Saturday, September 5, 2015

Louisiana's Phony Graduation Standards

Part I: Outrageously Low End-of-Course Passing Scores Used to Artificially Boost the Louisiana Graduation Rate

Note: The revelations in this post are only possible because of the expertise and tenacity of my attorney, Mr J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge. Mr Smith is the main reason I have been able to receive important information that John White and his staff have attempted to hide from public scrutiny. Mr White employs a team of hard line public relations experts whose primary purpose is to make the LDOE, John White, and his Recovery District look good to the public and the media. In my opinion, they are not there to provide the public the information to which we are entitled. They are employed with our tax dollars to suppress and shape the messages the public receives about education.

Last Friday, Mr Smith filed the fourth public records lawsuit on my behalf against John White and the LDOE to get information that used to be available to all citizens. (Notice that the pro-White news media does not even cover this) So far, the first two lawsuit judgements were completely in our favor with the judge ordering the release of the information we requested and assessing court costs and fines to the Dept. for violation of the Public Records law. The third lawsuit is being delayed as long as possible by White and his attorney. In addition, I have now been notified for the third time that my legal efforts are being followed by a right wing group that seeks to discourage lawsuits against their favored individuals. I want to thank Attorney Smith for his vigilance in obtaining the information presented in this blog post. This information, for a change, was provided without the need for us to file suit.

The Secret Cut Scores

Our Education Reform superintendent, John White, loves to tell the business community and the newspapers that he is insisting on high standards for high school graduation. He claims to be preparing every student for college and career by implementing rigorous standards. He reports that he has raised the bar and that our students and teachers have responded to his leadership by rising to the challenge and clearing that bar in greater and greater numbers.  He points to Louisiana’s improved graduation rate as proof that he has turned Louisiana education around. Please allow me explain how this is all just a lot of baloney!

Even before White arrived on the scene, the previous reformer superintendent, Paul Pastorek had attempted to raise the bar by pushing more and more students to enroll in Louisiana’s Core 4 College Prep curriculum. Never mind that our guidance counselors had been warning that many of our students would not do well in college prep and that such a push may cause more students to drop out. But Pastorek and now White believe they have figured out how to award more high school diplomas even with a larger proportion of students taking college prep courses. A big part of this “winning strategy” is accomplished by secretly setting extremely low cut scores for the high school End-of-Course tests in several required courses.

Would you consider a passing score of 36% on an end-of-course test for Algebra I to be a “high standard”? What about a passing score of 34% on Applied Algebra? But wait; the passing score for Geometry is now only 32%! Did you know for example that on a multiple-choice test, a first grader could score an average of 25% by just making random choices? With just a little luck and 2 or 3 tries (which we routinely allow for EOC tests), that first grader may actually hit the passing percentage of 32% in Geometry. . . . a course he never took! How’s that for high standards?

Does our business community know anything about our low cut scores for the high school end-of-course tests? I don’t think so. This stuff is top secret! I had to threaten a lawsuit to get John White to hand over the information. I spoke recently to an accountability supervisor in one of our local school systems and found that she had never been briefed about the cut scores. But she did tell me that the LDOE was suggesting that teachers should be urged to put more and more weight on the EOC test results in deciding whether or not a student should be given a passing grade on the required courses. This is simply a way of artificially boosting the Louisiana graduation rate by just giving students passing grades for very little accomplishment.

I spoke also to BESE member, Dr. Lottie Beebe and found out that BESE has never been consulted or even briefed on the passing scores for End-of-Course tests.  BESE is the official body that is supposed to set education standards, yet BESE has been kept completely in the dark. Neither has BESE been informed by White or his staff that in recent years, the passing scores have been steadily lowered from extremely low to ridiculously low! Cut scores for applied Algebra and Algebra I used to be 38% and 40% and now they are 34% and 36%. The English III passing score used to be 43.8%, now its 37.5%. Geometry used to be 38%, now its 32%. These seemingly minor reductions can make a huge difference in the percentage of students passing when such adjustments are made at the low end of the scale.

Let me hasten to inform my readers however, that the official LDOE line is that standards for passing the tests are not really changed from year to year. What may look like a lowering of standards is really just an adjustment for a more difficult form of the test. If you believe that one, I have a bridge over the Mississippi river I want to sell you.

The real purpose of these weak standards in my opinion, is to boost Louisiana’s graduation rate so that it will look like our reformer superintendent and his supporters on BESE have made dramatic progress. Just in time for the BESE elections on October 24!

Have you wondered why the results of the new PARCC-like test won’t be released until probably December? Maybe that’s because those results may be bad news. Never mind that our schools will not be able to use the results for any useful purpose since they will be reported so late. Also the Common Core standards review committee will not get to see which concepts are not working in time to be used in their revisions of the standards. Some just think it is not be a good idea to report bad news right before the BESE elections.

Please watch for Part II of this story, in a few days when we take a look at bogus credit recovery courses, violations of the mandatory attendance law, and phony college enrollment figures. 

Good News! One of my readers asked that I add a Facebook share button on my blog and I did. Please feel free to share with your Facebook friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Great Predatory Charter School Ripoff

Lafayette group Exposes Charter Enrollment Violation

This story in the Lafayette advertiser helps to demonstrate for us what a predatory charter school does. But the Advertiser story only describes the tip of the iceberg of charter school profiteering.

Thank you to the public school advocates of the group, Power of Public Education, for insisting that the Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Lafayette follow state laws and their contractual agreements relative to implementing a balanced student enrollment. The only problem is that BESE is apparently reluctant to enforce its own regulations.

The operators of these relatively new charters in Louisiana, know that they can rig the game and make their managers rich by simply suppressing the number of at-risk students served. Let me show you why this strategy is unfair to students, taxpayers and to our real public schools.

This new charter school in Lafayette operated by Charter Schools USA has contrived to enroll only 30.3% of its students from the economically disadvantaged population in the Lafayette area. This is a much lower percentage of at-risk students than is the average for the state or the area. The charter operators know that there is a remarkable difference in the academic performance of free lunch-qualifying students compared to more advantaged students.

The following chart demonstrates the relationship between student body wealth and school performance in our Louisiana public school districts serving the lowest percentages of low income students. Note: Every one of these school systems is rated as an "A" school system! (Click on image to enlarge)

The above data makes it clear why there is a regulation in Louisiana designed to prevent "creaming" of more advantaged students in the establishment of a charter school.

Kathleen Espinoza, spokesperson of the group, Power of Public Education, points out that this school managed by Charter Schools USA is in direct violation of the requirements of Bulletin 126, the BESE charter school regulations. The economically disadvantaged portion of the student body is required to be 56%, not 30.3%. 

There is absolutely no doubt that the relative wealth of a student body has the strongest correlation of all factors affecting student performance and therefore on the overall school performance score. 

The Zachary Community school system is a very good school system, but it also has the lowest level of poverty of any school system in the state with only 41.7% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. The above chart shows that a school with only a 5% advantage in middle class students over poverty students gets a 10 point advantage in the school performance score.

What could the Zachary system do with a student population that had only 30.3%  at-risk students? By the way, the Zachary system is about average in its rate of poverty in comparison to the national average. Louisiana as a whole ranks third from the bottom of the states in relative wealth of its public school students. Just think what any public school system in Louisiana could do with a poverty rate that fell below the national average.

Predatory charters use the greater flexibility granted to them under charter laws to "manage" their student enrollment to filter out at-risk students. These strategies include 

  • location of their school in a more affluent neighborhood, 
  • not providing transportation to students, 
  • counseling out low performers or other undesirables,  
  • "no excuses" discipline policies that dump low performers back to the real public schools.
The real public schools are not allowed to use these tactics to sanitize and upgrade their student body. So they will always be victims of predatory charters. They will likely lose the highest performing students, to the predatory charters and eventually this will adversely affect their district performance scores. 

Then the charter advocates will point to such results and say: "You see charters provide better education to our students." The truth is every school in Louisiana that has such an advantaged student body is now already rated as an "A" school without exception! 

Now take a look at the rest of the iceberg of charter school abuse!

Charter schools USA which is owned by Jonathan Hage has managed to create a huge windfall profit by opting his schools out of the teacher retirement system (which automatically saves the company about 25% of payroll). Then by not providing bus transportation he makes an even bigger profit and keeps the lower performing students out! The owner who lives in Florida was recently seen cruising around in a large yacht titled "Fishin' 4 Schools".  This profit is coming from our tax dollars. To add insult to injury, Louisiana allows the charter manager to maintain ownership of the school building which is being paid for with our tax dollars. If he loses the management of the school at some time in the future, he still can sell the building at a huge profit! If you click on all the highlighted texts above, you will be shocked by the way Hage has contrived to get rich using school children and school financing schemes. This guy is laughing all the way to the bank with our tax dollars!

The above scheme really works well if charters are allowed to choose the most advantaged students and the real public schools are required to serve their rejects. On average if student body composition is taken into account, charter schools in Louisiana perform lower than the real public schools, and the same is true of  most of Hage's schools.  But If this creaming tactic of charters is allowed to continue, eventually our schools will become economically stratified just like those in the nation of Chile where a similar "Choice" policy has seriously degraded the entire school system. Ms Espinoza and her husband, who is originally from Chile, on a visit back to his home area witnessed huge demonstrations of the people there who have been socially stratified by the exact same kind of charter school "choice". Their school system is now collapsing!

Many education observers and researchers have come to the conclusion that "school choice" is really a right exercised mainly by the charter operators, not the parents. Beware of politicians who promote and pass laws implementing school choice. These folks are really catering to privatization interests that are pouring campaign contributions into their elections. 

Thanks again to the Power of Public Education for exposing this violation of public trust.