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Let’s Recognize AROS For What It Really Is… A Publicity Stunt Organized by the Teachers Unions

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On Thursday, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) held “walk-ins” in cities across the country to call for an increase in education funding, a reduction in standardized testing, and limits on charter school expansion.

The Alliance’s “Day of Action” drew plenty of media coverage, most of which portrayed the walk-ins as a genuine expression of frustration over education reform policies and presented AROS as an organic coalition of community and labor organizations.

For example, Emma Brown at the Washington Post covered the story in a piece entitled, “Parents and teachers rally for public education funding at schools across the country.”

From the Washington Post.

From the Washington Post.

Rebecca Klein, education editor at the Huffington Post, wrote about it under the headline, “Frustrated Parents Rally Nationwide To ‘Reclaim Our Schools’.”

From the Huffington Post.

From the Huffington Post.

And, Think Progress education reporter Casey Quinlan played up the grassroots bonafides of the rallies with quotes from participants like Jane Henderson, “a parent with Maryland Communities United,” and Erica Huerta, a high school teacher in East Los Angeles.

The problem is that there was nothing grassroots about the walk-ins and there is nothing organic about the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. A closer look at the individuals and groups behind AROS makes clear that the entire undertaking is a public relations stunt largely organized and funded by the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Here’s two very important facts that recent press reports didn’t tell you about AROS…

I. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools doesn’t actually exist

If you go to AROS’ website, the Alliance appears to have two staff members: executive director Keron Blair and campaign director Ken Snyder. However, legally speaking, there is no organization called the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. AROS has not been incorporated as a non-profit and it has not been granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS.

AROS "Executive Director" Keron Blair at a Chicago Teachers Union rally in February.

AROS “executive director” Keron Blair at a Chicago Teachers Union rally in February.

So if AROS isn’t a real organization, who is paying these men for their work?

This is where things get interesting. A Google search turns up Blair and Snyder’s names together once before, back in November 2014, when they were acting as representatives of a group called Raise Illinois Action, which was fighting to increase the minimum wage in the Land of Lincoln.

In 2014, Blair and Snyder worked for another faux group, Raise Illinois Action.

In 2014, Blair and Snyder worked for another faux group, Raise Illinois Action.

Like AROS, Raise Illinois Action wasn’t a real organization. It was a creation of the Committee to Raise Illinois’ Minimum Wage, a ballot initiative PAC backed by SEIU Healthcare Illinois that also happens to have received $500,000 from AFT and NEA. What’s more, AROS executive director Keron Blair is listed as an employee (and a low-paid one at that) of SEIU Healthcare Illinois on their 2015 annual report to the Department of Labor.

AROS campaign director Ken Snyder, on the other hand, is actually something of a baller. He is the co-founder of the Snyder Pickerill Media Group, a full-service media firm that has worked on dozens of high-profile political campaigns across the country. That same SEIU annual report indicates that the union paid Snyder Pickerill nearly $700,000 in F.Y. 2015.

Screenshot from the homepage of the Snyder Pickerill Media Group website

Apparently these two are reprising their earlier roles in the minimum wage fight, with Blair serving as the face of the group while Snyder runs the media blitz behind the scenes, but this time around they’re working to advance the teachers unions’ prerogatives.

II. Most of the organizations in AROS have received AFT or NEA funding

Although many of the stories about the walk-ins acknowledged that AFT and NEA are part of the Alliance to Reform Our Schools, they left out the fact that every one of the other national groups involved have received funding from the two teachers unions. Those other groups are as follows:

Once again, the Alliance for Educational Justice and Journey For Justice are not real independent organizations (do I detect a pattern of behavior?), but are actually initiatives of the Movement Strategy Center and Kenwood-Oakland Neighborhood Organization, respectively.

These unreported funding ties also apply to many of the smaller, local organizations that participated in the walk-ins. For example, remember Jane Henderson, the parent interviewed by Casey Quinlan from Maryland Communities United, which she described as “a group of low and moderate-income parents and community members organizing to improve public schools”? Well, Henderson isn’t a low-income parent, she’s the executive director of the organization, which received $30,000 from AFT in F.Y. 2015.1

When taken together, the facts suggest that the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools’ “National Day of Action” wasn’t the collective venting of the frustrations felt in communities across the country, but a clever, carefully choreographed act of political theater that many in the media swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Maybe one day they will catch on.


Explore the Evidence:


  1. Erica Huerta, the East Los Angeles teacher interviewed by Quinlan isn’t a disinterested observer either. She’s a highly involved member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles who ran for UTLA’s board of directors this year and was a recipient of the union’s “We Honor Ours Award” which recognizes members “who have given exemplary or outstanding service to UTLA.” 

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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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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