Monday, May 6, 2013

The Course Choice Cancer

The campaign is already starting up. There will be millions devoted to marketing alone. Despite the court decision finding Course Choice unconstitutional, Jindal and White have given the green light to for-profit companies to go right ahead with marketing.

These are millions that will be taken from Louisiana taxpayers and possibly from the scarce MFP dollars that were once dedicated by the voters and going to our legitimate public schools systems. Jindal and White's strategy is obviously to sign up as many students as possible, so that they will have a pressure group built up when it comes time to get legislative approval for continuing the program no matter what the Supreme Court decides. One of my readers found some ads that are now being run all over Lousiana to hire salesmen to hawk these courses to parents in high poverty neighborhoods:

Free ipad; cost to parents zero; costs to Louisiana, only $1,200 per course..
Here are some of the ads being run accross the state on Craigs list for a program that as of today has no funding: - Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans

Dr Frankenstein created a grotesque monster, Bobby Jindal and John White created Course Choice. Here's the gist of one of the Craigs list ads:
"Help change the landscape of public education in Louisiana!
On your own time!
With the potential to make $75k+ in 6 months or less!
Company Description: SmartStart Virtual Academy ("SVA") (a division of SmartStart Education) is a state-approved Course Choice provider. This means that SVA has been authorized to offer FREE courses to high-school students in the state of Louisiana for graduation credit. SVA is offering 22 approved courses -- both core-classes (such as reading, math and science) and career-ready courses (such as web-design and publishing)."

Another ad states:
"Pay rate: $16/hour
Position Responsibilities:
Conduct door-to-door marketing of program."

There are over 50 Course Choice Providers approved by our State DOE though the office of "Lefty" Lefkowith, one of the non-educator privatizers hired recently by Superintendent John White at a handsome salary. (See The Louisiana Voice story.) Many of these are out-of-state outfits with minimal resources. (Remember the religious voucher schools with no teachers or classrooms)

I met personally with Superintendent White in his office months ago and warned him that the Course Choice guidelines approved by his DOE are an open invitation for fraud and abuse. There are no attendance requirements for these Choice Courses often offered by out-of-state, fly-by-night outfits. In most cases the Provider is allowed to make the sole judgment about whether or not a student has completed a course. The provider gets half the tuition when the student registers for the course and the other half when the provider states the student has completed the course.

In an email to BESE last September, I asked:
Question: Suppose a student takes and passes a credit recovery course from a choice provider, and the student is tested on the course by his home school following the completion of the course and fails to make a score that is acceptable to his local school system for receiving credit for this course. Is the student's local school system still required to give the student credit for such a course? Will the choice course provider be allowed to keep the tuition?
Answer: Under state law, school districts must award credit for courses completed by students through Course Choice and those credits must count toward the requirements of a diploma.
(Later White told BESE that course choice students must pass courses that have end of course tests for the provider to get full pay, but that's only a fraction of the courses being offered by the providers)

So this is how taxpayers, school systems and students are sure get ripped off by some of these Course Choice Providers:

The provider hires a salesman to go door-to-door in a mostly high poverty neighborhood to sell parents on a huge basket of Course Choice courses. The sales pitch is "Your child gets a free Ipad, free Internet service, and if he is behind in his credits toward graduation, this is a great way for him to catch up. Our company offers all the courses he needs, and he can take them in half the normal time using our accelerated course for each Carnegie unit, and every course is free." (as long as his home school is rated C or less by the state)

The way it really works out, is that out of a hundred students, maybe 50 drop out after the first 3 or 4 weeks. That's no problem because the Provider gets paid half the tuition for kids who just sign up and go through the motions for a short time. Virtual course providers nationwide have huge attrition rates. Some kids get lost in the shuffle and some find their way back to their real public school where real teachers have to try to educate them. Since the provider does not have to take roll, students can just sign in occasionally to mostly complete automated worksheets that are machine graded. So it takes very little staff time spent on each student. The Course Provider has a zero cost for classrooms, janitorial, busing, meals, counseling services, utilities etc. It is completely up to the provider to confirm that a student has completed a course, so there is every incentive to allow students to successfully complete a course with very little actual work or accomplishment. According to the answer given above, the local school system is required to give the student credit, even if there no real evidence of true learning. One could point out that public school systems get paid even if students fail courses. The difference is, our public schools are expected to give instruction to students every day of the school year even if we have to track them down at home or at the hospital to do it. Students who miss more than 10 days without a valid excuse get no credit. For now, there is no such requirement for Course Choice Providers.

The so called teachers working for the Choice Course provider are never evaluated by COMPASS or VAM. They have great job security as long as they saythe students have completed the course in the required time.

But to add insult to injury, all the state test scores will be assigned to the student's home public school no matter how many courses he/she takes from the course choice providers. If the course choice students do poorly, it just results in a lower letter grade for the home school and a greater possibility that it will be taken over by the RSD (another cancer).

Jindal, ALEC, and LABI ought to be happy because as the cancer that is Course Choice grows, more public schools will have to shut down or be taken over by the RSD. And LABI can continue to criticize public schools for sending the work force graduates that have little knowledge and no skills.

If all this just makes your blood boil, whether you are a parent or an educator, please take the time to send me a short email at and tell me you want to sign up for my Defenders of Public Education data base. (If you have not already done so) Tell me your preferred email and your zip code so I can assign you to your correct legislators. Then when an opportunity comes up, I will send you an email about a critical legislative vote so you can email your legislators on how you want them to vote. Believe me this works. Just see the post just below this one. I know you are tired of me begging you to sign up, so just do it now! You won't be sorry. Public education is worth it!


Anonymous said...

Governor Jindal and John White are not the only ones responsible for this mess. Our legislature passed this into law last year, otherwise it would not exist.

Anonymous said...

It is a conservative mindset to bankrupt failing schools/systems and replace them with a cheaper to the state substitute. The problem with this is, instead of creating a stronger public system...well, that will have to be revisited at a later date. The conservatives pushing this mess can sleep at night thinking they are doing something radical to change the status quo...but they will suffer many sleepless nights in the future when they realize how the allowed for the systematic gutting of the public schools serving the poorest children in the state, a situation that will have lifetime consequences for those students...and a situation that will require a severe embracing of the public school concept again. The question is, how long will that take?

Michael Deshotels said...

Course Choice is being marketed mostly to at-risk students throughout the state (because these are the students that attend "C" or lower rated schools). However, the nationwide results for virtual schools is that these are the students that are least likely to benefit from such programs. Such students are the ones who most need face to face contact with real teachers to help motivate them to succeed. This is something they will lose when their parents are sold this bogus program. Another example of the scam called school choice.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that President Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are the coauthors of Race to the Top which has set the stage to force states to create these systems to tie testing results to teacher evaluation. Republicans and conservatives do not have exclusive responsibility or blame for the seismic changes we are seeing in education. Democrats and liberals need to own up to their responsibility, as well.

Michael Deshotels said...

Amen to that last comment!

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