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Don’t Tell Us More, Just Tell Both Sides of the Story NPR's Michel Martin Is Hosting A Forum on NOLA Schools - So Why Aren't RSD Educators Invited?

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Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More, is in New Orleans today to host Chartered Waters, a discussion on the changes that have taken place in the city’s school system since Hurricane Katrina, that NPR will stream live on its website tonight.

A press release for the event quotes Martin as saying:

“We hope this will be a place for people to come together in a manner that often is not possible, a chance to meet, to pause, take a breath and understand in a real way, a holistic way, how New Orleans is educating its kids right now.”

However, the event features an ideologically lopsided group of panelists, most of whom are either ambivalent about, or hostile to the reforms that have taken place in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina:

Ironically, while Michel Martin claims that she wants to “understand in a real way, a holistic way, how New Orleans is educating its kids right now,” educators, students, and parents from RSD charter schools are glaringly absent from the lineup.

Panelists include (clockwise from top left): Karran Harper Royal, Sarah Carr, Doug Harris, Larry Carter, Victor York, Joan Reilly, Aesha Rasheed, Patrick Dobard (missing: RSD educators, parents, and students)

Panelists include (clockwise from top left): Karran Harper Royal, Sarah Carr, Doug Harris, Larry Carter, Victor York, Joan Reilly, Aesha Rasheed, Patrick Dobard (missing: RSD educators, parents, and students)

 
This fact was initially brought to my attention by a revealing exchange on Twitter between Riley Kennedy, Chief of Staff at Collegiate Academies, and Eve Troeh, News Director at the local NPR station, WWNO:

 
 
When I joined Riley in asking why representatives from RSD charter schools weren’t included, WWNO responded with the dubious contention that they had little input on the composition of the panel:

So, I put the question to Michel Martin directly:

Since that time, several members of the New Orleans education community have asked Martin the same question, such as Michael Ripski, a former OPSB teacher who currently leads The Achievement Network’s work in Louisiana:

And Josh McCarty, Senior Director of Advocacy and Communications at New Schools for New Orleans:

Kathy Padian, Deputy Superintendent for charter schools for the Orleans Parish School Board, pointed out that the panel doesn’t include a representative from the school board:

So, how has Martin responded? With deafening silence. However, she hasn’t been totally mute when it comes to questions about Chartered Waters. For example, she found time to respond to a loyal New Orleans listener to promote the event:

And, Michel Martin was quick to apologize to another listener who was disappointed that Chartered Waters was sold out:

 

Can you have a honest, nuanced discussion about the successes and failures of New Orleans’ public education reforms over the past decade without the people who are working in RSD charter schools? No, you can’t. So what accounts for Michel Martin’s refusal to address this problem – or even respond to those who have raised this issue? I think Chris Stewart, education activist, blogger, and New Orleans native, said it best:

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

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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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