Editor’s note: Occasionally we post guest commentary and today’s offering contains what we feel is significant information about the existence of so-called “shadow schools.” The author of this essay is a former employee of the Department of Education (DOE) who possesses information not readily available to the public because of the propensity on the part of the Jindal administration and DOE to withhold information from the public that could potentially be detrimental to the administration’s goal of skewing statistics to put charters, vouchers, and course choice in the best light possible. Because the author is now employed in another field, we reluctantly decided to publish this under a pseudonym.
By Laird Bradford
Recently I’ve learned that the LDOE has known for many years about the existence of shadow or phantom schools that were created for the express purpose of evading accountability. (Shadow Schools are sites that go unreported to the State and Federal government for reporting purposes, but exist and function as completely independent schools.) In some cases such as Caddo, Jefferson and EBR these efforts were halted in the past. In other cases such as Iberville, St James, and who knows how many others, these efforts are allowed and perhaps even encouraged. (If you doubt me, feel free to call up Iberville (225-687-4341) and ask them what state site code they’ve had assigned to MSA East and MSA West and when they plan on requesting one.)
Only the LDOE knows why rules were made (and made to be broken for some) but this begs a greater question. Where are the children? I mean really? How do they actually keep track of them? Where did they factor in these decisions? Do they factor at all? School districts get State funding for them by reporting they are enrolled at other existing schools, and those Academy students raise the SPS scores of the schools they are reported at, but those are schools, like East Iberville and White Castle, they never actually set foot in.
I hear our leaders like Bobby Jindal and John White claiming they are doing things “for the children,” and that teachers are only worried about themselves. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we all only worry about ourselves. Maybe teachers just went into the profession for the glamorous lifestyles and exorbitant salaries and don’t care about the kids they teach at all. I know I had a lot of teachers growing up that seemed to care a great deal about me, but that could have been part of an elaborate ruse.
I attended public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. If I looked sad or down my teachers would ask me how my day was going and sometimes it felt good that someone took the time just to ask (though I know now that was just a cynical ploy on their part). When I was bullied and crying once I remember one of my teachers giving me a hug, and offering to help, but such intervention would have only made things worse and I bet they knew that-–-even if it did seem comforting at the time. When I didn’t do as well on a test they would offer to help me after class or in the mornings to catch up or review the topic again . . . “perhaps I could do some extra credit?” But I know now that was also part of a ruse to keep me dumb to the real game—of getting rich off of teaching.
Sometimes I would see my teachers doing part time gigs at the local library or bookstores or even grocery stores to make ends meet-–-or so they said. But I could tell from their wardrobes of all the latest fashions (from 10 to 20 years prior) that they were rolling in the dough-–-so even those jobs must have been part of a clever cover story. I’m sure one day I’ll figure it out.
I know John White is doing everything he can for our children though. He often tells us that he is, which is really quite bold of him since what meager data put out by DOE consistently say otherwise! I believe that is what’s called blind leadership. Sometimes blind leadership is important when you have a goal like privatization in mind, but inconvenient realities like clear evidence that pursuing your true goal [of privatization at any cost] may create vast educational disparities, make pariahs out of teachers, and sacrificial victims out of students. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a few children, or teachers, when the special interests clamor loud enough and the political aspirations of a megalomaniacal governor are at stake.
Unfortunately, despite John White’s catchy and not at all ironic slogan “Louisiana Believes,” Louisiana wasn’t believing fast enough so he was forced to hire a part time PR consultant named Deidre Finn for $144,000 a year (a full time consultant obviously would have been out of his price range.) This must be super important because he certainly wouldn’t do that for purely selfish reasons like spreading glory about himself in preparation for this next gig or to tout a constitutionally-challenged agenda even as children struggle to keep up with their devolutionary lessons (devolution is ok, but evolutionary theory is the devil’s workshop) in ever-increasing class sizes.
And get this folks: John White is only pulling down $275,000 a year! He’s barely getting by. That’s barely what a full time PR consultant makes. It’s no wonder he can’t afford to have any children of his own, or enroll them in our schools. I mean, how could he afford to enroll them in a non-public school (like our new BESE President Chas Roemer does) on such a meager pittance?
But let’s get back to more missing children!
Did you also know that despite record theoretical dropout declines, our graduate counts are relatively unchanged, even as our student enrollment climbs year after year? Despite the touted evidence from DOE that our annual dropout rate has roughly halved by to 9000 fewer dropouts on an annual basis since around 2006, our graduate counts, and all of our completer counts, have remained roughly the same. Every year since Katrina our enrollment has increased by around six thousand students. However, our graduates have increased maybe 1000 or so annually over the same time period. Does anyone know where those students are (because DOE seems to have lost track of them)?
Did you know DOE still hasn’t managed to count the students enrolled on October 1st of 2012? This count was supposed to be completed by the end of October, but it seems they are having serious problems in this department, too. It’s a good thing we don’t rely on that data for anything important, except allocating funding for schools or complying with act 54, that silly thing where students get linked to teachers to determine if teachers get to keep their jobs or tenure or some such. . . nothing really important.
John White also seems to have lost track of the children in his pursuit of creating what he calls “options” for parents. He is adamantly opposed to measuring the success, or failures, of non-public schools receiving vouchers, and in favor of loosening many of the requirements for charters schools, virtual schools, online course providers, and traditional charters in regards to teacher qualifications and class sizes. White believes it is more important to allow parents to make decisions, and market forces to decide success and failures, than to look after the welfare of children we pay him $275,000 a year to care about.
But that’s not his call to make!
For good or ill, John White is the Louisiana Superintendent of Education, not the Patron Saint of Free Enterprise and Anarchy. His job is to ensure all students receive a quality education, not to ensure that a free market, over time, renders a verdict as to who is a winner or loser. A school that is deemed “good” to a parent (maybe because they are close by and offer an afterschool babysitting service) may not be at all good for a child for creating an educated and fully functioning and responsible citizen. Moreover, if John White actually had any experience as a parent, he would realize that parents look at data and read reports, just like everyone else. By depriving parents of any yardstick by which to measure these myriad uncharted education operators he is vastly underserving parents and students. He is acting as a free enterprise messiah, a partisan demagogue, but not as a responsible Superintendent of Education worthy of a $275,000 salary.
John White and the Louisiana Department of education have lost track of dropouts, lost track of schools and the students in those schools, and lost track of the data used to provide funding based on student counts. What he has found is a cadre of political science majors, like his Compass Director Molly Horstman, and PR folks like Dave Lefkowith, and Diedre Finn to foist his political spewings upon us, hoping if he repeats his lies enough, we will “believe” them.
Thanks to Jindal and contributions from privatization forces, BESE (our state board of education) has been hijacked and instead of providing oversight, merely provides a rubber stamp to anything John White or Jindal proposes.
John White has lost some of our children, but his job is not done yet. With his destructive, deluded and dysfunctional policies he has plans to lose them all.
Tell John White it’s time to find the children again. It really is the least he could do.