Louisiana Believes Course Choice Providers Should Defraud the State

Louisiana Believes Course Choice Providers Should Defraud the State

It’s become increasingly clear that Louisiana believes that a certain amount of fraud, waste, and graft is a good thing, and a lot of any of these things is a whole lot better!

From the outset, Course Choice (ala carte online courses children can take to supplement their educational diets paid for by tax payers) has been fraught with what most states would consider scandalous and irresponsible – at best. Providers of Course Choice do not require certifications to teach or offer classes, and the rigorous approval John White has alluded to in various interviews is simply copying the names of the courses (from adobe .pdf files provided by vendors) into a spreadsheet, and then verifying that the names are entered correctly into the Course Choice database. A former DOE staffer related this story about verifying Course Choice providers and their credentials.

I was at one meeting last fall. Ken Bradford, Dave Lefkowith, and others from the “content team” were in the room. Bradford’s concern was how to claim that all of the Course Choice teachers were licensed in Louisiana. Lefkowith wanted to put them all on Louisiana out of state certificates, then got mad when they discovered the certificates were only good for three years. Someone suggested simply having the vendors sign an assurance that their instructors were certified in their appropriate states. (How would you check on that if you were DOE?) I don’t know what they eventually went with, since I asked too many questions and was not invited to any more meetings. It’s the John White way.

And now you understand why he is a former staffer.

John White refused to vet any of the applicants and has ceded approval of these Course Choice providers and their classes to the school districts. Children are recruited into classes by folks recruited from Craigslist ads.

Help change the landscape of public education in Louisiana!
On your own time!
With the potential to make $75k+ in 6 months or less!
Company Description: SmartStart Virtual Academy (“SVA”) (a division of SmartStart Education) is a state-approved Course Choice provider. This means that SVA has been authorized to offer FREE courses to high-school students in the state of Louisiana for graduation credit. SVA is offering 22 approved courses — both core-classes (such as reading, math and science) and career-ready courses (such as web-design and publishing).”

Actual FastPath recruit
Actual FastPath recruit

They’ll change the landscape alright, but not for the better. These folks have no experience in education or the courses they are recruiting students for. Course Choice providers claim these folks are simply paid an hourly rate, while claiming they can earn up to 75,000 dollars in 6 months. I’m not sure how many hours or what the rate is, but working a 40 hour week that mean these recruiters are being paid more than 72 dollars an hour regardless of whether they sign up a single student for a single class?

In his response, Callaway said, “We have a strict protocol that all of our representatives follow, and they are paid a flat hourly rate for their work ($16 per hour, according to FastPath’s ad).

For those of you not wishing to do the math, to earn 75,000 dollars in 6 months at 16 dollars an hour you would have to work 180 hours a week. However based on the most state of the art calculations to date most 7 day weeks only contain 168 hours. At the very least, this would require significant regular time travel. However, let’s assume these Craigslist recruited employees have developed reliable time travel and rather than use it to kill Hitler or win all the lottery’s under assumed names, they’ve chosen to go door to door at all hours of the day and night recruiting kids into online courses. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone can earn a rate of 150,000 dollars a year without showing any results – unless you are a John White appointed LDOE employee. So it doesn’t take a great math wiz to figure out these guys have to enroll great quantities of students to remain employed and justify the absurd amounts they are getting paid. Also keep in mind that many of the courses these guys offer are in math.

Some of the courses for students allegedly signed up for in Webster included math courses entitled Single Variable Equations, Two Variable Equations, Number Line Inequalities, Applied Linear Equations 1 and 2, Quadratic Formula, Quadratic X-Intercepts, Trinomial Factoring and Graphs to Linear Inequalities.

They expect us to “trust” them with our children and to be respectful of their privacy and their data when they recruit their own employees with lies from Craigslist, a website used by prostitutes and pimps to recruit Johns and for serial murders and rapists to recruit victims. That actually sounds just about right for John White, but we should expect better for our children. Is it any wonder this happened?

One of those registering for courses in Webster Parish was a parent and “at least one was a Severe Profound child,” said a spokesperson for the Webster School Board. “The recruiters went down the street knocking on doors,” he said.

In response to the claims that over 1100 students are enrolled in classes without their knowledge in just three northern parishes (Webster, Caddo and Bossier) alone, the legislature and LDOE has been strangely silent, except to continue to defend the program. In response to criticism that he failed to properly monitor or vet the program, Superintendent John White responded thusly:

However, state Superintendent of Education John White strongly denies that any fraudulent students have been enrolled for courses. Checks and balances — designed to catch errors or suspect enrollments — in the Course Choice program are working, White said.

In other words, John White is claiming the rejection of fraudulent enrollments by local school district personnel is proof his genius plan is working. John White is putting the responsibility for whether a student gets enrolled illegally or not all in the local school districts laps. If a student gets enrolled for the wrong class, or Mickey Mouse or Clint Eastwood gets enrolled, that’s Bossier’s fault. John White does not believe the state DOE bears any burden for filtering fraudulent providers, or investigating fraudulent enrollments, nor that there should be any sanctions for providers turning in enrollments that are inappropriate or fraudulent 100% of the time – as happened in this case!

I suppose he does make a good point, though.  Given John White’s record on supervising data collections its much safer to have the school districts do this.  However, we’re only a few months in and with only 3 of 69 city/parishes reporting.  Do any of you feel comfortable calling this election to use fraud and trickery to enroll unqualified student’s over?  Personally, I’d find it pretty hard to believe this bogus enrollment story stops here. Fortunately for the Course Choice providers this legislative session will end in June 6th or sooner, and John White will be long gone to DC by the end of June, leaving this hefty check with us. But John White wasn’t content to leave the situation there, he is insisting that the School districts are up to no good, by doing their job and verifying data.

“When you see school systems like Bossier where 100 percent of the kids are not approved for the program, and in Caddo where it’s 95 percent and so on, it seems odd to have numbers that high and leads me to believe the school system is using the oversight they have to keep students out of the program,” White said.

To be fair, verifying data is something Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera recently expressed the opinion that John White knows nothing about. John White later confirmed complying with state law on charter schools was not something he felt he should commit any resources to do.

But to get back to White’s point, sure, I suppose what he is suggesting is one possibility.  Here are some more likely possibilities though:

  • Paying thugs you recruit off the street to enroll as many people, pets, and cartoon characters is as unsound as it sounds.
  • Perhaps hiring Course Choice pimps to push courses and free iPads for enrolling gets a lot of kids interested in signing up for as many courses as they can, regardless of what they are, is unwise and wasteful?
  • Perhaps using people without education backgrounds to discuss enrolling course work with kids of all ages, without any educational background or history is just plain stupid?
  • Perhaps allowing LDOE to approve every single vendor and course without any formal evaluation process in place, and zero certification requirements is the stuff dumb people’s dreams are made of?
  • Perhaps a meteor struck the earth and created  a focused electrical surge that scrambled the vendor’s good data with the bad data they turned in?

All more likely scenario’s than John White’s.

But what really happened? This is one of the reports of how this “recruitment drive” worked.

As in Caddo and Webster parishes, representatives of FastPath Learning reportedly drove into certain neighborhoods in Homer and Haynesville, disembarked from a “green van” and began handing out fliers to children offering a free laptop for signing up for Course Choice programs.

“They are not talking to the parents,” said [Claiborne schools Superintendent Janice] Williams, who personally contacted some of them to learn how their children were enrolled. “It’s malicious and deceptive on their behalf, the Course Choice providers, working in this area. It’s upsetting to me as a superintendent. They are going behind my back and gathering students and not letting me know they are in the district.”

So just what kinds of problems are being found by the folks that are actually reviewing these applications? (John White, since this is not you, you don’t have a right to answer.)

Jody Kaiser, who oversees Course Choice for Bossier, said the school system saw a recent influx of students signed up for the statewide program whose parents were unaware their child was enrolled for Course Choice. The district also saw students signed up for the program who were not enrolled in Bossier Parish schools, Kaiser said.

“We’ve tried in many cases and have seen the students are listed in Bossier but actually attend a school in Caddo or we can’t find any record of them at all,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said he is personally investigating each Course Choice application that comes to the district to determine whether the classes are the right fit for students. He has yet to find one offered by an outside vendor that would be appropriate for the student in question, Kaiser said.

There really is no point trying to make a case for what Course Choice could be in the “Ideal World” John White and LDOE tries to paint in the media. My previous link points to an article at the Pelican Post, which is total BS and has been debunked from top to bottom by me, other local bloggers like Tom Aswell at Louisiana Voice, Mike Deshotels at Louisiana Educator, and Dr. Mercedes Schneider at Deutsch29 as well as even more mainstream publications like the ShrevePort Times. Let me be blunt here. The real world of Course Choice recruiters is in all likelihood sexual predators who have eluded detection to date, drug addicts, and felons without a conviction in the last 5 years roaming your streets while you’re at work, offering iPads to your kids if they open the door and chat a while, perhaps provide a little personal information.

“Don’t worry,” they’ll say, “we work for the Louisiana Department of Education, and we’re legit. . . just let us in. . . that’s some nice jewelry your mom’s wearing in that picture. . . is that your bedroom?”

You may think this is alarmist, but with a 100% rejection rate, they guys can’t be discussing education that much, now can they?

'nuff said
’nuff said

To end this on a more amusing note I will debunk a new claim I saw made by the Pelican Post. (I couldn’t resist)

In order to assist schools with the process of enrollment, the Louisiana Department Of Education has set up a robust assistance center on the Course Choice website.

Welcome below to what greets you at the robust assistance center. You’d think it would be a little more “robust” what with all the confusion out there about Course Choice, wouldn’t you?

I actually kind of reminds me of the Louisiana Department of Education website. It’s just as functional but more direct. I recommend John White consider replacing his louisianabelieves website with a “robust” one like this one.

Can these guys be for real? Am I on one giant, overly elaborate and really unfunny Punk’d episode, or is John White’s PR team really this inept?

Lefty's first time using Craigslist
Lefty’s first time using Craigslist
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My release of the John White, Alan Seabaugh taped conversation

My release of the John White, Alan Seabaugh taped conversation

I have been getting requests to release the taped conversation between Alan Seabaugh and John White discussing the manipulation of VAM, or the Value Added Modeling system devised by the state to evaluate teacher performance to serve a few of Seabaugh’s constituents. I did not receive the full 14 minutes that Tom Aswell received, just 3 or so minutes of some of the more interesting points, but without the full context. I think I have mined my piece pretty well for interesting nuggets but feel free to review it yourselves to see if you spot anything else interesting.

Audio removed by request as of 2/12/15  (I will need to create a revised one.)

I think it’s kinda cute how John White is using his big boy voice to talk to one of our legislators. You tell he’s really straining his diaphragm to summon up a deeper voice, and at points I worry he will let out a little squeak or perhaps exhaust himself before the conversation is over. Boy, that would be embarrassing. As it is, he just calmly explains how you can’t always rely on the data, especially when the data doesn’t show what you want it to show. No problem, and no need to bring this point up to BESE. Its much easier to randomly assign “bonus points” to favored teachers or teacher groups to get them to have the scores you want them to have. What’s nice about this approach is you can simultaneously sully the reputations of teachers teaching more challenging, poor, or black students and drive them out of the profession. This makes it easier to bring in charter school operators, who don’t require certified teachers at all! It also makes voucher schools look like better options by comparison. If you drive down the quality of public schools enough, well eventually those voucher schools which score 30 points lower on standardized (LEAP) tests public schools are given, will start to look like a good deal, or at least muddy the narrative a little by making them look not so obviously, dreadfully, worse.

I don’t have the full 14 minutes of the conversation.  For that you will have to contact Tom Aswell at Louisiana Voice, but this might still provide some interesting insight into how things really work between, BESE, Jindal, John White and the legislature.  And for future reference, if you are a constituent of Alan Seabaugh up in Shreveport, you might try contacting him for personal favors since that appears to work.  Perhaps he can get DOTD to repave your driveway, or DEQ to take out your trash?  Hey, it’s worth a shot, right?

thrown me something

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

John White is likely to be gone by the end of June but Louisiana will still have its work cut out cleaning up the messes he will leave behind.  Some of those messes off the top of my head are:

but what I’m going to tackle now is the fatally flawed COMPASS and VAM system that even John White’s own staff agree is racially and socioeconomically biased – as you can see from this internal e-mail below that circulated before the Seabaugh Solution was reaffirmed by White.

I want you to read the passages I highlighted and let that sink in before I explain.  COMPASS is a teacher evaluation system designed for Louisiana.   It was initially developed with the help of an out-of-state researcher named Charlotte Danielson, who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities in this field.  However Ms Danielson has done more than simply distance herself from our evaluation system.

Danielson was surprised to hear the state was launching a teacher observation tool without first trying it out in a few districts. Before Tennessee made its evaluation system a state requirement last year, for example, it experimented for a year with various observation models in schools across the state.

“It’s never a good idea to use something for high stakes without working out the bugs,” Danielson said. “The thing I worry about from a purely selfish standpoint is that my name gets associated with something people hate, and I’m not happy about that.”

Besides making people unhappy, mistakes could also end up costing the state, Danielson warned. “I worry a lot [that] if we have systems that are high stakes and low rigor, we’re going to end up with court cases,” she said.

You see, we only took a few of the simplest metrics she developed 5 of 22.

Louisiana has adopted part, but not all, of her framework for use in classroom observations, which will factor into a teacher’s annual score and which will ultimately determine whether educators can keep their jobs.

Although Danielson helped the state create a shortened version of her system at its request, she’s worried her truncated observation checklist could create problems for teachers and evaluators.

“I think it decreases accuracy. I think that’s an almost certain consequence,” she said.

Louisiana adopted the new system to comply with Act 54, a law passed in 2010 aimed at improving teacher quality in the state with more intensive, annual teacher evaluations. Half of a teacher’s rating will be calculated based on how he or she scores in the observation, and half will be determined by how students perform on standardized tests. Teachers who perform poorly on the evaluations could lose their certification.

But more than that, teachers could be fired as well, based on a model the creator of which claims is quite likely flawed because of its simplicity.  However what many of you might not realize is that teacher effectiveness is also determined by the VAM, or Value Added Modeling score.  In fact, when there is a difference between VAM and the COMPASS evaluation, VAM is the score a teacher gets, which means the COMPASS evaluation is essentially useless for 1/3 of all teachers which have a VAM score because they teach a test evaluated subject.  The VAM system was built on a questionable premise to being with, but what little credibility it might have gained was completely annihilated by John White and Alan Seabaugh’s tinkering with the system for personal reasons.

However even more alarming is that the solution adopted seems to punish teachers who teach our neediest students, students from the poorest backgrounds.  The way it does this is by giving “bonus points” to teachers teaching more advanced students, which tend to be more affluent ones.  VAM is based on a curve.  Everyone can’t get an A.  Effectiveness ratings are based on where teachers fall in the curve, where the top 10-20 % are the most effective, and the lowest 10-20 % are the least effective.  In this type of scheme, both success and failure are guaranteed, and your success is entirely dependent on the success of those around you.  When some teachers are given bonus points to lift their scores, this causes teachers without these points to drop into lower categories.  The Seabaugh Solution involves giving bonus points to teachers teaching advanced students, which means they will never be found ineffective, thus immune to  most of the negative implications of COMPASS and VAM and more likely to earn financial incentives.  Teachers teaching students in schools with poorly performing students, which are mostly poor and black, will be that much more likely to be found lacking. . .  and subject to being stripped of tenure, or even dismissed.

The COMPASS system and VAM must be abandoned.  John White has failed at everything he tried to do in Louisiana, and everything he has done has failed.  Now it’s time to clean up the rest of his mess.  We can start by eliminating VAM and COMPASS and the people he brought in from out of state like Hannah Dietsch and Molly Horstman to oversee a system that was known to be racially biased, politically tampered with and so poorly designed and implemented that the person who helped create it no longer wants her name associated with it, because she thinks it’s so bad and so unfair it could expose us to lawsuits that would be easily won.

Time to start eliminating the mess. . .
Time to start eliminating the mess. . .

Louisiana Charter School Audit Reveals Faux-Accountability

Great work, Mercedes. We have two other obstacles to data quality for charters. Erin Bendily, Jindal’s secret superintendent and Kim Nesmith, DOEs ironically named Data Quality Director, who directs staff to have zero quality for the accuracy of their data.

deutsch29

In October 2012, I sent the following email to Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera requesting a performance audit of Louisiana’s charter schools. I did so in response to having read the US Department of Education’s audit of charters in Arizona, California, and Florida:

request for La. charter schools audit

From: Mercedes Schneider <deutsch29@aol.com>

To: dpurpera <dpurpera@lla.la.gov>

Date: Fri, Oct 26, 2012 11:51 p.m.

Attachment: US Dept of Ed Charter Audit

Mr. Purpera, attached is the US inspector general’s audit of US Dept of Ed’s oversight charter schools in California, Florida, and Arizona. As you will note from reading, the US Dept of Ed is seriously lacking in their rigor in their management of both charter school educational quality and fiscal responsibility.The lack of rigor evident in management of California, Florida, and Arizona charter schools is likely problematic in Louisiana, as well. First, there is notable turnover in the charter…

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Reports surface that DOE Superintendent John White is out the door for Washington to further validate Peter Principle

I tried to ask him yesterday for his departure date so we could plan his going away party (for the next day) but he refused to reply to me as well. 🙂 First round is on me!

Louisiana Voice

In the late ‘60s psychologist Dr. Laurence J. Peter advanced what became known as the Peter Principle which said, in effect, that “In a hierarchically-structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.”

Put another way: “The cream rises until it sours.”

A good case in point, of course, would be Michael Brown, the notoriously inept head of FEMA, as evidence by his botched effort at coordinating recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Brown had previously served admirably as commissioner of judges for the International Arabian Horse Association but that job hardly prepared him for handling a job of the magnitude of major hurricane recovery efforts.

The same may be said of John White, who despite his abysmal record as Louisiana Superintendent of Education, may soon be promoted to yet a new level of incompetence.

Rumors have persisted for several days now that White would…

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LA and the Recovery School District approach (SB1718): A P.T. Barnum Circus

Great post about RSD and LDOE and great Photoshop work as well. Other States are trying to replicate RSD type arrangements across the United States. If you have been victimized by our RSD or know someone who has please post here or on Julian’s blog and share your experience. DOE wont let us have data to disprove their lies, but they can’t stop you or silence your voices. Now is the time to speak-out to prevent more children from.being victimized by this injustice.

Cloaking Inequity

I suspect P.T. Barnum would be proud of the showmanship eminating from Louisiana— an educational policy circus. The Recovery School District has been acclaimed as “a game changer for New Orleans” and very likely today be up for a vote in the Texas House in Senate Bill 1718— and perhaps soon in a Legislature near you.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, businessman, scam artist and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Wikipedia).

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 5.47.35 AM

What we know from Louisiana so far…

“The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.” P.T. Barnum

Louisiana has trumpet their educational reforms across the nation. Secretary Duncan is also a fan. The Washington Post reported he stated:

I think the best thing that happened to the education system…

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More sordid details emerging in apparent fraudulent Course Choice registrations in three northwest Louisiana parishes

More great investigative work by Tom Aswell, one of the few true investigative reporters left in Louisiana.

Louisiana Voice

It’s not always writer’s block when you have trouble putting your thoughts into something resembling comprehensible form.

In the case of the Louisiana Department of Education’s (DOE) Course Choice program, the players are so intertwined as to be considered downright incestuous.

It’s not enough that the State Supreme Court has ruled that Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funds cannot be used to pay the tuition for Course Choice. Superintendent of Education John White has given every indication that he fully intends to plunge ahead with Course Choice and vouchers.

The depth of the apparent fraud is already emerging, even before Course Choice is really up and running, at a staggering rate sufficient to alert every investigative agency in Baton Rouge, from the local district attorney to state Attorney General and Legislative Auditor’s office to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

So where are they?

No, it’s not writer’s block. This convoluted mess called…

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