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It’s clear that the American Federation of Teachers doesn’t want New Orleans-style education reform to spread. After all, the teachers union has poured millions of dollars into the Bayou State to fight Louisiana’s reform efforts over the past twelve months. Plus, they’ve also waged a considerable public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the academic progress witnessed in the Crescent City over the past decade.

On the other hand, AFT hasn’t shied away from exporting critics of New Orleans’ reforms to the union’s other battlegrounds across the country. I was reminded of this while reading an article in The Progressive on a recent protest held by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) at the opening of the Broad Museum in downtown L.A. UTLA is all in a huff about the recent revelation that the Broad Foundation is backing a plan to enroll half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in charter schools by 2023.

A recent UTLA flyer attacking Eli Broad.

A recent UTLA flyer attacking Eli Broad. Charming, right?

While I expected a recounting of UTLA’s usual protest tactics in the article (i.e., UTLA President, Alex Caputo-Pearl, going on and on about “philanthrocapitalism” and the threat posed by “unregulated” charter schools), I was surprised to see a video of none other than New Orleans’ own Karran Harper Royal at the event screaming into a megaphone about the evils of Teach For America and the Recovery School District. Apparently, AFT saw an opportunity to advance two of their objectives – blocking charter expansion in Los Angeles and denying New Orleans’ academic progress – and decided to fly Royal out to “cry wolf” about charter schools.


However, outside of the echo chamber of reform critics and their union supporters, Royal’s admonitions about New Orleans’ charter schools ring hollow. As Tulane’s Doug Harris recently noted in an essay in Education Week, “There is not much debate that the New Orleans’ school reforms improved student outcomes. The evidence on that point is strong.” Likewise, UTLA’s warnings about the dangers of charter schools don’t seem to carry much weight with LAUSD parents either. As Catherine Suitor, chief development and communications officer for Alliance College Ready Public Schools, noted earlier this spring: “Every year, we have more applications than available seats.”

So if charter schools are benefitting low-income students in places like New Orleans, and parents in Los Angeles are flocking to enroll their children in charters, why is AFT fighting against them? Good question. Perhaps it’s something you can ask Karran when AFT sends her to protest in a city near you.

Pete Cook

Pete became involved in education reform in New Orleans Public Schools as a 2002 Teach For America corps member and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. He now works as a consultant and writer working to ensure public schools meet the needs of low-income students. He lives in New Orleans.

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