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Former-TFAers-Gone-LDOE-Leaders: Incompetence at a Premium

March 27, 2013

If only I could turn back the clock, discard much of my legitimately earned formal education and resulting experience, and qualify as one of those young, “talented,” “true” reformers John White is so fond of hiring at LDOE, I might just have that six-figure, bestowed salary many former TFAers (Teach for America alumni) are groomed to believe is a birthright.

Indeed, TFA “talent” is making a killing all over the country: They raid public school finances and leave school districts in disarray. Perhaps the most (im)famous is Michelle Rhee, but she is certainly not alone.  Lawyer Joel Klein is responsible for launching TFA leadership incompetence. Furthermore, in Dallas, there’s former TFAer-become-human-resources-director Charles Glover (click on the Glover link to read about Dallas’ reformer-induced problems). And get a load of this guy, Seth Reynolds, whose Gates-back Parthenon Group is wreaking havoc on the public school coffers in Memphis.

(An excellent place to gain insight into the incredible damage that is TFA is Gary Rubinstein’s blog. Gary used to be TFA but went legit with an actual teaching career.)

John White is former TFA, and John White is definitely a problem. However, in all fairness, I cannot begin with John White. I must go back to Bobby Jindal for this one.

In 2011, Jindal’s plan to “reform” education in Louisiana required that he bring in a “superintendent” well versed in corporate reform, complete with higher corporate reform connections (influence and money), to get the job done.

Mind you, this newly-placed superintendent’s “job” would have nothing to do with legitimate credentials, including formal training (college degrees or college/university certifications in teaching); nothing to do with an established career as a classroom teacher, and nothing to do with previous school-based, administrative experience.  All that would be required for this position was someone willing introduce privatization chaos into the traditional Louisiana state education system.

For the job of corrupting Louisiana education, Jindal chose John White.

John White did complete a “residency” at the unaccredited, corporate-reform-promoting Broad Superintendents Academy, which meant he was trained to systematically dismantle traditional public education in favor of actively promoting the interests of education businesses, not children, nor schools, nor communities.

The privatization model of education reform strongly appeals to the likes of Bobby Jindal and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush knew that Jindal wanted John White as state superintendent. Bush also knew that the then-Louisiana state board of education (BESE) would not likely approve a state superintendent of education who held no degree or certification in education, whose only “teaching experience” was a two-year stint following five weeks of Teach for America (TFA) training, and who had no school-based experience in education administration.

Therefore, Bush used his reform-promoting organizations Foundation for Educational Excellence (FEE) and Chiefs for Change to funnel money into the October 2011 BESE elections; this ensured approval of John White as state education superintendent.

And what has John White done for Louisiana education in the past 14 months?  For one, he has taken a state education website once transparent in its publicizing detailed school- and district-based data and transformed it into a useless font of garbled nonsense, complete with absent- or virtually-unlocatable data. White accomplished this feat by shoveling $12,000 a month to a reformer friend associated with Jeb Bush’s FEE “10 Elements of Digital Learning” (, Deirdre Finn, all the while justifying his actions by noting that people complained about the website (a public records request of such “complaints” only produced results regarding complaints about the new website, not the old).

Knowledge is power. Thus, by corrupting and hiding data, John White is taking the power away. Keep ’em in the dark while telling ’em it’s “for the children.”  They won’t know what hit ’em.

I emailed John White months ago and asked for the specific name or names of the individuals responsible for calculating  the 2012 Louisiana school performance scores.  He fudged in his initial response, writing the name of the division, not an individual. I persisted. He went silent.


But a coward with lots of money to fan out to his fellow reformers, those just like him who are low on valid credentials and experience and high on arrogance and influential reformer connections.

True to current reformer form, John White has hired a notable number of former TFAers (or TNTPers [The New Teacher Project]) and given them prime salaries for jobs that they possess no qualifications to hold. Molly Horstman is my favorite example; Horstman collects $77,000 a year for (at first) being given the job of state teacher evaluation [COMPASS] director even though Horstman had only two years of “teaching” experience via TFA (just like John White) and herself held an expired teaching certificate requiring formal evaluation for renewal. When Horstman’s ridiculous employment was made public, White backpedaled (lied) and said Horstman wasn’t the “real” COMPASS director; it was Hannah Dietsch, also formerly of TFA, and of TNTP, and of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Dietsch’s only classroom experience is three years in Baltimore via TFA.  She does hold a masters of education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but like White and other White hires, Dietsch is short on experience “in” education and heavy on experience “about” education.  This is the corporate reform, “ladder climber” way:  “I’ll tell you how it’s supposed to be done without having done much of it myself.”

John White garners a $275,000 annual salary this “do as I say not as I’ve done” way; Dietsch, $130,000. (All annual salary information is based upon a salary schedule dated 11-28-12 and provided to me as part of a records request to BESE member Lottie Beebe.)

Another of my favorite John White hires is Jessica Tucker Baghian. Baghian put in a couple of years teaching middle school math via TNTP, but like Horstman, Baghian left the classroom without ever having had the formal evaluation required to renew her teaching certificate. And now, Baghian is promoted as an LDOE deputy chief of staff and collecting an annual salary of $90,000. Baghian is assistant to former TFAer-gone-LDOE Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania, who collects $145,000 a year.

Kunjan Narechania apparently manages LDOE employees in backwards fashion: Namely, White gives a crony a high salary, then Narechania reminds White that he must decide “what to do with” the person. Such is true of (now he has a title) Deputy Superintendent David “Lefty” Lefkowith. In an email obtained by Louisiana Voice as part of a records request, Narechania writes the following to White on July 18, 2012. Louisiana Voice’s Tom Aswell comments:

We need to talk about what to do with David,” she wrote in apparent reference to Lefkowith who joined the department two days after that email was written. It would appear from her comment that even though White had decided to bring Lefkowith, who had been working as a contract consultant, onboard full time, he was still unsure in what capacity Lefkowith would serve. [Emphasis added.]

Let that sink in: John White decided to hire Lefkowith, a man who is connected to Jeb Bush, for $146,000 a year before knowing exactly “what to do with” him.

White “decided” to put Lefkowith in charge of the Course Choice program, one that is currently in the courts for its questionable attempt to divert Louisiana Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) money away from public schools.  For $146,000 a year, this is what Lefkowith produced as an advertisement for Course Choice ( Needless to say, not much money was devoted to production. All the more for “Lefty” ( a nickname that inspires fiscal confidence) to keep for himself.

John White pays premium Louisiana taxpayer top dollars for a number of LDOE staff who benefit from Louisiana money and are ironically not even registered to vote in the state, including Finn, Narechania, and Lefkowith.

You see, in Louisiana there are no qualified individuals to run education. We must have imports to come in, rip us off, and tell the public it’s for our own good.

But wait! John White has said to me and others in person before at the October 2012 BESE meeting. LDOE also hires traditionally trained teachers who have continued in education administration! That was a reference to the five “network leaders” who, combined, are collecting over half a million dollars annually for doing nothing of note. I wrote a post about these five, and it does not advance White in my esteem to know that he is handing out even more money to people willing to take it in exchange for doing nothing. Nor do these five erase White’s obvious bias towards hiring former TFAers.

TFA is making big money off of Louisiana.  And the TFA influx into DOE continues. Yesterday I learned from a teaching colleague just who has been put in charge of Louisiana Common Core lesson assessment planning resources. My colleague emailed LDOE asking for a name and received this response: Rebecca Kockler.

Guess what Kockler’s bio is heavy on? TFA!  Like, her bio is a TFA billboard!

Guess what Kockler is light on?  Actual classroom teaching experience!  Her bio says she taught 1 year, 11 months. Now she holds the title LDOE Chief of Staff, Content! I know I feel confident knowing that she is offering to me and to my colleagues across the state Common Core lesson assessment plans.

And what of her salary?

Who knows? But I can guarantee you it is several thousands more than I make.  Based upon the salary schedule for other former TFAers, the lowest Kockler would make is $70,000.

What would it take for me, a seasoned Louisiana classroom teacher with two decades of experience and multiple advanced degrees, to see $70,000 a year?

A change of career.

What can we do?

I’m glad you asked.

It just so happens that Louisiana Senator Robert Kostelka is introducing Senate Bill 41, requiring the position of Louisiana state superintendent to be an elected and not an appointed position:

[Kostelka noted] it is particularly important the choice be up to voters since so much of the state’s budget — over 40 percent of the general fund — goes to the Department of Education.

Kostelka said opening up the position to electors would make the process more transparent and make the superintendent “answerable to the people, not a rubber-stamped BESE board.”

BESE Communications Manager Brodrick Hampton said Monday the board did not have a comment on the bill.

“How can you be against giving people a choice?” Kostelka added, riffing off of pro-voucher advocates’ terminology for the scholarship program. He added backing the “status quo,” a name used to refer to anti-voucher advocates, would mean keeping the system the way it is now. [Emphasis added.]

Louisiana readers should contact their legislators and let them know of public support for Senate Bill 41.  The time is right for Louisiana legislators to hear the voices of their constituents above the barking of orders to obey from Bobby Jindal. Even now other legislators once unquestioningly in support of Jindal are changing their tune. Let them know that you welcome the change.

Readers from other states where the state education superintendent is appointed can also contact their state legislators and say, “I heard about this Louisiana senate bill requiring the state education superintendent be elected and not appointed.  Why can’t we do that?”  TFA infiltration/daylight robbery is a national issue. Those working to right the wrongs should pay attention to the goings-on in other states and promote good ideas in their states, as well.

I am hard pressed to see that Louisiana voters would have allowed the likes of John White to hand LDOE influence and money over to others with the same empty education resumes as he has.  We need this bill.  Please lend Senator Kostelka your support as he attempts to clean house at LDOE.

I sure do like a clean house.

  1. Samantha Anderson permalink

    You are wonderfully thorough and connect the dots so well. It is extremely disturbing to know just how uninformed about education ALL the folks at DOE seem to be. I am contacting my legislators and Senator Kostelka to make my voice heard, then I’m going to tell everyone I know to do the same thing.

  2. Thank you, Samantha, for your compliment to my writing, and thank you for publicizing the issue. That is what we need: An involved, vocal public.

  3. I actaully had to work with them. The reality is much, much, worse.

  4. That is the recipe for making an Organization Man — make sure he knows at all times that he has no value but what the organization confers on him, that it can break him just as easily as it made him.

    TFA followed the time-honored prescription for creating a cadre of absentee managers.

    I’m surprised that anyone is surprised at the outcome.

  5. So much of the poorly thought out reforms have discouraged teachers that districts cannot find replacement teachers for the thousands who are leaving(my own district is a prime example–we used to have a handful of retirements or those choosing to leave–now we’ve lost 140+ teachers before the end of the year and many who are throwing in the towel at the end of this year.) Once stable schools and communities have been ripped to shreds due to vouchers, COMPASS, and the “ineffective” labeling of teachers as failures based on a single test. Enough is enough. It is time to place the superintendent of Education on the ballot and let the people decide. Little Johnny White’s farce needs to end. He’s ruined enough lives (including children’s lives). Jindal is a lame duck governor and it’s time that everyone tell him so. We have been bullied enough by the Little Napoleon.

  6. No one who wishes to exert control over public schools should be able to do so without having accountability, without having to answer to the taxpayers at the ballot box. Enough with the appointed bureaucrats, please…

  7. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    Go get these frauds and cowards, Mercedes! Good on ya!

  8. kb1459 permalink

    Wonderful. I already did contact my legislature, but I am going to do it again, and again, and again.

  9. JAT permalink

    Please realize that this is a well-planned war on the prosperity of the United States middle class. The health public sector must be destroyed if the international money is to enable total political and economic by “foreign” masters. Follow this group’s patterns to de-stabilize the dollar in favor of international currencies. Remember, it is about power to control politics to benefit those who finance the “reform.” This is a well-orchestrated well-funded movement.

  10. Bryan Alleman permalink

    RE: Senate Bill 41

    I wonder if Students First (Rhee’s edu-lobby organization) could successfully by a state election for superintendent? That is my only reservation for SB 41. Do we roll the dice on a statewide election OR try to remind voters to choose wisely for the next governor. ???

  11. John Young permalink

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  12. kilroysdelaware permalink

    TFA is just part of the Wall Street Race to The Top ponzi scheme.

  13. Ishmael permalink

    Has anyone been able to get a copy of Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis, where the idea for TFA supposedly was germinated? I’m curious to know if what she wrote was about some naive program to help the inner cities’ economically most disadvantaged, and that Wall Street saw it as a useful vehicle to be manipulated, or if she had actually articulated some of the nastier machinations herself. Her own account of this paper is that it was thrown together at the last minute, because she couldn’t think of a project.

  14. Nobody permalink

    Education is no longer considered a public good in this country. Probably stopped being so about 30 years ago. Unfortunately we cannot turn back k the clock. It will take generations to fix this. In the meantime, there AREN’T enough sane people staying in education so there is a vacuum which is all too easily filled by charlatans with biz-oriented training and eyes on their own prize. It’s going to take a very long, sustained, dedicated effort to beat it back.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. John White and the Rise of the TFA Elite | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. John White and the Rise of the TFA Elite |
  3. From The Frying Pan Into The Fire! | TRUTH ABOUT EDUCATION
  4. the Bullies Resources TFA Truth Squad Donate Featured Writers A growing compendium of blogs and articles about TFA: By Jonathan Pelto December 10, 2013 | ΕΝΙΑΙΟ ΜΕΤΩΠΟ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑΣ
  5. TFAer Rebecca Kockler Leaves Louisiana to Work Her Wonders in Los Angeles | deutsch29
  6. John White Speaks at a San Francisco TFA Board Meeting… for the Benefit of Louisiana | deutsch29
  7. Louisiana Superintendent Cade Brumley Confirmed; Jessica Baghian Submits Resignation | deutsch29
  8. School Hasn’t Changed in 100 Years. So Saith TFA. | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

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