New Orleans on the vanguard (again) with a HBCU teacher residency program

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The HBCU responsible for producing more black doctors than any other institution in the United States is readying itself to produce homegrown teachers willing to teach in their own backyard.

A new partnership between Xavier University and five charter school management organizations in New Orleans will train teachers through the Dr. Norman C. Francis teacher residency program starting in the Fall of 2017.

An email blast from New Schools for New Orleans says this is “the first teacher residency partnership between an HBCU and charter management organizations in the country.”

The email goes on to explain the reasoning behind the new program:

Residencies have a strong track record of preparing teachers to start and stay in the classroom. Though structure may vary, these programs operate very much like a medical residency. Just as a new doctor prepares, the bulk of a teacher resident’s time is spent learning alongside a master teacher before gradually developing the skills and completing the hours of practice necessary to become the teacher of record. This intense, practiced-based preparation ensures the teacher understands the rigor of the profession and has had intense coaching and feedback before being responsible for a classroom of students.

Xavier University of Louisiana, lauded for preparing more black doctors than any institution in the nation, has also been preparing excellent teachers for our schools since the university was founded in 1925. Xavier has long emphasized deep content knowledge and practice in their teacher preparation programs, requiring extensive field experience and student teaching from their education students. When we talk to school leaders about where their effective teachers come from, Xavier’s programs are always high on the list.

According to the National Council of Teacher Residencies, programs like the one forming at Xavier build on the medial residency model by teaching underlying educational theory and providing real world practice.  Before new teachers are allowed to fly solo with a classroom full of students from under-resourced communities, they complete a “rigorous full-year classroom apprenticeship with masters-level education content.”

All of this is a notable sign of progress for New Orleans. For at least a decade school reform leaders have been dogged by community complaints about large numbers of charter school teachers who are not from New Orleans, who are perceived as being culturally mismatched with their students, and do not reflect the racial make up of the student body.

There is another sore spot that usually accompanies the claim about “outsider” teachers too.

The scab on the wound created when thousands of New Orleans Public Schools teachers were released from employment after Hurricane Katrina never quite heals, even all these years later. People often mentioned the “fired teachers” of New Orleans.

They rarely mention that a good number of teachers were rehired in new schools, but not the ones who couldn’t pass a basic skills test.

The promise of a new way to prepare teachers in New Orleans serves two important goals: producing indigenous teachers who teach where they are from, while also preparing teachers who can be effective in closing the achievement gap.

Achieving that would be real progress for a city that couldn’t be more deserving.

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!

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.

Don’t call it a comeback, NOLA’s been here for years

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A friend down South sent an email that had great news, and a solemn subtext.

The good news is that New Orleans’ results from this past spring’s PARCC testing shows black elementary students there are outperforming similar students in every other state except Massachusetts.

This year ten states, including Louisiana, used tests that aligned to the Common Core State Standards for 3rd graders through 8th graders, which allows for better comparisons of sub-groups across states. That in itself is a huge improvement over Louisiana’s past test, the LEAP, which masked poor performance relative to other states.

So, look at these results….

Percentage of 8th Grade Black Students
Scoring Mastery or Above
New Orleans
New Orleans
New Jersey
New Jersey
Rhode Island
Rhode Island

* Includes Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island

The graphic below shows that New Orleans is also besting other districts in the state of Louisiana, at least in 8th grade English and Math.

Percentage of Black Students Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math

The email also said this:

New Orleans is ranked 11th highest in the state out of 68 school districts In New Orleans, twenty-five percent of black students in grades 3-8 scored Mastery or above in English and math, 4 points above the state average of 21%.

These results are particularly impressive when you consider that in 2004, the first year the state released test results by sub-group, New Orleans was ranked last in the state in black student performance.

Now that we have the good news out of the way, there are two pieces of bad news here.

First, while New Orleans is shining in apples-to-apples comparisons of black students to similar students in other districts and states, the gap in test scores hasn’t close yet between black NOLA students and all students in Louisiana (see below).

Percentage Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math

Percentage Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math

Second, while New Orleans deserves applause for making forward progress, it’s just how few black students are mastering or exceeding standards, especially in places like New Jersey, a national leader in per-pupil investment public investment.

Not to be a buzzkill. We’ll take the good news we can get, where ever we can find it.  New Orleans deserves every dose of positive reinforcement after years of trauma, neglect, politics, and scandal.

I’ll cheer them on while hoping other states follow suit.

Stop talking as if my people are the problem, and you’re the solution

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by Malaika Hankins

Years of ribbing by older cousins has given me a thick skin that helps the daily work I do with middle school students. But this thick skin, my shield, has a few weak points.

As a New Orleans native and educator living in North Carolina, I take hits to my armor in the form of poorly-written, misinformed opinion pieces about “less fortunate, urban” children in the states that I call home. When I happen across a tilted article about my people, it triggers a cascade of frustration, anger and hurt.

At the beginning of this New Year, however, I am starting to realize that my coping strategy isn’t working as well as it once did. It is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the hurtful language I read from people with whom I intellectually agree. So, I have decided enough is enough. I am taking a stand against the racist prejudices that undermine narratives about my community, my students, and our schools.

Let’s start with a piece in the EducationNC Weekly Wrap-Up entitled “UNC Grads Teaching, and Learning, in New Orleans.” The author is Dr. Ferrel Guillory, the Director of the Program in Public Life and Professor of the Practice at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, and the Vice Chairman of EdNC. He not only shapes the news through his weekly columns, but also through his instruction of a whole generation of media personnel at my alma mater.

Sadly, Dr. Guillory’s piece highlights two of the worst sins of education discourse.

First is the deficit-centered, family-blaming description of black and brown students. He describes the central problem of American education as the combination of “poverty, fractured family-life, ill-educated adults, crime-prone neighborhoods [that] add up to students arriving in school with burdens and issues that bear down on educators”.

Let’s ignore for a second the notion that the problem with schools is that children are bringing in too many issues. For a moment, let’s focus on the words used to describe these students.

Dr. Guillory doesn’t even need to explain that these are students of color, that these are kids living in an urban district for us to paint a mental picture of those kids. The racially trained brain fills in the gaps. Without prompting, the reader creates their own Freedom Writers montage.

Describing my communities like that is an overplayed characterization that perpetuates all the worst stereotypes. Discourse about education in this country cannot move forward if we continue to use victim-blaming language or policies to describe students and families. We can’t continue to automatically know that those kids are black and brown.

Let’s resolve to not talk about student or community deficits without at least acknowledging the systemic racism and historic disenfranchisement that perpetuate inequities. To not address these realities is at bare minimum lazy, but more often belies racist undertones.

The second sin is the myth of the white savior teacher. Dr. Guillory’s piece is centered around four white Teach for America teachers working in New Orleans. The story outlines many of the issues in New Orleans’ education landscape, but ends with an uplifting note. We focus back on our heroes, our defenders, our liberators. He writes “their desire for and commitment to service to students in need of sound education and a lift from economic distress make them precisely the emerging talent our state and nation needs.”

Let’s start the slow clap now.

In 2016, I’d like us all to stop the valiant liberator narrative so closely associated with teaching. No doubt the teachers profiled in the article are changing the lives of young people. But let’s stop kidding ourselves into believing that the most important part of these teachers’ work is that they are white and that their students are black; that they alone are lifting students from poverty; that poor black and brown kids are indebted to their white saviors. I don’t think this idea needs any qualifications or compromises. It’s 2016, let’s just stop doing it.

These writing sins are frequently committed by both reformers and non-reformers alike. It is easy to recycle phrases we’ve used in the past, to paint the same pictures we’ve always seen, to take the easy route. But if we want to be better people this year and move closer to change, we have to value words more. We must acknowledge their power and use them more carefully, recognizing that their impact reaches beyond our screens and into self-narratives, perceptions, and policy. Even with the best intentions in mind, we cannot ignore the racist undercurrents in our progressive beliefs. Those of us with privilege have the responsibility to do less harm.

Let’s make 2016 be the year that we avoid played out education clichés and we tell true stories about students, families, teachers and schools without coded language or overused tropes. Let 2016 be the year that we hold authors, critics, and the media to higher expectations as well.
I’ll start first.