Archives for category: New Orleans

For five years, I have listened to Arne Duncan lecture the American people about how terrible our public schools are.


He goes on at length about our ignorant students, our misguided parents, our ineffective teachers, our failing public schools.


In his eyes, we seem to be a nation of slackers, bums, ignoramuses, fools, and failures.


We know that he likes: charter schools, Teach for America, closing public schools and handing them over to corporate management, and “graduate schools” that have no scholars, no researchers, just tutors of test-taking skills. And of course, he loves the heavy emphasis on test-taking in places like Shanghai and Singapore. Test scores are his North Star. He wishes we could be like Shanghai, and that all our moms were “Tiger Moms,” cracking the whip over the children and making them get ready for the next test. All work, no play. He dreams of a new America of test-taking grinds. Arne Duncan is our Mr. Gradgrind, and if you don’t know who that is, google it.


Every once in a while, he launches a campaign calling for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” but no one believes him. They know it is just empty PR.


So, I wonder, what are the unforgettable phrases of Arne Duncan that will be his legacy, the words that encapsulate his unique combination of certainty and cluelessness.


Entry one must be his immortal comment about Hurricane Katrina, which caused the deaths of over 1,000 people and wiped out public education and the teachers’ union in New Orleans: He said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Forget the fact that the great majority of charter schools in New Orleans today are rated either D or F by the state of Louisiana (which favors them). According to Secretary Duncan, every major city needs a Hurricane Katrina or some other natural disaster to demolish public education and eliminate teachers’ unions so they can be replaced by privately managed charter schools and Teach for America. Of course, then Teach for America would have to train 1,000,000 teachers a year instead of only 10,000, and it would put an end to the teaching profession, but Arne hasn’t thought that far in advance.


Entry two was captured by Gary Rubinstein in this post on his blog: At Teach for America’s 20th anniversary celebration, Arne Duncan was a featured speaker. He told the story of a school that had only a 40% graduation rate. The school was shut down and replaced by three charter schools. One graduated all of its students, and all were accepted into college. Duncan said: “Same children, same community, same poverty, same violence. Actually went to school in the same building with different adults, different expectations, different sense of what’s possible. Guess what? That made all the difference in the world.” Gary pointed out that the students were not the same kids, and that the 107 who graduated were not the same as the 166 who started in the class. Yes, the graduation rate was higher, but it was not the 100% that Arne implied. And to make matters worse, the students at that particular “miracle school” had lower test scores than the Chicago school district. But Arne was trying to promote his theory that schools get better if everyone is fired and the slate is wiped clean.


Then there was the time last year when he sneered at parents in New York state who objected to the absurd Common Core tests as “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” He quickly tried to walk that one back, but it stuck. He deeply believes that our kids are dummies and their parents want to believe that they are smart when they are not. I guess you need to have a Harvard B.A. to be so arrogant about the brainpower of other people’s children.


My personal favorite occurred when he visited a charter school in Brooklyn. He told those assembled that the United States is facing both an economic crisis and an educational crisis. And then came this immortal line: “We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not,’ ” he said. “Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”


The claim that we are “lying to our students” or “we are lying to our children” is like a mantra for Arne, so that’s not new. What is special about this line is the idea that you should be able to look every second grader in the eye and be able to tell them that they are on track to go to a good college. Since I have a grandson who is in second grade, I know how absurd this is. I look into his eyes and I see a laughing, happy child. That’s what I want to see. Sometimes I see a sad child, and I want to know what’s wrong and can I help. I see a child who loves to read and loves to play. The last thing in the world that would occur to me as a parent, a grandparent, or an educator is to ask whether he was on track to go to a good college. I want him to be on track to be happy, healthy, curious about the world, eager to learn, and secure in the love that surrounds him.

Julian Vasquez Heilig collected his Top Ten of Arne’s Inanities.

The reality is that it is easy to find Arne’s clueless remarks. They occur whenever he goes off script.


What is your favorite Arne Duncan line? I have known almost every Secretary of Education since the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1980. I have never known one who had so little respect for students, educators, parents, school boards, or public education as our current Secretary. Nor have I known one who had so little understanding about what constitutes genuine learning. Not test scores, but a love of learning, a love of tinkering, a love of knowledge. It is innovation, creativity, imagination, curiosity, wit, and the pursuit of new knowledge that is the genius of our nation. Those who care not to preserve those essential aspects of education are not educators, but technicians, bureaucrats, and bean counters.


My wish: Arne Duncan should take the PARCC test for eighth graders and publish his scores.


Julian Vasquez Heilig posted a narrative by the dean of students at a Néw Orleans charter school, describing the harsh treatment meted out to students–especially black males–at the school.

The author writes that the best way to understand the tightly structured culture at the charter school was through post-colonial studies.

The dean writes:

“Are some charters’ practices new forms of colonial hegemony? When examining current discipline policies and aligned behavioral norms within charter school spaces, postcolonial theory is useful because of the striking similarities between problematic socialization practices and the educational regimes of the uncivilized masses in colonized nations. A number of postcolonial theorists focus on multiple ways that oppressors dominate their subjects and maintain power over them. For example, while working as the Dean of Students for a charter school in New Orleans, it took me some time to realize that I had been enforcing rules and policies that stymied creativity, culture and student voice. Though some of my main duties involved ensuring the safety and security of all students and adults at the school, investigating student behavioral incidents and establishing a calm and positive school culture, I felt as if I was doing the opposite.”

The dean explained the routines and demands that enforced conformity, punished black children for wearing their hair natural, and sent children to detention for trivial offenses.

“Lastly, everything at the school was done in a militaristic/prison fashion. Students had to walk in lines everywhere they went, including to class and the cafeteria. The behavioral norms and expectations called for all students to stand in unison with their hands to their sides, facing forward, silent until given further instruction. The seemingly tightly coupled structure proved to be inefficient as students and teachers constantly bucked the system in search of breathing room. The systems and procedures seemingly did not care about the Black children and families they served. They were suffocating and meant to socialize students to think and act a certain way. In the beginning, we were teaching “structure,” but it evolved to resemble post-colonialism. Vasquez Heilig, Khalifa, and Tillman (2013) stated that “education was and still is used as a hegemonic form to monitor, sanction, and control civilized people.” Thus, postcolonial theory (Fanon, 1952, 1961; Memmi, 1965; Said, 1978) offers a critical framework through which urban educational policies and practices can be understood and critiqued (DeLeon, 2012; Shahjahan, 2011). They continue their analysis by stating that “at base, post-colonial theorists interrogate the relationship between the legitimized, conquering power and the vanquished subaltern, and ask questions about who defines subjectivities, such as knowledge, resistance, space, voice, or even thought.” Fanon (1961 ) argued, “Colonialism wants everything to come from it.” Essentially, colonizers delegitimize the knowledge, experience, and cultures of the colonized, and establish policy and practice that will always confirm the colonial status quo. In other words, it is important to note that postcolonial studies, though often thought of as relegated to a particular period, are actually also a reference to thoughts, practices, policies, and laws that impact marginalized Black bodies enrolled in charters during the current educational policy era.”

Jeff Bryant here
describes the rise of an anti-democratic worldview
threatens not only public education but democracy itself.


Under the fraudulent guise of “education reform,” extremists seek to
destroy public education and turn it over to private entrepreneurs.
They trust the marketplace, not the public. They are true believers
in the doctrines of free-market economist Milton Friedman, not
those of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Horace Mann.


He quotes an Ohio legislator who says that public schools–which are a
cornerstone of our democracy–are “socialist.” If so, then we have
been a “socialist” nation for over 150 years. At least 90% of our
population was educated in those “socialist” schools and created
the greatest, most powerful nation in the world.


Then he quotes the founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, who longs to see an end to
locally elected school boards, to be replaced by privately managed
charters. Democracy, Hastings seems to think, is too inefficient,
too messy. Are there enough billionaires like Hastings to run the
nation’s schools? Why do these people have such contempt for
democracy? Why do they like to replace democratic control with
mayoral control, governor control, anything but elected school
boards? Several districts in New Jersey have been under state
control for 20 years, with no results. Mayoral control has done
nothing for Cleveland or Chicago other than to increase
undemocratic decision making.


Bryant concludes: “The idea of democratic governance of schools as a principal means for ensuring
the quality of schools has never worked perfectly for sure. “It’s
true that too few people bother to vote in school board elections.
The electoral system is often prone to manipulation from powerful
individuals and self-interested groups. Elected boards are often
overly contentious to the point of dysfunction. And the country’s
history is replete with examples of local boards that perpetuated
widespread mistreatment of minorities to the point where outside
intervention was necessary. “But where else has democratic
governance achieved perfection? There are democratic solutions to
these problems: Do more to increase voter education and turnout,
limit the influence of money and factional interests, and ensure
checks and balances from outside authorities that are also
democratically elected. “If we want to give ordinary people more of
a voice in determining the education destinies of their children
and their communities, the solution is more democracy, not

Jarvis DeBerry, a columnist for the New Orleans Time-Picayune, has written a letter to the students at the John McDonogh School, a charter school that is closing after Steve Barr took it over and pledged to turn it around.

Barr’s company is called “The Future Is Now.” He invited Oprah to send in a television crew to document his success in taking over what he called New Orleans’ “most dangerous school.”

But he is gone, Oprah lost interest, and the school is closing.

Here is DeBerry’s letter.

Dear students of John McDonogh High School:  It is with heavy hearts that we, the residents of New Orleans, write you this letter informing you that we find it impossible to educate you. We’re giving up on our stated goal of preparing you for a future that requires your literacy, your facility with numbers and critical thinking skills. You have our regrets.

We don’t know if your English teachers have taught you about irony – a situation that’s considered strange or funny because it’s the opposite of what’s expected – but it certainly is ironic that the organization that has been running your school is called “Future Is Now.” You kids are so far behind.

When we say you’re behind, of course we mean that you’re behind your peers across the country. That goes without saying. But you Trojans are even behind your peers in New Orleans. In fact, as you probably already know, when you don’t include alternative schools, John McDonogh High School, its proud history notwithstanding, has the lowest school performance score in the state.

And so, you poor students, we’re just going to quit while we’re behind. We’re going to shut down your school in June and try to get a head start on helping the kids behind you.

What’s that? Sure, we’ll send you to another campus. There are other schools in the city you can attend. But you should know that we aren’t really convinced that it’s the campus that’s the problem. John Mac isn’t the first bad school you’ve been to, now is it? So maybe the problem is you. That’s why so many of us are washing our hands of you. We don’t think there’s any hope for y’all to actually become scholars or even hardworking, engaged and informed members of your community. In fact, most of us have got our bets on your seeing the inside of a prison. If you really are “one of the most dangerous schools in America,” as that reality show “Blackboard Wars” put it, why wouldn’t we think y’all were just biding your time before you’re shipped to the penitentiary?

So why should we persist in this charade? Why should we keep pretending that anything is going to get better? Why not just leave you to our own devices so we can better focus on your little brothers and sisters behind you?

Steve Barr, the CEO of Future Is Now, said his approach worked in Los Angeles where so many children had that first-generation-American eagerness and ambition. But he diagnosed y’all as having been on the tail end of “seven generations of crap.” We think, by that, he means that the six generations ahead of you weren’t especially well educated either, that even your grandparents’ grandparents were stepped on, disrespected and denied basic services in ways they shouldn’t have been. So maybe you aren’t expecting to be treated all that different. Or maybe you have no sense of history at all and are just looking at the way you’ve always been treated and figure that nobody really cares whether you succeed or not.

James Baldwin – have you read him in English class? – said in an essay about his old Harlem neighborhood that “children do not like ghettos. It takes them nearly no time to discover exactly why they’re there.” Haven’t y’all discovered why y’all are at John McDonogh, just about the worst school in a state that trails most of the country education-wise? And if you have discovered it, why do you think things would be better for you at another New Orleans campus? Wherever you enroll, those of us with options are going to make sure our children go somewhere else. Shoot, we’re not going to have our children corrupted by children like you.

It’s in dispute whether your school building is as bad as some say it is. Patrick Dobard, the leader of the Recovery School District, says opponents of the school’s management are wrong when they say the building is infested with rats, termites and mold. Still, there’s no argument that the building needs to be made better. So, after y’all are out of the building, local officials plan to reshape it into something nice and lovely. We’re talking a new cafeteria, a new science lab and a performance space. It’s also supposed to have the tip-top in energy efficiency.

That new John McDonogh is going to be some special! Students are going to love it. No, not you current students. You’re a lost cause. You can’t be helped. But trust us when we say we’re going to go all out for the students coming behind you.

Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at Follow him

It seems like only yesterday that the Oprah television network featured an exciting new charter school in New Orleans that promised to turn around the John McDonogh school. The new charter group was led by Steve Barr and his Future Is Now organization.

“One year after the Oprah television network featured New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School in “Blackboard Wars,” hoping to depict a successful charter school turnaround, the Recovery School District is dissolving the school. All staff members will lose their jobs.

“A fresh start. This school needs a fresh start,” Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said of the school run by Future Is Now.

“Struggling charter schools have three years to prove themselves, and they can lose their authorization to operate after the fourth. However, the school known as John Mac is closing after only two years. The high school had the lowest performance score in the state in 2013, after alternative schools.

“The school system is speeding up a long-demanded building renovation to this summer, instead of waiting until 2016. But instead of moving to interim space, as typically happens, all the students must find new schools.

“Future Is Now charter chief Steve Barr said it was entirely a facilities decision, not made in response to low enrollment and poor test scores: “I think it’s a little bizarre to think this is some elaborate scheme to get us out of here. We’ve only in the middle of our second year.”

“Barr said they considered multiple temporary homes for the school but could not find a good alternative. While a number of schools are in portables pending the end of a $1.8 billion facilities master plan, Barr said they were mostly startup charters and portables weren’t appropriate for a turnaround school like John McDonogh.

“Future Is Now has the option of voluntarily giving up the charter, which Barr said would require a board vote. But it doesn’t matter, because when the building reopens after two years, the charter will have expired. Dobard said the school would not be eligible for renewal or extension.

“Dobard acknowledged that John McDonogh’s poor academic performance was an issue. He wouldn’t say the state had erred in granting the charter in the first place. “Hindsight is always 20/20, but we went into it with full confidence,” he said. “Obviously we wished the school would have been performing better at this stage.”

“For Future Is Now, it’s an abrupt end to a would-be feel-good tale.”

Oprah was gung-ho at the eg inning of the story. Why did she disappear at the end?

It is always astonishing to be reminded that the rule of law still exists in Louisiana, despite the authoritarian command of Governor Bobby Jindal.

But it does! Louisiana courts found the funding of the voucher program, using money dedicated to public schools, to be unconstitutional. The courts found Jindal’s law stripping teachers of all legal rights and protections to be unconstitutional because it included too many subjects in one bill.

And now, miracle of miracles, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that 7,000 teachers who were fired after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina were wrongfully terminated and entitled to back wages. The judgement could bankrupt the Orleans Parish Board.

“In a lawsuit that some say could bankrupt the Orleans Parish public school system, an appeals court has decided that the School Board wrongly terminated more than 7,000 teachers after Hurricane Katrina. Those teachers were not given due process, and many teachers had the right to be rehired as jobs opened up in the first years after the storm, the court said in a unanimous opinion.

“The state is partly responsible for damages, according to Wednesday’s ruling from Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. However, its five-judge panel did reduce the potential damages certified by the District Court: Instead of five years of back pay plus fringe benefits, the appeals court awarded the teachers two to three years of back pay, with benefits only for those employees who had participated in them when they were employed.

“During the appeal, lawyers said the damages could amount to $1.5 billion.

“The class-action case applies to all School Board employees who were tenured as of Aug. 29, 2005, the date that Katrina blasted up the Louisiana-Mississippi line and New Orleans levees failed, flooding much of the city. Many employees were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans, but the appeals court ruled that an earlier settlement with the union did not prevent this case from being tried.

“The decision validates the anger felt by former teachers who lost their jobs. It says they should have been given top consideration for jobs in the new education system that emerged in New Orleans in the years after the storm.”

But wait!

Didn’t Arne Duncan say that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the schools of New Orleans? Didn’t he celebrate the abrupt firing of all these teachers and their replacement by TFA? Well, yes.

The courts say he was wrong.

The law was upheld. You don’t wipe out the livelihoods of 7,000 people just because you want to. The court said that these men and women were entitled to due process. Justice prevails.

EduShyster commends President Obama and Secretary Duncan for their new initiative to lower the practice of suspending students, especially minority students, from school. But she wonders whether the new policy will apply to the “no excuses” charter schools that have sky-high suspension rates and win commendations from the Obama administration for having high expectations.

In New Orleans, two celebrated charter schools have high suspension rates:

“According to Louisiana state data a full 69 percent of Carver Collegiate’s student body was sent home at least once during the 2012-2013 school year. Carver Prep suspended 61 percent of its student body, while Sci Academy sent home 58 percent, a 9-point increase from the year before. That’s a lot of college readiness.”

Massachusetts also has charters that teach self-discipline by suspending students:

“It isn’t just New Orleans where there seems to be something of an, ahem, double standard when it comes to suspending minority students. In Massachusetts, for example, charter schools out-suspend their public counterparts at staggering rates. Tops on the list: Roxbury Preparatory Charter, a college prep academy for 5th-8th graders that is part of the Uncommon Schools network and sent home an Uncommonly high 56% of its students in 2012. In Boston, by contrast, which has overhauled its discipline policies to allow *restorative justice* in place of out-of-school suspensions, the suspension rate has dropped to just 4%.”

Why do charters get away with it?

“You see, there’s something else unique about urban charter schools in addition to their unique view that suspending students prepares them for college. They are also incredibly segregated. In other words, they can’t be said to be disproportionately punishing minority students because only minority students attend them. Segregation, like out-of-school suspensions, is just fine when its done in the name of college prep.”

Mercedes Schneider was invited to testify to a Michigan legislative committee about the alleged “New Orleans miracle,” which she explains is a mirage.

In addition to presenting her views in a five-minute video, she made a ten-minute video specifically directed to Michigan parents.

She explains what is happening in Louisiana, the data manipulation, the political games played with statistics to bolster privatization.

If you want to meet Mercedes Schneider, watch the videos.

Mercedes teaches high school English in Louisiana and she holds a Ph.D. in research methods.

She is also fearless, which is unusual these days.


I received this letter from a teacher who taught in Louisiana until recently. I am posting anonymously for her sake:

Dear friends,

I am not writing you from New Orleans, and I do not know these students, but I taught in this area for 9 years, and after 3 schools that I worked in were taken over by charters with no relationship to the community, I left my state and moved to Atlanta to go to graduate school. Thus, it is so encouraging that students from two high schools have protested fake school reform and the “No Excuses Model.” Both schools have staged walk-outs over the past week. If you have not watched the below videos, please take a minute to do so.

Firstline schools is the Charter Management Organization (CMO) that took over Joseph S. Clark High School three years ago. The principal is a TFA graduate and his name is Alex Hochran. The students were protesting the discipline policies and the lack of diversity in the teaching staff (the school is located in one of the oldest black neighborhoods in the United States, Treme).

Collegiate Academies is another No Excuses CMO, and they are in the process of taking over Carver High School (the school is located in the 9th ward of New Orleans). The students walked out yesterday.–232692271.html

Please share these videos with others, so that people can be inspired by the courageous work of these young people.

By now, we should all have learned that numbers, data, statistics, can be distorted to present any narrative that is wanted.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider shows how the hucksters for the “Néw Orleans Miracle” are back to their old tricks.


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