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Nobody Likes A Liar, Lily NEA Head Fibs About Turnaround, Charters & New Orleans



Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association (NEA), visited Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington last week. While she was there, she sat down for an interview with Wilson Criscione of the Pacific Northwest Inlander, in which she made several outlandish claims that had absolutely no connection to the truth.

Here’s a summary of her fabrications and exaggerations…

On school turnaround:

She started by holding up Rogers High as a national model of school turnaround, saying that their graduation rate had increased from 47% to 84% over the past five years. How did they do it? According to García:

“It’s not a product that this district bought. It’s not more test prep. It really is giving people the time to feel like they’re family. What they’ve discovered here, the magic — the secret sauce — is, you know, we can actually just do stuff that we want to…And when it comes from — it sounds like a cliche — when it comes from the roots, when it comes from the community, then there’s joy to it. You’re not doing it because someone told you to.”

Last year, only 55% of students at Rogers met the ELA standard and 21% met the standard in math.

Last year, only 55% of students at Rogers met the ELA standard and 21% met the standard in math.

If García’s explanation sounds too fanciful to be true, that’s because it is – a look at Rogers’ performance data reveals that the school’s outcomes are decidedly mixed. Although it’s correct that they saw a significant increase in their graduation rate over the past five years – from 56.8% in 2010 to 77.8% in 2015 – only 55% of students met the state standard in English/Language Arts and only 21% of students met the standard in math last year. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Washington’s state board of education recently lowered the cutoff score on the Smarter Balanced exam to ensure that 81% of 10th graders passed.

So while the school deserves applause for improving their graduation rate, it’s a stretch for García to claim that Rogers should be considered a “model for the nation.”

On charter schools:

García’s relationship with the truth continued to sour when the conversation turned to charter schools, a hot topic in Washington State as of late thanks to a series of lawsuits NEA has filed challenging the Evergreen State’s charter law.

After an NEA-backed lawsuit threatened to shutter Washington's charter schools, supporters rallied to save them.

After an NEA-backed lawsuit threatened to shutter Washington’s charter schools, supporters rallied to save them.

When asked whether she thought there was a way to make charter schools work, García didn’t give a direct answer. Instead, she spoke admiringly about a bilingual (and unionized) charter school in Milwaukee, before portraying most charters as either for-profit franchises or cream skimmers that “only accept excellent students.”

Of course, the teachers unions have making those last two accusations about charters for so long that it’s possible García has convinced herself that they’re true. They’re not. The overwhelming majority of charter schools across the country are non-profit, open-enrollment public schools that serve the exact same kids as their traditional counterparts.

On New Orleans:

Finally, when pressed to explain how the expansion of charters poses a threat to public education, García pointed to New Orleans, saying:

“In New Orleans, what they did is they have no public schools left. None. And that was by design. When Katrina hit, it hit everybody’s schools…They rebuilt and modernized all the white suburb public schools. They ended up better than before and they bulldozed the public schools in the black neighborhoods. And then they just said ‘Alright, come one come all, open up charter schools and let’s see how you do.’ And a lot of them have done very poorly.”

García’s statement is so divorced from reality that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. For one thing, there are 83 public schools – both charter and traditional – in New Orleans serving more than 47,000 children as we speak.

There are currently 83 public schools operating in New Orleans.

There are currently 83 public schools operating in New Orleans. (Graphic from the Cowen Institute)

Furthermore, García’s attempt to put a racially divisive – and objectively false – spin on the rebuilding of New Orleans’ public school system is downright shameful. Hurricane Katrina flooded nearly 80% of New Orleans and completely destroyed two-thirds of the city’s schools. In the interim, state and local officials have spent nearly $2 billion constructing new schools and renovating salvageable or historic buildings across the city. The students who are benefitting from those new facilities are overwhelmingly low-income, minority children – not affluent white kids in the suburbs.

Also, as I’ve noted before, the contention the state swept in and quickly converted the city’s traditional schools into charters is false. In fact, the dramatic improvement we’ve seen in New Orleans’ public schools is largely attributable to the fact that education officials set a high bar for charter applicants, added new schools incrementally, and have been willing to close those that failed to perform.

Finally, no matter how much García may want to deny it, the evidence is clear that the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans’ public schools has resulted in a significant and sustained increase in academic performance. End of story.

Graphic from Education Next.

Graphic from Education Next.

The fact that the head of the nation’s largest teachers union would be willing to spin elaborate lies – on-the-record, no less – should come as no surprise. In truth, García was simply following a well-worn teachers union script in which they insist our public schools are fine, disparage charters and other reforms, and try to undermine any success story that contradicts their messages. Why? Because the unions are ultimately more concerned with defending the prerogatives of adults than they are about doing what’s best for kids.

Read an update on this story:

Update: John White Calls on García To Retract Statements

Louisiana State Superintendent John White called on National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García to publicly retract statements she made last week about the rebuilding of New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, the Pacific Northwest Inlander published an interview w…

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



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.


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



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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