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Texas: SPEDx Whistleblower Laurie Kash Was Right, and She’s Been Paying for It Ever Since.

In August 2017, Laurie Kash was hired by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as its director of special education.

Her immediate supervisor was Justin Porter, who was then the executive director of special populations. (One year later, in August 2018, Porter assumed Kash’s job, which sat vacant for nine months following Kash’s firing in November 2017).

On the day after Kash filed a complaint with the US Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) against TEA, Kash was fired (date of complaint: November 21, 2017; Kash’s firing: November 22, 2017).

Kash’s complaint (see above) concerned a no-bid contract for special education services by a then-newly-created vendor, SPEDx, whose founder, Richard Nyankori, had a personal connection to Porter’s immediate supervisor, Penny Schwinn, TEA’s chief deputy commissioner of academics.

So, right off the bat, this situation became dicey for Kash, for she was concerned about impropriety related to her supervisor’s supervisor. Kash alerted Porter of her concerns, and she spoke about those concerns with a Texas parent group, Texans for Special Education reform (TxSER). Porter did not like this, and Schwinn found out and approached Porter about Kash’s verbalizing her concerns.

On November 03, 2017, Porter formally reprimanded Kash for not reporting her concerns “through appropriate channels,” and Schwinn verbally reprimanded Kash directly for having “loose lips” and for hearing that Kash was saying “a litany of unprofessional things” involving Schwinn.

In his letter of reprimand, Porter stated, “these directives are not intended to prohibit the reporting of conduct which you believe to be illegal or unethical,” adding, “such conduct may be reported through your chain of command or to appropriate authorities.”

Well, since the chain of command was now a hostile environment, “appropriate authorities” was what was left.

One could argue that Kash should have kept her concerns to herself and gone straight to OIG. (Note that Kash also discussed the situation with TEA’s internal auditor, and told him that she “reported her concerns about the sole source contract to the SAO [State Auditor Office], the AG [Attorney General] Office, and OIG.”) However, I do not see how Kash could have effectively poker-faced this situation in some display of public support for TEA’s contract with SPEDx. Even posing a face of neutrality and dodging public discussion of the TEA-SPEDx relationship could have been perceived as condoning the situation or of not doing her job.

Once she did formally file a whistleblower complaint with OIG, she was fired the next day.

Kash filed a complaint with the US Department of Education (USDOE), which was appropriate since TEA was paying SPEDx with federal dollars. Two years to the day after she was fired, on November 22, 2019, USDOE found that Kash’s OIG filing was a contributing factor to her firing, noting, “Although they (Porter, Schwinn, and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath) were aware of Kash’s earlier communications with TEA’s internal auditor, Mr. Aleshire’s (Kash’s lawyer’s) letter was the first concrete notification Morath, Schwinn, and Porter received of Kash’s OIG filing.”

That concrete evidence led USDOE to conclude TEA fired Kash, at least in part, based on protected disclosure in the form of a whistleblower complaint to OIG and that TEA owed Kash compensation as follows:

Texas Education Agency is ORDERED to pay Laurel Kash compensatory damages, employment benefits, and all cost and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, in the total amount of $202,711.20.

Of course, TEA had a right to appeal, which it did. In July 2020, in the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the USDOE filed a brief on why the TEA’s appeal should be denied (see above). One of the points raised in the appeal was that of sovereign immunity and the waiving thereof, which the document linked above defines as follows:

State sovereign immunity “bars suits that individuals file against states in federal court” as well as certain administrative proceedings. But “a state may waive its immunity, and Congress can induce a state to do so by making waiver a condition of accepting federal funds.”

A focus of the proposed USDOE denial is “41 U.S. Code § 4712 – Enhancement of contractor protection from reprisal for disclosure of certain information” (Section 4712), summarized in general as such:

An employee of a contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee or personal services contractor may not be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against as a reprisal for disclosing to a person or body described in paragraph (2) information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant, a gross waste of Federal funds, an abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.

USDOE continues:

Section 4712 makes all federal grantees subject to the statutory whistleblower protections and clearly mandates that all grantees are subject to the remedies specified in the statute. The provision makes plain that, if found to have engaged in a prohibited reprisal, a grantee would be responsible for monetary damages, including “compensatory damages (including back pay), employment benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.” 41 U.S.C. § 4712(c)(1)(B); see also id. § 4712(c)(1)(C) (authorizing award of costs, expenses and attorneys’ fees). This language puts a grantee, such as TEA, on notice that if it accepts a federal grant and retaliates in violation of the provision, it is subject to the remedies outlined in Section 4712(c), including damages. Moreover, agency guidance confirms that state grantees will be subject to Section 4712. Department of Education guidance requires that all “non- [f]ederal” grantees, a term defined to include state governments, must “[c]omply with [f]ederal statutes [and] regulations….”

In its August 2020 response (see above), TEA asserts that there is no global waiver of sovereign immunity for federal funds and that “This interpretation contradicts decades of Supreme Court guidance that courts will only find waiver where stated ‘by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.’”

What we are left with is not the pressing issue of whether TEA misspent federal money but whether TEA can get away with not compensating a whistleblower for firing her related to her blowing the whistle.

Not one month after TEA fired Kash, it canceled its $4.4M contract with SPEDx, as the December 16, 2017, Statesman reports. And in July 2020, USDOE told TEA it needed to send back the $2.5M it had already paid SPEDx. From the July 20, 2020, Houston Chronicle:

The U.S. Department of Education has asked Texas to repay more than $2.5 million after state auditors found the agency violated purchasing rules when it awarded a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract to a group tasked with collecting data about special education students.

In emails sent to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Texas Education Agency Director of Special Education Justin Porter, an audit facilitator with the federal department’s Office of Special Education Programs said the costs associated TEA’s 2017 $4.4 millioncontract with the Atlanta-based company SPEDx were “not reasonable,” and that the agency did not use “reasonable methods to protect personally identifiable information” of disabled students.

Although TEA paid SPEDx more than $2.5 million in federal funds allocated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, state auditors found only about $150,000 worth of work was completed.

“Most of the IDEA funds paid to SPEDx under the contract provided no benefit to the IDEA program, and, therefore, were not allocatable to the IDEA program under the cost principles of the Uniform Guidance,” Audit Facilitator Susan Kauffman wrote in a May 13 email.

As for how Schwinn connected to Nyankori, in a piece about SPEDx’s dealing in Texas, Shelby Webb reported the following in the September 05, 2018, Houston Chronicle:

Personal emails from that month showed the TEA’s Chief Deputy Academic Commissioner Penny Schwinn was introduced to SPEDx CEO Richard Nyankori by a professional development coach, with whom the deputy commissioner had a previous professional relationship. The three discussed special education projects that at least six of the agency’s 20 education service centers were interested in pursuing before switching their conversations to work emails.

As for SPEDx’s vast experience (tongue-in-cheek), its only other contract aside from its no-bid in Texas was with Louisiana. and that under mysterious payment circumstances. The common connection among then-Louisiana state superintendent John White, Penny Schwinn, and Richard Nyankori is through Teach for America, an organization known for arranging temporary stints as classroom teachers with the goal of having their alums assume positions of educational, political and otherwise entrepreneurial leadership in order to drive education reform in a direction favorable to TFA. Thus, I am not surprised at all that Nyankori, who has no experience as a certified special education teacher, was able to create SPEDX (Avenir Edication) in September 2016, and within a year, was handed SPED data for two states in order to *advise* about how to operate sped programs; was mysteriously compensated for so-called services in one state, and was granted a multi-million-dollar contract in another.

(To see documents related to Nyankori’s Avenir Education AKA Lizard Park Technologies, use the Georgia LLC search tool and search “Richard Nyankori.” You will find that Nyankori’s Avenir/Lizard Park existed for only two years, from 09/16 to 09/18. Thus, SPEDx is no more.)

Once SPEDx lost Texas and Louisiana, it was no more.

Kash was right to blow the whistle.

Even so, TEA was able to win its appeal. On March 23, 2021, the Fifth Circuit sided with TEA’s argument that TEA had not waived its sovereign immunity (see above). Sure, TEA canceled its SPEDx contract a month after firing Kash. Yes, USDOE required TEA to repay the $2.5M it paid SPEDx. And yes, SPEDx is now out of business. However, none of this mattered in the appeal.

According to the Fifth Circuit, TEA could fire an employee without consequence for filing a complaint that TEA misspent federal funds and that employee was spot on.

Upon receiving news of TEA’s win (and her loss), Kash released the following statement:

By now you may have heard that the Fifth Circuit did not uphold the Office of Inspector General’s findings or the US Department of Education’s decision that Texas did not have the right to fire me as a whistleblower when I was the State Special Education Director.  The decision cites sovereign immunity, which is an outdated concept that was designed to protect states from being sued frivolously. The problem is that federal whistleblowing laws are not frivolous, and states should not be able to get $1.2 billion of federal money to serve students in special education without the safeguards required by the federal government.

Although this decision is not particularly surprising for Fifth Circuit, this is very disappointing for workplace ethics and whistleblower rights in Texas and around the country.  When employees cannot follow the established protocols to report illegal behavior to protect taxpayers and those they serve, everyone is less safe, not just the employees who lose their careers.  Over time, this creates tolerance for unethical and illegal behavior which statistics show is rampant in Texas government.

The answer is simple and should not have required hundreds of thousands of dollars of court and attorneys’ fees: The allocation of funding for the education of the most vulnerable children in the state should not be left to its most corrupt people. Whistleblowers who are doing their best to protect those children and that funding should not be fired and debased for those efforts; rather, they should be celebrated for their tenacity and bravery.

My attorney, Ben Vernia, and I are very disappointed though not completely surprised by this decision.  We are examining our options to see what our future holds.

Laurie Kash

Since TEA is a state entity, no single individual is bearing the hefty weight of paying for legal filings, attorneys, and other related expenses. But as an individual up against the machine, so to speak, Kash is indeed bearing that weight, and with it, the many ripples it produces in one’s personal and professional life.

The cost of revealing rot can be brutal, and I am sorry that Laurie Kash continues to be under such strain.


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Democracy Prep’s Fiscal Tottering

In March 2019 and October 2019, Democracy Prep charter chain founder and former employee Seth Andrew stole a total of $218K from three Democracy Prep escrow accounts. He was able to do so because two years after leaving Democracy Prep (in 2017), Andrew still had access to his school email account and could falsely portray himself as still associated with the charter chain. Andrew also still had access to the escrow accounts because he remained listed on documentation related to those accounts. Finally, given that Andrew was able to steal funds from the third escrow account five months after he depleted the first two accounts, it is obvious that Democracy Prep officials failed to adequately monitor all of the chain’s bank accounts.

In my May 01, 2021, post on the situation, I surmised that Andrew may have believed that Democracy Prep would not competently monitor its finances, thereby causing him to believe that he could get away with the theft. Indeed, the complaint against Andrew details the passage of 14 months from the first thefts (March 2019) to the maturing of a six-month certificate of deposit (CD) that Andrew purchased using the stolen funds (May 2020).

To lock that stolen money up for six months and patiently wait for it to mature demonstrates a level of certaintly that no one would be coming for that stolen cash.

Examination of Democracy Prep’s tax forms from 2007 to 2018 shows that the charter chain struggled to manage its money and to keep a positive balance across years even as it continued to open more schools.

Democracy Prep Public Schools (originally known as Democracy Builders) was granted nonprofit status in June 2007. Andrew is named on the organization’s FY 2007 tax return (July 2007 to June 2008). (On the FY 2007 return, the name of Democracy Builders is also connected to the name Democracy Preparatory Charter School. Furthermore, the full name of the organization is listed as “Democracy Builders Mr. Seth Andrew,” though Andrew himself is not named in any specific capacity on the tax form, not even among board members.

Prior to its receiving nonprofit status, in FY 2006, Andrew is not mentioned; the organization name is only “Democracy Builders,” with “program achievements” simply listed as, “Funding and educational service center for a charter school.” FY 2006 revenue was $336K, overwhelmingly from “direct public support.” In FY 2007, additional revenue was only $39K.

In FY 2008, the organization name returned to “Democracy Builders,” and Andrew was added as a board member. Up to this point, no one is listed as receiving compensation. The same was true in FY 2009, with total revenue at $437K and total expenses at $541K, yielding end-of-year net assets of $340K.

Then came FY 2010. Total revenue was $2.1M, with most of it ($1.8M) identified as “program service revenue” for “charter school management services to three charter schools.” Democracy Builders changed its name to Democracy Prep Public Schools, with this mission: “The organization manages and operates high-performing charter schools.” Andrew was given the title of “superintendent” and compensated a modest total of $76K.

In FY 2011, total revenue rose to $3M, and Andrew’s superintendent compensation rose to $263K (50 hrs/wk). By the end of FY 2011, Democracy Prep listed six schools in New York.

FY 2012 saw yet another rise in total revenue, to just over $4.8M. However, expenditures exceeded $5M, so Democracy Prep had to dip into its previous end-of-year balance of $708K, leaving $499K in the bank, so to speak, at the close of FY 2012. Andrew was working more (65 hrs/wk) and receiving less (total compensation: $255K). By the end of FY 2012, Democracy Prep was operating an additional three schools, for a total of nine schools (including one in New Jersey).

FY 2013 had Andrew working 65 hrs/wk as “founder” (no more “superintendent” title because he was actually working in the US Department of Education, USDOE, under the Obama administration), and his pay decreased yet again ($227K) even as the Democracy Prep board expanded to seven non-compensated individuals and eight compensated (including Andrew). Total revenue was up to $8.1M, but again, total expenses ($8.4M) put Democracy Prep in the red, and that $499 end-of-year fund balance in FY 2012 became a mere $126K in FY 2013. Even so, Democracy Prep was slated to open a school in DC in fall 2014, and it advertised its expansion region plan on its website (archived May 2014):

In the fall of 2012 Democracy Prep Public Schools received a generous grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the network to 25 schools. For the 2013-14 school year we will operate eight schools in Harlem and one in Camden, NJ. Probable openings for the 2014-15 school year include schools in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC. Possible expansion regions beyond 2014 include Louisiana, Tennessee, Delaware and Massachusetts.

Note that Democracy Prep’s receipt of a charter school expansion grant predates Andrew’s time with the Obama administration USDOE (2013-16). But back to the roller coaster:

By FY 2014, all seemed fiscally righted at Democracy Prep. Total revenue was just over $14M, and, more importantly, total expenses were $13.4M. After adjusting for total liabilities, Democracy Prep ended FY 2014 with an increase in its end-of-year fund balance relative to FY 2013: $503K. The organization listed a new superintendent, Lindsay Malanga. Founder Seth Andrew was still on the books, reportedly working 65 hrs/wk for $213K in total compensation (Andrew was being compensated through Democracy Prep though still at USDOE– see the complaint for more info on this pay arrangement).

What goes up….

FY 2015 was the worst yet. Total revenue was $12M, which was $2M less than the previous year, with expenses over $13.4M. So, in the hole we go, with end-of-year net assets at -$712K. Nine individuals listed as working 65 hrs/wk, including Andrew, and this charter chain is in serious fiscal trouble. For this year, founder and “former officer” Andrew is compensated a total of $213K (continuing at USDOE until around November 2016).

The fiscal waffling continued in FY 2016. Total revenue $14.8M. Total expenses $14.5M. End-of-year net assets “improved” to -$369K. Andrew returned as superintendent from his time at USDOE (40 hrs/wk for a total of $220K.) The eight other individuals working 65 hrs/wk in FY 2015 were reduced to five.

And that was it for Andrew. In FY 2017, he is no longer listed on the Democracy Prep tax form, having made his exit (see the complant). Total revenue almost doubled from the previous year ($14.8M to $27.2M), but again, Democracy Prep overspent ($29.4M) and dug a deeper hole (end-of-year fund balance: -$2.5M).

FY 2018 (July 2018 to June 2019) had Democracy Prep generating $28M in total revenue and only spending $26.5M, thereby reducing its end-of-year deficit from -$2.5M to -$920K. The organization (finally?) experienced a change in CEO and CFO.

Given the tumultuous fiscal history of Democracy Prep, and given that its most recent tax filing (FY 2018) has the organization still almost a million dollars in the red, I am sort of amazed that Andrew could use his former connections with Democracy Prep as suitable scam material. I say “sort of” because I understand that the considerations of employment stability for refinancing purposes do not usually include an investigation into the fiscal stability of the employer.

At the time that Andrew cleaned out two of the three escrow accounts (March 2019), Democracy Prep had an interim CFO (chief financial officer), who assumed the helm, so to speak, after the previous year’s whopper negative end-of-year fund balance of -$2.5M.

As founder and former superintendent, Andrew had to know Democracy Prep’s unstable financial history, and he stole from it anyway. He stole from the children he supposedly worked to serve, children who already attend schools managed and operated for years by a fiscally-precarious nonprofit.

As of this writing, Democracy Prep operates 23 schools:

  • 7 Elementary Schools (3 in NY; 1 in NJ; 1 in TX; 1 in NV, and 1 in LA)
  • 9 Middle Schools: (5 in NY; 1 in NJ; 1 in TX; 1 in NV, and 1 in LA)
  • 7 High Schools (5 in NY; 1 in NJ, and 1 in NV)

How long any and all of its schools will be able to continue to operate depends upon whether Democracy Prep will be able to confront those ballooning, end-of-year negative fund balances.

Having a founder with no qualms about stealing from children certainly has not helped.


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Democracy Prep Enabled Its Founder to Rip It Off.

On April 27, 2021, founder and former superintendent of Democracy Prep charter schools, Seth Andrew, was arrested for stealing $218K from school bank accounts. From the US Attorney’s Office press release (Southern District of New York):

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of a complaint charging SETH ANDREW with wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to a financial institution, in connection with a scheme in which ANDREW stole $218,005 from a charter school network that he founded.  ANDREW was arrested this morning in New York, New York, and will be presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Seth Andrew abused his position as a founder of a charter school network to steal from the very same schools he helped create.  Andrew is not only alleged to have stolen the schools’ money but also to have used the stolen funds to obtain a savings on a mortgage for a multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartment.  Thanks to the FBI’s diligent work, Andrew now faces federal charges for his alleged scheme.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Locking into the lowest interest rate when applying for a loan is certainly the objective of every home buyer, but when you don’t have the necessary funds to put down, and you steal the money from your former employer to make up the difference, saving money in interest is likely to be the least of your concerns. We allege today that Andrew did just that, and since the employer he stole from was a charter school organization, the money he took belonged to an institution serving school-aged children. Today Andrew himself is learning one of life’s most basic lessons – what doesn’t belong to you is not yours for the taking.”

Seth Andrew

The actual complaint details just how Andrew proceeded to steal the money. I was curious about how he managed to do so, particularly since he left Democracy Prep in 2017, and the theft occurred two years later, in 2019.

First of all, even though Andrew was no longer serving in any official capacity at Democracy Prep, the CEO of the charter network allowed Andrew’s school email to remain active for the purposes of forwarding emails to another nonprofit Andrew operated. (Note: This other nonprofit identified in the complaint is actually two related nonprofits, Democracy Builders, Inc., EIN: 27-3717969, and Democracy Builders Fund, Inc., EIN: 46-4897222. It seems that the agent conflated the two in reporting.) The CEO could have done so without allowing former employee Andrew direct access to the account by resetting the password. That did not happen, so even two years later, Andrew, who promised not to use the account, was able to do so in order to falsely portray himself as current leadership.

Secondly, Democracy Prep apparently does not conduct timely/regular reviews of its bank statements. Andrew stole the $218K from three separate Democracy Prep school escrow accounts, but he did not clean out those accounts on the same, recent day. On March 28, 2019, Andrew emptied two of the three escrow accounts, and he waited until almost five months later– October 17, 2019– to steal wipe out the third. How is it that Democracy Prep had no clue that two escrow accounts had been closed– closed!– for five months AND that Andrew was able to take his time and return for the remaining $75K. In fact, a month after Andrew stole the money from Escrow 3– on November 19, 2019– almost six months after his first dip in the stolen escrow pool– Andrew was able to successfully consolidate all of his stolen escrow cash into “Fraud Account 2.”

The next day– November 20, 2019– Andrew bought a Certificate of Deposit (CD) with the funds AND was able to allow it to mature for six months– until May 20, 2020.

Six months– or a total of of 14 months after Andrew’s initial steal.

Imagine if Democracy Prep even cursorily reviewed its bank statements at least every month. Such a practice might have deterred Andrew from trying this stunt. At the very least, he would have been detected before cleaning out the third account. Andrew sure operated with the casualness of someone who believed his actions would not be detected, even across months.

Yes, Andrew stole the money, and that is on his head. But Democracy Prep leadership is also to blame for a looseness of operation that enabled the likes of Andrew to effect this stroll of a fraud.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Louisiana Standardized Testing 2020-21: Maybe We Grade Your School, Maybe Not.

Standardized testing is set to commence in schools and districts across the state of Louisiana.

What does this mean regarding the now-common misuse of scores for grading teachers and schools and for student placement decisions?

Some answers can be found in two pieces of legislation passed in the Louisiana legislature’s 2020 Special Extraordinary Session (September 28, 2020 to October 23, 2020): Act 53 and Act 47. However, some of those “some answers” are better defined than others.

Below is the heart of Act 53:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the2020-2021 school year, the board (Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE) shall examine the results from student assessments and school-level test data but shall not use such assessments and data for purposes of evaluating teacher performance or making placement decisions for fourth and eighth grade students.

And lest anyone should miss the “shall not use assessments and data for purposes of evaluating teacher performance,” language is included specific to VAM (so-called “value-added” modeling) (and subsequently repeated in the section pertaining to charter school employees):

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the 2020-2021 school year, value-added data shall not be used to evaluate teacher performance or effectiveness.

As for the grading of schools and districts using test scores from 2020-21, the legislature has outlined this course of action in Act 47:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the 2020-2021 school year, the board shall examine the results of student value-added model assessments and school-level test data and make such allowances in calculating school and district performance scores as the board deems necessary and appropriate. The state superintendent of education shall present a report relative to such results to the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education, meeting separately or jointly, not later than May 30, 2021.

The board shall prepare a petition for the United States Department of Education for a waiver of the requirement of issuing letter grades for schools and school districts for the 2020-2021 school year and submit the petition if it is the opinion of the state superintendent of education that issuance of letter grades would be detrimental to the state of Louisiana. The superintendent and the board shall present a report to each committee, meeting separately or jointly, regarding this decision not later than June 15, 2021.

Okay. BESE has until May 20, 2021, to inform House and senate ed committees about how BESE plans to calculate school and district grades via Louisiana superintendent Cade Brumley. If BESE decides that issuing such grades would be a bad idea (“detrimental to the state of Louisiana”), it must draft a waiver for the federal government and have Brumley present that waiver to House and Senate ed by June 15, 2021.

No matter what, schools are to give students the tests.

In the March 07, 2021, Advocate, some BESE members speak in favor of standardized testing using familiar reasoning that, as usual, falls short:

BESE President Sandy Holloway and two other leaders of the panel made the same point when federal officials spelled out what they were offering states last month.

“Assessing all students not only helps us understand what learning gaps have been created or widened but also what we must do to close them,” according to a statement released by Holloway and BESE members Kira Orange Jones and Ashley Ellis.

“Families, schools and educators deserve to know where each student is in his or her academic trajectory.”

Standardized testing lacks both the immediacy and precision of teacher-student interaction. Standardized testing results are not timely and offer no fine details coupled with personalized advice regarding student educational needs.

However, standardized testing is *necessary* because it *drives* decisions, including “resource allocation.” Testing calls the shots; Brumley states as much as his justification for interrupting learning during an already-interrupted school year:

“We think it is really important that students test because we haven’t tested in two years,” Brumley said. “We need to know where our kids are, and that is important because it will drive instructional decisions and will also drive resource allocation decisions.”

The only reason testing “drives instructional decisions” is that the testing is misused in connecting the test scores to school and career survival. Testing “drives” instruction when it is put in the high-stakes driver’s seat.

According to the Louisiana legislature, in 2020-21, testing is not in that driver’s seat for teacher evaluation or for student promotion decisions.

Also according to the legislature, BESE has until May 20, 2021, to decide on how it plans to crunch the numbers and fashion 2020-21 school and district scores (nothing arbitrary here), and if BESE decides that its crunching could be “detrimental to the state of Louisiana” (more vagarity), then it is to submit its federal waiver request to the state by June 15, 2021. Maybe US ed sec Miguel Cardona’s US Department of Education grants the waiver; maybe not.

In sum, schools and districts will be subjected to whimsical grading as determined by BESE, or there will be no grading if BESE asks and USDOE grants permission, or USDOE will deny the request and BESE will have to throw something together.

Appropriately misusing test scores sure gets complicated in a pandemic.

On the district level, Louisiana superintendents will be able to spare schools of negative labels if they so choose, according to the March 07, 2021, Advocate:

Brumley told local superintendents that districts will have the option of not labeling schools this year as needing “comprehensive” or “urgent” intervention.

Know what is in need of comprehensive or urgent intervention? This whole misguided process, its floundering a symptom of a testing-festering core.


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Thank you, Darnella Frazier.

After arriving home from school today, I turned on the television to learn that the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial had reached a verdict:

Guilty on all three counts in the death of George Floyd.

I thought of Darnella Frazier, the then-17-year-old who filmed Floyd’s death at the hands of Chauvin.

Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old with a Smart phone doing what usually aggravates me as a teacher of high school students.

Those kids. Always on their phones. Reliant upon those phones and social media for everything.

Thank God for Darnella Frazier, who filmed a terrible incident and posted it to social media– and whose actions provided the ugly truth of those 10 minutes, placing it front and center for a country that cannot deny the video’s ugliness.

Thank God for Darnella Frazier, who helped our country make a critical, relief-laden shift toward the American Pledge of Liberty and Justice for All.

Thank you, Darnella.

Darnella Frazier

USDOE Wants “Educator Stability.” It Also Wants Test Scores.

On April 09, 2021, the US Department of Education (USDOE) released its COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2.

In perusing its table of contents, I noticed one section in particular: ” Supporting Educator and Staff Stability and Well-being: Stabilizing a Diverse and Qualified Educator Workforce.”

Educator stability now appears to be a focus of USDOE attention.

It took a pandemic.

For the past two decades, USDOE leadership, in concert with the two Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) reauthorizations produced by Congress, have done nothing to “stabilize” the educator workforce. On the contrary, the 2001 ESEA reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), introduced the oppressive, test-and-punish course that threatened school stability by its abuse of student test scores being used to grade schools and teachers, all in the name of accountability to the never-realistic goal of 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

In 2007, when NCLB was up for reauthorization and its 100-percent-proficiency farce looming, Congress wouldn’t touch it. However, former US secretary of education Arne Duncan used his NCLB waivers to coerce states into adopting “college and career ready” standards (that would be the controversial Common Core State Standards) and related assessments, as in his federally-funded, consortium assessments. And so the testing oppression continued. No talk of educator stability. No, no. In fact, destabilization was the name of the game. Competition, Race for the (test-idolizing) Top— and a CCSS sales job reinforcing the NCLB-enabled, hand-over-fist revenue for testing companies capable of grabbing the gold.

Meanwhile, USDOE has for years doled out charter school funding without oversight, resulting in fraud and squandering. So, we have the traditional public schools, which were created to serve any student who shows up on the doorstep at any point in the school year, and the charter schools that never have to take any student who shows up at any point (and can resort to some pretty low and self-serving tactics to rid themselves of less-preferred students) and that primarily answer only in self-determined, non-elected fashion for taxpayer funds.

Charter schools drain traditional public schools, which destabilizes traditional public schools– including students, admin, teachers, and staff. This is not a new phenomenon. Traditional public schools have been having to grapple with this so-called competition for years– one in which students can always return to the traditional public school– even if taxpayer funding has all been squandered by some underregulated school in the name of “choice.”

And all of which serves to destabilize traditional public education for all involved, teachers included.

When ESEA was finally reauthorized in 2016 as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress remained faithful to its over-testing obsession, continuing with English and math annual testing in grades 3 – 8 and once in high school, though the Obama-Duncan CCSS and testing consortia never became the sensation for racing to some top. In ESSA, the testing stayed, states still cornered in the name of Title I funding return on investment to somehow measure schools and teachers to prove accountability for much of what is out of their control.

Not a recipe for stability. Add to that subsequent years of awful ed secs like CCSS-pusher and community alienator, John King and queen of anti-public-school hostility, Betsy DeVos, whose chief aim is to send all public money to private schools and was the first ed sec to require Secret Service protection.

Now, here we are, in the second calendar year of the COVID pandemic, and the Biden-administration USDOE under the leadership of Miguel Cardona is advising states on how to stabilize the educator workforce.

It includes no advice on dropping the tests, the tests which succubus time, money, and professional joy and are in no way superior to the immediacy of professional judgment based upon teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction every day throughout the school year.

In 2001, misguided testing was put into place as an end-all, be-all, ever-present threat to neighborhood schools. Those seeking stability for schools quickly learned that the real task was to figure out how play the game.

It is a game, folks. Learning does not occur in sequential, discrete components that are somehow indisputably identified as Solely Due to That Teacher at That School. Nevertheless, federal (and, by coerced extension, state) education law treats testing as exactly that– indisputable– and wrongly laden with high-stakes consequences. Those on the receiving end find themselves year after year placed in this boat without paddles and told to make it move or else

Twenty years of Make It Move Or Else.

So, here we are, in 2021, mid-pandemic, and USDOE has chosen neither to cancel ESSA-mandated testing outright nor to leave it to states to make the decision. Instead, USDOE is deciding state-by-state whether testing waivers will be bestowed from the USDOE On High.

According to USDOE, standardization can go out of the window. Just give us some numbers.

Some states gain waiver permission. Others are denied.

Are the latter being penalized for better-perceived, ed-amidst-pandemic stability? That sure seems to be the case.

If the Biden-Cardona USDOE is really interested in educator stability, it could at least leave 2020-21 testing decisions to individual states. Moreover, ESSA is due for reauthorization (it is funded through fiscal year 2020, which for the federal government is September 30, 2020), which means that the time is right to pressure Congress to ease up on testing (perhaps grade-span testing) and dropping (rightly prohibiting?) the misuse of student tests to grade teachers and schools.

Want educator stability? Stop overtesting students, and stop using test scores to mismeasure teachers and schools.


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Getting Ahead on Easter

Evangelical Christianity in the political sphere is not pretty sight.

The world has watched the hardness, harshness, and hypocrisy of self-righteousness on display in the name of some desired political end (not the least of which has been gaining and remaining in power), all of which bespeaks a lack of understanding about Jesus Himself.

I won’t pretend to address the entire off-putting issue here, but I will offer just a smidge– and a critical one, at that– of how the Jesus handled ultimate power over others– including over one of His own who He knew would within hours betray Him.

The setting is the Passover feast, which happened to be the night before Jesus would die (by His own choice; see Matthew 26: 53-54).

Here’s how John records the situation in John:13:3-5:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

Knowing He had untlimited power, Jesus chose to serve. To serve. Not to make sure others knew how powerful He was, or to use His power to serve Himself or to unleash wrath upon His enemies. No self-gratulation; no putting an agenda before the welfare of a world that frankly had no idea what He was up to. His primary enemies were very religious (sound familiar?) and saw Jesus as a threat to their political and financial well being (too close for comfort?)

Jesus was not here to make Himself into the ruler of an earthly kingdom– a point that His disciples seemed to be missing as on more than one occasion they argued with one another about which of them was the greatest (see Mark 9:33-34 and Luke 22:24), with James and John even asking Jesus directly for two top positions in Jesus’ kingdom, a request that made the other ten disciples “indignant” (Mark 10:35-41).

So, these guys could certainly use a reminder that the way to advance in His kingdom was to become the lowest of servants. And so can we.

Jesus turns the rules of getting ahead upside down.

Want to succeed as a Christian? Make it your chief ambition to serve in ways that clearly reveal Jesus’ respect for human dignity, period, with no ulterior, corner-cutting, other-exploiting, self-deceiving motive to get ahead. This rule applies to all of life, political arena included.

Happy Easter.


Parents Defending Education: Prefab “Grassroots”

On March 30, 2021, a new ed-reform kid on the top-down block, Parents Defending Education, introduced itself to the public on Twitter as follows:

“Launch today.” That sounds very new– and very odd because this org purports to do the nonsensical– “build a grassroots army of parents.”

Grassroots is not “built” from the top down. But a new ed-reform org surely could exploit the term “grassroots” by having members in different locales so that it might engage in litigation in the name of a local, “grassroots” interest.

That is just what this come-lately ed-reform group appears to have done.

Eight days prior to announcing its “launch” on Twitter– on March 22, 2021– Parents Defending Education had already stepped into a New York education lawsuit about high school integration, positioning itself as eligible to “intervene as a defendant”— and making it sound as though the org– here identified as a nonprofit– is an established grassroots org– and therefore having a right to insert itself into the litigation at hand:

Movant (petitioner), Parents Defendant Education, is Plaintiffs’ counterpart. Movant is a nationwide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, whose members are primarily parents of school-aged children. Its mission is to prevent—through advocacy, disclosure, and, if necessary, litigation—the politicization of K-12 education. Movant has many members with children who are currently enrolled in, or will apply for, the City’s G&T programs or selective schools….

Here is what Parents Defending Education wants from this New York lawsuit:

Plaintiffs are IntegrateNYC, a nonprofit membership organization, and several parents with students who attend City schools. Plaintiffs want this Court to force the City to hire more employees of color and to adopt a race-focused curriculum. But their main goal is to eliminate “the G&T middle and high school admissions screens currently in use.” … Plaintiffs claim that these screens are illegal because more white and Asian-American students are admitted to G&T programs than Black and Latino students. It does not matter to Plaintiffs that the screens are strictly race-neutral, or that the City adopted them with no racially discriminatory intent. … The disparate impact alone is supposedly enough.

If Plaintiffs obtain their requested relief, Movant’s members will suffer immediate and substantial harms. If the criteria for G&T programs are changed, many of their children (who qualified under those criteria) will be denied these valuable programs. And if admissions, curriculum, and staffing decisions are made on grounds other than merit, Movant’s members believe the quality of their children’s current education and future opportunities will decline. Movant’s members also believe their children should be judged based on their individual merit, not defined as members of a racial group or blamed for the collective sins of others, and thus oppose Plaintiffs’ desire to inject more race-based decision-making into the City’s schools. Movant therefore seeks this Court’s leave to intervene as a defendant.

Without offering any psychometric evidence, Parents Defending Education uses the term, “race neutral,” to describe admissions tests.

If the outcome of a selective admissions test demonstrates a systematic preference for certain racial/ethnic groups above others, psychometricians need to investigate test bias. Furthermore, testing might favor certain students over others due to availability of experiences and resources that leverage better scoring outcomes for those who have them over those who don’t.

On March 31, 2021, I asked Leonie Haimson, founder of NYC-based Class Size Matters, about how she would respond to someone who says, “If all students take the same test for admission to NYC’s selective admission high schools, doesn’t that ensure that the most qualified students are admitted, and wouldn’t it be unfair to them to focus on race/ethnicity rather than qualification?”

Here is her response:

There are real problems with using high stakes tests for admissions to any public schools.  Not only are the SHSAT (Standardized High School Admissions Test) exams for admission to the NYC specialized high schools unreliable, the exams never have been evaluated for racial or gender bias. 

Moreover, NYC is the only district in the country in the country that bases admissions to any school solely on the basis of one high stakes test, and we have eight of these schools.  We need to get rid of these tests as soon as possible.

On December 20, 2016, the Gotham Gazette published an informative piece about New York’s SHSAT and the leveraging of resources and experiences of some students over others in order to produce “narrow readiness.” Some excerpts:

In New York City, the clear majority of students are assigned elementary schools that are within their zip codes. For many students of color, this means that they attend schools that face a myriad of problems, including: less funding and resources, less experienced and effective teachers and overcrowded classrooms. …

Next, because entry to middle school is based on those aforementioned metrics, low-income students and students of color are substantially less likely to attend honors or screened programs. … And, analysis shows that between 2005 and 2013, 88 middle schools, 76 of which were honors or screened, were home to 85% of total student offers to SHSAT schools.

…It would be a mistake to assume that the SHSAT itself is color- or income-blind. Analysis reveals a flawed exam. Like all standardized tests, critics argue that the SHSAT does not test for ability and potential.

Rather, the test is basically an indicator of income and narrow readiness more than anything. Parents who can afford to invest in expensive preparatory courses and high quality private tutors to give their children an advantage — often added upon prior advantages. Test-prep companies and private tutors are keenly aware of how the test works and impart significant help.

If the outcome of the above-mentioned leverage benefits students of some races/ethnicities at the expense of others, then the outcome attests to the inputs– which are anything but “race neutral.”

As for Parents Defending Education, it seems that a principal goal of this come-lately manifestation of manuactured grassroots is to be able to draw on token “parent” presence wherever it needs to across the nation in order to fabricate standing in any number of educational lawsuits, including those challenging racial inequities. No matter the school or district, cleverly-named Parents Defending Education could have a parent available to position in litigation in the name of “race-neutral” (but in practice, racially-biased) policies.

This is not how grassroots works. This is how an organization with an agenda exploits the facade of grass roots to achieve its goals.

The president of Parents Defending Education, Nicole Neily, started the Washington, DC-based nonprofit, Speech First, near the end of 2017. According to its 2018 tax filing, Speech First spent over $1.4M on education litigation related to free speech:


Neily was paid $162K by her nonprofit for her not-so-grassroots activism, which included $10,000 in “bonus or incentive compensation.

Neily’s Speech First startes in late 2017, and the next year has $1.4M to spend.

Hardly grassroots. And not even Neily’s first nonprofit.

In 2016, Neily became president of the nonprofit, Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Its mission statement:


The organization spent $2.8M, chiefly for “online journalism.” Neily was paid $99K for her one year as president. (The nonprofit seems to have undergone a name change in 2017, to Franklin News Foundation, and the contributions and grants were dropping off notably from 2015 to 2017. As former president, Neily received $38K in compensation. That same year, she started the nonprofit, Speech First.)

On her Linkedin bio, Neily indicates that one of her interests is the Charles Koch Institute.

Like all grass roots organizations, Parents Defending Children must (must!) have a vice president for strategy and investigations– one who happens to be a former investigative journalist and mostly independent consultant, Asra Nomani. Now, I see nothing wrong with being an investigative journalist. However, to now hold a title as VP for strategy of anything bespeaks top-downism, not grass-rootism.

And what grass roots organization would be complete without a director of outreach who drew $82K in 2015 as a consultant for an ed-reform blog with millions in its coffers at its outset? That would be Erika Sanzi, and that blog would be Education Post, the billionaire-funded blog initially run by Peter Cunningham at the behest of Los Angeles billionaire Ei Broad, who pushed the project, in Cunningham’s words, “because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” In its first year (2014), Education Post received $5.5M in contributions from four billionaire families/orgs. In 2015 (the first year Sanzi appears on the Ed Post tax form), it received another $2.3M from three billionaire families/orgs– who also happened to be just your usual grass-rootsy parents, I’m sure.

In 2016, EdPost paid Sanzi $120K for “communications and outreach.” EdPost received $4.6M from five billionaire families/orgs. This time, Bill Gates led in the giving ($1.5M). In 2017, Sanzi’s “communications and outreach” compensation was $131K; Ed Post received $7.4M from eight billionaire families/orgs, but mostly by Michael Bloomberg ($3.4M).

In EdPost’s most recent tax filing as of this writing (2018), Sanzi’s pay was $121K, and EdPost’s wealthy contributors appear to be unwilling to dole out any single contributions hitting a million. The $2M in total contributions came from eight billionaire families/orgs, with Chan Zuckerberg doling out the top contribution of $750,000.

Sanzi is also now a “senior visiting fellow” with the Fordham Institute, mouthpiece for Common Core packaging and promotion. However, forget all of that and just think of her as a parent who lives somewhere and it therefore grassroots.

What is not so obvious just yet is the details on the nonprofit status of Parents Defending Education. The IRS nonprofit search site includes a notice of data update delays. As of this writing, there is no record of an IRS determination letter for nonprofit status of any organization named “Parents Defending Education.” On its website, Parents Defending Education does not explcitly identify itself as a nonprofit, but it does so in the introduction of its NYC legal filing as “movant” cited at the outset of ths post:

Plaintiffs are a nonprofit and parents with children in New York City’s public schools; Movant is a nonprofit whose members include parents with children in New York City’s public schools.

So. Did Parents Defending Education already receive its nonprofit status as of its NYC filing, or did it just say that it “is” a nonprofit without having yet received its determination letter?

To what address will that letter come? The grass-rootsy beltway of Washington, DC?

We’ll just have to wait and see.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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NOLA’s James Singleton Charter School: Academically Unacceptable, Riddled with Scandal, Still Open.

New Orleans-based James Singleton Charter School has been allowed to operate for almost two decades despite its established record as academically unacceptable and being riddled with scandal.

Here we go again, compliments of WWLTV on March 26, 2021:

NEW ORLEANS — The Dryades YMCA board of directors held a tense meeting Friday and had to scramble to deal with the retirement of its longtime president and chief executive officer as state and local police looked into allegations of employees’ falsified background checks.

It was the first time the board had met since a scathing letter earlier this month from New Orleans Public Schools alleged fake employee background checks at James Singleton Charter School, a public K-8 school run by and housed in the historic Y in Central City.

The board members gave the Y’s departing president and CEO, Doug Evans, a standing ovation after he made brief comments. He spent 45 years working for one of the few formerly segregated Black YMCA’s left in the country. Evans touted his team’s work supporting and educating the Central City community, providing youth programs and teaching water safety.

But there was no avoiding the fact that his resignation comes amid scandal.

The organization’s chief financial officer, Catrina Reed, resigned Friday.

It’s unclear what led to her departure, but federal court records show she was convicted of robbery in 1996. She was also charged with embezzlement, although that charge was dropped, and had to pay more than $1,100 in restitution to Delta Bank and Trust.

Sources told WWL-TV Reed hid her financial crime from the YMCA before she was hired to handle the agency’s multi-million-dollar finances. …

Meanwhile, New Orleans Public Schools’ chief compliance officer, Kevin George, was also at Friday’s board meeting. …

George declined to comment, but the school district said his March 10 letter spoke for itself. The letter alleged that a routine compliance check at Singleton found at least 10 employees who had criminal background checks with false identification numbers or incorrect State Police signatures.

George said that in several instances, the background checks showed no rap sheet when the employee actually had one. And in at least one instance, the employee had a criminal conviction or pled no contest to a crime that prohibited that person from working at a school, George wrote.

In 2018, James Singleton Charter School chose not to expand after another scandal rocked its world. From the February 1, 2018 Lens:

Allegations of cheating and impropriety on standardized tests at James M. Singleton Charter School have already led to the firing of four educators and the CEO’s resignation from Dryades YMCA, which runs the school.

Now the YMCA has backed out of its plan to take over the facility housing Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, according to a news release issued Thursday afternoon.

As to those testing irregulrities, from the January 23, 2018 Lens:

Four educators at James M. Singleton Charter School were fired last week after the state Department of Education voided standardized tests for about 165 students because of irregularities and suspected cheating.

The state brought the allegations to Singleton’s board this fall. When the board started looking into the matter, chairman Darren Mire said, some answers from administration didn’t add up.

“As we were doing the cleanup, we realized this is a systematic problem,” he said. “We wanted to be prepared for the spring testing and that’s why we made the moves we made.”

School leader Rosemary Martin, district test coordinator and curriculum coordinator Tenisha Marcel, special education chairperson Cynthia Walker, and social worker Steven Byrd were terminated, Mire said.

As for James Singleton Charter School’s grades, well, one must wonder at the school choice excellence that is allowed to continue almost two decades (predating Katrina) in New Orleans. As education advocate and career teacher, Vicky Johnston, notes regarding James Singleton Charter School’s school grade history:

  • In 2003 their baseline SPS was 33.5, academically unacceptable, they only had 6-8 grades.
  • In 2004 their SPS was 36.2, academically unacceptable, 6-8 grades.
  • In 2005 their SPS was 49.9, academically unacceptable, 6-8 grades.
  • 2006 no data, 2007 no data
  • 2008 expanded to Pr-K to 8, baseline 55.2. Academically unacceptable.
  • 2009 SPS 62.5 , academically unacceptable, PreK-8
  • 2010, SPS 70.1, given new baseline, academic watch, PreK-8
  • 2011, Letter grade F, SPS 65.4, school in decline
  • 2012, Letter grade F, this is the year the reports from LDOE were changing and baselines were changed.
  • 2013, Letter grade D
  • 2014 Letter grade C
  • 2015 Letter grade D, SPS 47.4
  • 2016 Letter grade C , SPS 69
  • 2017 Letter grade D, 51.4 (2016-17 tests were the tests that were voided for “irregularities”)
  • 2018 Letter grade F, SPS 39.2
  • 2019 Letter grade F, SPS 35.3

Academically unacceptable for its first three years; no data for next two years, then allowed to expand in 2008 all while continuing in its academically unacceptable status.

Then the grades waffle a bit between D and C, with a testing scandal uncovered in the midst of this school-grade heyday:

Louisiana Department of Education

October 27, 2017

Mr. Darren Mire

RSD-Dryades YMCA

2220 Oretha C. Haley Blvd.

New Orleans, LA 70113

Dear Mr. Mire:

During the summer of 2017, potential testing irregularities at James Singleton Charter School were reported to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). The accusation stated that students were receiving copies of the LEAP test prior to taking the test, teachers and staff were taking the test for students, and test administrators were coaching students during the test. The LDOE began an investigation, including interviewing all school staff involved in testing, interviewing students, as well as reviewing documentation regarding testing.

During this review the LDOE discovered the following students at James Singleton Charter School received accommodations that were not properly documented….

(34 students-subject test combinations identified and redacted)

As a result of the findings, the tests listed above will be voided and count as a zero for accountability. The LDOE inquiry will continue and LDOE reserves the right to void additional tests if further findings are discovered.

Why, oh why, is this school still allowed open?

It can only be due to the “who you know” of it all. There is no other reason.


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My Pandemic Classroom

Due to the complications associated with living life during this pandemic, my blogging frequency has taken quite the plunge this past year. Our school district has been in session full time, in person, since September. Faculty reported to school late August. In order to adjust for a delayed school year, our district cut many of our holidays even as the school day itself became longer to keep students from congregating. Desk cleaning happens with each change of class, and conveniences such as wooden hall passes cannot be used, so that means writing a pass on paper every time a student needs the restroom. For quarantined students, there’s Google Meet happening simultaneously as class meets in person. More than once I have had my class at a standstill because a quarantined student needed extra assistance via the bumbling that can easily happen when people are trying to work out an issue without the simplicity of being together in the same physical space.

In short, I am tired. Long-term tired. However, I have also accomplished a major goal: To date, and by God’s grace, I have not missed a single day of school. My only premature exit was two hours early one Monday to bring my mother to the dentist. As of this writing, my seniors have only three weeks to go (which is both a relief and pressure to get our work done and graded).

In my classroom, I have masked; I have distanced; I have cleaned; I have made careful decisions with my personal time so that I minimized the likelihood of being quarantined. I have strategized my bathroom breaks so that I could also clean desks between classes. I have packed lunches easy to eat on the fly (our lunch period has been reduced from 27 minutes to 21 minutes to minimize the time students can congregate). I have limited my wardrobe to accommodate incessant cleaning. I stopped polishing my nails (again, all of the cleaning, and frankly, I became too tired to keep up with the task).

Along with my colleagues, I have learned the ins and outs of a new-to-us online platform, Google Classroom, over the past summer and into the new school year– and that without having school-issued Chromebooks for faculty until the second quarter.

On the fly, on the fly.

This has been a hard year, but not my hardest year. Know why?

Because I have three decades of teaching experience and five decades of life experience to draw from.

Therefore, I quickly realized that the most important task I faced this year was to teach my seniors to write a research paper.

Common Core did not have to tell me so. I consulted no student test scores to determine this truth, just teaching and life experience.

And common sense. The pandemic blindsided our nation just as these seniors were to write their junior research papers. It fell by the wayside. 

I don’t want to hear a word about “learning loss.” Career teachers will do what career teacher do, and that is find where students are and move them forward using the resources at one’s disposal.

In devising a research assignment for my students, I faced the incredible obstacle of the ease at which the internet makes it possible for students to avoid learning. Just buy a paper. Cut and paste and call it writing. It’s not cheating if I change every fourth word, right?

The internet enables incredible ignorance. Yesterday, I asked my students to write haiku, and some struggled to divide words into syllables. One student told them not to bother, that there was a website that would do it for them. Absolutely not, I said. I will not allow you to be saved from figuring out what a syllable is.

I do not want my students to be rescued from their own learning. Therefore, for their research assignment, I created a research proposal assignment. Not a paper. A proposal. 

There is no website that provides some pre-fab proposal to fit the six specifications in the assignment I created. (Forgive me for not posting it at this time.)

I issued the assignment in late January. Then, for the next nine weeks, every class period, every day, beginning with how to format the document and then proceeding one section at a time, I consulted with individual students about their writing. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. And all while being cognizant of social distancing (i.e., by taking a student’s Chromebook to my stand in front of the room and discussing aloud; by being mindful of how long I was standing near a student, both of us masked).

In the end, my students learned how to write a research document formatted to fit MLA 2016 specifications, and there was no way that they could cheat. Some tried. They tred to cut an paste from other works, but the words did not fit the assignment, and out the window such efforts went rather quickly.

I watched my students write their own research-based work. Enough with “learning loss.” They learned how to improve their writing, at a reasonable, guided pace, and next week, I will let them know what my grading criteria are for the unified, final document. Proofreading will now be on them.

But there is more. Each proposal section was its own small grade, and so long as a student was willing to hang in with revising, that student was eligible for maximum points possible. I proceeded thus for three reasons. First of all, I did not know if our school year might again be cut short and if we would be able to finish the assignment. So, giving smaller grades along the way provided me with grades if school fell apart for a second year in a row. Secondly, students learned tenacity– hanging in there until the work was done. And thirdly, in awarding maximum points, I did not want to penalize students who might have finished later than others for waiting on me to get to them in any given class period.

In this case, the proposal is the final assignment. We are running out of school year, and I am out of energy. That noted, students understand that they now have a proposal ready to go and possibly of use to them in transforming proposal to full paper in a future college class.

At Teach for a Career, this is how its done.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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