As winter turned to spring, however, things seemed to die down for the Big Easy’s preeminent anti-charter school activist. Apparently, AFT stopped calling and had turned their attention elsewhere. While Royal maintained an unusually low profile for most of the summer – and the rest of us enjoyed a vacation from her incessant lies about education reform – it was only a matter of time before she jumped back into the fray. All she needed was the right opportunity and the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided it.
ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in December, represents a significant shift away from the strict accountability measures of its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, by giving states much more flexibility in how they measure school performance and address failing schools. Now that states are preparing to adjust their policies to comply with the new law, the teachers unions – in particular, the National Education Association (NEA) – have launched a nationwide campaign to water down state accountability standards and promote community schools as an alternative to charters.
In Louisiana, NEA is attempting to shape public opinion through a series of community forums on ESSA that their state affiliate, Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), is hosting in cities across the state. Moreover, the union has hired Karran Harper Royal to assist in their propaganda efforts to perhaps give them a veneer of grassroots authenticity.
Over the past two weeks, Royal has appeared at LAE’s ESSA forums in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles, where she urged community members to reject charter schools and embrace the community schools model. At the meeting in Lake Charles, for example, Royal told audience members that the proliferation of charters in New Orleans had been a disaster for the city’s children, whereas community schools promised to “catalyze the revitalization of not just the student, but of the whole community.”
From LAE’s ESSA forum in Lafayette.
But Royal’s work on behalf of NEA isn’t limited to Louisiana. On Friday, she was in Rockville, MD to share her lies and misinformation about charter schools at a NEA training session for union leaders and educators from across the Northeast.
Union leader from New Orleans discussing the existing concern; 52% poverty rate & 26,000 Black males unemployed. The ESSA helps w/ change. pic.twitter.com/FjDlunXhoR
It has long been clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) does not work in the best interests of students. After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.
But LFT’s current effort to scuttle funding for a charter school serving at-risk students represents an all-time low for the union.
Last week, LFT launched an online petition calling on Governor John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 887, a proposal from Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), that would allow a Baton Rouge charter school, THRIVE Academy, to become an independent public school under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.
East Baton Rouge teacher Sarah Broome launched THRIVE Academy in 2011 after one of her young students was killed in a violent street fight. Broome recognized that the student’s chaotic home life put her on a path that ended in that unfortunate tragedy and wanted to create a school that could meet the needs of at-risk students both in and out of the classroom.
Therefore, Broome established THRIVE as a charter boarding school – the first of its kind in the state – where students live together during the week and are expected to participate in activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and budgeting. THRIVE also provides the 110 students it currently serves with individualized attention in small classes led by high-performing teachers.
By almost every measure, the school has been a success. Not only is THRIVE one of the highest-performing middle schools in East Baton Rouge, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the entire district.
Nevertheless, THRIVE has had to depend on the generosity of funders to cover the added costs that come with boarding students – an approach that has worked thus far, but leaves the school vulnerable to the whims of donors. To ensure the long-term financial stability of the school, Broome worked with Rep. Carter to craft House Bill 887 to make THRIVE a legislatively-authorized independent public school, much like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).
As a legislatively-authorized school, THRIVE would be able to enroll students who live outside East Baton Rouge Parish. It would also allow the Legislature to allocate additional funding to THRIVE – approximately $23,714 per child – to fully cover the costs of the program.
6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.
House Bill 887 received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – in fact, Senators passed the bill unanimously – and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an organization which always claims it works in the best interests of kids, wants the Governor to veto the bill, which would deprive hundreds of our state’s most vulnerable children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow.
“Educators at Lusher made public their commitment to stand together as the United Teachers of Lusher, an affiliate of the United Teachers of New Orleans and the American Federation of Teachers. Teachers delivered to management a petition of union support signed by a majority of teachers, teacher assistants and other certificated staff at Lusher. They are now calling on management to recognize their union and move forward with negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.”
As the Times-Picayunenoted, it is unclear when Lusher’s faculty held the organizing vote or how the votes split.
Nevertheless, Lusher’s decision means that three schools – or 3.6% of all public schools in the city – have chosen to organize since Hurricane Katrina decimated the ranks of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), once the largest AFT local in Louisiana.*
Ironically, it also means that two of the three New Orleans schools organized by AFT are selective-admissions charters under the Orleans Parish School Board. Lusher and Ben Franklin High School, whose teachers formed a AFT-affiliated union in March 2015, have long been two of the highest performing schools in the city, thanks to their ability to screen students. Those policies also help explain why both charters serve a disproportionate number of white, affluent families.
Much of the shock over Monday’s announcement stems from the fact that Lusher is currently in the midst of a nasty legal battle over a proposed change in the way public schools are funded in the city. The plan would allocate funds based on a weighted formula that more accurately reflects the added costs of serving English Language Learners, and at-risk and overage students, and children with special needs.
Lusher and a handful of other selective-admissions charters would likely see a slight decrease in their annual funding under the new formula since they serve relatively few special needs and at-risk students. Nevertheless, officials at Lusher are steadfastly opposed to any reduction and filed a lawsuit in federal court last month to block the plan.**
Union Has Been Lurking, Waiting To Pounce
It’s unclear what role, if any, the funding fight played in the decision by Lusher staff to unionize, but what is certain is that the American Federation of Teachers has been waging a long-running campaign to discredit the substantial academic gains made by the city’s public schools in the union’s absence.
It’s also become apparent that AFT and its state and local affiliates have been quietly lurking on the sidelines looking for opportunities to organize the city’s charter schools, presumably in an effort to eat away at the reforms from the inside out.
Over the past year and a half, AFT has been hiring organizers to target charters in the Crescent City and they’ve been popping up in the most unexpected places. A few weeks ago, for example, UTNO organizers hijacked the end of a performance at ARISE Academy put on by Dancing Grounds, a local non-profit that partners with schools to provide dance instruction to students, to tell its audience of teachers and parents about the benefits of UTNO membership.
Screenshot of a job posting on Craigslist from July 2014.
Furthermore, the union has put substantial resources behind organizing efforts in the city. According to the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015 annual report [see below] filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT’s national office spent a total of nearly $2.7 million dollars in Louisiana between July 1st, 2014 and June 30th, 2015 (note: this figure does not include spending by state and local affiliates like the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and UTNO). The report further shows that nearly $355,000 of that total was earmarked for the “AFT/UTNO New Orleans Charter Organizing Project.” AFT also provided UTNO with an additional $143,000 in F.Y. 2015 to cover “release time organizing expenses.”
When taken together, AFT allocated nearly a half a million dollars for organizing efforts in New Orleans in the past year – a surprisingly large amount for a school district in a right-to-work state where the teachers union has been pretty much dead since 2005. It should serve as a warning that AFT still poses a threat to reform efforts in this city. The substantial progress we’ve seen in our public schools in New Orleans over the past decade directly contradicts the teachers unions’ pessimistic message that poverty trumps all. That’s why the unions fight so hard to malign the transformation of our public education system and that’s why we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they wouldn’t tear it all down if we gave them the opportunity to do so.
* Full disclosure: I was a member of the United Teachers of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
** This is in spite of the fact that Lusher had budget surpluses in excess of $1.4 million in both 2014 and 2015.
The Southern Education Foundation has long ties to the teachers’ unions, so their imprimatur on this wasn’t necessarily surprising. Research For Action, on the other hand, holds itself up as “an independent, trusted source for accessible, timely education research.” However, the fact that Shaw and Schott would put their names on this piece, which paints a very skewed picture of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) and Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) to bolster their argument against state takeovers, casts serious doubt on their credibility.
For example, when it comes to the RSD, the authors rehash a litany of well-worn (and largely baseless) assertions made by education reform critics:
“A decade later, New Orleans still reports some of the nation’s lowest achievement scores and graduation rates. Beyond poor academic outcomes, recent research from Stanford University found a host of negative consequences, with a majority of families reporting long commutes to school, overcrowding, a bewildering gantlet [sic] of enrollment procedures, high rates of pushout, and difficulty finding schools able to serve students with special needs (including that the most vulnerable are the least likely to receive needed supports).”
While the study claims that New Orleans’ post-Katrina reforms have produced “poor academic outcomes,” there’s an important detail that is curiously left out of the report. One of its co-authors,Channa Cook-Harvey, was the founder of a New Orleans charter school – Sojourner Truth Academy – that was actually shutdown by the RSD in 2012.
As the Times-Picayunereported back in November 2011, the RSD decided to pull Sojourner Truth’s charter after years of dismal academic performance:
“Its 2010 school performance score was 53.5 on a scale of about 200, while the state considers anything below a 65 to be ‘failing.’ This past year its score dropped to 48.7, meaning fewer than 30 percent of its students scored at grade level or better on state exams.”
In fact, things were so bad at the school that Cook-Harvey was fired by Sojourner Truth’s board of directors in the summer of 2011. Moreover, the RSD subsequently launched an investigation into whether school leaders had improperly suspended students with special needs.
“For New Orleans, the news on average student outcomes is quite positive by just about any measure. The reforms seem to have moved the average student up by 0.2 to 0.4 standard deviations and boosted rates of high school graduation and college entry. We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.”
McGuire, Dunn, Shaw, and Schott selectively omit evidence and facts like this when it comes to the ASD as well, but their assessment also reveals they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the reform efforts in Tennessee and the role of the Achievement School District.
The authors claim that opposition to the ASD is growing “in the wake of evidence that iZones — locally controlled improvement models — are posting ‘positive, statistically significant, and substantively meaningful effects on student achievement across all subjects.’”
It’s true that a recent Vanderbilt study showed that iZone schools in Memphis have shown growth – and that should be celebrated and continued – but the impetus behind the iZone effort came not from the ground up, but the top down. The iZones were presented as an opportunity for districts to avoid the takeover of their lowest performing schools by the ASD. Plus, those “locally controlled models” were thoroughly vetted and approved by the Tennessee Department of Education before they were launched.1
Moreover, the author of the Vanderbilt study made clear he didn’t believe the Achievement School District should be closed since it was “premature to pass definitive judgment on the ASD schools or priority schools more generally.” McGuire, Dunn, Shaw, and Schott never acknowledge this fact and present the Vanderbilt report as simply evidence of the ASD’s failure.
“[A] growing body of independent investigations shows that the preferred strategies of closing and chartering schools in takeover districts open the public treasury to fraud, waste, and abuse. Much of this fraud goes undetected, since even when stronger rules are instituted, most states have little capacity to monitor how private operators profit from public funds.”
The study they link to as evidence comes from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, whose website features blog posts from the likes of Diane Ravitch, P.L. Thomas, and Jeff Bryant, and which received $300,000 in funding from AFT and NEA last year. You know, credible.
The one thing the authors are right about is that folks in Georgia and Pennsylvania need to carefully consider whether to move forward with plans to create state takeover districts, but those conversations should be rooted in actual facts, not biased opinions passed off as such. From this perspective, McGuire, Dunn, Shaw, and Schott added nothing to the debate.
Pete Cook is former NOLA educator and current bird-dogger of anti-reformers. This post is republished from petercook.com.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I feel it necessary to add another entry to the painfully awkward list of ‘splaining terms: Demiansplaining.
The term refers to Demian Godon, a software engineer from Seattle, who likes to attack Teach For America during his free time on social media and on his blog, Reconsidering TFA.
Godon also happens to be a white guy, which is why I found it ironic that he thought it was a good idea to write a blog post on Sunday -“Does Teach for America Leave Black Lives Behind?” – chiding DeRay Mckesson and other Black Lives Matter activists for their affiliation with Teach For America. In the post, Godon asks:
“[G]iven the role of the financial backers of corporate reform and TFA in the growing inequity facing communities of color, should black lives matter activists be partnering with TFA and corporate reformers?”
He then goes on to cite two statements from teachers union-aligned activists who argue (unsuprisingly) that “TFA actually threatens the black lives matter movement.” In short, he’s Demiansplaining to Black Lives Matter activists why Teach For America is antithetical to the Black Lives Matter movement [insert headsmack here].
As a white guy, this is the type of statement that makes you cringe at how clueless and self-righteous other white guys can be. So I’ve come up with two simple rules that other melanin-deficient fellows like myself can follow to avoid falling into the same trap:
1. Don’t use the Black Lives Matter movement to push your personal political agenda
I would have thought this rule was self-evident, but apparently not, so let’s spell it out: If you’re trying to use the Black Lives Matter movement to push your personal political agenda, you’ve totally missed the point. BLM is not about you and your beef with TFA or other perceived boogeymen.
2. Don’t tell Black Lives Matter leaders what’s up when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement
Imagine some random person walks into your house, looks around, and then proceeds to tell you that you’ve furnished the place all wrong. This person isn’t an interior decorator or Feng Shui consultant you’re paying to tell you that your “corporate, neoliberal sofa” doesn’t belong in the living room where you put it. You would probably stand there thinking, “Who in the hell does this person think he is telling me where my neoliberal sofa should go in my house?” Then, you’d promptly boot him out the front door. Get it? Same logic applies when it comes to telling folks like DeRay Mckesson that their affiliation with TFA puts them “on the wrong side” of the BLM struggle.
In conclusion, if you follow these two simple rules, I promise even obsessed Teach For America critics can look (slightly) less foolish.