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Spitting Out the Koolaid: A Former Chicago TFAer on TFA, and More

On August 19, 2017, I posted, “A Teach for America Curiosity: When the Houseplants Outrank TFA.” In the post, I focused on former Chicago TFAer, Sarah Forst, who chose to omit explicitly identifying as a TFA alum on both her Linkedin profile and blog bio.

In the self-promoting world of TFA, such omission by an alum is noteworthy. TFA depends upon its alumni to drum up continuing business. In fact, Louisiana TFA contracts directly mention recruiting TFA alumni nationwide to serve in the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) in both teaching and leadership roles. And let us not forget that a state board member, Kira Orange-Jones, and the state superintendent, John White, are themselves TFA alumni who are fulfilling the TFA call for alumni to fill key edu-political positions and, in turn, make it their mission to move as many TFA alum into key edu-political positions as is possible.

But back to Sarah Forst.

As I was considering attempting to contact Forst directly in order to gain more insight into her decision to omit any overt TFA promotion from her bio materials, reader Jack Covey left a comment on my August 19, 2017, post in which he indicated that just one month ago, in July 2017, Forst posted the following commentary on Youtube, in response to another former TFAer’s video in which that former TFAer, Christina Costa, comments that she did not notice TFA taking away jobs from career teachers in Detroit.

Below is Forst’s response:

Yeah, in Chicago it’s FOR SURE taking away jobs from teachers. The summer I started TFA (2013) there were 2,000 teacher layoffs in Chicago Public Schools… magically all the new TFAers still got jobs.

We’re way cheaper than experienced teachers, so schools have an incentive to hire TFAers (or any brand new teacher) over experienced ones. TFA also completely props up charter schools in Chicago. Many of them have super high teacher turnover because the working conditions are bad and the salaries are WAY lower than Chicago Public Schools. But the charter schools can just hire new TFAers every single year, so they never have to worry about working conditions or salaries.

I agree that TFA isn’t an “evil organization,” but they should really stop placing teachers in charter schools and probably just Chicago in general, since there’s no teacher shortage here. (It’s Sarah from The Designer Teacher, btw!)

[paragraph breaks added]

toddler covering mouth

Forst’s comment is the first listed for Costa’s 11-minute video, “My Teach for America Experience: TFA Honest Feelings”:

At minute 9:41, Costa questions her own conclusions regarding TFA and charter school harm:

So, here’s the thing. This is what I’d like to day. I’m not really, like, I’m not a huge fan of the organization of TFA; I’m not a huge fan of charter schools. But both of those things are not necessarily “evils,” they are not…. I don’t know how to express my thoughts. People are not evil in coming up with these ideas to, like do harm– or maybe, they are. It’s more of our system as a whole.

Do I think TFA is going to fix our system? No. Do I think TFA inspires people to fix the system? Yes. … TFA really gives a pathway for people understanding the school system before they go into other things.

Another criticism of TFA is that everyone leaves after their two years and that it’s not, like, retaining teachers. [Shrugs] That’s totally valid, but again, like I said, the people who are going on, almost everyone is staying in education and doing something else. I don’t think we should shame teachers for doing other things.

Ah, but that TFA churn is no good for communities, or schools, or students.

And are TFAers who signed on for a temp teaching stint from the get-go “teachers”?

Gig teachers, at best.

Those who major in education at four-year postsecondary institutions tend not to become gig teachers.

Gig teaching is an enemy of school and community stability, and students value school stability. I know I did.

One of my own former students approached me this week about a colleague who transferred to another school. It caught her by surprise, and she asked me if I had to opportunity to leave, would I choose it.

I told her that teachers transfer for different reasons, and that I have had many opportunities to transfer but that I realize I would be leaving my school’s culture behind, and I would miss it.

She responded, ‘Thank you for staying, Dr. Schneider. That means a lot to me.”

It meant a lot to me to hear. Moreover, when I was a K12 student, it meant a lot to me to have attended schools with minimal teacher turnover. It was a critical stabilizing factor in my development; from the time that I was 10 years old until the time I left home for good at 19 years old, my home life was markedly unstable.

I cannot imagine adding the TFA byproduct of the teacher turnstile on top of my instability at home.

I agree with Costa that public education has problems that are greater than TFA. However, I, too, have researched TFA, including the questionable ethics of its founder, Wendy Kopp, and its promotion of itself as The Answer, and its need to never actually reach its advertised One Day because if that Day ever comes, TFA will have made itself unnecessary. (See my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, for the in-depth on Kopp and TFA.)

In order to continue to exist, TFA has to market itself as necessary, which puts TFA’s corporate goals at odds with the employment of career teachers in certain regions, as Forst notes in her comment about TFA’s taking jobs from career teachers in Chicago.

For those who are interested, Costa has another video, 5 1/2 minutes focused specifically on her first year of teaching:

Her regrets include not having focused on teaching in college and wishing she had spent more time in the classroom before being put in charge of one.

Unlike Forst, it seems that Costa will not be staying in the classroom beyond her two-year TFA agreement. From a July 2017 interview at

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 2 years.

Why did you choose to teach as a career?

My mentor in college told me to go into teaching. I never thought about teaching myself and was a bit worried about how I would be as a teacher, but I can’t imagine being in any other field than education! …

If you have been teaching less than five years, do you intend to stay in the profession?

This question applies to me! I will always be an educator. My experience thus far has been frustrating in the sense that I see so many injustices daily that oppress the kids I teach, and I feel like I want to do more to help that. I can see myself going to grad school and doing research, but always remaining in education and focusing on what the kids I taught need.

Two years in the classroom is not a teaching career.

It concerns me that in the name of advocating in “the field of education,” individuals who do an eye’s blink of K12 classroom teaching are able to look past the disruptive churn that their speedy exits perpetrate.

Of course, Costa could begin her advocacy by petitioning TFA to require its temp teachers to remain in the classroom for five years. Replace the TFA classroom-exiting “passion” with classroom-remaining commitment.

I challenge Costa to set the example.

Anticipated TFA response to requiring their recruits to agree to a five-year classroom commitment:

spitting out drink

*One Day,* maybe, eh?


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

A Teach for America Curiosity: When the Houseplants Outrank TFA

This afternoon I spent surfing sites associated with Teach for America (TFA), the well-known teacher temp agency that recruits individuals who hold bachelors degrees outside of teaching; trains them for five weeks in summer institutes, and partners with various postsecondary and other institutions to help its recruits obtain state teacher certifications (see an example here) that those recruits agree to use for two-year classroom stints as K12 teachers.

TFA advertises that its teachers make the same salaries “as other beginning teachers working for the same employer.” TFA makes its money by charging districts a per-recruit fee (see a sample TFA-district contract here). TFA also has scores of corporate, philanthropic, and other donors (see the 2015 list in this 2015 TFA financial support). Ans as one might expect, TFA does not just wait for the money to come to it; on the contrary, TFA employs directors, such as this Boston “individual giving director,” to pound the pavement and drum up millions in annual financial support.

Even with its fly-by-summer training and its turnstile, two-year recruit commitment, TFA unabashedly proclaims itself a provider of “world class education.” An example:

Massachusetts is a state that regularly leads the nation in general indicators of educational excellence, yet low-income students are still subject to one of the largest disparities in academic outcomes. We believe that it is unconscionable that students in many communities are receiving anything less than the world-class education we are capable of providing them.

Indeed, on the World Wide Web, TFA has a lot to offer its recruits, prospective recruits, and the internet-surfing world at large, including retail discounts, which it advertises at the end of this web page:



Teachers are eligible for countless discounts at retailers around the country.

In addition to the discounts listed on this page, check out, Teach For America’s blog with tips for new teachers. We regularly post deals and discounts.

I clicked on the link for TeacherPop and received the latest post, dated April 07, 2017, and entitled, “TeacherPop Is Taking a Break.”  All links on the site are inactive, but here is how that latest post reads:

Happy Friday, dear readers! Starting next week, TeacherPop is taking a break to do a little housekeeping and update our platform. We look forward to continuing to bring you all the teacher tips and tools you can use inside and outside the classroom. In the meantime, check out some of our favorite posts from the archives below, and see you soon!

Science Says Your Classroom Needs More Dance Parties

18 Goal-Driven Classroom Phrases

11 Myths About Teaching That We’re Still Busting

7 Tips for Managing Your Classroom Like a Boss

19 Essential Materials That Every Teacher Needs

10 Daily Affirmations for Teachers

5 High School Math Procedures

Top Resources for Scoring Free Books for Your Students

The Pros and Cons of 3 Common Classroom Seating Arrangements

15 Inspirational Quotes for Teachers

I was curious about the posts, so I used the Wayback Machine to browse the TeacherPop post archives.

My favorite line is in “11 Myths About Teaching That We’re Still Busting”:

Myth 7: Teaching is a backup career.

Guys! Teaching is a calling, requires advanced degrees and certification—like other professionals—and is far from a fall-back choice.

The author forgot to add that for most TFAers, teaching is a calling for only two years, and that for TFA founder, Wendy Kopp, teaching was indeed a fall-back choice that she failed to secure when she graduated in 1989 from Princeton without a job and tried to get a teaching job at the last minute but missed the application deadline. (I wrote about Kopp in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes.)

In another post, “10 Daily Affirmations for Teachers,” I noticed that the post author, Sarah Forst, was tagged as being “a special education teacher and Teach for America alum (Chicago ’13). It bothers me that TFAers are allowed to be special education teachers. At the time of this writing (September 2015), Forst had likely just completed her two TFA years as a person holding a bachelors degree outside of education and yet being allowed access to a vulnerable population without having completed special ed certification prior to being granted such access.

And so it was.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) licensure lookup, Forst was granted her Learning Behavior Specialist 1 license on July 25, 2014, which means that she was not formally licensed until her second year serving special education students.

Her Illinois license expires June 30, 2020.

It turns out that Sarah Forst has continued in the classroom. According to her Linkedin bio, Forst is a “diverse learners teacher” in the Chicago area. Forst also has a blog,

Both her Linkedin bio and her blog “about” page have one issue in common:

Neither identifies Forst as a former TFAer.

The closest Forst comes to it is in her Linkedin bio description of her time as a special education teacher in 2013-15, which was her TFA stint. Forst mentions TFA by name but allows for the ambiguity that she was a TFA trainer and not necessarily a TFA recruit (see bolded text):

Special Education Teacher

CICS Prairie
August 2013 – June 2015 (1 year 11 months)

• Teach reading, language arts, and math to students grades K-4 in inclusion and resource settings
• Led students to achieve an average of 18 pts growth on NWEA Reading test for 2013-14 school year
• Write and implement Individualized Education Plans for caseload of 15 students
• Track student data on a daily basis to inform instruction
• Create teaching materials including adapted books, games, schedules, and data trackers
• Collaborate with co-teachers to provide accommodations and modifications to students in general education setting
• Lead teams to plan and execute school-wide reading nights and assemblies
• Applied for and received grants totaling over $2,000 from First Book and Donors Choose
• Created and led Teach for America professional development “Literacy for K-3 Resource” for 15 Special Education teachers
• Proficient with the following programs: Wilson Reading System, Really Good Reading’s Phonics BOOST,
Reading A-Z, Thinking Maps, LexiaCore 5, Words Their Way
• Proficient in the use of the following systems and technology: Impact, Mileposts, PowerSchool, DIBELS,
Google Drive, ENO Smartboard, iPads, Chromebooks, MacBooks

[bolded text added]

Forst also skirts mentioning that she is a TFA alum in her blog’s “about” page, though the telltale signs are there given her bachelors in design and her mention of alt-cert:


You’re a passionate special education teacher and you’ll do anything for your kids, from modifying assignments to teaching them how to blow their noses. But between lesson plans, progress monitoring, IEPs, FBAs, and a million other acronyms, you’ve got A LOT on your plate. No one can do it all, and you shouldn’t have to. That’s where I come in.

I’m Sarah, The Designer Teacher, and I empower passionate special education teachers to feel more peaceful & purposeful by providing systematic reading resources designed with struggling learners in mind. 

I’m an elementary special education teacher with a degree in design. I’ve combined my expertise in design with my experiences working with special learners to create resources that are clear and accessible to all.

Ready to get started with explicit phonics instruction without the hassle? Check out Phonics by Design: The Complete Curriculum or download a NO PREP freebie here!

What else is there to know?

Well, I’m a Chicago-transplant originally hailing from the East Coast… and I have the Type A personality to prove it. I got my degree in Interdisciplinary Object Design back in Maryland, but moved to Chicago to join an alternative certification program for special education. I teach at a very diverse, Title I school, and I’m passionate about social justice.

I try to lead a balanced life and have a lot of hobbies in addition to teaching and my small business! I love arts & crafts of all kinds, from scrapbooking to knitting. I’m also an avid reader– magical realism is my favorite! Oh– and I have a husband and a lot of house plants too!

In Forst’s blog bio, even the house plants get directly mentioned. But not TFA.

house plant

TFA expects its alumni to advance its cause by strategically easing into positions of edu-political leadership. Not only does Forst break from being a TFA billboard; she also remained a classroom teacher for over four years, which makes it seem that she has dispensed with the TFA idea of classroom teaching as a temp job and considers her classroom teaching position as a genuine career– exactly as it should be.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

La. RSD-NO’s ACT Results: Nowhere Near What Is Necessary for Guaranteed, Four-Year-College Admission

In 2003, the Louisiana legislature created the state-run Recovery School District (RSD), which pre-Katrina was comprised of about a dozen and a half schools. Once Hurricane Katrina hit (in 2005), so did the Louisiana legislature in a calculated attempt to hand over most of New Orleans’ public schools to the state. The ultimate goal of this state takeover was to turn New Orleans’ public school system into an all-charter district.

It was an experiment.

By the 2014-15 school year, all of the state-run, RSD New Orleans (RSD-NO) schools had been converted to charter schools. So, by the 2014-15 school year, the promotion of New Orleans as a state-run, “turn-around” district was wed with the promotion of the charter portfolio school district model. The big idea for the corporate reformers attempting to sell RSD-NO was that state takeover of “failing” local-board-run schools, coupled with converting those schools into charter school choice was the way to combat the “status quo” of traditional, local-board-run public schools.

Given that the preferred metric of success for corporate reformers is the standardized test score, it only follows that the ultimate measure of success for RSD-NO would be ever-increasing, average ACT composite scores for senior classes graduating from its state-run, charter-portfolio-model halls.

Surely such scores would validate yet another corporate reform push, “college and career readiness.”

The problem is, of course, what to do if the RSD-NO high schools do not produce ever-increasing, average ACT composite scores.

In January 2012, politically-connected shooting star, John White, became Louisiana’s state superintendent, and in September 2012, White and his Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) was ebullient in its celebration of the RSD-NO average ACT composite score of 16.8 in this LDOE press release:

The average composite score on the ACT for students in the Recovery School District (RSD) New Orleans rose four-tenths of a point from 16.4 to 16.8 from 2011 to 2012 – representing an increase four times the statewide average which rose one-tenth of a point from 20.2 to 20.3 during the same timeframe.  In the last two years, the average composite score for RSD New Orleans has increased a total of 1.2 points, up from 15.6 in 2010, ranking fifth in the state for overall progress. …

“The New Orleans Recovery School District increased their average score while, at the same time, increasing participation, which makes the results even more impressive,” said State Superintendent John White.  “The rise in both participation and achievement in New Orleans is a promising sign as we begin to expand the test to students in 8th through 11th grade.”

The 2012 average ACT composite for RSD-NO high schools– 16.8– was the highest that RSD-NO achieved to date. Since that time, RSD-NO high schools have been swishing around in the 16-point-somethings, but never hitting even 16.9.

The next year (2013), 100 percent of Louisiana’s Class of 2013 took the ACT test. RSD-NO’s average composite dropped to 16.3.

There was no LDOE ebullient press release that year, nor for the years 2014 (RSD-NO ACT: 16.4) or 2015 (RSD-NO ACT: 16.6).

And by 2016, John White and his LDOE just stopped reporting average ACT composite scores for the RSD-NO high schools. Even though the Louisiana legislature decided in May 2016 to transfer RSD-NO schools back to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2019 at the latest, the current students in these schools have spent almost their entire academic lives under the auspices of RSD-NO and, as a result, have been chiefly educated by the independently-operated charter schools that state-takeover advocates have enabled to replace traditional public schools and have actively promoted as superior to traditional public schools.

So, John White and LDOE should not be allowed to smoothly escape the reality of their failure to move RSD-NO high schools beyond a 16-point-something average ACT composite score.

John White and LDOE did not report an average ACT composite score for the RSD-NO high school Class of 2016 or Class of 2017. However, I was interested in calculating these scores based upon the 14 high schools identified by LDOE as belonging to RSD-NO in 2015-16. Therefore, I submitted a public records request to LDOE for the number of student scores used to calculate each of the school-level average ACT composite scores. This info was available in the LDOE file for the Class of 2016 ACT scores but not for the Class of 2017 ACT scores.

Here is the LDOE response to my request: 2016 2017 RSD ACT Response 8.17.17

(Note: It seems that two high schools, GW Carver Collegiate and GW Carver Prep, merged in 2017. So, the 14 RSD-NO high schools in 2016 became 13 high schools in 2017. Note also that in 2016, GW Carver Prep had an average ACT composite of 16.9 based on 66 student scores.)

Based on the RSD-NO high-school student counts and corresponding school-level average ACT composite scores, I was able to determine that the RSD-NO high school Class of 2016 average ACT composite score is 16.7.

And for the Class of 2017, the average ACT composite score for the same high schools (see note above regarding CW Carver) remained 16.7.

In summary, based on LDOE-originated data, RSD-NO average ACT composite scores have been engaged for years in the following 16-point-something dance:

  • Class of 2011:  16.3 (not all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2012:  16.8 (not all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2013:  16.3 (all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2014:  16.4 (all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2015:  16.6 (all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2016:  16.7 (all grads took ACT)
  • Class of 2017:  16.7 (all grads took ACT)

Guaranteed admission to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) requires an ACT composite of 23. For Louisiana State University (LSU), it’s a 22. For both the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) and Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU), an ACT composite of 21 is preferred, but either an ACT English score of 18 or an ACT math score of 19 is required.

The average Xavier University undergraduate has an ACT composite ranging from 23 to 28, with Xavier advertising an ACT composite of 24 necessary for admission to its nursing and occupational health programs. Nursing students must also score at least a 21 on the ACT math exam.

For Southern University (SU), an ACT composite of 20 is preferred, but again, either an ACT English score of 18 or an ACT math score of 19 is required. And for the University of New Orleans (UNO), both an ACT English score of 18 and an ACT math score of 19 are required, and if the student’s high school GPA is at least 2.0 but not 2.5, an ACT composite of 23 is required.

Thus, for all of its charter-portfolio fanfare, it is difficult to conceive of the state-run RSD-NO as anything but a flop based upon years of its sub-17 average ACT composites.

The first step to addressing the issue is admitting that there is an issue. However, completely ghosting out the RSD-NO high school average ACT composite calculation even years before RSD-NO is formally dissolved certainly dodges any such responsible admission.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Human Dignity vs. David Duke

David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard from Louisiana who tried to transform the ugly bigotry of white superiority into political fashion, has found his way once again into national news for his racist involvement in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017– and for his gushing gratitude for Donald Trump’s August 15, 2017, impromptu press conference full of language that unarguably supports Duke’s white supremacist platform.

david duke  Klansman David Duke

Contrary to Trump’s “both sides” defense and Duke’s attempts to rebirth White supremacy as merely a political stance, White supremacy is repulsive, and it should have no place in America.

The terrible situation in Charlottesville this weekend has been on my mind, especially as I consider my students. In my school district, students began the 2017-18 school year on August 10. And as I think of David Duke, and Trump’s soft-shell defense of the likes of Duke, I see the faces of my new students parade across my mind, and how many of them are devalued and their worth as human beings discarded by the awfulness of white-worshiping bigotry.

And I think of the refuse that is both Klan history and fascism, and I want to protect my students from it.

Fortunately, I have the power to show them in the moment on a daily basis that I value their humanity by treating them with respect and dignity.

This is what we do at my Louisiana high school.

In 1991, I was also teaching high school in Louisiana. It was my first year of teaching, and also my first time to vote in a Louisiana governor’s race.

David Duke was running against the well-known, fiscally-compromised Edwin Edwards, who went to prison in 2002 on a ten-year sentence for extortion.

Duke was known as the former KKK grand wizard, and his running for governor frightened many Louisianans.

Some Duke supporters aligned three yard signs to emphasize the three K’s in Dukes name: KKK.

A much more popular Edwards bumper sticker read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”

And so, the crook won by a landslide, as the November 17, 1991 Los Angeles Times reports:

NEW ORLEANS — Democrat Edwin W. Edwards crushed former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on Saturday to win a Louisiana governor’s election keenly watched around the nation as a referendum on race relations and voter discontent.

With 99% of the precincts reporting, Edwards, a three-time former governor, defeated Duke, a Republican state representative, by 61% to 39%. The vote totals were Edwards 1,061,233, Duke 681,278.

More than 78% of Louisiana’s 2.2 million voters cast ballots in the race, easily surpassing the previous turnout record of 69.56% set in the 1979 gubernatorial election.

Edwards’ decisive triumph capped an often bizarre contest. It pitted Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and Nazi sympathizer, against Edwards, whose last term as governor in the mid-1980s was marred by federal racketeering charges against him.

Duke is in the public eye again, and he is just as ugly, despite his attempts to, as Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune observes on August 15, 2017, capitalize on “long ago trad[ing] his white KKK robe for a stylish dark suit [and pioneering] the modern art of whitewashing white nationalism.”

david duke 2  David Duke, in a dark suit

Louisiana needs to landslide Duke out of his recent, twisted, 15 minutes of fame by publicly and repeatedly registering its disgust.

Vote for human dignity. It’s important.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Relocates to Texas to Make Ends Meet

On July 02, 2017, NPR reported that Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, has taken a job in Texas for the 2017-18 school year, where he and his wife– also a teacher– will make about $40,000 more per year.

shawn sheehan  Shawn Sheehan

Sheehan tried to remain in Oklahoma, where he ran in 2016 as an independent for a state senate seat. He garnered 37 percent of the vote, but it wasn’t enough to oust Republican incumbent, Rob Standridge.

Sheehan had hoped to work to confront Oklahoma’s steep funding cuts to education. In 2014, Oklahoma led the nation in cuts to educational funding, where in 2013, it ranked second to last in per-pupil funding. In FY2014, Oklahoma ranked fourth from the bottom in per-pupil spending.

And as Sheehan told NPR in July 2017, in Oklahoma, he and his wife earned a combined income of approximately $3,600 a month:

Sheehan and his wife are both public school teachers. Supporting just two people, he says they could make the money work. Together they brought in about $3,600 a month. “So, after all bills are paid, we’re sitting on about $400-450 per month.”

But in late 2016, they had a daughter.

“Sure, life can be done on $400, $450 a month, but I would challenge others out there to buy diapers, groceries and all the things that you need for a family of three on $400.”

Indeed, teachers nationwide often must earn additional money in order to be able to afford unexpected expenses or even to just make it from month to month. (Also see here and here.)

Too, teachers employed in schools in upper-end neighborhoods often cannot reside where they teach. This issue came up when I interviewed Ann Marie Corgill, Alabama’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, who taught for several years in Manhattan:

Schneider: [At lunch today] you told me that you came home– part of it was that you missed home, but part of it was a cost-of-living issue because you wanted to live where you were teaching.

Corgill:  Right. I did. I made the commitment to myself when I said, “[If] I’m moving to New York City, I want to be in the middle of it. I want to live in Manhattan.” I’m small-town, Clarke County, Alabama, Thomasville, Alabama girl gone to New York City. I want to live it up. I want to be the single girl in the city and do everything I’d imagined that I could do in that place: Learn, grow, be exposed to cultures I had never been exposed to.

I all of a sudden had a whole lot of friends who wanted to come and visit New York. So, I had a lot of guests in my little, tiny [flat]. …My friend Heather used to say, she called it my 500-square-foot studio [apartment] “the room.” I said, “It’s not ‘the room,’ and we’re not living in a hotel. This is my home. We’re not going back to ‘the room.’ We’re going home.” She used to make fun of [how small my apartment was]. 

The first apartment building I lived in did look like a hotel. I mean, it’s thirty stories high, and [to a person] from Birmingham, it did look like a hotel. 

Schneider: But the cost of living was a problem.

Corgill: Yes. I think my cheapest apartment rent was $1900 a month. And I lived in four different apartments in six years just because of cost, or buildings would go co-op, and then they’d give you the option to buy. What teacher has $2 million to buy a one-bedroom?

Like Corgill, Sheehan has had to face the practical issues of insufficient finances when it comes to a teaching situation he’d rather keep if it were fiscally possible:

Jon Hazell, this year’s teacher of the year, says he would ask Sheehan: If more teachers leave, who is going to teach Oklahoma’s children? …

Hazell believes you can’t put a dollar amount on teaching children. …

And Sheehan respects that idea, but disagrees. He says he feels called to teach, but he also wants to be paid like a professional.

Being able to afford to raise his child is certainly not much for Sheehan to ask.

shawn sheehan 2  Shawn Sheehan


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

If State Takeover of New Orleans Schools Worked, ACT Scores Below 16 Wouldn’t be Embarrassing.

In 2003, the Louisiana legislature created a state-run Recovery School District (RSD) that allowed the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to assume control over schools with a school performance score (SPS) of 60 or below.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and in November 2005, the Louisiana legislature used such destruction to assume control of even more schools by raising the failing school score to an SPS below the then-current average of 87.4. (For more on the RSD history, see this post.)

Note that a key component in SPS calculation is the standardized test score. On the high school level, one such test score is the ACT, which has been administered to all juniors beginning with the 2012-13 school year. Moreover, 100 percent of Louisiana’s Class of 2013 took the ACT.

An overarching goal of state takeover of Louisiana schools was for the state to assume control of most New Orleans public schools– which it did in 2005– and to convert all of those formerly local-board-run schools into charter schools– which it did by May 2014.

Louisiana’s RSD New Orleans (RSD-NO) was an experiment, one that was supposed to “turn around” those failing schools and make the RSD charter conversion a modern-day miracle.

By 2017– twelve years post-Katrina– it is clear that the experiment has failed. There is no incredible test-score-based miracle, and in no place is such failure more obvious than in the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO in general and its high schools individually.

The remainder of this post offers a close examination of the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO, where the miracle-producing engine has stalled.

no miracles

On August 09, 2017, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released the Class of 2017 average ACT composite scores by school and school district.

What is not included among the released school and district scores is a Class of 2017 average ACT composite score for the New Orleans high schools that were taken over by the state post-Katrina and which comprised the Recovery School District, New Orleans (RSD-NO).

In fact, the LDOE Class of 2016 average ACT composite score file also fails to include a separate score for RSD-NO high schools.

In May 2016, the Louisiana legislature voted to begin returning RSD-NO schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), a decision that provided a convenient reason for Louisiana state superintendent John White to stop reporting the annual average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO as a separate score.

Beginning with the Class of 2012, the state-reported average ACT composite score for RSD-NO high schools has been an embarrassment, making state takeover arguably a difficult sell for the likes of a corporate reformer like White.

White was never able to tout RSD-NO high schools as having an average ACT composite that even reached as low as 17.0.

In fact, the best RSD-NO average ACT composite score happened several years ago, in 2012, when RSD-NO reached 16.8.

In order to offer some context regarding the meaning of ACT composite values, note that in order for a high school graduate to gain unconditional admission to Louisiana State University (LSU), she/he must have an ACT composite score of 22.

Then, by LDOE’s own reporting, it dropped to 16.3 in 2013. (See Louisiana reform voice Leslie Jacobs downplay the 2013 ACT drop to 16.3 in this New Orleans Miracle sales pitch.)

And up it came modestly in 2014, to 16.4. That year, White did not release Louisiana’s composite ACT scores at all. I released them in January 2015, with the assistance of someone in higher ed who became tired of waiting on White. Within days of my release– which had RSD-NO high schools at 15.7 for an average Class of 2014 composite– White released his 16.4.

Comparison of his numbers to the ones I obtained begs for an audit. But for now, let’s go with White’s 16.4, which is nothing to showboat– and which sure does appear to be a key reason that White did not release the scores in a timely manner in the first place.

In 2015, LDOE reported that RSD-NO’s average ACT composite was 16.6. And before the time came for a Class of 2016 ACT score release, the Louisiana legislature decided to begin sending RSD-NO schools back to OPSB. Of course, since those RSD-NO schools are now charter schools, their “return” to OPSB isn’t the same as if the schools were traditional public schools, as Danielle Dreilinger reported in May 2016 in

The Louisiana Legislature is ready to close a chapter in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina history. Both the Senate and House have voted to reverse the 2005 state takeover of most of the city’s public schools. …

But the re-unified school system won’t be the same as the old days. In the past decade, the Recovery system has become a realm of independent charter schools, mini-kingdoms run by non-profit, non-elected boards. Those boards will continue to reign after the transition, making their own decisions but to meet the Orleans Parish School Board’s benchmarks. Currently they report to the Recovery district, which is a unit of the state Education Department, and to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Even though OPSB will be overseeing the now-returning RSD-NO schools in market-driven-reform, “portfolio” style, which adds a layer of bureaucracy that complicates oversight, such a return is a real gift to John White.

White will be able to better conceal the RSD-NO ACT-score embarrassment by averaging RSD-NO high schools with those of OPSB and never, ever have to report a separate average ACT composite score on those RSD-NO high schools ever again.

From 2012 to 2015, LDOE reported OPSB and RSD-NO average ACT scores separately, but it also reported them combined, which helped to draw attention away from just how low the RSD-NO high school ACT composite scores were.

And the RSD-NO average composites, which were themselves low (ranging from 16.3 to 16.8 over the four-year span of 2012 to 2015) actually helped conceal the fact that a number of RSD-NO high schools continued to have ACT composite scores below 16, and that many RSD-NO school ACT composites from year to year continue to be erratic:

RSD-NO High School


ACT 2017 ACT 2016 ACT 2015 ACT 2014 ACT 2013 ACT 2012
Lake Area 16.4 17.1 16.8 16.2 16.2 17.2
The NET 14.3 14.6 14 13 12.5 N/A
Crescent 14.2 14.1 14.3 14.4 ~ N/A
ReNEW WB 14 14.5 13.9 ~ 12.7 ~
Sci Acad 18.4 17.8 19.7 18.2 18.8 20
G.W. Carvr 16.7 17.9 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Cohen CPrp 18 17.8 17.8 18.7 N/A N/A
Landr Walk 16.3 16 15.7 17.8 17.7 20.1
Algiers Tech 15.6 15.9 16.6 14.9 15.5 17.1
SophieWright 18.1 17.9 18.8 17.1 18.5 17.8
KIPP Renais 18.3 19.4 18.5 17.9 N/A N/A
JosephClark 15.9 15.9 15.4 14.2 14.9 15.4
Dr. MLK 16.8 17.5 17.7 15.3 15.5 15.9

If indeed state takeover of RSD-NO high schools made a substantial difference to testing outcomes (the preferred measure of success promoted by corporate reform), then that difference would arguably manifest itself in some sort of consistent, upward trend in RSD-NO ACT scores across years for most RSD-NO high schools.

Such evidence simply does not exist. If it did, you best believe John White would be broadcasting it.

Instead, he is left to combine RSD-NO and OPSB high schools in order to produce a more publicly-palatable average ACT composite. However, even this will get old because the RSD-NO high schools’ low ACT composites are now producing what appears to be a stagnant RSD-NO-OPSB combined composite that cannot break a modest 19.0 average composite:

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Orleans All (OPSB & RSD NO) 18.9 18.9 18.8 18.4 18.2 18.8

Below are the ACT composite scores for OPSB without RSD-NO, from 2012 to 2015 (LDOE did not report OPSB separately from RSD-NO in 2016 and 2017):

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
OPSB w/o RSD-NO 21.0 20.5 19.7 19.5

In contrast to erratic- and low-scoring RSD-NO, non-state-run OPSB high schools did show a steady, upward trend in average ACT composite scores.

One could argue that many OPSB schools are selective admission schools that did not fit the state’s definition of “failing” in the first place and therefore should not be compared to the state-run RSD-NO schools.

However, state turnover does not get off so easily.

The point of state takeover is to “turn around” failing schools, and after over a decade, such turn-around should be clearly evident in state-run RSD-NO ACT scores. But it isn’t, not by a long, long shot.

State takeover of RSD-NO high schools did not successfully “turn around” those schools. Indeed, such failure is profoundly underscored by the fact that RSD-NO “success” cannot be marketed without concealing RSD-NO ACT scores behind that combined, OPSB-RSD-NO ACT score averaging.

And even combined, RSD-NO-OPSB continues to unsuccessfully reach for an average ACT composite of 19.0.

Not exactly the substance of miracles.

missed target


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Louisiana’s Class of 2017 ACT Scores Released

See this Google Doc for Louisiana’s Class of 2017 ACT scores by school and by district (tabs at top left corner).

I also created a back-up using Excel: LA ACT Scores 2012-2017

As of this writing, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has not yet posted the file with the Class of 2017 ACT composite scores. (UPDATE 08-10-17: The file is there, but forget consistency of file order or file names. It’s under “2012-2017 State-LEA-School ACT Summary” near the bottom of a list of files, left column. UPDATE 08-11-17: Now the file is posted second from the top of the column but remains under its mismatched file name.)

The Google Doc above was as part of the August 09, 2017, Advocate article entitled, “Louisiana’s ACT Scores Show Tiny Rise; St. Tammany Leads State for Third Year.”

One noteworthy convenience/benefit for Louisiana state superintendent John White is that the schools of the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans (RSD-NO) are in transition to return to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB)– which means the embarrassingly low ACT composite scores for many of those state-run schools can more easily be concealed as they are combined with higher-scoring OPSB high schools.

RSD-NO schools returning to OPSB are bolded. Notice that all are below (with many, well below) the now-combined OPSB-RSD-NO 2017 average ACT composite of 18.9.


Warren Easton Senior High School

2017 ACT Composite


Benjamin Franklin High School 28.8
Edna Karr High School 18.3
Lusher Charter School 26.9
McDonogh #35 College Preparatory School 16.5
Eleanor McMain Secondary School 18.2
New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics HS 20
Lake Area New Tech Early College High School 16.4
The NET Charter High School 14.3
Crescent Leadership Academy 14.2
ReNEW Accelerated High School West Bank Campus 14
Sci Academy 18.4
G. W. Carver Collegiate Academy 16.7
Cohen College Prep 18
Lord Beaconsfield Landry-Oliver Perry Walker High 16.3
Algiers Technology Academy 15.6
Sophie B. Wright Institute of Academic Excellence 18.1
KIPP Renaissance High School 18.3
Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School 15.9
Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Sci/Tech 16.8

And here are the Louisiana 2017 ACT average composite scores by school district:



Acadia Parish



Allen Parish 19.6
Ascension Parish 20.3
Assumption Parish 18.8
Avoyelles Parish 18
Beauregard Parish 19.5
Bienville Parish 18.6
Bossier Parish 20.7
Caddo Parish 19.7
Calcasieu Parish 20
Caldwell Parish 19.3
Cameron Parish 19.2
Catahoula Parish 18.6
Claiborne Parish 17.3
Concordia Parish 18.1
DeSoto Parish 19.2
East Baton Rouge Parish 18.8
East Carroll Parish 15.2
East Feliciana Parish 19.2
Evangeline Parish 19.3
Franklin Parish 16.9
Grant Parish 19
Iberia Parish 19
Iberville Parish 18.2
Jackson Parish 18.6
Jefferson Parish 19.1
Jefferson Davis Parish 19.4
Lafayette Parish 20.1
Lafourche Parish 19.5
LaSalle Parish 20.4
Lincoln Parish 20.9
Livingston Parish 20.3
Madison Parish 16.8
Morehouse Parish 17.7
Natchitoches Parish 17.9
Orleans All (Orleans Parish & RSD NO schools) 18.9
Ouachita Parish 19.8
Plaquemines Parish 20.5
Pointe Coupee Parish 17.9
Rapides Parish 19.9
Red River Parish 17.8
Richland Parish 17.6
Sabine Parish 18.8
St. Bernard Parish 18.8
St. Charles Parish 20.2
St. Helena Parish 17.1
St. James Parish 19.7
St. John the Baptist Parish 18.2
St. Landry Parish 18.7
St. Martin Parish 17.9
St. Mary Parish 18.7
St. Tammany Parish 22
Tangipahoa Parish 18.6
Tensas Parish 16.8
Terrebonne Parish 19.6
Union Parish 17.1
Vermilion Parish 20.1
Vernon Parish 20.2
Washington Parish 18.6
Webster Parish 18.1
West Baton Rouge Parish 19.5
West Carroll Parish 20.1
West Feliciana Parish 21
Winn Parish 19.6
City of Monroe School District 18.7
City of Bogalusa School District 16.9
Zachary Community School District 21.4
City of Baker School District 17.3
Central Community School District 21.1
East Baton Rouge All (EBR & RSDBR schools) 18.7
Recovery School District – Baton Rouge 15

Note that state-run Recovery School District, Baton Rouge (RSD-BR) and East Baton Rouge are still reported both separately and in combination even though RSD-BR is a single high school, Capitol Prep.

Note also that formerly separate scores for RSD-NO and OPSB are omitted; 2015 was the last year that OPSB and RSD-NO were reported separately (ACT composites of 21 and 16.6, respectively).

To view 2011 to 2017 ACT composite high school scores within districts across Louisiana, click on the Google Doc or corresponding Excel file near the opening of this post.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.