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A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of America’s Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 404 pages) is a new book by St. Tammany Parish high school English teacher Mercedes Schneider that should be required reading by both proponents and opponents of the current drift in education from public to private, from non-profit availability to all students to for-profit institutions available to the select few.

Before we get too far into our review of this book, there are two things you should know about Mercedes Schneider:

  • The emphasis is on the first syllable of Mer’ Ce-deez; she’s not a car, nor was she named for one.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to schmooze her with B.S., especially when it comes to issues involving public education. She will call you out the same way she called out an ill-prepared Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President (BESE) Chas Roemer following his debate with Diane Ravitch in March of 2013. Ravitch had already run circles around Roemer in their debate and he was simply no match for Schneider in the question-and-answer session that followed. It would have been comical had it not been for the position of such serious responsibility conferred upon Roemer by voters in his BESE district.

And when she does call you out, that caustic and at the same time, delightful St. Bernard Parish accent comes shining through like a lighthouse beacon slicing through a foggy night.

The publisher of an education online blog called At the Chalk Fence, She has moved her debate from her ongoing fight with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to a national forum and is now calling out such self-proclaimed education experts as former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, whom she calls “the viral host of the corporate reform agenda,” Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp, disgraced Washington, D.C. school chancellor and later founder of StudentsFirst Michelle Rhee, vagabond school reformer and former Superintendent of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) Paul Vallas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “Big Three Foundations: Gates, Walton and Broad.”

A thorn in the side of Jindal, White, and Roemer of long-standing, she turns her attention to the national educational debate in Chronicle. With an appropriate nod to Ravitch as her mentor and the one who was always available when needed for advice, Schneider peppers her targets with a barrage of statistics that refute the unrealistic theories advanced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and TFA who insist meaningful education reform can be accomplished with inexperienced teachers and administrators, for-profit charters, vouchers, and the idea that throwing money at a problem is not the answer (despite their propensity to pour billions of dollars into their own idealistic agendas—at best, a philosophical oxymoron).

A product of the St. Bernard Parish public schools (P.G.T. Beauregard High School), Schneider’s attempt to drop out of school at age 15 somehow morphed into a B.S. in secondary education (English and German), a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the State University of West Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado.

She taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University. It was at Ball State that she first took on the task of challenging the issues related to No Child Left Behind, teaching students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.”

In July 2007, only months before the election of Jindal as governor, she returned home and began a new job teaching high school English in St. Tammany parish.

Her introduction contains a brilliant metaphor for the corporate destruction of public education: she describes what she calls a “detailed image” of an abandoned building being imploded and collapsing upon itself. She envisions the building (public education), “not ornate, not without need for repairs, but sturdy,” as men in yellow hard hats (corporate reformers, we are told) watch, knowing what is about to transpire “because they have orchestrated it from the inside.” She describes the men as “responsible for the impending structural failure” and “who have planned the failure but are removed from its consequences.”

In her blog, she recently launched a withering attack on White’s embargo of the LEAP summary public report, saying the state superintendent had “apparently found himself in an unfamiliar fix regarding his characteristic ‘water muddying.’” She accused White of “collapsing” categories within the LEAP grading system in order to conceal variation through report “groupings” that she said concealed the precision of the standard five levels of LEAP achievement (unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced).

“Collapsing ‘basic,’ ‘mastery,’ and ‘advanced’ into a single, generic ‘passed’ serves to conceal achievement nuances that might make Louisiana Miracle RSD appear to be ‘less than’ locally-run districts—the ones operated by those pesky, traditional local school boards,” she said.

“After all, a test-score-deficient ‘miracle’ is harder to sell,” she said. “If the data reflect poorly on privatization, then the troubled corporate reformer could alter the data, or alter the reporting, or alter access to the reporting, or employ some combination of the three. Gotta love corporate reform ‘transparency.’”

Jindal, White and Roemer may heave a collective sigh of relief that they have been spared the glare of the spotlight in Chronicle as she concentrates her argument on the glaring weaknesses of the major education reform movers and shakers at the national level.

But perhaps they should not be too comfortable at being spared just yet.

After all, certain matter, they say, flows downhill.

A Chronicle of Echoes is a must read for anyone who is or ever claimed to be concerned about the perpetual political tampering with public education in America—by those least qualified to do so.

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“We were directed to doctor the data to allow the schools to become eligible.”

—Former employee of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), who claims that LDOE employees under former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and in “at least the first year” of his successor, John White, were directed to skew data to allow several charter schools in the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans to become eligible for several million dollars in federal grants.

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The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) for at least three years manipulated qualification requirements for several New Orleans charter schools so that they would qualify for millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a former LDOE employee who now works for a parish school district and who asked that his name not be revealed.

The employee told LouisianaVoice that the practice started under former Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and continued at least in John White’s first year as superintendent.

He said the recipients were “four or five” schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans and all were charter schools. “LDOE employees were told to manipulate the data to allow the schools to qualify for the federal grants and each of the schools was subsequently approved.”

He said the data were also skewed in some instances to block grant eligibility for other schools.

One criterion was that the school be a failing school, he said. “These were new charter schools, so they were not actually ‘failing’ schools, but we were directed to doctor the data to allow the schools to become eligible.” He did not name the charter schools that received the grants.

He said the other criterion was for “conditional” schools. He added that the federal Department of Education is moving toward making “conditional” the single criterion for grant eligibility.

The former LDOE employee said he did not recall the exact amounts awarded the schools but that the total for all four was “several millions of dollars.”

He also touched briefly on the current accusations that the refusal by LDOE employees of requests to adjust the LEAP and iLEAP scores for the RSD was at least partly to blame for the delay in releasing school test scores until Tuesday of this week (May 20).

“The department (LDOE) did that for schools all over the state last year,” he said.

He said there was no logical reason for the delay in releasing the test scores, a delay that has thrown some school districts into a state of chaos—particularly those that have already completed their school year. Schools in those districts still don’t know which students will be required to take courses during the summer to bring their grades up.

Students in other school districts who may have been told they were exempt from finals because of outstanding grades are now finding that they have to take finals after all.

An LDOE official, speaking for White, said despite the prevailing belief, there was no set schedule for the release of the test scores—even though educators and administrators across the state were in accord in the belief that the scores were to have been released last Friday.

“There was no reason for the delay,” the former LDOE employee said. “DRC (Data Recognition Corp., of Maple Grove, Minnesota) had everything done well in advance of last Friday. The test scores should have been released on time.”

DRC is the vendor under contract to LDOE for testing and test grading of the LEAP and iLEAP tests.

The firm presently has two contracts with the department totaling $111.7 million.

The first, Contract No. 603573, is for $66.5 million and runs from Sept. 1, 2003 through June 30, 2015. It calls for DRC to test grades three through nine in English, language arts, mathematic science and social studies, and to administer criterion referenced testing in grades three through seven and grade nine from Sept. 1, 2003 through June 30, 2008.

Contract 704708 is for $48.2 million and runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015. That contract calls for DRC to provide support services related to LDOE’s current assessment program which includes the developing of test forms, printing, distributing and collecting materials, coring and reporting for LEAP, iLEAP and other standardized tests.

 

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If you like the way Mack Ford treated and taught the children at New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls in Arcadia, you’ll love the education reforms being put in place for Louisiana by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Superintendent of Education John White and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer.

Though many of the students at New Bethany never received their high school diplomas as promised, Ford employed the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum for whatever teaching that occurred at the facility.

And though the home closed more than a decade ago, students’ claims of beatings and rapes at New Bethany recently resurfaced when it was learned that two former board members—Ford’s son-in-law and grandson, Timothy Johnson and Jonathan Johnson, respectively— were working in the campaign of 5th District congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser, the candidate who is Jindal’s personal choice.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Johnson, Ford’s grandson who has worked for retiring 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander since 2003 and who now works for Riser as an unpaid volunteer, was asked about the propriety of Riser’s allowing two men tainted by the reports of beatings and rapes at New Bethany. “This doesn’t involve him (Riser),” he said.

Jonathan Johnson never denied the beatings and rapes occurred. Instead, he said, “I was twelve when that happened.” He also denied that he ever served on the New Bethany board. But minutes of a board meeting on June 30, 2001, obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate otherwise.

Called for the purpose of “disposing of properties owned and operated by New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.,” the minutes identify board members “acting on behalf of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.” They include Timothy Johnson (Jonathan Johnson’s father and Mack Ford’s son-in-law), Jonathan Johnson, Maxine Ford, Douglas Gilmore and Thelma Ford (Mack Ford’s wife and the board’s vice president and secretary).

As for the manner in which the property of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc., was disposed of, records on file in the Bienville Parish Courthouse indicate little, if anything was actually liquidated. Instead, records show the home’s property was simply transferred to New Bethany Baptist Church—a paper transaction that kept control of the property in Ford’s name.

New Bethany Baptist Church is in the New Bethany Home for Girls compound, situated inside a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Former residents of New Bethany said only residents and staff members—no outsiders—ever attended New Bethany Baptist Church.

And while the home officially closed its doors in 1998 (though some claim that a few girls remained there until 2004), LouisianaVoice found several Independent Fundamental Baptist churches across the country (including at least one in Louisiana) that continued providing financial support for Ford’s “ministries” long after the home closed and services at New Bethany Baptist Church were no more.

Among those churches which continued sending financial assistance to Ford:

  • Calvary Baptist Church, Sulphur, Louisiana, W.T. Darnell, pastor;
  • New Testament Baptist Church, Centralia, Illinois, Don Smith, pastor;
  • Faith Baptist Church, Spokane, Missouri, James Mohler, pastor;
  • Berean Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ronnie Baity, pastor;
  • Gloryland Baptist Church, Lincolnton, North Carolina, Macon Ballard, pastor.

Baity, asked why his church continues to send money to a “mission” that no longer exists, said, “How this church spends its money is none of your business since you don’t help pay the bills.”

And though this is by no means an indictment of all church-affiliated schools, three traits prominent among many—far too many—fundamental Christian schools, including New Bethany, are child abuse, sexual abuse and fundamental Christian textbooks like the ACE curriculum, A Beka Book, and Bob Jones University (BJU) Press that teach such interesting things as:

  • Solar fusion is a myth;
  • A Japanese whaling boat found a live dinosaur;
  • Humans and dinosaurs co-existed;
  • The earth is only 10,000 years old;
  • The Ku Klux Klan tried to be a means of reform in some areas of the country;
  • God used the “Trail of Tears” as a means to bring many American Indians to Christ;
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer;
  • God has provided certain checks and balances in creation to prevent many of the global upsets predicted by environmentalists;
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to promote a socialist agenda;
  • Only 10 percent of Africans can read or write because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists;
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

The list of schools participating in the 2013-2014 Louisiana Scholarship Programs is peppered with church-affiliated schools, some two dozen of which employ one or more of the three curriculums cited earlier. Each was state approved by BESE, White and by virtue of his support of White and Roemer, Jindal.

  • Delhi Charter School: Until public opinion (and a threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU), Delhi Charter instituted a policy of forcing a female student to take pregnancy tests if the school suspected she might be pregnant. The policy was adopted after a 17-year-old student became pregnant by a school football player and was asked to leave the school. The boy was subjected to no disciplinary action.
  • Claiborne Christian School, West Monroe: Scientists are “sinful men” who exclude God in explaining the world. “Any stories that go against a biblical view of live in this series of books are skipped and are not read in the class.”
  • Faith Academy, Gonzales: Employs ACE textbooks. Students “defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible verses (sic) traditional scientific theory.”
  • Northeast Baptist School, West Monroe: Uses A Beka and BJU science textbooks.
  • Union Christian Academy, Farmerville: Relies “heavily” on the BJU curriculum, as well as “selected materials that have been approved by the administration.”
  • Victory Christian Academy, Metairie: Uses A Beka and BJU curricula.
  • Northlake Christian Elementary School, Covington: Teaches from A Beka materials.
  • Northlake Christian High School, Covington: Student handbook includes policy against admitting prospective students and staff who do not meet “Biblical standards.”
  • Gethsemane Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses ACE, A Beka and BJU curriculum.
  • Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Greater Mt. Olive Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Faith Christian Academy, Marrero: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Lafayette Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Cenla Christian Academy, Pineville: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Family Worship Christian Academy, Opelousas: employs A Beka curriculum.
  • Trinity Christian Academy, Zachary: uses A Beka for high school science.
  • Old Bethel Christian Academy, Clark: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Eternity Christian Academy, Westlake: uses ACE curriculum.

So while Jindal bemoans “government control” of Louisiana’s education system, he apparently has no problem with fundamental church schools gaining control of students’ minds through curricula that conflict with scientific knowledge—and doing it with state funding.

Anyone who has the ability to see through Jindal’s “reform” package has to be asking whatever happened to the doctrine of separation of church and state.

And that doctrine appears to be the only real difference between the Mack Fords and Lester Roloffs of the world, who steadfastly refused state funding to avoid the necessity of state licensing (and state supervision) and those Christian schools who crowd their way to the public trough for a share of state funding to support their curricula that border on mind control.

Can anyone say “Stepford students?”

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The Walton Family Foundation, already the largest single donor to Teach for America (TFA), recently committed an additional $20 million to recruit, train and place an another 4,000 unqualified teachers in America’s classrooms.

That includes $3 million to the New Orleans region, administered by one Kira Orange Jones who sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which just happens to be the agency that contracts with TFA for those novice teachers.

In case you live in a cave, the Walton Family Foundation is the benevolent offshoot of Wal-Mart, one of the most successful retail businesses in American history but which is alone responsible for the demise of more neighborhood mom and pop stores than any one factor since the Great Depression—all while enjoying the benefit of almost $100 million in various tax breaks in 19 Louisiana cities, according to incomplete figures that do not include newer state stores.

More on that later.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, apparently kept in the dark as to Jones’ title of Executive Director of the New Orleans TFA regional office, ruled that her serving on BESE was not a conflict because her salary was not affected by the contracts with the state.

The ethics board member—its vice chairman—who lulled the board into believing she was a mere rank and file employee of TFA, has since resigned after it was revealed that he had his own conflict as a legal counsel for Tulane University which also had a contract with TFA.

LouisianaVoice recently obtained through a public records request of the Department of Education (DOE) copies of three separate contracts between DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) and TFA. Two of those contracts, dated in September of 2009 and 2011, were signed by Kira Orange Jones, complete with the notation beneath her signature identifying her as “Executive Director.”

Exercising a bit more caution in 2012, the contract was signed by Michael Tipton, Jones’ boss.

Those contracts, by the way, called for the state to pay TFA up to $5,000 per teacher provided for RSD—up to 40 teachers—and RSD would then be required to pay their salaries.

TFA alumnus Jack Carey, vice president of the greater New Orleans program said the money would fund more than 500 positions in the 2013 to 2015 school years, though with the state paying that generous “finder’s fee,” and local school boards paying the salaries, it’s rather difficult to imagine why an additional $3 million is needed other than to surmise the whole TFA thing is one gigantic scam designed to line someone’s pockets. That “someone” would be someone other than Louisiana teachers who have invested thousands of dollars on bachelor’s, master’s, and plus-30s and even Ph.Ds., but suddenly find themselves taking a back seat to those who train for five weeks over the summer to become teachers.

But it’s not only established teachers who take a dim view of TFA. Many of TFA’s own alumni are critical of the organization to which they once pledged their loyalty.

http://truth-out.org/articles/item/17750-teach-for-america-apostates-a-primer-of-alumni-resistance

One former TFA teacher now says that the organization glosses over issues of race and inequality but “fits very nicely into an overall strategy of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking.”

Whenever a TFA teacher begins to questions the motives and intent of the program, “The staff would get together and talk about how to handle these people,” another former TFA member says. “They’d plunk him down with groups of ‘stronger corps members’ to improve his attitude” by “trying to further indoctrinate others and myself.”

Yet another dissident said he no longer recognized TFA. “All I see is a bunch of liars who are getting themselves rich and powerful. They just can’t stop lying.” He added that TFA refuses to recognize established evidence that a child’s socioeconomic level at birth better predicts his future tax bracket and educational attainment than how well her teachers prepare him for standardized tests.

“We really get to know what schools across our community need in the way of high-quality teachers,” Carey said, “and we work with them over the course of a year to understand their needs and help make great matches.”

Wow. How noble.

But perhaps Mr. Carey has not taken a trip down to the Ninth Ward to George Washington Carver High School.

I have.

Has Kira Orange Jones toured Carver High?

I have.

Washington Carver High School is the alma mater of Marshall Faulk, Heisman Trophy runner-up at San Diego State and all-pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (where he won a Super Bowl).

But you’d never know it.

Eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire Ninth Ward, the school still has not been rebuilt. Today, it consists entirely of T-buildings. Superintendent of Education John White’s annual report, released last February, lists Carver as among the schools scheduled for new construction. Even though the proposed construction is to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), no steps have actually been taken to start construction other than the naming of two architectural firms. No contractor, though, eight years post-Katrina.

The football weight room is pathetic, consisting of three or four weight benches any other school would have thrown out years ago. There is no cover for the foam padding on the benches—padding that is crumbling. And the players’ lockers consist of plastic bins scattered across the floor—easy pickings for anyone who wanted to steal a watch or an i-Pod.

No one visiting the T-building weight room would ever believe that an NFL Super Bowl player once escaped the Desire Housing Project by playing his high school ball here.

Despite these conditions, George Washington Carver made it to the quarter-final round of the state high school football playoffs last year.

But far worse than the deplorable athletic facilities eight years post-Katrina is the fact that incredulous as it may sound, the school has no library.

Let that sink in. There is a public high school in Louisiana today that does not have a library.

Yet John White and Bobby Jindal and BESE President Chas Roemer would have us believe they’re all about education.

Gov. Jindal, Superintendent White, Chas Roemer, BESE member/TFA Director Kira Jones: what say you to the revelation that a public high school has allowed to exist under your watch that has no library? A school comprised exclusively of T-buildings? We’d love to hear your take on this. But please don’t hide behind Kyle Plotkin or your respective public relations sycophants in your response. (Surely is quiet; are those crickets we hear chirping?)

And so the Walton Family Foundation goes about with its press releases that glorify its generosity on behalf of education.

In truth, the Walton Family Foundation is all about the Waltons. TFA is simply the vehicle by which the Waltons try to put on their civic face. They are probably among the least civic minded of all.

Remember those patriotic television ads of a few years back when Wal-Mart was all about “American made” products? How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those ads? But we do hear about Bangladesh sweat shops collapsing on workers even as they turn out products for Wal-Mart.

And we hear plenty about how Wal-Mart exploits its U.S. workers with low wages and no benefits—all so it can keep corporate earnings up and competition out.

Wal-Mart is all about tax credits and making money. Here are 20 examples of economic development subsidies in 19 Louisiana cities, subsidies that total $96.5 million (the figures are probably higher because it’s virtually impossible to get updated figures from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development):

  • Abbeville: $1.665 million;
  • Alexandria: $2.5 million;
  • Bossier City: $1.7 million;
  • East Baton Rouge: $1.385 million;
  • Hammond: $1.365 million;
  • Monroe (Supercenter): $840,000;
  • Monroe (former discount store) $3.09 million;
  • Natchitoches: $1.5 million;
  • New Orleans: $7 million (estimate);
  • Opelousas (distribution center): $33 million;
  • Port Allen: $1 million;
  • Robert (distribution center): more than $21 million;
  • Ruston: more than $947,000;
  • Shreveport: $6.3 million;
  • St. Martinville: $3.725 million;
  • Sulphur: $1.8 million;
  • Vidalia: up to $1.65 million.

Wal-Mart’s expansion has been made possible to a large extent by the generous use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments, though the precise figures aren’t always available.

That’s because in Ruston, for example, the total subsidy was more than $947,000. That included a $647,000 enterprise zone tax break, plus $300,000 from the city in infrastructure improvements around the site through a state grant. But the city also made $12 million in road improvements throughout the area through a sales tax increment financing district. But since the district includes neighboring developments and because other area businesses benefitted from the road improvements, the benefits to Wal-Mart were impossible to quantify.

In addition, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores also receive about $5.4 million a year from a state policy that allows stories to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.

So, while the Walton Family Foundation gives itself a metaphoric pat on the back with its news release trumpeting its $20 million gift to TFA ($3 million allocated to Louisiana), it conveniently ignores how it has managed more than a billion dollars in tax dodges (nearly $100 million in Louisiana)—money that could have been used to support education.

Like perhaps permanent buildings, including a library, at George Washington Carver High School.

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