Brian Thevenot

Brian Thevenot spent a dozen years at The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, most recently as special projects editor. As part of a team that covered the worst of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, Thevenot contributed multiple bylines to two winning entries for Pulitzer Prizes in breaking news and public service. His Katrina reporting also won the Mongerson Prize for Investigative Reporting on the News from Northwestern University, and the Medal of Valor from the National Association of Minority Media Executives. In 2009, an eight-part series Thevenot edited, chronicling the investigation into an all-too-routine murder of a New Orleans teenager, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting. In 2005, just before Katrina, Thevenot spent a month reporting on Louisiana soldiers in Baghdad and produced a three-part deadline narrative about squad of soldiers hit by a deadly roadside bomb, which was a finalist for Livingston Award. In 2003, he won a National Headliner Award for education reporting for his 2002 five-part narrative tracking an eighth-grader's struggle to pass Louisiana's high-stakes standardized test. Before joining the Times-Picayune, Thevenot worked as a suburban reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Oklahoma City, Thevenot has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Recent Contributions

Solving the Dropout Problem?

Across Texas, credit-recovery courses — self-paced online makeups offered to any student who fails — are expanding rapidly. In the spring and summer, 6,127 students in the Houston Independent School District earned nearly 10,000 credits in such courses, and another 2,500 are taking them this fall. Austin ISD and Dallas ISD enrolled about 4,000 students last year. For districts, they're a cost-effective way to bolster graduation rates, but questions remain over whether the digital curriculum offers the same quality of education as traditional courses. Little research exists on how much, or how little,  learning is actually going on.

In Perfect Harmony?

Harmony Public Schools is the largest and fastest-growing charter school network in Texas, with eight new schools open this year and a total of 33 schools statewide serving about 16,500 students. Founded by Turkish academics, Harmony boasts small classes, a worldly faculty with advanced degrees and outstanding TAKS scores — which is why, perhaps, it's one of just three charter operators given permission by the Texas Education Agency to open new schools without going through the usual bureaucratic channels.

Surge Protectors

U.S. Air Force member conducted search and rescue operations on Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, 2008.
U.S. Air Force member conducted search and rescue operations on Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, 2008.

Two years after Hurricane Ike’s surge crossed Galveston like a speed bump on its way to Houston, planners and academics are staring down multibillion-dollar public policy dilemmas. To describe Ike as a “wake-up call” understates and trivializes the matter. Like other coastal areas around the nation and around the world, the Houston-Galveston region is only now grappling with complex and costly questions of how to protect sprawling seaside development from the combination of subsidence and an expected sea-level rise from global warming.

A Turf War Over Mental Health

The intent of the law seemed clear: The state’s 39 MHMRs would, wherever possible, stop offering direct medical services and start managing networks of private providers. But a bureaucratic scrum has delayed the privatization of care.

Data App: Regents Who Give

How much does it cost to be a regent?
How much does it cost to be a regent?
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Over the past decade, the men and women chosen by Rick Perry to serve as regents of the state's universities have given his campaigns a total of at least $5.8 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.

The New Math

Despite just-released ratings that show huge improvements, a Texas Tribune analysis finds that the performance of the state's public schools — when decoupled from the controversial Texas Projection Measure — is little changed from 2008, the year before the accountability formula took effect.

Faking the Grade

Last school year, the Texas Education Agency implemented a new “growth measure” purported to reward schools for improving student performance — even if they still fail state tests. The effect on state accountability ratings was immediate and dramatic: The number of campuses considered “exemplary” by the state doubled, to 2,158. But a new analysis shows the projections of future student success may be wrong as much as half the time.

State Board of Landlords?

Hoping to tackle the long-standing challenge of financing charter school facilities, the State Board of Education is considering taking on a novel and controversial role: landlord. SBOE member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, wants to use $100 million from the $23 billion Permanent School Fund to buy properties and then lease them back to charter schools, which have historically struggled with capital costs. Critics say the elected board can't possibly fulfill the mandate of the Fund — to invest for maximum return — while at the same time cutting charters a good deal. 

Tickets for 10-Year-Olds

With the rise of get-tough juvenile crime policies across Texas, the municipal courthouse has become the new principal’s office for students who fight, curse their teachers or are generally “disorderly” — even in elementary schools. Campus police in the Austin, Houston and Dallas ISDs, among others, write thousands of citations per year, with young students tickted egularly and minority students targeted disproportionately. Fines of $250 or $500 are not uncommon, court officials say.

Hussein in the Membrane

An observer holds a protest sign during testimony at the State Board of Education (SBOE) textbook hearings on Wednesday, May 19, 2010.
An observer holds a protest sign during testimony at the State Board of Education (SBOE) textbook hearings on Wednesday, May 19, 2010.

A member of the State Board of Education's internationally notorious conservative wing trotted out Barack Obama's middle name late in a marathon meeting Thursday, a fitting end to a debate over social studies curriculum standards that was marked by irritable outbursts and inane dialogue. Members fought over slavery, Jefferson Davis, Joseph McCarthy — even over when they could finally adjourn. 

Separation Anxiety

At a public hearing today, the State Board of Education's social conservative bloc is expected to launch attacks on the church-state “wall” as part of hundreds of changes to the social studies curriculum standards, which could provide the outline for tests and textbooks years into the future. The board expects to take a final vote on the entire curriculum on Friday.

Lame Ducks Unlimited

Cynthia Dunbar and Don McLeroy
Cynthia Dunbar and Don McLeroy

Four members of the State Board of Education who are exiting their seats in January are preparing to cast decisive votes this week on controversial curriculum revisions that will alter social studies textbooks for 4.7 million public school children in Texas. But, just maybe, not so fast: Two Republicans who'll likely win election to the SBOE this fall, and a Democrat who is vying for another soon-to-be-vacated seat, said in interviews that they'd support reopening the standards process if consensus emerged on the newly constituted board. 

Grade Stagflation

Hundreds of school districts can continue giving failing students inflated grades, after a Travis County Civil Court judge declined to rule in a lawsuit challenging the state’s interpretation of a new law mandating “honest grades.”

Smaller is Better

In a new statewide ranking of public schools that we published yesterday, the Dallas Independent School District boasts seven of the top 25 high schools but also 18 in the bottom quartile. Not surprisingly, the best ones have a small student population, while the worst ones are megacampuses — an example of a larger trend in school rankings data.

Data App: 5,800+ Schools Ranked

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We've built a searchable database of public school rankings based on data collected by the Houston-based nonprofit Children At Risk. In contrast to the Texas Education Agency's "ratings," which rely almost entirely on the percentage of students passing the TAKS test, the rankings blend 12 different measures for elementary schools, 10 for middle schools and 14 for high schools — including TAKS results, ACT and SAT scores, AP exams, attendance rates, graduation rates and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students on every campus. How does your school stack up?