It has long been clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) does not work in the best interests of students. After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.
But LFT’s current effort to scuttle funding for a charter school serving at-risk students represents an all-time low for the union.
Last week, LFT launched an online petition calling on Governor John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 887, a proposal from Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), that would allow a Baton Rouge charter school, THRIVE Academy, to become an independent public school under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.
East Baton Rouge teacher Sarah Broome launched THRIVE Academy in 2011 after one of her young students was killed in a violent street fight. Broome recognized that the student’s chaotic home life put her on a path that ended in that unfortunate tragedy and wanted to create a school that could meet the needs of at-risk students both in and out of the classroom.
Therefore, Broome established THRIVE as a charter boarding school – the first of its kind in the state – where students live together during the week and are expected to participate in activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and budgeting. THRIVE also provides the 110 students it currently serves with individualized attention in small classes led by high-performing teachers.
By almost every measure, the school has been a success. Not only is THRIVE one of the highest-performing middle schools in East Baton Rouge, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the entire district.
Nevertheless, THRIVE has had to depend on the generosity of funders to cover the added costs that come with boarding students – an approach that has worked thus far, but leaves the school vulnerable to the whims of donors. To ensure the long-term financial stability of the school, Broome worked with Rep. Carter to craft House Bill 887 to make THRIVE a legislatively-authorized independent public school, much like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).
As a legislatively-authorized school, THRIVE would be able to enroll students who live outside East Baton Rouge Parish. It would also allow the Legislature to allocate additional funding to THRIVE – approximately $23,714 per child – to fully cover the costs of the program.
6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.
House Bill 887 received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – in fact, Senators passed the bill unanimously – and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an organization which always claims it works in the best interests of kids, wants the Governor to veto the bill, which would deprive hundreds of our state’s most vulnerable children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow.
For the year ahead, I am optimistic and excited about educational gains moving forward in my city and state. A movement for getting more parents engaged is slowly picking up steam in my community and a gradual move is better than none at all. Citizens are starting to join in on the conversations surrounding issues that affect our kids’ future. Educators, mentors, support staff and administrators are finding their niche in New Orleans’ vast education diaspora. Although there are issues that are in need of addressing, we are moving forward in many positive ways.
On January 11, our state will swear John Bel Edwards into the governor’s office. Once that occurs, Edwards will then be faced with a $1.6 billion dollar shortfall and he will likely take extreme measures just to keep the bills paid.
In my recent reading of many articles, conversations with colleagues and my memory of events, I know that healthcare and education are usually battling for first and second place when it comes to budget cuts. I know that it doesn’t matter what a candidate may say on the campaign trail, when he is staring at numbers that don’t add up and a decision has to be made, education is prime for cutting and our children suffer in the long run.
Edwards has appointed some great people who have deep experience in education to his transition team. He has brought on State Sen. Ben Nevers as his chief of staff. Nevers has an extensive education background, including serving on the Bogalusa City School Board. Edwards has also appointed several local individuals to his higher education committee, Calvin Mackie of STEM NOLA, Ron Maestri of the University of New Orleans and Renee Lapeyrolerie, former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
My hope is that the education background of Senator Nevers, the appointments of local distinguished individuals and the presence of our wonderful new First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Hutto Edwards, who was a public school teacher in Hammond, Louisiana, is enough to have Edwards recognize the value of a strong education system. Also as parents and citizens we need to continuously remind Edwards that we are fully aware of his moves as it pertains to education.
Another concern that I have is our soon to be governor’s thoughts and past actions regarding education:
He said he would reverse the Common Core State Standards that Louisiana has adopted, believing they create unnecessary burdens on schools.
He doesn’t agree with standardized testing connected to teacher evaluations.
He said that if he was elected he probably wouldn’t keep John White, the state education superintendent, past the end of his contract regardless of what the elected Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members suggest
He is backed by the two teachers unions in the state. Also, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers officials have held key jobs in his campaigns.
He has called for greater accountability from charter schools.
I have learned as an engaged parent who has spoken to various members of my communities, that I can’t be totally for or totally against any particular set of issues. I believe a good practice is to become knowledgeable about an issue by researching, gathering information and talking to the people it will affect. I also have become aware of the importance of school choice. Different methods of delivering a curriculum is key to children’s success and to furthering the gains we have accomplished. In New Orleans we promote school choice and we received the top ranking as the best city for school choice from the Fordham Institute. Yet as an avid listener and advocate on the ground, I still know we still have a long way to go with offering the best school choices as it relates to a family’s structure and lifestyle.
I would like to caution Edwards to take a careful look at what has and hasn’t worked in schools, lest we put any gains that we are still working towards in jeopardy. I know there has to be some method of testing the effectiveness of our schools that doesn’t place heavy burdens on the shoulders of our children through standardized testing and that doesn’t alienate great teachers or suppress their talents. But I do believe educators should be held accountable. I feel that accountability has to not only come from districts, charters and educators but from all of the citizens who are affected by the system that is in place. I believe that there should be an evaluation of the standards but lower expectations or a watered down curriculum are not options. I believe that the school board should be able to represent the people and that affiliations with teachers unions shouldn’t hinder what the people have voted for in a fair election.
We have to become innovative and take a few large steps outside of the box. The people of Louisiana can no longer embrace stereotypical ideas, alliances or practices that offer simple solutions to a diverse group of issues. The reset button has been pressed. Are we gonna play a better game?
When the Democratic candidate for Governor, John Bel Edwards, met with the Editorial Board of Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser on Tuesday to explain how “things would be different in an Edwards administration,” the two-term State Representative had a lot to say about the state of public education in Louisiana.
Some of the points he made were commendable, like his support for a stable higher education funding model that would avoid the fiscal nightmare our state’s public universities suffered through earlier this spring. However, as we’ve seen recently, when the subject turned to K-12 education, Edwards – who believes he’s “the engineer who can put the engine back on the tracks” – instead went off the rails. For example, The Advertiser reported:
“Edwards said he embraces the state’s push for higher standards for K-12 education, but not the process the state has chosen to pursue them. He said he’s for accountability, but believes letter grades are unfair to schools with high percentages of impoverished children. Teachers are too often compelled to teach to the test, he said, and who can blame them? Their jobs depend on it.”
While Edwards’ equivocal positions on high academic standards and accountability pose a problem, I was more disappointed that he proceeded to trot out the old “poverty trumps education” argument, one of the teachers unions’ favorite talking points:
“For example, he said, his own son’s school, where his wife teaches music, drew an ‘F’ letter grade from the state, but he said poverty, not teachers, was what undermined that public school. Teachers there were ‘fine,’ he said, but most of the students came from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
In effect, Edwards is saying we we should lower our expectations for certain children just because they happen to come from poor families.
Let’s examine John Bel Edwards’ statement for a moment. It’s true that Amite Elementary Magnet School, where his wife Donna worked until recently, does serve a high proportion of low-income students. In 2014, over 95% of the school’s students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. On the other hand, Amite Elementary received a “D” in 2013-14 (S.Y. 2014-15 haven’t been issued yet) and a School Performance Score (SPS) of 54.7 (out of 150) – i.e., the school is not designated as failing as Edwards claims.
However, the more important question is whether a “D” grade and a SPS of 54.7 is the most we should expect from a school where the students are nearly all low-income. To test that, I decided to look at 2014 data of New Orleans public schools where 95% of students were free/reduced lunch eligible. Here’s what I found:
In short, there were 31 public schools in New Orleans that scored higher than Amite Elementary in 2014, even though nearly all of their kids were low-income. What’s more, some schools in New Orleans, like Mary Bethune Elementary, are knocking the cover off the ball. Nearly 80% of Bethune students were performing at or above grade level in 2014, as opposed to only 46% of students at Amite Elementary.
Now, I’m not raising these facts to denigrate the hard work of Donna Edwards or her former colleagues at Amite Elementary Magnet School. I’m also not saying that poverty doesn’t present considerable challenges for educators – as a former teacher in New Orleans’ public schools, I’ve faced those very challenges.
Nevertheless, it’s clear there are many public schools in Louisiana’s low-income communities where students are beating John Bel Edwards’ low expectations hands down. We live in a state with one of the highest levels of child poverty in the country and we can’t allow our politicians to simply those write those kids off because it’s politically expedient.