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Jordan Flaherty & The Root Only Want You to Hear Their Distorted Take on NOLA Schools

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On Tuesday, The Root, the online magazine of African-American culture originally founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., published an article from Jordan Flaherty entitled, “New Orleans Teachers and Students Wrestle With Racial Tension.” Flaherty’s piece paints a highly distorted and deceptive picture of post-Katrina New Orleans public schools, in what was clearly an effort to malign education reform efforts in the city.

My admittedly tart but otherwise tame response to the article in the comments section was apparently deleted by either The Root or Flaherty soon after I posted it. Like the activists Flaherty writes about in his piece, I guess either Flaherty or The Root wants readers to see only one side of the story – their side – and refuses to acknowledge any information that doesn’t dovetail with their view of the world.

If Jordan Flaherty wants to "move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea," he should actually spend time with the people instead of attacking educators making a difference.

If Jordan Flaherty wants to “move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” he should actually spend time with the people instead of attacking educators making a difference.

I had a feeling that this very thing would happen and therefore I saved a copy of my comments, which I’ve reproduced below.


I love it when folks like Flaherty write slanted, faux journalism like this about the “great injustices” of New Orleans’ schools and attack people who work hard everyday to educate the children of this city.

Not once in his 1,300-word article does Flaherty talk about academic performance, which is arguably of paramount importance in any assessment of schools. I surmise the reason for this is that New Orleans’ schools have vastly improved since 2005 and our children (in particular, the low-income African American children who comprise the majority of New Orleans public school students) are receiving a better education than they ever did before the storm. In fact, Tulane University just released a report [see full text below] last month that emphasized this point: since 2005, the number of NOLA public school students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch has risen 9% to 84% of students overall, yet in that same period, academic performance has risen 41%.

After 10 years of academic improvement, it’s become hard to argue the system isn’t working, and that’s why Flaherty’s story focuses on tangential issues like Teach For America, assailing its teachers for being white outsiders (which, ironically, could describe Flaherty himself), as well as making false claims that the city is witnessing a widespread student protest movement…it isn’t.

What New Orleans has witnessed in recent months is an attempt by a group of…well, mostly white outsiders (again, love the irony), who have little experience in our public schools or with their students, to stir up trouble in some of our schools. These are folks who see the world through ideological blinders, as if everything is black-and-white, and see conspiracies where none exist. These activists are on a self-appointed crusade against “oppressors” in charter schools like Collegiate Academies, people who in fact share many of the activists’ same values, except that they actually LIVE them, as opposed to just paying lip service to them.

Flaherty is apparently one of these crusaders, given all the facts he leaves out of his article. For example, Flaherty never mentions that Katrena Ndang, his example of a veteran teacher pushed out by an influx of TFA teachers, is actually a long-time activist and former organizer for the United Teachers of New Orleans, as well as an Advisory Board member of The New Teachers Roundtable (TNTR), which he features toward the end of the article. She is hardly a neutral third party.

Speaking of The New Teachers Roundtable, it is hard to think of an organization that has less presence or influence in the New Orleans education community. Even if co-founder Hannah Sadtler’s statement that her organization has reached 400 teachers is accurate (which is doubtful), the fact that’s their total after bring around for four years speaks to how peripheral the organization is in this city. In reality, TNTR was founded by two disaffected former TFA corps members who chose to externalize the blame for their failures as teachers on “the system” instead of where it belongs: on themselves.

Finally, in regard to the “protests” at Collegiate, again the story follows the same lines. A group of outsiders tried to foment trouble at Collegiate Academies not because of any demand from angry parents, but because of what the organization represents — the success of the post-Katrina transformation of our public school system. You can see the full story behind the protests here and find out who actually wrote the student letter Flaherty quotes here (hint: it wasn’t students).


Post-Script: Want to know what students really feel about Collegiate Academies? See what they say themselves below:

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

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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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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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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