Letter to the Auditor

 

I recently received this letter from a friend named Mark Joyce, who has been getting very actively involved in Louisiana’s education scene and in particular the malfeasance at the LDOE.  (Mark has recently been investigating and publishing pieces about campaign financing for candidates in the Advocate and Louisiana Voice.)  After reading about the latest disgusting revelations that have come out about ReNew charter in New Orleans he apparently recognizes this systemic abuse and neglect is something we all need to be concerned about and he as written the legislative auditor to try and rekindle some interest in some of the auditor’s own findings as well as these latest developments.

Mark summarizes some more historical revelations about now LDOE and RSD have squandered precious funding over the years without any repercussions.  Local school districts are also dramatically impacted by the way our state has chosen to implement charter schools. This is putting a strain on local communities and school systems over the same time period that funding for local systems has decreased.

The State has devised a scheme whereby they essentially steal locally local tax dollars allocated to pay for public schools overseen by the local district and hand them off to charter schools that the state “oversees” (not very well if at all as the ReNew situation shows) and approve and which the local district has no oversight over.  In light of our state’s current dire financial situation can we afford to permit this systemic and commonplace incompetence continue?

 

 

February 3, 2016

Daryl G. Purpera, CPA, CFE

Legislative Auditor

1600 North Third Street

P.O. Box 94397

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9397

Mr. Purpera,

I applaud your office’s efforts to help ensure transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayer funds. With a budget deficit in the billions, there is no room for fraud or financial mismanagement.

The Financial Audit Services Management Letter issued December 21, 2015 by your office, highlighted the Recovery School District (RSD)’s inadequate financial controls for the ninth year in a row. As your office noted, “We determined that the prior year findings related to inadequate controls over movable property and inadequate controls over payroll terminations and overpayments have not been resolved by management and are addressed again in this letter.”

Problems are not limited to RSD; more generally, your audits have repeatedly shown deficiencies throughout the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE)’s financial systems. Problems with LDOE’s fiscal management of public money are pervasive.  The system lacks fiscal responsibility for both public and charter schools (within the RSD and elsewhere).

Charter school growth has added to the financial management and oversight problems for LDOE. The gaps are showing.  Some examples are highlighted below.

Recently nola.com reported January 29, 2016, on fraud in testing and special education at a charter school in New Orleans.

The former principals of ReNEW SciTech Academy in Uptown New Orleans were accused Friday (Jan. 29) of special education fraud, failing to follow federal special education law and breaking state testing rules. Louisiana Recovery School District officials said the principals, Tim Hearin and Alex Perez, snagged almost $320,000 in public money for the school in the 2014-15 academic year by artificially inflating special education services. They also broke numerous test security rules, including asking at least three teachers to look at testing books — one during the test itself — to improve future results.

These are special education funds. These dollars are precious.  Back in 2013, in your report, Louisiana Department of Education – Monitoring of Charter Schools, it was reported that three of the six schools that offered special education services either had excess charges for special education students or could not provide documentation of services provided to special education students. Obviously the issues around the management of these funds continue.

A rising financial issue that New York and other states are identifying is charter schools paying inflated leases for their buildings significantly above market rates. This is happening in Louisiana, also.  One example is the Mentorship Academy type 1 charter in Baton Rouge.

Annual rent is approximately $800,000 on a building (owned by an out-of-state Real Estate

Investment Trust) with an assessed value of $3.2 million. This equates to yearly rents equivalent to 25% of the building costs. More dollars for rent leaves fewer dollars for education.

Another example is Inspire Charter Academy, another type 1 charter in Baton Rouge.  It is owned by a company in Michigan that shares an office address with National Heritage

Academies. This site has an assessed value of $5.5 million and annual rent above $1 million.

Again, this money leaves state control and is not available for use in the classroom.  LDOE should have oversight systems in place to ensure that excessive amounts are not being paid in overhead at the expense of education.

Another example of lack of sound financial management systems related to the vouchers issued through the Louisiana Scholarship Program. This was highlighted in your report issued September 27, 2015, Prevailing Faith Academy May Have Used Scholarship Funds for Other Purposes.  The Legislative Auditor office uncovered this issue.  LDOE did not.

The issue of transparency, accountability and oversight is increasingly critical given that increasing amounts of local tax money is being diverted away from the control of local school boards without the commensurate growth in good financial management.

According to the most recent LDOE Minimum Foundation Program spreadsheet, over $242 million is expected to be deducted in 2015-16 from the state’s support of local schools and instead given to state-chartered schools, which effectively removes local tax revenue from local control.  This total has grown from $184 million in 2013-14.

Most of the local taxes transferred to the state for charters are in Orleans Parish, but the numbers elsewhere in the state are significant.  These figures include RSD but appear to exclude Type 1 (locally approved) charters. For 2015-16 the forecasts are:

• Orleans Parish will transfer $162,735,197 of local tax money to state control

• East Baton Rouge Parish School System:  $28,327,990

• Lafayette: $9,652,336

• Calcasieu: $9,599,131

• For the other 65 parish and city districts COMBINED, the total loss of local tax money to charters is $31,959,492

• The estimate statewide total diversion is $242,274,146

In the past three years, local education dollars rerouted from traditional public schools to charter schools rose by 39 percent in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district — to $28.3 million — and 73 percent in the Jefferson Parish school system — to $4.5 million, according to state figures (comparing the spreadsheet referenced above with similar reports from previous years).

These figures were reported in The Advocate: Critics say charter schools draining vital dollars.

Furthermore, it does not appear that either the RSD or the LDOE consistently audit student home address data to assure that school systems are having money transferred based on students who actually live in the districts whose local revenue is being taken away.

Regarding the distribution of funds, I have seen no evidence that the Superintendent has established systems to avoid the issue you reported in Louisiana Department of Education –

Monitoring of Charter Schools in 2013 that found that LDOE overpaid or underpaid half of the participating schools in academic year 2012-13.

Even parishes without charter schools are involuntarily contributing local tax revenue to support them.  “BESE is overriding local school board decisions in the name of choice, and the local district is left holding the bag,” according to Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association said just last week at a BESE meeting.

The LDOE Bureau of Internal Audit lacks the size, funding or independence to provide sufficient oversight to review both the public school system AND the new charter and voucher school systems in Louisiana. Results of these (any) audits have not been made public. Of course, there is an annual report from LDOE, but this presentation has been roundly criticized for lack of independence and the lack of any provision of data to an independent third party. For such a critical issue as education, the department does not provide de-identified data in any raw form.

In any case, the presentation does not provide the oversight envisioned by the legislature.

Finally, as LDOE reported, they stopped conducting on-site audits of charter schools in 2008 because of a reported “lack of resources”. Currently, charters self-report.

Obviously, LDOE under the current superintendent has not been responsive to the results of external audits. As you know, recently LDOE responded that they do not need to develop a more comprehensive financial management and oversight process; it “is confident that its current practice … is sufficiently comprehensive.”

Given the findings in the report coupled with the existing lack of oversight by the Department of

Education, we respectfully request that your office formally audit LDOE’s financial oversight of ALL charter-type schools and update Louisiana Department of Education – Monitoring of Charter Schools.

Adequate oversight processes are necessary to ensure that monies are spent as intended, in this case, for the education of our children.

Thank you for your time and thank you for all you have done for Louisiana.

To verify that this email has been received, please reply and acknowledge receipt. If I do not receive a reply in a few days, I will resend it as a certified letter. Feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Mark Joyce

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

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

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

Louisiana State Superintendent John White:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BESE President Chas Roemer Pulls a Bill Clinton

I was not able to attend the December 1st BESE meeting, but I have been able to review some of the footage.  Had I been elected to BESE this fall I might have had a chance to respond to some of the inane/insane comments nonchalantly being spewed from the mouths of raving idiots, like BESE President Chas Roemer, in person.  However billionaires from out of state were terrified of me speaking the truth in public.  They spent millions of dollars in this year’s elections to keep that from happening.

I’m flattered, but undeterred.  Even billionaires will run out of money eventually if they keep spending millions of dollars each month to shut me up, and they won’t be successful in the end, just poorer and most desperate seeming.

And, as it turns out, it might be more fun for me to simply quote the idiots they backed in these elections and have backed in previous ones.  As those billionaires are probably finding out across the country, the problem with buying fools like Roemer is, well, that they are fools.  Fools usually don’t know they are fools, but they do like to show it.

Unlike what Lane Grigsby did with his Empower PAC, and Stand For Children Louisiana did with theirs this year, I don’t have to splice or misrepresent video together to make my points.  I don’t have to lie or deceive people to agree with me or invent phone news broadcasts, all I have to do is show the truth and let people decide what and who to believe.

The charter school law in Louisiana was written to encourage the implementation of innovative new education concepts.   It is even written that way in the law.  Innovation is a vague term, but here’s what Webster’s says.

Simple Definition of innovation
: a new idea, device, or method
: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

Though vague it’s pretty straightforward.  By the very nature of innovation you can’t possibly define every innovation ahead of time, but you would probably know it when you see it or hear it.  I think we can all agree that what is clearly not innovative is something that is done a lot, currently, in the same place, already.

Superintendent of the East Baton Rouge school system, Warren Drake, explains to the BESE board one of the reasons EBR did not approve the charter applications for two charter schools, Laurel Oaks and APEX, is that they are clearly not innovative, as the law describes is the goal of bringing in charter schools.  Drake explains to the board that not only are they not innovative, but they have “many” schools in the system that do the exact same things these charter schools are proposing to do already. Drake pleads with the board not to override EBR’s decision and approve the two schools as it will put a strain on the system he just took over and they are clearly not the innovation the charter law singles out as the goal.  Drake also provides a pretty good definition of the word “innovation.”

 

BESE President Chas Roemer decided this was a good time to add his own two cents(that really sounded like nonsense.)  He argues about the definition of innovation and provides his own definition.  He explains that innovation isn’t just a better “mouse trap” but it’s the “attitude in the building”.  Roemer then proceeds to explain he doesn’t want to argue about the definition of innovation ( after already doing that.)  Chas also explains he’s not arguing, but he could if he had too, thus illustrating he doesn’t understand what the word argue means either.

 

Sadly, I think the word “irony” is not a word Roemer understands the definition too either but I bet it would be fun to hear what his definition might be.

Chas’ sister, Caroline Shirley Roemer, is also the executive director of the Louisiana Charter Association.  Her job is to get as many charter schools opened as quickly as possible.  I wonder if that might have influenced Chas Roemer’s quite liberal, one might even say innovative, definition of the word “innovation” too?

To me it sounds like Roemer has been watching too many videos of Bill Clinton waffling over the definition of the word “is”.

Examples like theseare why character and integrity are important in a politician.  Without those two qualities, pols can basically do what they want by creatively misinterpreting any laws that get in the way of their agendas.

What’s Wrong with Education in Louisiana and Some Ideas On How to Fix it

Louisiana Voters,

 

A few months ago I had a meeting with Lane Grigsby about my candidacy for BESE.

For those of you who don’t know, Grigsby is one of the chief funders of the education reform movement in Louisiana. Investigative journalist Lee Zurik did a multi-segment story on corruption in Louisiana politics called Louisiana Purchased, and he discovered that Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and one of the chief supporters of LABI (the pro-privatization business lobby) was one of the most prolific funders of political candidates in Louisiana and was able to bypass many of the individual spending limits by having family members, PACs he formed, and as many as 17 companies he owned or controlled donate the maximum allowable amount to candidates he was supporting.

 

I wasn’t seeking funding. I was seeking some understanding of why he was getting involved in education and why he held the stands and beliefs he did. (Grigsby apparently didn’t know who I was which is why he agreed to meet with me. I knew I was diametrically opposed to him on almost every issue.)

 

While we disagreed on almost everything in our meeting, Lane brought up a very important point that I was overlooking.

“Besides kicking out John White, what are you actually going to do to improve education in Louisiana?”

My focus had been on fighting the BESE board, LDOE, and returning ownership of the public education system to the people of Louisiana.  I hadn’t really considered what I would do if I was placed in a position where I could actually work to improve things!

For the past two months I have been doing much less talking and writing and much more listening and analyzing.  This is probably not going to win me more votes, but getting elected is not really the most important thing, is it?  Improving our education system and the outcomes of our children and thus the future of our people and our state is a much more important long-term goal.

Win or lose the upcoming election, I believe I’ve already accomplished my short-term mission of showing how ordinary people can get involved with their government to try and make things better.

 

But let’s get back to the whole improving education part.

 

Despite all the “reforms” Louisiana has undertaken over the past decade our outcomes really haven’t improved all the much, now have they?

10 years ago Louisiana was in a 5 way tie for 44th place (out of 52 States + DC + territories) on the NAEP exam for 4th grade Mathematics. (NAEP is a long term national test used for comparing states to each other and to themselves longitudinally.

NAEP2004

For a snapshot of what this lack of growth looks like over time, refer to the chart below. Notice how the gap between Louisiana and the rest of the country has only widened under the current administration and their misguided policies.

NAEP2004graph

In 2013, Louisiana was just 2 tenths of one point (out of 500), ahead of Mississippi. We’ve actually lost a lot of ground compared to other states, despite the continuous claims of success issued by Lousiana’s state Education Board, Governor Jindal – now finishing up the 8th year of his term consecutive terms and running for President, and the Louisiana Department of Education – which both implemented the reforms and then internally evaluated itself on them. When the 2015 NAEP scores are released I expect Louisiana will have finally accomplished the unthinkable, allowing Mississippi to pass us up and thereby becoming the lowest academically performing state in the nation. That will be quite a first.

All of this lack of progress was achieved despite numerous reformers we were promised would work, and are continuously told are working – based on internal metrics the LDOE manipulates every year internally to collect kudos for their achievement and to buy more time for their allies in the private sector that many top executives at LDOE have previously worked for, or hope to work for someday.

Over the past decade we were told:

  1. Charter schools will solve everything with market driven incentives! 
    1. Charter have some anecdotal success, but many perform much worse than the public schools the replace.
    2. More than 10% of our students are enrolled in charter schools.
    3. Either the presence of charter schools are driving down the performance of traditional schools
    4. Or charter schools are performing so poorly they are offsetting the gains of traditional schools.
    5. The “best” charter schools by test scores, are usually simply the best at keeping the wealthiest students and most involved families engaged.  This is why Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies build new schools in brand new secluded and pricy subdivisions like and refuse to provide busing.
    6. Lafayette illustrates another facet of charter behavior: the bait and switch. Charters are advertised as a way to help out or replace struggling schools. Lafayette Parish, one of the top school districts in the state, had some schools in poorer areas that were not performing well.
      1. “However, the shiny new schools were built about as far away from the poorest communities as they could be. Charter Schools USA opened up two charters in new housing developments named Sugar Pond Mills and Couret Farms, which sell new shotgun-style houses on small lots of land for as much as half a million dollars each.
      2. These schools are theoretically open to the entire state, but do not provide transportation. They also require many hours of “service” from parents. Service time increases per child enrolled. Charter schools offer enrollment to all children on paper, but in the real world they do whatever they can to keep out the riffraff.”
      3. See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187950/behind-charter-facade#sthash.NAqRGD4V.dpuf
    7. This results in less diversity in our public schools, fewer schools with motivated or engaged parents and students.  No doubt this will help some, but help all?  Over the long term this has caused our state’s performance to stagnate or even decline. We already have some elite schools like Benjamin Franklin and Baton Rouge High.  This trend is likely to create a few more of those elite schools, and many, many, more subpar schools that are recycled through new charter operators every few years.
  1. Common Core’s high standards will push kids to try harder! “We’ve been too easy on those pipsqueaks up to now, but with more rigor and higher expectations comes unprecedented success!   If we just “believe” in our children, they will do better.
    1. To drive home this message the Louisiana Department of Education even changed its homepage and signature to this motto, “Louisiana Believes.”
    2. Honestly, does anyone really think the only thing that has been holding us back all these years is simply a lack of believing?
    3. We had the second or third highest standards in the nation prior to Common Core was adopted in 2010, and we ranked second from last in achievement.  Massachusetts had the highest standards and they ranked first in achievement.
      1. There is very little correlation between standards and achievement any more than there is a significant correlation between charter schools, vouchers, choice, and achievement.
      2. There is, however, a strong correlation between achievement and poverty.
        1. Our poorest schools have our lowest School Performance Scores and our schools with the fewest poor children have our highest SPS scores.
        2. This is generally the same situation across the nation and as a result the community schools of the poorest children are the ones inordinately impacted by school takeovers and privatization – with no discernable positive impact in performance for the community as a whole.
  1. Unions and their bloodsucking ways are the monkeys on the backs of our children and impediment to performance because they protect so many bad, lazy teachers. 
    1. Having inordinately powerful unions does not appear to be an important factor in terms of student achievement.
    2. However strong unions are a significant impediment to privatization which is why charter groups and their supporters like Stand for Children, and temp teacher providers like Teach For America advocate for policies that weaken unions and grant them greater market access.)
      1. Louisiana has relatively weak unions; Massachusetts has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, and is also one of the highest achieving states.
      2. You might even make the case that stronger unions build better outcomes for students.
        1. I won’t do that because I think it is not the most significant factor, not something Louisiana would accept culturally, and not an outcome one can influence directly very easily or very quickly.
  1. All Louisiana needs is some real “accountability.”  If we hold lazy teachers and crappy schools accountable they will know we mean business and work harder.  If they don’t we’ll take em over and the next guy will work harder. 
    1. We’ve increased testing and “Accountability” impacts for schools and school districts steadily over the last 15 years.
    2. Whether you believe it or not, every Superintendent of Education manipulates the outcomes of these results (although White is the most egregious) to show they are doing a good job.
      1. The scoring should be handled outside of LDOE by an independent auditor no matter who is in charge to prevent political interference on the outcomes –  if we’re serious about these scores being meaningful.
  1. We live in the technology age but somehow we haven’t inserted data ports directly into children’s brains to upload everything they need to succeed.  Before we do that, let’s give them all laptops and see if that does anything. 
    1. Giving laptops to every child helps Apple and Dell meet their sales quotas, but we aren’t boosting our scores or outcomes dramatically with these devices.
    2. Often these devices become a distraction, toy, or massive headache for IT departments to maintain and replace.
    3. Universal laptops or ipads are not a one-time cost, but a massive permanent cost.
  1. Having more recruits from elite universities become teachers will fundamentally transform the teaching profession into a more professional and respected calling.
    1. All too often these temporary teachers from glorified staffing agencies like Teach For America, City Year, and The New Teacher Project are ill prepared with 5 week training courses on how to teach.
    2. Their presence has had the exact opposite effect. Teaching has become less respected because people are led to believe anyone can become a teacher with a 5 week training course.
    3. The vast majority of these recruits are gone in 5 years, most after the first 2 years. This leads to greater instability and turmoil in districts already experiencing turmoil.
    4. The temporary presence of students from elite universities hasn’t really improved teaching overall, but it has led to a dramatic increase in education startups and new crop of education leaders.
      1. TFA Leaders like John White and Kevin Hoffman primarily hire likeminded TFA recruits and drive off local talent and experienced personnel.
      2. While these folks are usually very smart and committed, they are not better than the experienced teachers they displace or drive off
    5. Even if we wanted to replace every teacher with TFA, The New Teacher Project, or City Year recruits the supply cannot outstrip the demand. This is leading us to become dependent on an outside constant influx of new teachers and leading to shortages of experienced teachers and talent within our state.

Will collecting zillions of points of bio-metric data be the silver bullet we were waiting for? 

Will providing data to third party vendors (and hackers) help our children learn faster?

If these ideas were the panacea we were looking for it certainly would be convenient for a lot of folks; primarily the ones selling these ideas or products.

The truth is, to overcome the impacts of our entrenched generational poverty will require a lot of work from a lot of folks and a lot less “believing” and hoping and standard raising.  If a kid can’t reach the monkey bars, moving them two feet higher won’t help.  If kids can’t read, giving them even harder books and more tests to show they can’t read, won’t make them read more proficiently.  What I found helps my kids is when an adult (or child) lifts them up to where they can reach those monkey bars and feel comfortable hanging from them.

Kids want to achieve, but most don’t want to be overly frustrated or reminded of their failures, or how other kids are far ahead of them, constantly. 

Our schools have been plagued for many years by poverty, apathy, and acceptance.   In many parts of the state we have allowed our schools and systems to fall into disarray.

Our more affluent parents have abandoned the schools and they have taken their resources and parental involvement with them.  Out of these ashes we’ve had some outstanding new school districts form with the backing of their communities, like Central and Zachary. (Obviously Baker is still a problem.)

However the solution is not having the state/RSD come in and take control from the locals or chartering the school to a company based out of New York or Michigan.  Rather than simply punishing low performance or problems, and completely pushing the locals out of the way, we need to work with these folks and help guide support them.  This is what the LDOE used to do when our scores were going up – serving in an advisory and support capacity. This is what we need to do resume our climb from the performance dungeon the education reform movement has commissioned us to – while they drained our coffers dry.

In New Orleans we have many local communities seeking to have their schools returned to them, like the perpetual failure John McDonogh.

Rather than ignore and disregard these folks the state needs to embrace them and their efforts.

We won’t have successful community schools without the community.  We have mobilized communities in many parts of the state. This BESE and LDOE ignores them, mocks them and alienates them.

Many public school parents of means are taking their kids out of public schools to homeschool them.

Those are not victories, but tragic losses we must reverse now, before it’s too late!

Some of you folks on BESE and the House and Senate Education Committees might consider the people showing up to BESE meetings and Education hearings and giving you guys a hard time are the problem, but that is exactly backwards! They are exactly the folks you want on your side.  They have energy and passion and care about their school systems, their children, and their neighbors children.  You won’t be able to fix the schools from the outside if you don’t include the parents and community members on the inside. The few token parents Stand For Children busses in for meetings (and buys lunch for) don’t really count.

BESE members Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey doodle on their cell phones when parents are speaking to them about their troubles and problems.  They ignore criticism and different points of view and evidence that is contrary to their pre-determined stands.  BESE members Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones rarely speak and represent the CCSSO and TFA respectively as their full time jobs so they owe their allegiance not to our state or people, but to their employers.

Many of the folks driving education reform have serious conflicts of interest or ulterior motives.

  • Charter schools and technology vendors are going to tell you they are the solution.
  • Test vendors are going to tell you the only thing that you need is more tests with more details.
  • John White is going to tell you he needs more of all these folks because they represent future job opportunities for him.

What we really need doesn’t cost a lot of new money, require fancy new technology, more tests, or more vendors of any type.  We simply need to get back to basics and the three Rs as described two hundred years ago by Sir William Curtis.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic (Reckoning)

Most importantly we need students focusing on improving their reading proficiency and composition abilities. We need to redirect funds from programs we don’t need, that haven’t been proven, or that have been proven not to work, to helping students read more, better, and faster.  This takes practice and finding subjects that interest them.  This takes a time commitment.  This does not require every student to proceed/read at the same pace at the same time.  Student’s should be helped to improve without regard to test scores, without practice tests or test prep which is excessively boring and not conducive to long term learning or retention.

Our children need to learn to read and to be engaged by the material in interesting ways.  We need to eliminate teaching to the test and return to teaching and learning for their own sakes.  This will, as a matter of course, improve test scores.

If children can’t read, can they really understand or learn science, history, economics or civics?  Many of our behavior problems at higher-grade levels are because kids are bored or disengaged because they can’t follow along – because they can’t read or haven’t learned the earlier material.  However when kids have real behavior problems, that are disruptive to the class and school, they need to be removed to allow teachers to teach and other students the opportunity to learn.

Common Core introduced a lot of new “reading” in the math portions, but this is what is giving most children the most trouble.  My daughter was required to read and write for her math homework in first grade when she was still just learning to read and write.  Reading and writing about math problems is not very interesting to a 6 year old.  Common Core (specifically the Tier one Eureka Math LDOE has selected) is trying to address the reading/writing problem in the most frustrating and counter-productive way imaginable to improve children’s reading and writing skills.  Changing an existing standard here and there won’t fix that underlying issue. Revising the entire approach to and eliminating unnecessary frustration is a much greater problem than any individual standard.  The current standards revision process  (that only allows for comment on existing standards) is not likely to address this underlying structural problem.

Common Core does not encourage children to learn on their own, it encourages them to learn only the minimum necessary to pass a test.  The PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT exams do not measure the ability to learn, and thus do not measure potential. As a result of the single-minded approach to improving test scores we are depriving students of the ability and joys of learning for its own sake, and our test scores are not improving.

Louisiana, if you really want to fix education, you need to examine the motivations of folks that are pitching their ideas to you and stay focused on your chief goal – fixing education outcomes and preparing children for a lifetime of learning – rather than being tied down by a single solution, candidate, or ally.

There’s not much money to be made with my solution so I doubt many people will want to buy into it.  However if you would like support me and my vision you will have a chance to vote for me on October 24th.

If you would like to help in a more direct way my campaign website is listed below.

Thank you for you time.

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE in district 6

www.jasonfrance4la.com

 

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

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

image

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.

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Recent Piece on Charter Schools in Louisiana has been Published in the Progressive.

I was recently asked to write and submit a story to The Progressive, a national magazine with a liberal slant established in 1909 and home of the Public School Shakedown, where I am listed as a featured writer for some of my blog posts.  Charter School fraud and abuse is a concern of both Liberals and Conservatives, and I try to speak to and educate both sides whenever the opportunity arises.  I am told this magazine is read by a large number of college professors at Universities across the United States.  We could really use their help combating the lies, fraud, and abuse of charter schools and their PR firms and phoney advertising campaigns and claims of success.  I hope this piece reaches some of them.  What is happening to our K-12 systems now will be happening to our university systems next.

You can see a Table of Contents of this issue here, which includes a brief history and examples of charter schools and their dirty dealings in Louisiana. My article is called Behind the Charter School Façade. I will let you know when they post a link to this story.

The Progressive will be posting and sharing stories from the issue all month.

Here is a link to the first piece: a cartoon/video The Progressive started sharing Monday about a charter chain named Rocketship Academies that has not yet come to Louisiana but which has every intention of doing so.

For those unfamiliar with this chain, Rocketship has large teacher to student ratios, largely employs inexperienced teachers, and keeps kids in large warehouse like environments filled with colorful confining cubicles crammed with computers which they must interact with most of their days on math and ELA test preparation. Very little time is spent on history, art, science, culture or PE in Rocketship Academies.

 

This animated video by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore looks at school privatization through the eyes of little Timmy, a kindergartener who likes his public school.

Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate education reform, starting with the rightwing mantra: “Public schools have failed.”

“But I like my public school,” Timmy protests.

– See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2010/12/187929/profitship-learning#sthash.qUWIkEMd.dpuf

 

Here the video is embedded in a web story with some explanatory text:
http://www.progressive.org/news/2010/12/187929/profitship-learning

 

In my piece I will cover charter chains we sadly already do have in Louisiana and some of their misdeeds right in our backyards. I have numerous stories not included in this issue I will be rolling out this month (I had way more information than they could possibly print in a single story.)

However, there is no need to wait until the Progressive releases this content for free! You can purchase a digital or digital + print subscription for 10 or 14 dollars a year as I have done. This will give you access to all of the latest stories and content, fresh off the presses, and will go toward supporting more great investigative reporting of charter schools and school reformers.