SPEDGate: How the Louisiana Department of Education is Misappropriating Millions of Dollars a Year from their Federal Special Education Funding for Cronies and Political Favors

What follows is an investigative story about the Special Education program run by the Louisiana Department of Education which reveals how numerous players have profited by funneling Federal IDEA funds to their own pet projects and personnel.

This illegal misappropriation of public money has left many special education students, parents, and district staff without the support those federal funds were mandated to provide.

My story has many twists, turns, and villains, but I will try to lay out the details as clearly as I can.  This story exposes what appears to be criminal behavior and corruption at our highest levels of government.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than I know or will be able to relay here, but I will present what I have and let the public, legislators and law enforcement agencies decide if this matter is worth investigating further using tools beyond my power.

A few months ago I received a letter from a concerned Special Education activist in Louisiana.  This source to whom I have given anonymity provided some internal documents prepared by the Louisiana Department of Education which were distributed to certain Louisiana legislators.  Much of the information provided had been previously relayed to me over several years, but I have been unable to prove those assertions, until now.

The first element that was revealed to me is that LDOE has destroyed the Special Education Department.  Most of the staff who previously dealt with Special Education issues were reassigned or fired,  but LDOE kept the money the federal government was providing specifically to support special education staff.  To justify this, LDOE allocated these funds I to 129 different staff members across the department, many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Special Education.  I have provided a list of these allocations as attachments labeled “salary” and “salary 2”.  I’m told this documentation was provided to Representative John Schroeder when the department was trying to make a case that they did not have the necessary staff to comply with Act 833. (Act 833 was signed into law in 2014 and requires LDOE to provide alternate graduation requirement guidelines for certain disabled students.)

salary

salary 2

According to guidance documents I have provided, it is acceptable for LDOE to allocate salaries on a pro-rata basis.  However, this basis must be determined by the employee for the amount of time they actually spend solely on Special Education issues.  Employees are required to sign off every week on “Time-and-Effort Certifications” like the one shown below:

Cert schedule

time-and-effort-reporting-a

time-and-effort-reporting-b

time-and-effort-reporting-c

As you can see, employees are supposed to document how much time they spend on actual Special Education focused issues and to then sign this affidavit.  Their supervisors then sign off on this form.  However employees at LDOE do not enter the percentages.  Their supervisors provide documents with these percentages already filled out, or they instruct their employees what numbers they must use based on how they have been allocated for budgeting purposes, not based on any actual work.  Many of the LDOE employees allocated to Special Education couldn’t work on Special Education issues if they tried.  Employees that have tried to refuse committing fraud have been threatened with immediate termination by their supervisors.  One source I interviewed relayed a story I had been told several times before.

“…when one LDOE employee said he/she did not want to sign the verification sheet – because it was untrue – the person was told the alternative was to be fired.”

Some state employees are blackmailed into committing payroll fraud every week.  They cannot reveal this because they cannot prove the supervisor told them they would be fired for not signing the sheet, and if they confess to committing the fraud, the supervisor can claim they were ignorant of the situation and the employee acted on his/her own.  This would result in the employee being fired and then subject to criminal charges.  (This is how many criminal organizations and gangs trap people in cycles of crime.  Once you commit a crime, that crime can be held over you to keep you silent and to blackmail you into additional criminal activity.)  Below is one of the relevant federal directives:

Support for Salaries and Wages of an Employee Working on a Single Cost Objective

The Appendix to 2 C.F.R. Part 225 (formerly OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments) requires an employee whose salary and wages are supported, in whole or in part, with Federal funds to document his/her time spent working on Federal programs in order to ensure that charges to each Federal program reflect an accurate account of the employee’s time and effort devoted to that program.  The Appendix addresses two types of documentation:  semiannual certifications and personnel activity reports.

Personnel activity reports

If an employee works on multiple activities or cost objectives, a distribution of the employee’s salary and wages must be supported by a personnel activity report (PAR) or equivalent documentation.  The Appendix lists instances of multiple activities or cost objectives for which a PAR is required — that is, if an employee works on –

  • • More than one Federal award.
  • • A Federal award and a non-Federal award.
  • • An indirect cost activity and a direct cost activity.
  • • Two or more indirect activities that are allocated using different allocation bases.
  • • An unallowable activity and a direct or indirect cost activity.

A PAR must –

  • • Reflect an after-the-fact distribution of the actual activity of the employee.
  • • Account for the total activity for which each employee is compensated.
  • • Be prepared at least monthly and coincide with one or more pay periods.
  • • Be signed by the employee.

Employees are told what to put on their timesheets and if they refuse to do so and sign off on them, they are threatened with termination.  That is clearly not what the USDOE had in mind when they issued their guidance.

LDOE was asked about their special education resources, alignment and composition in a December 17, 2014, Joint House and Senate Education Committee hearing.  They responded on January 5, 2015, describing how they had reorganized internally to better address Special Education classes concerns that could potentially span across the department.  Here is the question they answered and LDOE’s response:

8. Please identify the Department’s Special Education staff and describe their support of local school systems.

Historically the Department has been organized into a fragmented system of divisions in which various elementary and secondary school sectors have been isolated – not only special education, but also career and technical education, curriculum, educator support, assessments, accountability, federal programs, early childhood education, and more.  This structure did not foster planning or collaboration among divisions, nor did it reflect the real-world environments of public schools where all of these needs must be addressed every day in the same schools, even in the same classrooms.  The isolation of special education staff, in particular, ran contrary to the goals of inclusion for students to be able to participate in and benefit from the total educational experience as their non-disabled peers.

Because special education is a service for student who need it, and because all Department of Education staff and local school system staff are obligated to providing that service, not just “special education” staff, the Department began integrating special education supports throughout the agency:

Network Teams: […]

Program Staff: […]

memo

memo 2

Most of this passage is gobbledygook designed to take up space and bore the reader into dozing off and accepting LDOE’s presumed expertise on the subject.  The section I’ve highlighted is the basis under which LDOE is operating. Their reasoning is not supported by federal laws, regulations or policies, but it does describe the philosophy they are providing to legislators.

In plain speak, what LDOE is saying is:

“Because all school systems have or could have disabled students, and all support staff provide information for all students (which include disabled students), all employees support disabled students.”

This is not just wrong but the opposite of what the federal government has provided this funding for.  LDOE knows this is wrong, but they are willfully ignoring the laws and relevant federal guidance because no one is holding them accountable for following state and federal laws and policies.

LDOE is using earmarked Special Education funding as a way to boost employees’ salaries and employ personnel for the programs they deem more important that Special Education.

As a result:

  • Many initiatives such as 833, an alternative pathway for disabled students to earn a diploma, are faltering.
  • Students are being denied services and corporally punished for their conduct related to their disabilities.
  • Parents are being told to fill out invasive surveys and are required to provide information illegally in order for their children to receive services.
  • Charter schools are not only refusing to provide disabled students services but are being paid money for services they never provided.
  • The state and RSD are being sued on a regular basis because of their handling of Special Education.

Here is one of the of the class action settlements related to violations of special education students’ rights (ironically hosted on the LDOE’s website, www.LouisianaBelieves.com)

Some of the complaints against RSD and LDOE involved students with disabilities being repeatedly locked in closets or disciplined for minor infractions until they could be expelled.

Leskisher Luckett, whose third-grade son was repeatedly locked in a school closet as a means of punishment, described the effect this discrimination has had on her son. “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My son, my 9-year old son, is too young to give up on his education.”

Robyn Flanery’s daughter began suffering from profound emotional troubles upon entering the seventh grade. But rather than receive any type of services to address her condition, she was repeatedly punished for minor infractions until she was finally expelled from the school she had attended since kindergarten. Ms. Flanery reported that this led to even greater emotional trauma.

These situations are largely attributed to the fact that special education coordinators across the state are lacking in guidance (have lacked it for years), direction and training on special education issues.  The state is provided millions of dollars annually to employ staff to support school district personnel, but they are shirking these duties.  Taxpayers are not getting what they are paying for.  Instead, taxpayers are now also paying for lawsuits and settlements because disabled children and their parents are suffering abuse, neglect and ignorance as a result of the incompetence and lack of expertise of staff employed by the LDOE.

For this story, numerous parents and other sources involved with Special Education in Louisiana were interviewed and asked to provide their thoughts on LDOE and their handling of Special Education for the state.

Liz Gary, a mother of a student receiving special education services in St Tammany,  and a staunch Special Education rights advocate in Louisiana had this to say about LDOE’s recent changes to how they handle (or don’t handle) Special Education training and oversight:

The state department has offered no training, professional development or oversight in years.  They believe their webinars and newsletter is all that is needed.  Unfortunately, as you know, they have let a lot of experienced people go and replaced them with inexperienced people.  It is not good.  If districts are not doing what they are supposed to do there is no one to monitor them because the state department is not doing it.

Districts are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  I’ve heard this refrain many times for years. This cry has only gotten louder since State Superintendent John White destroyed the Special Education department in the name of improving coordination and efficiency.

White and his staff dismissed, demoted or drove off most of the qualified and experienced staff members and replaced them with politically driven appointments like the current Special Education Policy Director Jamie Wong.  Jamie spent a few years teaching pre-k and kindergarten in DC as a TNTP teacher.  (TNTP is The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the now discredited Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America Alum who is widely believed to have rigged test scores and overlooked or even encouraged cheating during her tenure as the Superintendent of DC public schools.)  Jamie now earns $95,000 a year at LDOE with only a few years of teaching experience.  Not so coincidentally, Jamie Wong is married to Michael Thomas Wong, one of the chief campaign strategists for Senator David Vitter who is widely presumed to be Louisiana’s next governor.  It appears that Michael Wong is paid at least $90,000 to serve as Vitter’s Capital Area Director, and  gubernatorial campaign advisor and strategist.  Michael’s salary for just 6 months of last year was $43,318.54.

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Sources have claimed that Jamie’s job is a quid pro quo from John White to David Vitter, who is presumed to be John White’s next boss as the Governor of Louisiana.

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps that was just the icing on the cake, but what I want to know is why no one else in Louisiana or at the Department of Education was considered qualified for her position? I’m having trouble understanding why a recent college graduate living in DC (someone with a few years of teaching experience and a degree in political science from Southern Mississippi) is in charge overseeing all Special Education for the State of Louisiana, or why she was appointed when folks with 30 and 40 years of Special Education teaching and experience and PhDs were cast aside.

Dr. Laureen Mayfield, President of the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA), had this to say about LDOE’s recent attempt at implementing Act 833:

They are not rolling out the training until August, after school has begun for many of us. The Special Education Directors and Supervisors in the state have clearly communicated to LDOE that they needed advanced training on writing IEPs for students pursuing an alternate pathway to graduation under Act 833. In addition, LASEA members have repeatedly expressed that they do not need “IEP Writing 101” for beginning teachers, but instead, higher level training for experienced teachers who just need guidance on developing thoughtful, effective IEPs for Act 833. The drafts modules that have been shown to a stakeholder group, however, appeared to be basic “what is an IEP and how do you write it” information—which is exactly what LASEA clearly communicated they did not need. We will not know until August if LSU listened to feedback from directors, or if the modules will “have Act 833 embedded in them” by including a slide or two quoting from the legislation.

LDOE has as many as a third to one half of their workforce reportedly dedicated to Special Education issues.  According to LDOE’s own report to the legislature in January, these staff members were imbedded across all areas of the department, particularly curriculum, and yet they had to obtain a quarter million dollar contract with Alan Coulter at the LSU Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for Act 833 which is what the preceding comments are referring to.

However, instead of actually providing that training, the Human Development Center produced a basic “IEP 101” course because LDOE, under John White, with 129 special education staffers, had lost the capacity to do even the most basic Special Education task.

One former attendee of previous professional development sessions hosted by LDOE (in the pre-John White days) reminisced about how LDOE used to tend to Special Education issues:

Pre-White [and former state superintendent Paul Pastorek] the Special Ed Directors from the entire state, including those in charters, met for quarterly meetings in BR with the Special Ed State Director and all the SPED staff. It was a whole day meeting and they updated us on everything–changes to laws, innovative practices, etc.

In addition to that, an Ad Hoc group […] met monthly with Susan Batson and all the SPED staff at the LDOE. We went over everything going on of importance, including vetting and discussing any changes they wanted to make to bulletins. We talked and “argued” professionally until we all came to consensus. They also kept us up to date on all changes we needed to know about, listened to our concerns, and actually addressed them.

I also spoke with former staff members from LDOE to get their take on what had happened. Here is one of the descriptions:

You can point out that every student with disabilities in Louisiana has been affected by the greed and political aspirations of our so-called leaders. Districts have no guidance from LDOE because anyone with any knowledge or experience in special Ed has been run off either by layoffs or out of sheer disgust over the way things are being done. They (districts) are left to figure it out for themselves. The districts with stronger special Ed leaders are surviving; those with weaker leadership – not so much.

One parent from Central had this to say.  Her children were denied Special Education services at Tanglewood elementary because she refused to fill out an offensive questionnaire asking about her elementary children’s sexual experiences and drug use and if anyone might have abused them.

Things are much better homeschooling. Two of my kids were finally able to skip a grade, so now they are working at a level that actually challenges them. My two that needed IEPs are getting one on one and are able to work at their own pace. And I’m NOT accountable to BESE :) Maybe they’ll get their act together, and a few of them will get unseated. Maybe John White would be de-throned. Then I would maybe consider public school again. I looked at the website for Tanglewood so I could give you the name of the lady who told me my son could receive “intervention” but no “services” unless I filled out that stupid paper. She’s not on there anymore, so I don’t know what happened with her.

Of course refusing services because a parent refused to complete an illegal questionnaire is illegal, but despite 129 employees being paid at LDOE with Special Education funds, there is literally no one to train these folks, no one to oversee them, no one for parents to complain to and obtain any help.  Parents are forced to either subject themselves to illegal requirements or have their services illegally denied.  Parents are forced to withdraw their kids and homeschool them or simply forced to watch their kids suffer while LDOE and John White doles out SPED funding to vastly unqualified political appointees.

St Tammany and Central are by no means the only school systems suffering from neglect and malfeasance.  Most of our districts are suffering in one way or another but cataloguing all the stories would require several volumes.

This last story clearly illustrates the situation.  I contacted Kathy Edmonston, the Parent Resource Facilitator for the Ascension Parish School System, to get her take on Special Education in Louisiana under LDOE’s guidance. (Kathy is also a District 6 candidate for the upcoming 2015 BESE election.)    She had this to say about how disabled children are faring in her parish school system:

Hey Jason. Thank you for taking time to express concern for our SPED kids.  They are struggling so much with the new standards. My title is Parent Resource Facilitator for Ascension Parish School System.  It looks as if it has been forgotten at DOE as it is difficult for parents to find any one there to talk to when they are experiencing difficulty in their schools. I have not been told so, but it seems that SPED department at state department has been dismantled. We in Ascension have done pretty well moving along with Act 833. It will be more fully implemented this coming school year.  The transition has been difficult as the DOE has given very little guidance.  If there had not been an ACT 833 steering committee established to stay on them, I am not sure if we would have gotten any direction!  Fortunately, we have a very good SPED director in Ascension who didn’t wait, but started digging right away and communicating with other parishes, so at the end of the year, most of our teachers knew what to do.  Since the implementation of the current [Common Core] standards, our SPED students are experiencing lots of stress and difficulty because they are taught and tested on standards that are above their academic functioning level.  It is so sad.  Parents have nowhere to turn, and teachers can’t answer their questions!

When I explained to Kathy many of the things I’d heard from the Ascension Parish leadership and that everything there was peachy keen, she had this to say:

Nothing is going peachy anywhere in the state right now!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ascension is struggling just like all other parishes in the state with the new “transformation” we are experiencing.  Our parents, teachers, but most importantly, our children.

I’d say that about sums things up nicely.

Note: ( Liz Gary was not a member of SEAP.  This piece has been edited to reflect that change.  We apologize for this error.)

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LDOE Data Sharing Agreements that Put inBloom’s Agreement to Shame

 

In the last Legislative Session of 2014 two types of data protection and privacy laws were being sponsored.  I testified against one of them submitted by Senator Appel that tried to do double duty, but which was overly complex and was straight from an ALEC template.  The two bills that passed that became Acts were 837 submitted by Schroeder, which restricted the ways in which data could be used, collected and distributed (theoretically) and what I would call an equally important bill, Act 677 submitted by Ivy, that required the department to finally document all the places and reasons they do submit data to external entities and vendors. 

Without act 677 we are dependent on rumors (which may be untrue or incomplete), whistleblowers (which once they’ve blown they are expelled and our oversight ability takes a hit), and blind luck.  Freedom of Information requests are routinely ignored, answered months late, require lawsuits that drag on for years, and often contain very little of the information you have requested  – once John White’s executive LDOE staffers pare out the sensitive or useful information.

Act 677 has corroborated a lot of the stories I have been receiving over the years and jogged some memories of what I had overheard we were doing. 

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/resources/library/data-center/data-sharing-agreements

I haven’t seen any coverage of this resource yet, (theoretically it should have been available as of January) but I think this post will get the ball rolling.

You can see the department’s timeline and summary of privacy issues here:

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/resources/library/data-center/protecting-student-privacy

There are 23 agreements and instances of student level data being routinely distributed to external vendors, including names and SSNs, listed.  I have not had a chance to review them all, but I believe it is important we do so before the legislative session is over. 

File
Download

eScholar – February 2015
Download

ACE – December 2014
Download

ACT – February 2015
Download

Agilix – May 2013
Download

Arete – December 2014
Download

Brookes Pub – December 2014
Download

CAI – December 2014
Download

DRC – December 2014
Download

Harland Clarke – March 2015
Download

iSTEEP – December 2014
Download

JAG – December 2014
Download

LOSFA-GEAR UP – December 2014
Download

LOSFA:STS – December 2014
Download

Louisiana Board of Regents – February 2015
Download

Louisiana Office of State Inspector General (OIG)
Download

MERIL – December 2014
Download

MMCS:CATE – December 2014
Download

MMCS:Acc – December 2014
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PacMet – December 2014
Download

Red-eSetGrowDSC – December 2014
Download

TeachingStrategies – December 2014
Download

University of Arkansas – December 2014
Download

University of Oregon-DIBELS – December 2014
Download

I will compare this list to my notes to see if I can identify any that might be missing.  However this is quite a bit of disturbing information.  Let me know what you think, and don’t forget to let your legislators know your thoughts as well. 

My thanks to Representative Barry Ivy for helping to shed a little more light on the darkness that inhabits LDOE.

Use this link to identify your legislators and obtain their contact information.

https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/FindMyLegislators.aspx

This is the only information you will need to identify your legislators.

 

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Crawfish are Real and So are the Problems with Common Core

Common Core started out as an idea.  No one knew if it would work or not. To increase the odds of it “working” (measured by being adopted nationwide) an unprecedented but shrewdly calculated media campaign was launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and numerous other testing and textbook companies and education reform groups.

In Louisiana, 6 months before the standards were even written and finalized, our state Board of Education, known as BESE, adopted the standards illegally by not following proper administrative procedures, without reviewing them, and without allowing the public to see them or review them.

Most of BESE, led by BESE President Chas Roemer of District 6, has lied to the public about the standards ever since.

Common Core State Standards were not developed by “the States”, they were developed by textbook and testing vendors led by Jason Zimba for math and David Coleman for ELA.  Most teachers and academics consulted about the standards during the review process refused to sign off on them, because they were too confusing, not developmentally appropriate, not more rigorous, and contained serious gaps.

The standards were thrown together in about a year by a few people with zero prior experience writing standards, and never thoroughly and impartially reviewed before being implemented.

These are facts, look them up.

Rather than address the very real problems with Common Core, these companies and their allies have chosen to mock opponents with tinfoil hats, unicorns, straw man arguments and flat out lies.

They do this because they have no facts to defend their claims.  No studies were done, no international benchmarks were taken, and the few academics they grudging included (and ignored) refused to sign off on the standards.  There is widespread evidence that these standards are actually dumbing down our curriculum and making our students less prepared for colleges and careers.  There is also widespread evidence that these standards are causing fear, anger and frustration among thousands of parents and students across our state, and millions across our county.

Many states, like Texas, have chosen to reject Common Core.  Now other states that adopted it are getting out. Tennessee unanimously repealed common Core yesterday.

Yesterday, in a bipartisan vote, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted unanimously (97:0) to repeal Common Core. Today, the Tennessee State Senate followed with a (27:1) vote in favor of repeal.

“This legislation is a template for all states to begin a much needed journey of separation from federally generated standards and an invitation to embrace each states’ own constitutionally delegated authority to serve its citizens at its own will,” said HB1035 chief sponsor Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg). “As our founders and God surely intended.”

 

Indiana and Oklahoma have also repealed Common Core in favor of their own local standards.  To be “State standards” they have to be created by, controlled by and owned by the state.  Common Core standards are not.  They are controlled by testing companies and textbook companies and owned by the NGA and CCSSO.

Don’t believe me?  Try to change the standards and see how far you get.

Are all the legislators in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Indiana to be mocked and ridiculed, as you have us, by aligning yourselves with the folks that mock us with stuffed pink unicorns?Some of our legislators may have felt like they needed to jump on Lane Grigsby’s Pink Unicorn drawn clown wagon by refusing to allow Common Core to be brought to the floor for a vote or for debate last week. Don’t think we didn’t notice.

Legislators: We parents and voters are watching what you do, and what you don’t do now.  You won’t be able to turn your backs on us and ignore us and walk away.  We will come to your town halls.  We will come to your offices.  We will come to your fundraisers, ceremonies, dedications and speeches until your listen.  When we see you on the street and in church we will ask you about them and what you intend to do to fix the mess that adopting these hastily defined standards has caused.

If you continue to cater to those who believe in unicorns and fantasy we will hold you accountable. . .  and not just at election time.

If all it takes is stuffed toys to get you to bow to the will of a few special interest groups with too many dollars and not enough sense, prepare to be dazzled with a healthy dose of reality.

Crawfish are Real.

Crawfish are of Louisiana.

Our standards should be real and of Louisiana too.

Common Core is the fantasy ed-deformers can't wake up from

Crawfish Are Real! (And so are the problems with Common Core)

Do you really think the federal government is the real solution for education, but just not anything else?

Now who’s living in fantasy land?

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Responses to the Pink Common Core Unicorn

For those of you who missed it last week, our local education deformers cowering behind their ABC PAC, placed pink unicorns on each of our legislators desks with a message stating some of the things they had heard about Common Core were as mythical as the unicorn.

I’ll be honest, when I saw the tagline:

“Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

I really thought this was an effort by my crowd, the anti-Common Core crowd.  It would have made more sense and been much more appropriate.

You see, we’ve been fighting the lies spun by big business and mainstream media about Common Core for years.  Each lie we debunk is quickly replaced by a new ludicrous and/or unproven claim.  Much of the strategy of the Common Core movement has been to accuse the other side of their weaknesses before we could point them out.  This is where vague statements like “a mile wide and an inch deep” come from when describing our GLEs which where ranked second in the the nation prior to Common Core, and include much of the same material, except staged in developmentally appropriate ways (like requiring kindergarteners to solve word problems before they can read) and without all the bizarre and intentionally misleading word problem gibberish, and inefficient and contrived ways of solving what should be simple math problems.

Another recent, popularly repeated lie (so it must be true), involves stating our old GLE’s (which were ranked second in the nation prior to Common Core) are complete crap, and returning to them would be a giant step backwards and a disaster, according to State Superintendent John White and his fluffy headed sidekick, BESE President Chas Roemer.

This is peculiar since most of Louisiana’s GLE’s mapped to Common Core content, but Common Core ditched a lot of our material, like cursive writing, learning multiplication tables, and preparing students to take Algebra before High School so they can take Calculus before college.  85% of the content within Common Core mapped to our GLE’s. However our GLE’s actually contained more material introduced in more developmentally appropriate ways.

A little known fact is that LDOE actually spent 1.6 million dollars with WestEd to compare the two and build a crosswalk table to help with the transition from our GLE’s to Common Core, but then decided to move the adoption schedule up a year and ditched all the information they just spent 1.6 million dollars acquiring. The reality is the exact opposite of what Common Core supporters tell you.  Common Core is taking us backwards and lowering our standards.  Common Core proponents promised us the world with their “internationally benchmarked” standards, but all we got was a lousy unicorn and a hefty recurring bill for disposable worksheets.

So Common Core supporters want to have it both ways.  They want to complain that our old standards were crappier than Common Core (even though they covered more advanced material and more material) and at the same time they want to say they had too much, that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Which is it?  It doesn’t matter.  No matter what anyone says they simply argue whatever is most advantageous at any given point in time, with any given person or group, and their drones regurgitate their talking points verbatim, without really understanding what they are saying, and without any proof or evidence to back up their statements.

This is actually a good example of what is wrong with Common Core.  It was never proven to be effective, nor to be more advanced in any way.  The available evidence actually indicates the opposite is true.  Rather than actually try to back up their statements or provide evidence for their assertions, they resort to fluffy pink unicorns, because really, that’s all the evidence they have to offer.  It’s about as substantial as everything else they claim, which is to say pure fantasy.

So now these folks are creating more of the same lies and gibberish, but somehow believe prancing around delivering pink unicorns to legislators will win them some allies.  I hope that wasn’t their thinking, because from what I read online, some legislators were none too pleased with this prank.

State Representative Brett Geymann had this to say about the unicorn stunt on his Facebook Page:

Is this what they want to teach our children?

The ruling class elitists placed a unicorn on our desk to mock the parents who want to rid our state of Common Core. This is offensive and disgusting and every person and every group that is listed as a supporter of this PAC should resign immediately. This includes any member of LABI and the Chamber in SWLA. Your money is being used to promote Common Core and to mock the parents who are fighting for their children. I will not sit by and watch these elitists do this. The line in the sand has been crossed. To those of you who are fighting so hard to get Common Core out of our state, please know we are all in and will fight to the last day in this session. Big business has lied to the people about Common Core for their own self-interest. I have never witnessed anything so offensive as this in politics.

A teacher with 37 years of experience named Candyce Watsey had this to say to Community Coffee after reading they were a staunch supporter of Common Core:

Dear Customer Service Representative:

I know that you do the best that you can do; so do I. So I would like to begin by making it clear that I do not hold you responsible for the misguided position on Common Core that Community Coffee has adopted.

My family on my mother’s side is from New Iberia. I remember as a child that my grandmother and great aunt brewed demitasse in an enamel drip coffee pot on the top of the stove, painstakingly adding very hot water by the teaspoon to… the coffee grounds until a beautiful, rich brew was ready, served in demitasse cups with only sugar as an accompaniment. For me, my great aunt heated rich milk and poured it with just a bit of the demitasse into a large mug, sweetening it into a perfect coffee milk. To this day, and I am 60 years old, that is the best coffee of my life.

The coffee? Community.

Why is this venerable company tying its fate to a flawed, federal initiative that will only weaken the Louisiana flavor of our schools?

This is my 37th year as a teacher in Louisiana, and I am staunchly opposed to common core.

So, if I don’t tell you how to make your coffee, could you please refrain from telling me how to teach school?

You know your business; I know mine.

Sincerely,

Candyce Watsey
Covington, Louisiana

Note: The website where Mrs. Watsey and other saw Community Coffee listed as a supporter of Common Core has since been taken down.

When I visited the unicorn website I was treated to more lies, fabrications, straw man arguments, and truth twistings that would impress a twizzler addict.  Common Core really is a pink unicorn, but what Louisiana needs is a break from the false promises and fantasy of Common Core was promised to be, but clearly wasn’t for thousands of children and parents across our state.

What we need is a healthy dose of reality.  I hope we can find a way to deliver this message to our legislators before it is too late.

Posted in education, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

LDOE’s Graduation and College Enrollment Statistics in Context

Fortunately tonight I was sent a blog post from a new anonymous Louisiana education blogger  (at least new to me) named ULYankee.   I will reference some of the material contained in this entity’s blog post, because they seem to know what they are talking about, but I will build off of what they have written.

According to LDOE our grad numbers are going up and up and into the stratosphere.  What’s more, our students enrolling in colleges is going up too!  However, John White is the Prince of Education Deception and these press releases are mostly BS.

First let me explain how this all works.  There are several data systems these numbers come from. 

The Student Information System (SIS) collects basic data on enrollments, and exit codes (including exit code 04 (which gets updated to a “Y” on a statistical aggregation file) which means the student graduated – theoretically.)  The information from SIS gets used to generate the cohort graduation and dropout rates as well as the graduate counts.

Calculations used below were based on the following criteria: 1) Total Graduates were calculated based on LDOE Student Information System (SIS) End-of-Year data where "GraduateFlg" = "Y"; 2) Number enrolled 1st Fall after graduation was based on Enrollment Beginning Date <= 10/31/2014.

The Student Transcript System (STS) collects actual class info, grades, Carnegie Units earned, and can determine if a student has met all the class related requirements to graduate.

In the past, when I worked there, we would check the numbers and differences between these systems.  There should not be a large discrepancy.  STS is probably the more reliable, but SIS is easier to use for calculations and more timely in some cases and easier to update.  In the times when we cared about data accuracy, LDOE would audit the use of codes to determine if they were being used correctly.  In a recent small audit of RSD, LDOE determined that 100% of the codes they used were not used correctly and not documented.  One RSD school in New Orleans reported as much as 50% of their student cohort transferred out of the country. (If those students were really dropouts – which is likely -  by transferring them out of the country on paper they boosted they graduation rate and lowered their dropout rate by removing them from the equation.)  LDOE did nothing with their findings and did not later their figures for the years they audited.  LDOE started incorporating the Graduates in the School Performance Score calculation about 4 years ago.  Immediately after doing this the graduation rate jumped 4%. 

Yippie! 

The magic of expectations works here just as it did in Atlanta and DC. 

The increase in 2010 was not real.  It was not real in the sense that 4% more students suddenly decided to graduate because they knew it was important to their school’s performance score. 

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This increase was due to better data.  It was largely due to school districts entering data correctly for the first time because it impacted their school performance scores, and we gave them several opportunities to fix their data they did not have in years past.  It was certainly not due to staying the course on Common Core and more rigor – which had not been introduced yet.  (It might also have been related to switching over easier to pass End of Course testing instead of the pervious Graduate Exit Exam.)

Now our grad rate is creeping up every year and we have a large discrepancy between STS and SIS LDOE does nothing about.

So, according to yesterday’s 2014 college going report, 38,785 students graduated from Louisiana’s public schools last year. But according to the Regents’ STS Core 4 report, there are 38,326 public school graduates. Hmm, that’s a difference of 459 students, or a little over 1%. Not a huge number, but they should match. There’s even more of a problem with last year’s data – LDoE reported 37,655, where I only see 36,424 public grads in the Regents’ report, for a difference of 1231 students or a 3.3% difference.

So over the past two years graduate counts may be overstated by over 1600 students.  LDOE did not tie their numbers to the Student Transcript System.  We are showing quite a few more graduates in SIS (which only requires LEA’s to submit a single value of 04 on an exit record to identify a student as a graduate.)  Like the miracle workers before John White in Atlanta and Washington DC, LDOE does not audit or verify numbers they want to see increasing.  They don’t care how schools get those increases, as long as they get them so they have the pleasing numbers to back their Reform initiatives. 

The increase in college enrollments is a function of a new, more complete, matching system LDOE was planning to implement right after I left and right after John White arrived.  In previous years we identified fist time freshman based on students we found at the Board of Regents (our State College Board.)  We called this our First Time Freshman or FTF Report.  The Board of Regents only had data on instate colleges and universities – and not even all of them.  The new method is using  the National Student Clearing House.

College enrollment data is provided by the National Student Clearinghouse which includes more than 3,600 colleges and universities, enrolling 98% of all students in public and private U.S. institutions. For more information, see http://www.studentclearinghouse.org/about/

The increase in first time college enrolling students is not Common Core.  It is not rigor, or charter schools, or higher expectations, or magic pixie dust.  The increase from years past  is entirely due to including the rest of the students from Louisiana that Board of Regents did not have, using a better source file, and including the out of state student records we never had access to.  These are not apples to apples comparisons. 

This is more smoke and mirrors.  This is John White claiming credit for doing something that is quite likely entirely a factor of using a more expansive and inclusive matching method. 

 

 

 

 

Posted in politics | 6 Comments

Good News, Transparency: Louisiana CREDO Data No Longer Exclusive to CREDO

crazycrawfish:

This is a great addendum by Dr Mercedes Schneider to my recent post on CREDO data and LDOE schenanigans, and one of the best quick summaries of CREDO, its funders, and its founders that I’ve seen.

I’m not quite sure Mercedes is human, folks. Ijust published my piece around 4 or 5 today and she already has this update out a few hours later, and it’s crazy good.

I have some more updates on CREDO and their studies coming up, but before that I plan to tackle a few other recent disturbing revelations.

Originally posted on deutsch29:

According to Louisiana-based Research on Reforms (ROR), between 2010 and March 2015, the Stanford-University-based, Hoover-Institute-run Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) was the only research body allowed access to decoded student data on Louisiana students.

Prior to 2010, from 2005 to 2009, the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) also sent the same decoded data to ROR. However, ROR findings regarding the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) often did not support the state’s own findings on its state-run district (a conflict of interest, no?). So, according to ROR, beginning in 2010, LDOE stopped sending ROR decoded student data but continued to send such data to CREDO.

In short, CREDO remained the favored research outfit in shaping an image for New Orleans RSD.

Given CREDO’s favor with a pro-privatizing LDOE, one might wonder: Who funds CREDO?

Well, you won’t find a list of CREDO funders on the CREDO website. However…

View original 983 more words

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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)

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(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.

Posted in charter school, education, louisiana, politics | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments