We talked about how Louisiana is a school reform success story, earning a high grade from both reform industry insider Michelle Rhee and the voter suppression law lobby-shop, ALEC.
We also talked about this innovative reform industry plan for Excellence in Profiteering. It’s called Course Choice in Louisiana (but was recently revealed as Value Vouchers in Michigan). Innovation is like lightening. It can strike in two places at exactly the same time, as it obviously did in the case of Course Choice/Value Vouchers/Whatever They Will Call It In Your State.
We talked about the exciting 21st century career opportunities Course Choice is already creating in Louisiana in the vital door-to-door-sales sector of the economy:
“Help change the landscape of public education in Louisiana!
On your own time! With the potential to make $75k+ in 6 months or less!
Company Description: SmartStart Virtual Academy (“SVA”) (a division of SmartStart Education) is a state-approved Course Choice provider. This means that SVA has been authorized to offer FREE courses to high-school students in the state of Louisiana for graduation credit. SVA is offering 22 approved courses — both core-classes (such as reading, math and science) and career-ready courses (such as web-design and publishing).”
In the interest of accountability, let’s see how this reform industry experiment is going so far:
Southwood High School junior Randall Gunn is a straight-A student.
So when the school’s principal saw his name come up as registering to retake several courses online, it immediately raised a red flag. Gunn was called into a counselor’s office and told he was enrolled in three Course Choice classes — all of which he already had passed standardized tests with exceptional scores.
“I had no clue what was going on,” Gunn said. “I have no reason to take these classes and still don’t know who signed me up.”
More than 1,100 Caddo and Webster students have signed up to participate in what some say are questionable Course Choice programs. According to parents, students, and Webster and Caddo education officials, FastPath Learning is signing up some students it shouldn’t — in many cases without parent or student knowledge. A free tablet computer is offered to those who enroll, and some educators believe that’s all the potential enrollees hear. Money to pay for the courses comes from each school district’s state-provided Minimum Foundation Program funding.
Half of the money — courses range from $700 to $1,275 each — must be paid to FastPath and other providers up front. Neither students nor their parents are responsible for the tablet devices if they are lost or stolen. And they can keep them even if they don’t pass the course.
“This all goes back to all of the education reforms that were passed within eight days during last year’s session. This is what you get,” state Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Dubberly, said of the apparent lack of oversight.
“I have graduating seniors signed up for math classes,” Roberts said. “I have even seen kids, sophomores, enrolled in second-grade math and reading classes. There’s no rhyme or reason to who these companies are signing up or for what classes.”
One example is freshman Shakelvin Calhoun. Calhoun was signed up for junior- and senior-level classes, and said he still is unsure how he was enrolled.“ It was a complete surprise to me,” he said. “We still can’t figure out how I was signed up or why I was put in those classes, but I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
At least 104 Webster Parish students, mostly elementary age, were signed up for 208 classes when the company’s representatives went door to door over a 10-day period last month in Minden’s housing projects and densely populated neighborhoods.
Here’s the best part:
If Course Choice moves forward and all of the 104 students participate, that would take more than $250,000 from the district’s MFP funding. Continuing to deduct from the district’s allocation ultimately will put a strain on the ability to keep teachers in the classrooms, Busby said.