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La. BESE’s Kira Orange Jones: Shifting Residency, Missing Ethics Filings, and Profound Meeting Absences

In both 2011 and 2015, corporate-reform-promoting millionaires and billionaires purchased the majority of seats on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

One of their purchases is Teach for America (TFA) executive director, Kira Orange-Jones.

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Kira Orange-Jones

Even though Orange-Jones has been BESE District 2 representative for almost eight years, she has yet to file her annual disclosure reports for 2017 and 2018.

One critical bit of information on the annual disclosure is the representative’s physical address. On this point, Orange-Jones’ actual address becomes a bit cloudy.

On the last annual disclosure that Orange-Jones filed– for 2016— Orange-Jones identifies her address as on Laurel Street in New Orleans. On the same disclosure report, Orange-Jones also acknowledges her marriage to Christopher Ruszkowski, who was at the time deputy secretary of education in New Mexico. In 2018, Ruszkowski became “secretary designee” at the NM Department of Ed when he replaced Hanna Skandera. It seems that Ruszkowski exited by 2019.

On Ruszkowski’s 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure reports, he lists a NM address. Orange-Jones’ residence remains unclear. (One can search those forms here by looking up “ruszkowski” and selecting “2017” and “2018.”)

Since Orange-Jones has not filed the required financial disclosures for 2017 and 2018, the public does not know if Orange-Jones maintained a residence in her district, one of the qualifications for serving on BESE.

But there’s more.

Orange-Jones plans to run for re-election in October 2019. The Louisiana Secretary of State has her address as being on Philip Street in New Orleans. (One can view this info here by searching “parish candidates” on the side bar; selecting “BESE District 2,” and then clicking “view candidates for selected race(s).”)

Examination of property tax records for the Philip Street address shows that the owner is NJS Properties; according to details of the search, “NJS” stands for Norma J. Sabiston.

On Orange-Jones’ July 2019 campaign finance report for the upcoming, October 2019, BESE election, one of Orange-Jones’ expenditures is $15,000 to Sabaston Consultants, whose president is Norma Jane Sabiston.

Does Orange-Jones live at the Philip Street address, or has her consultant provided the address in an attempt to legitimize Orange-Jones as a District 2 resident? Has Orange-Jones forfeited a New Orleans address at any point since her last, 2016, annual filing?

But there’s more:

On her July 2019 campaign filing, Orange-Jones offers yet another address for herself, this time on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. The Dauphine Street address is listed under “qualifying name and address of candidate.” According to a property tax search, the Dauphine Street address is owned by Bakers Row LLC, whose registered agent is New Orleans attorney Everett Fineran.

Does Orange-Jones reside at the Dauphine Street address?

Chronologically, Orange-Jones’ declaration of candidacy occured on August 06, 2019–after her July 2019 candidate report with the Dauphine Street address– which puts the Philip Street address as the most recent.

But there is still more information which raises questions about Orange-Jones’ whereabouts since 2016, and it concerns her chronic absence from BESE meetings.

On August 04, 2019, I received the following email from a New Orleans parent. The subject line read, “Kira Orange Jones and CHristopher Ruszkowski”:

Hi Mercedes,

I’m a parent in New Orleans with a kid in the public charter schools. I’ve been trying to get more active in changing the situation here.

Anyway, I was reading your article on Kira Orange Jones and Christopher Ruszkowski. I went to see if Kira ever filed her financial disclosure forms and she has not. Her lastest filing is from 2016. However, I found that New Mexico does has filings for Christopher Ruszkowski for 2017, 2018…though 2018 seems to lack full information…there is some info included about Kira.

Every other BESE board member has filed their 2018 personal financial disclosure forms.

I also went through all of the BESE board meetings of the last term (since Jan 2016) with video and/or minutes and tallied Kira Orange Jones’s attendance. Here’s the summary of what I found:

Total Meetings = 121
Meeting absent = 46 (38 percent of total)
Left Early = 3
Left in Middle = 2
Late = 8
Total absent, late etc. = 59 (49 percent of total)

Kira Orange Jones is the current chair of the School Innovation and Turnaround Committee. Out of the 13 meetings as the chair, she was absent 8 times including the time she was first scheduled to serve as chairperson. She is absent for this committee meeting 62 percent of the time.

Thanks,

Laura Reiff

I asked Laura Reiff if she would send exact dates of Orange-Jones’ BESE meeting absences, and she did.

Orange-Jones has been absent from over one in three BESE meetings; she is two years delinquent in her annual disclosure filings, and her uninterrupted, legitimate physical address in BESE District 2 is in serious question.

But she already had $31K on hand by the time of her July 2019 campaign finance report filing, and she has begun spending tens of thousands on her October 2019 BESE re-election, including a $15K payment to a consulting firm whose president happens to own the property that Orange-Jones lists as her most recent New Orleans address.

Two other candidates are running against Orange-Jones for the Distrcit 2 BESE seat in the October 2019 election: Shawon Bernard and Ashonta Wyatt. (The New Orleans parent who compiled Orange-Jones’ BESE meeting absences has since decided to work for the Wyatt campaign.)

Given that Orange-Jones’ uninterrupted residency in BESE District 2 is in serious question, it seems to be in Bernard’s and Wyatt’s best interest to file a claim against Orange-Jones with the Louisiana Ethics Board.

BESE District 2 constituents with concerns about Orange-Jones’ questionable physical address and her failure to file annual disclosure reports could do the same.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

New Orleans’ Kennedy High School Grading Fiasco and Perforated Accountability

In all-charter New Orleans, New Beginnings Schools Foundation (NBSF) operates three charter schools in New Orleans, one of which is John F. Kennedy High School.

Kennedy is in the throes of an astounding fraud which resulted in almost 50 percent of its Class of 2019 being found to not have actually met state requirements for graduation. As a result, 87 out of 177 students who were allowed to participate in a graduation ceremony and who thought that they would receive diplomas discovered that they would not be receiving diplomas after all. In an effort to mop up this mess, the NBSF board offered post-haste summer school as an option that 53 of the affected seniors participated in. Mind you, this last-minute, thrown-together clean up effort put students who had been offered scholarships at a critical disadvantage because official, complete, state-approved high school transcripts were not available in May 2019, when the students supposedly/legitimately graduated.

It is now August 2019;  college/universty fall classes will soon begin, and the Kennedy seniors who participated in the alleged summer-school fixer still have not received copies of their transcripts. (For the extensive backstory and continuing saga, see here and here and here and here and here and here.)

On August 06, 2019, Nola.com reported on Kennedy student and parent efforts to require release of student transcripts via court order.

What is of particular importance in this all-charter arrangement is the fact that the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) (ironically renamed NOLA Public Schools) has no direct authority over those “public” schools to require the schools to release the transcripts. In this “portfolio model,” the school board is left out of any authority over ensuring school data integrity; the charter school deals directly with the state in delivering data, which is part of the problem since the state apparently had no controls in place to audit charter school grading practices.

The district was left out of Kennedy’s grading processes until a whistleblower brought the fraud to district attention, and then the district requested a state audit of all charter high school grading practices.

The district has the right to revoke NBSF’s charters, but only post-mess. (NBSF agreed to surrender its charters, but not until after the 2019-20 school year.)

But there is another piece to this *greater accountabilty* farce, and it is an easy means of dodging accountability for entities that call themselves “public” not because of public oversight via publicly-elected officials, but because these nonpublic entities receive public funds:

Reserve the right to play the “nonpublic” card when it is convenient to do so.

In the case of NBSF, the nonprofit manager of Kennedy High School, that card came in handy in court when NBSF asserted its right to withhold transcripts from Kennedy students and their parents, as the August 06, 2019, Nola.com reports:

OPSB attorney Sharonda Williams said the School Board isn’t involved because charter schools handle their own student data directly with the state. New Beginnings argued it’s a private nonprofit running the public school and therefore isn’t subject to a legal order requiring it to turn over records.

As for the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE): It is apparently putting no great pressure of NBSF to deliver student data in order to finalize the transcripts (classes finished July 10, and its now August), which lends credence to the leverage NBSF has as a “nonpublic” entity to drag its feet as it pleases.

And why would NBSF drag its feet? Well, it seems that some of the Kennedy students did not complete the correct courses in summer school:

Those students, including the class valedictorian, learned after walking in May’s graduation ceremonies that they still had to make up work in summer school classes. The school has previously said all 53 completed that work by July 10, but Jennifer Baird, director of accountability and assessments for the state Education Department, testified during a hearing stemming from the parents’ lawsuit that some students took different classes than the ones the state recommended. …

Baird said the charter organization that runs Kennedy, the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, still hasn’t provided all of the detailed data about the summer school work so the state can certify the kids’ transcripts.

Baird said she approved one transcript Tuesday and may be able to approve another 20 by week’s end, but “not all of these kids are going to get across the finish line.”

These kids thought they had already crossed the finish line, and they were led to believe as much via a charter school portfolio operation running on perforated accountability.

As for the person initially at the center of all of this chaos and more, Kennedy principal, Michelle Blouin-Williams, who was suspended in April 2019 and who resigned in May 2019:

She has been hired to teach math at East Jefferson High School in Jefferson Parish.

Unlike the 87 Kennedy seniors whose lives were negatively impacted by Blouin-Williams’ incompetence, Blouin-Williams has seamlessly moved on.

It remains to be seen whether she will be held accountable and whether the entire Kennedy/NBSF fiasco will result in meaningful, effective change in the all-charter New Orleans oversight mockery.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Book Review: A Contest Without Winners: How Students Experience Competitive School Choice

Kate Phillippo, associate professor of cultural and educational policy studies at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education, published a book in March 2019, entitled, A Contest Without Winners: How Students Experience Competitive School Choice.

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Kate Phillippo

In her book, Phillippo offers details from the experiences of 36 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) eighth graders who attended one of two middle schools and who were vying for acceptance in a CPS high school of their choice.

Phillippo’s term, “competitive school choice,” is apt for two reasons: 1) the most prestigious and most preferred schools tended to be selective admissions (SA) schools, and 2) in general, CPS does not have enough places at schools that its eighth-grade students would actually choose to attend.

Let the games begin. (Indeed, one student likened CPS’ high school choice to “The Hunger Games.”)

In this “contest without winners,” students’ high school fates (and possibly, subsequent college and career fates) depend heavily upon their test scores and core subject grades from their seventh-grade year. If a student has an maturity/responsibility awakening in eighth grade, it is too late.

As it stands, Phillippo discovered (confirmed?) that with CPS’ high school choice demand, eighth graders were being asked to navigate a complex process of forms, meetings, and deadlines that was far above their developmental capabilities; students almost certainly needed some invested adult to effectively engage in CPS’ competitive high school choice process. However, that adult was unlikely to be a classroom teacher since teachers– to whom students often turned– felt the pressure to remain neutral in advising students regarding their choices due to the potential of being held liable if the student or parent were dissatisfied with the choice outcome.

Eighth graders who had an engaged adult available to help with the high school choice process definitely had an edge, as did students whose families had the means to devote resources (time, effort, money) to the process.

Too, Phillippo discovered that the competitive environment created a “me-first,” self-preservation attitude that negatively affected civic engagement among students. Though students might be learning lessons about civic responsibility in their classes, when it came to the pressured reality of securing that preferred CPS high school, application of civic responsibility was cast aside for the all-too-real lesson of “every eighth grader for him-/herself.”

Of course, all of this choice occurs in the context of massive school closures and charter school promotion not begun with but seriously exacerbated by former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and crony, former CPS CEO and US secretary of education, Arne Duncan. The eighth graders in Phillippo’s study have grown up in an environment of mayoral control of schools and the ensuing chaos, which surely contributes to the pressurized atmosphere surrounding these eighth-graders’ competitive high school choice.

Phillippo time and again returns to the idea that the ideology of school choice is far from the stressful reality of CPS’ competitive school choice– and the ideologues appear to have no viable solution to the actual outcome of dissatisfaction permeating the process.

Even the students who were granted their preferred schools did not feel like winners.

And for the many who were not selected to attend their preferred schools (or any schools on their list, for that matter), they internalized the unhealthy (untrue) message that the System Knows Best and that their not being chosen meant that they must not be intelligent, capable (or of sufficient value). In short, students disappointed with the system-determined choice outcome often ended up believing that the disappointing outcome must mean that they, the students, were the disappointment.

And everyone knew to what schools everyone else was accepted. There was no way to keep this secret. Everyone knew when those notification letters had been mailed to students. The notification results were discussed openly in classrooms, with teachers initiating the discussion.

Phillippo also realized that perceptions of school quality are not independent of perceptions of the neighborhoods in which those schools are located, with students overwhelmingly preferring SA schools in predominately white sections of town to those located in predominately black and brown areas.

Despite efforts to achieve racial/ethnic balance in school admission, the most preferred schools continued to be located in white areas and continued to enroll disporportionately high numbers of white students.

As to “neighborhood schools”: These were mostly viewed as an undesirable last resort.

Though Phillippo’s study focused on Chicago, the experiences of the students in her work, coupled with her own discoveries about the competitive-school-choice “non-win” will no doubt resonate with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and others who find themselves confronting school choice in other locales.

A Contest Without Winners is organized as follows:

  • Introduction: Competitive Choice Policy, the Students Who Enact It, and Its Social Backdrop
  • Chapter 1: Unequal Opportunities, Unevenly Distributed: The Puzzle of Admissions Results
  • Chapter 2: Education Policy Without Educators: How Competitive Choice Puts Responsibility for Quality Schooling on Students
  • Chapter 3: The Sculptors and the Sculptures: How Neighborhoods Shape and Are Shaped by Competitive Choice Policy
  • Chapter 4: Differentially Defended: Students’ Developmental Vulnerability to Competitive Choice, and Family Capital’s Buffering Role
  • Chapter 5: Civic Education: How Competitive Choice Policy Encourages Civic Individualism
  • Conclusion: Surprises, Lessons Learned, and a Few Paths Forward

Kate Phillippo’s, A Contest Without Winners: How Students Experience Competitive School Choice, offers fresh, engaging insight into the firsthand experiences of students navigating a school choice system indeed “without winners.”

I learned valuable information from every chapter and recommend the book without reservation.

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__________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

It’s My Birthday! Please Send Me to NPE!

Hello, all! Today is my 52nd birthday, and I am asking readers to help fund my trip to the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Philadelphia, PA (March 28 and 29, 2020).

Even though the conference officially begins on Saturday, March 28, 2020, I will be one of a few authors slated to present on new books on Friday evening, March 27.

This summer, I wrote my fourth book (as in, I just finished the manuscript on July 5, 2019), which is a practical guide on how I conduct my research. The thought for this book came as I was planning my part in a research presentation with colleagues Andrea Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti for the last NPE conference in Indianapolis.

When Darcie asked about the content I planned to use in our presentation, my first thought was, “It would take a book.”

And so, now there is a manuscript, which is on its way to becoming a book. (I am working with a publisher to have the book ready for the March 2020 NPE conference. More details to come.)

As to the fiscal logistics of my presence at the conference:

  • NPE will help partially fund my attendance (one night at the hotel and a $30-reduced rate for conference fee).
  • In this birthday fundraiser, I am asking for assistance with airfare and airport parking, which will come to approximately $600 (including GoFundMe fees). UPDATE 08/03/19: This fundraising goal has been met! Thank you so much for supporting my NPE travels!
  • Assistance with airfare and airport parking will leave me paying for one night in the hotel (approx. $200) and the remaining $130 for the conference fee.

I thank you for considering this request. Most of my research and writing is available to the public for free on my blog, which I am happy to offer. If you have found my work helpful and are both willing and able to support me in this fundraiser, I sincerely appreciate it.

Click here to view my GoFundMe campaign.

birthday single candle

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Jon Schnur and His Nonprofit Accelerator, America Achieves: A Deep Dig

Sometimes the ed-reform deep dig is really deep.

On July 22, 2019, I wrote a post about a nonprofit, Results for America, that was incubated by another nonprofit, America Achieves.

I had planned to follow up with a post about America Achieves, which received its nonprofit status in November 2010 and which was co-founded by its chair, Jonathan Schnur, and co-chair, Rod Washington. (Washington is no longer listed on the America Achieves site, but his bio can be access using this archived America Achieves bio link from January 2013.)

What I noticed on America Achieves’ 2011 tax form is that in 2010, revenue for this brand-new nonprofit was already $4M, and in its second year (2011), revenue jumped to $13.5M. Contributions and grants accounted for most of the revenue ($2.9M in 2010 and $13.4M in 2011), which indicates that its founders were really connected.

It is in researching Schnur that the ed-reform dive became deep.

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Jon Schnur

Princeton University is a hub of education reform. Schnur graduated from Princeton University in 1989 with a degree in politics, the same year that Teach for America (TFA) founder, Wendy Kopp, graduated with a degree in public policy. Whereas Kopp pitched her TFA idea as her senior thesis, Schnur’s idea for a principal training nonprofit, New Leaders for New Schools (name later reduced to New Leaders), happened circa 2000 during his time at Harvard when he took graduate coursework. (Schnur appears not to have graduated; there is no mention of Schnur’s finishing a masters degree program here or here or here).

After his 1989 graduation from Princeton (not clear how soon after), Schur worked on the Clinton presidential campaign and then became an education policy advisor “for seven years, serving as White House Associate Director for Educational Policy, Vice President Gore’s Senior Policy Advisor on education, and Special Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.”

During Schnur’s time in the Clinton White House, the Clinton administration passed the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998. Charter schools had been approved in a number of states prior to this (Minnesota in 1991; California in 1992; Colorado in 1993; see chapter 6 of my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education? for these details and more.) Too, in January 1994, the Clinton administration passed a program, Goals 2000, which introduced the national standards idea prior to the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (called the Improving America’s Schools Act, or IASA). IASA included language about “a core of challenging state standards,” aligned curriculum, and state-devised assessments. (For these details and more, see chapter 1 of my book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.)

This history is important because by the time that Schnur’s America Achieves incubates and establishes in its own right nonprofit, Results for America (September 2016), Schnur’s clear goal is to judge the value of programs by their quantifiable outcomes, as noted in my July 22, 2019, post:

Results for America (RFA) has been a nonprofit in its own right since September 2016. Its mission as stated in RFA’s 2016 tax return begins as follows:

RFA’s activities are focused on non-profit leaders, government decision-makers, and community members as RFA attempts to build their awareness of, support for, and ability to implement funding of “evidence-based,” results-driven social programs, i.e., social programs that have results that can be measured and evaluated for whether they are accomplishing their objectives. RFA’s initiatives fall into three program areas: implementation support, momentum and commitment building, and developing standards of excellence.

Back to Schnur’s history:

Given that Clinton was first inaugurated in January 1993, Schur’s time in the Clinton administration lasted to roughly 2000, at which time he was completing coursework at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Business School, and John F. Kennedy School of Government and creating with others his first nonprofit, New Leaders for New Schools, which is described as follows in this November 2011 archive:

Our mission is to ensure high academic achievement for all children, especially students in poverty and students of color, by developing transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great leaders to succeed. …

We envision a day when there is educational excellence and equity in America – when our country’s public schools ensure that every student is prepared for success in college, careers and citizenship. …

In our first decade, we trained almost 800 leaders, impacting nearly a quarter million students in high-need schools across the country.  Students in New Leader schools consistently achieve at higher levels than their peers, have higher high school graduation rates and are making progress in closing the achievement gap.

As we enter our second decade, we are broadening our work in order to reach more students with greater impact. Beyond training new principals, we are now developing transformative leaders throughout schools and school systems – from teacher leaders and assistant principals to veteran principals and district managers.  We are also working with school systems to build the kinds of policies and practices that allow strong leaders to succeed in driving academic excellence for students.

What is interesting about the timing of Schnur’s New Leaders is that it notably coincides with a shift in the TFA mission to include positioning TFA alumni in education leadership and policy roles. (See pages 48-49 of my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, for details). Indeed, as this archived, November 2008 New Leaders “practice center” page notes, only two years of K12 classroom experience are needed prior to training as a New Leaders principal. Furthermore, according to this archived, October 2011 New Leaders (very ed-reformy) board member page, former TFAer and Colorado state senator, Michael Johnston, is New Leader’s “co-founder.” So, New Leaders and TFA appear to be marching in cozy step at this point in their respective ed-reforming histories.

Keep in mind that around the same time of the birth of New Leaders and the TFA leadership-focus shift, another reauthorization of ESEA occured, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the most assessment-dependent and punitive ESEA reauthorization, which introduced the label “failing schools” and included the terms, “corrective action” and “restructuring” as consequences for schools that did not meet “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). Note that two of the “restructuring” options were conversion of traditional public schools to charter schools or handing over management of the school to a private entity. (See chapter 6 of School Choice and chapter 1 of Common Core Dilemma for details.)

NCLB, New Leaders, TFA: Hand in glove for market-based ed reform.

Moving on in Schur’s history, post-Clinton and post-Harvard:

According to Schnur in this 2013 Harvard interview, not long after creating New Leaders, he invited then-senator Barack Obama to a New Leaders training in Chicago, and that is how he began his connection to what would be the Obama White House, described as follows in Schnur’s TIME contributor bio:

Jon Schnur is executive chairman and co-founder of America Achieves. Schnur is also the co-founder and former CEO of New Leaders and serves on its Board of Directors. He recently served as senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, co-chairman of the Obama for America Education Policy Committee and as a member of the Obama Presidential Transition Team.

In September 2008, Schnur took a leave of absence from New Leaders in order to work with the Obama administration, where he remained until May 2009— long enough to “play a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools,” otherwise known as Race to the Top. Part of Schnur’s reason for returning to New Leaders captures his goal of quantifying school “success” and scaling such quantification (aka “test-score-driven ed reform”), as noted in this May 2009 Chalkbeat article:

I have decided to return to New Leaders for the same reason I chose to leave the Clinton-Gore White House to found New Leaders a decade ago: to help a community of results-oriented principals and leaders drive dramatic improvements in our schools for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, demonstrate that success is possible at scale in American public education, and leverage the knowledge we create to change education nationwide.

Schnur remianed as CEO of New Leaders until January 2011, at which time this EdWeek article published his intentions to help fellow reformer and billionaire, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and to start a new nonprofit (which ended up being America Achieves):

Jon Schnur, a former top K-12 adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, announced last week that he is planning to transition out of his role as chief executive officer of New Leaders for New Schools, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains principals for work in underresourced schools. He co-founded the group in 2000 and is set to become its board chairman.

Jean Desravines, who currently serves as New Leaders’ chief officer for cities and policy, will be taking the helm as CEO.

Mr. Schnur, who led the development of the $4 billion Race to the Top initiative, said he will help New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg develop a new philanthropic strategy aimed at improving education.

And, separately, he’ll be starting a new nonprofit initiative set to launch in the fall. He said the new organization’s purpose will be to identify and act on strategies that nonprofit groups and philanthropies can use to “effectively drive comprehensive reform” of education systems.

Schnur likes to “drive” reform, and like billionaire Bill Gates– who spent $28M on New Leaders (2004 – 2018), $5M on America Achieves (2011 – 2018), and $5M on Results for America (2018)– Schnur wants to scale the reform he is *driving.*

The scaling of reform is mentioned in America Achieves’ mission statement on its 2011 tax return:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization that shines a spotlight on successful educators and programs, distills lessons learned and the evidence base, and supports promising state and local efforts that drive large-scale improvements in education.

That mission lasted until 2013, when Schnur et al. apparently decided to scale ed-reform nonprofits. From America Achieves’ 2013 tax form:

America Achieves is a nonprofit accelerator that helps young people succeed and lead in a changing world. Our strategy is to support transformational leaders, who have game-changing ideas, with results-oriented funding, and operational and strategic support. Together we work build high-impact initiatives that improve K-12 education, and prepare young people for success in careers, college, and citizenship.

America Achieves refined its nonprofit-accelerator mission as follows on its 2014 tax form:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring young people get the best possible education and preparation to lead and succeed in a changing world. Our nonprofit accelerator drives large-scale impact by identifying and supporting exceptional educators and other leaders with powerful insights about what will help prepare young people at large scale for success; supports the development of their strategies, coalitions and leadership teams; matches them with philanthropic funding and tailored strategic and operational support; and provides them with an active community of educators and other leaders from whom they can learn.

America Achieves became a nonprofit in November 2010, five months after the official completion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (June 2010). In its 2011, 2012, and 2013 tax forms, America Achieves includes development of a CCSS website and resources as part of its organizational accomplishments. For example, from its 2012 tax form:

Responding to a need of teachers and policymakers for guidance and support in teaching to the Common Core Standards, America Achieves created a Common Core website (http://commoncore.americaachieves.org/). This free, publicly available website features video modules and live examples of how successful teachers – including many from the America Achieves Teacher and Principal Fellowship – are making the transition to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can watch lesson videos aligned to the Common Core, hear teachers reflect on their practice, and view related lesson plans and student work. The draft website prototype was debuted in April 2012, had a public launch in September 2012, and will be expanded in 2013.

By 2014, no more mentioning CCSS by name among America Achieves’ program accomplishments. This is the closest to mentioning The Standards Formerly Known as Common Core:

…Tens of thousands of teachers across the country have accessed the open-access case studies, videos and instructional practices created in partnership with these outstanding educators to help students reach rigorous academic standards.

Among its 2014 accomplishments is this irony:

…Educational changes too often are either top-down or fragmented, isolated efforts that focus more on fixing failure than spreading success — and there hasn’t been enough attention to creating and growing communities of educational excellence that educators, families, and students choose to lead and join.In this area of practice, America Achieves runs programs for teachers, school leaders and families.

Too much top-down, so we (aka The Top) run programs for, uh, Not the Top.

In 2015, America Achieves is again refining its nonprofit-accelerator mission:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring young people get the best possible education and preparation to succeed and lead in a changing world. The organization has built a successful accelerator model helping experienced, entrepreneurial leaders successfully launch and scale nonprofit initiatives aimed at policy or systemic impact. America Achieves is now building on its track record and expertise, and responding to unprecedented shifts in the economy. Looking ahead, America Achieves is updating its strategy to focus on realigning education with 21st century jobs and careers, and creating create clear pathways for economic advancement and success for all in a rapidly changing economy.

Now the “entrpreneurial leaders” have “experience” before receiving an America Achieves-bred nonprofit for their very own.

As for some of the experience gained by leaders gleaning at the learned feet of their America Achieves leaders: One can detect a slight, NCLB aftertaste in the following:

The America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals: Founded in 2011, the Fellowship has developed a best-in-class program to support top teachers and principals to elevate their voices to influence public conversation and policy, with a network of 500+ Fellows nationally. …

Fellows also authored and contributed to key reports, such as a policy brief released by Education Trust about how New York State should use the opportunities and levers in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to set clear expectations that our education system must raise achievement for all students, focus attention and resources on the full range of student groups, and insist on prompt action when schools do not meet expectations.

Punitive, but so goeth life lived by the numbers.

In 2016, America Achieves’ mission once again revised but left unfinished…:

America Achieves has built a successful accelerator model helping experienced, entrepreneurial leaders successfully launch and scale nonprofit initiatives aimed at policy or systemic impact. The organization is now building on its track record and expertise, and responding to unprecedented shifts in the economy. After completing a strategic review, the organization decided to focus its unique core capabilities on aligning education and skills to economic opportunity, especially the evolution and future of work. The organization is looking to apply its incubation, accelerator and field building work in service of helping a diverse population access the education and skills needed for upwardly mobile careers while helping employers address priority workforce needs. America Achieves mission is to create clear pathways for economic advancement, civic engagement, and success for all in a rapidly changing economy. The organization catalyzes large-scale impact by activating cross-sector leade

And since it is one of the shorter versions of America Achieves’ program accomplishments in full (believe it or not), here is what the nonprofit accelerator has been about in 2016, in its own words:

Results for America (RFA) is improving outcomes for young people, their families, and communities by promoting evidence-based, results-driven solutions. RFA has become a leading voice in advancing and driving evidence-based policy change, increasing awareness and building credibility for the practice among more elected officials and policymakers, particularly around the insufficient use of data and evidence in policy making and decision making. Results for America transitioned to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization in October 2016, a validation of the strength of RFA’s track record and of the America Achieves accelerator model.

CollegePoint is dedicated to increasing the number of high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students enrolling in top-performing colleges from 1/3 of 75,000 students in 2014 to more than 1/2 by 2020. America Achieves quarterbacks a coalition of non-profit organizations and philanthropic institutions and leads the ongoing assessment and improvement of the CollegePoint model. CollegePoint reached 12,000 Class of 2017 students. We significantly increased the number of students reached over last three years, growing from 1,300 Class of 2016 students to 8,300 Class of 2016 students to 12,000 in the Class of 2017. We have also deepened collaboration with the American Talent Initiative in order to increase the number of low- and moderate-income students at top schools by 50,000 by 2025.

GripTape envisions a future in which youth-driven learning is a powerful force. A world where all young people have the opportunity to pursue their own interests; demonstrate their confidence and competence by seizing their own learning; and where youth demand and are afforded respect for their own learning pursuits. GripTape: Amplifies youth desire to pursue their own learning; Makes resources directly available to thousands of youth, both in the present through the Challenge, and in the future as alumni; Fosters youth to youth connections for purposes of recruiting and supporting learning; Creates, evaluates and refines the conditions needed for youth to drive their own learning so that we can do more to create those conditions; Empowers and facilitates young people to lead both GripTape and a broader movement of youth-driven learning. GripTape has completed 3 rapid learning cycles and started its fourth, with full research plans for each, and developed an information network of 100+ partners who provide guidance and support.

Fellowship Programs: America Achieves also sought to promote models to accelerate educational excellence in schools, and has laid a foundation by engaging motivated teachers, principals, parents and superintendents through fellowships and networks to ensure its strategy is grounded in the view and practices of diverse educators. Programs in this area included:

The America Achieves Educator Voice Fellowship. Founded in 2011, the Fellowship has developed a best-in-class program to support top teachers and principals to elevate their voices to influence public conversation and policy, with a network of 500+ Fellows nationally. Today, the Fellowship is creating networks of educators to be champions of effective approaches to better link education to jobs and careers. The Fellowship successfully launched the Louisiana program in September of 2017, the first of its kind to focus on creating tools and resources and developing and leveraging best practices bridging education and the workforce, developing a curriculum that will expose all students to career opportunities aligned with 21st-century skills. The Fellowship also concluded a successful year in NY and CO, where Fellows published 17 policy proposals, one of which became CO state law.

Global Learning Network: GLN brings together world-leading, innovation-oriented high schools to understand the changing global economy and implications for career readiness and high school design and practices. From September 2016 to August 2017, the Global Learning Network enabled approximately 100 U.S. schools to participate in the online version of the OECD Test for Schools, an international benchmarking tool; hosted a national convening with approximately 240 participants from schools that participated in the OECD Test for Schools; and developed a Massachusetts specific professional learning community of schools that desired to learn from their benchmarking results. As part of this work, GLN also selected 30 exemplary high schools from 6 countries as “Global Learning Network World-Leading Learners” in order to recognize their performance and to share the promising practices in these schools that ensure their students are prepared for career and lifelong success.

Finally, as to revenue:

America Achieves reported the following total revenue from 2010 to 2016 (actually 09/01/16 to 08/31/17), as follows 

  • 2010: $4M
  • 2011: $13.5M
  • 2012: $22.9M
  • 2013: $20.1M
  • 2014: $10M
  • 2015: $13.7M (or $14.5M –reported as “previous year” in 2016)
  • 2016: $10.8M

It seems that America Achieves had its fiscal heyday at the height of Common Core promotion (before using the term “Common Core” was seen as politically undesirable).

Up to 2016, Schnur is still bringing in the ed-reform dough for his nonprofit accelerator. Now, the question remains whether those accelerated nonprofits can become fiscally independent from nonprofit creator America Achieves, and to the degree that they produce the reform marvels necessary to keep their funders interested.

Schnur’s ed-reform-nonprofit accelerator itself is dependent upon the interest of ed-reform-leaning billionaires and millionaires, and measurable results might or might not translate into that coveted, philanthropic bank transfer.

flying money

_______________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

The New Orleans Charter Fiasco Train: Add Another Car

If you want to read about one charter fiasco after another, look no farther than New Orleans.

In December 2018, I wrote a post about the issues facing the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and its superintendent, Henderson Lewis. As of May 2016, the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) began the process of being dissolved, with RSD charters being transferred to the jurisdiction of OPSB. (All-charter OPSB has since been renamed “NOLA Public Schools.”)

Lewis and OPSB/NOLA Public Schools are increasingly finding themselves in the position of chaos clean-up. From my December 2018 post, including my quoting from the Lens:

It seems that Orleans Parish Schools superintendent Henderson Lewis has his hands full in dealing with New Orleans charter schools that find themselves in fiscal trouble.

As the November 13, 2018, New Orleans Lens reports, Lewis has decided to close three charter schools “in the past six months,” and he threatened to close two others “last year”:

Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. will seek to revoke Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy’s charter mid-year after financial mismanagement and leadership instability, he told Orleans Parish School Board committee members at a Tuesday meeting. …

Last year, the district began the charter revocation process at two Einstein Charter Schools after the Einstein charter network refused to provide bus service to elementary students. … Einstein ultimately moved to hire a bus company. …

Lewis announced his intention to close Cypress Academy this week. The school had been taken over by the district in May after its former charter board made the surprise decision to close due to financial problems. And last month, Crescent Leadership Academy, the city’s only alternative program that served middle school students, abruptly closed.

The Lens article continues with Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) member Ben Kleban’s concern about OPSB ability to respond to “emergency situations” (i.e., OPSB takeover of charter schools in violation of their charters, including fiscal mismanagement/impropriety), particularly since such situations were not “anticipated in the board-approved budget.”

Clean up on Aisle *New Orleans Miracle.*

But wait– there’s more.

OPSB/NOLA Public Schools is still involved in the Kennedy High School grade-fixing fiasco that resulted in over half of its Class of 2019 being allowed to graduate without sufficient completion of neccessary requirements, including having legitimate passing grades and state test scores. One parent has filed a lawsuit that could well become a class action. In June 2019, Lewis called for all New Orleans high schools to have their grades audited and asked the state to conduct a criminal investigation into the situation.

And now, there’s Mary Coghill charter school, which is operated by the Better Choice Foundation.

Where to begin?

The Coghill situation came to my attention through this July 26, 2019, WDSU clip about a Coghill parent who was told that her child could be promoted into high school via completion of a program Coghill offered and which was supposed to help struggling students get back on track. From the WDSU piece:

A mother is trying to figure out where her child will be attending school.

Her student signed up for a social promotion program that, when completed, would put them in their correct grade.

School starts in two weeks, and the family is still waiting for the final results.

Coghill Charter is the only school under the direction of the Better Choice Foundation.

Tamare Bush is worried about her son’s future. He is currently in seventh grade at Coghill Charter but is behind due to health issues that caused him to miss several days of school.

Bush was told about Project Success, a social promotion program that would get kids like hers into their right grades after attending all classes and passing the intensive course and standardized tests. The program started in Fall 2018 and concluded earlier this summer. …

She was recently contacted via email by the school principal, Pamela Marshall, who said all students completed the coursework and will be promoted. …

Bush was told not to try to register her child for high school, and that Coghill would do it for her. When she contacted the high school directly, she was told they had no knowledge of the Project Success Program and that the school was completely full for the fall.

Now, the next bit of news is not encouraging at all: NOLA Public Schools has no idea about such a program:

WDSU also received a statement from Dr. Kellie Peterson of NOLA Public Schools. She released this statement:

We were informed of this program yesterday, and we are in the process of gathering additional information to better understand school programming and communication with families.

It turns out that this Coghill *program that might not be a legitimate program* isn’t all that has been in the news about problems at Coghill of late. The July 25, 2019, Lens succinctly sums up other details of the mounting Coghill mega-fiasco in an article entitled, “Coghill Board Member Directs Staff Not to Give F’s”:

A Mary D. Coghill Charter School board member told school employees via email they could not give students a final grade of less than a ‘D’ to end the semester or year. It’s unclear how many students may have been affected, but New Orleans school district officials aren’t pleased with the board member for what they say is overstepping his role.

Kelli Peterson, senior equity and accountability officer at NOLA Public Schools — the recently rebranded name for the Orleans Parish school district — issued a so-called “level 1” notice of non-compliance to Better Choice Foundation, which runs the Gentilly Woods elementary school, on June 3.

According to Peterson, board member Eric Jones emailed “Coghill faculty and staff stating that based on board policy, a scholar should not receive less than a grade D on their end of quarter or semester grade.” …

State law allows other individuals, such as school principals or other administrators, to change a teacher’s grade “only upon it being determined that the grade is an error or that the grade is demonstrably inconsistent with the teacher’s grading policy.” …

The Coghill grade directive warning may have contributed to an escalated “level two” warning issued later in June. That letter said that the district had “previously cited Better Choice Foundation regarding its board members involvement in daily activities at the school.”

“A charter board is tasked with governing a charter school, not running the school’s daily operations,” Peterson’s June 28 level two warning said.

That letter also detailed financial management concerns at the school. Those included potentially inappropriate reimbursements to Jones — the same board member who sent the email banning failing grades — as well as a computer purchase using federal funding that violated board policy, teacher appreciation day expenses of $8,709 and violations of district policy regarding alcohol consumption.

And so, we’ll leave it there for now.

Enough *miracle* for one day.

IMG_1551

___________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

National Charter School Advocacy Exec’s Lackluster State Advocacy Results

On July 19, 2019, West Virginia Public Broadcasting published a piece entitled, “Q&A: National Charter School Proponent Weighs in on W.Va.’s Education Bill.” The piece opens as follows:

Emily Schultz is the director for state advocacy and policy with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools [NAPCS]. Lawmakers consulted her as they shaped the education reform bill recently signed into law that allows for the establishment of charter schools in West Virginia for the first time in the state’s history.

WV legislators consulted with national-level charter school advocacy director, Emily Schultz, for a bill on charter schools in WV.

The question is, what charter school notches does Schultz have in her corporate-modeled, school choice belt as evidence that her advice is based upon actual success in establishing charter schools?

WV Public Broadcasting includes this brief bio for Schultz, which links to her NAPCS bio:

Emily Schultz is the director for state advocacy and policy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Prior to joining the National Alliance, she served as the executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools. 

Emily started her career in education as a second-grade teacher at Cascade Elementary in Atlanta through Teach for America. She is an Alabama native and has an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Educational Studies from Carleton College, and a Master in Education Policy from Stanford University.

Let’s expand upon Schultz’s bio a bit.

According to her Linkedin bio, Schultz has a lot of experience promoting corporate education reform. She was a “program manager” in DC from 2008 to 2011, mostly under then-DC chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Rhee, a Teach for America (TFA) alum, became DC chancellor in 2007 under then-DC mayor, Adrian Fenty, and resigned in 2010 when Fenty was defeated.

Schultz is also a TFA alum, who spent the customary two years in a classroom (at Cascade Elementary in Atlanta, teaching second grade) following the usual, TFA-makeshift stint-training. In 2011, AL.com mentions Schultz’s TFA time, which is not included in Schultz’s Linkedin bio. Following her 2005 graduation from Carlteton College (in political science), Schultz spent two years as a TFAer (2002-07), then she received a masters in education from Stanford University (emphasis in public policy and organizational theory, 2007-08) and ended up with Rhee in DC as a “program manager.”

Schulz’s Linkedin bio includes no information about Schultz having experience in establishing charter schools under Rhee, nor does her 2013 Carleton convocation speech bio. However the 2013 Carleton convocation speech bio does have some info about Schultz’s “school turn-around” desires, which is markedly reformy:

Emily Schultz ’05 has worked under some controversial regimes in high-profile efforts to turn around failing schools.  In the fall of 2011 she was appointed the education policy director for the State of Alabama, a new position created by Governor Robert Bentley who said he needed an education expert on his staff to guide him and to be a liaison to K-12, post-secondary and higher education.  Previously, Schultz worked under Michelle Rhee, who became chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools after the mayor took control of the district – a situation in which nearly two dozen schools were closed, the teacher pay scale was changed and hundreds of teachers, principals and administrators were fired.  After the Washington job, Schultz worked as a consultant in Central Falls, Rhode Island, which made headlines in February 2010 when it fired all the teachers at a failing high school.  The consulting group Schultz worked for, Mass Insight School Turnaround Group, went in after the mass firings to restructure the district.  Governor Bentley said that Schultz’s experience in turning around failing schools and her “outside the box” mentality is exactly why he hired her.

Too, the 2011 AL.com article notes that Schultz’s “‘outside the box’ mentality” alluded to above appears to be the inside-the-corporate-reform-box push for charter school expansion:

Schultz was raised in Birmingham and attended Carleton College in Minnesota, where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science. She then became a teacher through Teach for America in Atlanta public schools, where she taught second grade for two years. …

After her stint in the classroom, Schultz said she knew she wanted to make a career out of education and went back to school.

She received her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in public policy and organizational theory from Stanford University in June 2008. …

Schultz’s first order of business under the governor is getting legislation passed during the next legislative session that will allow for charter schools in Alabama. …

“We are really committed to charter schools,” Schultz said. “Alabama is at a unique point right now because we have the benefit of using what other states have learned about charter schools.”

Schultz worked under Bentley for two years, until 2013. Then she became (and, according to her Linkedin bio, continues to be) executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools (October 2013 – present).

In March 2015, the Alabama legislature passed a bill allowing charter schools to operate in the state. So, it sounds like Schultz was successful.

Since that time, four years have elapsed. It’s now 2019.

What about Schultz’s AL charter-school-establishing accomplishment?

Googling “alabama coalition for public charter schools” leads one to the home page for New Schools for Alabama (NSFA).

The “about us –> who we are” link indicates that the current NSFA executive director is Tyler Barnett (who also hails from TFA), and that Schultz sits on the NSFA board.

But here’s a question:

Where is that proliferation of Alabama charter schools?

Answer:

There has been no proliferation of charter schools in Alabama. On its “find a school” link, NSFA lists only two charter schools.

Two. In four years.

Meanwhile, Schultz moves onward and upward.

Seven months after Alabama passed its charter school legislation, in October 2015, Schultz became the “senior manager of policy and state advocacy” for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).

So, yes, Schultz has experience advocating for charter schools.

Both of them.

Regarding the newly-passed charter school legislation in WV in which only districts can authorize charter schools, Schultz comments,

One of the provisions that we (“we” presumably being NAPCS) have seen as really important to supporting the growth of a high-quality public charter school sector is to have multiple authorizers. … Authorizing structures look different across states, but we usually recommend having at least two pathways or two authorizers in place so that applicants can make their case for opening a school to a couple of different entities.

Alabama’s charter school law allows for multiple authorizers, as NSFA notes on its “start a school –> process” page:

Groups applying to open a charter school in a district that has registered as an authorizer must first apply to the district. Should the district deny the application, applicants can appeal to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission (APCSC). The decision of the APCSC is final. Groups applying to open in a district that has not registered as an authorizer must apply directly to the APCSC.

So then, why only two charter schools in four years? Isn’t market-based reform about quantifiable results?

Why would WV pro-school-choice legislators seek advice from someone whose AL charter school policy advocacy resulted in a scant two schools in four years?

Why, indeed.

Schultz has an impressive title: director for state advocacy and policy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

No reason to check for the substance behind it.

car on blocks

_________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.