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Only a damn fool complains and thinks they’ve actually done something

The long discussion being had about education in New Orleans brings to mind a “do-something” rule from one of my past workplaces.

I once had a boss who demanded employees never bring a problem to him without also bringing a solution. It was a smart leadership tactic because is significantly reduced the number of issues direct reports would bring forward. 

It also kept us all in a generative, solutions-based mental frame.

Today that rule helps me cut through all of the dreadful, peeved education commentary written by friends, colleagues, and those who are on the perceived to be on the opposite “side” of school issues from me.

I see lots of griping. Lots of admiration for the problems

Few answers.

New Orleans is home to that situation for now. A fresh batch of test scores that can largely be called a disappointment for the all-charter school town recently hit email inboxes, handing wringing commenced, and the usual blogtastic snipers came hunting for reformers. 

Here’s what we do in this situation: we re-litigate the traumatic reshaping of NOLA schools after hurricane Katrina.

We assign universally negative and immoral motives to the people who pushed for changes in education.

And, we offer non-academic, non-pedagogical feel-good solutions that are far weaker than our strident articulation of the problem.

Andre Perry, a former charter school leader, leads in that mode of attack. He has another piece out today that demonizes a generic white-faced reformer who lacks any human characteristics other than a white face, and that reformer is positioned against a blameless class of black semi-professionals who were the heroic casualties of needless school reform.

This paragraph is the standard roux to all of Perry’s salty pieces:

Demands for a radical overhaul of the Orleans Parish school system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were predicated on low test scores. But opponents of the proposed reforms said scores were used to justify the overturning of a black-run system, to fire black teachers, disempower a traditional district and profit from a public good. The cries for reform won out, leading to the dismantling of New Orleans’ school system, eventually resulting in a nearly all-charter school district.

Truthfully, he is right.

In fact, a black-run school system was torn roots, stems, and all from beneath the flood waters and the fields were planted with a dizzying array of new schools. 

Yet, that uprooted black-run school district was the most corrupt school system in the United States with arrests, convictions, and cheating scandals happening with such regularity it became as emblematic to the city as Mardi Gras. 

Other than that, the fact that New Orleans Public Schools were black-run before the arrival of educational colonists (gentrifiers both white and black who came to participate in a district reboot) is a nostalgic sore point easily exploit for rhetorical effect that is wholly immaterial to progress in NOLA.

You can hate me now. I’ll survive.

At least Perry is reasonably sober in his writings and not totally betraying his notable credentials, but others show none of his relative restraint.

Such is the case with The New Orleans Tribune wrote an “editorial” so verbose and abusive of logic that I can hardly summarize it for you except to say it was likely written in in long hand using crayon. It’s broad comedic point amounts to reform = bad and old schools = good.

The fact that NOLA Ed reforms delivered in terms of student achievement is inarguable for everyone except those pitiful souls so married to permanent protest that they can’t admit any success.

They hate change more than they love the truth. 

If you’re agreeing with me so far, you just might be a school reformer. My message to you is don’t get too smug. You’re more on the hook than your detractors are. We are at an uncharted crossroads. We might be lost. What happens next could either hand the biggest victory to our critics, or produce yet another impressive innovation that gets us to the charter district hybrid 2.0.

We must be real. The fact that things are better isn’t enough just as an upgrade from pneumonia to the flu is not cause for a parade.

Critics of NOLA reform have a tremendous ace in their cuff and it is this: reform is no longer an outside insurgency against the traditional status quo. More than a decade into the greatest educational experiment of all times reform is the status quo.

For those cold ideologues who afforded no mercy to the old system, it is your turn to answer for short comings. Based on your previous head to toe reading of the previous system, expect your assessment to be doubly merciless.

The recent testing results reveal 30 schools with a grade of “D” or “F,” and substantial declines among some of the charter school operators. There is no acceptable collegial free pass for that degree of failure, especially in a “market” where bureaucracy, unionism, and legacy constraints have been removed.

Remember, we are about “no excuses,” an edict not directed at students, but at ourselves.

We broke it. We own it. 

So, while I think the incessant and cheap clickbait articles that affix the word “black” to a never ending series of emotive non sequiturs, reform warriors have to be serious about outcomes. That means we can never go soft on failing charter schools.

For my money, my friend Mary Moran’s organization, Nuetra Voz, is bring one of the only solutions-based efforts to the problem; she’s organizing parents to bring a loud demand to those well-paid leaders most responsible for bad schools.

Their campaign #30NolaEdWatch is asking: “Why should we place confidence in the CEOs of the 30 D and F schools that don’t prepare our children for their future?”

It’s a question that school leaders need to answer with all the urgency that it took for them to smuggle charter schools into the city back in 2005.

If you want to see a competent and comprehensive look at the achievement problem in NOLA that goes beyond the clickbait and callow pandering I suggest reading Pete Cook’s post “The Great NOLA Train Wreck.”


Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Charter Schools

I don’t care if KIPP changes their slogan if they still get results


Good People, some of y’all keep asking me about the internal work the KIPP charter school network is doing to interrogate itself for racial justice concerns, which begins with them changing their well-known slogan”Work Hard, Be Nice.”

I’ve resisted commenting because I think it’s a phony problem.

But, since questions continue to come my way, here a few thoughts:

1. KIPP can change their slogan to whatever they think helps them meet their organizational objective. You don’t have to like it. Stay in you lane.

2. People from the Right love any facile news peg that allows them to belabor the case that “woke” is going too far. I’m sympathetic to their complaint, but notice they have ZERO to say about it when white supremacy goes too far…..ever. It’s way too convenient and I’m tired of that. To them I say: woke isn’t doing nearly the damage to our country and out culture that your president, your party, and you are doing. Clean your own toilet before inspecting others’.

3. So-called “Ed Reform” is full of self-important individuals with axes to grind for one reason or other. Sometimes it’s just straight up competition, sometimes it’s malignant jealousy, sometimes its egotism because they didn’t get a grant or one of their AMAZING criticisms wasn’t heard, or whatever. To them I say, focus on your own house people and shut up about what others are doing.

4. On the liberal side, there are school/reform leaders who blow with the wind and will swing to something like racial justice theology as a shrewd value-signaling move to save their position within the field. Their perfection of woke-speak is a shield meant to position them as “allies” against white supremacy even as they enjoy every privilege and benefit of it.

5. I don’t give a damn if KIPP changes their slogan from “Work Hard, Be Nice” to “Eat Healthy, Drink Water,” or “Say Nice Things To People,” or “Don’t Take Crap From People On The Internet” – just as long as they keep teaching kids to beat the odds in the classroom. As of this point I haven’t heard a single them from them that tells me they aren’t going to keep focusing intently on teaching, learning, and outcomes.

6. And, finally, no – telling kids to “Work Hard, Be Nice” is not telling them to be complicit or be a slave or be compliant to white masters. That is almost as stupid as saying changing the slogan it teaching kids that merit doesn’t matter. Both claims are so damn stupid I can’t imagine educated people aren’t embarrassed to make them.

In the end, I hope everyone can focus on education, focus on results, and focus on the opponents of our field.

Please people: pop open a can of Mind Your Damn Business and drink heavily.

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Charter Schools

Sydney Johnson: California charter schools support their families during a tough time

If you listen to critics you’ll believe charter schools are the enemy of public education. If you look at how many of them are serving their students and families during the coronavirus pandemic, you might see a different story.

Private schools and some charters have found the transition to “distance learning” relatively easy, but public school districts have struggled to ensure students have functioning technology, internet access, and teachers trained to teach online.

Even worse, less than half of school districts have written plans to address pandemics even as experts have been warning of one coming for years. (Isn’t it delicious for public school cultists that Bill Gates is one of those who sounded the alarm about a coming pandemic, and he’s now putting his considerable resources toward expediting the search for a COVID-19 vaccine?).

Sydney Johnson tells the story of how *some* charter schools in California have acted quickly to meet the needs of families (even beyond their educational needs):

For schools like Fuerza, shifting to online classrooms was a relatively quick endeavor because the TK-5 charter school already had technology in place. At home, ensuring a supportive learning environment for students is more of a challenge. Fuerza and a handful of other charter schools across the state are responding by connecting families to resources they need so students can participate in class at home, from internet discounts to legal support.

In the switch to distance learning, many California schools have struggled to purchase devices for students, get teachers up to speed with online teaching and contact parents of students who aren’t participating in distance learning. But at Rocketship and some other charter schools, students were already completing digital assignments daily and teachers were routinely reaching out to parents through texts and home visits.

During the first week of distance learning, Anguiano’s oldest son Abraham, who is in fourth grade, was unable to turn on the laptop provided by his school, and the family didn’t have an extra working computer to give him. The next day, Anguiano had a new charger for her son’s laptop and was ready to go after replying to the morning text message, notifying staff that the device wasn’t working.

Most days, Anguiano said her kids have what they need. But the transition to distance learning has been difficult for the whole family. On top of managing two kids and her own office work, which is now mostly remote, her husband, along with thousands of other workers throughout California, was recently laid off from his construction job.

To help families with similar struggles, Rocketship, a charter management organization with 13 schools in California, initiated a new program at each campus called the Care Corps, a team of staff who reach out to every family every day during the shelter-in-place order to ask if they need support.

“Some say, ‘I’m an essential worker and I’m concerned that I will bring something home to my family,” said Christina Vasquez, the business operations manager at Rocketship Fuerza. “Sometimes they just need someone outside of the home to talk to.”

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Charter Schools

Why aren’t teachers freaking out about Biden and Bernie’s education task force?

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, put together an advisory council to help his state “reimagine” public education. Fearing Cuomo and his partner, the Gates Foundation, will produce a plan that creates accountability and expectations in their public school pension farm, the NYC teacher types pounced.

“There’s no current classroom teacher on this list of advisors” they whined.

For the record, here is Cuomo’s list of advisors:

  • Kaweeda Adams, Superintendent, Albany City School District
  • Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
  • Jody Gottfried Arnhold, Founder, Dance Educator Laboratory (DEL) 92Y
  • Melodie Baker, Director of Education, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
  • Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director, New York State PTA
  • Meg Benke, Provost, SUNY Empire State College
  • Jackie Burbridge, Parent, Suffolk County
  • Katie Campos, Partner, Strategic Collective
  • Anthony Collins, President, Clarkson University
  • Stephanie Conklin, Master Teacher, South Colonie Central School District
  • George Dermody, CEO, The Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference
  • Karol Mason, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Austin Ostro, President, SUNY Student Assembly
  • Martin Palermo, Master Teacher, William Floyd School District
  • Roger Ramsammy, President, Hudson Valley Community College
  • Seema Rivera, President, Guilderland Central School District School Board
  • Shannon Tahoe, Interim Commissioner, New York State Education Department
  • Dennis Walcott, Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

As you can see, teachers, parents, students, higher education, nonprofits, superintendents, and other education officials are represented.

Now, contrast that with the farcical “unity” education task force assembled by current and failed presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Per Vox Media, here’s their list:

Sanders’s picks:

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate

Hmmm. This feels a little paltry.

Let’s start with the fact that Sanders seems to continue his trend of giving zero effs about honest Black representation or truly addressing K-12 education’s pedagogical and social issues beyond what political neosocialist agenda setters tell him works best.

Looking at his picks tells me his post-racial disaster socialism once again proves him an unserious candidate for any post responsible for educational progress.

Now, Mr. Biden, what gives?

Two national teachers’ union bosses, a political consultant, and the former first lady of Iowa?

Together, these picks reveal why the Democrats’ education agenda is useless to America’s most marginalized students:

Their list includes:

  • No school leaders who are successfully educating children deemed “hard-to-teach” by an out-of-touch education establishment;
  • No classroom teachers with a track record of success;
  • No parents of color desperate for improved educational options;
  • No one with direct pedagogical insights into what will improve education for those who are poorly served in today’s public schools;

In short, both Biden and Bernie, when given the chance to show how genuine their interest is in educational improvement, fail the test by stacking the deck with political advisors in place of accomplished educators.

The funny thing is, none of the Badass Miseducators so abundant in social media grievance groups have come for Biden and Bernie, even as they have indignant seizures about the fact that Cuomo dare work with Bill Gates for his “reimagine” counsel in New York.

I guess that’s the surest sigh it’s all politics folks.

If you care about fixing education so it works equally well for everyone, there’s nothing to see here.

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