Monday, March 11, 2013

Urquhart's SB 279: Help me identify what company stands to benefit from $5,000,000 more taken from general education funds

My last three posts all deal with custom-made RFP's (Referrals to Friends of stePhenson) where legislators write the requirements of a public bid process so that only one company may win.  They even let the companies themselves help write the bill, especially if that company has made campaign donations.  If we're mad about Swallow, why aren't we furious about this??

Here's a new bill I just saw over the weekend via a legislator's update. The legislator spoke of SB 279 as if it were a done deal and going to pass.  This despite the fact the bill was kept secret until last week (the way we can't follow "boxcar bills" and just have to constantly check to see if they become active is a blow to transparency and maybe something I'll have to go into in a post-session complaint.) and rushed through a non-education Senate Committee with Stephenson on it.  It allocates $5,000,000 to an interactive math program with very specific requirements. 

There are 3 big problems I see:

1.  This seems written for a specific company AGAIN.  Why is Urquhart joining the likes of Stephenson, Stevenson, and Adams in this unethical practice?  Can anyone help me figure out what company this is intended for?  Does Imagine Learning have a new math program being unveiled?

2.  We are going to guarantee $5,000,000 to a company, but schools cannot "require" students to use this program, only provide it?

3a.  We are then going to measure "learning gains" from a weird subset of students using it in totally different ways and amounts and report that as accountability?  It is flat-out impossible to get good data from that.  I think Sen. Urquhart would know that.  Did the vendor write this bill too?

3b.This (non-)accountability report will likely be written by the vendor themselves if recent trends continue.  This seems to me like doubling down on a destructive practice. First, we give vendors custom written bills because they have curried the favor of only one or two legislators.   The vendor then self-reports learning gains, and the legislature uses that report to justify more money.  It worked for Imagine Learning.  I've been to various vendor sales pitches, and every one proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that their product would drastically raise student achievement.  I've never heard any claims of "mediocre learning gains" or "so-so achievement."  These practices are unethical even if the program ends up being great for the students.  That's very fortunate for the students, and may even be true of Imagine Learning, but it does not justify cronyism, political favors, pay-to-play, or not reporting useful data.

Here'e the language cut and pasted from the bill.

Custom RFP.  What company already knows this is coming?

 (3) In selecting a program, the board shall consider the following criteria:
             44          (a) the program contains a strong instructional component focused on problem solving,
             45      number sense, and basic skills;
             46          (b) the program provides explicit instruction with a strong focus on highly effective
             47      and evidence-based strategies and comprehensive resources to address learners in need of both
             48      strategic and intensive supports, including English language learners;
             49          (c) the program is self-adapting to respond to the needs and progress of the learner,
             50      including allowing for increasingly intense instruction and additional practice opportunities
             51      based on individual student needs;
             52          (d) the program provides opportunities for frequent, quick, and informal assessments
             53      and includes an embedded progress monitoring tool and mechanisms for regular feedback to
             54      students and teachers; and
             55          (e) the program is self-paced.
 Can't require??

 (4) The board shall make the program available to school districts and charter schools
             57      that apply for the program based on the number of students in kindergarten through grade 6.
             58          (5) A school district or charter school may:

             59          (a) provide the program to a student by scheduling additional instructional hours or
             60      other means; and
             61          (b) may not require a student to participate in the program.

But will report learning gains??  How?  Compared to what? 

62          (6) On or before November 1, 2013, and on or before November 1 each year thereafter,
             63      the board shall report final testing data regarding a program provided under this section,
             64      including student learning gains as a result of the program, to:
             65          (a) the Education Interim Committee; and
             66          (b) the governor.

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