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Down-and-out In Dixie Reformers Need To Rally Behind Mississippi Charter Schools

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When teachers unions attacked charter schools in Washington State by filing lawsuits challenging their constitutionality, reformers from across the nation rushed to their defense. A media campaign was launched with the hashtag #SaveWACharterSchools. Op-eds were written. Amicus briefs were filed. Rallies were organized. Pro-charter forces raised such a fuss that the fight in Washington State grabbed national headlines. Eventually, thanks to their combined efforts, charter supporters won the day.

Reform organizations rallied to defend charter schools in Washington State

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in the heart of the American South, Mississippi charter schools are engaged in a legal battle – nearly identical to the one in Washington State – which if lost, could cut off their funding and shutter them entirely. The big difference is that the effort to save Mississippi’s charters has gotten far less attention and support from the education reform community.

A huge need in the Magnolia State

It’s hard to understand why reformers rallied to protect charters in Washington State, while the plight of those in the Magnolia State have been largely ignored. Arguably, there is a far greater need for high-quality charter options in Mississippi, where over 30% of children live in poverty.

 
As might be expected, educational attainment in Mississippi lags far behind the national average. The state has nearly as many high school dropouts as it does college graduates. For African-Americans, the statistics are particularly disturbing. In 2015, only 14% of black fourth-graders and 8% of black eighth graders were proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That same year, ACT results showed that only 3% of Mississippi’s black high school seniors earned a college-ready score on all four tested subjects (English, math, reading, and science).

Mississippi has nearly as high school dropouts as it does college graduates.

Although high quality, open enrollment public schools could help close the gap for many of these students, they are few and far between. The school system in Jackson, where the state’s handful of charters are located, received an “F” rating this past year and State Superintendent Carey Wright has warned that the district is in danger of takeover. In short, charter schools could have a huge impact in Mississippi, putting some of our nation’s highest-need children on a dramatically better life trajectory, but that will only be possible if they survive the current legal battle.

Charter opponents well-organized and well-funded

Thankfully, groups like the Mississippi Charter Schools Association and Mississippi Justice Institute have jumped into the fray to defend charter schools. In October, these organizations, along with a group of current charter school parents, won the right to intervene in the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, charter supporters are facing off against well-organized and well-heeled opponents. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s charter school law, certainly has the resources to wage a prolonged legal battle. The organization reported net assets of more than $315 million in 2015.

Moreover, it seems charter opponents are preparing to wage their fight outside the courtroom as well. Last month, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced it was giving $1 million over the next three years to Parents for Public Schools Jackson, an advocacy group in the state capital that opposes charter schools.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for April 4th and the judge should issue a ruling shortly thereafter. Still, observers expect that the case will ultimately be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court and both sides are preparing themselves for a long legal battle. With that in mind, it’s crucial that education reform supporters lend their voices (and their resources) in the upcoming weeks and months to support Mississippi’s charter schools and ensure that families in the Magnolia State have the high-quality educational options that they’ve long been denied.


Read more about this story:

Mississippi Learning? | PE + CO

We have an old saying down here in Louisiana: Thank God for Mississippi. It’s a cynical expression alluding to the fact that no matter how poorly Louisiana fares in national rankings of social and economic health, things for our neighbors in the Magnolia State are almost inevitably worse.

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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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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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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Charters

PSA: NAACP Charter School Hearing Tonight Don't Let Critics Distort The Story In New Orleans

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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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