Where in the World is Karran Harper Royal? Maryland and Across Louisiana

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Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series documenting where the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association sends Karran Harper Royal.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the union-funded travels of our old friend, Karran Harper Royal. If you’ll remember, last winter, Royal was busy flying across the country – from Los Angeles, to Boston, to Chicago – to share her distorted portrayal of charter schools in New Orleans, courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

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.

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.

Where will Karran Harper Royal shill for the teachers unions next? Only time will tell, but rest assured that we’ll be following her exploits here on Citizen Ed!

Education reform needs fewer lambs, more lions

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Education reform is in a bad place right now, but the conditions that justify it are as strong as ever. Constantly under attack by people who want us to believe public schools are not failing (or, if they are, its through no fault of their own), reformers rarely pierce that bubble with the cold facts. Even when we do we are subject to a legion of system defenders with goal: to take us out.

I’ve encountered a few personas in education advocacy that do more to set us further back than to advance ideas that will change the game for poor students, and I think it’s worth sharing.

But first, a little context…

If we are being real, the American education hegemony is a plantation. Black people didn’t invent it, we don’t own it, yet we are asked to turn our children over to it every day without any expectation of having real power over it. The people with the greatest control over the system are its bureaucrats and its workers,  who, in tandem, show no interest in us having options outside of the ones they profit from. They box us into a definition of public education that only includes state-run schools, and that requires them to box out the voices of reformers.

The logical conclusion of their arguments is that we should be permanent wards of the same state that is killing us in the streets, in the courts, in the law, and in almost every area of life activity. As state workers, their goal is to keep our per pupil income even when we are dissatisfied with their performance or results.

We are to be their captives. Any attempt at escape is met with hostility, condescension, and correction. If we speak any ill of their system, or make any designs on better systems, they send out the overseers to put us in our place.

So, what are the personas I see most?

Let’s put them in three categories: The slavers, the lambs, and the lions.

First, the overseers

Among the overseers are college professors, writers, activists, and Afroturf organizations funded to convince us the best we can do is remain captive to a system that has always sorted us into inferior classrooms, led by lesser qualified teachers, and governed by boards elected in low turnout elections mostly through the support of the public workers in the traditional public schools.

Some of these folks are simply charlatans. These are the people who are intellectually promiscuous enough to write semi-conscious pieces about the need for education reform today, only to later write long, incoherent pieces against reform when a different paycheck emerges from the vast network of folks funding the education stasis movement.

Then there are the duplicitous people. They have their own kids in private schools (or are the products of private schools themselves), or even in charter schools, but become warriors for abstract arguments against giving lesser people access to the same educational options they are privileged enough to enjoy.

My favorite folks are the Afroplastics. These folks often childless, young, college-educated, and they often discovered their blackness in college (and often at selective white colleges).

They read a few black books and use them to manufacture a designer line of Afrobabble that either misunderstands, or misappropriates, black thought. They’re talented enough to make freedom sound like oppression, and oppression sound noble. To them, giving poor black parents more options when state-run schools fail is somehow an attack on black communities. Black people operating new schools outside of the state-run system is treason. Freeing black children from the same state that is killing them in other arenas is an affront to our wonderful government.

Negros, please.

Until you harness what intellectual powers you might have to present an honest and thorough critique of the valid and documented inadequacies of the traditional public schools, including the racist history of their unions, you are farting in strong winds.

Second, the lambs

Then there are the folks who collect education reform paychecks but can’t be found when our proposals face stiff opposition by hostile public workers (or their agents) who fear our success will be their demise.

Often these little lambs are our good middle class people who see finding nuance as a sign of broad mindedness and civility. They seek common ground with people coming to ruin them, or find nuance in every argument against education reform. They want to be liked by all the wrong people and have almost a self-loathing appreciation for hearing arguments against their own.

When the real fight emerges, these folks are of no use to us. They are the best targets for our opposition because they specialize in taking punches without ever landing one.

For instance, it’s almost cliche now for people paid by Teach For America to eat from the TFA table and then realize it’s better for their curriculum vitae to sit silent while their employer is attacked, or worse, to join the chorus of folks coming for their employers head.

Silence is complicity.

Reform should fire complicit people because defending the lives and futures of children is too important for us to waste resources on bystanders and moral relativists. There are such things as fighting words, but only fighters will ever recognize them.

Finally, the lions

This group is small. There are too few people who stand boldly on the premise of reform (that our schools must do better). Yet, research tells us repeatedly that our kids are in schools that just aren’t ready for them. These schools produce economic divisions and racial strife while diminishing black minds and limiting human potential. The suffering is real.

I’m resistant to name the real lions, our champions for black educational freedom, because no one deserves a cookie for telling the damn truth about the grossly inefficient public schools.

In 2016, black people are the richest we’ve ever been, the most educated, and the best positioned to be our own truth tellers, so if the hardest thing we have to do is stand in the face of a racist, ill-performing state and tell it the truth about it’s inability to educate our children, we have it far better than our ancestors.

We should remember that when we encounter slavers, overseers, charlatans, and Afroplastics.

Every morning a great number of black and brown people dedicate themselves to working in new schools that are creating new opportunities to learn. There are also millions of black and brown people who have benefited from these new schools. These people represent an educational minority, and like most minorities, they can’t be help if their leaders are constantly marginalized or too timid to affirm their voices, their right to exist, their right to be self-determining, and their right to an education of their own choosing.

Our opponents eat lamb for dinner. We’re better off sending them lions for breakfast.

An All-New Low For The Louisiana Federation of Teachers

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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.

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.

That’s not only wrong, that’s despicable.

This post originally appeared at peterccook.com

AFT Is Lurking In The Shadows

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The New Orleans education community was taken by surprise on Monday, when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced that educators at Lusher Charter School had formed a union. An AFT press release on the move stated:

“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-Picayune noted, 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.

A screenshot of a post on Craigslist from July 2014.

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.

This post was originally published on PE+CO on April 12, 2016.

Maybe it’s not fair to say Hillary Clinton has turned her back on education reform

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We can barely keep up with Hillary Clinton’s positions on education issues. As a long time supporter of school reform, dating back to her days as the first lady of Arkansas, Clinton scared fellow reformers when she walked back support for charter schools after receiving endorsements from teachers’ unions for her presidential campaign. In the past week she’s confounding more of us with comments that are artfully for and against annual testing of students. In the blog post below Laura Waters seeks to find the real Clinton position on education.

Deconstructing Hillary Clinton’s Education Reform Agenda

I’ll be honest: until I read this Newsday interview with Hillary Clinton where she said that she would opt her granddaughter into state standardized tests, this  lifelong Democrat, was pretty anxious about the presidential election. Heck, I almost felt like opting out of voting. Sure, I felt the Bern a bit  and still get the odd hot flash now and then but  the gun thing for me is a non-starter.  That leaves  Hillary, likely nominee, smarter than anyone,  tons of baggage  (hard to avoid as Ms. FLOTUS to Mr. Flauntus, Secretary of State, and two-time presidential candidate)  and, judging by media coverage, in the pockets of both big labor and big business.
So there I was contemplating stepping into a voting booth and ping-ponging between someone who looks just like my uncle and someone who so rigidly adheres to canonical teacher union rhetoric that  AFT  leadership endorsed her before their members even had a chance to vote. (Hey, Randi, the renewed vigor of Badass Teachers Association? That’s all on you.)

And the Republicans? Oy vey. It’s like they’re waiting  to see if Trump and Cruz will be swept up in the Rapture in the Quicken Loans Convention Hall in Cleveland  (I’m really not sure how this works) and Paul Ryan and Kasich?/Rubio?/Romney? ascend  to lead all faithful to victory. Way too mythological for my taste.

So imagine my relief when I read last night that  Hillary might be for real after all, not just a patsy to big labor but authentically aware that the behemoth that we call public education isn’t working for vast numbers of children: those of color, those with disabilities, even those who go to “good” suburban schools. Hey, maybe she read Education Post’s remediation report that describes how 1 in 4 students who enter college the fall after high school graduation have to take remedial courses at an annual cost of $1.5 billion. Or maybe she saw an advance copy of Shavar Jeffries’ column where he writes,

What anti-testing advocates are failing to tell our parents and communities is that getting rid, or opting out, of standardized assessments disproportionately harms poor students and students of color who are already in areas plagued by a lack of resources, where high-poverty schools struggle to offer advanced classes and attract good teachers and counselors. These communities depend on the insights gleaned from testing for funding and allocations that are intended to direct resources where they’re needed the most – in order to actually address the systemic inequities holding too many of our kids back from reaching their fullest potential. That’s what civil rights groups have learned over the past two decades. That’s why they strongly support these policies.

Is Hillary listening? According to Newsday, she is:

Not surprisingly, the Wellesley Class of 1969 valedictorian doesn’t believe in skipping exams, and she probably wouldn’t opt out granddaughter Charlotte from New York’s standardized tests, if it were up to her.

(Okay: reality check: Charlotte will probably go to a private school like tony Dalton at $44,640 per year, so standardized testing isn’t really an issue. But still…)

Clinton has serious reservations about how the Common Core rollout and testing have happened in New York, even as she supports tough national standards and standardized tests in general.

Hey, I can live with that. Too much too fast. We know this. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Fine. She supports college and career-ready standards and aligned tests.

She gave a little history lesson on Common Core, reminiscing that the creation of the national standards was a bipartisan idea of the nation’s governors that practically everyone supported. She’s right. Until kids started failing to pass the tougher tests and meet the tougher standards, everyone was in favor of them.

(Newsday knows of what it speaks. Wing away, helicopter parents!)

Regarding school choice, Ms. Clinton supports successful public charter schools, particularly as labs that can help find the best educational methods and bring those methods back into the public schools. She make it clear she’s not crazy about “for-profit” charters.”

Hmm. That “lab” reference is code for “limited role for charters” and that’s not something that will sit well with New York City parents, especially those of color who are increasingly clamoring to get their gets into successful charters like Success Academy. In fact, SA just announced that they received 20,000 applications for the available 3,228 slots, almost 7 requests for every opening.

I still have lots of concerns about Secretary Clinton’s credibility on education issues. Will she repeat what she said to Newsday to Randi Weingarten’s face? Will she stop letting her husband speak for her? Or will Democrats like me face an impossible choice in November?

Laura Waters writes compelling and informative commentary about education issues in New Jersey and beyond. This was republished from her blog NJ Left Behind.