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Take Your Excuses Elsewhere Charter Schools USA Tries To Evade Accountability For Failing School

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When the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) made the difficult decision to close Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid-City (BRCA) last month, that was supposed to be the final word on the matter. But apparently Jon Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, the organization which runs BRCA, didn’t get the memo.

Charter Schools USA CEO Jon Hage

Charles Lussier over at The Advocate recently reported that Hage has been scrambling to find a way to keep BRCA open. Shortly after BESE voted to close the school, Hage flew to Louisiana to persuade East Baton Rouge Superintendent Warren Drake to grant BRCA a new charter after its current contract with the state ends in May.

In an interview with The Advocate, Warren said he was opposed to the idea, although Lussier noted that the East Baton Rouge School Board “could overrule him and grant the school a charter anyway.” Moreover, Colleen Reynolds, a spokesperson for Charter Schools USA, made clear that the organization has not given up its fight to keep BRCA open, saying in a statement, “We will not give up on our students. We stand with them.”

EBR Supt. Warren Drake says Hage wants EBR to grant BRCA a new charter.

An Undeniable Failure

Unfortunately for Jon Hage and Charter Schools USA, all the platitudes in the world can’t hide the fact that their efforts at Baton Rouge Charter Academy have been a failure. The school has received an “F” letter grade in each of the last three years and BRCA leaders were well aware that they would probably lose their charter as a result. State education officials establish clear performance expectations for charters and have shuttered several schools that have failed to raise student achievement.

Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s 2016 School Report Card

That’s why Hage’s attempt to evade accountability by switching authorizers is so troubling. This practice, which is known as “authorizer shopping,” has been used by unsavory operators in states like Ohio and Michigan, which have become the poster children for charter school dysfunction.

But we don’t play those games down here. Our state’s commitment to high standards and rigorous oversight is the reason why Louisiana’s charters have generally outperformed their traditional public school counterparts. It also explains why so many charter advocates, including groups like the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and New Schools for New Orleans, urged BESE members to follow the recommendations of the state Department of Education to close failing charters like BRCA.

Plus, Hage’s argument for seeking a new charter from East Baton Rouge is that BRCA needs more time to improve, but a look at the performance of Charter Schools USA’s other schools across Louisiana doesn’t instill confidence that more time will make a difference.

For example, BRCA’s two closest sister schools, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy and Iberville Charter Academy, have grades of “D” and “F”, respectively. In fact, out of the nine schools operated by Charter Schools USA in the state, only one – Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville – has an “A” rating, although it also happens to serve a disproportionally white and affluent student population. Given the challenges they face, Jon Hage and Charter Schools USA would be better served by focusing their energies on improving their remaining schools lest they too end up on the chopping block.

In the meantime, officials in East Baton Rouge shouldn’t give Hage’s proposal the time of day. Instead of accepting responsibility for Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s poor performance, he has made excuses and is trying to undermine BESE’s authority. This unfortunate episode should also serve as a warning to other districts that Charter Schools USA doesn’t want to play by the rules and therefore shouldn’t be trusted.

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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Ann Burruss

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Ann Burruss

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NACSA

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NACSA

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Beth Hawkins

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Beth Hawkins

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Rachel Magee

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Rachel Magee

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Vesia World Peace

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Vesia World Peace

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Jonathan Hage

science shows high need kids behind grade-level need more time to catch up. System has failed them already. Can’t abandon them.

Peter C. Cook

Issue isn’t using $ to pay for space, but using it for arrangements that create perverse incentives. @CSUSAJonHage @CSUSAhq

Kathleen Padian

I’m Not defending @CSUSAJonHage @CSUSAhq but @BESE_LA should be consistent on closure for all charters & be a better authorizer

Kathleen Padian

Using your student funding is the only way charter schools can afford buildings – not unusual at all

Lee Barrios

Can you provide other examples Kathleen?

Josh McCarty

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Josh McCarty

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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.

Enlarge

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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