Thursday, February 11, 2016

Possible Massive Fraud in New Orleans RSD Charters

Three recent articles by nola.com education investigative reporter Danielle Dreilinger,  here, here and here, exposes potential massive fraud in the operation of some RSD New Orleans charter schools. See also this most recent story in The Advocate by James Gill.

First Dreilinger reported on obvious violations of the open meetings law when the Algiers Charter Association met without notice of impending action to fire the top executive of the Algiers group from his extremely high paid executive job.

Being a good reporter, Dreilinger smelled something fishy about the secretive actions of the Algiers group and did some excellent investigative work digging up possible massive fraud in the testing programs for Landry-Walker High School. But she also found that State Superintendent John White was notified almost two years ago by a charter school researcher that something was obviously wrong with the dramatic improvements in test scores at Landry-Walker high school. The Dreilinger investigation found that the Algiers Board had been investigating the possible fraud at the school for over a year following the heads up they probably received from John White after he was tipped off to the suspicious test scores by an email from a CREDO charter school researcher.

The investigation by the charter school board of directors, did not target anyone for prosecution. Instead it looks like the once highly paid administrator may be seeking a generous severance pay package. Remember how the Wall Street bankers that just about destroyed the world economy and required taxpayer bailouts of their banks got big bonuses as they were given their walking papers? It looks like charter groups are similarly above the law. Or maybe he is seeking hush money to avoid implicating others.

 The investigation by the charter group used high priced attorneys who could invoke attorney client privileges to keep their findings secret. Questioning of teachers and monitoring of the next round of testing resulted in a a dramatic drop of end-of-course testing results for the 2014-15 school year. The year long investigation found numerous violations of testing policy and critical security measures that you could drive a truck through in cheating on state tests. The closer scrutiny of the investigation  resulted in the school grade dropping from a B to a D-.

The charter group has made it clear that they are not interested in finding wrongdoing that may result in educators going to jail as they did in the Atlanta cheating scandal. They just want to insure that the school operates properly in the future. My question is: If wrongdoing occurred with the knowledge of the administrators, why should these highly paid executives be immune to prosecution? What is John White doing about this?

In addition, Dreilinger uncovered possible fraud at Sci-Tech Academy, the crown jewel of the RSD charter systems. It seems that massive cheating occurred on internal tests that were being used to attract possible grants from foundations that support successful charters. But the administration of this charter network said they found no evidence of cheating on state tests. All very suspicious!

Danielle Dreilinger deserves a major news reporting award for her excellent work. This begs the question: Is cheating common practice for other charter operations in New Orleans? All I know is that I was contacted by another researcher recently who had found similar dramatic testing gains in several RSD schools in the LEAP/iLEAP program also. Right now the policy of the LDOE is to let charter management groups police themselves. What an amazing opportunity for the cover-up of fraud! I wonder if our new BESE is willing to change this outrageous policy?

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