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



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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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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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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