TFA Exec Kira Orange-Jones As TIME “100 Most Influential” Material?
For some reason, TIME magazine has decided that Teach for America (TFA) Louisiana executive director Kira Orange-Jones is one of the most influential people in 2015.
I have been in the room with Orange-Jones at meetings of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Orange-Jones was elected to BESE in November 2011.
I have not heard her engage in any sustained or meaningful discussion on any subject. I have witnessed her consistently vote along with the majority of the BESE board.
I thought maybe I missed Orange-Jones’ meaningful discussion at BESE meetings, so I asked a colleague who attends the meetings regularly, retired teacher and BESE-2016 hopeful Lee Barrios, whether Orange-Jones engages in discussion at BESE meetings.
Barrios’ response: “Rarely.”
So, that TIME recognition for Orange-Jones “influence” is apparently not based on her involvement as evidenced in state board meetings.
But Orange-Jones was also appointed TFA executive director for the Greater New Orleans region in 2007, and she became TFA Louisiana executive director in 2013. So, maybe her renown comes from that her influence in that role. After all, according to the TFA page for Greater New Orleans and the Louisiana delta, TFA now boasts a total corps size of 340 recruits statewide and an “alumni base” of over 600.
A TFAer corps size of 340 might impress some, but is it enough to earn the title of being among the “100 most influential people?”
So, it can’t be the overwhelming number of TFAers that Orange-Jones is recruiting that makes her so “influential.”
How about the idyllic spiel that TFA’s emeritus leader, Walter Isaacson, writes about New Orleans’ post-Katrina charter-converted educational environment? Is Orange-Jones top-100 “influence” here? Let’s have a gander:
This year is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and among the amazing aspects of the comeback of New Orleans is the reinvention of its school system. After an influx of charter nonprofits, the distinction between charter and public schools was virtually eliminated: all are empowered to run themselves and compete for students. Kira Orange Jones, a Bronx native, was one of the critical engines of innovation. As Teach for America’s executive director in New Orleans, she attracted educators from across the U.S. and developed ways for reformers, community members and veteran teachers to respect and learn from one another. To preserve the reforms, she ran for Louisiana’s board of education and upset an entrenched incumbent. The public-charter-choice model has been a success: since 2005, the on-time graduation rate has gone from over 50% to nearly 75%, the number going to college has more than doubled, and New Orleans now outperforms cities like Chicago, Denver and Miami on ACT tests. [Emphasis added.]
Last fall (in 2011), a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815. [Emphasis added.]
Consider the following additional information regarding Orange-Jones’ fat-coffer, campaign funding of her race for a BESE seat:
Why has nearly 25 percent (almost $60,000) of the more than $241,000 in campaign contributions to BESE candidate Kira Orange Jones come from out-of-state contributors? Why are more than one-third of her contributors from outside of Louisiana? Who are these people and why are they so concerned about who represents the New Orleans area and other surrounding parishes on the LOUISIANA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education? The reality is that the list of Orange Jones’ major contributors reads like a who’s who of Teach for America top brass. [Emphasis added.]
Well-moneyed for the 2011 BESE election via her TFA connections, Orange-Jones says next to nothing in BESE meetings and consistently votes the same as the pro-privatization BESE majority.
Orange-Jones is less “influence” and more “privatization-agenda conduit.”
Even the Orange-Jones’ TIME-mag paragraph-in-the-sun only weaves her into the backdrop of a supposed New Orleans charter success narrative, where Orange-Jones is not accorded the title of “the” critical engine of innovation.
She is “one of” a nondescript group of supposed “critical engines.”
Why didn’t the other “critical engines” earn the title of a TIME mag “100 most influential”?
A Google search of “Kira Orange Jones Recovery School District” comes up pretty close to empty. There are some hits on her offering a quote to the press here and there, and some on the questionable ethics issues related to being a TFA executive and serving on a state board that clearly favors TFA. But there is nothing mountain-moving about Orange-Jones influence over the “success” of New Orleans schools.
I was surprised to see Isaacson bring up the issue of New Orleans’ ACT scores, which I released to the public in January 2015.
What does it really mean for Isaacson to write that “New Orleans now outperforms cities like Chicago, Denver and Miami on ACT tests”?
According to the ACT information system, the Recovery School District in New Orleans (RSD) Class of 2014 ACT composite was 15.7.
Moreover, very few of those state-run, now-all-charter RSD grads even qualify for in-state tuition scholarships to community college.
Will Orange-Jones and her TFAers take credit for these stellar outcomes almost ten years following Katrina?
I’m thinking, not a chance.
All of the above leads me to conclude that there is no reason for Orange-Jones to be listed among the 100 most influential people in 2015 based upon Orange-Jones’ actual influence over the New Orleans educational landscape.
Nevertheless, from the pro-privatizing perspective, there are two clear benefits to having Orange-Jones featured among the TIME magazine 100. First, featuring TFAer Orange-Jones helps TFA counter its image as predominately white organization. (In July 2012,, TFA acknowledged its 2012 corps to be 62 percent white; in March 2015, TFA noted that its 2014 corps was 49 percent “people of color”, with 18 percent African American and 13 percent Latino. Note that the pages linked are archived; as of this writing, TFA has killed this “diversity” page.)
The second benefit of featuring Orange-Jones among TIME’s 100 Most Influential is that doing so offers an opportunity before a major national audience to plug privatized New Orleans schools as a success. The timing for selling this New Orleans school success image is all the more important given that the image has taken some fissure-revealing hits in 2015– and will likely take more. (Read here and here about how proponents of New Orleans school privatization have begun writing in “disclaimers.”)
In short, Orange-Jones’ “influence” is in how her presence serves the agendas of both TFA and so-called New Orleans charter “choice.”
That’s about it.
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.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.