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A Few Points About Landry, Walker & Community Involvement

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Jessica Williams of The Lens has a new article out on the dustup over the planned merger of O. Perry Walker and L.B. Landry and the questions it raises about the level of community input in our city’s charter school system. Williams’ article presents a fairly balanced view of the issues and opinions involved in both the merger debate and the larger community involvement question, but there are a few important points that need to be emphasized:

1. Objectively, it makes sense to combine the two schools on the Landry campus, but under the leadership of Walker’s current administrators, who have a proven track record of success.

  • RSD’s rationale for merging Landry and Walker is straightforward: enrollment numbers do not justify the continued operation of three high schools on the West Bank (currently Walker, Landry & Karr).
  • Since the storm, Walker’s performance has steadily climbed to the point that they’re eligible to leave the RSD, while Landry has continued to struggle in terms of school culture and academic performance.
  • Moreover, Walker’s facilities are desperately in need of renovation, yet just a mile away, Landry’s new $54 million campus is more than half-empty.

2. Opposition to the Landry/Walker merger is driven by more than just a deep sense of school pride, or concern that combining the two student populations will lead to violence – self-interest also certainly plays a role.

  • One elephant in the room is the fact that the merger of the two schools will inevitably lead to layoffs. Under the current plan, staff members of the combined high school will officially be employed by the Algiers Charter School Association. ACSA CEO Adrian Morgan has publicly stated they plan to hire some staff members from Landry, but ultimately hiring decisions will be in the hands of the school’s leaders, and those who find themselves in redundant positions will likely lose their jobs.
  • There may also be trepidation among some at Walker about the impact that an influx of students from Landry will have on their hard-won school culture and academic performance. After all, Landry has been plagued by an instability in leadership as well as serious discipline issues, and academic performance has stagnated (and in some subjects, actually declined) since the school reopened in 2010.
  • Finally, lingering resentment over the rejection of the Lord Beaconsfield Landry Charter Association’s application for a charter is no doubt also a factor behind the opposition. Many of the loudest voices in protest come from those who were involved in the chartering effort.

3. Yes, charter schools were originally touted as a way to give parents and community members an opportunity for greater engagement in schools. And today, they have more input and influence than they ever did under pre-Katrina NOPS.

  • The very fact that numerous community meetings have been held over the planned merger of Landry and Walker (as well as other contentious district issues) is evidence that school officials take stakeholder input seriously. Before the storm, such outreach efforts were the exception rather than the rule. Instead, community members were forced to suffer through chaotic OPSB meetings just for an opportunity to air their concerns.
  • At many charter schools across the city, parents and students can get their issues addressed by simply picking up the phone (to call a principal or teacher on their cell) or by walking into the main office. Under the ancien régime, those with school-related questions had nowhere to turn but the nearly impenetrable glass monolith that was the old NOPS HQ on General DeGaulle, a place where it didn’t matter if you knew who to call for answers because no one ever picked up the phone.
  • NOPS district officials and school board members were masters in the art of grandstanding, always claiming that they were defending the community’s best interests. However, as it turned out, the bluster of officials and bureaucracy of the system had a purpose: it allowed many people to bilk the school district out of millions of dollars as they ran it into the ground. Although the decentralized structure of our current school system is often portrayed as an obstacle, in fact, it makes the operation of schools and their use of resources much more transparent.

4. No, there has not been a “commercialization” of the charter school movement in New Orleans, rather we’ve witnessed its “professionalization” since Louisiana’s charter school law was passed in 1995.

  • Nationally, charter schools, on average, have failed to outperform their traditional counterparts, while in Louisiana, the opposite has been true. Why? Because the state set a high bar for charter applicants and has been willing to revoke charters and close schools that fail to meet expectations for academic performance. Over time, the most effective charter school organizations have seized opportunities to replicate their success at new school sites.
  • In 1998, when Jay Altman and Tony Recasner opened the city’s first charter school, New Orleans Charter Middle School, the movement was still in its infancy and the grassroots involvement of families and community members was necessary to get the school off the ground. However, it takes more than the well-intentioned support of families and community members to establish a successful charter school, as the disastrous example of Einstein Charter School makes clear.
  • Community engagement is an essential element in establishing a successful charter school, but it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Ultimately, we need to ensure that those to whom we entrust the job of effectively educating our children have the skills and resources to accomplish that goal. As a result, tough decisions have to be made regarding the leadership and direction of schools, decisions that are bound to leave some community members disappointed.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Charters

All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.

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Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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Charters

PSA: NAACP Charter School Hearing Tonight Don't Let Critics Distort The Story In New Orleans

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Tonight, the NAACP will be holding a hearing on charter schools at the New Orleans City Council Chambers (1300 Perdido Street) starting at 5:30pm. It will be the sixth hearing that the NAACP has held in cities across the country following their inexplicable call for a moratorium on charter schools last fall.

Flyer for tonight’s NAACP hearing.

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium has been roundly criticized by education reform advocates, as well as by the editorial board of The New York Times, which called the move “a misguided attack” by an organization that “has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch.” The Washington Post was even more scathing in their take on the moratorium, linking the NAACP’s recent turn against charters to the substantial financial support the group has received from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

Angry charter school parents from Memphis confronted NAACP officials at their national meeting in Cincinnati last fall.

In any case, NAACP officials have apparently decided to dispense with any pretense of objectivity at tonight’s meeting by inviting a number of outspoken charter opponents to speak, including:

  • Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola who filed a specious civil rights complaint against a local charter network that was eventually dismissed by the Louisiana Department of Education for lack of evidence;
     
  • Walter Umrani, an anti-charter candidate for the District 4 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board who received only 13% of the vote;
     
  • Willie Zanders, the lead attorney in the class action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish School Board and State of Louisiana over the layoffs of school board employees following Hurricane Katrina that was dismissed by the Louisiana Supreme Court;
     
  • Adrienne Dixson, a former education professor from Illinois who recently compared the education landscape in New Orleans to “The Hunger Games”;


  • State Rep. Joe Bouie who has used his position on the House Education Committee to spread misinformation about charter schools and engage in obstructionism, as seen below.

Charter school supporters need to attend tonight’s NAACP hearing to ensure that the truth is heard and that the positive impact that charters have had on the children of this city is not denied.

I hope to see you there!

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