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!

What do parents think about sending NOLA charter schools to the OPSB?

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As a parent who regularly speaks with other parents and individuals about education in New Orleans I can tell you we have questions and concerns about a bill recently passed to transfer NOLA charter schools from the Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board.

It looks like the community is galvanized around bringing the schools under local control. Groups of leaders and parents seem to agree, I believe for it to be successful there needs to be more voices in the room. I am always concerned about the most vulnerable individuals in our society being represented at the table and being heard. The group that will be most affected by the transfer from one authority, the RSD, to another, the OPSB, are the nearly 90% of the city’s children that makeup the charter school’s student body.

Has anyone asked them or their families what they think? If so, what were the results? What are the top concerns raised and how have they been addressed?

To tell the truth, nobody asked me. I’ve got kids in these schools. I’ve got skin in the game. Parents like me should have a say too, right?

The Bill (SB 432) that will become law should concern parents. The bill requires all schools to participate in the parish-wide enrollment system (One App) and student expulsion process. This has been a challenge that took the RSD time to iron out. Does the OPSB have the capacity to prevent the system from splitting up families, and sending children across town? Is OPSB capable of making the necessary changes that will make the choice of a school less of a chore for the cities families?

The student expulsion process and suspension rates in our school system have also been under scrutiny. Will this issue improve under the OPSB? Parents who have had multiple bad experiences want a better system, a system that doesn’t merely hand down punitive action to our children but a system that gives positive reinforcements that will build children’s confidence and teach them life skills. No one has said that changing overseers of charter schools will get us a better system of discipline, and that’s a problem. While “governance” is an important issue, we need leaders who think about the ground level too.

I recently attended a forum that featured some of the major educational players who took part in several committees that helped shape SB 432. The forum was hosted by the 100 Black Men of Greater New Orleans led by President Jonathan Wilson. Their coalition includes Total Community Action (TCA), The Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN), Inspire NOLA Charter Group, New Orleans College Prep Charter Schools, The Orchid Society, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, The Alliance for Diversity and Excellence and the Alliance for Citizen engagement. To their credit they have drafted a list of five basic principles for unification:

  • Sovereignty of local control – Decision making at the local level
  • Close equity gaps – Fair distribution of MFP funds
  • System efficacy and accountability – Accountability of people for educational outcomes and their use of funds
  • Data transparency and integrity – Public access to information and clear consequences for abuse
  • Safe and secure learning environments – Quality facilities conducive to teaching and learning

These are reasonable principles. I’m glad we have good people working on our behalf. That said we have to be real and admit passing a bill, law or policy isn’t going to be the end all, be all.

I want to believe this strong coalition of citizens groups and educators are prepared for the challenge of governing schools. They have tried to lay out their expectations from the next school board that will be elected in November, and what will be expected from the Superintendent of the OPSB.

In the future I would like to see more parent involvement in these efforts, but for now I know it will be our responsibility as citizens to hold our elected officials accountable to our needs. In the end governance should happen only for one reason, to make things better for our most vulnerable citizens.

Our struggle is for children, our future, our responsibility.

Lamont Douglas is a NOLA parent and education activist who led a successful campaign to change the leadership of his child’s elementary school. He blogs at Second Line Blog.


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.

Where In The World Is Karran Harper Royal? Last Week: Chicago

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

New Orleans activist Karran Harper Royal is racking up the frequent flyer miles thanks to her friends at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Over the past few months, Royal has criss-crossed the country to spread her myths and misinformation about the dangers of charter schools.

This past week, Royal was in Chicago to speak at Fighting the Flood: Disaster Capitalism and Black Reconstruction, a panel discussion on one of Royal’s favorite topics: disaster capitalism. At the event, Royal portrayed the takeover of schools after Hurricane Katrina as a grave injustice that has harmed the city’s black community and ominously warned audience members about the grave threat posed by charter schools in Chicago.

The event was hosted by the Grassroots Collaborative, an organizing network sponsored by none other than the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), one of AFT’s most militant locals. In fact, two days after Royal’s event, the Grassroots Collaborative honored CTU’s president, Karen Lewis, at an event marking the organization’s 15th anniversary.

Grassroots Collaborative honored CTU president Karen Lewis last week. Why? Because she's helping underwrite them!

Grassroots Collaborative honored CTU president Karen Lewis last week. Why? Because she’s helping underwrite them!

Where will AFT send Karran next? Only time will tell, but we’ll be keeping track of it here at Citizen Education!