About two weeks ago now, the New York Times dropped a massive story on a school in Louisiana that was known for getting young black students into major universities. The videos a few of the students opening their university acceptance letters went viral, and the school was riding high on the fame.
However, it more and more appears to be not only a scam, but an abusive institution that thrives on taking families’ money and torturing students into performing well on the ACT.
The school, T.M. Landry College Prep, is an unaccredited private school named after its founders, Tracey and Michael Landry. Their primary campus is in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, (just down the road from where I live), and up until now they were planning to open a campus in Opelousas, about a 30-40 minute drive from its main campus’s location.
It was known locally for its successes and it was getting recognition nationally from the viral videos. According to the New York Times, however, all was not as it seemed.
In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.
The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.
The story isn’t just a hit piece on a private institution – the reporters interviewed several of the school’s graduates and got them and their families on the record.
The colleges “want to be able to get behind the black kids going off and succeeding, and going to all of these schools,” said Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated from T.M. Landry in 2017 and enrolled at N.Y.U. He said that Mr. Landry forced him to exaggerate his father’s absence from his life on his N.Y.U. application.
“It’s a good look,” these colleges “getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students,” Mr. Smith said.
I suggest reading the whole thing (linked above), despite how horrifying you may find it.
T.M. Landry saw a community in need – lower class, poor black families – and figured out a way to take their money. The owners were said to be verbally and physically abusive to the students, falsified transcripts, lied to college officials and even encouraged students to make things up in their cover letters to universities in order to make them more sympathetic candidates
The scandal has become so big locally that Louisiana state police are now taking over the investigation amid the school’s absolute radio silence on the issue.
Breaux Bridge Police contacted State Police detectives about the case, and State Police Bureau of Investigations is working the case now.
We reached out to the school, but the man who answered the telephone hung up on us.
Last week, more allegations of abuse and misconduct surfaced against the school.
According to The Advocate, since December 3, 2018, the Breaux Bridge Police Department has received 10 new complaints against the school.
Breaux Bridge Police Chief Rollie Cantu did not describe the allegations; however, a lawyer representing the families bringing forward these new claims tells the paper that the complaints concern instances of “physical contact” by the Landrys on students while attending the school.
T.M. Landry is a shining example of the worst of humanity: Grifters who see people in need as targets ripe for ripping off. But, they are also an example of the biggest problem education faces.
In education policy, and in our school districts, and even among our families, we search for the quick fixes for our schools. We latch on to the Next Great Thing, discarding the old (and often proven) methods and saying “This is it! This is how we raise our scores!”
T.M. Landry did its students a disservice in a multitude of ways, but the students who were accepted into some of America’s top universities came in severely under-prepared in many ways because the school only taught them to succeed on the ACT.
The ACT is supposed to be a measurement of how successful you will be in college, but all too often, schools are obsessed with ACT preparation, making sure kids are good test-takers, even if they are underperforming in actual academics.
The reliance on these tests (and standardized tests in general) forces kids to care more about the tests than their actual base of knowledge. It is causing kids to prioritize the wrong things – largely because the schools, school districts, and other people in charge are also prioritizing the wrong things.
Meanwhile, the Landrys (and others like them) are preying on parents and grandparents who desperately want better for their kids and grandkids. They want them out of poverty and they see the American Dream as something real and achievable.
And then, a story like this comes out and shows them that humanity is actively working against them.
There has to be a cultural shift in education – and in our families and communities – that recognizes there is more than testing, more than just test prep, and more than a quick fix to getting a kid ready for life.
There are many, many T.M. Landrys in the world. There are always people who want to take advantage in order to make money off the already struggling. We have to protect ourselves against them, but it requires as much introspection about our priorities as it does doing our research into the schools we want to send our kids to.
The story, contrary to some, is not an indictment of the private and charter school movement, but rather an eye-opening moment for those who seek a cure-all for education.
There isn’t one.
But we can do better by our children, and that should be the goal. T.M. Landry is a school run by grifters whose sole strategy was to abuse kids into testing well. The emphasis on testing is hurting our children, and we should make a long-term cultural change away from it.