Dirty Tricks in District 6

Kathy Edmonston, my opponent in the District 6 BESE race, just released a poll that her political consultant ran that shows her tied with the incumbent Chas Roemer, me at 6%, and the undecided at 44%. 

This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard these numbers.  The first time I heard them was Thursday August 20th when some of my friends reported that people were contacting them them about this poll, and telling them they needed to stop backing me.  They were being told that I was helping Chas Roemer (who has not declared his candidacy by the way) win, by staying in the race.  (Coincidentally? This was the same day I was endorsed by the NPE (Network for Public Education) and Diane Ravitch, which probably impacted the timing of their release of their poll numbers to me and my supporters.)

I was a bit hurt by this.  Kathy and I had agreed to run a clean campaign on issues and let the voters decided based on our stances, not money, or attacks, or dirty tricks.  I had agreed to this originally with her friend and longtime supporter on the Ascension Parish Republican PEC Kathryn Goeppelt, who asked me to pray with her over our lunch where we met to set some ground rules.  While Kathryn was clearly running the show and doing most of Kathy’s speaking for her at every event I attended, I subsequently confirmed this arrangement with Kathy Edmonston.

I had a significant online presence and following at the time and Kathy had nothing really on Facebook, or anywhere else.  I could have used my early advantage to question the timing of Kathy’s entrance into the race, a mere 4 months or so ago after it was rumored Chas would not be running. I did not even bring up very legitimate questions such as:

“Where we you the last  four years that I have fought Common Core, John White and Chas Roemer?”

“Where were you, Kathy, when I spoke at numerous Common Core rallies, testified and helped crush the data sharing nightmare that was inBloom?” 

“Where will you be when this race is over?”

I did not ask those questions and perhaps that was a mistake on my part.  I like to take people at their word and I tend to be too trusting of people who claim to be motivated by faith.  The first time I met Kathy at a rally this year (after the crawfish stunt I helped plan where legislators were given crawfish to counter the pink unicorn Lane Grigsby stunt) she told me she was entering the race because she had “prayed about it” and believed this was what God wanted her to do.  After how she and her folks have treated me I’m beginning to wonder if maybe she misheard?

You see, her political consultant Chris Comeaux, had contacted me in July and offered to help me with my campaign.  He claimed at the time to be a Libertarian, although I subsequently learned from Kathy he was a “well respected and very informed” Republican operative.  I did not know at the time he was already employed and being paid by Kathy Edmonston and Chris did nothing to give me any other impression except that he was a professional political consultant looking for work.  I shared perhaps too much with him, which I’m sure he then used against me to help further Edmonston’s campaign.  Her subsequent campaign expense report, filed later that month, showed that she had actually paid Comeaux at least as early as June 30th. . .

CHRIS COMEAUX
530 Lakeland
Baton Rouge, LA 70807
06/30/2015 Facebook Advertising $ 722.00

. . .well before before he contacted me with the below.

  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 06:15 PM Message : Jason. My name is Chris Comeaux.
  • I’m a conservative/libertarian political consultant in Livingston Parish. I wanted to talk to you about your race for BESE
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 06:18 PM
  • Message : I am Elbert Guillory’s consultant. I made all the videos that have made him a national figur
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 06:39 PM
  • Message : Hey Chris, sorry i missed your call.  I gave you a call back but must have missed you.  I will be available to chat until 7 tonight or perhaps we can touch base tomorrow?
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 07:52 PM
  • Message : I think I can really help you
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 07:51 PM Message : Can we get together in the next few days maybe?
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Jul 02, 2015 08:35 PM Message : Ok sounds good.

Comeaux never revealed in text or over the subsequent phone call that he was working for Edmonston already but he discussed strategy and offered to make a video for me like he had done for Senator Elbert Guillory who he did mention was one of his clients.  (Other clients he’s told me about also include Barry Ivy, Lenar Whitney, Jeff Landry and Beth Mizell.)

The next time I heard from Chris was when he called me August 20th to tell me he had run this poll, and that the best thing for me was to drop out of the race.  To say I was a bit taken aback was an understatement.

I realized at this point I had been scammed. 

Chris Comeaux then claimed I was ruining Kathy’s chances by staying in, and he hinted that if I dropped out now there might be a more professional team waiting in the wings to help me out with a different campaign – if only I dropped out of this one.  I asked him repeatedly when he started working for Kathy and if she knew he was contacting me this way.  He declined to answer but he continued to suggest I had a future in politics – if only I dropped out now.

  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : I did a poll on your race
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015  PM Message : And?
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : Kathy and Chas are tied at 25% each
  • You’re at 6%
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : I’d like to sit down with you and talk about all of this.
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : You may accidentally ensure Chas’ victory by running
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : I was running first. The same could be said about Kathy.
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : But people that know you say you are very smart and you have a future if you had some help from experienced people and that’s why I’m reaching out to you
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : So does Kathy know you are trying to get me to drop out?
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : Or have you gone rogue?
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : Unless you raise 100k all you can possibly do is help Chas win
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : I’m not offering you anything on this race. I’m talking about reshaping your future
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : I’m just saying, think objectively on what you are really doing
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : You almost appear like a plant from Lane, although I know that isn’t true
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : But do you see that by running with no money that you’re just helping Chas win
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : And I want to see you make some moves and pop back up in next couple years in a different role with a professional campaign team
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015
  • Message : Everyone wins. Right now, only Chas & Lane will win
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : You’re helping Lane
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : You don’t mean to be
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015 
  • Message : Chas win. Lane is applauding you
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015  PM
  • Message : I do want Kathy to win and will go help her
  • Sent to 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015  PM
  • Message : So does Kathy know you are contacting me?
  • Received from 2259784823 on Thu Aug 20, 2015  PM
  • Message : I don’t know

I reached out to some of Kathy’s team I knew before her run to ask about this Chris Comeaux guy, but they did not respond, so I contacted Kathy (8/25/15) to ask her.  Kathy was very guarded, not at all what I expected from an “ally”, and refused to answer.  I went from thinking I was going to be able to warn her that this guy was scamming her behind her back, to knowing he was following her orders.  I continued to ask about Chris, and when he started working for her, and got this response:

  • 8/25/2015
  • mo [Comeaux] is a well respected and very informed person in the Republican Party in this state.  I have been pleased in my dealings with him. I know that he an other Republicans that he works with are most interested in getting Chas Romer (sic) off the Bessie (sic) board.

When I asked Kathy Edmonston if she authorized him to contact me, to pretend to offer his services while claiming to be a Libertarian and while already working for her, she did not respond directly.  Instead, 20 minutes later, I got a call from none other than Chris Comeaux. 

The first thing out of  Comeaux’s mouth was: “I never told you directly I was looking to work for you.  Don’t you think the best thing you could do for yourself and your career is to drop out now?”

I shared some rather choice words with him, that got the attention of some of my coworkers, told him never to contact me again, and hung up.  He then tried to call me back again and again but I refused to answer and I suppose he eventually got the message.

I then got this final message from Kathy Edmonston before she published her “internal poll” on the Facebook site that Comeaux had no doubt set up for her.

“We agreed in the beginning that our objective as to remove Chas from BESE.  That is still my objective and I still hope that we can both can work to that end.”

When I first met Kathy I thought she was different than most politicians, and how they operate, and that we could work together.  I’d hoped that she was.  In the end, it looks like all that makes her different is different large donors. 

Jason France

Candidate for BESE District 6

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Hurricane Katrina Truths

The success of schools in New Orleans is more fiction than fact.  People in the United States prefer stories with a positive ending, where the good guys win, challenges are face head-on and overcome, and everyone lives happily ever after.  For too many kids in New Orleans, this is not the truth.

The improved matriculation rate is almost entirely due to using a new matching file.  You will see that over time this rate will no longer increase  The old rate did not include all Louisiana colleges or any out of state colleges.  You will see the largest increases in the better schools – because their best students were going out of state to flee the disaster that Bobby Jindal has made our Higher Education System into.  For now, this number has served its purpose by making many of you think New Orleans (and Louisiana for that matter) has achieved a miracle under John White.

The Recovery School District has been exiting as many as 18% of their 9th grade cohorts out of state or country.  This removes them from being calculated in School Performance scores, removes the impact of them actually dropping out, and raises graduation rates.  This rate has been steadily increasing for years to show increased performance to impress folks out of state looking to implement an RSD type solution.

The New Orleans system is divided between haves and have-nots.  The selective admission system has grown and done well.  The RSD competes not on quality but fancy advertising to draw new students – according to a survey of their own principals.

The population of New Orleans has changed.  It is less poor than prior to the storm as many of the poorest families were unable to return because they lacked the resources or any suitable housing.  There are no more housing projects in New Orleans and a lot less low income housing.  Comparing the two populations is not appropriate if you recognize poverty as a factor impacting performance.  By bringing up the poverty level of New Orleans in a recent op-ed, John White clearly does.

State Standardized Test Scores have been lowered by as much as 15% to improve the performance of RSD.  In other words, a student performing at Basic required 15% fewer correct answers than prior to John White’s arrival to achieve a “Basic” score, or about 40% of the material on our LEAP and iLEAP tests.

T (turnaround) schools occur every year and these schools do not appear in the “official statistics.  There is a perpetual population of students getting shuffled around and not being counted or considered in the success or failure of New Orleans schools.

Families often do not get their “choice”.  The choice selection is made by a computer program, not families.  Often the children are placed at schools very far away and require hours of busing to and from school.  Families with multiple children often find their children assigned to schools on opposite sides of the city making parental participation a nightmare or all but impossible.  Some parents report waking their kids up at 4am to get them ready for a bus that won’t bring them home until 7 at night – when there is only time for homework, a bite to eat, maybe a bath, and bed.  This forced separation destroys families.  Families that don’t like the choices assigned to them have the option of standing out unsheltered in the 100+ degree heat to try and make changes.  Thousands of families are forced to do this every year while Recovery School District Staff lounge in their luxury, climate controlled, downtown offices across from the Superdome.

Can you handle the truth?

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Network for Public Education Endorses Jason France for Louisiana BESE

crazycrawfish:

For those of you who didn’t already know, I received a very treasured set of endorsements today by NPE (The Network for Public Education) and legendary education champion Diane Ravitch, as well as my great friends and allies Dr. (and teacher blogger and author) Mercedes Schneider and New Orleans education activist Karran Harper Royal.

I am very proud and honored to receive this, and it could not have come at a better time.

Please take the time to read this and pass it along to your friends and family.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

In the last two state board elections in Louisiana, millions of dollars flowed to candidates from corporate reformers, mostly from out of state. They elected board members who support privatization and high-stakes testing. Now the people of Louisiana have a chance to elect Jason France, a oublic school parent who knows the inner workings of the state education department (having worked there). Jason needs every dollar he can raise to win. If you want to help him, his website is http://www.jasonfrance4la.com. I debated his opponent, Chas Roemer, a few years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana, and found him to be a true believer in vouchers, charters, letter grades for schools, and high-stakes accountability for teachers.

The Network for Public Education is proud to endorse Jason France for Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), District 6. Jason France, also know as the education blogger Crazy Crawfish, is a former Louisiana…

View original 710 more words

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Now this is more like it. . . Blogging to Victory!

I want to thank all of my new and return supporters who came through last night.  As a result of your generosity I pulled in an additional $500 in donations and pledges.  I also picked up two new volunteers I hope to be able to leverage.  This phenomenon, and some recent conversations I’ve had with constituents and supporters, triggered some thoughts. . .

People need something to serve as a conversation starter about education issues with their friends and neighbors.  In some cases it might be a sign, or a pushcard sitting on a table, in other cases it might be an email or post about what is going on with Louisiana in terms of public education, and what we can do to fix it.

For quite a few months I’ve abandoned my blog in favor of face to face meetings and behind the scenes planning sessions.  Those will be ongoing, but I realize I’ve been sitting on my primary resource for reaching voters and impacting change, my blog.  I listened to a lot of political consultants and enemies who claimed fundraising could not be accomplished from online contributions, and that blogs are only read by a small subset of the electorate and the vast majority don’t know what’s going on and can be easily swayed by simple messages and false promises and propaganda.  As it was put to me by one of our chief opposition leaders – and I’m paraphrasing only slightly based on questions I put to them and their answers:

“…whomever has the most money to get their message out is the winner in this day and age.  It doesn’t really matter what your message is, who you are, what you record is, or what you stand for.  Right and wrong doesn’t matter.  Truth can be bought.  All the messages are lies and the best politicians are the best liars.  To win you just want to be the best funded one.”

Maybe this is true?  This election will provide some evidence to verify this claim or refute it.

The truth is our schools are under siege by the Louisiana Department of Education, it’s unqualified and callous leader, John White, and his cadre of inexperienced minions.  Anyone who raises and objection or steps out of line is punished by a department that is driving our education system into the ground with its junk analytics and criminally disruptive policies.  

I don’t want you to take my word for it.  Please go ask your neighbors, your local school board members, your local superintendents, your principals.  Ask them off the record, where other ears cannot hear.  You might just get some truth and begin to understand the depth of the problems we face and get a glimpse of the tyranny of the Louisiana Department of Education.

This agency needs a new leader, many new leaders in fact.  It needs a new direction and ethos based on support, encouragement and collaboration, not the masochistic punishment based system riddled with tragically flawed “metrics” that prey disproportionately on the weakest members of our society, our poorest children, our children with disabilities, our children that need the most support and guidance and get the least under the guise of “choice” and “accountability”.

If you believe as I do, that John White should be fired and the LDOE restructured to support our schools, school districts, parents and teachers please consider passing along this post, making a donation or volunteering to help.

My campaign website is http://www.jasonfrance4la.com

donations can be made atwww.jasonfrance4la.com/contribute

write me at jasonfrance4la@hotmail.com

To find out which district you are in and which candidate you should support to protect our schools, teachers, and children please visit:FlipBESE

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The Time to Act is Now!

It is two months and a week to the election and I am in dire need of volunteers and cash.

The BESE election is scheduled for October 24.

Time is running short to impact an election that will have direct statewide implications for the next four years. If we don’t win the outcome of this election will probably set our public schools and students back a generation or more – assuming we recover at all.

A single person can serve as a catalyst or vehicle for change, but they cannot bring the change alone. I need your help.

The enemies of public education are lying low right now.  They are waiting for the outcome of this election before they add more tests for your kids to take, double down on Common Core, drive off more experienced and qualified teachers, approve more controversial charter schools, expand the voucher program, take over your school districts, and mock you while they are doing it.

If you do not act now, you won’t have another chance for 4 years. You can attend every BESE meeting between now and then but if you have no allies you will be wasting your time and breath.

The time for action is now. There is no more time to waste.  In district 6 Chas Roemer will be declaring his candidacy between September 8-10, a little more than a month before the October 24 primary. His donors are already lined up, his election consultants are waiting in the wings for him to pull the trigger.  That is what he did 4 years ago and promised to do again.

This is not a surprise move. It is a historical pattern we can all see is coming.  Are you ready to concede without a fight?  If you do nothing to help me and our other FlipBESE candidates that is exactly what you are doing.

If you jump in now we still might not win, but if you don’t we almost certainly will lose to the 600k warchest just one of our opposition forces has raised.

If people see us fail without support – will anyone be foolish enough to stand up and put themselves out there next time?

This is your moment. This is a pivotal crossroads for our state, our people and our children.

Will you stand with us, or watch us get cut down where we stand? Everyone, including our enemies, is watching. A tepid response will prove they were right all along.  The opposition (us) is just a handful of troublemakers to be ignored, not a broad multi-spectrum movement that should be feared, respected and listened to.

How we are defined going forward is not up to me, not up to the mainstream media, not up to LABI, or Lane Grigsby, A+PEL, CABL, Bill Gates, or the chamber, it’s up to you.

If you are interested in canvassing please contact me at Jasonfrance4la@hotmail.com
With your name and phone number.

I would like to schedule some routes for September 5, 6 and 6 when I will have more time to be directly involved with organizing and canvassing with you and I hope the weather will be much more hospitable to supporting life.

If you would like to contribute please do so.  My page for contributions is http://www.jasonfrance4la.com/contribute

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What’s Wrong with Education in Louisiana and Some Ideas On How to Fix it

Louisiana Voters,

 

A few months ago I had a meeting with Lane Grigsby about my candidacy for BESE.

For those of you who don’t know, Grigsby is one of the chief funders of the education reform movement in Louisiana. Investigative journalist Lee Zurik did a multi-segment story on corruption in Louisiana politics called Louisiana Purchased, and he discovered that Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and one of the chief supporters of LABI (the pro-privatization business lobby) was one of the most prolific funders of political candidates in Louisiana and was able to bypass many of the individual spending limits by having family members, PACs he formed, and as many as 17 companies he owned or controlled donate the maximum allowable amount to candidates he was supporting.

 

I wasn’t seeking funding. I was seeking some understanding of why he was getting involved in education and why he held the stands and beliefs he did. (Grigsby apparently didn’t know who I was which is why he agreed to meet with me. I knew I was diametrically opposed to him on almost every issue.)

 

While we disagreed on almost everything in our meeting, Lane brought up a very important point that I was overlooking.

“Besides kicking out John White, what are you actually going to do to improve education in Louisiana?”

My focus had been on fighting the BESE board, LDOE, and returning ownership of the public education system to the people of Louisiana.  I hadn’t really considered what I would do if I was placed in a position where I could actually work to improve things!

For the past two months I have been doing much less talking and writing and much more listening and analyzing.  This is probably not going to win me more votes, but getting elected is not really the most important thing, is it?  Improving our education system and the outcomes of our children and thus the future of our people and our state is a much more important long-term goal.

Win or lose the upcoming election, I believe I’ve already accomplished my short-term mission of showing how ordinary people can get involved with their government to try and make things better.

 

But let’s get back to the whole improving education part.

 

Despite all the “reforms” Louisiana has undertaken over the past decade our outcomes really haven’t improved all the much, now have they?

10 years ago Louisiana was in a 5 way tie for 44th place (out of 52 States + DC + territories) on the NAEP exam for 4th grade Mathematics. (NAEP is a long term national test used for comparing states to each other and to themselves longitudinally.

NAEP2004

For a snapshot of what this lack of growth looks like over time, refer to the chart below. Notice how the gap between Louisiana and the rest of the country has only widened under the current administration and their misguided policies.

NAEP2004graph

In 2013, Louisiana was just 2 tenths of one point (out of 500), ahead of Mississippi. We’ve actually lost a lot of ground compared to other states, despite the continuous claims of success issued by Lousiana’s state Education Board, Governor Jindal – now finishing up the 8th year of his term consecutive terms and running for President, and the Louisiana Department of Education – which both implemented the reforms and then internally evaluated itself on them. When the 2015 NAEP scores are released I expect Louisiana will have finally accomplished the unthinkable, allowing Mississippi to pass us up and thereby becoming the lowest academically performing state in the nation. That will be quite a first.

All of this lack of progress was achieved despite numerous reformers we were promised would work, and are continuously told are working – based on internal metrics the LDOE manipulates every year internally to collect kudos for their achievement and to buy more time for their allies in the private sector that many top executives at LDOE have previously worked for, or hope to work for someday.

Over the past decade we were told:

  1. Charter schools will solve everything with market driven incentives! 
    1. Charter have some anecdotal success, but many perform much worse than the public schools the replace.
    2. More than 10% of our students are enrolled in charter schools.
    3. Either the presence of charter schools are driving down the performance of traditional schools
    4. Or charter schools are performing so poorly they are offsetting the gains of traditional schools.
    5. The “best” charter schools by test scores, are usually simply the best at keeping the wealthiest students and most involved families engaged.  This is why Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies build new schools in brand new secluded and pricy subdivisions like and refuse to provide busing.
    6. Lafayette illustrates another facet of charter behavior: the bait and switch. Charters are advertised as a way to help out or replace struggling schools. Lafayette Parish, one of the top school districts in the state, had some schools in poorer areas that were not performing well.
      1. “However, the shiny new schools were built about as far away from the poorest communities as they could be. Charter Schools USA opened up two charters in new housing developments named Sugar Pond Mills and Couret Farms, which sell new shotgun-style houses on small lots of land for as much as half a million dollars each.
      2. These schools are theoretically open to the entire state, but do not provide transportation. They also require many hours of “service” from parents. Service time increases per child enrolled. Charter schools offer enrollment to all children on paper, but in the real world they do whatever they can to keep out the riffraff.”
      3. See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187950/behind-charter-facade#sthash.NAqRGD4V.dpuf
    7. This results in less diversity in our public schools, fewer schools with motivated or engaged parents and students.  No doubt this will help some, but help all?  Over the long term this has caused our state’s performance to stagnate or even decline. We already have some elite schools like Benjamin Franklin and Baton Rouge High.  This trend is likely to create a few more of those elite schools, and many, many, more subpar schools that are recycled through new charter operators every few years.
  1. Common Core’s high standards will push kids to try harder! “We’ve been too easy on those pipsqueaks up to now, but with more rigor and higher expectations comes unprecedented success!   If we just “believe” in our children, they will do better.
    1. To drive home this message the Louisiana Department of Education even changed its homepage and signature to this motto, “Louisiana Believes.”
    2. Honestly, does anyone really think the only thing that has been holding us back all these years is simply a lack of believing?
    3. We had the second or third highest standards in the nation prior to Common Core was adopted in 2010, and we ranked second from last in achievement.  Massachusetts had the highest standards and they ranked first in achievement.
      1. There is very little correlation between standards and achievement any more than there is a significant correlation between charter schools, vouchers, choice, and achievement.
      2. There is, however, a strong correlation between achievement and poverty.
        1. Our poorest schools have our lowest School Performance Scores and our schools with the fewest poor children have our highest SPS scores.
        2. This is generally the same situation across the nation and as a result the community schools of the poorest children are the ones inordinately impacted by school takeovers and privatization – with no discernable positive impact in performance for the community as a whole.
  1. Unions and their bloodsucking ways are the monkeys on the backs of our children and impediment to performance because they protect so many bad, lazy teachers. 
    1. Having inordinately powerful unions does not appear to be an important factor in terms of student achievement.
    2. However strong unions are a significant impediment to privatization which is why charter groups and their supporters like Stand for Children, and temp teacher providers like Teach For America advocate for policies that weaken unions and grant them greater market access.)
      1. Louisiana has relatively weak unions; Massachusetts has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, and is also one of the highest achieving states.
      2. You might even make the case that stronger unions build better outcomes for students.
        1. I won’t do that because I think it is not the most significant factor, not something Louisiana would accept culturally, and not an outcome one can influence directly very easily or very quickly.
  1. All Louisiana needs is some real “accountability.”  If we hold lazy teachers and crappy schools accountable they will know we mean business and work harder.  If they don’t we’ll take em over and the next guy will work harder. 
    1. We’ve increased testing and “Accountability” impacts for schools and school districts steadily over the last 15 years.
    2. Whether you believe it or not, every Superintendent of Education manipulates the outcomes of these results (although White is the most egregious) to show they are doing a good job.
      1. The scoring should be handled outside of LDOE by an independent auditor no matter who is in charge to prevent political interference on the outcomes –  if we’re serious about these scores being meaningful.
  1. We live in the technology age but somehow we haven’t inserted data ports directly into children’s brains to upload everything they need to succeed.  Before we do that, let’s give them all laptops and see if that does anything. 
    1. Giving laptops to every child helps Apple and Dell meet their sales quotas, but we aren’t boosting our scores or outcomes dramatically with these devices.
    2. Often these devices become a distraction, toy, or massive headache for IT departments to maintain and replace.
    3. Universal laptops or ipads are not a one-time cost, but a massive permanent cost.
  1. Having more recruits from elite universities become teachers will fundamentally transform the teaching profession into a more professional and respected calling.
    1. All too often these temporary teachers from glorified staffing agencies like Teach For America, City Year, and The New Teacher Project are ill prepared with 5 week training courses on how to teach.
    2. Their presence has had the exact opposite effect. Teaching has become less respected because people are led to believe anyone can become a teacher with a 5 week training course.
    3. The vast majority of these recruits are gone in 5 years, most after the first 2 years. This leads to greater instability and turmoil in districts already experiencing turmoil.
    4. The temporary presence of students from elite universities hasn’t really improved teaching overall, but it has led to a dramatic increase in education startups and new crop of education leaders.
      1. TFA Leaders like John White and Kevin Hoffman primarily hire likeminded TFA recruits and drive off local talent and experienced personnel.
      2. While these folks are usually very smart and committed, they are not better than the experienced teachers they displace or drive off
    5. Even if we wanted to replace every teacher with TFA, The New Teacher Project, or City Year recruits the supply cannot outstrip the demand. This is leading us to become dependent on an outside constant influx of new teachers and leading to shortages of experienced teachers and talent within our state.

Will collecting zillions of points of bio-metric data be the silver bullet we were waiting for? 

Will providing data to third party vendors (and hackers) help our children learn faster?

If these ideas were the panacea we were looking for it certainly would be convenient for a lot of folks; primarily the ones selling these ideas or products.

The truth is, to overcome the impacts of our entrenched generational poverty will require a lot of work from a lot of folks and a lot less “believing” and hoping and standard raising.  If a kid can’t reach the monkey bars, moving them two feet higher won’t help.  If kids can’t read, giving them even harder books and more tests to show they can’t read, won’t make them read more proficiently.  What I found helps my kids is when an adult (or child) lifts them up to where they can reach those monkey bars and feel comfortable hanging from them.

Kids want to achieve, but most don’t want to be overly frustrated or reminded of their failures, or how other kids are far ahead of them, constantly. 

Our schools have been plagued for many years by poverty, apathy, and acceptance.   In many parts of the state we have allowed our schools and systems to fall into disarray.

Our more affluent parents have abandoned the schools and they have taken their resources and parental involvement with them.  Out of these ashes we’ve had some outstanding new school districts form with the backing of their communities, like Central and Zachary. (Obviously Baker is still a problem.)

However the solution is not having the state/RSD come in and take control from the locals or chartering the school to a company based out of New York or Michigan.  Rather than simply punishing low performance or problems, and completely pushing the locals out of the way, we need to work with these folks and help guide support them.  This is what the LDOE used to do when our scores were going up – serving in an advisory and support capacity. This is what we need to do resume our climb from the performance dungeon the education reform movement has commissioned us to – while they drained our coffers dry.

In New Orleans we have many local communities seeking to have their schools returned to them, like the perpetual failure John McDonogh.

Rather than ignore and disregard these folks the state needs to embrace them and their efforts.

We won’t have successful community schools without the community.  We have mobilized communities in many parts of the state. This BESE and LDOE ignores them, mocks them and alienates them.

Many public school parents of means are taking their kids out of public schools to homeschool them.

Those are not victories, but tragic losses we must reverse now, before it’s too late!

Some of you folks on BESE and the House and Senate Education Committees might consider the people showing up to BESE meetings and Education hearings and giving you guys a hard time are the problem, but that is exactly backwards! They are exactly the folks you want on your side.  They have energy and passion and care about their school systems, their children, and their neighbors children.  You won’t be able to fix the schools from the outside if you don’t include the parents and community members on the inside. The few token parents Stand For Children busses in for meetings (and buys lunch for) don’t really count.

BESE members Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey doodle on their cell phones when parents are speaking to them about their troubles and problems.  They ignore criticism and different points of view and evidence that is contrary to their pre-determined stands.  BESE members Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones rarely speak and represent the CCSSO and TFA respectively as their full time jobs so they owe their allegiance not to our state or people, but to their employers.

Many of the folks driving education reform have serious conflicts of interest or ulterior motives.

  • Charter schools and technology vendors are going to tell you they are the solution.
  • Test vendors are going to tell you the only thing that you need is more tests with more details.
  • John White is going to tell you he needs more of all these folks because they represent future job opportunities for him.

What we really need doesn’t cost a lot of new money, require fancy new technology, more tests, or more vendors of any type.  We simply need to get back to basics and the three Rs as described two hundred years ago by Sir William Curtis.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic (Reckoning)

Most importantly we need students focusing on improving their reading proficiency and composition abilities. We need to redirect funds from programs we don’t need, that haven’t been proven, or that have been proven not to work, to helping students read more, better, and faster.  This takes practice and finding subjects that interest them.  This takes a time commitment.  This does not require every student to proceed/read at the same pace at the same time.  Student’s should be helped to improve without regard to test scores, without practice tests or test prep which is excessively boring and not conducive to long term learning or retention.

Our children need to learn to read and to be engaged by the material in interesting ways.  We need to eliminate teaching to the test and return to teaching and learning for their own sakes.  This will, as a matter of course, improve test scores.

If children can’t read, can they really understand or learn science, history, economics or civics?  Many of our behavior problems at higher-grade levels are because kids are bored or disengaged because they can’t follow along – because they can’t read or haven’t learned the earlier material.  However when kids have real behavior problems, that are disruptive to the class and school, they need to be removed to allow teachers to teach and other students the opportunity to learn.

Common Core introduced a lot of new “reading” in the math portions, but this is what is giving most children the most trouble.  My daughter was required to read and write for her math homework in first grade when she was still just learning to read and write.  Reading and writing about math problems is not very interesting to a 6 year old.  Common Core (specifically the Tier one Eureka Math LDOE has selected) is trying to address the reading/writing problem in the most frustrating and counter-productive way imaginable to improve children’s reading and writing skills.  Changing an existing standard here and there won’t fix that underlying issue. Revising the entire approach to and eliminating unnecessary frustration is a much greater problem than any individual standard.  The current standards revision process  (that only allows for comment on existing standards) is not likely to address this underlying structural problem.

Common Core does not encourage children to learn on their own, it encourages them to learn only the minimum necessary to pass a test.  The PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT exams do not measure the ability to learn, and thus do not measure potential. As a result of the single-minded approach to improving test scores we are depriving students of the ability and joys of learning for its own sake, and our test scores are not improving.

Louisiana, if you really want to fix education, you need to examine the motivations of folks that are pitching their ideas to you and stay focused on your chief goal – fixing education outcomes and preparing children for a lifetime of learning – rather than being tied down by a single solution, candidate, or ally.

There’s not much money to be made with my solution so I doubt many people will want to buy into it.  However if you would like support me and my vision you will have a chance to vote for me on October 24th.

If you would like to help in a more direct way my campaign website is listed below.

Thank you for you time.

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE in district 6

www.jasonfrance4la.com

 

Posted in education, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

SPEDGate: How the Louisiana Department of Education is Misappropriating Millions of Dollars a Year from their Federal Special Education Funding for Cronies and Political Favors

What follows is an investigative story about the Special Education program run by the Louisiana Department of Education which reveals how numerous players have profited by funneling Federal IDEA funds to their own pet projects and personnel.

This illegal misappropriation of public money has left many special education students, parents, and district staff without the support those federal funds were mandated to provide.

My story has many twists, turns, and villains, but I will try to lay out the details as clearly as I can.  This story exposes what appears to be criminal behavior and corruption at our highest levels of government.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than I know or will be able to relay here, but I will present what I have and let the public, legislators and law enforcement agencies decide if this matter is worth investigating further using tools beyond my power.

A few months ago I received a letter from a concerned Special Education activist in Louisiana.  This source to whom I have given anonymity provided some internal documents prepared by the Louisiana Department of Education which were distributed to certain Louisiana legislators.  Much of the information provided had been previously relayed to me over several years, but I have been unable to prove those assertions, until now.

The first element that was revealed to me is that LDOE has destroyed the Special Education Department.  Most of the staff who previously dealt with Special Education issues were reassigned or fired,  but LDOE kept the money the federal government was providing specifically to support special education staff.  To justify this, LDOE allocated these funds I to 129 different staff members across the department, many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Special Education.  I have provided a list of these allocations as attachments labeled “salary” and “salary 2”.  I’m told this documentation was provided to Representative John Schroeder when the department was trying to make a case that they did not have the necessary staff to comply with Act 833. (Act 833 was signed into law in 2014 and requires LDOE to provide alternate graduation requirement guidelines for certain disabled students.)

salary

salary 2

According to guidance documents I have provided, it is acceptable for LDOE to allocate salaries on a pro-rata basis.  However, this basis must be determined by the employee for the amount of time they actually spend solely on Special Education issues.  Employees are required to sign off every week on “Time-and-Effort Certifications” like the one shown below:

Cert schedule

time-and-effort-reporting-a

time-and-effort-reporting-b

time-and-effort-reporting-c

As you can see, employees are supposed to document how much time they spend on actual Special Education focused issues and to then sign this affidavit.  Their supervisors then sign off on this form.  However employees at LDOE do not enter the percentages.  Their supervisors provide documents with these percentages already filled out, or they instruct their employees what numbers they must use based on how they have been allocated for budgeting purposes, not based on any actual work.  Many of the LDOE employees allocated to Special Education couldn’t work on Special Education issues if they tried.  Employees that have tried to refuse committing fraud have been threatened with immediate termination by their supervisors.  One source I interviewed relayed a story I had been told several times before.

“…when one LDOE employee said he/she did not want to sign the verification sheet – because it was untrue – the person was told the alternative was to be fired.”

Some state employees are blackmailed into committing payroll fraud every week.  They cannot reveal this because they cannot prove the supervisor told them they would be fired for not signing the sheet, and if they confess to committing the fraud, the supervisor can claim they were ignorant of the situation and the employee acted on his/her own.  This would result in the employee being fired and then subject to criminal charges.  (This is how many criminal organizations and gangs trap people in cycles of crime.  Once you commit a crime, that crime can be held over you to keep you silent and to blackmail you into additional criminal activity.)  Below is one of the relevant federal directives:

Support for Salaries and Wages of an Employee Working on a Single Cost Objective

The Appendix to 2 C.F.R. Part 225 (formerly OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments) requires an employee whose salary and wages are supported, in whole or in part, with Federal funds to document his/her time spent working on Federal programs in order to ensure that charges to each Federal program reflect an accurate account of the employee’s time and effort devoted to that program.  The Appendix addresses two types of documentation:  semiannual certifications and personnel activity reports.

Personnel activity reports

If an employee works on multiple activities or cost objectives, a distribution of the employee’s salary and wages must be supported by a personnel activity report (PAR) or equivalent documentation.  The Appendix lists instances of multiple activities or cost objectives for which a PAR is required — that is, if an employee works on –

  • • More than one Federal award.
  • • A Federal award and a non-Federal award.
  • • An indirect cost activity and a direct cost activity.
  • • Two or more indirect activities that are allocated using different allocation bases.
  • • An unallowable activity and a direct or indirect cost activity.

A PAR must –

  • • Reflect an after-the-fact distribution of the actual activity of the employee.
  • • Account for the total activity for which each employee is compensated.
  • • Be prepared at least monthly and coincide with one or more pay periods.
  • • Be signed by the employee.

Employees are told what to put on their timesheets and if they refuse to do so and sign off on them, they are threatened with termination.  That is clearly not what the USDOE had in mind when they issued their guidance.

LDOE was asked about their special education resources, alignment and composition in a December 17, 2014, Joint House and Senate Education Committee hearing.  They responded on January 5, 2015, describing how they had reorganized internally to better address Special Education classes concerns that could potentially span across the department.  Here is the question they answered and LDOE’s response:

8. Please identify the Department’s Special Education staff and describe their support of local school systems.

Historically the Department has been organized into a fragmented system of divisions in which various elementary and secondary school sectors have been isolated – not only special education, but also career and technical education, curriculum, educator support, assessments, accountability, federal programs, early childhood education, and more.  This structure did not foster planning or collaboration among divisions, nor did it reflect the real-world environments of public schools where all of these needs must be addressed every day in the same schools, even in the same classrooms.  The isolation of special education staff, in particular, ran contrary to the goals of inclusion for students to be able to participate in and benefit from the total educational experience as their non-disabled peers.

Because special education is a service for student who need it, and because all Department of Education staff and local school system staff are obligated to providing that service, not just “special education” staff, the Department began integrating special education supports throughout the agency:

Network Teams: […]

Program Staff: […]

memo

memo 2

Most of this passage is gobbledygook designed to take up space and bore the reader into dozing off and accepting LDOE’s presumed expertise on the subject.  The section I’ve highlighted is the basis under which LDOE is operating. Their reasoning is not supported by federal laws, regulations or policies, but it does describe the philosophy they are providing to legislators.

In plain speak, what LDOE is saying is:

“Because all school systems have or could have disabled students, and all support staff provide information for all students (which include disabled students), all employees support disabled students.”

This is not just wrong but the opposite of what the federal government has provided this funding for.  LDOE knows this is wrong, but they are willfully ignoring the laws and relevant federal guidance because no one is holding them accountable for following state and federal laws and policies.

LDOE is using earmarked Special Education funding as a way to boost employees’ salaries and employ personnel for the programs they deem more important that Special Education.

As a result:

  • Many initiatives such as 833, an alternative pathway for disabled students to earn a diploma, are faltering.
  • Students are being denied services and corporally punished for their conduct related to their disabilities.
  • Parents are being told to fill out invasive surveys and are required to provide information illegally in order for their children to receive services.
  • Charter schools are not only refusing to provide disabled students services but are being paid money for services they never provided.
  • The state and RSD are being sued on a regular basis because of their handling of Special Education.

Here is one of the of the class action settlements related to violations of special education students’ rights (ironically hosted on the LDOE’s website, www.LouisianaBelieves.com)

Some of the complaints against RSD and LDOE involved students with disabilities being repeatedly locked in closets or disciplined for minor infractions until they could be expelled.

Leskisher Luckett, whose third-grade son was repeatedly locked in a school closet as a means of punishment, described the effect this discrimination has had on her son. “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My son, my 9-year old son, is too young to give up on his education.”

Robyn Flanery’s daughter began suffering from profound emotional troubles upon entering the seventh grade. But rather than receive any type of services to address her condition, she was repeatedly punished for minor infractions until she was finally expelled from the school she had attended since kindergarten. Ms. Flanery reported that this led to even greater emotional trauma.

These situations are largely attributed to the fact that special education coordinators across the state are lacking in guidance (have lacked it for years), direction and training on special education issues.  The state is provided millions of dollars annually to employ staff to support school district personnel, but they are shirking these duties.  Taxpayers are not getting what they are paying for.  Instead, taxpayers are now also paying for lawsuits and settlements because disabled children and their parents are suffering abuse, neglect and ignorance as a result of the incompetence and lack of expertise of staff employed by the LDOE.

For this story, numerous parents and other sources involved with Special Education in Louisiana were interviewed and asked to provide their thoughts on LDOE and their handling of Special Education for the state.

Liz Gary, a mother of a student receiving special education services in St Tammany,  and a staunch Special Education rights advocate in Louisiana had this to say about LDOE’s recent changes to how they handle (or don’t handle) Special Education training and oversight:

The state department has offered no training, professional development or oversight in years.  They believe their webinars and newsletter is all that is needed.  Unfortunately, as you know, they have let a lot of experienced people go and replaced them with inexperienced people.  It is not good.  If districts are not doing what they are supposed to do there is no one to monitor them because the state department is not doing it.

Districts are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  I’ve heard this refrain many times for years. This cry has only gotten louder since State Superintendent John White destroyed the Special Education department in the name of improving coordination and efficiency.

White and his staff dismissed, demoted or drove off most of the qualified and experienced staff members and replaced them with politically driven appointments like the current Special Education Policy Director Jamie Wong.  Jamie spent a few years teaching pre-k and kindergarten in DC as a TNTP teacher.  (TNTP is The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the now discredited Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America Alum who is widely believed to have rigged test scores and overlooked or even encouraged cheating during her tenure as the Superintendent of DC public schools.)  Jamie now earns $95,000 a year at LDOE with only a few years of teaching experience.  Not so coincidentally, Jamie Wong is married to Michael Thomas Wong, one of the chief campaign strategists for Senator David Vitter who is widely presumed to be Louisiana’s next governor.  It appears that Michael Wong is paid at least $90,000 to serve as Vitter’s Capital Area Director, and  gubernatorial campaign advisor and strategist.  Michael’s salary for just 6 months of last year was $43,318.54.

image

Sources have claimed that Jamie’s job is a quid pro quo from John White to David Vitter, who is presumed to be John White’s next boss as the Governor of Louisiana.

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps that was just the icing on the cake, but what I want to know is why no one else in Louisiana or at the Department of Education was considered qualified for her position? I’m having trouble understanding why a recent college graduate living in DC (someone with a few years of teaching experience and a degree in political science from Southern Mississippi) is in charge overseeing all Special Education for the State of Louisiana, or why she was appointed when folks with 30 and 40 years of Special Education teaching and experience and PhDs were cast aside.

Dr. Laureen Mayfield, President of the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA), had this to say about LDOE’s recent attempt at implementing Act 833:

They are not rolling out the training until August, after school has begun for many of us. The Special Education Directors and Supervisors in the state have clearly communicated to LDOE that they needed advanced training on writing IEPs for students pursuing an alternate pathway to graduation under Act 833. In addition, LASEA members have repeatedly expressed that they do not need “IEP Writing 101” for beginning teachers, but instead, higher level training for experienced teachers who just need guidance on developing thoughtful, effective IEPs for Act 833. The drafts modules that have been shown to a stakeholder group, however, appeared to be basic “what is an IEP and how do you write it” information—which is exactly what LASEA clearly communicated they did not need. We will not know until August if LSU listened to feedback from directors, or if the modules will “have Act 833 embedded in them” by including a slide or two quoting from the legislation.

LDOE has as many as a third to one half of their workforce reportedly dedicated to Special Education issues.  According to LDOE’s own report to the legislature in January, these staff members were imbedded across all areas of the department, particularly curriculum, and yet they had to obtain a quarter million dollar contract with Alan Coulter at the LSU Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for Act 833 which is what the preceding comments are referring to.

However, instead of actually providing that training, the Human Development Center produced a basic “IEP 101” course because LDOE, under John White, with 129 special education staffers, had lost the capacity to do even the most basic Special Education task.

One former attendee of previous professional development sessions hosted by LDOE (in the pre-John White days) reminisced about how LDOE used to tend to Special Education issues:

Pre-White [and former state superintendent Paul Pastorek] the Special Ed Directors from the entire state, including those in charters, met for quarterly meetings in BR with the Special Ed State Director and all the SPED staff. It was a whole day meeting and they updated us on everything–changes to laws, innovative practices, etc.

In addition to that, an Ad Hoc group […] met monthly with Susan Batson and all the SPED staff at the LDOE. We went over everything going on of importance, including vetting and discussing any changes they wanted to make to bulletins. We talked and “argued” professionally until we all came to consensus. They also kept us up to date on all changes we needed to know about, listened to our concerns, and actually addressed them.

I also spoke with former staff members from LDOE to get their take on what had happened. Here is one of the descriptions:

You can point out that every student with disabilities in Louisiana has been affected by the greed and political aspirations of our so-called leaders. Districts have no guidance from LDOE because anyone with any knowledge or experience in special Ed has been run off either by layoffs or out of sheer disgust over the way things are being done. They (districts) are left to figure it out for themselves. The districts with stronger special Ed leaders are surviving; those with weaker leadership – not so much.

One parent from Central had this to say.  Her children were denied Special Education services at Tanglewood elementary because she refused to fill out an offensive questionnaire asking about her elementary children’s sexual experiences and drug use and if anyone might have abused them.

Things are much better homeschooling. Two of my kids were finally able to skip a grade, so now they are working at a level that actually challenges them. My two that needed IEPs are getting one on one and are able to work at their own pace. And I’m NOT accountable to BESE :) Maybe they’ll get their act together, and a few of them will get unseated. Maybe John White would be de-throned. Then I would maybe consider public school again. I looked at the website for Tanglewood so I could give you the name of the lady who told me my son could receive “intervention” but no “services” unless I filled out that stupid paper. She’s not on there anymore, so I don’t know what happened with her.

Of course refusing services because a parent refused to complete an illegal questionnaire is illegal, but despite 129 employees being paid at LDOE with Special Education funds, there is literally no one to train these folks, no one to oversee them, no one for parents to complain to and obtain any help.  Parents are forced to either subject themselves to illegal requirements or have their services illegally denied.  Parents are forced to withdraw their kids and homeschool them or simply forced to watch their kids suffer while LDOE and John White doles out SPED funding to vastly unqualified political appointees.

St Tammany and Central are by no means the only school systems suffering from neglect and malfeasance.  Most of our districts are suffering in one way or another but cataloguing all the stories would require several volumes.

This last story clearly illustrates the situation.  I contacted Kathy Edmonston, the Parent Resource Facilitator for the Ascension Parish School System, to get her take on Special Education in Louisiana under LDOE’s guidance. (Kathy is also a District 6 candidate for the upcoming 2015 BESE election.)    She had this to say about how disabled children are faring in her parish school system:

Hey Jason. Thank you for taking time to express concern for our SPED kids.  They are struggling so much with the new standards. My title is Parent Resource Facilitator for Ascension Parish School System.  It looks as if it has been forgotten at DOE as it is difficult for parents to find any one there to talk to when they are experiencing difficulty in their schools. I have not been told so, but it seems that SPED department at state department has been dismantled. We in Ascension have done pretty well moving along with Act 833. It will be more fully implemented this coming school year.  The transition has been difficult as the DOE has given very little guidance.  If there had not been an ACT 833 steering committee established to stay on them, I am not sure if we would have gotten any direction!  Fortunately, we have a very good SPED director in Ascension who didn’t wait, but started digging right away and communicating with other parishes, so at the end of the year, most of our teachers knew what to do.  Since the implementation of the current [Common Core] standards, our SPED students are experiencing lots of stress and difficulty because they are taught and tested on standards that are above their academic functioning level.  It is so sad.  Parents have nowhere to turn, and teachers can’t answer their questions!

When I explained to Kathy many of the things I’d heard from the Ascension Parish leadership and that everything there was peachy keen, she had this to say:

Nothing is going peachy anywhere in the state right now!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ascension is struggling just like all other parishes in the state with the new “transformation” we are experiencing.  Our parents, teachers, but most importantly, our children.

I’d say that about sums things up nicely.

Note: ( Liz Gary was not a member of SEAP.  This piece has been edited to reflect that change.  We apologize for this error.)

Posted in politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments