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