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.”
Rebecca Klein, education editor at the Huffington Post, wrote about it under the headline, “Frustrated Parents Rally Nationwide To ‘Reclaim Our Schools’.”
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.
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) October 6, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Alliance for Educational Justice (d/b/a Movement Strategy Center)
- Annenberg Institute for School Reform
- Center for Popular Democracy
- Gamaliel Network
- Journey for Justice Alliance (d/b/a Kenwood-Oakland Neighborhood Organization)
- League of United Latin American Citizens
- Service Employees International Union
- Schott Foundation for Public Education
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:
- 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.” ↩
Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education
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:
- Einstein Charter Schools Deemed Noncompliant For Providing Inadequate Transportation (9/21/17)
- Einstein board prepares to fight Orleans school district over its failure to bus students (9/25/17)
- Einstein Charter Schools Push Back Against Transportation Policy (10/25/17)
- Busing dispute at Einstein schools is headed to court (11/30/17)
- School district reprimands Einstein Charter Schools for enrolling students outside OneApp (1/3/18)
- Parents, protesters picket Einstein Charter Schools over lack of busing (1/9/18)
Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.
Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA
All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers
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 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.
Louisiana is ready for a new direction. https://t.co/eDLPMl5tEC
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) April 12, 2017
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.
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…
- Although he called out sick on February 23rd, he noted in a blog post that he actually went to Baton Rouge to attend the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council;
- He took sick leave on March 29th, but again mentioned on his blog that he was in Baton Rouge at a BESE meeting;
- The same goes for May 18th (he also missed May 17th), when he was “sick” in Baton Rouge to introduce House Bill 536 with State Rep. Vincent Pierre, as he wrote in a blog post ironically titled, “HB-536: Who really puts children first?”
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.
— LAE (@LAEducators) November 16, 2016
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.
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) November 17, 2016
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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