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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

One of the most frustrating things in writing about this administration is obvious wrongdoing is reported and nothing is done.

In Bobby Jindal we have a governor who is constantly bitching about Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular while turning a blind eye to corruption, profiteering and ethical violations within his own administration.

You would think that the man who, upon taking office in 2008, said, “We have zero tolerance for corruption” would make at least a token effort to keep his house in order.

Instead, he gutted the enforcement authority of the State Ethics Board, ran off members of the board, and commenced to allow his political pals to run unchecked.

The sordid episode of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and the manner in which he was allowed to increase his state pension by nearly 70 percent is just the latest in a sorry laundry list of loose enforcement of ethics rules in this administration.

We have already written about some of these:

  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones simultaneously serves as executive director of Teach for America (TFA), which in turn, has been issued contracts worth more than $3 million with the Department of Education (DOE) since she became a member of BESE in 2012. BESE is the governing board for DOE and as such, must approve all contracts with the department.
  • The resignation of the vice chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics only weeks after the Tribune, a newspaper serving the African-American community of New Orleans published a story in its May/June 2013 issue headlined “Kira, Kira on the Wall” which explained Schneider’s own conflict of interests in ruling on an Aug. 21, 2012, conflict of interest decision about Orange Jones.
  • BESE President Chas Roemer consistently votes on issues concerning charter schools even though his sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools which much apply to BESE for approval of charters and other matters concerning charter schools, including funding.

And while we have not written about it, BESE member Walter Lee of Mansfield, who recent retired as Superintendent of DeSoto Parish Schools, is currently under investigation for allegations that he billed both the school board and BESE for travel expenses to and from BESE meetings in Baton Rouge and for lodging while in Baton Rouge.

Now, thanks to public records we belatedly obtained from the Division of Administration, we learn that another BESE member’s company has reaped more than $1.5 million from contract work his company performed on behalf of a dozen South Louisiana school boards and the Recovery School District in 2013 and 2014.

Hunt Guillot and Associates (HGA) of Ruston previously held two state contracts since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that together totaled more than $38 million. The latest, for $20 million, expired on June 30 but is expected to be renewed.

Jay Guillot, of the 5th BESE District, is an HGA partner.

The HGA contract is with the Louisiana Office of Community Development for “grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages incurred as a result of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and to a lesser extent, as a result of Hurricanes Gustav/Ike,” the contract details contained on the state’s LaTrac web page which lists active and expired state contracts and contractors.

Though the funds to pay HGA are federal funds allocated through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the company’s contract is with the state and the state cuts the checks to HGA from the state’s CDBG funds.

Much of HGA’s work involved other branches of parish governments but in our search of records we found no fewer than 138 billings to school boards and the RSD totaling $1.58 million since January 2013. Of that amount, 17 separate invoices totaling $488,000 (30.9 percent of the total billed) was for the RSD.

The Department of Education has responsibility for the oversight of RSD and cannot be considered separate entities for purposes of say, a lawsuit against the RSD. At the same time, BESE is the governing authority over DOE, thereby creating a straight line of authority between BESE and the RSD as well as the dozen school boards for whom HGA also performed work.

School boards for whom HGA performed services and the amounts billed from January of 2013 through May of 2014 are as follows:

  • Plaquemines: 17 billings for $342,726;
  • Cameron: 16 invoices, $227,126;
  • St. Tammany: 16 invoices, $142,598;
  • Orleans: 17 invoices, $116,507;
  • Jefferson: 17 invoices, $97,598;
  • Calcasieu: 16 invoices, $64,813;
  • St. Charles: 14 invoices, $56,390;
  • St. Bernard: 12 invoices, $29,539;
  • Terrebonne: three invoices, $9,202;
  • Lafourche: four invoices, $2,968;
  • Washington: five invoices, $2,222;
  • Lafayette: one invoice, $50.

Incredibly, with only a month left in its contract, HGA managed to allocate just enough work to almost exhaust the contract amounts for eight of the parish school boards and the RSD.

The last billing made available to us was for work done through May 25, 2014. Following are the total amounts billed through May 25 (with a month remaining on the contract) with the total allocated under HGA’s contract for the corresponding parish in parenthesis:

  • RSD: $786,988 ($817,567);
  • Orleans: $237,766 ($255,519);
  • Jefferson: $205,748 ($205,750);
  • Plaquemines: $831,968 ($826,970);
  • St. Bernard: $195,996 ($196,877)
  • St. Tammany: $377,372 ($382,863);
  • St. Charles: $147,763 ($148,353;
  • Calcasieu: $112,295 ($116,171);
  • Cameron: $629,750 ($639,031).

Section 1113 of The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits public servants and their family members from entering into certain transaction. That section says:

  • “No elected official or public employee or member of such public servant’s immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a controlling interest shall bid on or enter into any contract, subcontract, or other transaction that is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency.

That’s plain enough but for those wanting further clarification: “controlling interest means any ownership in any legal entity or beneficial interest in a trust, held by or on behalf of an individual or a member of his immediate family, either individually or collectively, which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

We do not know for certain what Guillot’s percentage of ownership is but inasmuch as his name is listed as a partner on the company letterhead we would assume he would meet that criterion.

And while the HGA contract is not specifically with DOE or BESE, the $1.5 million in work done for the local school boards and the RSD seems at best to skirt the edge of a conflict of interests for Guillot.

 

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The news just keeps getting worse for Superintendent of Education John White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has put White on a short leash with Executive Order BJ 2014-7 on June 18 and last Wednesday (June 25) Internal Audit Administrator Marsha Guidry issued an extensive laundry list of documents information relating to the Department of Education’s (DOE) contract with Data Recognition Corp.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned the Legislative Auditor’s office is conducting an investigation of DOE that could involve payroll fraud, according to sources inside the department.

White, as we have reported several times in the past, has loaded up the department with unclassified appointments at bloated six-figure salaries.

There are apparently three major problems with that:

  • Many of these appointees seldom, if ever, show up for work and apparently are required to perform few, if any, duties to earn their keep;
  • The department did not have enough money in its budget to pay their salaries so they are reportedly being paid from federal funds earmarked for specific purposes;
  • The appointees are not assigned to areas for which the federal funds are allocated.

If true, these are serious allegations and even more serious violations that could prompt a federal probe in addition to the investigation already underway by the Legislative Auditor.

Of course, no one really knows who works where at DOE because no one has ever managed to obtain an organization chart for the department.

Oh, the Legislative Auditor, among others, has tried but with each request over the past couple of years now, the response has always been that the department is “undergoing reorganization.”

So, no organization chart and no determination of who works where in DOE.

And now, on top of that sticky wicket, up crops the controversy over Common Core and the testing by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Short version: Jindal, White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) back Common Core and legislation is introduced for state implementation of Common Core.

But then, somewhere along Jindal’s way to the White House, someone whispered in his ear that path of least resistance to the Oval Office would be for him to oppose Common Core on grounds that he didn’t want the big bad old federal government dictating how we teach our kids in Louisiana. He may even have waved a little American flag when he said it.

But White and BESE continue to back Common Core and the legislature passes it.

Jindal vetoed it but White and BESE said they were going ahead with it, and Jindal jumped onto his Nautilus Nitro Plus workout station to prepare for battle. He announced he was canceling the contract for the testing because, he said, DOE had issued the contract without taking competitive bids.

And now, the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) is reviewing the contracts.

Meanwhile, Guidry sent this letter to White:

Executive Order BJ 2014-7, issued June 18, 2014, directed the Division of Administration (DOA) “to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources related to PARCC.”  Pursuant to the Executive Order (EO) and the auditing authority of DOA over consulting contracts, I have been asked by the Commissioner to collect and review certain information.  Please provide the following information to carry out the EO to ensure DOE is complying with Louisiana law.

 Please identify and provide documentation for the following:

 1.      All documentation related to contracts with DRC or other testing or academic assessment tools, including both paid and outstanding invoices.

2.      Please provide an accounting of the cost of the PARCC Technology Readiness Tool survey, the method and documentation related to the procurement of this survey, and documentation of the funds used to pay for it, including all receipts and accounting paperwork.

a.       Please provide information related to the price of PARCC assessments as a total cost to the State of Louisiana and as an individual cost of each assessment to be provided in the State of Louisiana. This should include:  any cost information related to an increase or decrease in cost as a function of the number of states withdrawing from PARCC or other reasons.

3.      Please provide documentation related to negotiations on the price of any new assessment tool(s) including any negotiations or communications related to the cost of individual assessments, the total cost to the State of Louisiana of new assessments, or any breakdown of the cost negotiated or discussed by or with DOE. This should include communications conducted in writing (emails, letters, and memos) as well as any meeting minutes and calendar entries.

a.       Please also provide documentation of how DOE’s negotiations met the statutory requirement for the lowest-cost bidder, for a competitive procurement process, and the statutory authority of DOE to conduct such negotiations.

4.         Please provide evidence of DOE’s process to ensure during any Request for Proposal (RFP) conducted by PARCC or by a member state on behalf of PARCC that such RFP was a fair, competitive, price-sensitive proposal and was conducted using a fair, transparent process in accordance with Louisiana revised statutes. Please provide all files relative to these procurements.

5.         Please provide evidence that John White affirmed in writing to the Governing Board Chair of PARCC the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by John White’s predecessor as Chief State School Officer as required by the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the PARCC Consortium.

 In addition to providing the above documentation, please provide a written response to each of the following questions:

a.       What contracts or other agreements are in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment?  Please provide a list of these along with copies of all related documentation.

b.      What steps have been taken by DOE to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

c.       What steps have been taken by PARCC to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

Please provide these items by June 30, 2014. I may identify other documents or information necessary to complete this review and request your cooperation pursuant to the Executive Order.  Please identify any additional individuals within DOE who will be available to respond to any questions I may have during the course of the review.

 The documentation requested should be delivered to the Office of the Commissioner to my attention at 1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802, Suite 7-210, on the 7th floor of the Claiborne Building.

http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/division-outlines-next-steps-in-doe-contract-revie/34643/LOilN9i14EaHl0wQ9zrGuA

You will note that White was given until today (Monday, June 30) to provide the information.

The problem with the governor’s request, as LouisianaVoice, Crazy Crawfish and others have learned, is that Jindal may not have followed proper procedure in seeking the information.

You see, when we ask for information, we are required to ask for specific documents, not simply information.

In fact, both DOE and the Division of Administration (DOA) have in the past simply refused to comply with our requests with the stock response that we requested information as opposed to specific records and therefore, both DOE and DOA felt comfortable informing us (somewhat condescendingly, we might add) that they were not required under the state public records act to respond.

Now if White only had the stones to tell DOA and Jindal that, we might yet have that epic Niles-Sheldon grudge match on Pay per View.

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There’s a new fight brewing between Gov. Bobby Jindal and Chas Roemer over the simmering Common Core standoff between the governor’s office and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

And if it were done right, it would be a memorable encounter. Sadly, it shapes up to be just another faceoff between lawyers.

BESE will consider retaining a special legal counsel in its efforts move forward with the Common Core test plans, according to BESE’s revised agenda released on Friday.

http://theadvocate.com/home/9577083-125/possible-legal-action-on-revised

Such a legal battle would pit BESE against the governor’s office after Jindal issued an executive order to discontinue Common Core tests being prepared by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Jindal, in his best imitation of John Kerry, was for Common Core before he was against it and now sniffs he will never let that big bully, aka Washington, D.C., dictate to Louisiana which, by golly, will devise and administer its own tests. That prompted former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek (before he was shoved out the door by Jindal who wanted current Superintendent John White who he now opposes on the Common Core issue) to rebuke his former boss when he proclaimed that the feds have nothing to do with setting Common Core standards. That point remains debatable.

Got that? Didn’t think so. Neither do we.

Jindal ordered BESE (an independently elected, autonomous board, by the way) to initiate a competitive bid process for a new assessment process so the state can come up with its own academic standards. He also suspended a contract between the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and PARCC.

In a real test of wills, Jindal’s office also has demanded that DOE produce volumes of test-related documents by Monday.

We at LouisianaVoice can offer our own experience with that seemingly innocuous request for public records.

On Monday, June 23, I submitted a request for “all itemized invoices and records of payments” to a DOE vendor. What I got in return was simply a list of payments. No invoices at all, let alone itemized invoices.

My patience already stretched to the breaking point with recurring delays by DOE on other public records requests, I snapped. I sent White a second demand which said, in part:

“The information you provided me is insufficient. I specifically requested itemized invoices from (vendor name). The vendor history you provided me does not list what the charges were for nor the dates incurred.

“I want every specific invoice submitted with itemized listing of what each and every expenditure was for, i.e. supplies, utilities, rent, salaries, travel, etc.

“John White, I don’t know what kind of game you are playing but I know you possess (or at least should possess) sufficient intelligence to know what I asked for and that what your office provided does not come close to a sufficient response. What do you think the term “itemized invoice” below (highlighted) implies? What part of “itemized invoice” don’t you understand?

“If you want to play games, we will let a judge be the referee. I am weary of your stalling, delaying, and playing ignorant. You have until noon Friday or you will be served with a lawsuit Monday. Itemized invoices, John,….ITEMIZED.

I received a call around noon Friday informing me the requested documents were ready for our inspection.

The revised agenda released by BESE includes an executive session but Roemer says that may not be necessary. “I anticipate there may be given potential legal questions and that is why the executive session must be on the agenda,” he said.

It could be Jimmy Faircloth vs. ATBA (attorney to be announced) if it comes down to a fight between proxies—as it probably would.

But wouldn’t it be better if we just put Jindal and Roemer in a ring together and let them duke it out?

That would be an epic battle worthy of Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory vs. Niles of Frasier.

Forget about the Rumble in the Jungle (Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman) or the Thrilla in Manila (Ali vs. Joe Frazier). Those were just preliminary bouts for what would truly be a battle of the ages.

Jindal vs. Roemer. Sheldon vs. Niles. Collision in the Classroom. Clown Clash. Common Core Conflagration. Capital City Smack Down. Brouhaha in Baton Rouge. Call it what you will, that’s something Louisianians would pay top dollar to watch.

No matter what you would call it, if it could be arranged, I would take whatever steps necessary to obtain the legal rights to telecast the bout over statewide closed circuit television or Pay Per View.

We’ll hype it as Brawl on the Bayou.

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Holy New Living Word, Bat Man!

John White’s Department of Education just can’t seem to keep tabs on all these pop-up private for-profit education facilities that have proliferated under his and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping educational reform programs.

Questionable expenditures by an organization under contract to the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) have been flying under the radar, overshadowed as it were, by corruption charges against internal auditors with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Remember New Living Word up in Ruston? That’s the school that was approved for some 300 vouchers even though there were no instructors, no computers, and no facilities—and obviously, no vetting. Just an application from the school was all that was needed, and BAM! Instant approval.

Not that New Living Word was the only one; there were others, including one in which the director had a long of history of legal problems and another in which the director referred to himself as a “prophet.” And there was the charter school that decided it could conduct random pregnancy tests on female students after one girl was expelled when it was learned she was pregnant, though no punishment was meted out for the dad, a member of the school’s football team. Only threatened legal action by the ACLU reversed the ill-considered policy.

Still, New Living Word became the instant poster child for DOE’s bureaucratic ineptitude.

Until now.

Now we have Open World Family Services, Inc. a New Orleans education “nonprofit” established ostensibly to “strengthen the family through education and training,” and paid through grants under the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally-financed program funded through a $1.4 million contract with DOE that ran from May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2012.

Or perhaps we should have said had Open World Family Services, Inc. It closed its doors on May 31, 2012, a month after its contract with DOE ran out.

But not before its administrator managed to misappropriate, misspend, mishandle, mismanage, fold, staple and mutilate more than $300,000, according to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

To read entire audit report, click here: 000011D0

Included in that amount were $116,323 in expenses which Open World did not incur, $148,596 in unapproved purchases and expenses that included debit card withdrawals ($16,758) airfare to Monrovia, Liberia ($7,204) and payments to the immediate family of Executive Director Kim Cassell ($18,414).

Cassell’s attorney assures us it was all just your basic “lack of knowledge of grant management” that led to a number of “errors in funds management.”

That would be the usual errors, like requests for reimbursements listing 129 specific checks (all payable to vendors) totaling $221,624 when only 74 of those checks totaling $105,301 actually cleared Open World’s bank accounts. But what of the remaining 55 checks? Well, Cassell’s former administrative assistant told state auditors that Cassell instructed her to pull blank checks and use or record the blank check numbers on reimbursement requests for “projected” vendor expenses.

“By submitting reimbursement requests that included false information, Open World improperly received $129,402 in reimbursements from DOE and may have violated state and federal laws,” the audit report said.

Just an error in funds management.

Kinda makes you wonder about those seven contracts worth a combined $430,000 that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has awarded to Open World Family Services since 2008 to combat asthma and tobacco use. Did that money go up in smoke as well?

Open World, the audit says, submitted requests and received reimbursements for employee benefits totaling $13,079 for which no expense was incurred.

Another simple error in funds management.

From May 2009 to October 2011, Cassell improperly used public funds totaling $11,108 for veterinary bills and pet supplies, a homeowner’s insurance payment, personal travel and college tuition payments, according to the audit report.

Ditto on the error in funds management.

Cassell’s time sheets from Sept. 18, 2010, to Oct. 19, 2010, indicate that she was on vacation and traveling. But during that same time period, the audit says, she made debit card withdrawals in Monrovia, Liberia, totaling $4,576 and that she incurred airfare charges totaling $200 on Oct. 17, 2010.

She explained to auditors that she traveled to Liberia for the purpose of registering Open World as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in West Africa.

She also incurred charges on the organization’s debit card totaling $1,099 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, while on travel to that state in November of 2010.

In all, the audit says that from May 2009 to February 2012, only a couple of months before her grant contract with DOE ran out, she used $148,596 in grant funds for puchases and expenses not included in approved grant budgets. That amount included $97,961 for rent, utilities and building improvements; $16,758 in undocumented debit card withdrawals; $7,204 in undocumented airfare charges; $15,340 for insurance policies, and $11,333 for vehicle expenses. “By using grant funds for unauthorized purposes, Open World appears to have violated its grant agreements and may be required to reimburse funds improperly spent,” the report says.

New Orleans attorney Jauna Crear wrote a five-page letter of response to the audit’s findings but basically defended her client’s actions in a single sentence:

“An overall review of the allegations, along with Ms. Cassell’s explanations, clearly shows a lack of understanding of the non-profit governance rules as opposed to a willful disobedience thereof.”

All of which raises several questions:

  • Does DOE customarily hand out multi-million dollar contracts to non-profits with inadequate experience in handling public funding?
  • What safeguards does John White have in place to prevent abuse, theft, and misapplication of public funds by other organizations under contract to DOE?
  • Does John White believe it might be worthwhile to conduct a review of other such contracts/grants?
  • Is it possible that DOE, like DHH, may have eliminated the position(s) of internal auditor as a cost-cutting measure?
  • Will DHH review the seven current and past contracts it has awarded to Open World Family Services totaling $430,000?

Sometimes you just gotta scratch your head and wonder…

Other times you look at who is running this state and then you know…

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“…My purpose is to dismantle the dismantlers. As such, my words are not kind. My words expose, and that exposure is harsh. The individuals and organizations profiled in this book have declared war on my profession, and I take that personally.”

 

—Mercedes Schneider, writing in the introduction to her book A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.

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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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You would think that after widespread cheating scandals swirling around student testing, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White would be extra cautious to ensure the same embarrassment was not repeated here. People, after all, have been indicted in other places for the practice.

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has been sitting on the results of the LEAP, iLEAP and the LEAP Alternative Assessment Level 2 (LAA 2) tests for several weeks now and no matter what the official line to the contrary coming out of LDOE, the fact is those results were scheduled to be released Friday morning (May 16).

Now comes word from within the department that LDOE employees have balked at White’s demands to tweak the results for the Recovery School District (RSD) and this little development has thrown a wrinkle into the scheduled release of the test scores.

We have no way of knowing at this point whether or not the reports are true but when the test scores were not forthcoming as promised at 9 a.m. Friday, that certainly did not help White’s credibility. He already has been caught lying about departmental pay raises, hiring freezes and attempting to “take some air out of the room” in his testimony to a legislative committee over the awarding of more than 300 vouchers to a Ruston school with no desks, teachers, or facilities. So when release of the scores was delayed without any explanation except to say he would have a statement at 3 p.m., why should we be surprised?

The age-old tactic of releasing adverse statements and news stories late on Fridays, when many Capitol reporters have left for the weekend, has become a preferred and perfected practice for this administration and White apparently has learned well.

The 3 p.m. Friday announcement said that the test results would be released on Tuesday of this week. An LDOE official said that while the Friday “tentative release date” for the scores was on the calendar, there was never an official date for their release. Bull feathers, horse hockey and meadow muffins. John White is from the government and he’s here to help, the check is in the mail, and he’ll still respect us in the morning. Sorry, John, we’ve heard ‘em all before and we ain’t buying it.

While there are claims that last minute Legislature-mandated changes to the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the formula employed to allocate funding to the various school districts in the state, coupled with staff shortages at LDOE caused the delay, there’s no escaping the fact that LDOE has been sitting on these test results for weeks now. Moreover, do the same personnel perform work on extrapolating test data and the MFP? That would appear to be a stretch—even with staff shortages.

Those “staff shortages,” by the way, are no one’s fault but White’s. He has gutted the staff by drastically reducing the number of employees, the “in the trenches” workers who do the actual work, while bloating the department with unclassified, highly-paid administrative political appointees who appear to do little other than occupying reserved parking spaces in the Claiborne Building’s parking garage.

When your subordinates refuse to place their reputations on the line for your political agenda, the reasons for your delay in releasing the scores suddenly become much clearer.

Louisiana tests its students annually in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies in third through eighth grades in order to measure whether students have gained the knowledge and skills in the subject for their respective grades.

The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) is the series of annual assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies for fourth and eighth grades. A criterion-based test, these tests are aligned to state academic standards.

The series of annual assessments administered in grades three, five, six and seven is known as the “integrated” Louisiana Educational Assessment Programs (iLEAP). It is referred to as an integrated LEAP because it originally combined a criterion-based component, which measured whether a student had mastered the academic standards, with a norm-referenced component (the Iowa Test of Basic Skills), which provided a percentile ranking of students. The iLEAP tests of 2013-14 no longer contain the Iowa portion and are criterion-based only.

It would be to the advantage of White, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Gov. Bobby Jindal if the test scores reflected significant gains by students but word received by LouisianaVoice indicates that all is not well in the RSD and that White would prefer a rosier picture in the trouble-plagued district—if only those stubborn civil servants would cooperate.

But the obvious question here is: why would we expect good scores from the RSD anyway? RSD has been a stink hole of inefficiency, poor performance, overpaid administrators, missing equipment and waste since day one. Mediocrity is a goal to which the RSD can only aspire.

Word coming out of the department is that LDOE employees were asked to cook the RSD books but LDOE staff members have refused to become a part of yet another cheating scandal. And given what has already transpired in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Nevada, and other states, who could blame them:

  • Former Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the poster child for school reform fraud, was fully aware of widespread cheating and even handed out bonuses totaling $1.5 million to teachers whose students showed significant gains before the cheating on standardized test answers by nearly 200 teachers in 70 schools became public knowledge and forced her out. She, however, landed on her feet and formed StudentsFirst, raking in millions of dollars from the likes of the Walton family, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.
  • Close on the heels of the D.C. cheating travesty was the early 2013 indictment of the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools and three dozen other administrators, teachers, principals and other educators for cheating—even after a similar state investigation two years earlier found similar cheating by nearly 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools.
  • In mid-April of this year, three Clark County (Nevada) School District employees were placed on leave after a state investigation found that adults altered answer sheets on standardized tests at a Las Vegas elementary school which in turn led to skyrocketing scores from one year to the next.
  • Last week, less than a month after the Las Vegas revelations, an elementary school principal and four teachers were arraigned in connection with test cheating in the Philadelphia School District. The arraignments were the result of a grand jury investigation.

One child whose test results were changed, showed huge gains in reading comprehension and was promoted to the ninth grade even though her reading level was found to be still at a fifth grade level.

Cheating robs children of a good education and hurts kids and their families, the Pennsylvania attorney general said.

The reaction of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was even more severe with the federation president issuing a statement that the union would not provide legal assistance for those charged.

Such, though, is the nature of school reforms implemented with so much emphasis on all the wrong things—standardized test scores at the expense of actual learning.

In the frenzy to improve national standings to enhance the résumés of politicians, bureaucrats and demagogues, they have fallen all over each other in attempts to put up stronger numbers while overlooking the most important element in education—the kids. It’s almost as if the frenetic efforts to improve test scores are being made for the benefit of the adults at considerable expense to the real education of children.

Perhaps a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, provided by Diane Ravitch, said it best: “I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.”

Einstein said that people like Henry Ford, who advocated the standardization of both automobiles and people, “do not realize that the adulation they receive is due to the power of their pocketbooks on the force of their personalities.”

We have to wonder if Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, the Walton family Michael Bloomberg, Bobby Jindal, John White or Chas Roemer ever read those words—or if they can even comprehend their importance or their implications.

And are our legislators paying attention at all?

Perhaps we should bring back the dunce cap—just for them.

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The Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda, as we have shown here on numerous occasions, promotes unyielding opposition to any legislation that smacks of benefits to workers, the unemployed and the poor.

Among other things, ALEC, led by the Koch brothers, pushes legislation that:

  • Opposes an extension of unemployment benefits;
  • Undermines the rights of injured workers to hold their corporate employers accountable
  • Promotes for-profit schools at the expense of public education;
  • Opposes consumers’ right to know the origin of food we consume;
  • Opposes an increase in the federal minimum wage;
  • Limits patient rights and undermines safety net programs including, of all things a call to end licensing and certification of doctors and other medical professionals.

While the effort to end licensing and certification of medical professionals might play into the hands of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R-D-R-Opelousas) and his affinity for witch doctors, such a move probably would not work to the benefit of the average patient.

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/30/louisianas-chameleon-legislator-sen-elbert-guillory-republicandemocratrepublican-is-candidate-for-lt-gov/

And while ALEC vehemently opposes any legislation that might remotely resemble benefits to the poor or which might invoke that hated word welfare, the organization’s agenda remains something of a paradox when one takes a step back and examines the spate of corporate welfare programs enacted by willing accomplices in the highest reaches of Louisiana politics.

Generous tax exemptions, credits, and incentives have proliferated to an extent not even imagined by the injured or unemployed worker trying to provide for his family—while generating few, if any, real benefits in the way of new jobs.

Probably the most glaring abuse of the incentives offered by our Office of Economic Development are the absurd tax dodges meted out to the movie industry and for what—being able to boast that we’re now recognized as Hollywood East.” That offers little encouragement to the guy trying to pay for a mortgage, a car payment, education of his kids, and health care if he’s hurt or can’t find a job.

By contrast, LouisianaVoice has found a few federal farm subsidy payments to several “persons of interest” which may come as a surprise to Louisiana’s great unwashed. Then again, maybe not.

For example, we have former legislator (he served in both the House and Senate) Noble Ellington, two years ago appointed to the $130,000 per year position of Deputy Commissioner of Insurance despite his having no experience in the field of insurance.

Ellington, a Republican from Winnsboro, also served until his retirement from the legislature as ALEC’s national president and even hosted the organization’s annual convention in New Orleans in 2011 so it stands to reason that he would, on principle alone, reject out of hand any form of welfare—even such as might be to his own financial benefit.

Not so much.

From 1995 to 2012, Ellington received $335,273 in federal farm subsidies while sons Ryan Ellington and Noble Ellington, III, received $89,000 and $25,223, respectively—nearly $450,000 for the three.

Granted, the senior Ellington made his fortune as a cotton merchant so we suppose that qualifies him to the subsidies—except for his position as National President of ALEC which is diametrically opposed to welfare. Oops, we forgot; that’s diametrically opposed to welfare for all but the corporate world. Our bad.

And then there’s Ellington’s successor to the Louisiana House, Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), who introduced a bill during last year’s session that would have required the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “adopt rules and regulations that require all public high school students beginning with those entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to successfully complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation.”

If that’s not corporate welfare, in that it guarantees a constant revenue stream in the form of state payments to private concerns offering those Course Choice courses, we will shine your shoes free for a year.

During the same time period, 1995 to 2012, Pylant received nearly $104,400 in federal farm subsidies.

His occupation prior to his election to the Louisiana House? He was sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Another ALEC member, State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), also received $472,952 in federal farm subsidies for the same time period as Ellington and Pylant.

Thompson holds an Ed.D. Degree from the University of Louisiana Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University) and lists his occupation as educator and developer.

Other ALEC members, their occupations and federal farm subsidies received between 1995 and 2012:

  • Bogalusa Democratic Sen. Ben Nevers—electrical contractor, $20,000;
  • State Rep. Andy Anders (D-Vidalia)—salesman for Scott Equipment, $34,175;
  • Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro)—Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, “independent businessman” and also has a background in education, nearly $2600—a pittance by comparison but still indicative of the mindset of the ALEC membership when it comes to applying a heaping helping of double standard to the public trough.

To be completely fair, however, it should be pointed out that Nevers introduced a bill this session (SB96) that called for a constitutional amendment that would make health care available under Medicaid to all state residents at or below 138 per cent of the federal poverty level—an effort that sets him apart from those who parrot the standard ALEC position on medical care for the poor. Of course his bill failed in committee by a 6-2 vote today (April 23) after Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) moved to defer action.

Perhaps voters will remember Claitor’s compassion for those without health care in this fall’s (Nov. 4) congressional election.

Two other legislators and two political appointees of Gov. Bobby Jindal who are not members of ALEC also combined to receive nearly $561,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012, records show. They are:

  • State Rep. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall)— dairy and beef farmer, $38,000;
  • State Rep. John Morris (R-Monroe)— attorney, $11,625;
  • Robert Barham of Oak Ridge—Secretary, Department of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, $489,700;
  • Lee Mallett of Iowa, LA.—member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, $21,600.

All but Burford and Mallett reside in the 5th Congressional District formerly represented by Rodney Alexander (R-Jonesboro), who now heads the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 5th District includes the Louisiana Delta which make up one of the largest row crop farming communities of any congressional district in the nation.

Accordingly, the $289,000 paid out to recipients in 2012 was easily the highest of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, more than double the 4th District represented by John Fleming and accounting for 50.6 percent of the statewide total.

For the period of 1995-2012, the 5th District also ranked highest in federal farm subsidies with the $23.7 million paid out representing 31.2 percent of the total and ranking slightly ahead of the 3rd Congressional District of Charles Boustany, which had $21.1 million (27.8 percent).

Of the $292.5 billion paid in subsidies nationwide from 1995-2012, the top 10 percent of recipients received 75 percent of all subsidies, or an average of slightly more than $32,000 per recipient per year for the 18-year period reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA records also reveal that 62 percent of all farms in the U.S. received no subsidy payments.

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