him in New York, Michael Bloomberg was going to do everything he could to make sure that his former aide would get the top job, donating more than $300,000 to pro-reform PACs and BESE candidates who would go on to approve White for the position. (The mayor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

The BESE must approve the state superintendent, but it is also the state’s regulatory body for K-12 education. The BESE is charged with crafting policy and overseeing the implementation of education laws in the state, meaning they approve contracts with private schools that will receive voucher funding and designate which nonprofit organizations can be “charter authorizers,” in addition to generally writing regulatory policy as it relates to the massive overhaul of education in Louisiana. A reform-friendly BESE would not only approve a pro-reform state superintendent, it would happily implement privatization plans.

The new reform-minded board was sworn in on January 9, and two days later the BESE called a special meeting to confirm John White as state superintendent. It wasn’t long before the state’s political class, led by Governor Jindal, began discussing educational privatization on a scale incomparable to anywhere else in the nation, save for what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
As Naomi Klein detailed in The Shock Doctrine, post-Katrina New Orleans has been Ground Zero for efforts to privatize schools and weaken teacher unions—hallmarks of education reform. After the hurricane, the vast majority of New Orleans public schools were taken over by the states’ Recovery School District—the district that was subsequently headed by John White. Nearly all of the city’s 7,500 public school employees were fired, although a few were later rehired. The post-Katrina shock also saw the advent of a limited voucher program and a massive expansion of charter schools, many of them for-profit. Education Secretary Arne Duncan actually said [3] that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” and Michael Bloomberg repeated this position almost verbatim in a profile [4] in Fast Company in 2011. And yet, the Recovery School District received a “D” on the state’s evaluation system in 2011, making it the second-lowest-performing district in the state.

But as Bobby Jindal began his second term as governor in January 2012, he was convinced that the path blazed in New Orleans needed to be applied statewide. With a sympathetic state board and superintendent in place, Jindal outlined his reform plan in a speech [5] on January 17. The governor proposed limiting school boards’ right to give teachers tenure and expanding school administrators’ power of to hire and fire, in addition to a significant expansion of charter schools and the creation of a statewide voucher program.
Educators and activists were caught off-guard. “We didn’t have an inkling of what the governor’s education proposals were going to be until his speech on January 17,” said Steve Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “Education wasn’t even part of the debate during the 2011 elections.”

Nevertheless, Jindal’s reform plan hit the ground running. State Representative Steve Carter introduced two bills modeled after the proposals in Jindal’s January speech on March 12, the first day of the legislative session. The two bills, now known as Act 1 — Talent [6], and Act 2 — Choice [7], are multifaceted. Act 1 deals primarily with limiting school boards’ ability to give tenure to teachers, as well as increasing the usage of teacher evaluations in making hiring decisions and giving superintendents considerably more latitude to hire and fire without the approval of their school board. (It is for this reason, among many others, that the Louisiana School Boards Association vehemently opposed both bills.) Act 2 focuses on the expansion of charter schools and vouchers. Under this new regime, nonprofit organizations can be given the authority to become charter authorizers, bypassing elected and public bodies. And any child below a certain income level attending a school rated C, D or F can receive a voucher to go to a private or parochial school. Act 2 also allows Louisiana businesses to receive funding from the state to provide apprenticeships, and allows charter and private schools to recruit uncertified teachers.

The legislative action on the bill was short but hard-fought. An estimated two thousand teachers rallied against the bill on March 14 [8], but were not let into the committee room, which Karran Harper Royal, a leading activist who is a mother of a child with disabilities, told me was unprecedented in her years of advocating before the legislature. Michael Deshotels, a retired Louisiana educator, wrote on his blog [8] that he witnessed only one teacher testify in favor of the bills.

On the other side, advocacy groups popped up to lobby in favor of the bills. Stand for Children Louisiana, which advocated primarily for the bill limiting teacher tenure, was founded in January 2012, according to Westley Bayas III, the organization’s New Orleans Director. (Nationally, Stand for Children has been a leader in the education reform movement, but has laid low after a deeply embarrassing video of its founder, Jonah Edelman, boasting of his union-busting playbook surfaced in 2011.) The Louisiana Federation for Children, a project of the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, two national pro-voucher organizations, also advocated for the bills. Although the organization did not return a request for comment, it also seems to have been started just as the statewide reform debate began—the first blog post on the organization’s site was in April 2011, and its official headquarters on campaign finance forms is oddly listed as Virginia. The bills also gained crucial PR support from John White, who wrote an e-mail to educators dismissing concerns about the bills as “myths.”

Less than a month after being introduced, the bills passed the House and Senate with barely any changes. Act 1 passed the House by a vote of 64 to 40, and the Senate by a vote of 23 to 16. Act 2 passed 61 to 42 in the House and 24 to 15 in the Senate. By April 18, just over a month after the bills were introduced, Jindal had signed them into law [9].

John Maginnis, the editor of, told me that they passed so quickly that many legislators are finding out just now what provisions are actually in the bills. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said that the way the bills had passed was nothing like he had experienced before in his more than twenty years of educational advocacy. Comparing this year’s legislative climate around education as opposed to past years, Monaghan said, “It was a difference between night and day legislatively. We had two major pieces of legislation, introduced in the first three days of the session, moved through the entire process in just about thirty days.” He continued, “We’re talking about massive bills with far-reaching implications, these were multi-faceted bills that never had real debate. What the big difference was that there was money coming from all over the country. It’s literally follow-the-money.”

The fallout was almost immediate. There was widespread antipathy in the legislature to Jindal and the BESE’s proposal of taking funding for the voucher and charter program directly from public schools, a measure that passed the House by only 2 votes, 51 to 49. (Part of this antipathy likely stemmed from certain lawmakers’ realization that vouchers could be used at private Islamic schools.) Teachers have filed multiple lawsuits challenging the legality of the bills. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators argue that the two laws actually contain multiple laws within them, making them unconstitutional in Louisiana. Another lawsuit weaving its way through the system claims that the funding mechanism should have had to pass by an absolute majority—fifty-three votes—instead of the fifty-one that it received. Significantly, one of the BESE members elected under the “reform” agenda, Carolyn Hill, has found the new policies so odious that she has now come out against the bills.

But the passage appropriation mechanism made it clear what the entire education reform project in Louisiana was about: the state spends $8.7 billion dollars annually on education, and some exceedingly powerful private business interests want a piece of it.

* * *
The powerful interests who donated to the BESE races, including Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, John and Laura Arnold, Carrie and Gregory Penner and Alice and Jim Walton, are all major supporters and funders of these “school choice” reforms nationally, and stand to gain even more influence and power now that Louisiana has bought into and legislated their education reform plans.
Less than 2 percent of eligible students are participating in the voucher program this year, avoiding a massive funding crisis for Louisiana public schools for now. However, nearly $30 million in public funding has been distributed through the voucher program. Lincoln Parish’s school district has already had to lay off thirty teachers, at least partly because of [10] the voucher program, and the ability of many of these schools approved for vouchers to actually provide an adequate education is in serious question. For example, the Light City Christian Academy, which received [11] $364,400 in public funds through the voucher program for 2012-2013 school year, is run by a self-proclaimed prophet. The New Living Word School, which received [11] over $1 million in state funding for this school year, uses DVDs in place of teachers for the bulk of its educational content.

Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, says that despite the media focus on the voucher program, the bigger story is that of charter schools. “The pro-charter people, which include most of the research and advocacy interest groups, favor charter schools but were opposed to vouchers.” He explains, “Vouchers shift public funding into an already extant structure, but the charter schools open up an entire new market.… Every charter school in the state gets a facility for free, no rent. The old school is declared a failing school, they fire all the teachers, fires all students, and they have a whole new for-profit operation.”

The prospects for the expansion of charters was apparently so enticing that Kemal Oksuz, president of the Turquoise Council, a Texas-based group that is closely related to the rapidly growing Harmony Schools charter network as well as the Turkish Gulen religious movement, saw fit to contributed a total of $83,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana after Act 1 and Act 2 passed in April. The contributions make Oksuz the largest single contributor to the Louisiana GOP this year. Anti-corporate education group Parents Across America considers Gulen-connected schools to be the largest network of charter schools in the United States.

Even further-reaching, the Course Choice program allows students to take courses outside of their public school and have the state reimburse them at 90 percent of the cost of a public school course. Looking to cash in on online course offerings, some of the vendors who have applied to provide these courses include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Apex Learning, K12 and Connections Education, a major subsidiary of Pearson. (The education reformers are a tight-knit bunch [12]—the other Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, bankrolled a pro-Bloomberg group in New York called Learn NY when the Mayor was attempting to win himself a third term. Eli Broad also contributed millions.)

Construction companies are also likely to gain much from these new offerings. The Associated Builders and Contractors in Louisiana spent $55,000 influencing the BESE races, and they now stand to be directly reimbursed by the state for the cost of their apprenticeship programs—massively expanding a significant part of their business. The very large and very well-connected Cajun Industries, a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors, even had a PAC headquartered in one of its PO boxes to distribute money to friendly BESE candidates.

There has also been widespread outcry about John White’s decision to hold public schools to a higher educational standard than private and charter schools: under new rules released in July, public schools must score above a C to avoid having vouchers suck money away from them, while private schools only need to score above an F to continue receiving public money. In addition, only about a quarter of the private schools covered by the new bill will be required to disclose whether or not their voucher students are failing—only schools with more than forty voucher students, or ten in a grade, are required to disclose the test scores of their students. White has also attracted criticism for his opposition to the teacher certification process, hiring a 27-year-old without a teaching certificate to direct the state’s teacher evaluation, and his decision to hire a highly priced PR staff.

As the BESE and John White continue the rule-making process in the new pay-to-play educational environment in Louisiana, White’s scheduled first evaluation by the BESE has been postponed until January 2013. And despite the fact that staff members at the state’s Board of Ethics recommended that Kira Orange Jones be forced to choose between a seat on the BESE and her position with TFA, largely because of potential conflicts of interest in approving contracts with Teach for America, the board overrode their recommendation and said that Orange Jones’s position was safe. The BESE is likely to approve a nearly $1 million contract [13] with Teach for America in October.

And now, in the races for the Orleans Parish School Board, which serves New Orleans, the money-drenched process seems to be repeating itself. Teach for America veteran Sarah Usdin has already outraised incumbent Brett Bonin by four to one, and activist Harper Royal by more than twenty to one. Usdin’s donors include Reed Hastings, who has given $2,500.

The initial results of education reform in Louisiana carry significant parallels to education reform initiatives around the country: in Philadelphia, the city-contracted Boston Consulting Group has effectively recommended the elimination of teacher tenure; Congress and President Obama recently agreed to a deal to expand the District of Columbia’s voucher program; the state of Indiana just doubled the size of their voucher program, and in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel is attempting to shutter more than eighty public schools and replace them with charters. As other experiments in wholesale privatization have indicated, the likely result of this is an acceleration of wealth and power into the hands of the 1 percent, while violence and political exclusion characterize the lives of everyone else. The same forces that have initiated this process in Louisiana are hard at work implementing their agenda elsewhere, and they have nearly unlimited resources at their disposal. There comes a time[14], however, when enough is enough [15].

Read Matthew Cunningham-Cook’s reporting on the Chicago teachers’ strike of earlier this fall here[16].

Helping Profits - Hurting Children

Media gets an "A" for finding false negatives in U.S. Students winning math Olympiad.  Just 10 minutes of my research gives media an "F" for facts.  I suppose if I were a PAID journalist I could have saved 10 minutes. 

Here is the good news with the media touch - headline: 

They're No. 1: U.S. Wins Math Olympiad For First Time In 21 Years

Here is just one of many examples of how comparisons of standardized test scores skew reality: 

China and PISA 2012 scores report by Brookings Institute Oct. 9, 2013:

And yet, just two months later NPR spins the 2012 PISA scores: 

NPR's  PISA report Dec. 3, 2013:   Media can't or won't get it right?

Even more interesting is the further distortion when comparing PISA, TIMSS and NAEP: 

PEW Research Feb., 2015 including PISA, TIMSS and NAEP commentary: As always, read the comments (from educators in the classroom for God's sake).

BOTTOM LINE - a stand-alone standardized test score is worse than useless for analysis and reflection if the purpose is to improve educational outcomes.  It is VERY useful for the political and corporate agenda to capitalize for profit on the backs of children.