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Don’t Bury The Lede: At-Risk Students Are Beating Expectations In NOLA High Schools [UPDATED 10/10/14]



UPDATE – 10/10/14:

On Friday, October 10th, John Ayers, Executive Director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives announced they were retracting their report, “Beating the Odds: Academic Performance and Vulnerable Student Populations in New Orleans Public High Schools,” because it was determined the study’s methodology was flawed. Ayers released the following statement announcing the retraction:

The Cowen Institute has withdrawn its recent report Beating the Odds, which indicated that some public high schools in New Orleans, especially those that serve the most vulnerable youth, are performing better than predicted.

After its release, officials determined the report’s methodology was flawed, making its conclusions inaccurate. The report will not be reissued.

As a result of this incident, the Cowen Institute will thoroughly examine and strengthen its internal protocols to ensure it adheres to the highest standards of review and accuracy in its research and in future reports.

We apologize for this mistake.

John Ayers, Executive Director

There’s an old saying in journalism: “don’t bury the lede” – that is, don’t hide the most important information from readers, put it your introductory paragraphs. It’s a lesson one sometimes wishes our friends at Tulane’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives would follow. This morning, the Cowen Institute releases a new report, “Beating the Odds: Academic Performance and Vulnerable Student Populations in New Orleans Public High Schools,” and buried in the document is arguably the study’s most important statement:

“On key measures of student achievement (EOC, ACT, and cohort graduation rates) many high schools with high proportions of vulnerable students are performing better than predicted in New Orleans. In particular, all schools with available data in New Orleans had cohort graduation rates that were at or above their predicted levels.”

Considering where we started with our high schools, this is huge news and just more proof that New Orleans’ post-Katrina school reforms have helped raise academic achievement across the board.

Prior to the storm, New Orleans’ non-selective public high schools were some of the worst in the country and were failing to provide students with the education they deserved. For example, in the 2004 – 2005 school year:

  • All 13 of the district’s non-selective high schools were failing, with an average School Performance Score of 26 out of a possible 200 points1
  • 25% of the 12th graders enrolled in those 13 high schools did not graduate
  • Only 18 students – out of 2,302 seniors attending the district’s non-selective high schools that year – earned a four-year TOPS scholarship for college

Thankfully, today’s report from the Cowen Institute shows a vastly improved situation in New Orleans high schools. The study looks specifically at what they call “vulnerable students” (those who qualify for free/reduced lunch, failed the 8th grade LEAP test, are overage, or are identified as special needs) and uses statewide data to predict how schools should perform on end-of-course tests (EOCs), ACT, and cohort graduation rate measures, given their student populations. Here’s what they found:

I. Performance on End-of-Course Tests:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 10.18.59 PM

60% of New Orleans high schools met or exceeded predicted performance on EOC tests, with Landry-Walker High School coming out on top, scoring over 30 percentage points higher than would be expected on these exams. It should also be noted that all three of the schools run by Collegiate Academies, which has been the target of several unfair attacks over the past year, outperformed predictions on EOC tests by 25 percentage points or better.

I guess walking in line works: All three schools in Collegiate Academies' network outperformed on EOC tests.

I guess walking in line works: All of Collegiate Academies’ schools exceeded expectations on EOC tests.

II. ACT Performance:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 10.22.12 PM

12 out of the 18 high schools that received an ACT Index in the 2012-13 school year met or exceeded their predicted performance.2 Again, Collegiate Academies distinguished itself on this measure, with their flagship school, Sci Academy, outperforming its predicted score on the ACT Index by 34 points.

Sci Academy outperformed its predicted ACT Index by 34 points.

Sci Academy outperformed its predicted ACT Index by 34 points.

III. Cohort Graduation Rate:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 10.24.39 PM

13 out of 15 high schools exceeded their predicted cohort graduation rates in 2011-12, with the other two schools performing as expected.

IV. The Big Takeaway:

The big takeaway from the Cowen Institute report is simple: New Orleans’ school reforms are working and their impact is reaching even those students who face the added burdens of poverty, disability, or a history of underachievement. Critics should stop quibbling with the numbers – or denying them outright – and instead focus on how we can push students even further. As the study’s authors note:

“These findings show that all schools have the capacity to improve their students’ academic achievement; many schools were able to beat the odds and excelled despite having higher rates of vulnerable students.”

College-bound seniors pose with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (center) and RSD Supt. Patrick Dobard (right).

College-bound seniors pose with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (center) and RSD Supt. Patrick Dobard (right).

  1. From another perspective: In 2005, any school with a School Performance Score below 60 was considered failing – i.e., the city’s high schools weren’t even close to passing. 
  2. As noted in the report, some high schools did not receive an ACT Index in 2013 because they had not yet added a 12th grade at that time. 

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



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.


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



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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