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Doug Harris’ June 2015, New Orleans Charter Event Wants Less Tulane Influence and More Community Voice

January 19, 2015

In June 2015, Tulane economics professor and Education Research Alliance (ERA) founder Doug Harris will (now) offer the public the opportunity to attend his three-day conference on “lessons from New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina.”

He promises “the first balanced and comprehensive look at the New Orleans education experience and its effects.”

He also promises, “Most importantly, the invitation and speakers list includes a mix of both supporters and opponents of the reforms.”


So far, the list of confirmed national speakers leans a bit heavy in favor of privatizing public education– and also heavy on connections with Tulane University. Harris’ ERA is housed with Tulane’s Cowen Institute, and this ERA landlord’s presence is not lost on the June 2015 event “national” speakers lineup.

As of January 18, 2015, the ERA announcement on the event features ten “national” speakers– Harris and nine others:

Confirmed national speakers include (alphabetically):

In a previous post, I examined five of the nine other speakers: Rick Hess, Pedro Noguera, Charles Payne, Paul Hill, and Michael Casserly. Two of the five (Noguera and Payne) hold positions that are clearly “opposed to the reforms” (e.g., the expansion of charter schools as the preferred, unfettered “solution” to urban education). One (Casserly) appears more concerned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Both Hess and Hill are pro-privatization via charters.

In addition, both Casserly and Hill sit on Tulane’s Cowen Institute National Advisory Council. And Hess defended Harris’ 2011 VAM book in this February 2012 Ed Week post (comments are particularly interesting) and also was a guest speaker compliments of Cowen Institute in February 2013 to speak of his “cage-busting leadership,” which I wrote about in January 2013:

In this video clip (, Hess advocates for more lawyers to be involved in the educational reform movement, and he notes that there are lots of lawyers hailing from TFA (Teach for America) available to moderate the reform. He also notes the need for “an increased mix of people going in” to reform education, including “great financial minds” to be involved (Gates? Walton? Broad?), and “smart technology leaders who are excited about this work” (online education companies? testing companies?). Hess also advocates “bringing in” HR people, as opposed to having teachers go back to school to earn administrative degrees and rise through the ranks. Hess notes that the teachers are rising above their training (??) and likely do not make good administrators. It is the same logic as is reflected in this 2003 Broad education leadership manifesto on which Hess advised. [Emphasis added.]

Hess is fine with ushering former TFA classroom temps into more permanent positions of public education leadership.

Hess is one of an already a notable corporate-reform-minded, Tulane-connected “national” presence to advocate at Harris’ June 2015 event. And the list is expanding.

Harris has added his own name and the names of four others to the list of June 2015 “national speakers”:

Scott Cowen, Howard Fuller, Walter Isaacson, and Warren Simmons.

A professor of business and economics, Scott Cowen is the fourteenth president of Tulane University. Tulane’s Cowen Institute (in which Harris’ ERA is housed) is named for Cowen:

In response to Katrina, President Cowen was appointed to the city’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission and charged with leading a committee to reform and rebuild the city’s failing public school system. President Cowen has devoted his days and nights to these monumental tasks and has already had impressive results.  As part of this effort, Tulane chartered a K-12 school in New Orleans and created an Institute for Public Education Initiatives to support the transformation of public education in New Orleans. [Emphasis added.]

Safe to note that Cowen is pro-privatization via charters.

cowen 2                                                                           Tulane’s Cowen Institute, where Harris’ ERA has its office.

Then comes Howard Fuller. Fuller is a former Milwaukee Schools superintendent, major voucher advocate, and co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). In New Orleans, BAEO is the organization paying for the litigation to keep CCSS in Louisiana. Fuller’s wife, former Detroit schools superintendent Deborah McGriff, is a managing director of New Schools Venture Fund, a nonprofit that raises capital to promote “ventures in school choice”— such as that of New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP)– both of which are also housed in Tulane’s Cowen Institute.

Only a couple degrees of Fuller-to-Cowen separation.

Fuller’s wife’s New Schools Venture Fund also supports two New Orleans charter management companies, ReNew Charter Management and Crescent City Charters.

Fuller supports vouchers and charters. However, he does not approve of selective admissions charters, which New Orleans has– and which have the highest school letter grades and are also “off limits” to most New Orleans public school children.

Wonder if he will talk about that in June.

cowen 3

The reception area at the Cowen Institute. Along with organizations listed on the Cowen marquee, ERA (in orange) and Relay Graduate School of Education are also included on this wall. (Click on image to enlarge.)


Like Cowen and Fuller, Walter Isaacson also has connections to Tulane. Isaacson sits on Tulane’s board. In addition, Isaacson is chair emeritus of TFA.

As to Tulane and TFA: In 2013, Tulane was listed among TFA’s top 17 mid-sized recruiting schools, having 26 recruits. By 2014, Tulane did not make the list of the top 22 mid-sized schools for TFA recruits, having 17 or fewer recruits. In late 2014, TFA was having problems meeting its recruitment goals despite its efforts to tightly control its public image.

In his June 2015 presentation, perhaps Isaacson will explain why TFA collects a fee as high as $9000 per recruit in Louisiana taxpayer money for temp teachers who do not stay in the classroom, thereby ensuring faculty instability at schools. Perhaps he might offer details on the percentages of New Orleans-based TFAers who quit the classroom before completing a single year; percentages of those who quit the classroom following a second year, and percentage of teaching time devoted to standardized test prep.

Perhaps Isaacson might also offer demographic details on just how many of the TFA recruits in New Orleans are white and affluent versus those who complement the race, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of the New Orleans children they temp-teach.

And perhaps Isaacson and Harris might co-present the results of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the presence of TFA in New Orleans schools from 2006 to 2015. A challenge, I realize. However, TFA’s privileged presence in New Orleans is long overdue a hefty dose of that “accountability” TFA proponents are fond of dishing out to those who are not them.

The last recent addition to Harris’ ERA “national” speakers list is Warren Simmons, former executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR), funded by the same foundation as Chicago’s Annenberg Challenge in the 1990s. As is true of Casserly and Hill, Simmons also serves on the Cowen Institute National Advisory Council.

Simmons does not agree with the federal focus of test-driven outcomes as the means to improve schools. He believes much more needs to be done by way of community involvement, and he views teaching as “a collective activity”:

In the early 1990s, the focus moved toward an excellence agenda, with standards as the driver and the stated goal of raising the performance of all students in all schools, rather than closing achievement gaps.  No Child Left Behind continued this doctrine and rolled out broad accountability measures based on market concepts of competition, evaluation, rewards, and sanctions.  

Today, the federal government has amplified that agenda, supported by corporate philanthropy, with a focus on teacher performance evaluation – making pay for performance a reality in many states and districts – and strategies to address the lowest-performing 2,000 schools.  These policies reflect an unprecedented federal involvement in the details of education reform, causing a disproportionate impact on the plan pursued by states and districts, and exemplified by the standards established by the Race to the Top program.

A groundswell of “pushback” has developed to this approach.  Improving student performance in low-performing schools involves more than changing the human capital in those schools.  It involves more than just closing schools and turning them over to education management organizations or charter groups.  It does involve enhancing our understanding of teaching and learning, building the capacity of schools, teachers, and districts, and collaborating with families and communities to promote teaching and learning both inside and outside the school. 

Teaching is a collective activity.  It’s not an individual teacher working alone that makes a difference in a child’s life; it’s a group of teachers working in concert with supports and resources in communities, including parents. And it’s not simply districts that educate students; it’s the entire community. 

The 2005 state takeover of most New Orleans public schools did not involve the community. It was a sneaky act perpetrated upon a hurt and unsuspecting community by politically-connected individuals seeking an all-charter school district. This is the first issue that needs to be addressed, and I hope Simmons will put “the architects of the reforms” on the hot seat for their usurping the rights of the community in imposing their version of “choice” upon said community.

I also hope Simmons will confront the issue of local researchers’ having been actively and consistently denied access to de-identified data on the reforms and the state’s selectively withholding data from the general public. Meanwhile, Tulane University and its Cowen Institute have been designated as the privileged, local mouthpiece regarding research on New Orleans, post-Katrina school privatization. Harris and this entire ERA effort is part of that privilege.

So, here we are, with a list of June 2015 “national” speakers that not only leans toward the privatization message, but also leans even more to those connected with Tulane University.

If Harris wants “balance,” he needs to actively recruit more voices critical of 100-percent New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) privatization, and he needs to step outside of those connected to Tulane University.

He also needs to publicize a list of the local voices who will be allowed to speak at his event. That list should include community members whose lives have been directly impacted by decisions made not by them but instead by “the architects.” Furthermore, local researchers should have a voice– including those whose efforts to conduct research have been repeatedly frustrated by a state superintendent bent on delivering data to organizations he believes will paint a picture of New Orleans charters intended to sell the state-takeover idea to districts nationwide.

If we’re going to paint, let us use brushes crafted outside of Tulane University and dipped in the substance of fully-represented, New Orleans community reality.

And let us not settle for too many surfaces finished in AstroTurf green.


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic





  1. You guys are playing with a two – headed snake with a clear conservative agenda. This guy has no respect for the community. I’ve followed and have had multiple conversations with him. He is really dangerous.

  2. Mercedes –
    The EWA notwithstanding, you are doing exactly what the fourth estate ought to do – expose and challenge the dominant narrative. Brava!

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  1. When Mercedes Schneider Met Doug Harris | Diane Ravitch's blog

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