Linda Taylor, Charter Schools, Private Agencies and Race

When I retired several weeks ago, I said to myself that now I would have a lot of time to devote to my blog. I would now become a prolific writer. I would churn out one article after another. My pen would lambaste the reformers, privatization, VAM, charters, etc. However, instead of having the free time I dreamt, it turned out that I am just as busy as I was prior to retirement. I retired only to continue working in a summer job that I have had for the last eight years. I trek to Manhattan five days a week working for one of New York’s Committees on Special Education. My job is to hold IEP meetings and write over 100 individual educational programs for students who attend private or parochial schools. These students receive either Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) or related special educational services that are paid for by the New York City Department of Education. In years past, the DOE had lists of independent providers that provided such services. Many of the SETSS (resource room) providers were either retired school teachers or teachers that wanted a flexible work schedule for various personal reasons. The same held true providers of OT, PT, Counseling and Speech. However, in recent years, these services are now mostly provided by teachers and providers hired through large private contract agencies that offer the DOE the best price for their services, i.e., lowest price—supposedly.

Earlier in the month, a colleague of mine who is doing the same job in another CSE began holding IEP Conferences for a parochial school in one of the five boroughs of New York City. She began to notice the progress reports of a particular SETSS teacher sent by an agency to the school. The school was composed of grades K to 8. Here was this one SETSS teacher servicing every disabled child in this school. And no matter what the grade, no matter what the problem, every progress report was exactly the same. Every child had major decoding problems, comprehension problems, as well as computational problems. In her progress report, each child was at least two to three years below level—even those in Kindergarten! Needless to say, all her draft IEP goals were exactly the same. For every disabled child in the school, her goals used the same strategies. When my colleague counted the number of students on the master list, it totaled over forty. Interestingly, many students had 10 periods of SETSS services a week. It was amazing how this particular provider was able to serve this many students in a 7 period day. I guess she took no lunch and worked every period. Yes, she must have done all her preparation at home in order to have created such fine differentiated lessons for such a diverse population. Interestingly, many of the parents of these disabled kids remarked to my colleague how their children made very little progress, that the teacher was harsh to them, and that each child was rarely picked up for services during the course of the year. I think we all might agree that we have some circumstantial evidence for possible fraud—especially when one realizes how little these contracted out providers are paid by many of these agencies. In the past, retired teachers who provided such services would complain that they were only paid DOE per session rate, which was about $40.00 an hour. I gather these contract-out providers get less than half that amount because the rest of the fee logically goes to the agency. Therefore, although wrong, it is understandable why some providers would pad their numbers. Where is the outcry for such embezzlement? This is our tax money?

Now let’s talk about a woman named Linda Taylor. A few months ago, I read an interesting article in Slate.com about this woman. Linda Taylor was Ronald Reagan’s infamous Welfare Queen. Yes, I hate to disappoint some of my liberal friends who believed all these years that the she was one of the Great Communicator’s made up stories. Unfortunately, this woman was real although the Great Communicator did embellish many facts of the case. However, this woman was not so much a Welfare Queen as possibly one of the greatest criminal minds of the 20th century. This woman not only embezzled money from just about every government program, but was possibly also a kidnapper and murderer. The amount she took from Aid for Families with Dependent Children was small change compared to the amount embezzled from social security disability, the Veterans Administration as well as a host of other government programs. At the time, obviously, the outcry was against those minorities on welfare who were living high on the hog while the rest of us had to work like dogs to scrap together a meager existence. Therefore, the Federal Government only prosecuted her for welfare fraud in which the sum total of her embezzlement was $8000. She was not prosecuted for the theft of over $100,000 from other Federal programs, possible kidnapping or possible murder.

I remember at the time many conservatives saying that this woman proved that we must get rid of welfare and food stamps. Even though she possibly stole more money from the VA for fraudulent disability payments, I never heard any of my conservative friends talk about doing away with that program. Even though she embezzled tens of thousands from social security, few demanded that we do away with social security disability insurance. To working class whites, she was the embodiment of the black woman who had multiple children from different men who dared to own three Cadillacs, three homes, beautiful clothes and fine jewelry at taxpayer expense. Interestingly, the article said that she possibly was not even black, but of mixed race and was really considered white for most of her life. It also did not matter to a big part of our working class population that census figures showed that most women who received AFDC in the 1970s had only between two and three children and were also white. Race trumped everything and this audacious black woman represented every black woman who was on welfare at the time. As a result, when Reagan was elected in 1980, he had willing supporters who applauded his draconian cuts in social programs because now these minorities had to be put in their place.

What has this got to do with charters? Here we have these schools who are embezzling government money as recently reported in Diane Ravitch’s blog . In addition, we have reports of charters involved in criminal activities in Texas, Connecticut, California and Ohio. Here again is tax money being embezzled. Money that is supposed to serve children are lining the pockets of wealthy investors or those who administer these charters. But how come we do not hear, “Let’s get rid of those charters. These people are taking our money to live high on the hog.” The difference, I sadly have to say, is that these charter administrators and hedge fund investors are mostly wealth and white. These people live high on the hog anyway. Imagine, if you total the amount stolen by these charters, the amount is in the millions and not thousands. The American people should be rising up and screaming that we must account for every cent these charters get from localities, states and the Federal government. On the other hand, if tomorrow, some black woman parked her BMW in Wegman’s lot and proceeded to buy groceries with food stamps, it would be front page headlines in the New York Post.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that race is the key factor. Both Linda Taylor and the many charters are exactly the same. Both used the lack of government oversight, as was the case in the 1970s for Linda Taylor and today for the charters. Linda embezzled because we did not have yet the type of computer technology that allowed the sharing of information among different government agencies that we have today. On the other hand, there is a lack of oversight because the large pockets of those who invest in charters have bought lock, stock and barrow legislatures and governors who would pass and carry out such laws. Linda was a lone wolf who worked the system while those who do it today are being supported with a wink from many levels of government.

Now let’s put this all together. Here we have private contract agencies with what appears to be little oversight engaged in theft of services (from those disabled children who need such services desperately), charters stealing millions also because of lack of government oversight and depriving our public schools of the necessary funds and resources to succeed, and finally Linda Taylor who was convicted for stealing only $8000 in AFDC because race stereotypes blinded those in power to the true nature of her many criminal acts. To me, all three acts are heinous crimes against our civil society and each should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, about 40 years ago, a real criminal got a slap on the wrist while millions of impoverished Americans were severely punished for the crime of being poor while today millions of public school kids are being punished while the real perpetrators appear again to be having their wrists slapped.

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Pearson’s Totalitarian Test Security

It has been several months since I have posted to my blog.  It is not because I haven’t wanted to, but because the educational reforms wrought by a binding arbitration between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers have made my job this year one of endless preparation, paperwork, and drudgery.  In my last year of teaching, I have worked harder than those Hebrew slaves that built the cities of ancient Egypt.  To finish my career as an effective teacher, I have to do well on 22 Danielson rubric points, which include 8 artifacts that will justify the generation of enough paper to cause the death of, at least, one hundred trees. 

But this is not the purpose of my little article.  Its purpose is to describe a demeaning test security system wrought by Pearson to safeguard and protect their profits.  Last week, I started testing children for New York City’s gifted and talented program.  I have been doing this activity for many years.  Originally individual districts tested students for their local gifted programs, but eventually the testing became a citywide endeavor.   Originally, children four to seven were tested using the OLSAT along with another test that measured academic readiness.  However, due to criticism that very few minority and ELL students got into the program, last year, the test was changed to just using components of the original OLSAT along with a nonverbal section.  This year, the test was changed once again—in my view—to make it even easier. 

However, our friends, or should I say enemies at Pearson, do not like adverse publicity and embarrassment whenever test flaws are revealed.  Pearson just hated when newspapers revealed that common core test questions had to be thrown out, a passage about a talking pineapple was incomprehensible, that a fourth grade passage was also used on a third grade assesment, and that the illustrations for many passages contained marketing logos that were paid for by the highest corporate bidder.  Therefore, they decided on a solution to solve these problems.  Instead of creating a valid and reliable assessment that would be subject to reviews and study by psychometricians at the university level, they would increase test security. 

Originally, in the good old days, test security was in place to prevent students from getting a hold of a test in order to cheat.  It is for this reason that tests were shrink-wrapped and placed in the Principal’s safe until the day of the test.  However, today, when a Pearson test, such as the Common Core ELA and Math assessments come in at least 75 boxes, that safe at the bottom of the Principal’s small storage closet does not work too well any longer.  Now we had the problem of having many, many tests in several supposedly secure rooms, but once the assessment started, copies ended up all over a building.  Anything could happen.  A page could be scanned into a readability program causing the discovery that a third grade passage was on an eighth grade Lexile reading level or that a passage described the nutritional benefits of a Whopper.

Therefore, Pearson concluded that the only way to prevent such errant discoveries was to collect any electronic device that could copy the test and prevent anyone from even talking about the assessment.  As a result, when I was trained at my testing site this year, I was told that if I was alone with the assessment or even the assessment’s directions for administration booklet within a classroom and had an electronic device capable of reproducing the assessment, the supervisor had the right to immediately fire me.  See, I planned to bring my Ipad to do some lesson planning and a little wifi reading between students, so I now thought all was lost.  However, there was a solution at hand.  All proctors would sit in the hall, on small classroom desks, with their electronic device. while the classroom door was locked with the tests inside.  There would be a school aid sitting on a chair at the top of the hall, watching that we would not enter the classroom to perform any misdeed with our electronic toys.  Another school aid would come with kids, unlock our door, and we would proceed to assess the student with our smart phones, Kindles and Ipads sitting quietly in the hall. 

What I described is nothing compared to the DOE’s Assessment Manual for 2013-2014.  The DOE mandated that every teacher be trained in this manual before December 20, 2013.  Not only would teachers be forbidden to even talk to each other about the tests, but also the name of every proctor would have to be sent to Pearson.  The manual lists at least 50 forbidden actions that a teacher cannot do when testing, and if discovered, the teacher would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  I guess even the slightest malfeasance would mean death by hanging, not just for the possible culprit, but for every teacher within earshot. 

And to do away with any other controversy, Pearson says on the state’s website that whatever you thought was controversial in the past is no longer controversial.  They are now doing everything on purpose.  Pearson has stated that they will use the same passage on tests at different grade levels (but with different questions).  In addition, they will use passages found within their textbooks, but again with different questions. And finally, they will use controversial pieces of text that will make certain students upset and agitated. But, according to them, students have to develop a stiff upper lip and take it like a man (or woman).

All this, of course, is for the sake of profit.  Let us prosecute and even jail any teacher who dares to analyze a test using psychometric research techniques.  What are a few careers, when billions of dollars in the hands of a few is at stake? At least J.D. Rockefeller used to give children dimes.  Pearson, on the other hand, gives our precious youth, anxiety disorder—and is definitely proud doing so. 

Interesting, during another time, the old New York City Board of Education had an office that used to review and critique different assessments from different publishers.  I know this for a fact because I used to be one of the reviewers.  We used to research tests using Buros’ Mental Measurements Handbook and the ERIC database to tell prospective buyers an assessment’s strengths, weaknesses, reliability and validity.  In this way, we helped schools and clinicians make wise and informed decisions about different diagnostic instruments.  All wiped away by the likes of Bloomberg and Klein so that their friends in the testing business could get sweetheart contracts and monopoly control.  The result is now the creation of a looking glass world in which the perpetrators make billions while those who question anything run the risk of criminal prosecution.  Let us hope for better days ahead.