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


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:

Written by Peter Cook

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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