Crazy Crawfish’s Blog: Louisiana’s Texbook Selection Shenanigans

I was recently contacted to investigate some the selection process used by LDOE to select their textbook vendors for the upcoming school year. I was informed that LDOE had chosen only a single vendor for Tier 1 status for ELA and Math, and that districts were being told if they did not choose one of these two vendors they would face sanctions and punitive actions from the Department. The vendors selected were Eureka, for Math, and Core Knowledge for ELA (English Language Arts).

Eureka Math

Eureka is the bastard love child of Engage New York, (sometimes referred to as EnRage New York) and the Common Core creators themselves and sometimes referred to as merely an Engage NY that you pay for. Engage NY is a “free” Common Core aligned curriculum resource created with funding from a multi-million dollar grant (around 12 or 13 million if I recall) provided by the New York department of Education. (Theoretically LSU had a hand in the development of this curriculum as well. I met with Dr. James Madden from LSU about a few months ago and he confirmed he was personally involved.) Several districts in Louisiana, including EBR where my kids attend, had the misfortune of adopting Engage NY this past year. Engage NY was widely acknowledged in much of the media as confusing and plagued with errors on most of their instructional materials. I created a post this year on my first graders homework that went viral and still gets a lot of attention (including just yesterday when comic Louis C.K. went on a Twitter rant against his third grader’s Common Core homework and someone posted my article as an example of the absurdity of Common Core Math.) Despite numerous available products, Louisiana is the only state to define Eureka as their sole Math aligned provider solution.

Could this really be the only aligned product on the market, or is there more going on here?

Why is Louisiana the only State in the nation that figured this out?

Amazing.

Core Knowledge

Core Knowledge is “free” online curriculum provider.
The Core Knowledge Foundation was founded in 1986 by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. However recently the foundation sold the rights to reproduce and sell material to Amplify, a Rupert Murdoch NewsCorp company headed by Louisiana Superintendent of Education’s last bosses from New York, Joel Klein, and Kristen Kane. While marketed as “free” these products are unusable by most school districts in their “free” state, and the Amplify versions are far from free:

Amplify and Newscorp looks to make a killing here, on free material that they sell for anything but free. They are leveraging this into getting folks to buy expensive supplemental materials, or subscription services to digital tablets for 200 dollars year, before you even get any customized software!

Nice Score, Rupert and Joel. Louisiana looks to be taking Mississippi’s place as the poorest state in the Union after you are through with us.

So what else did I find?

I did not hear any specific reports from school districts that confirmed schools and districts would be penalized directly for choosing to go with another product. What I did see was a lot of overt pushing from the department to adopt these vendors and their materials. (If you have a story that confirms this allegation please send it to me at crazycrawfish@yahoo.com .) LDOE is only providing professional development and support to teachers of schools and districts that adopt one of these two products.

Both of these products have free online only versions of their material. However if your school district does not provide a laptop and internet connection to every single student in your district, this won’t help very much. School districts will have to spend a lot of time and resources printing out the materials of these vendors in districts that don’t provide tablets or laptops to every student. So either districts will have to spend hundreds of dollars per student to provide tablets and or more for laptops as well as the infrastructure to support such an investment (laptops don’t fix themselves and they break quite often in the hands of even well intentioned kids) or they will have to print out entire textbooks for each student every year. Those printed versions will have to be replaced every year since you can’t expect unbound copies of printout to me reusable. Printing out this material also negates any value of online interaction and will yield a substandard product devoid of color pictures (unless districts want to spend more annually on temporary printouts than they would on real textbooks once every 5 to 10 years or so.)

Here is one of the many messages that the Department has sent out pimping Eureka and Core Knowledge. John White states curriculum is a local choice, meanwhile he only provides one choice for school districts to choose from, and helpfully provides pricing information and offers to give support only to districts that select this one vendor.

February 11, 2014

Superintendent’s Message

Dear Colleagues:

 Thanks to District Planning Teams across the state, Louisiana’s plan for increased, intensive support of curriculum, assessment, and technology plans has launched successfully. Already, guided by the District Planning Guide, districts are reviewing their technology assessments and examining 2015 sample test questions. This week the Department will begin to share the results of its instructional review process, designed to provide districts information on curricula that are aligned to new academic expectations. In weeks to follow, the Department will produce curriculum guidebooks that help teachers to plan for the school year.

 It is important to note that curriculum will remain an issue for local schools and school systems to select and create. Curriculum is a local choice in Louisiana. [You may choose among any of the following one choices. Take your time. Oh, and here are some curriculum guidebooks the State has created for you to use as your local choice.]

In order to assist local schools and districts in making those choices, over the last four months the Department has solicited math textbooks from publishers for review to determine their level of alignment with the Common Core State Standards. Teachers and state staff together reviewed the submissions, carefully scrutinizing each for full alignment and the in-depth demonstration of skills expected of students on new assessments, and listing each with a “tier” representing its level of alignment. “Tier three” textbooks demonstrate minimal alignment; “tier two” textbooks demonstrate moderate alignment; “tier one” textbooks demonstrate full alignment. Schools and districts can then use this information as they see fit in planning for next year.

While the Department will continue to release textbook reviews over the coming weeks, in order to allow you and your teams access to early information, we are announcing that at this time Eureka Math was the lone submitted math curriculum demonstrating full alignment with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics. As a result, the Department will be launching a set of increased supports for those districts and schools choosing to adopt this curriculum, and your district will be able to get a head start on planning for next year: [Increased supports, means only supporting this choice. The State department of Education is only endorsing one vendor, and endorsing them hard up to advertising their products on their website and in e-mails to them. Does anyone know if that's legal? Not that it matters, John White ignores the law with impunity, I was just wondering.]

 Access Eureka Math materials:

  • Eureka Mathis currently and will remain free for download and district/school printing.
  • Eureka Math is now also available for purchase. Student workbooks and printed teacher editions are both available. 
  • The state is working to finalize a state-wide contract with locked in Louisiana prices for these printed materials and will be available March 1st.  
  • Eureka Math professional development:The Department will provide over 1,000 Eureka Math professional development seats beginning in June through the summer and fall.  In addition, the Department is securing lower purchase costs for Eureka PD. Click here to see an overview of the Eureka Math PD offerings available for purchase.  Lower prices along with a state contract and free training details will be available by March 1st. 
  • Additional math support: In addition, the department will begin releasing math guidebooks on March 1st. These guide books will include rigorous instructional tasks, practice assessment items, and guidance on standard by standard remediation. The items included here are samples of the materials soon to be available in the math guidebooks.  

 We will share information regarding English language arts next week.

Our state’s choice [My choice, John White, and mine alone. Even the Governor is speaking out against it. The majority of the State is rejecting Common Core by about 70%. Those for it do not have children being subjected to it or are profiting from it as a general rule.] to adopt higher expectations for student work will pay great dividends for our state and its children. But our teachers must have the tools and training needed to make the shift. Provided tools, support, and time to learn the new expectations, they will thrive. As so will kids. [<==is this Common Core English? These are the folks evaluating out textbooks? Lord, help us all.]

 As always, thank you for all you do for our children,

 John  

 John White

Louisiana Department of Education

Sounds more like a sales pitch than a simple endorsement. All of the districts I spoke to had already selected vendors on their own. It makes sense though. If you are a district, why would you wait for a year after implementation to select a vendor? Only new districts should really be in this boat . . . like new charter schools or like RSD, which is state run. Could this be a creative way to support only charter schools, RSD and select allies with a heads up about these selections beforehand?

Apparently the review of materials was mostly cursory. Some might suggest LDOE already had the exact vendors it intended to go with in mind before the review even began. I received reports of vendors reported hearing back their materials were placed in a lower tier almost immediately. This did not stop LDOE from breaking with tradition and charging each vendor 500 dollars per textbook to review.

        

I wondered how they managed this feat so I looked at the actual reviews. Here is an example of one. If they answered a “No” to any of the first 4 “non-negotiable” questions, the reviewers skipped the rest of the review process. Sort of a like a get out of reviewing free card, but thanks for the 500 bucks.

As you will see from the link below. Only Core Knowledge and Eureka fit the approved profile. Interesting enough, we’re nearing the need of the school year and the beginning of the special professional development John White has advertised, and he still has no supported vendor for grades 4-12 for ELA. Wow. I wonder when districts will be notified which vendor they should be jump into purchasing in May to attend these workshops which I was told are starting in June before the School year starting in August?

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/academics/2013-2014-math-and-english-language-arts-instructional-materials-review/curricular-resources-annotated-reviews

          

So to recap:

  • John White has only selected a single vendor that is complaint with his rigorous standards. One is the patent holder of Common Core, which shares the patent with CCSSO, an organization John White and Holly Boffy work for when they are not being Superintendent and BESE members for Louisiana. The other is Core Knowledge which was bought by Rupert Murdoch and is run by two folks he used to work for in New York City.
  • John White has pimped these products on department letterhead and on the Department website, complete with links to these products.
  • John White has decided only districts that adopt these products will get oodles of professional support and development.
  • Most districts have already selected materials before his announcements.
  • Training on these products begins next month, and he has not defined all the products for all the grade levels in May.
  • Districts will not get textbooks if they use the free products, they will have to either print them out at a cost comparable to buying textbooks, but which are not reusable every year and of substandard quality, or districts will have to buy laptops and home internet connectivity for all students. (This will be a great deal only for virtual charter schools which already do this.)

Maybe students and teachers should simply employ John White’s trademark motto,” Louisiana Believes” can just “Believe”?

Maybe if they believe real hard they can imagine themselves up some textbooks for next year?

In the meantime, you better believe that John White will be making sure Rupert Murdoch and Common Core make a killing off of the only two vendors that are good enough for John White (and his future career opportunities.)

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Crazy Crawfish

Crazy Crawfish is the blog name of Jason France. Mr. France is a former Louisiana Department of Education employee.