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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

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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