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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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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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