Open Letter to Louisiana Legislature Joint Education Committee Members

Ladies and Gentlemen:
 
The controversy is raging as to the procurement of our Common Assessment.  John White submits that the test will be the PARCC test although there is no contract with Pearson who has been awarded the PARCC contract signed by Sec. Hannah Skandera of the New Mexico Department of Education on behalf of all PARCC states.  States must individually enter into this  contract with Pearson to acquire their own test.
 
Supt. White has created an untenable situation by misrepresenting our state assessment as the PARCC test.  Teachers and students are preparing for the PARCC test using materials provided by PARCC online and the Department of Education.   Our state participated in the PARCC field test last spring (which was free).  Under the circumstances, there is no way that Louisiana can administer a faux PARCC test and consider the results to be reliable or valid.  
 
 
I am providing you with some information regarding the special interests and conflicts that Supt. White and others appear to have regarding the procurement of this test through Pearson, Inc.  First I offer the latest information regarding the latest legal problems facing Pearson that should factor into any decision to do business with that corporation and should prompt you to question the propriety and legality of Louisiana's proposed procurement of the PARCC test through another provider, Data Recognition Corporation.  Please open the links provided for supporting evidence. 

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-can-run_b_6327566.html

Bad news for Pearson Education may be good news for the rest of us. The testing and publishing mega-giant is on the run, but it looks like it will not be able to hide. Pearson Education is closing its foundation; it is under investigation by the FBI for possible insider dealings in the Los Angeles iPad fiasco; the company is being sued by former employees for wrongful termination; and its PARCC exams are losing customers.

(A) Pearson's Foundation Closing

 Pearson has tried to give it a positive spin, but the reality is that Pearson the for-profit company is closing down its partner not-for-profit Pearson Foundation after having trouble with the law in both New York and California. In 2013, the Pearson Charitable Foundation paid $7.7 million in fines in New York State to reach an out-of-court settlement after the Office of the State Attorney General found the Foundation had broken state laws by generating business for the for-profit company.

According to the settlement agreement, "The Foundation's staff has consisted of Pearson employees; the Foundation's board was comprised entirely of Pearson executives until 2012; select Foundation programs have been conducted with the advice and participation of senior Pearson executives; and the Foundation continues to rely heavily upon Pearson Inc. for administrative support." While the Pearson Foundation neither admitted to nor denied the charges, it agreed to pay the fines.

In September 2014, Annie Gilbertson, education reporter for 88.3 KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, uncovered emails that appear to show complicity between officials in LAUSD, Pearson, the Pearson Foundation, representatives of Apple, and America Choice, a Pearson affiliate, to influence a LAUSD contract decision and circumvent the bidding process.

This was followed on November 18, 2014 by an announcement by the Pearson Charitable Foundation's Board of Directors of their "intent to cease Foundation operations and close the Pearson Foundation at the end of the year." They claimed that Pearson Education no longer needed "the Foundation as the primary vehicle for its philanthropic and community activities."

In an internal memo to Foundation employees that was passed along to me, Pearson promised to place many of them with other groups working on its projects and denied it was closing the Foundation "because it was unable to comply with the New York Attorney General settlement." It claimed that, "Over the last two years, Pearson has undertaken a review of all its business activities and investments, including its corporate responsibility activity. We feel strongly that there is significant potential to scale Pearson's social impact efforts by leveraging the full resources of our global operations, networks, and expertise." Maybe it is true; I just do not believe them, especially given the FBI investigation in Los Angeles.

(B) FBI Raid in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had seized twenty boxes of records about the LAUSD's $1.3 billion plan to provide iPads to every student and a federal grand jury is examining the matter. A subpoena demanded that LAUSD produce documents on deals with Apple, the maker of the iPad, and Pearson, who developed the iPad curriculum material as part of an "official criminal investigation." In a Washington Post interview, Marc Harris, the former deputy chief of the public corruption and government fraud unit at the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said improprieties in the bidding process would be a federal crime if federal funds were involved or if the actions amounted to fraud against taxpayers by public officials.

Email records show that Deasy and an assistant superintendent had contacts with Apple and Pearson executives before the bidding process opened and that people connected to Pearson may have actually shaped the final proposal. The LAUSD request for proposals was not issued until six months later in March 2013. However, there are a series of emails between Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino and LAUSD officials starting in May 2012 and September 11, 2012; Sherry King of the Pearson Foundation emailed John Deasy, Superintendent of Los Angeles schools, setting up a lunch meeting at a restaurant in Santa Monica that included Judy Codding, a Pearson Education corporate field representative. According School Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, who replaced John Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October, the bidding process for the iPad contract had been plagued by "innuendoes" and "rumors."

(C) Wrongful Termination Suits

 Disgruntled Pearson employees are lambasting the company online at a website that posts company reviews. Many of their complaints stem from a restructuring at Pearson starting in May 2013 to focus on digital services and emerging (Third Word) markets.

A former educational specialist at Pearson based in Oregon wrote: "There are still a few decent, intelligent, caring people at Pearson. They're just few and far between and too scared for their own jobs to call attention to themselves ... Many, many good people left or were fired and in their place you have lots of managers and executives who have no idea what their jobs entail or what products Pearson sells. It would be comical if it weren't so sad." This employee recommended to anyone working at Pearson, "Don't Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out."

In one case, Bryan Baudean is suing Pearson in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for wrongful termination and gender and age discrimination. According to his deposition, "From his employment in October 2009 until on or about October 31, 2013 Bryan Baudean had no disciplinary history with Pearson and received positive performance reviews"; and "For the year 2012, Bryan Baudean was awarded Digital Account Executive of the year as he was the top performer in his position throughout Pearson nationwide." Baudean was even praised on LinkedIn by Pearson supervisors. However, when Pearson announced plans to reorganize the company, Baudean and other senior employees were dismissed. Pearson claimed their positions were eliminated. Baudean and others claim Pearson just changed job titles. He is suing Pearson for five million dollars.

(D) Problems at PARCC

 In the first half of 2014, Pearson sales were down 7% from the first half of 2013; Pearson's adjusted operating profit was down 45%; and its adjusted earnings per share was down 53%. Its school sales were down 14% and its North American sales, which account for 57% of its overall business, was down 6%. As I read these figures, Pearson is in trouble.

I think the company is banking on new Common Core tests to improve its financial outlook, but given the rising national opposition to Common Core and high-stakes testing, that may just be wishful thinking. PARCC is one of two federally funded consortia charged with developing high-stakes assessments that are supposedly aligned with national Common Core standards. In May 2014, the PARCC consortium awarded a contract to Pearson to design its math and English language assessments. While the PARCC website claims that it represents twelve states and the District of Columbia, Mercedes Schneider reports that only ten states and Washington DC are planning to use the PARCC assessments in 2014-2015. That means at this time, PARCC represents only 20% of the states and the number is declining, which is not a good sign for Pearson 's bottom line. It could not happen to a better company.
Note: On October 17, 2014, The New York Times reported "Deasy Resigns as Los Angeles Schools Chief After Mounting Criticism." But the problem in Los Angeles, at least according to the report, was not John Deasy's performance as Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and possible insider deals with Apple and Pearson. Instead, the article blamed "the powerful resistance that big-city school chiefs face in trying to make sweeping changes." According to the so-called "news" report in the Times, "Mr. Deasy [was] a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers who saw him as an enemy."
Among other things, Deasy had testified in a court case against tenure and due process protections for teachers. Line after line in the article is distorted by bias. "Detractors," not parents, teachers, government officials, and educational advocates, "criticized Mr. Deasy ... for the difficult rollout of an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to every student in the district." It was a "difficult rollout" and Deasy was "ambitious," not incompetent. The article does mention that "Students hacked the tablets and used them to play games" and the "new school data system ... ran into snags" but does not blame Deasy for these problems. Steve Barr, founder of a charter school network who is also active in campaigns against teacher tenure and in favor of using student test scores to evaluate teachers, is quoted in the article defending Deasy. "John was just a big thinker, and he was going to go as long and as hard as he could." Given his experience battling the "detractors," I wonder if The New York Times plans to recommend Deasy as the next General Manager of the Mets or as coach of the Jets.

Further down in the article, its intent, and the New York Times educational agenda, becomes clearer. We learn that "Los Angeles is far from the only place where aggressive education overhauls -- such as expanding charter schools, using standardized tests to evaluate teachers and attempting to revamp tenure and seniority -- have hit pushback." Heroes of Times-promoted educational deform, Michelle Rhee in Washington DC, Cami Anderson in Newark, NJ, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have all had a difficult time because people mysteriously just do not accept their premises and plans. Even Barack Obama's Race to the Top and Arne Duncan's assault on teachers and school districts that dare to challenge federal policy has been questioned.

The problem, according to the Times, is not mistaken policies but poor public relations. It cites "education experts" who believe "Deasy's resignation was part of a broader pattern, partly because change-minded leaders may have pushed too hard without securing the commitment of the teachers who would be responsible for making the modifications in their classrooms."

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This previously reported Pearson illegal activity in New York:

December 13, 2013
 
Pearson Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit arm of educational publishing giant Pearson Inc., has agreed to pay a $7.7 million settlement to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman after he determined that the foundation had created Common Core products to generate “tens of millions of dollars” for its corporate sister.

“The law on this is clear: non-profit foundations cannot misuse charitable assets to benefit their affiliated for-profit corporations,” Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday.

The investigation by the attorney general examined Pearson’s efforts since 2010 to develop a line of classroom materials and tests built around the Common Core, new K-12 academic standards in reading and math that have been
fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Pearson, the largest educational publisher in the world, sells instructional content, tests, systems and technology for profit to states, school districts and individual schools in the United States and across the globe.

The adoption of the
Common Core has created a lucrative opportunity for educational publishers, as states and schools rush to buy products “aligned” to the new standards.
According to the settlement, Pearson used its nonprofit foundation to develop Common Core products in order to win an endorsement from a “prominent foundation.”

The latter entity is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the creation of the Common Core standards and announced in 2011 that it would work with the Pearson Foundation to create reading and math courses aligned with the new standards. Four of those courses would be offered to the public free of charge, it said.

Pearson Inc. executives “believed that developing the courses within the Foundation would enhance innovation, that the other foundation’s support would potentially enhance Pearson’s reputation with policymakers, the education community and potential customers and that the other foundation would be more comfortable working with the Foundation rather than one of Pearson’s for-profit entities,” the settlement said.
    
 
 

According to Schneiderman, Pearson executives believed the Common Core work performed by their nonprofit arm could later be sold by the for-profit organization and generate “tens of millions of dollars” for the company.

Once the attorney general began investigating, the Pearson Foundation sold the courses to its corporate sister for $15.1 million.


The attorney general also investigated international educational conferences sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, which flew U.S. state school officials from jurisdictions where Pearson Inc. did business, or sought to do business, to destinations such as Singapore. Executives from Pearson Inc. attended these conferences, and would report to the for-profit company about the purchasing needs of some of the attendees, according to the settlement.

In a statement, the Pearson Foundation denied any legal wrongdoing.

“We have always acted with the best intentions and complied with the law,” the foundation said. “However, we recognize there were times when the governance of the Foundation and its relationship with Pearson could have been clearer and more transparent.”

The foundation said it has added “independent directors” to its board who will review any foundation transactions that could benefit Pearson Inc. It said it has also adopted “stronger operational systems.”
In addition, it agreed to pay $7.5 million into a fund managed by the New York attorney general to support the work of
100Kin10, an organization committed to placing 100,000 science and math teachers in U.S. schools in the next ten years. Pearson will also pay $200,000 to cover the costs of the investigation.

Pearson’s commercial products may no longer be featured or sold at any events funded by the foundation, and Pearson’s corporate employees may no longer attend foundation-funded events, according to the settlement.

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Note some of the recipients of largess from The Pearson Foundation in 2012 990 Report:

Council of Chief State School Officers: $100,000  (co-owners along with the National Governors Association  of the Common Core State Standards copyright) -  Louisiana Supt. John White is a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

 One could infer that he is one of the holders of the CCSS copyright and has a special interest in the success of the standards and its accompanying PARCC assessment.

Foundation for Education Excellence (FEE):   $60,000
      Governing Board As of October 2011:


         Supt. John White is one of the 6 elite members of Chiefs for Change along with Hannah Skandera appointed by the Governor as leader of New Mexico's Dept. of Education.

Sec. Skandera was appointed sans any qualifications for the post much like our Supt. White and she also likes to hand out $$millions to Teach for America. 

Sec. Skandera  entered into the Pearson contract on behalf of the PARCC consortium.  You an see the contract here.

 One could infer, again, that Supt. White as a member of Jeb Bush's Chief for Change has another special interest in the success of the Common Core Standards along with the PARCC assessments.  As a matter of fact, you an determine clearly his position here in this "Open letter of support."

For even more clarity about John White's position on PARCC, he is on the Governing Board and Louisiana is a Governing State.  Who else in Louisiana has a special interest in promoting PARCC?:

Superintendent John White serves on the Governing Board. Jessica Baghian, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Louisiana Department of Education, is the K-12 Lead for PARCC in Louisiana. Dr. Joseph Savoie, President of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, serves on the PARCC Advisory Committee on College Readiness. Jeanne Burns, Associate Commissioner of Teacher Education Initiatives at the Louisiana Board of Regents, coordinates PARCC-related postsecondary engagement activities in the state.      http://www.parcconline.org/Louisiana


  • F. Philip Handy, Secretary
  • Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, Treasurer
  • Reginald J. Brown
  • Cesar Conde
  • Joel I. Klein - Formerly John White's mentor in NYC. Now CEO of Amplify, a Division of Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp, and producers of the new Core Knowledge ELA curriculum that John White has deemed the only Tier 1 Common Core aligned Curriculum which he seems to be marketing on the Louisiana Believes website, and the only ELA curriculum used to train his Teacher Leaders. Although Louisiana has not provided a curriculum to align with the Common Core Standards, he IS officially promoting only one math (Eureka) and only one ELA (Core Knowledge) curriculum. 
  • William S. Simon
  • Brian Yablonski
What problems might be foresee with Pearson and John White's claim that Louisiana will use the PARCC test but it has somehow been contracted through an amended Data Recognition Corporation contract?

In this recent NewsStar article it was reported: "According to the Department of Education, Louisiana's students will be tested using PARCC questions administered by the DRC, which has a licensing agreement with Pearson."

To gain a better understanding of that reported contract, I filed the following public information request with the Department of Education on Dec. 10:

As per Louisiana public information statutes, please provide the following:

 Copies of any licensing agreement between DRC and Pearson and/ or LDE and Pearson and/or PARCC and Pearson, and/or PARCC and LDE  referenced below, which will allow or provide the PARCC test or questions from the PARCC test to be used by DRC in its creation of a "PARCC" test for Louisiana.  
"According to the Department of Education, Louisiana's students will be tested using PARCC questions administered by the DRC, which has a licensing agreement with Pearson."

Lee P. Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT
 
 
 The same day, I filed this public information request:
 
As per Louisiana Public Information statutes, please provide the following:
 
Any and all correspondence between John White and PARCC governing board members or legal representatives, John White and DRC, John White and Pearson regarding the use of Pearson created PARCC assessments/questions/items by LDE or DRC and regarding the plans to administer or not administer the Pearson/PARCC test - being produced as per the New Mexico contract  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/NM-PARCC-Contract.pdf -between 1/1/2013 to date. 

Lee P. Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT
 
 
I received acknowledgment of my request, but as of today, December 16, I have not received the requested documents. 
 
 
You will have an opportunity and a responsibility tomorrow during the Joint House and Senate Legislative Committee meeting to ask Supt. White for clarification. 

 Louisiana's children are important.  Their education is important.  If a standardized assessment is administered this spring, that grade will become a part of their academic records. 

Louisiana's teachers are important.  Their careers as professional educators are important. If a standardized assessment is administered this spring, it will be used as a baseline for their future evaluation of effectiveness.  Louisiana's COMPAS evaluation system can be used to end their careers. 

We have to get this right!

    

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