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Inaccuracies, Misrepresentations & Glaring Omissions of Fact Setting The Record Straight On Andrea Gabor's Latest Attack

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Well, Andrea Gabor is at it again.

A few years ago, Andrea Gabor wrote an article for Newsweek that maligned the transformation of New Orleans’ public schools since Hurricane Katrina. At the time, I wrote a response that exposed the “inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and glaring omissions of fact” in her Newsweek piece – issues that made it abundantly clear that Gabor was “pushing her political agenda at the expense of her journalistic principles.”

Now, as we prepare to mark the 10th Anniversary of Katrina, Gabor has taken to the pages of the New York Times to add insult to injury with “The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover,” another cheap shot at the accomplishments of so many hardworking New Orleans educators.

Once again, I feel compelled respond. Below, I set the record straight on several of the misleading points Gabor makes in her latest attack.

I. On the State Take Over…

First of all, Gabor manages to get many of the basic facts wrong in her opinion piece. For example, Gabor states:

“Two years before the storm, the State of Louisiana had set up a so-called Recovery School District to take over individual failing schools. After Katrina, the district eventually took over about 60 local schools; about 20 well-performing schools remained in the Orleans Parish School Board, creating, in essence, a two-tier system.”

In fact, the Recovery School District (RSD) took over 102 out of 126 schools from the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) in late-November 2005. Of the remaining 24 schools, seven were uninhabitable, 12 became charters, and five remained directly managed by OPSB.

Moreover, the schools that escaped state take over were nearly all selective-admissions magnet schools, the beneficiaries of the two-tiered public education system that existed in the city before Katrina. As education activist and New Orleans native Chris Stewart wrote:

“New Orleans has always had schools that screened out poor kids to create enclaves for the black elite and the sons and daughters of bankers and doctors. I know what the other side of that coin looks like having attended schools for the other people.”

If anything, the Recovery School District’s work to improve New Orleans schools over the past decade is an attempt to rectify this inequitable history.

II. On Louisiana’s Standards…

While conceding that proficiency, high school graduation, and college entry rates have all risen in New Orleans over the past ten years (no small matters), Gabor attempts to diminish these accomplishments by claiming:

“But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation.”

Apparently, Professor Gabor has somehow missed the extensive national media coverage [for example, in the New York Times, Politico, Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, and even Gawker] of the battle between State Superintendent John White and Governor Bobby Jindal over the Common Core State Standards, which Louisiana adopted in 2012.

In short, the contention that Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation is, to borrow Gabor’s own words, “simply false.”

III. On the Education Research Alliance Studies…

Gabor cites two studies from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University to bolster her claim that “stark problems remain”:

“A recent report by the Education Research Alliance confirmed that principals engage in widespread “creaming” — selecting, or counseling out, students based on their expected performance on standardized tests. In a forthcoming study, the alliance expects to show that lowest-scoring students are less likely to move to higher-performing schools.”

As I noted in a previous post, the first study referenced by Gabor was based on data from the 2012-13 school year. Since that time, OneApp – the RSD’s city-wide enrollment system – has made the “creaming” concerns she raises irrelevant, as schools no longer have the opportunity to either select or counsel out students.


The second, forthcoming study that Gabor mentions looked at what happens to students at charters that are closed for low performance. Ironically, both Gabor and I attended the session at the ERA conference that presented the results from the study, which actually found that most students impacted by closures end up at higher performing schools. How Andrea Gabor could construe these results so negatively is beyond me, but you can watch the presentation below and try to figure it out yourself.

IV. On Disadvantaged and Disappearing Children…

Two of Gabor’s favorite (and vague) claims about New Orleans is that the reforms have left behind the city most disadvantaged students, as well as excluded large numbers of young people who have simply dropped out of the system. For example:

“There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.”

and,

“One problem is that in the decentralized charter system, no agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids…Louisiana’s official dropout rates are unreliable, but a new report by Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, using Census Bureau survey data from 2013, found that over 26,000 people in the metropolitan area between the ages of 16 and 24 are counted as ‘disconnected,’ because they are neither working nor in school.”

Gabor’s contention that New Orleans’ reforms have left behind the city’s most disadvantaged kids seems hard to square with the fact that the performance of special needs students has increased dramatically over the past ten years. In fact, special needs students in New Orleans are graduating from high school at a much higher rate than their peers statewide.

The performance of special needs students has improved dramatically as a result of the reforms.

The performance of special needs students has improved dramatically as a result of the reforms.

Furthermore, Gabor’s claim that “no agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids” will no doubt come as a surprise to officials at the RSD and Louisiana Department of Education, the two agencies that are, in fact, charged with keeping track of students in New Orleans’ public schools.

Here’s how officials keep track of students:

  • At the high school level, LDOE’s accountability measure includes the cohort graduation rate. Schools get credit for ensuring that every student graduates high school within 4 years. If a student does not graduate, the last school of record for that student loses points on its School Performance Score (SPS).

  • At the elementary school level, LDOE’s accountability measure includes points for students who enroll in the 9th grade and achieve enough credits to move to the 10th grade. This pushes elementary schools to ensure that 8th graders are successfully transitioning to high school.

  • The RSD simultaneously tracks students who are excessively truant through its Youth Opportunity Center (YOC). The YOC is staffed by social workers who partner with schools to identify students who have registered for school but have not attended, students who have a significant number of absences, and students who are adjudicated or hospitalized. Once identified, social workers then support these students to get them back on the pathway to school.

V. On Minority Participation…

Gabor raises an oft-repeated claim by reform opponents that minorities – in particular, African-Americans – have been excluded from school leadership positions as a result of the reforms:

“Meanwhile, black charter advocates charge that the local charter ‘club’ leaves little room for African-American leadership. Howard L. Fuller, a former Milwaukee superintendent, said the charter movement won’t have ‘any type of long-term sustainability’ without meaningful participation from the black community.”

She also states that the reforms have replaced African-American educators with young, white, inexperienced teachers:

“A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days.”

Fortunately, the actual facts on the ground make clear this isn’t the case at all. Not only are a majority of the city’s school leaders people of color, but more than half of them lived in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Most of New Orleans' school leaders are people of color and most lived in the city pre-Katrina.

Most of New Orleans’ school leaders are people of color and most lived in the city pre-Katrina.

In addition, the city’s teaching corps is far more diverse and experienced than Gabor would lead readers to believe. In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, 54% of teachers in New Orleans’ public schools were African-American. Teachers in the RSD had, on average, 7.1 years of experience in the classroom; in OPSB charters and direct-run schools, those figures were 11.6 and 17.6 years of experience, respectively.

Graphic from the Cowen Institute

Graphic from the Cowen Institute

VI. On The Lessons From New Orleans…

Finally, the most infuriating statement in Gabor’s entire piece is her conclusion:

“For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.”

A note to Professor Gabor: We didn’t have a choice between improving our school system or starting from scratch. Our school system, our homes, our livelihoods were wiped out in a flood that covered over 80% of New Orleans.

In the aftermath of our nation’s greatest disaster, we came together to rebuild our great city, but we refused to rebuild a school system that had marginalized the poorest children in our community for far too long. Instead, we embarked on a new vision for public education in New Orleans and we took a path that doesn’t dovetail with the prerogatives of education reform opponents like Andrea Gabor.

Today, a decade after Katrina, tens of thousands of children are receiving a better education and have vastly improved life opportunities because of our collective work – and a pessimistic screed in the New York Times is never going to change that fact.

Graphic from Education Next.

Graphic from Education Next.

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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William WhoDat Johnson

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Andrea Gabor

.@petercook Book is mostly positve. JUST SAY NO—isnt that more approp 2 Putin’s Russia than democ? R u more intersted in PR than vig debate?

Liz Smith

RT @petercook: JUST SAY NO: @aagabor is coming to #NOLAed & wants interviews. Don’t talk to her: pcook.me/9ZQ0 #LaEd

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

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RT @petercook: JUST SAY NO: @aagabor is coming to #NOLAed & wants interviews. Don’t talk to her: pcook.me/9ZQ0 #LaEd

André-Tascha Lammé

@petercook @aagabor When your big anti-edu story is debunked and shown to be tripe? Write a book. Guaranteed sales via Ravitch book club

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@petercook @Mr_Ankrum @kari_upstate212 @sowhesed @EdCitizen thx for this. Read #6 will read rest after work

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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.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-02.52.38
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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