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Crazy Crawfish’s Attack on Sci Academy is All Talk, No Claw

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I generally refrain from challenging the absurd claims of the anti-progress Ravitchite fringe, since their pathological obsession with “proving” that education reform is part of a sinister corporate plot is clearly delusional, if not mildly amusing. However, now that long-time anti-edreform blogger and conspiracy theorist Jason “Crazy Crawfish” France has decided to smear Sci Academy – the highest-performing open-enrollment school in the Recovery School District and a school with which I am well-acquainted – I am happy to respond in kind. As I demonstrate below, France’s broadside against Sci Academy is filled with the half-truths and logical fallacies that would be expected from someone with zero experience working in public schools, and thus, lacks the context needed to draw informed conclusions.

Bottom feeders like Jason "Crazy Crawfish" France spend their energy stirring up detritus

Bottom feeders like Jason “Crazy Crawfish” France spend their energy stirring up detritus

In his screed, France claims that unnamed “sources” asked him to investigate Sci Academy’s graduation rate, which he claims the school has manipulated in order to make it appear that they are outperforming “traditional” public schools. The following is a direct quote from his post that lays out his evidence:

My investigation showed that while they can claim 92% of their students graduated that they had enrolled in 12th grade, many of their students left over the course of the 4 years. Sci Academy started with a ninth grade enrollment of 83 students. By 12th grade they had 50 of which I’m told 46 graduated. That means that students enrolling in Sci academy in 9th grade in 2008 only had a 55% chance of graduating from this school or a 45% chance of not graduating.  I’m told many of these kids went on to colleges, but you must consider that Sci Academy shed nearly half their students before achieving a near perfect graduation rate – a rate that was based solely on the students that were left in 12th grade.

First of all, although I have no basis with which to assess the validity of the data used to arrive at these conclusions, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his grasp of the facts. For example, at another point in his post, he claims Sci Academy is “also known as New Orleans Charter and Science Academy,” which is most certainly incorrect. Furthermore, his claim that only 46 students graduated in 2012 is in direct conflict with figures noted elsewhere.

The second and most obvious problem here is that France is confusing Sci Academy’s graduation rate with its cohort graduation rate which are two totally different measures. It is already well-established that graduation rate is an imperfect measure of school performance. In any event, at no point has Sci Academy maintained that 92% of the students that entered 9th grade in 2008 went on to graduate in 2012. In fact, the opposite is true. As Morgan Carter, president of Collegiate Academies (Sci Academy’s CMO) admitted to the Times-Picayune, “We’re trying to distill why it is that kids are leaving…We’re going to start valuing retention the way we value academics.”

Questions of accuracy aside, a more relevant point of contention is that France is making these claims without placing them within the greater context of the challenges common to RSD schools. While he casts aspersions from behind the “firewall” of his middle-class life in Baton Rouge, those of us who have actually worked in New Orleans’ public schools know that a high rate of student mobility is unfortunately a fact-of-life for both charters and traditional schools alike (and not only in the RSD). Given the tenuous economic circumstances of the families that schools like Sci Academy serve, students frequently find it necessary to switch schools, often several times over the course of their academic careers. Nevertheless, at no point does France concede that the changes in Sci Academy’s enrollment, at least in part, could be explained by this overall trend.

MFP data from the SY 2012-2013 school year provides a good illustration of the widespread and often unpredictable nature of student mobility in the RSD. Official enrollment numbers are reported to LDOE twice a year, in October and again in February. As the data below demonstrates, enrollment in RSD schools can change – sometimes dramatically – even within the short timespan of five months. [N.B.: Ironically, enrollment at Sci Academy actually increased 9.26% over this period.]

School Name

10/1/12 Count

2/1/13 Count

# Change

% Change

A.P. Tureaud Elementary School

246

259

13

5.28%

Abramson Science and Technology School

294

308

14

4.76%

Akili Academy of New Orleans

385

381

-4

-1.04%

Algiers Technology Academy

238

261

23

9.66%

Andrew H. Wilson Charter School

616

628

12

1.95%

Arise Academy

387

456

69

17.83%

Arthur Ashe Charter School

490

485

-5

-1.02%

Batiste Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak Elem

678

692

14

2.06%

Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

404

397

-7

-1.73%

Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School

361

362

1

0.28%

Cohen College Prep

502

493

-9

-1.79%

Crescent Leadership Academy

159

163

4

2.52%

Crocker Arts and Technology School

279

291

12

4.30%

Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Sci/Tech

760

768

8

1.05%

Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School

603

623

20

3.32%

Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy

373

393

20

5.36%

Esperanza Charter School

460

466

6

1.30%

F.W. Gregory Elementary School

85

88

3

3.53%

Fannie C. Williams Charter School

550

562

12

2.18%

G. W. Carver Collegiate Academy

103

105

2

1.94%

G. W. Carver Preparatory Academy

110

100

-10

-9.09%

G.W. Carver High School

169

169

0

0.00%

Gentilly Terrace Elementary School

456

432

-24

-5.26%

H.C. Schaumburg Elementary School

564

582

18

3.19%

Harriet Tubman Charter School

520

530

10

1.92%

James M. Singleton Charter School

645

636

-9

-1.40%

James Weldon Johnson School

282

272

-10

-3.55%

John Dibert Community School

476

472

-4

-0.84%

John McDonogh High School

389

377

-12

-3.08%

Joseph A. Craig Charter School

382

392

10

2.62%

Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School

435

394

-41

-9.43%

Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School

521

497

-24

-4.61%

KIPP Believe College Prep (Phillips)

617

603

-14

-2.27%

KIPP Central City Academy

407

405

-2

-0.49%

KIPP Central City Primary

513

513

0

0.00%

KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts

766

763

-3

-0.39%

KIPP New Orleans Leadership Academy

528

514

-14

-2.65%

KIPP Renaissance High School

380

343

-37

-9.74%

L. B. Landry High School

466

422

-44

-9.44%

Lafayette Academy

939

926

-13

-1.38%

Lagniappe Academy of New Orleans

131

121

-10

-7.63%

Lake Area New Tech Early College High School

657

658

1

0.15%

Langston Hughes Charter Academy

647

645

-2

-0.31%

Linwood Public Charter School

524

508

-16

-3.05%

Martin Behrman Elementary School

714

711

-3

-0.42%

Mary D. Coghill Elementary School

597

586

-11

-1.84%

McDonogh #32 Elementary School

438

514

76

17.35%

McDonogh 42 Charter School

446

485

39

8.74%

McDonogh City Park Academy

422

425

3

0.71%

Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business

387

400

13

3.36%

Morris Jeff Community School

310

312

2

0.65%

Murray Henderson Elementary School

80

77

-3

-3.75%

Nelson Elementary School

501

494

-7

-1.40%

O.Perry Walker Senior High School

903

879

-24

-2.66%

Paul B. Habans Elementary School

354

339

-15

-4.24%

Pierre A. Capdau Learning Academy

401

398

-3

-0.75%

Pride College Preparatory Academy

323

317

-6

-1.86%

Reed Elementary School

690

697

7

1.01%

ReNEW Accelerated High School, City Park Campus

191

188

-3

-1.57%

ReNEW Accelerated High School, West Bank Campus

178

180

2

1.12%

Samuel J. Green Charter School

515

508

-7

-1.36%

Sarah Towles Reed Senior High School

259

232

-27

-10.42%

Sci Academy

367

401

34

9.26%

SciTech Academy at Laurel Elementary

694

694

0

0.00%

Sophie B. Wright Learning Academy

484

483

-1

-0.21%

Success Preparatory Academy

410

402

-8

-1.95%

Sylvanie Williams College Prep

358

352

-6

-1.68%

The Intercultural Charter School

385

384

-1

-0.26%

The NET Charter High School

150

156

6

4.00%

Walter L. Cohen High School

119

114

-5

-4.20%

William J. Fischer Elementary School

674

673

-1

-0.15%

Later in his diatribe, France makes another ignorant statement saying, “as far as impacting the community, Sci Academy only graduated half their students and only prepared half of [sic] less for college.  That’s the thing with numbers, in the wrong hands they can be used to mislead and lie very convincingly.” Again, if France had any understanding of the New Orleans public education context (or could simply get his facts straight) he would recognize how absolutely ludicrous this statement sounds. Here’s a significant point he overlooked:  49 of the 52 members of the Class of 2012 were accepted to a four-year college or university; for 46 of those students, they were the first member of their family to enter college. Furthermore, over 90% of Sci Academy graduates have been accepted at four-year colleges and universities, including top institutions like Barnard, Swarthmore, Smith, and Amherst, among others. Also, in SY 2011-2012, Sci Academy –  a school where 94% of students are African American and 92% are eligible for free/reduced lunch – outperformed both the RSD and state on the Algebra I, English II, and Geometry end-of-course exams. If France thinks that Sci Academy is failing to impact the community, he’s clearly looking at the wrong data. Moreover, it seems France is unaware that “traditional” pre-Katrina NOPS schools didn’t send low-income, African-American students to top-tier colleges and universities; in fact, they struggled to just to graduate a fraction of their students from high school.

In 2012, 49 of Sci Academy's 52 graduates were accepted to a 4-year college, of whom 46 were the first in their families to enter college.

In 2012, 49 of Sci Academy’s 52 graduates were accepted to a 4-year college, of whom 46 were the first in their families to enter college.

At the end of the day, Sci Academy doesn’t need to mislead and lie about the incredible success they have achieved with their students. There is no trick formula they’re using to achieve their results. As anyone who knows the educators at Sci Academy can tell you, the secret is just a lot of hard work and an unbending commitment to improving the lives of students – something that France, and cynical mudslingers like him, would know nothing about. It’s disgraceful that critics like Jason France, who have never gotten up from behind their computer screens to actually do something about the inequities in our public schools, would have the audacity to denigrate those engaged in this important work.

Perhaps that’s the lesson in all of this: before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. France and other education reform critics like him have only a superficial understanding of the facts, issues, and questions involved in the effort to improve our public schools. Until Crazy Crawfish & Co. are ready to roll up their sleeves and grapple with the challenges faced by real-life heroes like those at Sci Academy, they should do the rest of us a favor and quietly crawl back into their mud holes.

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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Lee Barrios

First of all, I love your use of The Times-Picayune as a reliable source for facts and statistics. As a formerly active journalist myself, my biggest issue with some of the piss-poor education reporting by Vanacore and others is their insistence on using quoted rhetoric from sources as fact. And it is not for lack of facts which have been provided for their perusal and verification constantly.

Question – what is your point in your referencing the DC schools report comparing DCPS with PCS?

Last comment – ” Perhaps that’s the lesson in all of this: before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. France and other education reform critics like him have only a superficial understanding of the facts, issues, and questions involved in the effort to improve our public schools.” A poor lesson indeed. Criticism should be based on fact which is absent in your blog. Your blanket indictment of “education reform critics” is way off base. I can assure you your credentials, experience and hours spent walking in those shoes are far below mine, Dr. Ravitch, Dr. Raynard Sanders, Dr. Barbara Ferguson, Dr. Lottie Beebe. . . . . . . .

But keep the rhetoric flowing. You made as much of a case in contradicting your own position as Jason made in his stating his straightforward facts. I commend whatever success Sci High and its students have had but wish they and those of other selective charters weren’t so – selective! Looking forward to reports (and accurate supportable stats) on the progress of all those grads who made it into colleges and universities. Surely you are tracking them to offer future support for your program.

Duke
Duke

Peter Cook….all insults, no facts….check it out Petey…by the way you’ve hijacked the reform word…why hide behind the privatizers. You look foolish and used.

Zesty Politics with a Dollop of Louisiana Goodness
The Crazycrawfish Blog would like to recognize Peter C. Cook as the newest member of the Crazycrawfish fanclub

I think my man Pete needs to heed some of his own advice about criticizing someone you don’t know: Doing that can make you look like a complete tool, and reveal tragic flaws in your own character.
Unfortunately for Peter and his band of brigands, I venture out of my mudhole more and more these days.
Expect to see more of me Petey. Much more.
Thanks again for joining the fanclub!
See you soon!

http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/the-crazycrawfish-blog-would-like-to-recognize-peter-c-cook-as-the-newest-member-of-the-crazycrawfish-fanclub/

Charters

A Sibling Dispute In Court Could Spell Trouble for Smothers Academy Charter School's CEO Is Accused Of Financial Impropriety In Lawsuit Filed By Brother

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The CEO of a local charter management organization, which was investigated by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) after a report on this blog raised questions about its management and financial practices, is being accused of financial impropriety in a lawsuit filed by his own brother.

On March 28th, I published a post – “Red Flags Everywhere” – which highlighted troubling issues at Smothers Academy, a Type 2 charter school in Jefferson Parish. It noted that the school appeared to be in violation of state ethics laws prohibiting nepotism, seeing that Smothers Academy’s CEO Damon Smothers had hired his brother, Kemic Smothers, as the organization’s legal counsel and director of procurement. The piece also drew attention to several concerns surfaced in Smothers Academy’s F.Y. 2017 audited financial statements, including the assertion that Damon Smothers had spent over $9300 on the school’s credit card for personal expenses.


Read my original piece on Smothers Academy:

Red Flags Everywhere | PE + CO

A review of documents from a Jefferson Parish charter operator that applied to run a historic high school in New Orleans has revealed that the organization could be violating state ethics laws and has been flagged for serious deficiencies in its management and accounting practices.


 
A week later, LDOE officials sent a letter to Eddie Williams, president of the board of directors of Smothers Academy, requesting documentation related to the problems identified in their audit. On April 17th, LDOE sent a second letter to Williams, which formally notified the board that Smothers Academy was in violation of the state’s nepotism laws and instructed them to terminate the employment of either Damon or Kemic Smothers by June 30th. As a result, Kemic was fired that same day.

Yet it appears that he is refusing to go without a fight.

Court documents reveal that Kemic is now suing his brother Damon (along with Smothers Academy, Inc., two members of the board of directors, and the school’s CFO Mark DeBose) for breach of contract, violation of the whistleblower statute, retaliatory discharge, and fraud.

Smothers Academy CEO Damon Smothers (left) is being sued by his brother Kemic (right), who previously served as the school’s legal counsel and director of procurement.

In a petition filed with the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in July, Kemic claims that he was summoned to an April 5th meeting with his brother and CFO Mark DuBose in which they revealed that Damon had “gifted himself” $20,000 drawn from the school’s bank account without the knowledge or consent of the board of directors. They then asked Kemic to devise a way for Damon to keep the money without having to inform the board or repay it. However, Kemic refused, noting that the unauthorized allocation of funds was almost certainly illegal.

Kemic goes on to assert that he was subsequently terminated on April 17th – as opposed to June 30th when his contract officially ended – for refusing to help Damon hide the $20,000 he had taken from the school’s bank account. According to the lawsuit, “Damon Smothers insinuated that Kemic Smothers was not a team player and that he should have found a way for Damon Smothers to avoid repaying the $20,000.00.”

It should be noted that accusations made in Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit are simply that: accusations. The court has not ruled on the merits of the case. Nevertheless, in light of the board’s lax financial oversight and Damon’s questionable use of the school’s credit card, these latest allegations should be investigated to ensure that Smothers Academy administrators are not enriching themselves at the expense of their students.


Read Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit against his brother:

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Charters

Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education

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On January 15th, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter Schools that have emerged over the past several months.

Last fall, the State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein to open a new charter school in Little Rock after Einstein officials assured board members that they would provide transportation to students. This was the same promise they made to the Orleans Parish School Board last year as part of their charter renewal agreement. As we now know, they cannot be be taken at their word.

For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I’ve decided to publish my original letter, which I’ve reproduced in full below.


Dear Board Members,

In September, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans to open a new K-3 school in Little Rock School District. Today, I am writing to urge you to reconsider that decision in light of a series of troubling revelations about Einstein that have emerged here in New Orleans in the intervening months.

On September 19th, just five days after SBOE approved Einstein’s charter application, the Orleans Parish School Board issued an official notice of non-compliance [see notice here] to Einstein’s CEO and board president for failing to provide bus transportation to students as required by the terms of their charter. District officials became aware of this breach-of-contract after a parent reported that Einstein had refused to provide yellow bus service for her two children (5 and 10 years old) and instead offered them public transit tokens. News reports subsequently revealed that Einstein had been refusing to provide bus transportation to dozens of students.

Six weeks later, on November 7th, Einstein was issued another notice of non-compliance [see notice here] by the Orleans Parish School Board for enrolling 26 students outside of OneApp, the city-wide enrollment system that assigns students to New Orleans’ public schools. In fact, the notice indicates that district officials previously investigated enrollment violations at Einstein in 2016 and had told administrators that the charter network needed to implement internal systems and procedures to ensure they were in compliance with the OneApp process.

These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children – regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status – have fair and equal access to our public schools. Since Hurricane Katrina, all of the city’s open enrollment schools – both charter and traditional – have been required to provide free bus transportation to children in pre-K through sixth grade, no matter where they live in the city. Moreover, the Orleans Parish School Board renewed Einstein’s charter last year on the condition that school provide transportation to its students.

In 2012, district officials launched OneApp to simplify the enrollment process by allowing parents to fill out only one application in which they rank schools in order of preference. These preferences are then fed into an algorithm developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which in turn, assigns students to schools. OneApp ensures that schools cannot engage in so-called “creaming” or turn away students with disabilities. All schools are required to participate in OneApp and all are prohibited from enrolling students outside of the system.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s leaders have responded to the school board’s warnings with outright defiance. As a result, the district is now seeking a court order to force Einstein to comply with the busing requirement. According to The Lens, a local non-profit news outlet, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto responded to the OneApp non-compliance notice with a letter stating they had “simply accepted children whose parents had chosen one of its schools — a hallmark of the charter movement.” She has also taken to the pages of the New Orleans Advocate in an unconvincing attempt to deflect criticism of the school, as if the rules should not apply to them.

Finally, I want to make something very clear: I am outspoken supporter of charter schools. As a former charter school board member and teacher, I have seen the impact that high-quality charters can have on the lives of children. At the same time, I also firmly believe that charter schools are only successful when they adhere to clear operational and academic standards. Given their blatant disregard for the terms of their charter contracts in New Orleans (and the possibility that they could lose their charter if they continue to defy the district), I would once again urge you to reconsider Einstein’s expansion to Little Rock.

If you would like to read more about Einstein’s charter violations:

Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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