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

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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.

23 Comments

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Erika Sanzi

@beth_hawkins @LouisianaSupe @Lily_NEA she’s busy grieving over $138 million her org spent on politics in 2016. And for what?

Erika Sanzi

Mon. marks a wk since @LouisianaSupe called on @Lily_NEA to retract her false #NOLAed claims; no response pcook.me/oBPq #edreform

Beth Hawkins

Mon. marks a wk since @LouisianaSupe called on @Lily_NEA to retract her false #NOLAed claims; no response pcook.me/oBPq #edreform

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

tag:twitter.com,2013:803091727263240192_favorited_by_289707617

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/803091727263240192#favorited-by-289707617

Rhonda Dale

tag:facebook.com,2013:1800637070217248_liked_by_10202182252997047

Rhonda Dale

https://www.facebook.com/100008129177637/posts/1800637070217248#liked-by-10202182252997047

Peter C. Cook

That’s your response? Really? 21% of students meeting a below college-ready bar is not a national model in any case.

Wilson Criscione

If you’re going to bring up low test scores for Rogers, you need to consider that math test scores are same as state average.

Seth Saavedra

Nobody Likes A Liar, Lily peterccook.com/b/2z2

Peter C. Cook

Really?!? That’s crazy – by that I mean you in Salt Lake City 🙂

Caroline Roemer

Small world. I ran a congressional race against her in SLC years ago. Kicked her behind.

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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