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Quick Take: Diane Ravitch’s Soul Mate Charlie Pierce Adopts Ravitch's Approach To Education

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Charlie Pierce was once an insightful – and often funny – political commentator and sportswriter. For years, his columns appeared in the pages of the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and he’s written for such publications as the New York Times, GQ, and Slate. Loyal NPR listeners also know him as a fixture on the popular game show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…

However, a review of his recent output over at Esquire, where Pierce serves as the magazine’s lead political blogger, makes clear that the writer has lost his edge. Where once readers could turn to Pierce for a trenchant analysis of the political issues of the day, one now finds an effluvium of terse and exceedingly caustic rants, in which he derides his perceived enemies as “idiots,” “dopes,” and “sideshow freaks.”

Pierce's output these days consists of little more than lazy, caustic rants.

Pierce’s output these days consists of little more than lazy, caustic rants.

In these respects, his career trajectory and overall disposition seem to be following that of Diane Ravitch, who he approvingly cites whenever he raises education issues on his blog. Like Ravitch, Pierce portrays reformers as “grifters” who are “trying to destroy the public school system” at the direction of an evil cabal of billionaires, including “the Walton Family of Wingnuts.” Moreover, he shares Ravitch’s fixated emnity for CNN anchor-turned-education activist, Campbell Brown, who he called “a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education,” who “doesn’t know what the fck she’s talking about.”

(It’s worth noting that while Esquire apparently believes this is substantive political commentary worth paying for, Pierce’s previous employers at the Boston Globe parted ways with him after he insulted another woman, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, back in 2011.)

An example of a recent blog post from Charlie Pierce.

An example of a recent blog post from Charlie Pierce.

Pierce and Ravitch also share a proclivity for making broad, unsubstantiated accusations about education reformers with little regard to facts or evidence. This flaw was on full display in a post Pierce published last week, entitled “Reminder: Education Is Not a Damn Marketplace,” in which he cites low-performing charter schools in Detroit and Jacksonville as evidence that “public school ‘reform’…has been an abject failure and an almost limitless vista of low-rent scams and high-tech brigandage.”

Unfortunately for Pierce, his colorful prose can’t disguise the weaknesses in his argument. While he highlights the admittedly dismal performance of charter schools in Detroit, he omits any mention of the equally dismal performance of the city’s traditional public schools. He also points to the lackluster performance of charters in Jacksonville as evidence that charter schools as a whole have failed, when in fact, Florida’s charters outperformed the state’s traditional public schools this past year.

Graphic from the Florida Times-Union.

Graphic from the Florida Times-Union.

That’s all the evidence Pierce feels he needs to muster to support his contention that, “Of all the sanctimonious fckwads infesting our politics, the school reformers are unquestionably among the fckiest and the waddiest.” In short, Pierce simply regurgitates Ravitch’s attacks on education reform, adds a dash of his own special infantile rage, and presents his half-truths and hyperbole as profound revelation.

Not only is it unoriginal, it’s lazy and also pretty sad.

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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Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

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Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/778427696636268544#favorited-by-289707617

Beth Hawkins

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Beth Hawkins

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Beth Hawkins

.@petercook is ALWAYS ahead of the curve. twitter.com/petercook/stat…

Lee Barrios

@petercook says @DianeRavitch has proclivity 4 broad, unsubstantiated claims w little regard to facts or… fb.me/8s1hT6kLG

Lee Barrios

@petercook says @DianeRavitch has proclivity 4 broad, unsubstantiated claims w little regard to facts or… fb.me/8s1hT6kLG

Campbell Brown

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Campbell Brown

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Campbell Brown

Great piece. Quick Take: Diane Ravitch’s Soul Mate bit.ly/297sMbL via @petercook

Campbell Brown

Great piece. Quick Take: Diane Ravitch’s Soul Mate bit.ly/297sMbL via @petercook

Nelson Smith

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Nelson Smith

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/750726241351716865#favorited-by-382806744

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.

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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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