Amidst a Catastrophic Budget Crisis Louisiana Legislators Vote to Fully Fund a Charter Boarding School Forever

Should Louisiana start funding private boarding schools amidst a catastrophic budget crisis?

The vast majority of the Louisiana Legislature, including most of our fiscal hawks, believe we should. The Senate voted unanimously to approve HB and the House only registered two nays in approving HB887.

This bill now sits on John Bel Edwards desk; ready for signing.

(I will explain why I recommend calling your Reps and Senators to register your displeasure with their actions and to urge them to ask John Bel to veto House Bill 887.)

I would like to assume most of our legislators did not understand the implications of what they were doing when they voted to approve HB887.  I would like to think no one was aware of the larger backstory surrounding this EBR Charter boarding school called THRIVE – but I’m not that naive. Still, I have trouble believing most of our legislators understood the financial implications and shady dealings this school has already engaged in with taxpayer dollars.  Our legislature might have been overwhelmed by the lengthy session and compelled by the embellished feel-good story Thrive’s website and supporters are peddling – that THRIVE was envisioned and founded after one of Sara Broome’s students was killed.  (It was actually a student that went to a school Sara used to to teach at, one she “never actually had sit down had in her classroom” according to her own slickly produced Ted-talk on her “success” with THRIVE. (look at 2:45) However I agree, the way THRIVE and their supporters currently represent it sounds more dramatic and is a more efficient and effective use of a child’s tragic stabbing.)

Now that the dust is settled it’s time to fix what the legislature broke, and not just because we’re broke but because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do for our already heavily levied taxpayers; for the destitute critically ill patients that will die; abandoned elderly with no family left alive to care for them; abused children we can’t afford to watch or rescue; and disabled children who will lose basic support and education services.  These are groups who were told by this legislature that they would have to do without because “our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”  The story of HB887 indicates this may very well be true.

Amidst all the draconian cuts to services for some of our neediest citizens (and unaffordable though overdue raises for state workers) THRIVE was given a blank check to run a school usually only associated with the uber wealthy, a boarding school where parents can dump their kids off while taxpayers pay for their every need.

THRIVE started with 20 students in 2012. Their stated objective is reaching 350 in the near future and 420 by 2020. (THRIVE’s last publicly available count is 110 from October 2015)  Prior to HB887, this school was already granted 5 million by the legislature to procure buildings for this endeavor.

  • $1,000,000 through Act 15 of 2014 (general fund budget)
  • $4,000,000 through Act 26 of 2015 (capital outlay budget)

While it appears this money was intended to have been used to procure buildings for domiciling resident students, and save on rental costs, the minutes of the meeting of the Board of Directors of THRIVE Baton Rouge dated November 5, 2015 indicate that THRIVE Baton Rouge sold all of its property to THRIVE Foundation, a separate non-profit, for “fair market value.” The same minutes of the Board of Directors of THRIVE Baton Rouge indicate that it leased back the same property that it sold to THRIVE Foundation.

These types of arrangements are common for charter schools operators like Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies (which also operate charter schools around our state.) This allows an operator to extract assets purchased with tax payer dollars, that would normally revert to the school district or state, for themselves.  This is done to generate enormous profits from non-profit charter school situations, by charging rents and fees for administrative services through a separate but affiliated and wholly controlled agent – usually at rates far above market prices.  As the enrollment of the THRIVE charter school has grown, so has its rent.  This is rent it would not have had to pay if it retained control of the buildings it purchased with enormous taxpayer outlays.  This “rent” paid by THRIVE Charter School goes into the coffers of THRIVE Foundation – a non-profit corporation that does not have an agreement to return assets to the state or school district (which is in addition to other funding it receives from MFP and private donors.)  Not counting private funding or endowments, THRIVE’s current estimated per pupil ratio is around 24,000 per student per year, more than twice MFP (what every other school district receives per student which is estimated at 11,000 per year by the legislator auditor documenting the relative costs of this bill.)

However, if we divide the 5 million dollars this school received in Acts 15 and 26, by the number of students this school has served throughout its entire existence, we get approximately another twenty thousand per student cost footed by the state.  Before we even factor in any other grants THRIVE has received from government programs, private donors and philanthropies THRIVE’s cost per student was already thirty two thousand per year. Now, with the state picking up the remainder of the tab, forever, the cost rises to over 40,000 dollars per student, per year, compared to a $11,000 cost to a traditional school district (largely made up of local and federal dollars.)  These excess dollars are fully covered by the State General Fund.

Almost all of our legislators approved this arrangement in House Bill 887 although you unless you are a researcher and accountant you might not understand the large, long-term financial implications from a simple reading of this bill.  To get those types of details you need to look at the Legislative Auditor’s fiscal notes and do some pre-Common Core math.

The auditors expect this program to cost, at a minimum, 8.3 million a year at 350 students, or closer to 10 million dollars at the 420 students THRIVE has indicated they want to achieve by 2020 in their PR handout.  According to the fiscal note that accompanied HB887, this bill actually creates a brand new State agency, and it expects the costs associated with complying with state laws and benefits will take this price tag (to state taxpayers) even higher (and are incalculable at this time.)  So while some legislators were trying to generate revenue or implement tax cuts to address our out of control budget spending, Representative Steve Carter of Baton Rouge was creating a new State agency that adds a minimum of 10 million dollars annually to the state budget. A legislature tasked with reigning in the budget virtually unanimously approved this 10 million+ dollar annual spending idea and sent it to the the Governor’s desk to sign – where it sits now.

Maybe this is what you elected your state Senators and Representatives to do, but I would guess that the majority of you did not expect them to write a blank check to create a private boarding school funded by state taxpayer dollars for all of eternity; a school that has no limits on how large it can expand or how high the price tag can ultimately be; a price tag that will be anywhere from 2+ to 4 times the money we spend on general education students.  I would bet you didn’t intent for legislatures to write 5 million in checks to a private organization so it could hand the assets bought with those dollars over to another private organization which could then charge a new State agency ever increasing rent, as THRIVE has done. The 5 million dollar mistakes are in the past.  This 10 million dollar mistake is in a future we can still change if we act now.

While some parents were pleading and providing tearful testimony about some of the cuts slated for them and their children with disabilities, some legislators were already scheming to re-inflate the budget for years to come; to insure private boarding schools would be paid for out of state coffers for a select few at extravagant costs to these same taxpayers.

Legislators like Republican Senator Ronnie Johns from Lake Charles lied to these parents with statements like “We hear you clearly, and I can tell you, you are our priority,” while at the same time demonstrating this is clearly not the case with his vote to create state funded private boarding schools. It’s kind of ironic in a way actually. . . creating boarding schools for parents to ship their kids off to are a higher priority that helping parents care for their disabled children at home (instead of institutionalizing them which will also cost the state much more money in the long run than helping these parents care for their children at home.)

I’d like to think this is just a story about how good people can be misled to do bad or stupid things.  Perhaps this is just another example of how our budget expands out of control and no one understands why?  Without a doubt, this is clearly an example of misplaced priorities; but we can fix this.

Please contact your state legislators and ask them to ask John Bel Edwards to veto HB887.  You can call John Bel’s office as well, but it’s important our legislators be made to fully understand what they did here. Their understanding is very important so they can be on guard in the future and so they don’t try to override the Governor’s veto.  As you can see below, they clearly have the votes to do so and legislators need to be told by their constituents how they feel about this legislation.

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John White Tells the Truth! Charter Schools are Not About Children or Choice, They are About Cashflow

In the past I would write posts about John White’s lies.  However his lies have become so commonplace (and obvious) that eventually the public stopped paying attention.  It was generally accepted that if John White’s lips were moving, he was lying.  (“White Lies” is how they are frequently referred to online.) However John White is living proof that it’s difficult to lie all the time. Invariably you are going to let some truth out to someone, somewhere. Because this happens so infrequently the times he tells the truth are perhaps the most interesting now.

Take for instance this clip I made from the December 1st 2015 BESE meeting where John White explains to the public why he has chosen to authorize charter schools in public school districts that don’t want them, with plenty of options, choices and under financial strain, but is refusing to authorize them in New Orleans, which is 100% charter controlled.

Louisiana State Superintendent John White:

“If you were running a traditional school system you would never open a new school when you have an enrollment deficit.  And here we have a charter system.  So on one hand you’re called to authorize charter schools.  On the other hand [RSD] superintendent Dobard and I must determine what the right enrollment balance is, just like a traditional system.

I will tell you this type 2 charter school, and I have told this to Dr. Triplett, cannot open this year.  It cannot open this year.

It may open in a year when the enrollment re-stabilizes and we have another need, but I have been very clear to them for this year, as a type 2 charter school because it would add to the number of seats when our kindergarten enrollment is down.

Now I think she has also applied for a type 5 charter school.  That type 5 charter school could take over for schools that are struggling. Uh. We are recommending its for approval as well.  And she could, uh, provide services within a currently existing school.  But a standalone new additional set of however many new kindergarten kids, 50 or 100 or so, I just do not see how we can do that and be fair to the school system.”

This is very interesting because it goes against every idea the charter industry pushes as the need for new charter schools.  This decision limits choice at a time where only about 30% of the kids get their first choice by the OneAp system that assigns kids to schools in the city.  Some kids must get up at 4 am and don’t return home till 7 at night, even when their first pick choice is directly across the street form their house! Unfortunately assignments are determined by a lottery system and an algorithm, not by common sense or rationality.

This decision of John White’s goes against the cornerstone idea of the charter industry’s claim to want to foster competition, where the best schools will rise to the top based on parental choices and the worst schools will be driven out of business if they don’t please their clients.  (Once charter schools are in place they want to harvest their automatic allotment of kids for their MFP dollars and their allies find excuses to make this happen.)

This goes against the idea of preserving and improving quality.  John White asked for extensions and renewals of numerous D and F rated charter schools in RSD before this statement (which many community members asked him to reject.)

This also goes against the philosophy John White applies to every other public school system in the state.  He is happy to drive traditional public schools into bankruptcy by overriding their decisions to open new charter schools, even as he clearly understands the ramifications of what he is doing:

If you were running a traditional school system you would never open a new school when you have an enrollment deficit.

He is not just overriding local superintendents opinions but the opinions and desires of the actual communities where these schools are being opened!

East Baton Rouge School Board member of district 3, Mrs. Nelson-Smith, the exact place where the 2 charter schools John White authorized at this meeting, explains that while the charter operators did meet with her and other members of the community, they failed to relay to the state school board, BESE, that “We did not approve them.” and that these new STEM charter schools are not needed in this area, which is already designated as the STEM hub for all of EBR and perhaps the worst place to open them in EBR.

 

 

Charter schools are clearly not about choice.  They are not about competition.  They are not about quality.  They are not about satisfying the desire or needs of the public.  They are clearly not about children.  They are about charter schools.

John White is one of the industries greatest charter school/portfolio advocates in the country and oversees the only complete charter district in the nation.  Now that they have replaced the traditional system they are digging their heels in even as interest in their “choices” wanes (the reason for the decline White refuses to acknowledge during this meeting).

Charter schools, as they are being implemented now, are about profitability and control. Now that they have the control they are working on the profitability part by hiring inexperienced employees, providing substandard materials, increasing class sizes while fudging results to keep official results “passable” if not overly impressive. If they were actually forced to fight for their students with quality personnel, materials, and results they would not be as profitable as their investors want them to be and some might even go out of business.

Charter schools are not competition, they are not capitalism, they are simply another example of government cronyism.  This is one time that I actually believe what John White is saying:

If you were running a traditional school system you would never open a new school when you have an enrollment deficit. And here we have a charter system. [..]

I will tell you this type 2 charter school, and I have told this to Dr. Triplett, cannot open this year. It cannot open this year. [..]

I just do not see how we can do that and be fair to the school system.

 

“Stand For Children Louisiana” is an Evil and Malicious Corporate Front Group for Evil People and Organizations

I did not realize just how corrupt and connected the organization known as “Stand For Children Louisiana” was until I looked into some of their finances and their background.  I decided to do this after being told about this slanderous commercial attacking BESE member Carolyn Hill, on BESE member elect Jada Lewis’ behalf.  In case you didn’t see it, here it is:

Yes.

This is actually a campaign commercial (it’s hard to tell with all the flashing lights and rolling news feeds so I recorded it so you can pause the screen.)  This aired on a local channel, WBRZ.  You will note the call letters of the faux news broadcast are WBRD, so to a casual viewer it looks legit.  “Stand” even used the local background drop of our bridge across the Mississippi that our local news uses.  This commercial aired in the last week of the election and was responsible for tricking voters into thinking the police were after Carolyn Hill for numerous crimes.  The commercial even displays case numbers.

(Note:  I ran for BESE in the same market as Carolyn (EBR) but a different district and we are longtime friends and allies.  Carolyn was the first BESE member I met in the flesh after leaving LDOE when I attended a local community meeting on alternative forms of student discipline about 4 years ago.  She got me interested in trying to do more to help our children in this state and our community by her example.)

I know this commercial was effective because I had voters come to my Facebook page and tell me they wished they could vote for me for my stands on issues (which are basically the same as Hill’s) but all they could vote for was Lewis, or “the criminal” so they really had no good choice but certainly couldn’t keep a criminal in office.

This commercial is based on fictional information, at least about BESE member Carolyn Hill.  The case numbers are not legit (according to Hill’s staff who called all the DAs of all the neighboring Parishes they are only partial numbers or meaningless numbers and Hill has no outstanding warrants and never did.)  That’s not to say maybe some Carolyn Hill somewhere on earth might have some bench warrants, but there are over 100 Jason Frances in the US, here are the “top”25 Carolyn Hills just on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/Carolyn/Hill

The other accusations are BS too.  BESE positions come with a laptop or iPad to communicate with the State e-Mail system securely.  Would you want BESE members communicating private student info outside of a secure system like Hillary Clinton or Ash Carter? The position requires travel all over the state and reimburses BESE members for travel and also provides a per diem.

This is how Stand chose to stand for children, by lying and deceiving people about a real champion of children in their community.

Of course this behavior wasn’t limited to Stand but this was one of the more egregious cases.  In addition to the primetime commercials Stand also spent tens of thousands of dollars on direct mail to people’s homes, warning them about Carolyn Hill.

But not only does this organization not “stand for children”, it doesn’t stand for the “Louisiana” part of its title either! 98% of their funding came from corporations, tax exempt entities including one funded by the Sierra club (seriously), and billionaires outside of our state. Several of these organizations probably broke federal laws and should lose their tax exempt status for contributing to a purely political organization that spent all their money on attack ads and propaganda.

I compiled a list of Stand’s donors and clients after their February registration filings.  I investigated each one and I will do this for every other organization that overran our state with their dirty blood money.

Stand Funding and Expenditures BESe

Stand actually split into 2 separate “Stand for Children Louisiana” groups this year.  Both are controlled by former LDOE (a deputy superintendent to John White and Chief of Staff for Vallas of RSD) and John White/Paul Vallas loyalist, Rayne Martin.  It’s not clear why they split into two groups, but I suspect they may have been planning of using their separate identities to bypass state limits on PAC donations.

stand21

I have included the data as an Excel spreadsheet for you to do your own calculations and roll-ups, but I will also post some summaries.  First let’s look at donors.  Only Stephen Rosenthal (Leslie Jacob’s brother, the RSD’s chief architect, and Gray Parker, President of the Booth-Bricker fund which is funded by all the out of state ed reform all stars, are from Louisiana) about 98% of this 781,000 dollars worth of funding comes straight from out of state (to produce slanderous attack ads on behalf of charter school vampires.)

summary stand donors

Action Now Initiative is actually a 501c4 organization, a Tax Exempt non-profit and basically big time charter school supporters, Laura and John Arnold’s,  front organization from Texas.  Here’s this groups 2013 Tax return.  Don’t you think it’s time this “advocacy organization” started paying taxes instead of paying for slanderous attack ads?

Jim Walton of Arkansas, one of the Walmart heirs, dropped 250 gs here. Jim and his sister Alice shit all over our elections again this year with their obscene wealth and callous disregard for children or choices other than charter schools. I bet charter school chains will be opening up in between those  Walmart McDonalds and a Walmart hair salons in the near future.  One step closer to WALL-E!

The Sixteen Thirty fund gave 250k and access to their mailing list and phone numbers.  They are another tax exempt 501c org based in DC with a progressive agenda.  The Sierra club is one of their primary funders. Their primary mission is stated as environmental.

In addition to saving spotted owls the Sixteen Thirty Funds also pays to produce slanderous commercials and promote charter schools. Despicable.

Stacy Schusterman gave 250k.  She is an Energy magnate from Oklahoma and co-chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman foundation, a Jewish based group with the dual mission of saving Israel and apparently lying about innocent people around the workd and persecuting them with lies for the sake of the education reform movement.  Nice. https://www.schusterman.org/

We believe that by investing in the education reform movement and its leaders, we can do our part to better prepare today’s learners to be tomorrow’s qualified workforce and engaged citizens.

Of course the National Stand organization backs lying about opponents “for the children”  and chipped in 50k for that cause.

Finally, what outrageous campaign of lies would be complete without at least one local Louisiana traitor, like Stephen Rosenthal, the brother to the Recovery School District “architect” Leslie Rosenthal Jacobs (Jacobs is currently  a member of governor elect John Bel Edwards k-12 education transition team. and has a Wikipedia page describing how awesome and important she is sourced with information from her own website, EducateNow!.

summary Stand Expenditures

Stand for Now actually spent at least 860 thousand (I didn’t get all the details from the Stand to Stand transactions so it was a bit more.)

MB Public Affairs is the California based “political vulnerability research” attack group that prepared the report on Carolyn Hill.  They are considered a beloved company. . . by Tobacco companies and Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) producers hoping to prevent labeling of their products.  They research individual members of community organizations on these companies behalf’s to smear individual members and harass them into silence.  Jada Lewis ran as a Democrat against Democrat Carolyn Hill, but MB Public affairs is a well known republican attack dog.

The latest financial filings in California for the “No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme” reveal a $7,500 payment to the Sacramento-based political consulting firm MB Public Affairs. Here is how The Los Angeles Times described the firm last year: “MB Public Affairs is headed by Mark Bogetich, a garrulous operative known to his friends as ‘Bogey,’ who has helped a number of Republican candidates neutralize their opponents. In recent years, MB Public Affairs has worked for Altria, once known as the Phillip Morris Cos.” Bogetich has also been called “the go-to guy for [the Republican Party]” and “the only game in town.” The Los Angeles Times article explains how last year MB Public Affairs filed more than 50 Public Records Act requests to dig up dirt on a small but effective group called the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

Almost every FlipBESE candidate in the last BESE election was described as a Trojan Democrat in Republican clothing.  It’s pretty clear Jada Lewis is nothing more than a plant of the Republican party running as a Democrat in a primarily Democratic district.  She fooled them, with MB Public Affairs help, and Stand for Children Louisiana’s lies and misrepresentations.  The groups primarily involved in Jada’s Lewis’ media campaign were Clay Young Enterprises LLC and Innovative Advertising LLC.  My guess is Clay Young produced the commercial based on their advertised specialty and portfolio.

Other BESE candidates supported by this Out of State front organization were:

  • Gary Jones
  • Holly Boffy
  • Tony Davis
  • Kira Orange-Jones
  • and local Orleans school board candidate John Brown.

These are bad people funded by bad people to do bad things to Louisiana and our children for the sake of money and power. Stand for Children Louisiana is the vehicle for making this all happen.  Do not trust or believe any of these people.

Update: 12/19

As Dr. Mercedes Schneider pointed out in her recent blog, Rayne Martin is no longer listed as “formally” affiliated with Stand. Rayne passed the reins to Carrie Griffin Monica midyear.  However once a reformer, always a reformer.  Rayne is still affiliated with the same circle of education do-badders and it is not uncommon for them to go to a private “consulting” company for a larger payoff with less public scrutiny.

 

Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

It’s been a few weeks since the final BESE elections wrapped up in Louisiana.

(BESE is Louisiana’s elected state school board. The board as 8 elected positions and 3 appointed by the Governor and is responsible for setting policy for all public schools, private schools, charter schools and homeschool programs in the state as well as defining the MFP, a funding formula for public schools. A BESE position does not come with a salary but does provide a small stipend and a laptop or iPad to communicate with the state e-mail system using the state assigned e-mail address.

BESE meets every other month for 2 days for regularly scheduled meetings and as needed for emergency agenda items. It’s not a glamorous job, no salary, no staff, a lot of filing/qualifying requirements and red tape, and a lot of public scrutiny – but that hasn’t prevented it from becoming the most contentious and expensive position in the state, second only to the Governor’s position in Louisiana.)

The 2015 elections were something of a watershed moment for Louisiana. It was the first year BESE board candidates opposing destructive Education Reform were able to unify across parties, geography (and any other line you can think of) and work to fight against the lies and money of the Ed Reform machine.  Education Reform is sold on the backs of lies about “success”, lies about goals of opponents, and through the perpetuation of firmly discredited myths.

This year, however, the lies and dishonesty were of absurd, even epic proportions; even for politicians; even for politicians from Louisiana!

The Ed Reform movement didn’t just lie, they built a campaign machine that ran on the exact diametric opposite of reality.

I will show several examples of how this looks and what it means in the next few posts on this subject. Fortunately I was able to document some of these lies to call people out over the years that follow, and for you, the public, to hold them to their pledges (or admit they were lying POS.)

Here is a commercial Lane Grigsby’s Empower PAC ran against one of the FlipBESE candidates I supported in the 2015 elections.  This was run against a veteran of the Ascension Parish school system who works with children with disabilities, and their families, named Kathy Edmonston.

When I talked to Kathy about this commercial she was quite upset. The extras they use in this video make her out to be an idiot as did the hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailers sent out by local education reform mobster, Empower PAC founder and LABI chairman, Lane Grigsby.  This was just one piece of a out of state billionaire funded coordinated campaign to take part of statement she said during and interview completely out of context and claim she did not believe children should be taught to read or perform math until the third grade.

I suppose the depression era black and white photo of gloomy kids is supposed to represent outdated thinking?  I’m not really sure that was a belief back then, but they get points for using some ridiculous over-the-top scare tactics.  (FYI, Ascension Parish is one of our top rated school districts in the state by the ed reformers own grading scale, so I’m pretty sure they must be doing something right.)

Kathy provided the video where Empower and Grigsby chose to libel and slander her education stands from a Frances and Friends broadcast.

(Frances and Friends is a Christian television show on the SonLife network.  Bearing false witness against a Christian television show?  It doesn’t get much classier than that.)

If you listen to the clip, Kathy Edmonston actually says the complete opposite of Grigsby and his Empower PAC (funded by Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad, Jim and Alice Walton) are claiming. She says it essential that kids learn to read and write before third grade and that most of our early efforts should go towards ensuring that goal.  Her observation and critique was that, under Common Core, many kids are getting to third grade unable to read or do simple math.

Selling the exact opposite of the truth: Education Reform’s specialty.

The Education Reform movement is a group of PACs and corporately funded puppet organizations that sell lies to the public.  They lie about their “successes”; they lie about their failures; they lie to create faux failures for others; they lie to support their agenda and attack their detractors to prevent any adult conversations or real critical analysis of their claims from happening.

When I met with Grigsby earlier this year to try and discuss his views and our differences candidly he told me that he doesn’t believe in Democracy because politicians can get entrenched and corrupted as he believes happened in New Orleans.  Lane explained to me that all that really matters these days is who has the most money and who can tell the most convincing lie.

I believe he proved that to be true for the most part in this election cycle.  That may be the most honest thing he’s said to anyone about politics and his worldview in a while. Grigsby and his allies poured more than 4 million dollars worth of lies into this year’s BESE races and won 7 out of the 8 elected seats that prior to the charter school movement were won for less than 10k.

This money is flowing here from supporters, and investors, of/in the charter school industry.  Whether you are a charter supporter or not, it is clear that money from the charter industry has drowned out any voices but their own.  Combine that fact with the compulsive and absurd lying, like that shown here, and you can see why all forms of education (not just public) are really facing a crisis these days. The Education Reform movement has created a real crisis with their policies to replace the faux crisis they sold their new policies on in the first place.

I’m not sure if that is irony, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe just good business?

What I do know is that Education Reform responsible for teaching our kids all the wrong things, both in school, and outside of school by their example.

Unfortunately it’s not just children who are being taught very destructive things.  We are also teaching adults to disrespect Democracy and to defecate on truth as well.

 

 

 

LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

I know its reaching, but I thought I’d give everyone a little Easter reference with this surprise post.  Smile

Before I left LDOE 3 years ago I was asked to help assemble some de-identified data for a research outfit named CREDO.  At the time most of my colleagues didn’t know who CREDO was or what they were all about.  (It turns out they are a pro-charter funded propaganda machine masquerading as legitimate researchers.)   We had a standing policy not to provide this type of data to anyone. . . except a few local research universities like ULL we had established contracts with – to provide analysis services to LODE for specific grants.

Then came John White and CREDO.  We’d been telling CREDO “No” for years because the amount of data they wanted was excessive and the time involved with compiling it was also going to be pretty steep.  John White was not the State Superintendent when he started giving orders through Erin Bendilly, a Jindal appointee.  This request was one of those, and it was coordinated, reviewed, and delivered by Kim Nesmith, the “Data Quality Director” and department’s FERPA enforcer.  (The fact that this request was  being forced through quickly on John White’s behalf was confirmed by both Kim and Devora Davis, head CREDO researcher, in a conference call.)

happy Easter

FERPA tidbit:

US DOE requires State agencies to select a number between 1 and 10 to mask all their student level data to conform to FERPA. Kim actually required the department go one step further.  She insisted we mask by using less than (<) and greater than (>) symbols in the ones digits in most numbers reported.  (We can still derive the specific numbers from the percentages and enrollment numbers but I won’t tell if you won’t)

image

(You can Download the full report example if you’d like.)

Another provision of FERPA calls for agencies to restrict access to data – keep it private from those that don’t need that access to perform their specific role or function.  While I dealt with the student data of all students, I did not need to have access to their medical records or diagnoses, or their specific Special Education classifications.  This role was handled by the folks that worked directly with this data and these students in our SER system or those folks who produced necessary reports to the Finance department.  For the nine years I worked there, I did not have access to that data.

New Orleans based, Research on Reforms filed a lawsuit to discover just what data LDOE had released to CREDO.  When ROR eventually prevailed I learned what else LDOE had provided to CREDO.  (LDOE first denied the existence of this MOU until I agreed to testify for Research on Reforms.  Then LDOE argued that they could choose whomever they wanted to evaluate their programs and did not need to provide equal access to anyone else to cross examine the claims.  The first judge agreed, but the appeals court overturned this ruling.)

It turns out LDOE violated their own very expansive MOU.  What follows is a description of a few things that should not have been sent.

For instance, it turns out that LDOE sent quite a bit of detailed data on non-public students, their DOB’s, their teachers, their special education conditions, schools, etc.  Non-Public schools were not part of the research project and not part of the MOU.

CREDO MOU

Here’s a snapshot of some of the NPB (Non-Public School) records.  Hundreds of non-public schools’ data was disclosed – without their knowledge I would imagine.

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And here is some of the specific data elements they handed over on nonpublic and public students – some of which is specifically prohibited and some of which should have been because it was outside the scope of the study.  This shows the full Date of birth (not just month and year) as well as any section 504 classifications and also identifies one student as blind and another one as deaf.  (Note: these records are from completely different sections and do not match up to any of the schools shown above.)

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Of course if that’s not enough, they also included the specific teacher and the course they took with that teacher for each student. (Note: each snap shot is from different records to prevent identification of students.  Something LDOE might have considered.)

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To make sure researchers could identify and use all these codes, LDOE created a decode file with useful tables like this one for Special Education classifications.

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You will note in the study, none of this info is necessary, and if you look at the final CREDO reports none of it was used – but it was provided unnecessarily.

LDOE also can’t make the claim they did not know what they were providing or that they were unaware that to provide it was a violation of FERPA.  Most of the files, like the one containing Special Education data, carry a pretty convincing warning.

This report contains personally identifiable information or information that when combined withother reports and/or information a student’s identity might be revealed.  Personally identifiable studentinformation must be kept confidential pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)codified at 20 U.S.C. 1232g.  Information in this report cannot be disclosed to any other person,except for employees of a student’s school or school system who must have access to that information in order to perform their official duties and for those other persons and entitiesspecified in 20 U.S.C. 1232g.

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In this case, LDOE provided this information without any masking for every school in the state (including Non-Publics).  They provided a file that contains the school, school year, grade, age, ethnicity, disabilities, gender.  They provided this information for counts as low as one single student.

You would think a Student Privacy Director and Data Quality Director would know better, wouldn’t you?

According to the MOU, here is the scope of the study:

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The dubious nature of the decision to provide all the data they agreed to provide aside, I don’t see any reason to provide private school data, let alone disabled student data.  Do you?

This is an example of why LDOE needs to be fully transparent and properly overseen.  There is no telling how many other data sharing agreements LDOE has entered into that most of us are completely unaware of.  LDOE is apparently incapable of even adhering to their own internal privacy decisions and their own MOU’s.  This is not an example of a rogue department providing data accidentally.  This is an example of LDOE’s top privacy guru, the Student Privacy and Data Quality Director reviewing and assembling the data, personally, before handing it over to strangers in California.

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It’s only a combination of chance and persistence that I stumbled across the details of this agreement and am able to share my findings with you.  How many more agreements like this are out there that are unknown to us?  How poorly have they been reviewed?  I can’t actually say.  Someone outside of LDOE needs to review these types of disclosures (All of them)  – before they happen.  It is important for the public to have an accounting of both what was promised, but also what was actually delivered.  Frankly, if LDOE doesn’t understand their own data, they shouldn’t be providing it to others.  I also question whether they should be collecting it all or storing it for decades in the first place.

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

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Recently I was contacted by The Progressive to write an overview of charter schools in Louisiana.  I have been watching this “experiment” unfold from a fairly unique perspective.  My first look was as a State of Louisiana Employee just after charter schools were becoming established haphazardly around the state.  When I started at LDOE I was told of some of the misdeeds of previous operators, and I struggled alongside some of them to get their data reported accurately and in a timely manner.  Our initial operators were mostly standalone outfits and not altogether bad and some with the best of intentions if not the best business sense or relevant experience.  For the most part these early operators were homegrown and unconnected to external forces and influences and my bosses had no strong feelings about them either way.

As my tenure at the department lengthened, and new Education Reformer obsessed State Superintendents came to the fore like Paul Pastorek and John White, charters schools took on a new, more sinister dimension and set of goals.  I finally left the Department in February of 2012 to start my blog.  My naïve plan at the time was to reveal some of the misdeeds and to try and reverse the tide of all the negative trends and policies being enacted by out of state interests and pirogue-loads of out of state money.

What follows is the intro of my original piece I submitted.  My full piece was close to 5000 words and not entirely complete and my allotted space was maxxed at 2000 words.  I worked with the editors at The Progressive to streamline my piece, but I will be publishing parts of my original work in various future blog posts – so my time and research was not wasted.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work with some national media sources and I hope you find the pieces I will write now and in the immediate future informative and useful.  I start off with a brief into on the charter movement as we see it today.

Albert Shanker, a former President of the American Federation of Teachers Union (1974 – 1997) is sometimes credited with founding the modern charter movement in 1988.  His idea was to create an environment focused on serving the neediest students. The basic premise was for charters to work collaboratively with school districts and their most challenging students.  Ideas that proved the most fruitful would be shared and applied throughout the public systems to make them stronger and more responsive.  As originally conceived, Charter schools were to be R&D laboratories, and their research would be used for the benefit of all public school students.

In 1991 Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie, education reformers from Minnesota, altered Shanker’s idea to one that would appeal to entrepreneurs, and squeeze out educators.

Nathan and Kolderie instead proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate and apart from local district control. That opened charter doors not only to teachers but also to outside entrepreneurs. Competition between charters and districts was to be encouraged.

By 1993 Shanker realized some significant flaws in his ideas and renounced support of his own idea, but by then it was too late.  Private industry and education reformers had spotted an opening, a new market, and would spend the next two decades ramping up resources and propagating propaganda to exploit it.

These resources would go to fund pro-privatization with an eye toward profit margins rather than children:

  • Candidates like Bobby Jindal, Barack Obama, Dannel Malloy and Scott Walker
  • Agendas like American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) and Democrats For Education Reform (DFER)
  • Organizations like Teach For America (TFA), Stand For Children (Stand) and the Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO)
  • Charter Sponsored Media and Movies like NBCs Education Nation, Waiting for Superman, and Won’t Back Down

These groups cover vast swaths of the political spectrum and use a cunning and effective combination of statistical sleight-of-hand, repetitive messaging and empathic emotional pleas to lure people to their banners and crusade.  To the casual observer, which most folks are, these forces offer beacons of hope; hope to the messages of despair they themselves seeded beforehand.  Their messages are wrapped up in pleasingly packaged message so many of us find so compelling and alluring:

Free enterprise and American spirit and ingenuity will come to the rescue of our “failing schools” and flagging nation! 

Research institutions like the Cowen Institute at Tulane and CREDO (a conservative Hoover offshoot based on Stanford’s campus lend it a liberal air) were funded or founded with the express purpose of promoting charter schools.  Publicity campaigns were rolled out to advertise the higher standards and quality of charter schools.  Charter schools were initially advertised as having better academics (although usually with fewer certified teachers and less experienced teachers) and being less expensive (usually they are much more expensive when factoring costs to communities and grants).  Charter schools were marketed in much the same way as margarine, Vioxx, and cigarettes.   As is so often the case with miracle products, as the data is eventually analyzed objectively, and the full ramifications understood the tragic flaws are revealed.

Research now shows that charter schools are most often no better than public schools with the same demographics, and sometimes they are much, much worse.  Rather than admit defeat, pull their products, or actually try to make them live up their previous advertising the campaign was switched to one of “Choice”.

Amazingly, I was just informed today that even the head of the CREDO institute has grudgingly come to this conclusion on her own.

Her reasons for why states need to exert more control raised a few eyebrows. A self-described supporter of free markets, Raymond said a totally free market is not appropriate for schools.

“It’s the only industry/sector where the market doesn’t work,” Raymond said.

But it’s “Choice” with capital  C!  It has to be good, right?

Who doesn’t instinctively favor “choice” and freewill in a free society? It sounds liberating.  It sounds positive. Unfortunately it’s also an illusion.  Good “choices” only exist in clever online marketing ads sent to your Facebook account (with happy children of the same race as your own as determined by Big Data Algorithms) and in the mailers stuffed in your door handles and mailboxes.

Charter schools and their advocates go out of their way to obscure data and bash public schools so parents can’t make an informed choice.  States are run and overseen by officials bought with charter money to ensure this.  You can’t make a good choice with bad data and with only bad choices available.

“Parents can’t be agents of quality assurance,” Raymond said, stressing the need for better information to be available to parents as they pick schools.

When outsiders think of Louisiana and charter schools, they often think of Katrina and New Orleans.  New Orleans is now a 100% charter operated district. Charters are a manmade disaster heaped upon a natural one.  Hurricane Katrina was the once in a 100 year natural disaster that charter school operators and their allies chose to exploit.

I worked at the Louisiana Department of Education during this time.  I would learn later that while many New Orleanians were drowning in their homes, choking on the oily toxic flood waters, expiring from exposure on their rooftops, or furiously evacuating if they had the wherewithal, operatives at the Department and from the New Orleans area and State BESE board were meticulously conspiring to remake the city’s education system to their liking.   Many people perished, and we may never have a full accounting of the deaths.  On Monday, August 29th, 2005 canals were breached across New Orleans.  Public education also died that day.  Louisiana’s loss and the Nation’s shame was to become the Charter Movement’s gain.

The words of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan about Katrina will forever live in infamy for me and many of my friends, family and people.

…let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.

If you would like to see the next part of this story check out this month’s issue in The Progressive you can purchase a digital copy to support work of folks like me or wait until later this month when it is released.

This is just a test of the emergency blogcasting system

I am experimenting with a new application for producing blog posts from my smartphone that integrates with WordPress.  I find I have little time these days to sit behind a computer screen at home and pound out some posts and I have thoughts throughout the day I would like to share on various issues.  I now have 30 minutes I  have to wait in a doctors office after receiving allergy shots so it seemed like I should start using that time more productively than playing scramble or candy crush. 

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Here is an example of some of our latest Math Homework for my second grader from Houghton Mifflin.   As you can see (assuming the image imports correctly) the wording and font choice for the last problem is atrocious.  1s, ls and Is all look the same and this problem makes no sense as written.  I had to rewrite the problem based on reviewing the rest of the worksheet to see what they were angling for. Here is what I came up with.

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p style=”text-align:left;”>Unfortunately my daughter still didn’t understand the purpose of the assignment…and wrote a correct answer (14 tens does equal 14 tens) …that I imagine is not the answer the writers were looking for.

Eureka, EngageNY, and HM are not the only problems here; curriculum-wise. Clearly simply choosing another provider won’t fix all the problems. I have minor to major issues with almost any math homework assignment I pick up. Granted, some could be fixed with better proofreading. But some of this content appears tragically flawed in that even the answers they are looking for are overly contrived,  unhelpful seeming, or confusing to children (and sometimes parents).

I have been mulling some ideas or how we can rebuild our own standards and curriculum.  I hear some other folks are working on some substitute ideas as well.  I am eager to start rolling back the most destructive educatuon reforms and failed Coommon Core experiments once I get elected to BESE. In the meantime hang in there and continue bringing this fight to your local school boards, parents groups and media. We are making headway and the CC, at least the math side, is on the defensive. 

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

Recently I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I knew my blood sugars were trending higher for years, and I had resolved to lose 50 pounds this year to prevent this outcome from occurring. 3 months into this year I had lost 25 pounds . . . and I learned I had uncontrolled fasting blood sugars in the 400s. 3 months ago I had my blood sugar levels checked and they were creeping up into the pre-diabetic range, but I was fine. I had a lot of warning signs that something was wrong, including blurring vision I attributed to getting old, a dramatic increase in being thirsty I attributed to giving up sodas and exercising more, and a dramatic increase in confusion and forgetfulness I chalked up to just being busy. If readers recall, I travelled to Austin in March but managed to leave my suitcase with all my belongings at home in my front yard. I also was supposed to appear on Frances and Friends a few weeks later but lost my phone, directions and mind. I’ve also managed to forget my daughter’s soccer ball and every practice I took her too, although thankfully I usually remember the kids. I’ve also been having trouble sitting down and composing blog entries and night from fatigue and an inability to focus. (To, those of you who have submitted information to me to create stories or research, I am moving slower but still making progress now.) Now that I am getting a handle on my condition things are starting to firm up and my confusion seems more obvious now in retrospect. I’ve been running labs, seeing doctors, dietitians and specialists and what seems to be the consensus is that taking steroid shots back to back to address my Pneumonia and Bronchitis in February and March overwhelmed my pancreas and triggered my condition. I went from just entering the warning zone to a serious case of uncontrolled diabetes over a few months. Fortunately, I was working with my doctor while I was trying to lose so much weight and get in shape and we caught it right away.  If  my condition had remained untreated until an annual physical I would have ended up in the hospital, if I was lucky.

So where am I going with this do you ask?

I did what many of us probably do without thinking. I went to the after-hours clinic, told them I was sick and needed to get well fast, and asked them to load me up with shots and whatever they could give me to get me back on my feet as fast as possible.  “I don’t have time to be sick,” I told them.  Getting an appointment with my primary care physician is always harder, but he has all my medical history and is more qualified, has more experience, and is more familiar with my case history and medications. I was trying to save up as much time as I can to go to meetings, to get blog posts done, to meet with parents, to attend and present at conferences and to still have time for my job and my family so I couldn’t afford to take time for more mundane matters like a common cold. Without considering the consequences, I chose the easiest path. As a result I made myself much sicker with what might be a permanently debilitating condition. (I do have a slim chance of reversing it if I take extra special care of myself over the next 6 months and lose some more weight. Things I should have done before so I would not have been put in the position I am now.) I did not know that getting steroid shots and oral steroids could trigger diabetes and I thought I was being proactive and taking care of myself.  As I’ve learned since, those treatments dramatically raise blood sugars and for those of us in Louisiana already a little overweight, this can rapidly accelerate a process that would normally take years. I’m writing this in part to warn folks about steroids and diabetes. Sometimes steroids may be necessary, when you have Pneumonia like I did for the first round, but maybe not if you just have a cold or Bronchitis and you’ve recently received them. It’s great that you want to do something quickly, but quick or unresearched actions can cause much more harm than good.

In case you were wondering, this is where the School Reform critique comes in. A lot of times we try to apply quick fixes that are nothing more than ineffective Band-Aids to our problems in our daily lives and in public policy.

That’ll fix it!

This type of fix gives us the satisfaction of saying we’ve quickly addressed a problem and a visible verification of the fix. However simple Band-Aids may not be ideal solutions for brown recluse spider bites, or structurally damaged vehicles in previous picture. The Band-Aid solution does not make the car pictured safer, doesn’t permit the doors to open, and applying that Band-Aid means the passenger side window has to remain open. . . but we can say we fixed it!  It didn’t cost us as much a door replacement, paint job and body repair, but it was quick and required little effort or long-term commitment on our part.

This is the way much of modern-day school reform works in the US.

Allow me to show you some examples.

Charter Schools

Charter schools were first marketed as a way to provide quality educations, to help underserved populations like the disabled or Limited English Proficient, and to differentiate emphasis on instruction (say charter schools for Engineering, Math, the Arts or Foreign Language immersion.) When it was discovered that these schools often performed worse, failed to provide certified teachers or staff for special education students, and that serving high needs populations was expensive and reflected poorly on charter school’s rankings compared to schools with average populations many charter schools opted instead to appeal to the wealthiest and least cumbersome students. What started as an easy fix, if the local school system is not working, slap a charter school or three on it, turned into a serious threat, a disease on public education. Charter school mania is a disease that now threatens to devour the host.

Larvae devouring host caterpillar

What started out as a quick fix to apply to ailing public education systems to provide a quality education for some of the students is actually making education worse for most of them by siphoning off financial resources, teachers, and students and leaving the hardest to educate students behind.

[I urge you all to support HB 703 currently pending a vote in the House Education committee. This bill restricts the spread of charter schools into A, B and C districts, like has recently happened to Iberville and Lafayette, by requiring these schools get approval of the local school boards. If you believe in local education, I urge you to contact the members of the House Education committee to support this Bill.]

Common Core

  • Colleges are claiming they face a problem of too many children requiring remediation.
  • Businesses are claiming High School graduates are not career ready when they graduate.
  • Testing and textbook companies are complaining about all the different version of textbooks and tests they have to prepare every year.

To them, the obvious solution was to create a universal standardized curriculum that everyone would have to take and pass to graduate. This, simple enough seeming solution, created many problems.

Not all education is testable. You cannot test the arts with bubbles. You cannot test a student’s drive or thirst for additional learning. You cannot test a child’s creativity (which Common Core stifles) on a standardized test.  These aspects of education are whittled away to nothing under Common Core. This will create a generation of education hating test bubble makers, not the creative class that is responsible for our place as the greatest inventors and artists with the greatest per capita renewable economy on the planet.

The Common Core curriculum that was created is not rigorous, just tedious. Tedium does not equate to rigor except of the “mortis” variety. Advanced Math and Calculus was not included in Common Core. Students will not be STEM ready without that exposure. Colleges will have to provide that instruction and remediation, just as they have been. However fewer students will want to pursue those types of careers because of how obnoxious the math has become.

Companies will not have more employees ready to complete upon graduation. This curriculum was never tested, it is being piloted on a massive scale without any supporting research that it works. Early indications are that Common Core math is producing lower test scores in all states that adopted compared to those state’s previous math scores, and compared to other states that did not implement the Common Core math.  Common Core does not work and will and will make our children worse off.

Now there is so much chaos as a result of pushing Common Core, sight unseen and untested, that states are having problems pulling out of it. Students and parents are getting frustrated and pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them, or enrolling them in non-public schools that have rejected Common Core. Experienced teachers are fleeing the profession in record numbers, and newer teachers are leaving in droves as well. The rushed and unresearched manner is which a universal curriculum was pushed upon the Nation through trickery, bribery and deception is ruining public education for millions of children and families.

 Closing “Failing” Schools

One of the favorite tactics of school reformers is closing the schools they have defined as “failing”.  Whether the school is actually “failing” the students is beside the point.  All a school has to do to be defined as failing is have a concentration of poor students, students with disabilities or English Language learners.  Schools are not judged based on whether they serve children well, simply based on demographics.  To become a successful school all one needs to do is attract wealthier students and dissuade poorer students from enrolling as was the disabled or students from recently emigrated families.  Reformers trot out the occasional High performing High poverty school to “show” us that poverty doesn’t matter, but when you look at these cases a little closer you find numerous mitigating factors including dramatically increased funding, a poorly defined “poverty” measure, cheating or high concentration of wraparound services and highly qualified teachers that reformers claim are unnecessary.  The believe simply moving these children to “successful” school will magically make them become overachievers, and negate the impacts of poverty, abuse, neglect and apathy. This is not true.  All this does is mask the problem while the schools poor children are evicted from are turned over to privatizers who often perform worse than the schools they replace and are successively shut down and rebranded year after year to disguise the massive, systemic failures of the charter movement.

Rather than recognizing how often charters fail, States like Louisiana point to the numerous closures and claim success!  This is the free market in action, and we are holding these schools “accountable”.  Meanwhile no one seems to actually care what happens to the children and communities.  They take and claim for granted that these children have been “helped” by this displacement, but they are careful not to track them or allow anyone to report on their outcomes.

They know the truth, and they fear it.

Poverty matters

It is true that poverty can be overcome.  It’s not the sole determinate in whether a student is successful, but it is a major component and not one that can be overcome by simply opening up Rocketship Academies staffed with teachers trained for 5 weeks and implementing Common Core. Overcoming the reductive impacts of poverty on educational outcomes requires hard work, money, determination and a significant time commitment.  This is not something most education reformers want you to hear.  They want to inject the education system with magic steroid shots in the form of High Stakes Testing, VAM teacher evaluations, charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core, and a parade of poorly trained fresh-faced can do chanting recruits from TFA and the New Teacher Project.  They want to reduce funding to students and channel it educational entrepreneurs and data harvesters who will claim to have the latest and greatest data potions to improve educational outcomes without the hard work such endeavours have traditionally taken in the past.

Reformers want to be in charge.  They want to “believe” that their reforms will improve the outcomes of children, while they make a tidy profit on the side.  Louisiana’s John White is a typical reformer.  He is so invested in this philosophy that he even renamed the official Louisiana Department of Education website “Louisiana Believes”.  He has formed Louisiana Believes committees and recruits to support his message and preach his gospel of reform.  What he has also done is prevent anyone impartial form getting access to any data that unequivocally disproves his “beliefs”.  John White “believes” his reforms are working, or at least that is what he is trying to brainwash the state of Louisiana and the nation into believing.

The reality is much different.

If John White had any faith in his beliefs he wouldn’t need to hide his data, and contract with shill organizations like CREDO, Stand For Children, and the Cowen institute to produce poorly research propaganda to support his “beliefs”.

If reforms were working they could show us the proof and that would shut people like me up once and for all.

The truth is, there are no quick fixes for what ails Education and our society.

We are the wealthiest Nation on earth and yet have perhaps the largest income and wealth gap as well. Reformers have correctly identified that this poverty is impacting our children, and our nation’s competitiveness.  This poverty does pose a threat to our global position as a world leader and a lack of a proper education does impact future earnings for children as they become adults and makes it more likely these children and their families will end up on public assistance or perhaps incarcerated.  Those negative outcomes have a significant cost to our society and changing those to positive outcomes could result in a substantial net benefit.  The answer is not reducing our educational funding, closing schools with at-risk students, forcing children and teachers to Race To The Top or be the Children Left Behind.  The answer is not a quick shot in the butt, or crossing our fingers and “hoping” Common Core works (in a generation).

The answer is the same as it has always been. Hard work.  Focus.  Determination. Dedication.  Adequate Funding.  Squarely addressing our problems, not hiding from them or disguising them or saying “Screw it, if I can’t fix it at least we can make some money off this problem” as I see many of the latest education entrants doing.   Our public education system was not perfect, but now it is sick with all the quick-fix reform “treatments” we’ve heaped upon it.  We can reverse this illness before it becomes fatal.  But to do so, it will require we abandon the harmful quick-fix approaches and buckle down for some slow-going old-fashioned hard work.

I ask that you help me do this.

I will do the same.

Let’s check back in six months and see where we are.

The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

There is a very complex case of craziness surrounding John McDonogh High School. The more I look into this school, the more examples of financial mismanagement, exploitation, theft and cheating I manage to run into. This school has been exploited for publicity by a bizarre but extensive cast of characters; everyone from Oprah Winfrey, Arne Duncan, Morning Joe, RSD, John White, Mitch Landrieu, Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter Schools, Future is Now Schools: New Orleans, and Digger Phelps. Despite reports of many millions of dollars being raised to support and rebuild John McDonogh, I’m told the building still reeks of mold and urine, and is covered with asbestos, mold damage, termite damage, boarded up windows that leak when it rains. It is rat infested and littered with droppings, and this was a school being touted as the home of a future culinary institute.

Almost 2 years ago John White, Digger Phelps and Arne Duncan revealed their vision of what the future would hold for John McDonogh, 2 years thence on the Morning Joe morning show. In their vision, 35 million dollars that had been allocated for repairs would transform the school into a culinary nirvana, and a sparkling gem of learning and pride for the community surrounding it.

http://youtu.be/giQWFVq1u70

Digger touted the new gymnasium he had built for the school and Morning Joe flashed pictures of what were led to believe were remodeled sections of the school. He and John White did some mutual backslapping and congratulating each other on all the commitments they were making, including bring a top notch culinary institute to John McDonogh. That sounded impressive, and I’m sure all these folks got a lot of kudos for talking a good game. Digger was a former nationally renowned basketball couch, so I’m sure talking a good game is ingrained his is psyche. But when you talk a good game, collect the kudos, and then the children you say you are helping still live surrounded by broken and leaky windows, walking through rat dropping covered floors, and breathing in asbestos and toxic mold, 2 years after you highlight a problem, 8 years after Katrina when funds were allocated to rebuild the school, that’s where your help turns to exploitation.

Since we’re on the topic of exploitation, I believe exploitation is when a Billionare produces a show touting a high school as the most dangerous in the United States.

Blackboard_Wars_Title_Card[1]

Take a look at this excerpt from an article produced by education reporter Kari Dequine Harden for the New Orleans bureau of the Advocate.

New Orleans — The John McDonogh Advisory Committee, a panel of community members that advises the charter operator for the high school, made its feelings about the reality show “Blackboard Wars” clear at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

The committee passed around an open letter calling the show, produced [by] the Oprah Winfrey Network, “a source of negative, exploitative depictions of the students and the school.”

The advisory board’s letter was addressed to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Winfrey, the show’s producers and charter operator Steve Barr.

Three out of six episodes of the hourlong show have aired to date. The first begins with images from a 2003 shooting in the school’s gymnasium but never mentions that the incident, which left one student dead, occurred a decade ago.

Nearly every student featured in the first three episodes faces some sort of challenge—from teen pregnancy and homelessness to bipolar disorder and lack of parental acceptance because of homosexuality. Every episode aired thus far has shown scenes of out-of-control classrooms and students fighting inside the school.

The letter points to words like “most dangerous,” “most under-performing,” and “worst,” saying that such “blanket statements stereotype our school and our students,” and “reinforce low expectations.”

“Students who are repeatedly told that they are violent, troubled and beyond redemption will soon come to believe it . . . this rhetoric drives away families and students who believe the exaggerations and lies about John McDonogh,” the letter said.

For course even the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu got in on the bashing of John McDonogh with this statement:

In an interview last month, Thompson blamed the contentious “most dangerous” label on Landrieu, who said in his 2012 State of the City Address that in 2011, a McDonogh student was more likely to killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.

Wow, that’s quite a statement. I’m sure that wasn’t an exaggeration? I’m not sure where he got his stats but according to what was sent to the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011, (when I worked there) that school was not labeled as dangerous or persistently dangerous.  (I prepared that data through 2011-2012 before I left) I’m pretty sure even by Louisiana’s absurd definition, a dozen or so students dying would have shown up the report, not to mention making national and international news. Speaking of reports and exploitation again, I found this statement by Principal Barr particularly disturbing, though not surprising.

In a January interview about the show in California, Barr stated that out of 261 students enrolled during the 2011-2012 school year, “Any given day you never saw more than 60 kids at the school.” According to the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, McDonogh’s attendance rate that year was 89 percent.

This is the former principal, a leading charter school advocate, telling on himself. If what he is saying is true, the attendance rate should have been closer to 22%, not the 89 % this school reported to the state. That’s really quite an admission, but I actually believe him. . . the second time. Charters and RSD schools, especially in New Orleans, are free to report whatever data they want to report. No one verifies their reporting, and in fact, the Louisiana Department of Education would rather charter operators like Barr report completely fabricated attendance rates like 89% rather than the 22% Barr publicly asserted he witnessed. It also allows charter operators to get more money for students that stopped attending. These are state and federal dollars being spent.

We should have audits of these schools and their data quality as it directly translates to funding at a time when our state is cutting back on services to the poor, universities, and healthcare, we are letting private charter operators openly admit to sending in fabricated data which is almost certain to have resulted in overpayments from our coffers. If this were all the problems, this would be a headache, but this is only the beginning of the indictments of I can make about how this school, and how the entire RSD circus is being run.

I have at least two more pieces to go into. There is really too much going on to be covered in single post. In my next installments I will show you current photos of John McDonogh today to show you where the money isn’t going, and the nonsensical reasons being offered. I will also reveal what may very well be a RSD and charter wide scandal. Each of these topics deserves own attention and post, but consider my intro a teaser for what’s to come. . .

The Crawfish Bump!

The Crawfish Bump!

Congratulations Crawfish patriots!

In the last 48 hours after making this post we helped Shannon Puckett increase her funding for her Kickstarter Documentary Defies Measurement by more than 23% and contributors by almost 40%!

Since this is my first endorsement, and since I can plausibly say I had something to do with it (ok maybe Shannon’s excellent pitch had more to do with it, but still. . .) I’ve decided to call this effect the “Crawfish Bump”.

But we have much more bumping to do. If you haven’t contributed or bugged your dying rich and senile uncle that nobody likes into contributing, now’s your chance! Shannon needs your money and we need her film and story. If you donate, we can both win! If you were listening to NPR last week in Baton Rouge you heard a very extensive pledge drive. If you’re like me it probably drove you crazy! If you procrastinated and missed out, now is your chance to mend your conscience! Donate to this equally good cause and I will forgive you for your tardiness.

Note: You might still get a phone call from Ira Glass for not contributing, I can’t help you there, but at least I can tell Ira your dollars did not go to waste on all those cups of coffee he asks you to do without! I won’t even ask you to do without your morning coffee, espresso, or even your sissy mocha latte cappuccino spritzer with extra whip. That can be our little secret. All you have to do is donate, or cajole someone else into giving. Simple right!?!?!

So what are you waiting for?

Here’s the link to Shannon’s Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/937247555/defies-measurement

Here’s the link to her youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16lnlJqh_WY

Now let’s get that bump growing!

P.S.

Did I mention the largest crawfish contributor gets an autographed crawfish? To win, just post your amount as a comment. I will notify the winner by the e-mail linked to the comment…

P.P.S.

This goes for previous Crazy Crawfish directed contributors.