The Grand Accountability Scam – Kill the RSD

The Grand Accountability Scam – Kill the RSD

John White and Bobby Jindal have mixed two smart sounding messages in a way designed to punish people for being poor. It sounds good when you say, “poverty is not an excuse for poor performance.” It sounds good when “we refuse to allow poverty to be an excuse for poor performance.” Who could disagree with such uplifting “sounding” messages. You might think these guys are the champions of the poor based on these messages. John White has changed the State Department of Education website to reflect his positive sound message of “Louisiana Believes.” Who doesn’t want to simply “Believe” that belief alone is sufficient to overcome any obstacle? John White puts out SPS (School Performance Scores) that have point totals that go up or down, and “grades” A, B, C, D, F that we can all relate to. We instinctively know than an A is good, and we all want to get one, and an F is bad and none of us want those (although RSD, the state run Recovery School District designed to rescue students from poor performing schools, seems permanently mired in Ds and Fs.) Since RSD does so poorly, could it be that the folks running the RSD don’t “Believe” enough?

When Schools fail to achieve expected gains, without any additional support, John White closes them and declares them failures. He tells us all the teachers didn’t “Believe” in their students and their low expectations led to the low achievement of their students. Could things simply be as simple as that? That would be nice, and if this message and solution was working since we started undertaking this first under Superintendent Picard, then vastly accelerated under Superintendent Pastorek we should see patterns that divorce themselves from the generally accepted, tested and proven theory that poverty has an impact on performance. This does not mean poor people are stupid, or lazy (as some have told when I write on these topics) merely that the very poor lack many of the preparations and support wealthier folks have. Many of our children in Louisiana belong to families that are the working poor; families form one parent homes, families where both parents work multiple jobs. These are not lazy people, but people who often can’t enroll their kids in pre-k programs, take their kids to museums, or buy them all the age appropriate books and toys that would help prepare them for school. These are homes that parents may be working late and unable to help children with homework as often as they should, or at all. This does not make them bad parents, or the children unintelligent underachievers, but it does mean they need help to keep up with their better prepared and opportunitied peers.

When we have communities where poverty is the norm, not the exception, I “believe” performance suffers an add-on impact to lowering performance. Some people have accused me of being socialist for explaining that performance is closely tied to poverty, and not race. Some have suggested I am saying the government should take all the “wealth” from the wealthy and distribute it to the poor. (Technically that would probably make me a totalitarian communist type, but nevertheless, this is not what I am advocating, nor would it work.) If I gave you a test today and you have been poor your entire life, then gave you 50,000 dollars and had you take the test tomorrow, you would not do any better on the test (and possibly worse thinking about all the cool stuff you could spend those 50 gs on. I know I would.) The actual problem is rooted in income inequality over an extended period of time, but that is a complicated problem. This is the second smart sounding message that has been confused. Reformers tout that a good “education” is the first step toward eliminating poverty, so they believe they have to hold everyone “accountable”. . . but themselves. They want the hold the children responsible for getting better without resources, they want teachers to squeeze more performance out of their children as defined by what a standardized test can measure. What they don’t want to do is actually be responsible for addressing or identifying the real needs of children raised in poverty. Rather than focus on addressing the needs of the poor, they would rather tout the benefits of being rich and allow luck and perseverance be the sole determining factors for which kids escape poverty. That’s a pathetic cop-out. Children are not greyhounds, to be raced for our pleasure and rewarded only if they win the race. Children are not horses, some of which will win glory and some of which we be win only a future of Elmer’s fame.

certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)
certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)

Children are our responsibility and our future and we owe them more than “Louisiana Believes” slogans and “Accountabilty” for them and their teachers. We owe them a real hand-up, not a lecture about how they should do better, how their parents and teachers have failed them. We owe them a future. We own them resources, not virtual schools, which strip communities of resources, not “Recovery” schools like they are crack addicts in need of a detox or cure. We need to push them, not punish them by removing them from their communities and peers.

But before I go into what the data shows, let’s get back to some of the limitations of this data. First of all our poverty indicator is imprecise. Basically poverty as defined in Louisiana for the Department of Education is student who applied for Free and Reduced lunch or foodstamps. It is imprecise at a student by student level for the following reasons:

  • Not all families that qualify apply for aid
  • Poverty has cumulative impact, students well off most of their formative years and only have a year or two of insecurity may not be as impacted
  • Some students may have other mitigating factors such as a teacher in the home, or grandparents that can help students with homework

But when factored in as a general variable or characteristic of population you can tease out some correlations. Take for example this graph of Louisiana’s main school districts and their wealth index (a factor based on taking the inverse of poverty and multiplying it by 200 to put it on the same scale/ratio as SPS scores which also range up to 200 points.) (Click on the image for a better resolved picture, or refer to the excel insert further below.

This graph is sorted by SPS score, from highest to lowest. The SPS score is charted with the blue line. The Red bouncy line is the wealth index. I have built in two dotted trend lines which show how these two indicators are directly related to each other. Notice also how as wealth decreases (and concentration of poverty increases) SPS scores drop off precipitously. There appears to be an add-on impact to concentrating extreme poverty such as in the case of the RSD and St Helena Parishes. I would argue that parishes that show dramatic red lined dips below the green dotted trend line are actually doing much better for their students’, when factoring in the parish levels of poverty. Of course it’s important to understand that the analysis is only as good as the data we can get, and John White’s LDE (as I shall refer to Louisiana’s DOE until he leaves since his version is a corrupt dysfunctional mockery of the DOE I worked in) does not provide much in the way of data because they don’t want anyone to understand what is going on.

The solution is not to simply to pass out wads of cash to the parents of poor children. That would be like claiming to have cured someone of chicken pox by simply applying makeup to cover up the spots. What is important is that we recognize that poverty is a factor in how well students perform on tests which determines how well schools and districts are scored on SPS scores. Simply closing the low performing schools does not “fix” this problem; that is simply applying makeup to chicken pox. According to this chart some districts like Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard, West Carroll and Winn are doing very well considering their poverty compositions (although Orleans may be benefitting from having much of their higher needs population in RSD schools.)

Notes: I would caution against using this chart to highlight districts such as Zachary or Cameron as outliers without much more research. I’ve been told that Zachary’s poverty numbers may be under reported and I’ve been told by SIS coordinators from Cameron Parish that people in this parish often refuse to claim food stamps to apply for free and reduced lunch, even though many more qualify for them. This may result in showing Cameron artificially more “wealthy” than it actually is based on available data. Another factor possibly impacting Cameron’s lower than expected scores based on their wealth index is that they were severely impacted by two major hurricanes in the past 7 years causing major displacement and massive loss of housing school days and facilities. It also appears that while extreme poverty seems to exert a nonlinear downward pressure on performance as measured by SPS scores, wealth ratings above 100, or 50% seem to have a diminishing impact on SPS scores in the upper range. This would seem to imply that carving wealthier districts from districts below wealth score or 100, (or a district with 50% free or reduced lunch) will have a disproportionate negative impact on the district left behind, the poorer the district left behind becomes, the more their test scores will be impacted. Conversely, while a wealthier district will post higher than average SPS scores, increasing the wealth of such a district over 50% or less than 50% free and reduced has a diminishing effect on increasing SPS scores.

So what does this mean?

The SPS score is an inherently poverty biased measure. Districts with high poverty concentrations don’t stand a chance as all of their students will tend to score lower without massive intervention the state is not currently providing. Louisiana’s Accountability system will catch-up to them and throw them kicking and screaming into RSD, the Recovery School District.

If RSD is such as great thing why are parents in the school districts with RSDs complaining so bitterly about them and refusing to send their students to these schools, except as a last resort?

School districts are learning that the best way to evade state takeover is to increase the wealth percentage in their district either by splitting off into smaller, wealthier districts, by attracting wealthier students, or by disguising their populations by merging school populations in shadow school arrangements. Giving students more and more tests, punishing their teachers when they don’t do any better on them, and closing their schools, is a horribly dysfunctional idea. It’s like taking the temperature of kids when they go to the doctor for treatment for a fever, the temperature tests confirm they have a fever, and instead of giving them medicine or instructions for treatment, the doctor/nurse just keeps taking their temperature again and again with different instruments, and perhaps sticking those instruments in more invasive places. When the children don’t get better the doctor then blames the parents for doing something wrong and in some cases notifies protective services to take the kids away from their parents. . . putting them a Recovery Housing System. Once these children end up in the “RHS” and all we do is take their temperature again and again, telling them will just better if they really try. Would it surprise if they do worse and some die/dropout? The Recovery School District is a Big Government misguided Big Brother infirmary that is slowly killing our children and our communities. By its very nature of divesting itself of community roots, oversight, and harmony it creates discord with our children and the community into which it is forcibly inserted (without any lube I might add.) It does nothing to ensure children are treated, simply tested and tested some more and when RSD ends up as the worst of the worst among SPS scores( as it has done), who takes RSD over, the RRSD?

What if all these resources we spent taking over school districts, firing teachers, and displacing children were used instead to improve the schools in which they already reside – dozens of these schools now lay shuttered and vacant statewide while the children are bussed to campuses clear across their communities. This is done to disguise how poorly we’ve served these children while we hope taking their temperature over and over and telling them to “get better” will finally work. What if instead of just testing children and holding them “accountable” we held ourselves accountable as a society and worked to improve their plight? All this testing and test prep is not helping our students catch up, and it may actually be bringing everyone else down as well. In Louisiana to disguise this fact John White has changed the “grading scale” and intends to change it yet again next year and every year we continue to employ him. John White will guarantee the scores go up, for what they’re worth, but our students will eventually tire teachers just taking their temperatures when they show up for school, and who could blame them?

Kill the RSD, and hand the schools back over to their communities where they belong. The RSD experiment we’ve forced on our children has failed, and miserably so. Instead of spending all that excess funding on bringing in out of state charters temporary teachers, train the teachers we have, provide funding for universal pre-kindergarten, afterschool programs, restore music and the arts and provide tutors and recruit mentors from the community for children. There are thousands of people just waiting to help, if the state will back off and return to a support role instead of the tyrant it has become under Paul Pastorek and John White. Teachers are trying, but they can’t tackle this task alone.

I suppose it comes down to whether you want a solution or simply someone to blame? Bobby Jindal just wants a talking point for his futile presidential aspirations; John White wants to help out-of-state vendors, so they can hook him up for a lifetime of perks and positions once he leaves Louisiana. If you are a citizen of this state, if you care about the students, the children, the teachers, your fellow citizens, out way of life and our future, then you need to kick these guys out and take back our schools. Kill the RSD and rescue our teachers and students before it’s too late.

It’s about time we held our failing leaders responsible. RSD has been in place for almost 7 years and has mostly all new students, and every year it is vying for worst district in the state with two to three times the resources. In my book that deserves an F- and the creators of it should be held accountable.

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Guest column: Metairie attorney dissects the post-Katrina, ALEC-inspired politicalization of Louisiana public education

Louisiana Voice

EDITOR’S NOTE: LouisianaVoice traditionally addresses state political events as they occur. Our posts generally run between 1,000 and 1,500 words in length. Recently, however, attorney Nancy Picard, a Metairie law firm partner, submitted the following 4,000-word essay that examines the complicated, confusing and controversial odyssey of Louisiana public education policy since Hurricane Katrina. We found her research to be so thorough and the topic so timely, that we felt it imperative that we run her essay, despite its length, with only minimal editing.

Following is her guest column:

Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway
By NANCY PICARD

A writer recently hailed federal and state education reform as a new civil rights movement. But the word reform, which means “the improvement . . . of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory,” can hardly be applied to the recent changes in educational law. Most of these changes are not for the better. Instead, they create…

View original post 3,866 more words

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

John White’s crumbling house of cards – From VAM to worse

These days John White might be needing a hug. It appears all the ill-will and poor decisions making he has sown over the past year is coming home to roost on his doorstep, all at the same time.

Support the Louisiana Student Privacy Act

Recently we called out White for lying to everyone in the state of Louisiana over carelessly and needlessly exposing all of our school children to unnecessary risks by handing over their some of their most private data to companies hoping to make a profit off the information by direct marketing products to children, charging the state millions of dollars for the privilege of using their storage services, and by marketing and providing this information to unlimited third party vendors. I encourage the legislature to craft and pass the Louisiana Student Privacy Act, which will go further than FERPA (the Federal Student Privacy Act) and actually protect our children’s privacy instead of selling it out to anyone who asks.

Reject House Bill 650 – DOE reorg

White is trying to push through a bill that supporting the reorganization of the Louisiana Department of Education, about a year too late according to this DOE employee: (Link to testimony from April 11th)

Last week Beth Scioneaux indicated in House Education that the LDOE is going to lose another 34 positions. She didn’t say how many actual bodies were going to be lost but the numbers are getting pretty low with the exception of the TFA types. Erin Bendily lied through her teeth when she said that the department wasn’t working under the proposed reorg. White starting putting everything in place the moment he came in and had pretty much finished by early fall. He even had a draft of the org chart that he handed out to some staff around September early October. He also wants to make the Deputy Supt. position optional because his hand-picked second in command (Kunjan) couldn’t possibly be confirmed. He changed the title to Chief of Staff to get around it…

While Representative Chris Broadwater stated he has questions about how the reorg would work before he approves it (which already seems a little redundant since it doesn’t appear he cares what the answers are) well he might as well ask John White how the reorganization is already working out. White just needs rubber stamps, as BESE has learned. Unless you think White should be able to thumb his nose at the legislature and oversight, you should probably vote down House bill 650.

This information jives with everything I saw before I left. Erin actually sent an e-mail to us long before John White was confirmed, when he was still the Superintendent of RSD, instructing us not to make any decisions until Superintendent White was “officially” confirmed. I’m told he was making personnel decisions long before BESE voted to confirm him so it makes sense he would reorganize the department illegally and then ask for permission afterwards. White even drafts and then approves BESE agendas before BESE meets or reviews them.

Reject 2013 MFP

(don’t defund Special Education Programs, don’t use a DOE

known flawed VAM for funding calculations (SCR 23) )

John White has earned the ire of many advocates for Special Education Students of the disabled, gifted and talented varieties. Despite what he has claimed, this formula is not neutral, and actually reduces funding for some school districts even by DOE’s own reports they produced to try to dispute this fact based on the rosiest forecasts I’m sure they could come up with. The new MFP takes money away from talented programs, reduces gifted program funding, and reduces funding for disabled students who can’t exceed their value added scores by larger and larger amounts every year (which is statistically impossible).

 

Pass House Bill 160 – VAM delay and oversight

Because VAM or Value Added Modeling has been introduced into funding for school districts I would be remiss if I did not spend a little time explaining some of the flaws with this system that have come to my attention recently. If you don’t know what VAM is offhand, you are not alone. Even the Louisiana Department of Education, which uses VAM for everything from teacher evaluations, to school grades, to funding, to soybean substitute, has no idea how this system works according to this former employee.

Most of all, he [White] knows the Value Added Model, the all-important VAM, is broken. And he knows this because he broke it.

What was most interesting to read, however, was Johnny’s opposition to the ‘legislative oversight’ aspect to HB 160. He’s already allowing legislators (well, at least one northwestern one in particular) to dictate what the model does; why not let an entire committee or two have input? Is it because he knows that what he’s doing is wrong, if not illegal? Does he not want our elected BESE members to know that he bypassed them once again, by skipping policy and instead screwing with the math? Would he prefer that our esteemed, elected, representatives not be aware that he is playing around with citizens’ lives and careers because the governor tells him to ‘trust me, you gotta do this’? Perhaps he would not like the courts to know that he continues to flaunt the law by ignoring specific mandates that don’t suit him? He may be afraid that the public will learn that ‘Louisiana Make Believes’ data is being used to determine teachers’ futures, school takeovers and charters, voucher eligibility and the Course Choice crap, along with the future privatization of education. Or, maybe, it’s just that he’s concerned that everyone will finally discover that he’s nothing but White Lies.”

VAM was a flawed metric to use for all the things DOE tried to apply it to, but made more so by all the frenetic gyrations John White put the system through trying to please a select few. I strongly urge our legislators to reject the MFP formula put forth by BESE and ask that BESE restore the previous year’s formula that does not contain a tragically flawed VAM component. The folks that crafted the original VAM formula are gone, and John White almost exclusively hires TFA (Teach for America) folks that lack expertise in the areas he assigns them. Just this past week or so I learned that as many as 60 DOE personnel were given walking papers as part of a RIF, Reduction in Force plan. However I’ve also learned that John White already has new TFA recruits waiting in the wings to fill these spots he is “temporarily” eliminating – at much higher salaries and much fewer years of experience than much of the current staff he is releasing.

I’ve heard from several sources that John White is worried (freaked out) by some Freedom of Information requests that were made about VAM. Well there is a lot to be frightened of apparently:

It’s interesting to read that John White appears willing to hold off implementing Compass http://theadvocate.com/news/education/5756154-123/white-looks-at-teacher-evaluations (that new teacher evaluation system) for one year…just about exactly one year after educators around the state begged him to do exactly that. He knows the entire program is, in a nutshell, a clusterf**k. He knows the two data systems involved may not work together; one of them is not even completed. He knows his district support office (the one that was just approved…months after being created….http://theadvocate.com/home/4127328-125/la-superintendent-reorganizes-staff and after the guy running it for five months left. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/04/05/five-months-and-out-was-that-enough-time-for-doe-deputy-superintendent-to-obtain-louisiana-license-plates-for-his-car/) provides little to no support, while ‘toolboxing’ around the state in rental cars, collecting mileage and per diems. He knows that schools have been given precious few resources and little guidance, and no definite answers. He knows the ‘new and improved’ LouisianaBelieves website leads teachers on an endless loop of 404-file not found error messages, dead links, outdated or “coming soon” information.

In case some of you were not keeping up, John White scrapped the former department of education website in favor of what has been called a childish, useless crayon inspired endeavor that contains nothing useful except pictures of John White handing out big checks to school districts with his sleeves rolled up. As impressive as that sight is to the John White fan club, most of us are not members, and what he has done offends us.

When I was at DOE we used to website as an archive of useful information and reports which we could direct internal staff, school district personnel, parents and other stakeholders to.  Now the site is universally understood to be a useless mess.  I suppose in a way that makes sense. John White has a god complex and he’s crafted the new department website in his own image.

John White doesn’t want people keeping track of what’s going on, so he scrapped the old site but “we in the know” are doing our level best to keep you informed. White can’t continue to lie to us, sell our children, humiliate our teachers, defund our Special Education students, dazzle us with VAM BS, and ignore both the legislature and BESE. . .  unless you let him. I and my brave colleagues have done their part, now it’s time for some of you to do yours.

No matter what John White names his website, Louisiana doesn’t have to believe anymore.  Reject John White and his bankrupt policies and send him packing.  We deserve better.  Our children deserve better than having to put up with this.

Two brave Mandeville High students fighting John White and BESE for their futures

I recently had the privilege of chatting with one of the two brave Mandeville High School students that participated in a BESE meeting about student privacy at the Louisiana Department of Education on Wednesday the 17th. (I only wish I could have been there myself but was not able to get away at that time.) However I feel like was more than adequately represented by these two young adults. Below is the statement made at this meeting by Rachael Sachs, a 16 year old student from Mandeville High School.

How would you feel if your house got broken into and all of your personal belongings were stolen? And later when you went on the Internet, you discovered that your belongings were being sold to the highest bidder?

How you would feel then, is how we feel now. Our personal information is being sold to anybody who has money, whether it is a company, or a predator, not to mention hackers. We are being put in danger.

I don’t have a Facebook for this reason. These companies are treating us as though we are theirs to sell to make a profit off of . . . it is almost as if we are being prostituted.

How would any of us feel?

I am just beyond the window of having my personal data stolen and sold, by my kids are not. I can tell you I am outraged. . . but I have time to try and put a stop to it before it causes them permanent harm. However students, young adults, like Rachael and her schoolmate Grant Barker, are just about to leave the confines of their schools for college, work, credit cards, house notes and hopefully bright futures if they are not sabotaged enroute.

Rachael has made a conscious choice not to share her personal and private information through Facebook so as not to become a target for hackers, spammers, marketers and ruthless predators. That is a choice she was allowed to make to protect herself. John White and the State of Louisiana have taken the irresponsible step of sharing her details anyway, and more private and damaging information that Facebook requires for participation.

Facebook does not require Social Security Number, and has no place to even store that number, know the potential for abuse. Facebook allows users to provide date of birth, but that is left to the discretion of the individual user. You can provide your full real name, although you can actually set up an account under an alias. I know someone who has a page for her cat, and I set up a page for a crawfish in addition to my real page. Plenty of my Facebook friends have pages without their last name or under nicknames. You don’t need to provide a phone number or mailing address or even a picture if you don’t want to, and if you do provide a picture for an icon you have control over what picture you want to represent you to the Facebook community.

To contrast, John White and his “vendors” want your real address, phone number, picture, date of birth, full name and social security number just to get your account started. Going forward they will record and link as much information as they can. Students have no choice and no control over what gets sent, and that information may be very unflattering and incorrect and there will be nothing they can do to fix it. This information will be available to the staff at these companies; these vendors even mention this fact in their disclaimers. Anyone who tells you they won’t need to view this data is absolutely lying. There is no way to maintain such a system without giving access to the actual data to report writers, data evaluators, and system administrators.

inBloom was started with a 100 million dollars in start up cash. Think about that. This company will have to make money somewhere, just like Facebook, Google and any other company that provides services. The only question is how will they do this? Initial fees for storing data on inBloom have been quoted in the 3-5 dollars per student per year range. We have records for 2.5 to 3 million unique students and around close to 700,000 public school student records and another 20 or 30 thousand private school student records for students located in our Special Education Reporting system and Student Transcript system. For just this one vendor, we have knowledge of LDE “sharing” data with as many as 3 or 4 such “vendors” we could be incurring expenses of anywhere from 8.5 to 60 million dollars annually. So not only is John White giving student data away, endangering our student’s futures, he’s will be stealing funding that would otherwise go to educating these same students. They get the privilege of paying for this violation of their privacy.

And that’s just the start of the gravy train.

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.

All of this brings us to this video of Grant Barker being lied to and bullied by BESE president Chas Roemer and Superintendent of Education John White.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKgny3red4I

White claims there is no money attached to participation in the grant, but the Louisiana Department of Education has taken plenty of Gates grants in the past, and the Gates foundation has pledge 70 million in grants to participants in this program.

In addition to its $100 million investment in the database, the Gates Foundation has pledged $70 million in grants to schools and companies to develop personalized learning tools.

Grant Barker makes a good point about Google, users are notified that their queries and information will be used for additional marketing and stored in databases, and their participation in using this search engine is contingent upon accepting that agreement. They don’t have to use Google, and they certainly don’t have to share such personal details as SSN, DOB, name, picture, phone number and address to use Google. John White has shared everyone’s data without notifying them, endangering them, and without compensating them. In fact this scheme will likely cost these students quite a bit in loss of privacy, will lead to inevitable abuse (inBloom even mentions remedies for types of abuse it anticipates in their privacy agreement), not to mention the tax dollars and education dollars that will be permanently dedicated to these “vendors” to store our private data while these vendors also make money selling this same data to others.

inBloom, Inc, each inBloom, Inc Contractor, and Customers, as applicable, will consistently enforce this Policy with appropriate discipline for its own employees. inBloom, Inc,  each inBloom, Inc Contractor, and each Customer, as applicable, will determine whether violations of this Policy have occurred and, if so, will determine the disciplinary measures to be taken against any director, officer, employee, agent or representative who violates this Policy.

The disciplinary measures may include counseling, oral or written reprimands, warnings, probation or suspension without pay, demotions, reductions in salary, or termination of service or employment, as well as criminal referral to law enforcement, if appropriate.

Persons subject to disciplinary measures may include, in addition to the violator, others involved in the wrongdoing such as (a) persons who fail to use reasonable care to detect a violation, (b) persons who withhold material information regarding a violation, and (c) supervisors who approve or condone the violations or attempt to retaliate against employees or agents or representatives of inBloom, Inc or the inBloom, Inc Contractor for reporting in good faith violations or violators

Grant brings up a point about whether it is necessary to share all this info. It is not. For starters we have an internal unique id that cannot be used to apply for credit cards, or steal someone’s identity like a Social Security number can. Sharing SSN was a decision John White made that serves no purpose except to endanger students, many of whom are already voting adults and should have been provided the opportunity on whether they want to share their own data. What’s more, even inBloom thinks this is a problem which they informed John white about many months ago and which he ignored. Here is a statement from inBloom which also directly contradicts John White’s statements and assurances.

Last month, we learned that Louisiana was utilizing SSN as their local student ID for enrollment for their Course Choice platform which is currently leveraging inBloom services.  We have since been working with the LADOE team to expedite the rollout of a new state-wide student ID.  The Louisiana team felt it best to suspend their use of inBloom services while they assess long-term alternatives to storing SSN’s in inBloom.  We are supportive of this decision given our sensitivity to hosting SSN’s, as described in the Software as a Service Agreements we have already signed with several of you.  Louisiana is the only state or district partner where SSN’s were a concern.  Louisiana remains part of the inBloom consortium and is evaluating the path toward reconnecting the data services in a time and manner aligned with their state instructional improvement goals. 

Why is John White allowed to make such irresponsible decisions, repeatedly, without any oversight, and without any reprimands or consequences?

Chas Roemer and John White have continued to spin another lie about school districts contracting with outside vendors to store their data, and that their arrangement is no different. This was a ridiculous self-serving oversimplification when it was first made, and continues to be one. LEAs (school districts) contract with vendors to hold their data for their own purposes. Usually this data is actually housed internally at larger districts because economies of scale make it both safer and less expensive to do this than to contract with a multitude of private unmonitored vendors. This data is housed on servers only school districts and their student information system vendors have access to, to be used by their internal data reporters and staff.  School district’s data is not strored on “clouds” designed to allow easy access to data from any point in the world. This data is not shipped out to unsupervised warehouses for thousands of out-of-state vendors to peek and tweak for whatever reason they see fit. Just because FERPA (the federal student privacy act) was changed to allow state agencies to provide data (any and all data) to vendors for non-educational purposes, that does not mean it is a good idea to do so. That does not make it necessary to do so. This is a far cry from the safest idea, even according to John White’s own vendor, inBloom, as they note in the passage above. And with costs of up to 60 million or more (just for starters) this is not the least expensive option either.

I wonder how much of this 60 million of Louisiana tax payer money will go towards John White’s salary when he leaves LDOE? This amount dwarfs what Bobby Jindal wanted to trim form the state budget to eliminate the State’s hospice program, which was pegged at 8.3 million over two years, versus the 120 million for two years of the SLC vendors we’ve learned of just by accident.

My thanks go out to Grant Barker and Rachael Sachs. They showed great courage, not many of us have today, let alone at their young age. This may also speak to how outraged and offended they were upon discovering their state Department of Education was selling their data, and selling them out, rather than teaching them. Maybe this was a lesson of sorts? If they don’t already, I know they will recognize that their participation in our government was one of the greatest lessons they could have learned during any class day, and more valuable than any test score or individual school grade they may have earned. I’m just sad they had to speak out, because so many of the adults don’t. I’m sad at how I saw Grant treated by Chas Roemer, who didn’t seem to want to be bothered with a very serious issue to Grant and hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s public school children. Chas kids’ attend private school, so did not have their data shared this way. Chas did not have his own future put in jeopardy, but apparently felt justified in trivializing Grant Barker’s concerns while trying to rush him out of the BESE meeting.

I wonder if Chas would have felt any different if it was his SSN, or his kids’ SSNs and private data floating around on thousands of unsupervised servers on multiple data clouds that no adults will take any responsibility if the data is stolen or abused? Our kids and their parents will be the ones ultimately paying the consequences, shouldn’t our kids and their parents have the final say since Chas Roemer, John White and inBloom refuse to accept any responsibility or even acknowledge the risks?

Has John White lied to BESE and the State of Louisiana, or is inBloom lying?

Has John White lied to BESE and the State of Louisiana, or is inBloom lying?

Regular readers of this blog may be aware that I am fighting the unlawful sharing of private student data to unsupervised private unaccountable vendors. I’ve even started a petition to support this effort. Friday morning I got some good news, or at least I thought I had. John White seemed to come to his senses and agreed to withdraw the student data he supplied to inBloom.

For those not in the know, inBloom is a privately operated data cloud that advertises its ability to host all personal student data, from Social Security Numbers, to names, dates of birth, pictures, medical information, discipline records and history, test scores, etc. John White tried to simply spin his inBloom “partnership” (his word not mine) as a data garage housing “cars” he likened to our students. White claimed like all garages, once the cars are parked there, no one can get the keys so our cars (kids) are perfectly safe.

inBloom cannot see or use any information regarding students or schools in Louisiana. This is like renting space in a parking garage. The garage company may house the car for a while, but it may not touch or use the cars in the garage. While inBloom stores information, inBloom does not have access to the information

At first I thought this was an overly simplistic, condescending analogy, perhaps something thought up by a small child, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he may actually be on to something. So let’s go with it.

Virtual garages, like real garages in real life, can have cars stolen from them all the time at any moment. Putting a car in a garage does not magically make it safe, and actually makes it less safe by virtue of placing it into someone else’s custody who does not have as much vested interest in taking care of your car as you do. What’s more, the “garage” inBloom and similar vendors are proposing will eventually hold all the cars. They want to hold everyone’s data, all their data, in one place. While it’s true cars can be stolen from personal garages, thieves have to go to each garage and steal each car. . . one at a time.  In the virtual garage scenario all thieves have to do is get access to one garage, (the garage) and they can steal everyone’s car (actually all their cars, and any car they’ve ever owned.)

What’s worse is while a car thief might have to go physically to your home or to a real garage and steal a car in the flesh, drive it away manually, and find a buyer one at a time. . .well most hackers actually live in countries outside of the United States like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc. They don’t have to travel to the car (the student data) to steal it. They can steal it from the privacy of their home or “professional” hacking corporation composed of career and sometimes government sponsored and supported hackers.  Their “jobs” are to find vulnerabilities to exploit an steal data and trade secrets. Many foreign governments like China, Iran, and North Korea actually support these efforts.  These foreign “car” thieves can steal all the cars in the blink of an eye and sell them to millions of other criminals just as fast.

So yeah, a virtual garage is a horrible idea, for us. It’s a great idea for criminals and whatever companies like inBloom would like us to believe they are.

Every public garage I’ve parked in has a big disclaimer on the wall when you drive in that the owner of the garage cannot be liable for thefts, damage or stolen property left in the automobiles. When you give the keys to a valet to park your “car” they can damage your car, take it for a joy ride, forget to lock the doors, any number of unpleasant things. . .  And cars have been hot-wired at least since episodes of Starsky and Hutch originally ran on television.

MyParkingSign.com

. . .inBloom has a disclaimer too.

“[inBloom] cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

Pretty familiar, eh? Would you trust a car for permanent storage under such an agreement? Would you trust your child to an establishment that made you sign such an agreement. . . that they are not responsible if your child gets kidnapped, or injured. . .  but they will take “reasonable precautions

Yeah, you’re not taking my kids, you freaks, and I’m not trusting you with their future either, inBloom.  But I digress.

A number of parents, students and legislators have been alerted to this violation of our privacy and an emergency item was placed on the BESE agenda by BESE member Lottie Beebe.  This meeting was held Wednesday the 17th.

Shortly after what has been reported as a “lively” BESE meeting (who knew they had those?) John White promised to release all MOUs and contracts related to data sharing agreements like inBloom or Agilix (another vendor that was uncovered from internal e-mails.)  White then sent out this letter (I mentioned above) to Superintendents and school districts to try and spin and sell his garage idea.  It did not seem to work because the next day he informed BESE members he was withdrawing the state’s data from inBloom.  White implied he was cancelling the contract until he was able to alleviate fears and run such agreements by BESE. He issues this letter to BESE to that effect.

Update
04/18/2013 06:16 PM

Subject

Members:

At Wednesday’s meeting we heard some compelling testimony regarding the state’s and school districts’ data storage practices. It’s an issue worth continued discussion with the board.

The data storage agreement with the inBloom database was undertaken with caution and a sense of responsibility. However, because of the concerns expressed by some parents, and because we have not yet had an in-depth discussion with the board and public about data storage at the agency or district level, I think that it is best for now that we withdraw student information from the inBloom database. I have told our staff to do so and have informed inBloom of our decision.

We have protected student information for decades and take security very seriously. Given the concerns expressed by our most important constituents — students and families — I’d like a chance to discuss our policies and procedures with you before we enter into new relationships with partners providing this service.

Thanks as always for your time. Have a great weekend.

John

John White

Louisiana Department of Education
Twitter @LouisianaSupe

Barbara Leader, with the Monroe News Star, has been investigating this story for the last week and calling folks all over the state (including yours truly) and had interviewed White earlier in the week about inBloom and Louisiana’s role/partnership with this private company. As Barbara was preparing to run a story on Friday, John White contacted her out of the blue to announce his decision to “seemingly” rescind his agreement.

Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White says he is withdrawing Louisiana student information from a non-profit database, just two days after he assured Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members that the data was safe and could not be distributed without DOE approval.

This seemed like good news and I was grateful to Barbara for covering this story that was so dear to so many parents and children. While I was unable to make the Wednesday meeting I heard there was a robust turnout and even some brave students from Mandeville High School showed up to testify against this unlawful data sharing. I can’t speak for these students, but many of our students are 18 or older and had no say and no knowledge of the inBloom agreement and did not give permission to share their details with private vendors. The only folks who seemed aware of these agreements of questionable legality were White’s inner circle but not BESE which is supposed to review and approve such contracts by law.

However just when I thought things might be going well I was forwarded this tweet from inBloom’s official twitter account that got me to thinking. . .

inBloom@inBloomEdu

.@frankcatalano
@audreywatters Louisiana still part of inBloom community. Many inaccuracies in coverage

I asked inBloom to explain this cryptic tweet that they sent to other education reporters, but so far they have not elaborated. Nevertheless it brought to mind a question. I never did see what John White actually sent to inBloom to cancel his legal agreement with them – to withdraw “student information from the inBloom database.”  Did you?

Did he withdraw it all?

Did he simply tell inBloom to lay low while he “handles” those yokels in Louisiana?

Did John White make a jaded calculation that if he placated us on a Friday release, he could take advantage of the Boston Bombing coverage and people would simply forget about this come Monday? Later he could go back to BESE and get them to rubberstamp his agreement while no one was watching?

I wonder who is lying?

Did John White actually lie to BESE, to the Monroe News Star, to our legislators, to all the citizens of Louisiana?

Is this inBloom’s desperate attempt to stop other states from pulling out of the inBloom project? Perhaps. . . but if they are shown to be lying that will only further damage their credibility. Would inBloom risk lying about something that is easily disproved with the simple production of the John White cancellation notification?

I would ask that John White clears this up right away. He still has not produced the MOU that he promised to produce at the April 17th BESE meeting. Surely to cancel such a contract (which by law he would have been required to create to share student data like name, Date of Birth and Social Security number) he would have had to review it to determine how exactly to go around cancelling that agreement? White could not have shared the data in the first place (even under the weakened FERPA laws) without this legal document, a contract or MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) describing duties, uses, what data was to be shared, and under which circumstances the agreement could be cancelled.

I strongly encourage John White to produce the MOU with inBloom that he promised to punctually produce at Wednesday’s meeting and to produce the subsequent cancellation notification this contract would have required that he sent to inBloom. That’s all it will take to demonstrate that inBloom is lying, or at least in error, and they he did not lie to all of us, over and over.

However it occurred to me that maybe John White is lying, if not about this, maybe something else.  So just to be on the safe side, I felt this warranted me looking into John White’s other claims at this point. I contacted Barbara Leader, who produced the article for the Monroe News Star that announced John White was withdrawing from his inBloom agreement to ask for something she mentioned in her article. . .the file layout John White provided to back up his claim he only provided:

In an email to The News-Star, White said that “the only student info we are storing in this garage: local student ID, first name, last name, gender, date of birth, ethnicity and race.”

You see, I know a little bit about data, especially Louisiana Department of Education data, having worked in that area for almost 9 years, so there was something that bothered me about this statement. You see, local student ID is optional, and most school districts don’t send it. State ID is required, and is about 98% of the time the student’s Social Security Number. The local ID field did not seem like it could possibly be correct since most of them are blank.. Then when I looked at the rest of the fields, and looked at this description of who John White said would be using this or a similar database (if a similar database it’s one he did not cancel yet) in this statement:

John White, Superintendent of Louisiana Schools, says, “By connecting to IBDS, Agilix opens a lot of doors for our Course Choice product not only for registration but also for detailed analysis of student performance. We expect this will assist greatly in tracking and reporting results of Course Choice adoption to state authorities.”

Did you catch it? J Probably not, but let me explain. White said this would be used for registration. This information would have to be sent to school districts and registration through school districts to keep track of student performance and what their kids have register for unless LDE plans to handle all that in-house. Even then you would need to know a few more basic things, like grade level, where the child is enrolled, if they are still enrolled, etc. You can’t get all that from those 7 elements. You’d need more. The News Star Reported John White provided documentation that only those 7 elements were shared, so I figured I’d just check myself. I asked Barbara to forward the file John White sent to her to me. This is it, and I’ll explain what I found.


<?xml version=”1.0″ ?>

<InterchangeStudentParent xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance” xmlns=”http://ed-fi.org/0100” xsi:schemaLocation=”http://ed-fi.org/0100 ../../../../../../domain/src/main/resources/edfiXsd/Interchange-StudentParent.xsd“>

<Student>

<StudentUniqueStateId>999999999</StudentUniqueStateId>

<Name>

<FirstName>JANE</FirstName>

<LastSurname>DOE</LastSurname>

</Name>

<Sex>Female</Sex>

<BirthData>

<BirthDate>2005-05-19</BirthDate>

</BirthData>

<Address>

<StreetNumberName>No Data Exists</StreetNumberName>

<City>No Data Exists</City>

<StateAbbreviation>LA</StateAbbreviation>

<PostalCode>0000000</PostalCode>

</Address>

<Telephone>

<TelephoneNumber>0</TelephoneNumber>

</Telephone>

<ElectronicMail>

<EmailAddress>No Data Exists</EmailAddress>

</ElectronicMail>

<ProfileThumbnail>No Data Exists</ProfileThumbnail>

<HispanicLatinoEthnicity>false</HispanicLatinoEthnicity>

<Race>

<RacialCategory>White</RacialCategory>

</Race>

</Student>


<StudentSchoolAssociation>

<StudentReference>

<StudentIdentity>

<StudentUniqueStateId>999999999</StudentUniqueStateId>

</StudentIdentity>

</StudentReference>

<SchoolReference>

<EducationalOrgIdentity>

<StateOrganizationId>032023</StateOrganizationId>

</EducationalOrgIdentity>

</SchoolReference>

<EntryDate>2012-08-09</EntryDate>

<EntryGradeLevel>Twelfth grade</EntryGradeLevel>

</StudentSchoolAssociation>

John White unwittingly sent us a file for yet another (third?) data aggregator he shared student data with and did not run by BESE. You see, these xml files look like they came from and/or go to Ed-Fi if you read the header for this file. Ed-Fi is yet another data aggregation company owned by a different set of billionaires, Michael and Susan Dell. inBloom is a company created by another pair of billionaires, Bill and Melinda Gates. A third company, Amplify, which partnering with inBloom was set up by yet another billionaire named Rupert Murdoch of News Corp and child phone hacking fame.

This is how Ed-Fi describes itself.

The Ed-Fi Solution

The Ed-Fi solution is an educational data standard and tool suite (unifying data model, data exchange framework, application framework, and sample dashboard source code) that enables vital academic information on K-12 students to be consolidated from the different data systems of school districts while leaving the management and governance of data within those districts and states. Ed-Fi components act as a translator of academic data, integrating and organizing information so that educators can start addressing the individual needs of each student from day one, and can measure progress and refine action plans throughout the school year.

This Ed-Fi tidbit reminded me of some internal e-mails I’d obtained some time ago but had not figured out how to connect to anything, until now.  These are correspondence from John White, and Ed-Fi where he was exploring a relationship with Ed-Fi.  This was done either before or while simultaneously working with inBloom.

Here’s some of the correspondence from over a year ago with Ed-Fi. (DOE apparently provides their FOIA requests as a sideways oriented image files to make use very difficult. You will have to orient them image one rotation clockwise to view.)

To summarize this set of emails: it appears the Louisiana Department of Education was sending data to Ed-Fi too, long before inBloom. I wonder how many other groups like this John White has been sharing with? Agilix seems like another one as well as the Course Choice providers. Did White simply sacrifice inBloom to save all these other relationships, perhaps 4 that we know of at this point?

It seems quite likely we’ve been duped and inBloom was offered up as a sacrificial lamb.

Now to get back to the Ed-Fi file John White has characterized as the inBloom file. Let’s assume these are the same elements that were actually provided to inBloom. . . too. I notice that Grade level is included, site code is included of which the first three characters are the school district ID, entry date is include, and State ID (the student’s SSN) not the local ID was sent to Ed-Fi and or inBloom. That’s a shame, EdFi was only asking for a unique ID, not SSN, but John White decided to send a less accurate number for tracking unique students but more dangerous for students. I can tell we sent the SSN because they DOE shows they are sending a 9 character number and our unique internal state ID is 10 characters to make differentiation readily apparent. SSN is a totally unnecessary bit of info that can be used for identity theft especially with the date of birth and name John White is also helpfully (for criminals) providing.

What I find intriguing is that there are empty spots for the student’s address, their picture, their phone number and e-mail address. I can’t think of a reason to leave those in the file unless you’re leaving them as placeholders to fill later.

To summarize:

  • John White can prove he did not falsely inform BESE and the state of Louisiana about cancelling a contract with inBloom he has no intention of cancelling by production of the cancellation agreement.
  • John White can prove he did not lie to BESE that he would produce the inBloom MOU and all other sharing/partnership agreements by doing so quickly and in good faith.
  • We need to know how many vendors has John White shared date with already and not recalled . . . but it appears to be at least 3 more. . . (Ed-Fi, Course Choice, Agilix)
  • John White may not have cancelled the inBloom contract as he claimed. InBloom has publicly claimed otherwise.
  • John White sent more than the 7 data elements he claimed to BESE and the Monroe News Star that he sent. It also looks like he plans to send much more sensitive data at a later date.
  • John White has definitely already sent private student data to Ed-Fi, an inBloom like operation, as much as a year ago, based on the internal e-mail trail and file spec. He did not notify school districts or BESE about this agreement to my knowledge.  (I will be happy to amend this statement if somone can show me that I’m wrong.)

Now, what are we going to do about this?

Rather than fess up to a budget shortfall (and make Jindal sad), White chooses to steal money from schools

I just read an article on The Lens that tripped my BS meter. (Pretty much anytime John White opens his mouth it goes off these days.) It’s about school counts and funding, which I was in charge of for almost 9 years before John White arrived on this scene with his band of bandits.

Only a few months before their fiscal year ends, some of the city’s schools – whether they’ve budgeted for it or not – will be getting $181 less per student in local revenue, a cut of 4 percent.

Most people probably won’t catch what happened, and they are bewildered, as well they should be. White just played a little sleight of hand trick on everyone, making schools that have more students at the February count, inexplicably owe money to the State (instead of vice versa) as has been the case ever since we switched over to two collections starting in 2006-2007 after Katrina. The February count is the Official MFP count, and impacts payments made in March until the October 1st count of the following school year – which is an update from the previous year’s MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula. What has happened in the 9 years I was over this area (and having the provide justifications twice a year for the increase and decrease to our office of Management and Finance) is that school districts that lost 50 or more students in October over the previous school year’s February count, had their funding stream reduced until the next official MFP count, and school districts with increases over 50 students had their funding increased. February is the official count and school districts get their funding based on this new count, down to the student, that’s kind of what makes it a per pupil count. A per pupil count does not go down when you get more students, and up when you have fewer students, that’s kind of the opposite of a per-pupil count, ya know?

Though the per-pupil amount for the 2012-13 school year was projected to be $4,110 a child, an influx of 1,257 additional students, as well as an unexpected $1.7 million increase in fees for legacy costs, has cut the allocation to $3,929 per child this year, education department officials said.

You see if Orleans had an influx of more students, that would mean the per pupil amount Orleans was able to supply would be cut because they same pot of money would have to be divided among more students, meaning less per student, right? That would mean the state would actually have to increase their contribution to keep the funding level with the previous year.

Per-pupil state allocations to schools in all 64 parishes are based on what’s called the Minimum Foundation Program. They are designed to increase if local revenues decrease, assuring, at least theoretically, that students in poorer parishes can receive an education comparable to what’s available in richer parishes. An increase of $244 per student that OPSB schools received for the 2012-13 school year was based on projected enrollments and revenue, not actual enrollments and revenue, Padian said.

In the past (like every year since 2006) the Louisiana department of education would have to make supplemental requests to keep up with the increases in students. This would be the first time I heard an increase in students resulted in a net decrease for a parish or school district.

This is simply a brazen money grab to defer asking the legislature for additional funding for the additional students. If White is allowed to do this, he is essentially doing away with per-pupil funding and converting it to a lump sum for a school district, regardless of their population or needs. That makes his budgeting easier, but shifts all the burden and scrambling to the school districts, where it does not belong.

School districts need to be given the money they are promised, and when their student populations go up, their funding should increase. That’s simple math, that’s per-pupil funding, and that’s just plain common sense. I’m not sure where John White learned his “new MFP math”, but he is in desperate need of a refresher before he bankrupts our school districts through his ignorance and White lies.