The Seabaugh Solution Apology and Explanation

VAM (Valued Added Modeling) is garbage.  It does not work. Louisiana’s system is especially flawed. The underlying premise behind VAM is also flawed, and no VAM assessment (good or bad) should be trusted.  Before I wrote about the Seabaugh Solution I wrote numerous articles about this.

I probably have have dozens of articles where I discuss the fallacies of VAM.  Others around our state have written dozens more.  As a data analyst by trade myself, this misuse and misapplication of data is especially infuriating.

Recently, a series of articles I wrote about an Louisiana Department of Education conspiracy to adjust the entire VAM system to benefit 3 teachers in Caddo was rediscovered, and made popular, but without all the backstory and context.  (I hope those that are promoting that story will also promote this one.)

This conspiracy was actually named the Seabaugh Solution by John White’s staff.  John White, and several of his executive TFA staffers recruited from out of state, carried out this deception after discovering it was flagging our best teachers as our worst teachers.  Please let this sink in.  They understood that VAM was identifying our best teachers as our worst teachers, and they have continued to promote this charade to this day.  Their behavior is well into the loathsome territory here, folks.

A number of native Louisiana citizens working at the department at the time were outraged by this perversion of the VAM system. They could not have disclosed it without jeopardizing their jobs and careers.  Nevertheless, at great personal risk to themselves, they notified me and fellow blogger Tom Aswell, at Louisiana Voice, so we could alert the public to this travesty being perpetrated against our teachers.  Please read Tom’s story for more specific details and background.

My intent was never to involve the specific teachers.  (VAM only has a 25% accuracy rate at best.)  Internally these teachers were sometimes referred to as ineffective by VAM calculations, and by other less flattering terms.  However the truth is in fact the exact opposite.  I was trying to make an ironic point by referring to them as “crappy” when both John White and Alan Seabaugh knew, or claimed to know, the exact opposite was true. The students of these teachers scored consistently at the top – for the entire state.  These teachers initially labels as “ineffective” were in actuality some our best teachers. VAM had classified them as our worst.

Legislators need to understand this and ban VAM from being used in the future for any punitive purpose.  They are knowingly persecuting and hanging innocent teachers in a politically motivated witch hunt that is none of their business in the first place.  LDOE is a state agency and not them employer of these teachers. LDOE should not be making judgments about them from afar; especially based solely on a  few pieces of data that were never meant for the purpose they are being used.

Sadly, these truly outstanding teachers were not alone.  Many teachers across the state are classified as ineffective because their students scored so well it was impossible for them to improve.  Others were classified as horrible because they were teaching some of our most disabled, neglected, homeless, limited English, and poverty stricken kids and learning and improvement is not always linear. VAM assumes all kids will improve at a completely linear rate regardless of teacher or circumstances and teachers are responsible for any and all deviation from that rate.  That’s just ridiculous assumption.  Furthermore, for a child to contribute the maximum points to each teacher ever your would require exponential improvement; which is impossible.  These tests have a finite range.  You can’t improve beyond 100%.  As illustrated by the need for the Seabaugh Solution, for VAM to work for teachers with students performing in the upper ranges, the tests would need to have no upper boundary, they would have to be worth an infinite amount of points.

Teachers have resigned in shame and have even committed suicide  across the nation after being unjustly defined by VAM systems as inferior.

LOS ANGELES — Colleagues of Rigoberto Ruelas were alarmed when he failed to show up for work one day in September. They described him as a devoted teacher who tutored students before school, stayed with them after and, on weekends, took students from his South Los Angeles elementary school to the beach.

When his body was found in a ravine in the Angeles National Forest, and the coroner ruled it a suicide, Mr. Ruelas’s death became a flash point, drawing the city’s largest newspaper into the middle of the debate over reforming the nation’s second-largest school district.

When The Los Angeles Times released a database of “value-added analysis” of every teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in August, Mr. Ruelas was rated “less effective than average.” Colleagues said he became noticeably depressed, and family members have guessed that the rating contributed to his death.

I was actually trying to highlight a real problem for out teachers across the state.  I am trying to prevent more, Rigoberto Ruelas tragedies, in our state.  Great teachers labeled have been and continue to be labeled as terrible by a terribly inaccurate and unjust data system.

Part of the problem is how the state has expanded its reach into places it has no business being in.  The state needs to get out of our local classrooms.  It is not helping.  John White’s department of Education is tearing our teachers and students down while claiming it is building them up.  As your teachers what they think about the LDOE’s involvement in their classrooms.  As the Seabaugh Solution shows, even LDOE can’t trust LDOE’s own data.  John White even said this in his conversation with Alan Seabaugh.

I beg you, please do not refer to these teachers as crappy, inferior, ineffective, or anything other than mistreated by a system I was trying to expose as outrageously unfair, dehumanizing and debasing.  The legislature may not have understood this at the time, but they should understand this now.  Anyone who supports VAM is attacking our teachers and children for political points.  It’s not a coincidence that a psychologist, and not a professor of mathematics, designed and endorses this system.  It’s not just that VAM is “a little off”, it’s actually completely backwards and entirely unreliable.

The outrage here is that John White and his executive staff fully understood the implications of what they were told.  Top teachers were being lambasted and shamed by an unjust data system.   John White knew his staff tried dozens of ways to calculate the VAM numbers and could not find a credible way to prevent some of our greatest teachers from being classified as “crappy” so White gave these teachers “bonus points” as he often does for charter schools he’s trying to save from his accountability system, which is also flawed.

Initial supporters of VAM may have had the best of intentions, but VAM is not the answer and never will be because the underlying premise is flawed.  VAM is victimizing our teachers.

Instead of conceding this, LDOE and John White simply added bonus points to certain teachers and shifted the curve downward to classify a new set of teachers as ineffective.  This new set of teachers might have been outstanding too, but they did not have an Alan Seabaugh willing or able to speak for them.

The State needs to discard VAM once and for all.  Not only is evaluating teachers none of their business, LDOE and John White are knowingly doing a horrible job, and playing favorites in the process.

My deepest apologies to the teachers involved.  My intention was to highlight the flaws in VAM to prevent what happened to you from happening to others.

Posted in education, John White, louisiana | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

To PARCC or Move On

This editorial appeared in the Lake Charles American Press today:

To PARCC Or Move On?

 

Not all tests are bad for you or your children.  Vision tests can help doctors discover if your children need eye glasses.  Requiring driving tests help everyone not get run over by people who didn’t take vision tests. 

 

In education there are two very different types of testing that can be loosely classified as summative and formative. Summative tests, like PARCC and the ACT, determine what a person knows at a certain point in time (or has been coached into storing in short term memory).  They are not intended to be used as a tool for future learning. Formative testing is used to guide future learning.   Formative tests are designed to provide immediate feedback that can be used to help teachers identify knowledge gaps and misunderstandings and to drive future individualized learning plans for their students.

 

Louisiana’s premier summative test iscalled PARCC by the State Superintendent John White.  The idea behind giving the PARCC exam to Louisiana children is not to help children learn; the assessment scores don’t get released until 6 or 7 months of learning later. These assessments are designed to inform the state which schools are delivering the highest scores on these tests, and which teachers seem to be having the greatest impact on these scores. 

 

PARCC tests are very long.  They are much more expensive than the previous LEAP and iLEAP tests Louisiana used previously. Test prep for them is often very excessive and detracts from real long-term learning.  Louisiana does not even have a contract to provide the real PARCC test even if it wanted to. 

 

What this means it that for this year Louisiana is planning to give a “mystery test” they identify as PARCC (for political reasons) that is not comparable to anything we have done previously.  This is a test which will not be comparable to a test given in any other state and a test we are very unlikely to use in the future. For this year it is time to park plans for standardized testing.  The parents I’ve spoken with want education to be about learning, not summative testing to evaluate a child’s teacher or school. Parents can register their objections to this type of testing (in lieu of teaching) by refusing to allow their children to participate, or “opting out.”  It is time for a change.  It is time to move on.

 

Jason France

 

Baton Rouge

Posted in politics | 7 Comments

The Recovery School District Is Ripping Off America

The Recovery School District is arguably the most corrupt, wasteful and unnecessary state department in all of Louisiana. Over the next several weeks I will explain exactly what they have lost, how much they waste, why they are unnecessary and explain the numerous unethical and possibly illegal behaviors they engage in. If I could cover everything in a single article I would, but their scheming really needs several posts to cover in any depth. This post will describe how they have managed to steal property and funding and to exploit loopholes created for them by the state legislature to rip off the federal government. I will not be revealing anything that is not already available in the public domain.

It perplexes me why no one on Bobby Jindal’s staff and no editorial board has weighed in on these shenanigans.  Bobby has said no to Medicaid dollars for the elderly and infirm to keep them from dying, but yes to using a shell corporation to extract federal tax credits to fund RSD?  Interesting presidential choice.

In 2013 the Recovery School District (RSD) asked BESE to grant it the power to create a “shell corporation” called a Public Benefit Corporation or PBC. Mercedes Schneider covered this development on her blog at the time with the question “Why does a “Turnaround” District Need to Purchase Buildings. At the time there was some speculation made, but I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I assumed this was a formality and this building would be turned over to the Orleans Parish school board. RSD was originally pitched as a temporary state agency under the umbrella of LDOE. RSD’s primary mission was described as “turning around” failing schools and handing them back to school districts. The current head of RSD, Patrick Dobard, described RSD success as working himself out of a job. But with this purchase coupled with the latest developments, that is clearly no longer the goal.

The latest development is ridiculous, but exactly the kind of situation one should come to expect when allowing bankers and RSD shysters to get together.  RSD asked the publicly elected (through massive corporately financed campaigns) Orleans school board to simply give them the schools. . .  and they did it.  RSD has gone from being an overseer of a federal grant and recovery dollars (from which they skim a healthy portion each year to cover their own outrageous expenses), to an owner of actual properties that they will lease to charter operators and use that funding to fund themselves on an ongoing basis. 

This was ostensibly done to simply increase the National Debt by leveraging dollars the federal government gave to us after Katrina (10 years ago) to secure historic preservation credits estimated to be in excess of 20 million dollars.  This is just for the initial properties transferred to RSD.  Confused?  I would be, and was.  Let me show you the steps.

RSD is created by legislature in 2003. 

Katrina comes in 2005 (schools are destroyed.)

Feds gives Louisiana Recovery dollars to rebuild schools in excess of a billion dollars and RSD is placed in charge of managing this fund.

RSD takes it’s sweet time rebuilding the schools because this means it pulls down management fees from this fund to pay for extravagant purchases and lifestyle (it is currently located downtown across from the Superdome.)

Looking for a more permanent funding stream, RSD creates a “shell” corporation that it alone controls and owns.

RSD tries to use funds from the Recovery fund to purchase a building (for itself and it’s new shell corporation.)  It intended to renovate building and charge rent which will got towards its budget while claiming those funds will go to rebuild other schools and save the  district money in the long run.

RSD asks Orleans school board to transfer 4 of their schools to its shell corporation.  (Orleans could have set up its own PBC and retained control of the buildings.  RSD could have mentioned this to Orleans but chose not to because it wanted the real-estate, rent and credits for itself.) RSD claims it will use these tax credits to fund other projects but it is not bound by this arrangement. This money is fungible, and RSD’s budget is so complex you could never know where that money’s going or what revenue it is replacing.

RSD will renovate its buildings with recovery dollars and sell tax credits to US Bank (reducing the bank’s tax burden by millions which would have gone to the treasury to fund the military, lower taxes for us, healthcare, reducing the debt but instead goes to RSD to cover their everyday exorbitant and eternal expenses.)

 

If this scheme succeeds RSD will continue to acquire buildings from Orleans and renovate them with federal tax dollars to get more historic preservation federal tax dollars, for themselves as well as possession of all the real-estate. 

For free! 

Sweet deal.

Keeping a staff as large as theirs isn’t cheap. To put that in perspective their current payroll to run no schools is 6.5 million dollars compared to the 29 million budget for the entire State department of Education.  They are larger than one fifth the size and their current payroll is more than twice the State has budgeted for them  Is this magic?  It is.  Dark magic. I will explain their financial footprint and just what all that tax money is paying for in the posts that follow.

Posted in politics | 1 Comment

Background On the High Stakes Testing Opt Out Movement in Louisiana

Unless you are already opting your kids out of testing this spring, most folks have probably only heard about this movement to “opt out” (parents refusing to permit children to take) of high stakes tests in Louisiana in the past couple weeks.  Here are some recent stories:

The opt out movement has been building momentum in this state and throughout the country for the past few years.  I have been consulted numerous times by various organizers of this movement to promote it or provide information about possible consequences and implications.  I actually don’t have a firm stand one way or the other on the “opt out issue” but I have been linking people up with individuals that do for the past year or so.  A few of the opt out information providers in our state are Ann Burruss from Lafayette and Lee Barrios from St Tammany.  You can generally find them on Facebook if you have any questions and want to keep up with the latest developments.  This post is not going to delve too deeply into whether parents should or should not do this.  I will leave this for them to decide. What I did want to do is provide some background on this issue.  I found the background on this situation to be lacking in most mainstream outlets.

First let’s define what High Stakes Testing means.  This is a term that has come to mean annual tests that are tied to consequences for teachers, students, schools and districts.  Low scores on these tests can mean teachers are fired, students are retained, schools are closed, districts are seized by the state.  For a pro side you can review this edreform site that describes what education Reformers are hoping to accomplish.  For the argument against High Stakes testing you might try looking through www.fairtest.org and this link: http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html

High Stakes testing became all the vogue in 2001 with the passage of NCLB (No Child Left Behind act).  NCLB is actually being debated and right now in Congress and even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is telling Congress that standardized testing has gone too far and needs to be scaled back.  (The original was co-authored by John Boehner and Edward Kennedy so you know it has to be good, right?)

Today some school systems may spend a third of their class time taking standardized tests or preparing for them.  I’ve spoken with parents in districts in Louisiana that claim test prep booklets sample tests start getting sent home in January for the high stakes tests we give in April each year.  Parents are outraged about how much time is consumed in taking and preparing for tests, and I don’t blame them.  I send my kids to school to learn, not to take or prepare for tests endlessly.

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.  I honestly have no idea where any of that stands right now.  One judge has ruled the state can’t block White from procuring the tests.  Jindal has vowed to seek repayment of any funds spent that way.  Lawsuits are still pending. I’m not sure anyone else can tell you how this will ultimately play out with any degree of certainty either.

Still, John White has made it clear Louisiana will be giving the PARCC exam this Spring and districts need to be prepared for it.  According to previous statements and decisions by White and BESE, no students will be held back based on this exam, whatever it is.  No teachers should be penalized based on the scores their students get for this year either.  However (SPS) School Performance Scores will still be based on these test results.  Schools and districts that do poorly on these mystery exams could be subject to seizure by the State Recovery School District (RSD) and handed over to charter operators.  Students that “opt out” will be assigned a zero on the exam.  If schools end up with a lot of zeros it could severely impact their SPS score and make takeover very likely if the school is already in a borderline achievement category and has been for several years.

Louisiana has not defined a formal way to “opt out” of testing.  Currently tests are mandatory.  Some parents are writing letters to their principals that they wish to opt out of testing.  It’s unclear whether any principals will honor these requests. My guess is students that get sent to school will be given tests regardless of any letters.  To prevent this from happening parents are considering keeping their kids home on testing days and makeup test days or bringing them to school late.  These would be considered unexcused absences.  I would caution parents that do this that they could run afoul of LRS 17:221 and LRS 14:92.2 that outlines possible fines and jail time for parents of kids who are habitually absent or tardy (truant). Enforcing those laws would probably be worse case scenarios but some districts might play hardball with parents trying to keep their kids home during testing. Some parents have taken a third route.  They have instructed their kids to bubble in all the same answer or to make “pretty pictures” on their scantron answer sheets if they have given tests against their parent’s permission.

I’m not very clear on what the value of these tests could possibly be.  Unless John White made a secret deal with PARCC to get the assessments for free (he is still a PARCC Governing board member so I wouldn’t rule that out) or PARCC has accepted the risk of contentious legal battles over any payments made, they are not true PARCC assessments.  They will not be comparable to last year.  They will not be comparable to next year. They may be rigged to be similar to PARCC using combinations of last year’s test and new items the state may have used micro contracts to generate.

What I can tell you is this.  These test booklets have already been printed or are in the process of being printed by DRC, the State’s longtime testing vendor.  When I worked at LDOE 3 years ago it took months to print the hundreds of thousands of test booklets they have to prepare each year.  DRC needed enrollment data from us in November or December to “precode” (pre-fill site code, name, DOB, grade level, etc) the majority of the test booklets give to students.  Someone should be able to require John White turn over a sample test booklet to see how they are portraying the test they will be giving in a few months.  Will they be calling it PARCC, iLeap, iPARCC, ParccLEAP?  Who knows?  What I am sure of is I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision on this till at least next year.

Would you like to see a sample/practice PARCC test?

http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/

I was recently told by a parent that they tried the 7th grade math portion with their child and failed miserably.  Common Core, which these tests are based on, was not phased in.  That means many kids in higher grades will not be able to pass these tests because they were never taught the material.  Because these tests are designed for kids to fail initially in the higher, unprepared grades as has happened in States like New York that gave these exams last year, parents are concerned this will lead to school takeovers anyways, as well as some mental anguish for their children.  In some schools these tests are emphasized a great deal and a lot of stress is put on kids to perform.  Some kids can shrug it off, and others can take this type of failure pretty hard and it can damage their self-esteem.

I know from experience I hate this type of situation.  I’ve had teachers that tested us on subject material we were not taught or even assigned and it did impact my attitude towards school and my teachers in very negative ways.  I lost respect for those teachers, lost respect for the subject material, and tuned out.  It did not inspire me to “try harder”.  It just made me think tests and schools were stupid.  Perhaps now I would handle that differently?  It’s hard to say, but children are not little adults.  Scholastic achievement might be tied to their self-esteem and identity, and they may not have other experience or achievements to anchor themselves.  If I had this concern, if I thought my children would be impacted like I was, I can guarantee I would consider opting my children out.

Posted in education, politics | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

The First Open “Beyond Bricks EBR” Meeting is Tomorrow, Jan 20th

A new grassroots public education initiative is trying to get off the ground next week.  Tuesday, January 20th, at 8:15, Beyond Bricks EBR is kicking off a community-wide initiative to start gathering feedback from the public about what they want their public education to look like.  This event is being held at the Albemarle Headquarters at 451 Florida Blvd on the 16th floor.

The Advocate covered this launch in this article.  This initiative was launched by Anna Fogle to gather feedback from the community and to foster a spirit of engagement with our public school system.

Fogle, a mother of two children in public school and board chair of the Baton Rouge Association for Gifted and Talented Students, said the catalyst for Beyond Bricks was the legislative session last spring.

Her organization along with the Children’s Coalition of Greater Baton Rouge and the parent group One Community One School District were raising concerns about an ultimately unsuccessful proposal, developed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to shift power from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and superintendent to school principals

I’ve known Anna for years, she is a staunch defender of public schools and children, and I’ve worked occasionally with the One Community One School District organization.  What Anna, OCOSD, and others are trying to do is engage community members who actually use the Public School system and would like to have their input heard as well as those who have only heard bad things about the school system from the media which is generally hostile towards the public school system in Baton Rouge. 

I believe Beyond Bricks is trying to encourage a positive atmosphere, so I would try to come with ideas about how to improve out current system and what sorts of programs and improvements you’d like to see.  I personally would like to see Pre-K programs offered to families of all income levels.  I feel from personal experience that I was further behind my wealthier peers by not attending Pre-K in  my youth.  I’ve seen my own kids excel at school with access to Pre-k.  My daughter is reading almost four grade levels higher than the second grade class she is in, and we’re not exactly sure what her math level is since she answered every question correct on her recent math assessment. I am not bragging for myself.  I am a terrible teacher with no patience or attention span.  I owe all her progress to her teachers in her public school in EBR.

I would also like to see an expansion of the Montessori program that is only available on a limited basis at two schools, Belfair and Dufrocq.  Those programs cost money, but they work.  Charter schools cost even more money, and more often than not they don’t work.  EBR is more than capable of providing “choice” to families in Baton Rouge, if given the chance and funding.

The EBR school district is doing some great things, but most people rarely hear of those, especially those without children in the public school system.

At a retreat in October of 2013 a PR consultant working for the EBR school district explained it best:

Also during the retreat, public relations consultant Melissa Landry led a brief discussion on how the board can improve its public image. She said that surveys show the community, overall, believes the district is headed in the right direction. But some of the people who have the worst perception of the district are those who don’t have children enrolled there or don’t have children. That could be because they hear only negative news from the media, Landry said.

So bring your ideas and your enthusiasm about the EBR public school system and come to Beyond Bricks EBR this Tuesday or one of the other meetings that will be announced later.

Details are below.

image_thumb4

Please RSVP Here
Metered parking is available and nearby parking lots are mapped here.
This is an inclusive initiative for all philosophies.
Please email  the name of any education advocate you believe should be involved to

info@beyondbricksEBR.org
Stay connected:
www.beyondbricksEBR.org
https://www.facebook.com/Beyondbricksebr

Posted in education | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Chance to Have Your Voice Heard About Public Education in Baton Rouge

A new grassroots public education initiative is trying to get off the ground next week.  Tuesday, January 20th, at 8:15, Beyond Bricks EBR is kicking off a community-wide initiative to start gathering feedback from the public about what they want their public education to look like.  This event is being held at the Albemarle Headquarters at 451 Florida Blvd on the 16th floor.

The Advocate covered this launch in this article.  This initiative was launched by Anna Fogle to gather feedback from the community and to foster a spirit of engagement with our public school system.

Fogle, a mother of two children in public school and board chair of the Baton Rouge Association for Gifted and Talented Students, said the catalyst for Beyond Bricks was the legislative session last spring.

Her organization along with the Children’s Coalition of Greater Baton Rouge and the parent group One Community One School District were raising concerns about an ultimately unsuccessful proposal, developed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to shift power from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and superintendent to school principals

I’ve known Anna for years, she is a staunch defender of public schools and children, and I’ve worked occasionally with the One Community One School District organization.  What Anna, OCOSD, and others are trying to do is engage community members who actually use the Public School system and would like to have their input heard as well as those who have only heard bad things about the school system from the media which is generally hostile towards the public school system in Baton Rouge.  For years, business and industry led by the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and Lane Grigsby have dictated the direction our school system is going.  They have dictated the direction based on what they think is best for them and their businesses, not what is best for public school children and parents.   These business interests have sponsored harmful legislation to break up the district and even created their own faux grassroots organization called FuturePAC to funnel campaign donations through to support candidates they believe will ignore the public and follow their agenda without question.

The candidates funded by these groups  have overwhelmingly been in favor of eliminating the public school system and replacing it with a privately run charter based system that will have no accountability to the public in regards to how these disparate private entities spend our tax dollars or how they  treat our children.  The schools being created by these private operators belong to them, not to the community.  They can close overnight, and they have.   If a private charter school employs abusive teachers or principals, or disregards the rights of disabled students the public has no recourse. At most a school could lose their “charter”. . .eventually.  In that event the charter operator keeps the school and the community is left with the kids to try and convince other for profit charter schools to enroll for free.  Many of these charter schools, like Inspire National Heritage Academy in Baton Rouge are refusing to provide transportation to students and families to save costs.  Any “cost” they save is profit for them and a new cost for you to incur.

Maybe you like the charter schools the Chamber and Grigsby have recruited to Baton Rouge?  This meeting is open to all philosophies so you could express that and explain to other concerned parents why you believe charters are a good thing. If you have some reservations or questions about the direction EBR is going I would recommend you come to this meeting.  This will not be the only event held by Beyond Bricks EBR, but it is the first one.

My brief charter ranting notwithstanding, I believe Beyond Bricks is trying to encourage a positive atmosphere, so I would try to come with ideas about how to improve out current system and what sorts of programs and improvements you’d like to see.  I personally would like to see Pre-K programs offered to families of all income levels.  I feel from personal experience that I was further behind my wealthier peers by not attending Pre-K in  my youth.  I’ve seen my own kids excel at school with access to Pre-k.  My daughter is reading almost four grade levels higher than the second grade class she is in, and we’re not exactly sure what her math level is since she answered every question correct on her recent math assessment. I am not bragging for myself.  I am a terrible teacher with no patience or attention span.  I owe all her progress to her teachers in her public school in EBR.

I would also like to see an expansion of the Montessori program that is only available on a limited basis at two schools, Belfair and Dufrocq.  Those programs cost money, but they work.  Charter schools cost even more money, and more often than not they don’t work.  EBR is more than capable of providing “choice” to families in Baton Rouge, if given the chance and funding.

The EBR school district is doing some great things, but most people rarely hear of those, especially those without children in the public school system.

At a retreat in October of 2013 a PR consultant working for the EBR school district explained it best:

Also during the retreat, public relations consultant Melissa Landry led a brief discussion on how the board can improve its public image. She said that surveys show the community, overall, believes the district is headed in the right direction. But some of the people who have the worst perception of the district are those who don’t have children enrolled there or don’t have children. That could be because they hear only negative news from the media, Landry said.

So bring your ideas and your enthusiasm about the EBR public school system and come to Beyond Bricks EBR this Tuesday or one of the other meetings that will be announced later.

Details are below.

image

Please RSVP Here
Metered parking is available and nearby parking lots are mapped here.
This is an inclusive initiative for all philosophies.
Please email  the name of any education advocate you believe should be involved to

info@beyondbricksEBR.org
Stay connected:
www.beyondbricksEBR.org
https://www.facebook.com/Beyondbricksebr

Posted in education, politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

National Heritage Academies makes money for themselves, but no sense for taxpayers

In the 2012-2013 school year Inspire charter Academy, one of National Heritage Academies schools in Baton Rouge La, took in 6.8 million dollars in revenue from state and federal sources according to their own records.  Of that 6.8 million, only about 1.3 million went towards teachers and their salaries.  Approximately 2.8 million was classified as instructional expenditures, or about 40%.  The remaining 60% went towards management fees, rent and profit.  For the same school year, East Baton Rouge Parish (EBR) spent 200 million on instructional expenditures out of 400 million in revenue or 50% of their budget.  Without delving too deeply it is clear that the school district spends more on their students that this charter school.

The rent on the building Inspire is leasing from itself at 5454 Foster Dr. is a little over 1 million dollars a year.  The building they acquired is valued at around 5 million according to the assessed value.  Inspire has a 5 year charter that is up for renewal for another 5 years at the EBR school board meeting tomorrow.  With the rent they have paid to themselves out of the taxpayer funded MFP and Federal Funds an ordinary school district could have purchased the building outright, and owned a 5 million dollar building.  NHA will continue to lease this building at 1 million dollars a year (or more) to itself for as long as it stays in business.  Even though some charter schools calls themselves “non-profit”, there are still plenty of ways to make money off the charter school.  For instance, if/when NHA pulls out or loses its charter the parent corporation will retain ownership of a 5 million dollar building purchased with tax payer funds (that factor in building costs and maintenance) and EBR will have nothing.

Another way charter schools like Inspire make money is by collecting money that factors in costs that they do not incur.  For example, in EBR, 7% of revenue goes towards transportation.  NHA schools make the claim they want to have neighborhood schools and so don’t provide transportation.  Here is a statement made by a board member of NHA run Willow Academy in Lafayette from the advocate.

http://theadvocate.com/home/8410250-125/story.html

The location is within walking distance for students the school targets, said Jay Miller, a member of the charter school’s board, Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies.

“We’re not providing bus service, so we felt it was essential that neighborhood kids would have an opportunity to come to school and have easy access to the school,” Miller said.

The problem with this statement is that Willow Charter Academy is in a Mall shopping center parking lot, surrounded by 4 and 6 lane highways on all sides.  There are  no nearby subdivision except for one which is blocked by an impenetrable forest.  Kids would have to walk for quite a while along dangerous and busy roads in rough parts of town to get to Willow, even if there were crosswalks and crossing guards.  Parents that want their kids to attend must drive their kids to school.  This arrangement allows NHA to pocket the money other districts spend on transportation, while also excluding the neediest students, those students without parents with reliable transportation, thus improving their demographics and lowering the higher costs associated with educating the poorest of the poor students.

I use this as an example to show how NHA operates in general.  Some schools are closer to subdivisions and some kids might be able to walk.  Most can’t walk to Inspire or to NHA Advantage at 14740 Plank Road in Baker.  Inspire does not appear to have made many efforts to make their campus accessible to the “walking” community either.

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One of the ways charter schools try to appeal to the public is by making the claim that they will improve educational outcomes for students over what they would receive in the traditional school districts.  While we can’t verify or disprove that claim for Willow Charter Academy yet, we do have some years of data for Inspire and EBR.  The district score for EBR, which loosely ties to the average of all SPS Scores, is 81 for 2014

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Inspire’s score is just above an F, and only because it received 6 of LDOE’s mysterious Bonus/Progress Points that appear to have rewarded it for declining from 2013 to 2014, while other schools that actually improved their SPS scores by more than 10 points (on their own) received no bonus/progress points.   How ironic that the schools that actually made progress received no progress points to their overall score but Inspire actually declined and got 6.

Wow.

LDOE has always been known for their creative use of math, but this seems either arbitrary or some interesting favoritism.  Remove the arbitrary Bonus / Progress / Favoritism points and Inspire had a 52 in 2013 last year and a 51  in 2014.  Now that’s some progress.

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While NHA Inspire is obviously not the worst charter school in EBR, it is worth noting that it scores 30% lower than the overall EBR system, and that with receiving “progress  points” while actually declining.  This is after 5 years so it’s not like this is a new operator taking over a failing school.  This is a new school.

So how does this scheme work I wondered?  Fortunately there are current and former employees willing to speak out.

NHA does not pay teachers or administrators very well, but promises bonuses when enrollment targets and test score targets are met.  They build schools in areas where the current schools are rated low (Inspire) so that it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to come.  But then the added bonus of a gift card for families and stipends for administrators when they meet or exceed an enrollment goal is held out there.  In my short time at Inspire, I made over $8000.00 in enrollment bonuses.

Very little money is spent on educational materials; even less on technology.  But they do like those gift cards – they send them out twice a year as employee “incentives”

In my [redacted] years in this business, I have been in a lot of schools in a lot of districts.  Very few have been as controlling as the NHA schools.  And when I asked about the lack of technology, I was told that there is no research to prove that it leads to higher test scores, so that’s not where they invest their money.

Willow has been started by a group of young administrators from Atlanta who were paid very large bonuses and housing allowances to relocate here for a year or two.  My friend is [redacted] appalled at the lack of emphasis on the children.  It’s all about the testing and meeting targets so that more money can be made.

I actually already did a story on NHA and their gift card bounty/bribery program for encouraging people to enroll in their schools.  If you would like to see some examples of their gift card scheme take a peek below.

https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/charter-schools-are-now-paying-kids-to-try-them-out/

I found another example of how NHA saves money from this source’s information.  If you don’t spend money on computers you can pocket that money too.  Who needs computers or an education on how to use them anyway?  I hear computers are just a passing fad, so maybe NHA is right to keep kids from learning how to properly use computers in a controlled environment.

The point is, NHA and other charter operators like them, are not focused on doing any more than will keep them in the school business.  Their business model is to muddle along and vacuum up as much money as they can in the process.

I can’t go into all the schemes large scale charter operations like NHA and Charter Schools USA use to scam taxpayers.  I’m not that creative or dastardly.  However there are plenty of folks that are.  Perhaps you should attend one of the meetings like the one mentioned below to find out all the ways you can make loads of money by selling and leasing back real estate to yourself and other important education stuff.

From: “Mara Kane”

Date: January 6, 2015 at 2:02:14 AM CST
To: (deleted)
Subject: Meet Our Speakers – For-Profit Education Co.’s for PE Investors – Jan. 14 Conference 

Dear (deleted),

Investors are encouraging for-profit education companies to restructure debt, sell and lease back real estate, implement efficiency improvements…even improve relationships with regulators who worry about the cost-benefit gap of the schools’ curriculums.

In addition, investors are increasingly focusing on service providers that are targeting for-profit education — from marketing and enrollment services to course instruction and fundraising.

In short, after a rough patch, the future of the for-profit marketplace is brightening, and this Capital Roundtable conference will highlight the ways many middle-market investors are doing well.

Register Now for Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies on Wednesday, January 14.

Meet the Chairman & Our Speakers

Our chairman, Jeff Keith, is operating partner of Chicago-based Sterling Partners. He has more than twenty years of experience leading finance and operations teams, with a wide range of senior executive roles under his belt.

Jeff will be joined by 20 other senior industry professionals, including —

  • Philip A. Alphonse, Partner, Vistria Group
  • James A. Bland, Partner, HCP & Co.
  • Ryan Craig, Managing Director, University Ventures Fund
  • John M. Larson, Executive Chairman, Triumph Higher Education Group
  • Robert Lytle, Partner & Co-Head — Education Practice, The Parthenon Group
  • Malcolm P. Youngren, Dir. — Online Education, Quad College Group

Click here to see the full speaker list

Need more information? Contact Joanna Russell, at 212-832-7300, or jrussell@capitalroundtable.com.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Mara Kane
Producer, The Capital Roundtable
mkane@capitalroundtable.com
212-832-7300

Feel free to give these guys a call and let them know what you think about their “business model”; that involves our children and tax dollars.  I will give this to them.  We really are being schooled.

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