The Campaign to Save Our Children

You may want to read my previous article before you dive into this:

First you will need to contact your local LEA, or school district, and demand they stop using Social security numbers as your child’s state identifier. I have already taken this step for my own children and can verify it works. This is a little known fact, but SSNs can only be required by federal agencies for federal benefits. States do not have the authority to require SSNs, and school districts are forbidden by law from requiring a SSN to keep a student enrolled or to enroll a student. This information is contained in the Student Information Guide I used to curate when I worked at the Louisiana Department of Education. Our lawyers required me to put this information in our SIS guide, but in an inconspicuous spot.

What you will need to do is contact your LEA (school district) office using this list of names and e-mail addresses

and require that they replace your children’s SSNs with the state temporary IDs as  I have already done for my children. While you are doing this you should also send them a letter stating you refuse to allow your children’s data (or your data if you are an adult) from being shared with external agents for any reason.

(Note:  TOPS Scholarships require SSNs for 12th graders.  If you have a student close to gradudation, removing an SSN could make scholarship qualification more difficult or complicated.)

A sample letter is provided for you (in red text) to use. Just copy this section into your e-mail program and can copy them with the text in red. You will need to include:

  • Names of your children
  • Their grade levels,
  • Names of their current schools.
  • parish

Please do not include anything else, even if the school district asks, like SSN as obviously that would defeat the purpose and e-mail is never a secure medium to transmit that data.

While you are doing this please send a copy of your letter to Superintendent John White, and Data quality director Kim Nesmith

If you would like for me to retain a copy of your letter as proof for a potential class action lawsuit, please send that letter to

Dear Superintendents John White and [Local Superintendent]

As a parent, I was appalled to learn, as a Reuters article confirms, that the Louisiana State Education Department is planning to share the most private, confidential data of my child and all Louisiana public school students with a corporation called inBloom Inc., that will store this highly sensitive information on a vulnerable data cloud and disclose it to for-profit vendors.

This data will include children’s personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary records, health conditions, special education and economic status.

inBloom Inc. has already stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored…or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” All this is happening without parental notification or consent.

I hereby OPT my child’s data out of this plan, and demand that you do NOT disclose any of my child’s personally identifiable educational records with ANY third party, including the Gates Foundation, inBloom Inc. or ANY other private entity or corporation.

I also want you to stop using SSN as my student’s identifier and replace it with the temporary state ID.

I DO NOT give my consent. I also urge you instruct these vendors to destroy any data they have already received on my children. I expect to hear back from you immediately as to whether you will honor my request to withhold my child’s private and confidential educational records and to instruct any vendors you have already shared this data with to immediately and permanently destroy it.

If not, I will call your office until you do so. I am outraged at this plan which not only violates every ethical standard, but also your commitment as the state’s highest educational official to protect my child from harm.


Parent of [CHILD”S NAME, grade, school, parish]

Finally, if you have time, please consider signing this petition:

I can use this service to update you on any developments.

When you sign this petition you are stating you want this practice by the Louisiana Department of Education to cease. You want any data already transmitted to be destroyed. You want the US Department of Education to restore FEPRA protections for our children (no sharing of confidential student data without parental consent) and you want our local legislators to pass legislation that will prevent this from happening ever again.

This petition will go to the Louisiana Department of Education, the Louisiana Governor’s Office, the State Legislature, and the US Department of Education

Lawsuits are already progressing in other states such as New York, and they there are parent organizations and activists working with legislators in those states.

Our children have already been secretly sold out from under us; please help me get them back.


Your Children For Sale . . . Sold!

There is an insidious plot unfolding all around us that poses a grave danger to our children, and to many adults. Not many people know about this yet, or understand the implications of what is happening, so I thought you would like to know. I’ve seen a few pieces that show both sides of this issue, the good and the bad, but I really don’t think the “bad” has received nearly enough attention. The bad far outweighs the good that is being touted, but most of the articles I’ve read touch on the bad, and don’t delve into the dirty details or address the scope of just how “bad” things could get. I will attempt to do so, by thinking like the soulless profiteer and ruthless predator, and I will show you what you can do about this. Hopefully I can scare you enough that you will be inspired to do something about this before it is too late. There is still hope for many of you, but you must act now.

For starters, FERPA, the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, has been gutted. You can’t tell that from the summarized version that is posted on the US Department of Education website. However under Arne Duncan, software vendors lobbied the DOE to permit the sharing of all student data, without parental permission or notification, and for them to use this information without significant restrictions, and certainly none that couldn’t be removed secretly.

Until I investigated, I thought my children’s data was still protected, but I was wrong.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.

Local education officials retain legal control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.

Entrepreneurs can’t wait.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts – have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide(emphasis added): ( Stephanie Simon/Reuters)

After working to change the rules sell out children to unscrupulous software vendors, one of Arne Duncan’s top people, Press Secretary Justin Hamilton, went to work for one of the companies that lobbied for the relaxed standards, Amplify.  Amplify is a for profit company owned and run by Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. I expect a number of USDOE folks that worked on removing FERPA barriers will be going to these types of companies over the next few year to reap the rewards of their efforts.

If you are in one of these nine states your children’s data as already been shared or is about to be shared:

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • Massachusetts
  • Louisiana (Shared)
  • New York (Shared)

Please read this section again:

“In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.”

In Louisiana we collect SSNs for our student ID, while most states do not. Louisiana has built a data system from a 4 million dollar IES grant that de-identifies students by name and SSN. Louisiana could have provided these vendors de-identified data to protect our children, but they are choosing not to do this because the vendors don’t really want that.  What these vendors want is your children’s verified, intimate identities; their educational-DNA, if you will.

These companies want to know everything about your children and your family so they can direct sell products to you and them. But that is just the start. They don’t need your name, SSN, or actual date of birth to simply sell products to you, but they do need that information to sell your data, and your children’s data, to others.

  • They want to know if your child was ever diagnosed with ADHD, or dyslexia, or hearing, visual, emotional or cognitive disabilities.  Medical information is protected under HIPPA, but no longer under FERPA. . . and that information is valuable to lots of people. . . . “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, we’re going to hire the applicant without dyslexia. Company policy.”
  • These vendors and their clientele want to know if your child has discipline problems in second grade, or if they were bullied or sexually assaulted (I was protecting victim data with anonymous IDs.  However an LDE employee contacted me recently to find out how to remove that constraint because Kim Nesmith – the Data Quality Director and ironically the FERPA compliance officer – was insisting on having that information to make adjustments to reports such as Valued added – and to share with external vendors apparently.) “As you well know Mrs. Kennedy, victims of sexual assault may pose a greater risk for mental breakdown or higher mental health needs, so we’ll just have to adjust your premium. . . And we won’t be able to accept your application into the police academy or issue you a gun permit.”
  • On the plus side, all bullies will be flagged for life, which might make getting jobs a little harder even if they clean up their act.
  • Studies show kids who are corporeally punished are prone to more violent behavior in adulthood it might be good to account for that in their permanent psychological profile. Some kids in Louisiana, including disabled students, are paddled dozens of time a year with 2 foot long wooden paddles for minor infractions like chewing gum or uniform violations so it probably would be a good idea to keep track of them, and to prohibit them from certain types of jobs.
  • Did you know that many schools and school districts keep photos of children for student IDs, along with descriptions of their physical characteristics, in their data systems? How great would that be for a dating service or pedophile oriented group to get a hold of? Combine that info with your home address, and phone number and your kids will be easy pickin’s for criminals to drop by and abuse or kidnap at their leisure. Criminals already steal SSNs and sell that info to each other, now they can trade your kids info to pedophiles like baseball cards. They can use the bubble gum to lure your kids out of your houses while you’re at work. They’ll of course call the cell phone number you provided the school, to make sure you’re not home yet.
  • Even if your data is nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t worry about things like identity theft, or eternal targeted marketing, there is no provision for fixing data that is incorrect, nor for allowing you to review your data or your children’s data. From working in a state department of education I can promise you that thousands of these records get jumbled up every year with just a single student data system. Now imagine what can happen with you combine the data from dozens of systems over more than a dozen years. . . Have you ever tried to get something fixed on your credit report? Now imagine that situation, but with dozens of unregulated private companies that have no laws governing their behaviors, and no oversight.

It appears there is no way to prevent this disclosure from happening, at least for Louisiana. But you should be aware this is not just an issue for children. Louisiana, and most states, have decades of detailed student data in their repositories. Louisiana has student data going back to the 1993-1994 school year, and is not shy about sharing this with vendors, so you can be sure this data will be shared with one of the SLCs (Shared Learning Collaboratives) Louisiana is courting. The only hope we have protecting our children’s data is raising this issue with our Legislators.

We must force them to act to protect our children, and our adults 38 and under, from John White and his cronies.  There are some ways we can work together to accomplish this. I can’t do this alone, but with your help we can work on this together . . . if you are interested in saving your children’s future.

A Confederacy of Reformers

A Confederacy of Reformers

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by all the rapid changes happening in the education sphere. I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling this way – based on the feedback, articles and correspondence I’ve been receiving from local and national groups and individuals. As I struggled to zero in on a topic where I could help or enlighten the most, something else even more screwed up would be sent to me. I’ve started and stopped work on several pieces, which may make their appearances later, but I feel the need to get my bearings again. All this crazy “stuff” (not my first word choice) needs to be sorted out and organized before I can make any more forward progress. I think the mistake I was making, and many others are probably making, is not connecting all the dots and figuring out what kind of picture they reveal.

Right now hundreds (and probably thousands) of disparate groups are polishing their individual pieces of the puzzle and identifying a few corners and straight edges here and there . . . maybe the occasional face piece. All of us are focusing on our own small pieces of what is actually a very complex puzzle. If we could put them all together, it would surely show a grand scheme, but we’re all convinced we’re holding the key. I can’t solve this puzzle on my own, but what I can do is show you the pieces I’ve managed to put together, and what I think I’m starting to see. These are my pieces:

Intentionally Flawed Teacher Evaluation Systems

A scourge of questionable teacher evaluation systems and Value Added programs has surged across Louisiana, but across dozens of other states as well. While all these systems are referenced as “Valued Added” or “Teacher Evaluation” systems, they all have very different methods of operating, and degrees of crappiness. Every one I’ve reviewed or seen reviewed by unaffiliated evaluators all of them have been revealed to be questionable at best, and outright absurd such as in the case of Louisiana’s Value Added system. Despite all these studies and findings, reformers and their allies still tout these kangaroo court evaluation systems as valid and necessary, and tie tenure and continuing employment and compensation to them. When the public starts to recognize just how absurd the metrics are, Reformer headed DOEs change the formulae, either in small ways or even quite dramatically. Sometimes this makes the systems even worse – for teachers and in terms of accuracy, but this change is only meant to fool the masses. Changing these systems gives the appearance of reasonableness, and shifts the conversation to one of getting data from DOE’s to prove their new systems are more accurate. Of course reformers like John White refuse to provide this data except to sympathetic patsies. The clamorings of researchers unable to get data, without lengthy lawsuits, is never covered by the mainstream media. Ultimately what happens is experienced teachers are driven from the profession in droves to make room for poorly trained, easily manipulated, inexpensive temporary recruits, teachers unions are dissolved and public education is diluted and destroyed to make way for privately held charter schools. These systems are a farce and are simply a tool to evict experienced teachers from their schools, so those schools can then be handed over to private companies, who make campaign contributions to anyone who will further their destructive agenda.

Vouchers and Charter Schools are better for “Choice” although not a better choice

John White and his ilk routinely defend unvetted voucher schools and unregulated charter schools in the name of “choice.” John White has claimed he doesn’t need to monitor and evaluate these programs because parents are in the best position to know what is best for their children. He and his allies actively fight any attempts to evaluate these programs, receiving public dollars, by the same standards he evaluates public schools, student performance and teachers. The routine claims that are made is that such evaluations are cumbersome and interfere with learning (which is true and why they are foisted off on public schools). However it is also true that most charter students and voucher students perform worse than their peers, in many cases much worse. Initially reformers encouraged this type of comparison, until the results came back overwhelmingly negative. Since they can no longer claim these schools are “better” by their own standards, they have shifted the argument away from quality to one of “freedom” allowing these schools empowers parents by providing them “choice.” However without any information, or guidance, most children (and probably most adults) would choose chocolate chip cookies over carrots. Without nutritional information, calorie content, and high blood sugar readings which would you choose; a carrot or a cookie?

It’s Okay to segregate our schools by class, race, disability as long as we claim to be doing it “for the children”

Since desegregation didn’t work, it’s okay to re-segregate our schools. It doesn’t matter how this is accomplished. You can create shadow schools (multiple campuses miles apart that are racially or socio-economically segregated and reported as a single school to disguise that fact), you can create charter schools that through sheer coincidence only enroll white students in a majority minority district, you can split your school district into as many different school boards and zones until you get your preferred racial mix, you can refuse to hire Special education teachers to serve disabled students so they are forced to enroll somewhere else, you can banish all your low performing students or discipline problems to alternative schools (ideally done after the funding date but before the testing date.)

As a side note, you can say or do anything to anyone as long as you end your suggestion with “for the children.”

Student data is a commodity that can be handed over to private entities as long as they claim it is for an educational purpose

Several years ago the Federal Department of education secretly made an exception to allow vendors, states and school districts to ignore FERPA and provide as much private student data to whomever they wish and use it for whatever purpose they see fit, regardless of whether parents consent or not. This data will be very valuable to these companies, and potentially very harmful to the children. This data can now be used for non-educational purposes; there is no oversight as to how this data is used or protected, and no way to correct data that may be erroneous. This data will be used by employers, credit agencies, insurance companies, and marketing companies to direct market products to children throughout their lifetime.


History and Science are negotiable and can be rewritten to suit conservative agendas

Creationism and biblical teachings are being substituted for true Science curricula. Schools teach children that humans probably herded dinosaurs just a few thousand years ago, and they probably still exist in hidden enclaves such as Loch Ness or off the Japanese coast. Students are taught that evolution is impossible (because it seems complicated) that Climate change is either not happening because God would not allow it, or if it is happening it is part of God’s will and plan and not caused by burning rainforests or manufacturing everything in Chinese coal powered factories. Schools are teaching slavery was just a misunderstood part of our nation’s history, and not a very bad one. They are being taught that hippies and liberals are Satan Worshipping amoral communists trying subvert all that is great and decent in society.

Virtual Schools with virtually no attendance compliance, or any compliance, and universally poor track records for preparing students are exploding in every education market

In every study I’ve seen, Virtual school students do worse than their demographic equivalents in physical settings. Virtual school classes have been reported having in excess of 500 students per teacher. These schools are being offered to students of all grade levels (k thru 12). It is clear that these schools are money makers as in most states they earn a sizeable portion of the funding that goes to a traditional student (in Louisiana it ranges from 90% to 100% of MFP) with less than a tenth of the cost. Often these students withdraw and return to a traditional setting, but the virtual school gets to keep the entire funding for the year, and the traditional school has not only the uncompensated cost of the student to cover, but also takes a hit on their “scores” (in Louisiana it’s called an SPS or School Performance Score) as well as the additional cost of trying to get that student caught up. Many of these students enroll in virtual schools simply to dropout without getting hassled. They get a free computer and internet connection and never have to log into school or complete an assignment. This is especially true in Louisiana where virtual school operators are forbidden by the Louisiana State Department of Education from exiting students that stop logging in, or fail to ever log in.

Teach for America has been converted into a temp teacher displacement and replacement organization

Teach for America originally had a noble purpose but it has been corrupted by billionaires and special interests and serves as little more than a temp agency for school districts and a training ground for new education “leaders.” These leaders are often political science and marketing/media majors that preach the Reform gospel. TFA now even establishes staffing contracts and demands placement fees from states for bringing in a constant pool of new, 5 week trained teachers that rarely stay longer than their 2 year commitment and often leave sooner.

It’s better to close schools and spread the students around to higher performing schools to mask the problem.

Rather than trying to fix the schools which have poor students who are performing poorly, Reformers believe it’s better to close the doors and shove all those kids into higher performing schools, no matter how high the class size gets. Just this past week Rahm Emmanuel closed 54 schools in Chicago and shuffled all those kids to other schools. I have not seen any studies that show this strategy works. I have seen some that show these students are more likely to feel disaffected by school, by the longer bus rides, the cramped classrooms, by the loss of all their friends and teachers, and tend to perform worse the next year and even drop out. You won’t see any studies showing this is effective, because it’s not. What you will see is “school” scores which Reformers point to and say things are going swell. What they don’t tell you is they routinely change these formula from year to year to make them say whatever they want to say. Pre-school closing and privatizing they say how horrible the scores are. After a few years of destructive policies they boost the scores by adding points or changing the test and say all is going well and pat themselves on the back. For the schools that even the most generous boosts are insufficient – they simply exclude them from the rankings. You can’t be disappointed by what you can’t see. To make sure you can’t see it they usually stop providing data to researchers and remove all traces of historical or current school data from their websites, as Louisiana has done.

So what’s my point do you ask?

I could go, and maybe I will later when the fancy strikes me, but I hope this is enough for you to start seeing the picture I am. What I am seeing is a purposeful plot to destroy public schools, and to profit from the destruction. These folks say they are data conscious and want to rely on “data driven decisions” but if that were true the data already readily available shows that everything they are doing is having the opposite effect of what they are purporting to provide. There is too much coordination for this to be accidental, and they are too successful for me to believe they are simply not competent enough to understand the data that disproves everything they claim. These groups have gone out of their way to spin the data, falsify the data, or simply hide or destroy the data to prevent people from seeing what is going on. These groups are fully aware of what they are doing – destroying public education in our country. Some of them are doing it purely for profit driven motives, but there is more going on here. These are some of the puzzle pieces I have and what I see. Now if we allow this to continue, what do you see?


Bobby Jindal Cooks MFP Funding Formula to Kill-Off GT Programs

Bobby Jindal Cooks MFP Funding Formula to Kill-Off GT Programs

I was going to title this “John White. . . ” etc., but let’s get real. John White is just an unqualified bobble-headed sock puppet (politicians have them made in places like the Broad Academy) that Jindal sticks his hand in whenever he wants to fluff up his conservative bona fides for his out of state conservative audience and donors. We’ve all seen firsthand what happens when any of Jindal’s puppets stutter anything out of line (it’s been termed Teaguing: where they are given their walking papers the next day, regardless of whether the firing is legal or not.) So let’s dispense with the coy game of cat and mouse he is playing with us through his political teat suckling pig puppets. This tyrannical governing style, meted out as often on his “conservative allies” like Senator David Vitter (who he recently scored political points with liberal DC insiders by making a funny about the Senator’s prostitution scandal) is probably one of the main reasons his popularity is hovering in the low thirties in a state that voted for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney just a few months ago at a rate roughly equal double to Jindal’s current popularity numbers.

So now that we have that resolved, let us continue. Jindal has proposed changing the way Special Education is funded, though his John White schlep doll.

He is doing this using some tried and true methods.

  • First they redefined the MFP funding formula into a 26 page monstrosity behind closed doors so the public wouldn’t understand the real reason for the changes nor understand their implications until too late.
  • Second they got Jindal’s handpicked BESE members to agree to the changes off the record, and they even postdated the document by over a week, knowing they can ignore open meetings laws with impunity. The press doesn’t call them on it, and the Attorney General actually defends their illegal actions in court on the taxpayer’s dime.
  • Third, they termed this program a “pilot” like they did with the Voucher program that started off in New Orleans for a few handfuls of students in the lowest performing schools in the state, which has been expanded to all students in all schools rated C or below (which is more than half of them so it’s not based on an average for those of you keeping up.)
  • And finally, they are trying to lull you into a false sense of security by telling the “money was just moved” and in some cases overall per pupil funding will go up.

So why would they do this? Well this is part of team Jindal’s overall plan to “repurpose” money dedicated to SPED students, disabled and Gifted and Talented, to the general education fund. This is what legislators try to do by moving “dedicated funds” like those dedicated for coastal restoration, healthcare, and education to the general fund – so those dollars can offset other revenue, and that other revenue can go to pet projects, special tax breaks for campaign donors, etc.

In this particular case this serves the added bonus of padding the per pupil amount that will be used to calculate voucher student reimbursement, and charter school funding. The Louisiana department of Education picked St Tammany as an example of a district that would not be adversely impacted by this calculation, and even went so far as to estimate that their per pupil reimbursement would be about 18 dollars more per student under this “pilot” of the formula. St Tammany doesn’t have any charter schools or voucher schools. . . yet. You didn’t see a calculation for East Baton Rouge, did you? All of the data needed to make the estimated calculations is readily available, but you don’t see the department producing estimates for anyone but one of the lone parishes that would temporarily get a slight increase, at the expense of everyone else.

This might seem a like a good deal, if you live in St Tammany, if you don’t mind selling out disabled, GT, and talented student for 18 dollars.

There are a couple of points you might want to consider before you think this is a good deal.

  • The testing requirements for “talented” students are inappropriate. These are students that might have musical or artistic gifts that would usually not translate to a high score on an AP (advanced Placement) math test. So it’s probably best if you simply accept “Talented” as a student classification is going away, as is most of the funding and programming for these students.
  • St Tammany can;t hold out the voucher and charter schools forever, and the virtual schools and course choice providers can paoch their students with impunity now.
  • Gifted as a program or classification is essentially eliminated in favor of testing students for passing AP exams as the department no longer distinguishes between students getting high grades on AP exams and gifted students. While it’s hard to argue that it is a laudable goal to try to encourage more students to tackle AP coursework, and earn college credit (especially since our state first time college freshman remediation rate (the percent of students requiring remedial coursework before taking their college coursework) has been increasing over the past 4 years, (probably around the time LDE adopted the career diplomas that required fewer hours of English, Math and Science but still allowed student to apply to colleges and universities) the proper way to do that would be with dedicated funding for that goal. Rather than properly fund an initiative that would enable all students to take advanced coursework, Jindal and White have stripped the funding from GT for this purpose (or “repurposed” it in politician-speak.)
  • The new MFP funding formula more evenly spreads out Special education funding for disabled and gifted students will be distributed more evenly to all students, thus not altering the overall funding to be sure. However it will be from this communal pot of money that vouchers and charter schools pull their average pupil allocation. Charter and Voucher schools  Always, Always, Always shy away from the hardest students to educate. Parents actually have to sign away their IDEA rights if they choose to enroll a disabled student in a voucher school, and I can’t tell you how many lawsuits by parents DOE has already had over charter schools in Orleans refusing to provide services or enroll disabled students. (In part because this is a closely guarded secret, partly because of gag orders but I had to prepare plenty of reports showing how most charters enroll very few disabled students, and none of the severely disabled students which cost the most to educate.)
  • This is the tried and true boiled frog approach used for vouchers so successfully in New Orleans after Katrina (and a version of the bait and switch Stelly tax that lowered taxes on in exchange for raising them elsewhere. . . and then the offsetting tax was repealed creating an entirely avoidable perpetual state deficit crisis. ) The premise of this theory goes something like this: If you try to put a frog directly into a boiling pot, it will sense the heat and jump to safety. If you put the frog in a pot of cool water and just gradually raise the temperature, the cold-blooded amphibian will simply change his temperature to match the surrounding water temp without noticing the danger he is in. . .

We’ve seen what this governor has done to frogs before . . . how many of our tadpoles do we have to see cooked before our eyes before we say enough?

boil-the-frog - jindal

VAMtastic – what bicycles and teachers have in common

VAMtastic – what bicycles and teachers have in common

To start off this discussion about VAM (value added modeling).  The idea that teacher effectiveness can be accurately predicted based mostly on student test scores (or entirely in Louisiana.) and that teacher’s fortunes should be tied to those test scores.

That sounds boring so I’ll start off with a really exciting topic, like global warming. 🙂  It appears that manmade activities are causing the earth to warm.  Even people the Koch brothers hired to say otherwise were unable to deny this.  Recently a “creative” state Republican legislator named Ted Orcutt proposed an extra tax on bicyclists claiming that bicyclists exude carbon dioxide at higher rates and are harming the environment.

“Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.” Ted Orcutt

Early Global Warming Device - from Ted Orcutt's history book
Early Global Warming Device – from Ted Orcutt’s history book

He wanted to discourage bicycle use with his tax claiming this was in the interest of climate control. A helpful, knowledgable reader of the blog I pulled this from did the calculation for us to show the absurdity of this remark most of you probably already realized intuitively was inane and insane.

“I did a back-of-envelope calculation:
CO2 per mile for car getting 20 mph = 446 gram
CO2 per mile for average person riding bike 15 mph = 17gram
But carbon source is different.  The gasoline carbon is newly introduced to the atmosphere while the carbohydrate carbon the cyclist burned came from plants which obtained it from the atmosphere (of course the plants had to be farmed and the food transported both of which take fuel).” Gary

While it is true carbon dioxide does impact the warming of the climate, it is not the sole contributor,  His argument also does not take into account in the example given, cars. (Or the fact these people biking to work would otherwise have to use cars which produce CO2 at  more than 25 times the rate of a bicyclist and that by his logic we should also tax people in gyms and people for just breathing sitting on their sofas)  It does not take into account factories, gas-powered appliances and heating, deforestation, nuclear reactor meltdowns, warfare, airplanes, launching satellites into orbit, and freon and refrigerants just to name a few of some of the more common man-made contributors.

Terrance Shuman a fellow blogger and commenter identified a similar problem with something VAMvateers take for granted on Dr Mercedes Schneider’s blog this morning.

“The planted axiom in all of this, of course, is that the test scores we’re using actually convey something meaningful and important. This has not, in my opinion, been definitively established. And if we don’t know that, the rest of the house of cards comes tumbling down, doesn’t it?”

I pointed out this:

“As a corollary to your axiom, while I think it’s fair to say they convey something, and something that may even prove to meaningful in a limited context, what is not proven is whether the “something” that might be conveyed is meaningful to the context is being applied.  These are student test scores, not teacher test scores.  Sure, teachers have an impact on test scores, the absence of a teacher would probably yield a much lower one – for instance.  That does not take into account all factors influencing a test score.  In fact, what the study results do prove is that teachers are not the sole determining factor, and possibly not even the most important one.  Scores remain consistent only about roughly 20-30% of the time year over year with no change in composition of students or teaching methods.  That implies other factors not accounted for in the “model” impact 70-80% of the score.”

The logic of VAM, if you can call it that, is as inane as Ted Orcutt’s reasoning that if we would discourage people from bicycling we would reduce global warming.  VAMvateers point out that test scores increase over time as kids age, which is hard to argue with.  They claim a “good” teacher is better than a bad teacher for increasing a test score.  This is probably true, also hard to argue with that logic at face value and quantification is not a given.  However at that point they jump the data tracks.  They explain that teachers are the primary influence on student test scores therefore one can use test scores to sort out “good” and “bad” teachers.  However none of the studies, even their own studies, bear this out.  Even by the most benevolent interpretations I’ve seen, changes in test scores can’t be attributed to even half of a student’s change or test score outcome.  Factors that are much harder to measure like environment, curriculum, school facilities, parental involvement, learning disabilities (known or unknown), illness, psychological trauma, poverty, safety, and probably astrological sign (to name a few factors) add up to more that what bankers and billionaires would have you believe.

That’s not to say teachers are unimportant.  That’s also not to say bad teaching or bad teachers are not a problem, merely not “the” problem.  Teachers are a part of the equation we can control, but the measurement mechanism we are using is fallacious.  Just because people like Ted Orcutt are only able to apply what they learned in a first grade science class, doesn’t mean you need to.  Global warming is not adversely impacted by bicyclists simply because they exhale carbon dioxide, anymore than some of our sketchy educational outcomes are solely responsibility of our teachers.  There is no amount of “good” teaching that can singlehandedly overcome the stacked deck of generational poverty, health and safety issues and emotional trauma.  However claiming this to be the case has its advantages for the ones claiming it.

Swelling a class size from 20 to 40 or 60 or as many as 500 for virtual schools will not address those issues, and without looking at any data, I can guarantee it will make things worse.  You will have politicians in the pockets of billionaires and bankers trying to sell you on this idea with cryptic data you won’t understand, designed to dazzle you, just like they did with the dotcoms, the Enrons, the subprime mortgaged backed securities that brought down the housing market, the derivatives trading that almost wiped out AIG and then recently almost wiped out JP Morgan Chase in weeks (having failed to learn the lesson of AIG.)

Don’t be fooled by their “data.”  Look at their motivations, and use your brain, your heart and your experience.  Think back to your own classes (which I assume didn’t have 60+ children in them like Reformers are pushing for now.)

Bicyclists are not causing global warming anymore than teachers are causing our population with the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world to do worse on  standardized tests.  Look in the mirror the next time you vote down a millage tax for school improvements, or you let your children watch TV before doing their homework, or elect a governor that tells you the teachers are at fault, not you, not poverty, not schools with roach infested halls and leaking walls and faulty air conditioning.  When you elect a meglamaniacal governor  like Bobby Jindal (who never saw an illegal contribution he felt he needed to return) and allow him to hire a Superintendent like John White that empties music rooms, art studios, libraries, guidance counselors, school psychologists, GT programs and cuts funding for special education programs. . . well look in the mirror and you will have your answer.

After all these Bankers and billionaires have done to fool you with their “data” in the past, you would really have to be a fool to “Believe” them now.  They even use this concept to mock you, you know. . .  The “Louisiana Believes” slogan John White and his sadistic cronies dreamed up is an inside joke at among the top brass at LDE, but if you don’t see it for what it is, well then the joke really is on you.

Actually I really hope you are being fooled by their numbers and no matter how many times they come to you with ridiculous claims backed by infantile reasoning of the Ted Orcutt kind.  Because if not, well, then you are just allowing your kid’s teachers to take the fall for your laziness, greed and sloth – glad that they are taking the fall so you can continue to watch your reality TV while your kids play their video games and 25% of other people’s kids struggle to complete their homework – with empty stomachs and gunshots in the background, or even the foreground in schools like Sandy Hook.

I wonder how their teachers VAM scores will look this year.  I’m pretty sure the VAMvateers haven’t added mass murder adjustment to their equation, but if when all the students at that school do worse than expected, at least we can can find someone other than the shooter, or the gun, or us for allowing those guns to be so accessible.

We can blame the teachers.

Problem solved.

Jersey Shore anyone?

easy as shooting sharks in a barrel

easy as shooting sharks in a barrel

Hi Mercedes! Mind if I steal your blog and add your blog thoughts to my own? (not that you have a choice. 🙂 )

I think Peter Orszag, makes a valid point. VAM is slightly better than nothing depending on how you look at it, .. Assuming perfect data and that children were simple computer models confined to a lab. It might be correct 5% of the time or so. If we only knew which of the 100% of the results we got, comprised that 5%, perhaps we could act on it in a constructive and responsible manner? What does not make sense is using unproved, disproven and destructive free-market inspired economic principals to replicate 5% of the “correct results” (which we can’t identify) as well as 95% inaccurate ones.

Let’s say I want to kill sharks because I’ve decided they are “bad” fish. To a VAMite, the best way to do this is to create a giant barrel and dredge in along the ocean floor scooping up the schools of tuna the sharks like to hang out with.

Now we must eliminate the shark. To do that I could figure out an accurate way to identify a shark, maybe just hire a good fisherman(principal) that can identify them and remove them from the school. Not much money to be made doing that, and how will I sell all my canned tuna with all this live fresh tuna swimming around?

So I decide the best way for my tuna cannery and gun smithing business interests is to take a shotgun and shoot all the fish in the barrel.

Success! I can now claim I killed a shark and wave it around for all to see. Tada! I killed a “bad” fish with a bullet. Now our tuna supply is saved!

Hmm. . . I also killed all the other fish by letting out the water or riddling them with bullets…

But wait! Double kaching! More cheap fodder for my factory! Now I must sell this idea to the masses. . .

Attention Masses: All we have to do is put all out fish in barrels and shoot them; then we will kill all the “bad” fish! (Sure a few good ones have to be sacrificed, well all of them, but we did get rid of the “bad” fish and we can always can(computerize) the casualties. ) Bad fish problem solved and canned tuna all around!

NOTE TO SELF: Hire Pierson to capture all the fish and put them in barrels. Tell Murdoch to supply the guns and get Gates to supply the bullets.






In order to truly understand value added modeling (VAM), forget the likes of me and of others who hold degrees in mathematics, or statistics, or measurement. Forget that we offer solid, detailed discussions of the problems of VAM. Forget also that those who formerly promoted VAM, like Louisiana’s George Noell, are mysteriously “no longer associated with the project.”

According to Michael Bloomberg, just ask a banker.

That’s right.  Banker and former director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Obama administration Peter Orszag has written an enlightening piece for explaining that VAM really does work.  According to Orszag, VAM can determine “which teachers are best.” Now, mind you, I’m no banker, but I would like to offer my thoughts on Orszag’s very positive article on the value of the value added.

First, let me begin with Orszag’s statement regarding “promoting the most talented teachers.” What, exactly, is a “most talented…

View original post 1,577 more words

So me and Diane Ravitch were chillin’ today in Baton Rouge discussing some education stuff. . . .

So me and Diane Ravitch were chillin’ today in Baton Rouge discussing some education stuff. . . .

So me and Diane Ravitch we chillin’ today in Baton Rouge discussing some education stuff. . . .  🙂

I figured I’d start off my post that way since it sounds much cooler than Diane came to town and gave an awesome speech at a luncheon (and Chas Roemer was also there as the comic relief) and I was fawning over her like an obsessed anti-reform education groupie (do they have those?) But I digress.

Diane made a very excellent speech summarizing all the ways Louisiana’s education system is dead set and hell-bent on a road to ruin. The counterpoint or rebuttal was made by current BESE (the state board of education) President Chas Roemer. I would like to to say that Chas’s points were simply less eloquent and and passably adequate, but they were actually pretty insulting for most parents – about 98% of them to be exact.  I had every intention of listening politely, until he responded to a question about the low voucher (private school) participation percentage this way.

“Rather than question why the participation in the voucher program is only 2%, I would question why only 2% of parents care about their student’s educations.”

This of course was after making much ado about providing “choice” to parents, but I think it reveals his true feelings. If you don’t send your kids to a creationist teaching, revisionist history teaching, private school, then you are a bad parent and don’t care about your children. Until this point I was simply happy to be at the Drusilla Seafood gathering, where they served chicken. (It was decent chicken, but really, if you invite people from out of state to a restaurant with “seafood” in the name you’d think there would be some?) Chas Roemer concluded his speech by describing something he said he likes to call his “money back guarantee.”

“If charters don’t perform well, they get shut down.” – ( and new charters perpetually open in their place (until one succeeds I presume?)

Some folks at my table shouted out, “when do we get our money back?”

When indeed? I suppose this is the “exceptionalism” that one can expect from someone who is a product of the private school system, like Chas.

Suffice it to say I was not about to let these statements go without redress, but alas, the person right in front of me, the esteemed professor and researcher Barbara Ferguson, was the last to get a volley off, and I was left with my question unasked.

Whenever I see her from now on I will say “Ferguson!” under my breath as an homage to Jerry Seinfeld and his arch nemesis Newman.

So I present to you my readers, my question(s).

Maybe one of you can forward it to Chas to see if he has a response?

Hi. My name is [redacted], and unlike Chas, I was not surrounded by politics and career politicians my whole life. I am a parent of public school students in Baton Rouge that attend [redacted] Elementary. My wife is on her second year of PTA president for the [redacted] Ducks, and we volunteer for many of the school functions and field trips as chaperones. For years I’ve volunteered as a mentor to work with children through the Big Buddy program in Baton Rouge. I am a product of the Baton Rouge Public school system and my wife was a teacher in this schools system for several years.

I would like to first say that as a parent I am deeply offended by the comment Chas made in response to the low participation rate in the voucher school program “he wonders why only the 2% of parents that applied for private school vouchers care about the education of their students.” I want my kids to go to public schools because I care about them, and because I don’t want them artificially sheltered from their peers in racial and social class silos like Chas’s kids. That is a choice he has made, but by defunding and overburdening public schools Chas is eliminating “my choice,” to have my kids attend a vibrant, robust, communal public education system.

Chas’s statements reveal his true feelings, he doesn’t believe public schools are a valid “choice” and so he is trying to eliminate them so I am forced into conforming to his choice. Reform is about convincing you that you made the wrong choices and guilting you into choosing something else that is unproven and often worse.

Chas, charter schools and voucher/private schools are not subject to the same oversight and reporting that public schools are. You claim your objective is to offer parents choices, but how can parents reasonably be expected to make informed choices when you don’t report the same statistics for them as you do for the public schools you denigrate? The department website was recently revamped to remove most historical data and the department routinely refuses to provide data – to researchers it deems unfriendly. I know this because I am a witness in a case against the Louisiana department of education involving the sharing of basic student data to a researcher in Orleans. That data already exists and has been given to other “friendly” researchers! I know this for a fact, because I am a former Louisiana Department of Education employee and I worked in the data management department and I actually prepared the data being requested – but for other groups!

We were instructed by John White and Erin Bendilly (a Jindal appointee assigned to ram through the charters at LDOE) to leave charters alone when their data was incomplete or obviously wrong, and many reporting requirements were not “requirements” for charter operators and virtual schools (like attendance). Schools in New Orleans that are “taken over” by the state are not assigned SPS (School Performance Scores) for 2 years after they are handed off to another operator.

How can parents make informed, real “choices” without data? Charter schools are like random TV dinners, but without any nutritional information. Could you plan a nutritional healthy family meal without any information on calories, preservatives, vitamins and minerals or sodium content? How would you choose between all the offerings: based on the look of the package, the taste? That is what charter schools and voucher schools are, unlabeled, mislabeled, or attractively labeled TV dinners that you expect us to feed our family for 2 years and “Believe” that they are good. Sure, we might be able to figure out after a while what is offered is crap, after our kids start getting fat or having heart attacks, but is that a fair choice to make, or to force us, as parents, to make? The free market has shown that Doritos and donuts are more popular that bananas and yogurt, but that doesn’t make them better, and providing those choices does nothing for our children but put them at risk for obesity and diabetes. Charter schools and voucher schools are the junk food of the education system, but without the proper labeling.

Fresh charter school choices, just heat, Believe and serve!
Fresh charter school choices, just heat, Believe and serve!

If you truly believe that charter schools and voucher schools are “better” choices, and not just additional ones, why does BESE and John White not encourage proper reporting of data and free access of data to researchers that request it? Surely if we are concerned about parents and students making informed choices, this is common sense?

As a parent, I find it hard to believe even you and your political sponsors believe this is about students and parents when you fight proper and timely disclosure of data that could be used to properly evaluate these “choices” and misrepresent failure (like the perpetual closing and rebranding of charter schools) as success.

And by the way, how much money has the state gotten back on your “Money Back Guarantee” for failed charters? When people sell you a shoddy product and they get to keep the money and walk away and open up shop somehwere else, that is not a money back guarantee, that is just a robbery (to which you are an accessory), and sadly only half the story.  How have you reclaimed the lost educational years for the students you allowed to be experimented on, only to find the experiment was a failure?