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John White: “I’ll Just Tell Them Reforms Are Working.”

July 10, 2013

I have learned that if John White writes something it must be true.

Gotcha.

Today among the letters to the editor at nola.com is an entry from John White. Despite his history of lying, the readers of nola.com simply must trust what John White has to tell them.

Not.

Let us examine what John wishes for his readers to believe and then discuss the opposite (i.e., the truth), shall we?

White’s letter is entitled, “Reforms are improving student performance, opportunities.”

As to the first part of the title, “reforms are improving student performance”:  “Student performance” could mean the spring test scores; it could mean the school performance scores, which depend heavily on student test scores, or it could mean graduation rates which (you guessed it) also depend upon student test scores (got to pass those End of Course [EOC] tests to graduate).

Let us now turn our attention to the statewide results for the spring LEAP/iLEAP for third through eighth grade. They were flat. 68% passed last year; 69% passed this year. Of course, White proclaimed this a victory:

“Good news continues in Louisiana schools,” said state Superintendent John White, adding that more students than ever before are performing at grade level on the English, math, social studies and science LEAP and iLEAP tests. [Emphasis added.]

Good news, kids. Reforms are working. Your test scores were flat.

What that flat overall score means is that for every district showing increases, another district is showing decreases. Moreover, in 18 districts, the averages stayed exactly the same from last year to this year.

Taking the LEAP/iLEAP situation a step further, and regarding “reforms improving student performance” in the voucher schools– you know, the effort in which White and Jindal attempted to take public school money and give it to private schools in the name of Better Educational Opportunity and Choice– well, it was not so good even as the flat state average:

Overall, only 40 percent of voucher students in Louisiana scored proficient on this year’s LEAP exams. The state average for students in public schools was 69 percent. [Emphasis added.]

Now, John White writes this as his reason for his letter in the first place:

In two recent columns, Robert Mann writes about students who attend struggling schools and our state’s efforts to offer them greater opportunity. In both columns, Mr. Mann shows disregard for facts and ignorance of reality. [Emphasis added.]

John. Get yourself a glass of water to wash down the words you must eat.

How about graduation rates? They reflect the EOC test outcomes. I mean, what outcome is of greater import than graduating?

The statewide cohort graduation rate (the percentage of entering freshman who graduate in fours years) has been creeping upward at approximately one percentage point per year. This past year, it seems the rate moved not quite one percent:

Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana State Superintendent of Schools John White announced Thursday that, for the second consecutive year, Louisiana’s graduation rate has increased–reaching an all-time high of 72.3 percent of students completing high school in four years. This percentage represents the graduation rate for students who began high school as freshmen in 2008. This progress marks a .9 percentage point increase over the previous year and a ten-percentage point increase over the ten years.

Governor Jindal said, …“These reforms are working for our students….” [Emphasis added.]

Not quite. The slow but steady climb in cohort graduation rates predates the reforms. A decade of cohort graduation includes the years 2003-2012. There were no “sweeping reforms” in 2003, yet the cohort graduation rate rise was already happening.

Another “flat.”

In his Louisiana Believes press release, White and LDOE claim this increase via an outright lie:

Bold education reforms result in ten-percentage point increase over the last decade

Katrina had not even happened ten years ago. State takeover of schools was not widespread pre-Katrina and was mostly confined to New Orleans for the 2005-06 school year (and it still is). Grading teachers using student test scores did not happen until 2012. Vouchers were piloted in New Orleans in 2008. Course Choice had not happened.

However, I understand why White and Jindal must proclaim this “ten points over ten years” as not only their doing, but also as spectacular:

Their reforms are not working, and admitting that would mean being honest.

We can’t have that.

Now for the issue of school performance scores. Surely “reforms are working” on that front. Consider what White writes about the dismal school performance scores:

The reality for 200,000 students in Louisiana is that they attend a school rated “D” or “F.” Their odds of reading on grade level are one in two. Their odds of graduating high school aren’t much better.

The reality is that the state of Louisiana invests more than $1 billion in schools rated “D” and “F” each year. [Emphasis added.]

Could it be that the state is “investing so much money” in the “failing” schools because a major portion of such schools are indeed state-run and have been for the past seven full school years, and yet that very same state that assumes control of “failing schools” cannot seem to produce “sweeping” A’s, B’s, or even a majority of C’s?

John White continues:

[Mann, author of two previous letters to the editor,] calls the charter public schools of New Orleans “the worst performing in the city,” when 90 percent of New Orleans students attend charter schools and when New Orleans is the fastest-improving school district in Louisiana. When the state-run Recovery School District took control of city schools seven years ago, more than 75 percent would have been rated “F;” today that figure is under 25 percent. [Emphasis added.]

When the state took over via RSD seven years ago, the cutoff score for takeover was 87.4, equivalent to a D using the latter-instituted, school letter grade system.

In 2005, the only schools belonging to RSD would have been D and F schools had they been graded. In 2010, only three had surpassed the state average (the average that was still a D in current letter grade lingo.) As of 2012, seven years later, none has reached an A.  Yet White and Jindal insist that their ‘sweeping reforms” are working.

Then they cry, “Give it time.”

Let’s set the bar lower. Why haven’t most of the schools climbed to a C?  Why must White play the “F-improvement” game and not the “D-improvement” game?

D improvement has no “game.” As of 2012, only ten percent of state-run schools have even reached C.

Moving on.

White feigns indignation at Mann’s referring to the charters as “the worst performing.” In fact, the charters to which parents have access via OneApp are indeed the worst performing due to the unmentioned fact that the best-performing group of charter schools, the OPSB selective enrollment charters, are off limits to the average RSD student.

Sorry, kids. Bottom line is that you aren’t “cream” enough for these schools.

So much for the “opportunities” part of White’s letter title.

Now to consider White’s “D’s, F’s, but we’re spending a billion” statement:

Just as the cohort graduation rate was climbing prior to reformer takeover, school performance scores were rising prior to state takeover, as well. In fact, for 51 of the schools seized by the state post-Katrina, scores had been rising steadily for several years. The “one billion” has little to do with it. RSD direct-run school funding per pupil in 2009-10 was $13,200,  including hurricane-related monies ($12,519 excluding hurricane-related funding. That per-pupil amount ranks 20th out of 70 districts.) In 2007-08, RSD per-pupil spending was $22,500 (state average: $9800).

What good could have come of that money! However, in the post-Katrina corporate-sweep free-for-all in which monies were grossly misspent and the disaster relief exploited (and never accounted for) by individuals and companies supposed to rebuild the school system, that money never reached “the children.”

White insists,

These realities (the poor stats previously cited) aren’t the fault of any one individual or group, but it is our moral obligation to do something about them. Mr. Mann, however, would rather sling mud than focus on solutions. [Emphasis added.]

White is correct in that the “poor performance” isn’t “the fault of any one individual or group.” It is the fault of lots of folks, including several RSD superintendents who refused to account for disappearing money year after year as noted in six straight years of bad RSD audits evidencing incredible fiscal neglect by all four RSD superintendents: Robin Jarvis, Paul Vallas, John White, and Patrick Dobard.

How about “focusing on the solution” of years of audit-documented fiscal and property mismanagement and neglect?

It is, after all, your “moral obligation” to account for the children’s money, Mr. White.

But John White is skilled at ignoring audits. He refuses to properly manage Louisiana’s charters, and even to perform regular site visits. White chastises Mann for focusing on LDOE ineptness as revealed in the recent voucher school audit:

[Mann]  manipulates the language of audits to disparage private schools that offer students in struggling public schools an alternative, when the facts of the audits are clear: of 117 schools offering scholarships to Louisiana families, 116 showed no violations of law. In the one case that did, government did the right thing and ended the school’s participation in the program. [Emphasis added.]

John White, paid by the state of Louisiana to champion non-public education.

John White believes in the private schools that just want to offer those poor public school students the opportunity to score almost 30 points below the state average on LEAP/iLEAP. Not to worry. Those low scores will still be the fault of the public schools that did not even teach these children this year.

And the audits ARE clear in that most schools could not be audited.  Robert Mann comments on White’s deceptive logic-jump that “inability to verify” translates to “showing no violations of law”:

Most of the  [50] schools were also unable to verify that their “expenditures do not constitute gross irresponsibility and are not individually enriching.” These are not insignificant findings except, apparently, to White. …

To suggest that the audits uncovered “no violations” is a bit like saying that since I didn’t file my taxes for the past five years, and because the IRS can’t yet determine if I actually paid any taxes, there’s no problem. [Emphasis added.]

White writes the following by way of rebuttal to Mann, who just called the king naked.  White’s words are full of flowers and nobility, but they are empty coming from him:

Opportunity may come in the form of families opting out of long-struggling schools. It may come from the public schools of New Orleans, once worst in Louisiana under a notorious School Board…. [Emphasis added.]

On the recent Round Three OneApp, LDOE listed the five available OPSB direct-run schools among parent choices; emphasized that parents must select only from among schools listed on the several pages of available schools, then put a “correction” several pages beyond the choices telling parents that the five OPSB schools were no longer choices.

As to the Orleans Parish “notorious school board”:  Those six consecutive RSD audits reveal that OPSB had nothing on White and his fellow RSD superintendents by way of grossly mismanaging, misappropriating, and failing even to account for millions upon millions pouring in post-Katrina.  For example, the firm Alvarez and Marsal was supposed to build schools; instead, they not only took the money but overcharged; hired no engineers or other professionals to build the schools, and left State Superintendent Pastorek and RSD Superintendent Vallas to call in the National Guard. Bottom line: Pastorek and Vallas did not monitor the money.

As for White, even as he penned his self-serving letter, the news is full of stories of his front-and-center, muddy-the-narrative voucher school, New Living Word, which White fails to positively identify in his current letter as the “only” voucher school found remiss in its finances. White allowed that school to participate in the voucher program, and now the school has collected too much money. These things don’t happen when money is properly monitored as a matter of process.

Though I have dissected some parts of it already, allow me to print White’s entire second-to-last paragraph:

Opportunity may come in the form of families opting out of long-struggling schools. It may come from the public schools of New Orleans, once worst in Louisiana under a notorious School Board, where high school graduation rates now top the state average. It may come to students in any public school district in our state, whose literacy scores, high school graduation rates and college attendance numbers are at all-time highs. [Emphasis added.]

Very flowery. Very lofty.

Let’s take it apart.

The state assumed control of most of Orleans Parish schools following Katrina. By definition, the state could only take schools scoring below average, or those with a school performance score of 87.4 or lower. This created a dual system in which the 17 schools remaining with OPSB were the higher-scoring schools, many of them magnet schools. In 2011-12, OPSB included 6 direct-run schools and 11 charters. In 2012, OPSP’s school performance scores included 7 A’s, 5 B’s, 4 C’s, and 1 F. Five of the schools are designated as magnet schools. The one F is suspicious in that it has no other details on the 2012 school performance score data spreadsheet other than its score and its letter grade.

As a district, Orleans Parish Schools has an A.

So, yes, John White, OPSB has an overwhelming proportion of higher scoring schools and has had them ever since the state set the rule for a below-average school to be taken over by the state. Reform “effectiveness” has nothing to do with OPSB’s being chiefly comprised of the higher-scoring schools that have higher graduation rates.

Students in RSD cannot possibly “opt out” of RSD and attend OPSB.  You make as much clear on the Round Three OneApp.

As to those “all time highs”: they are also not to your credit. Both school performance scores and cohort graduation rates were climbing pre-reform.  Test scores are currently flat, except for those at the voucher schools, which took an embarrassing dive below average, and “college attendance” means little absent the stats to show college completion.

On to White’s final paragraph:

Atop his Sunday soapbox, Mr. Mann chooses politics over substance. His example should serve as fair warning to anyone concerned with our state’s future; the opponents of change want a return to the old days and will stop at nothing to ensure it. That’s a fine game to play for pundits and political operatives, but a retreat on reform would be devastating for the families of our state. [Emphasis added.]

“Mr. White chooses politics over substance. His example should serve as fair warning to anyone concerned with our state’s future.”

Enough said on that point.

Reformers like White thrive on promoting the false dichotomy that “disagreeing with me” equals “a return to the old days.”  Another reformer false idea is that everything about the past ways of functioning is “bad” and the “bold, new, sweeping reforms” are automatically “good.”  Not so. Critically-thinking individuals consider what works, whether from past or present. It is a shame that I find myself having to defend such a basic idea.

You are the one playing the game, John White. You write a letter thinking that people will divorce your words from your previous deceptive behavior. You think that the public does not read the other pages in the newspaper, including the pages on your voucher program failure and fraud. You fail to realize that your distorted words only provide fodder for more blog postings for the likes of me. Rest assured, people will read this and share it in other social media settings. They will see you once again as the deceiver that you are. They will once again see through the emptiness of your words.

Were your letter a written assignment for my class, you would have received the same grade that most of your RSD schools continue to have: F.

And as to people like Robert Mann:  They are neither playing games nor retreating from reform. They are confronting your lies.

If you learned as much you would have fewer empty letters to write.

6 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Spectacular critique of John White and his misguided abysmal reforms by Dr. Mercedes Schneider. I think someone needs to remind White and Jindal its better to remain silent and be thought an idiot, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

  2. What he means, of course, is “Works for me …”

    for now ,,,

  3. stephgbeard@aol.com permalink

    Excellent post. Shared on my FB timeline, as well as on https://www.facebook.com/groups/stopcommoncorela/. Before I could post this comment, my post already had 3, nope – 4 “shares.” Thanks for staying on top of these issues.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider Grades John White’s Letter to the Editor: F | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. John White: “I’ll Just Tell Them Reforms Are Working.” | deutsch29 ← NPE News Briefs

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