Why Bobby Jindal Pushed Education Reform So Fast

Why Bobby Jindal Pushed Education Reform So Fast
I own this place

For now I will overlook the more obvious question as to why he wanted “reform” in the first place – that’s easily summed up as 2 scoops of higher political aspirations, drowned in sticky sweet obligations to political contributors, and topped off with the creamy false premises that the private sector and competition always provides better services than publicly funded endeavors and perhaps a cherry of vindictiveness towards teachers unions – which he should now definitely view as staunch political enemies.

The reason he is pushing this legislation through now is to deal a deathblow to public education and unions while they are weak. Jindal is not a dumb guy. He knows it’s only a matter of time before value added gets tossed on the scrap pile history of good intentions gone awry. He knows charter schools and non publics don’t always do a better job educating students, and many times make their plights’ worse. He even has to suspect that many students that will say they are going to virtual schools will just use that as an easy way to drop out. That is why he wants to exclude those schools from testing or any comparative evaluation. His goal is not to educate students, but to destroy his political opponents and provide financial boons to his allies.

If you truly believed you were right about something thousands and millions of people and political enemies claimed you were dead wrong about, wouldn’t you embrace and relish the chance to prove them wrong?

Jindal is selling out the state and our children for past and future political contributions and a shot at the big time. Time is not on his side though. It’s only a matter of time before the education panacea in the form of unregulated charter and non public schools is shown to be absurd, but he will already have achieved his true political goals. And I’m sure by then will already have another handy scapegoat to blame his “failures”‘on. In fact, ALEC had probably already informed him of the next group he cam blame, so maybe we should just be talking to them?

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Shadow Schools: Why They Exist and What They Enable You To Do

Shadow Schools: Why They Exist and What They Enable You To Do
Abandon Every Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

While I was working at the Louisiana Department of Education I had a number of sources tell me about what I have decided to call a Shadow School. A Shadow School is just an unreported school that has its own students, teachers, principal, and building but which goes unreported to the State and Federal Government.  (I actually investigated the claims and have documentation of two of them which I will release once I put a decent post together.  If anyone actually pays attention to me I expect much of the evidence to disappear.)  A Shadow School offers many advantages over a regularly reported school. Here are a list of some of the advantages.

A Shadow School can allow a school district to evade federal desegregation orders. Shadow schools can have any ethnic makeup they want.

You can build a brand new school building for wealthier areas of your county or parish and staff it with the most qualified teachers and the most advanced technology while keeping your poorer or darker skinned kids in the older less well staffed schools so you wont have a desegregation order declared for you. No one would have the data to show you are doing this.

Schools with low SPS scores – which are determined by a combination of test scores, attendance and dropout rates – can be taken over by the state. If you have an alternative school with low performers you can “close” your school on paper with the state by reporting all your students to schools that are in no danger of being taken over. School districts have two or more sets of “books” to do this, just like the Mafia. If you have undisclosed academic magnet schools you can send those students to your borderline terrible schools and boost their scores above the takeover mark.

Schools with excessively dangerous events like murders, gun offenses and rapes have to be reported to the Feds as persistently dangerous and students have to be offered enrollment options elsewhere in the parish. By dispersing/reporting your alternative school discipline students across other schools you can escape this reporting requirement and keep your schools as dangerous as you like without anyone the wiser.

Special education students that are suspended out of school for 10 or more days must be reported to the Feds. Schools with high rates of these instances can be investigated and Special Masters can be assigned at School district expense, to oversee, monitor and correct these situations. By spreading SPED students around a Shadow School can have much higher rates of non-compliance without raising any red flags.

One of the statistics the Feds like to keep tabs on for NCLB (no child left behind) is highly qualified teacher percentages through their Edfacts EDEN data collections. They monitor this at the school level. Obviously when you don’t report a school you can’t report a percentage. And when you are reporting teachers and students at schools they never set foot in all your other numbers are questionable as well.

Sometimes Special Education students can require lots of special accommodations to allow them to attend school with qualified teachers in the least restrictive setting determined on their IEP. With a Shadow School arrangement you can report a special education student anywhere you want, while actually keeping them in a broom closet at an undisclosed site. All you have to do is decide that broom closet is a “program” and report the student at a home based school. You could tell the state the student was attending an academic magnet with your most Highly Qualified teachers, have an academic assistance teacher drop off some homework one a month outside the broom closet and no one would be the wiser.

I suppose the possibilities are endless. It’s a shame it got so political that it became clear anyone who tried to investigate or report this would be fired. I was told BESE would take up this issue in December of 2011, but I never saw anything in regards to this. I guess these things just take time. It’s only been 4 years since one of the Shadow schools I found opened up. I mean, it took almost two weeks to completely dismantle most of the public school system in Louisiana and replace it with unaccountable charter schools and non publics. I should probably just give them another day or two. . . I’m sure this issue is on the top of their to-do list.

I do have to wonder though. If this is what BESE, LDOE, and Legislature let public school systems get away with, what cool new things can we expect to see from our hundreds of new virtually unregulated and unmonitored non-public and charter schools?

Yeah. We’ll probably never find out.

The New Salem Witch Trials (aka Value Added Evaluations and the Outsized Search for “Bad Teachers”)

The New Salem Witch Trials (aka Value Added Evaluations and the Outsized Search for “Bad Teachers”)
17th century Value Added Teacher Evaluation - In Progress

In 1692 an unreasoning hysteria gripped a colonial township known as Salem Massachusetts.  What came after became known as the Salem Witch Trials.  A number of theories exist as to why dozens of women and men were railroaded into being declared witches based on absurd or non-existent evidence, but i would submit what was appealing to people was the relatively simple explanation and easy solution  (except if you were accused of being a witch.)

So:

  • Your children are misbehaving and wiggling in their seats at suppertime? A witch must have pinched them.
  • Your dog has an extraordinary amount of fleas and is losing it’s hair? Obvious witchcraft!
  • The local tavern owner served you a witches brew instead of a beer which drove you mad? Hang her and confiscate her property for your own!

All very ridiculous accusations, but it’s really simple to accuse a “witch” and pardon yourself from having ineffective discipline methods for your children, or hygiene for your dog, or self-control of yourself when you drink.

This is exactly the same type of hysteria sweeping the same nation now, only the witches are “bad teachers” responsible for all the social ills plaguing our country.  Then, as now, a kangaroo court is being used to convict “bad teachers,” although the court goes by the name: Value Added.  The judges are faceless bureaucrats that took a few  seminars over the summer and think the reason kids haven’t been keeping up with students in the international area boils down to two things.  Teachers are bad, or teachers are lazy.

Pseudo educators and mathematicians are preaching the gospel of the Value Added model in much the same way the clergy in Salem promoted their tests for witches.  In Value Added analysis, people are flagged as “bad teachers”, the witches of Value Added.  They are presumed guilty and terminated as a result of these flaky self-serving tests and the peasants rejoice!

Problem solved and it required no effort on our part!

However, The tests don’t even try to address other possible causes for low student performance, such as medical diagnosis, family problems or lack of involvement, poverty or drug abuse to name a few.  Instead, Value Added focuses on only the symptoms, low test scores, and arbitrarily links a teacher to those symptoms – in the hopes of finding a witch to crucify.

Value Added has never been about improving student performance or providing input for solutions.  The issues facing society are complicated – far more than what can encapsulated on a few bubbled in answers on a few tested subjects.  Value added has been all about identifying some “witches” to fix the blame for all our problems.

A scarlet letter B for all to see!

A blame based solution doesn’t cost much to implement, it absolves most people of any responsibility for a problem (both are key elements for making it popular) and it usually just creates more problems and solves none.

On the upside, it appears we will never run out of witches.

A Tale of Two DOEs

A Tale of Two DOEs

It’s not a well known fact that there are two DOEs (Departments of Education) in charge of public schools in Louisiana. There is one DOE ( the one I was most familiar with and like to think I was once a part of so I will stipulate that makes me biased) composed of under appreciated, highly educated, experienced and committed folks working tirelessly to improved education and as well as implement the policies put forth by the “other” DOE which at times run counter to those goals.

This other DOE is composed of politicians and folks appointed by politicians. They put forth an agenda which they find data to justify after the fact. Once a goal is decided upon by this “other” DOE, data that runs counter to the narrative they are trying to project is buried or disguised.

Ironically, to achieve a leadership role in DOE you don’t have to have any special qualifications to lead, other than the ability to blindly follow their orders. However, in all fairness, if the leadership refused or questioned their directives they would be replaced immediately by someone with no reservations and more enthusiasm, such as John White.

Recently DOE has issued guidance from on-high that prohibits most of the apolitical DOE from answering questions about anything data related. They have been instructed to refer all inquires, even ones as

simple as where can I find something on your website, to the public relations office so the data can be placed in the “proper perspective” for the inquirer.

Things weren’t always as bad as they are now, but now the stakes are much higher so the perception of anything but outrageous success will not be tolerated. Bobby Jindal needs to pass a highly partisan, wildly experimental and exceptionally unregulated agenda to show the other states how awesome he is so he has a firm education footing to run foe president on in 2016. Since campaigns generally start 2 years before the actual election, Jindal needs to make an overwhelmingly awesome impression right away, which is why the hurry to get this agenda passes now and without any debate that could reveal the tragic flaws that will come to be in a few years after the implementation of his plans. That is why team Jindal jumps on any dissenter in any medium immediately. They know this plan has tragic flaws, but the narrative they already have planned for when they appear is that no one raised any serious objections, and no one could have foreseen the disaster that will come to be. Neither is true of course. The disaster (disintegration of the public school system model) is the intent of these laws. Team Jindal has too many provisions littered throughout his bills of which the only and obvious intent is to disembowel teachers unions, local school boards, and local school districts in favor of non-public and for profit models.

Don’t be surprised when presidential candidate Jindal disavows any forethought in destroying public education in two years, but simultaneously takes credit for the outcome at the same time in front of different audiences.

Just as there are two DOE

s with split personalities and objectives there are also two Jindals. These Jindals bear a striking resemblance to the mixed up doors in the Princess Bride. One Jindal always lies and one always tells the truth — depending on who you are and how much you donate to his campaign fund or his wife’s “charity” organization.

Both Jindals want one thing:

The difference between Classified and Unclassified State Workers

. . .to find the “facts” that make them right — and there seems to be no shortage of people to appoint that will try to do it.

Shadow Schools: Does Your DOE Know Where Your Children Are?

Shadow Schools: Does Your DOE Know Where Your Children Are?
I know we provided funding for them. They must be around here somewhere. . .

Probably most of you haven’t given much thought to how state department’s of education collect their data on schools, teachers and students. Well having been in the biz for quite a few years, I do.

LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) aka School districts submit their data to the SEA (State Educational Agency) based on requirements that the state sets. (Not everything that is stored at the local level gets sent to the state. They can keep their bus route info for instance.) From that pool of data that states collect, states send data to various federal programs and agencies such as the Office of Civil Rights, EDEN, etc. However all of this sending is becoming more and more based on the honor system. States assume, or are being forced to assume due to budget cuts, that data being sent to them is honest and accurate. It’s not that you can continue do more with less indefinitely; when you cut budgets every year and increase requirements, goals and responsibilities.

What ultimately happens is you really just do less, in less obvious places.

Before the Reform era, and the STEM era (Science, Technology, English and Math) and this insane overemphasis on tests results in just Math and English, state agencies had people on staff who would deal with federal and state compliance (not to mention other subject areas but that’s a whole other article.) Compliance: you know, making sure the data being sent was accurate, making sure Special Education students weren’t being locked up in closets or confined to windowless rooms without receiving educational services, making sure first grade students weren’t being chained to desks, etc.

With the laser-like focus on improving Math and English scores, to the detriment of all else, the Louisiana department of Education has steadily cut back on compliance, audit and data collection personnel and spurned their oversight responsibilities. The past two Superintendents of Education, John White and Paul Pastorek, have made it clear in many a meeting and directive that they are not interested in obtaining quality data, in making sure LEAs understand and obey federal and state law. Their goal is in increasing test scores, and I don’t think they care how it gets done.

In last last meeting I attended, to paraphrase only slightly, John White informed us that if our role in the organization was not one that was leading to a direct and meaningful impact on an individual student’s math or science score, then our services were not going to be needed going forward. We were told that we should consider leaving, or we would be having a conversation with senior staff and some point in the near future and they would discuss our future, or lack thereof.

It was during this meeting that I realized it would be time for me to leave.

While I was making my preparations to leave, John White was cataloging the duties of every staff member at LDE. (I am told he is planning on laying off many of my former coworkers in the second week of April.) I was told by several sources that anyone who did not indicate they had a significant role in improving Math and English scores was on the chopping block, that much of IT would be outsourced, and that many staffers in non-core educational roles would be sent to other agencies such as DHH (Department of Health ad Hospitals) or Social Services.

Now you may be asking yourself, why should I care?

Well for starters, lets get back to the Shadow Schools I mentioned in my title. You see, many politically appointed people at LDE have know for years of the existence of schools that do not appear on our books. These are schools that have mascots, their own principals, buildings, and websites touting their “school” as a great place to be. Only problem is, those schools don’t exist; at least not to LDE or to the feds.

These schools come in two categories:

  • Magnet (High Performing)
  • Alternative (low performing career/ second chance / career / or discipline centers)

Since the purpose of my article is not to embarrass the specific districts, and since i don’t know every case where this is being done, it would unfair to name names at this point.

One of the ways the districts can get away with this, at least the reason LDE will try to float if asked, is that Louisiana doesn’t have a precise statute that defines a school, nor one that defines a program. The laws leave these definitions up the individual school districts to decide. Of course, nothing could stop LDE from clarifying their stand on these issues, or making rulings in some of the more obvious and egregious cases, or bringing this up as a policy issue for BESE to consider tightening up the rules, etc.

Of course i never said it was a good reason, just the one they would use.

Now why would this situation exist do you ask? Another good question!

Well from the LEA side its fairly simple. LEAs don’t want their schools taken over for having low SPS scores. The Alternative schools are filled with students with a history of academic difficulties. They will have lower attendance, lower graduation rates, higher dropout rates and lower test scores. Money is distributed to LEAs on a per pupil basis. If you distribute those pupils among all your other much better performing schools (well call them home based schools or schools where they might never have set foot in, but theoretically would have been enolled in if the alternative school did not exist.) This lowers the SPS scores of lots of schools just a little, so the district gets the money, keeps the school (which actually doesn’t exist to us) and the state isn’t stuck taking over a hopeless school. Win – Win.

The second situation is a little more tricky, so stay with me. Now lets say you have some really high performing magnet schools, but you have some really low performing schools about to be taken over by the state. If you just never report the magnet schools up to the state, but send the magnet students to the state as if they were enrolled at your low performing schools on an as needed basis you can boost those schools above the takeover line! I’m not quite clear on why the state has allowed this to continue, but I’m assuming it’s something political. . . perhaps a quid pro quo for not opposing all the tenure and charter changes.

I have to wonder how the state can rely on any of its data for teacher performance when the state really can’t be sure which teachers are teaching which kids. How can the state continue to take over schools when they haven’t even tried to ascertain which are schools and which are programs? That seems like a pretty big flaw to me. I have to wonder if LDE would be held in such high esteem with Arne Duncan if he knew of the shenanigans going on there.

I sure hope nobody tells him.

But meanwhile, and by all means, get rid of the rest of the data, compliance, finance and program people that might observe these sorts of things and try to do something about it. The were are just getting in the way of the “Reforms” we were going to implement anyway. The Reform Movement has much more important existential ills to cure and taking time to actually know where your kids are or preparing them to succeed would only slow them down. This movement has always been about greed and abuse of power. And lets face it, it looks like the wealthy and powerful have won. When the dust settles, and our education system is laying at our feet in a twisted, chaotic, dysfunctional mass; at least our kids will have learned one thing:

The Reform Movement won.

A Modest Corporal Punishment Proposal for Louisiana

A Modest Corporal Punishment Proposal for Louisiana
Sometimes also referred to as the “Board of Education”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vt4v7KsFi8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Even though our overly politically correct society has decided that beating animals with poles can be construed as unjust and abuse of the animals (and might get you thrown in jail or beaten by an angry mob yourself) and beating incarcerated adults is considered cruel and unusual punishment and forbade by our courts and Constitution. . . (apparently the 8th amendment even applies in Louisiana, folks.)

In Hudson v McMillian (1992) the Court considered whether the beating by prison guards of a handcuffed inmate at Louisiana’s Angola prison violated the inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights.  Voting 7 to 2, the Court found a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause even though the inmate suffered no permanent injuries or injuries that required hospitalization.  In so holding, the Court rejected the lower court’s argument that only beatings that caused “significant injuries” (read as injuries that were permanent or required hospitalization) rose to the level of Eighth Amendment violations.  In dissent, Justices Thomas and Scalia argued (controversially) that the Eighth Amendment was intended to reach beatings by guards at all–rather only judicially-imposed sentences.

I believe a sound case can be made that ample use of the rod will impress upon our youth a valuable lesson that will serve them well throughout the rest of their life in this great country of ours.

The “Lesson” you ask?

Namely that of what I like to call the Iron Fist Rule as more pragmatic, modern, alternative to the passe’ Golden Rule.  That force can, nay should, be met with unequal and overwhelming counter-force.

Take the recent example of Trayvon Martin.  Here was a youth who had the sheer audacity to wear a hooded sweatshirt in a neighborhood known for harboring an over zealous neighborhood watch captain.  No parent of a minority child in this country should, for one instant, think to allow their child to go outside looking like anything but an unassuming fellow like that Urkel from Family Matters.  In this tragedy, the parents are as much to blame as the child who wore the hooded sweatshirt.  Now some poor, frightened, gun-toting American is being harassed for doing what almost any one of us would have done in his case, chased down a suspicious character even after being told by the police to not chase him, (I mean, what black kid isn’t suspicious to Zimmerman?) and cornered him and his fiendishly purchased bag of skittles from the corner convenience store.  Trayvon could have just done what a gun brandishing Zimmerman wanted, whatever that was, but instead Trayvon made the wrong choice.  He chose to flee.  Obviously Zimmerman had no choice but to shoot to kill.

Now you may be asking yourself, how does this tie into Corporal Punishment and Louisiana exactly?

The answer is quite simple.  I believe we can prevent many of our own Trayvon Martin incidents by ensuring that Corporal Punishment is introduced into our public school system as early as possible.  I mean, can you imagine any child not benefiting from strangers beating them in pre-school when they act up?  What better way to convince little Timmy not to pinch or push another kid than 5 to 10 whacks with what I would like to refer to as the “Louisiana Board of Education” (funny huh?)  which, off the top of my head, might be a wooden paddle 24″ long by 5″ wide by 3/8″ thick. . . or so.  If we allowed our children to be beaten early and often for anything by just about anyone in authority they would soon learn that authority figures must be obeyed. . . or else.

I haven’t seen any credible studies done to prove what I’m about to say, but theoretically someone could create some statistics that would show that beating children on a regular basis improves test scores.  Current studies actually show the opposite, as well as a number of other unfavorable correlations, but I’m sure we could find a reputable paddle maker to fund a study that would prove my point, so I will continue to assert my previous point more emphatically, thus making it true.  Paddling will increase test scores! Paddling will lower the crime rates and murder rate, and also make us more competitive in the global marketplace!  I believe it is our duty to pass laws in Louisiana that will allow school districts to paddle their students to their hearts’ content.

I’ll also throw in this observation as an added bonus. Corporal Punishment on Special Education students is not regulated by the Federal government.  In fact, they may not even collect any data on this subject, which is an added, added bonus!  Student’s with learning disabilities,  or behavior problems such as being emotionally disturbed, would probably benefit from being “mainstreamed” with this discipline approach.  Lets face it folks, Special Education students are probably the hardest students for teachers to work with and reach.  Providing a 2 foot wooden paddle to teachers would greatly increase their reach. Additionally,  since we’re cutting back on teacher salaries and benefits, many of them might not be able to afford gym memberships or therapy sessions anymore.  Allowing teachers to administer a little corporal punishment on Special Educations students would probably help our teachers and principals in school districts that implement my policies build up some muscle tone and relieve some stress, sort of like using a punching bag in a gym does after a long day at work.  But they could do this while at work!  Many of the slower Special Education students might have trouble explaining or recanting the situation the provoked the corporal punishment response, which would make it almost impossible for anyone to sue a school district, principal, or teacher if they happen to go a little overboard with their exercise regime. . .

Ok, take a deep breath.

Hopefully this line of reasoning has you recoiling in horror and revulsion.  However you may not have grasped the most disturbing part about this piece.  This situation is already true in many parishes in the state.  Louisiana Revised Statute. 17:223  allows school districts to set their own corporal punishment policies.

And boy have they!

You can see a sampling of some of the variety here.

Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:223 – Discipline of pupils; suspension from school, corporal punishment

A. Every teacher is authorized to hold every pupil to a strict accountability for any disorderly conduct in school or on the playground of the school, or on any school bus going to or returning from school, or during intermission or recess. Each parish and city school board shall have discretion in the use of corporal punishment. In those cases in which a parish or city school board decides to use corporal punishment, each parish or city school board shall adopt such rules and regulations as it deems necessary to implement and control any form of corporal punishment in the schools in its district.

Estimates are close to 30 parishes have some form of Corporal Punishment policy.  State law does not give the state Department of Education any say over the matter whatsoever.  This means any school or school district in Louisiana can allow anyone on their staff to use any amount of corporal punishment for any offense as often as they like regardless of the age or health of the student.  Some parishes punish up to half of their entire student body, every year!  Some students get punished dozens of times a year!  There are no restrictions for using this punishment on disabled students, or infants, or the 18 and 19 year olds we are about to send out into the real world and hope they won’t take these lessons with them.

Fortunately more than half the state understands that this practice is barbaric, or they have at least recognized the potential liability they could incur should a student successfully sue and win on 8th Amendment grounds.  The messed up part here is that, while as a society we generally find animal abuse and abuse of prisoners abhorrent, when we rename the abuse “Corporal Punishment” and use it on our children, too many people find it tolerable or even something to be proud of.

I’m proud of Louisiana culture, Louisiana food, art, music, history, resilience, and perseverance in the face of many an overwhelmingly adverse situation.  However this state sanctioned child abuse , this is something of which I am very ashamed to be associated with.  My only hope is that one day enough of you will feel that way as well, and join my call to outlaw it.

Incidentally, and as I’ve discussed with others earlier, our appeals court has determined in Setliff vVs Rapides School Board that the legislature does not allow parents to opt out of corporal punishment for their children.  This case involves a kindergartener, certainly not well-behaved, but nevertheless one that was subjected to corporal punishment against his parents wishes.  According to the court, allowing parents the right to refuse to allow their children to be beaten with a wooden club that at times requires emergency room visits (also cited in the case notes) would lead to riots in the streets, mass hysteria and pandemonium, dogs and cats living together, basically life on this planet would end as we know it.

Neither the statutes nor the school board policies mandate that a spanking must be administered to a student. No school official is compelled to corporally punish a child. But by allowing corporal punishment, the legislature has recognized the need for such under certain circumstances. Significantly, in giving this discretion to our school systems, the legislature made no requirement that parents must first consent to such punishment. Nor has the legislature provided that parents be allowed to issue a carte blanche prohibition of a school’s exercising its rights under the statutes. To allow parents to unilaterally thwart the legally sanctioned decisions of school officials, could lead to troublesome, if not chaotic, results. There would be nothing to prevent ten, twenty or a hundred parents calling in to request that their child not be spanked. What if these same number of parents requested that no form of punishment whatsoever be administered to their children? The legislature, in its wisdom, chose not to leave the door open for such potentially dire consequences.

For updates on my Corporal Punishment progress and other education issues please go here.

I need people to start calling the Louisiana Department of Education and telling them to release the Corporal Punishment data to requesters and to publish the results.

Here is the link to LDOE’s Corporal Punishment information page.  Currently it contains no relevent collected data.

http://www.louisianaschools.net/topics/special_discipline.html

Some Data and reports hosted by LDOE

http://www.louisianaschools.net/data/

LDOE Contact Information

  • Public   Affairs                                                                                          225.342.3600
  • Kim Nesmith                      Data Quality Director                               225.342.1840
  • John White                         State Superintendent of Education      john.white@la.gov
some of the info on corporal punishment that should be available in addition to demographics such as school, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.

An Unexpected Windfall in FERPA for Reformers

An Unexpected Windfall in FERPA for Reformers
Just another satisfied Reformer.

Like many well intentioned education policies and privacy laws we’ve seen enacted over the years, FERPA was enacted to protect the rights of the weak, in this case children, from the powerful and unscrupulous, such as school bullies and identity thieves. That was a laudable goal to be sure. However what the law has morphed into is a perversion of it’s former self that makes the former threats seem all but trivial in comparison.

FERPA has become a bureaucratic breastplate for departments of education, and their Reform branded buddies, to shield their Grinch sized hearts, and to hide their failed and flawed policies behind. It’s no coincidence that strict FERPA enforcement has come at the absolute worst time for external stakeholders; such as independent researchers and the parents and children themselves.

We could debate the relative merits of concealing the fact that there were 10 or fewer Asian American students in a school of a 1000 is a necessary or worthwhile goal, especially if it means you couldn’t reveal the total student population is1000 because you could then back into the number 10. However the real problem is that FERPA allows DOEs to claim anything they want about any of their programs without independent third parties being able to verify their claims. FERPA protects DOE’s way more than it could ever protect your children.

FERPA requires DOEs mask small numbers of anything, even the very good or the very very bad. One of those Asian’s might have either been expelled as a mass murderer or the school valedictorian. The reasoning goes, if you reveal that statistic, someone could figure out the identity of the mass murderer or valedictorian or at least narrow the choices down to 10 candidates. Even though everyone in the school and local community would already know this information from firsthand knowledge; the Federal government feels strongly that other than those few hundreds or thousands of people that witnesses a Columbine slaughter or graduation ceremony, no one else is entitled to that information.

I’m not even talking about names or SSN’s here folks, just a simple statistic! And because you’ve masked one number you are forced to mask most other information that could be derived from it! In theory, and lately in practice, if any subgroup had a small population (say 10 or less) then you couldn’t reveal the race of the mass murderer or valedictorian because if they weren’t Asian, or Hispanic, or a female American Indian 4th grader, then you would be revealing something about some individual or small subgroup [in this case the lack of something i.e. being a mass murderer or valedictorian] and thus infringed on their right to privacy; or so the theory goes.

The law has been carried to the extreme with the end result being State Departments of education can’t or won’t share de-identified, or even summarized data in many cases, to most researchers. This makes oversight and review of their data in regards to Special Education students, charter school performance, accountability systems, voucher student performance, disciplinary equity and disproportionality, Value Added, etc almost impossible for external groups to independently analyze and verify. We are left to rely on the DOE’s, politicians, and special interest groups running these departments to tell us that everything is going great, and all their reforms are wonderful!

That’s not to say DOE’s don’t collaborate with external groups! They can, and quite often do, simply choose to cooperate with friendly organizations, where they are assured of the outcome they are looking for up front to rubber-stamp their policies, and not to cooperate with ones they view as impartial or unfriendly, simply by making a FERPA assertion.

We’ve let the FERPA into the hen house. We let it in when we were told it would watch over and protect our children. All it is doing is eating them (and feeding them to its ravenous friends in Reform clothing) while we stand helplessly outside straining to hear even a cheep.