Annette Fuentes, in “Failing Students, Rising Profits” [Sept. 19], refused to let facts stand in the way of her opinion of Community Education Partners as a “Republican-flavored” alternative education program. We gave her access to our schools, provided academic achievement data and supplied documentation that refuted allegations made against us. We at CEP expected an article opposing the program, given Fuentes’s statement that privatized education programs are an “abdication” of public schools’ responsibility. But we did not expect, and your readers do not deserve, a story with factual errors. Some examples:
§ Fuentes says that there has never been a favorable independent evaluation of CEP, ignoring the fact that CEP provided her with a list of ten evaluations by school districts, state agencies, etc., indicating that students consistently improved their academic performance and CEP met state standards. Temple University recently conducted an independent study for the Pennsylvania Education Department. The Philadelphia School District, not CEP, provided the requested data, and the study’s authors had free rein to review CEP’s record on state test scores. The study concluded that “while attending CEP, students attend school regularly, stay out of disciplinary trouble, and make, on average, impressive if not extraordinary gains in…student achievement.”
§ Having unearthed longstanding CEP critics Carl Shaw and George Scott, neither of whom has visited a CEP school in eight years, Fuentes voiced their allegations without checking the source. Even though Shaw’s 1997 evaluation of the CEP program was positive, CEP raised concerns about the assessment instrument because it was not validated. CEP provided this documentation for the story, but it was ignored.
§ Fuentes quotes Dr. Tom Kellow that “the longer [students] stayed, the worse their performance.” But she ignores the fact that Kellow had recanted this allegation. In a 2003 letter to CEP, provided to Fuentes, he acknowledged that after completing a thorough review of the Houston CEP program, he had changed his mind: “I have been a vocal critic of CEP…in the past; put simply, I came to this evaluation with a host of preconceived notions and reservations that some may perceive as adversarial, and rightly so. The improvements noted over the evaluation period reflected a well-executed effort by the CEP personnel to enhance student outcomes.”
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§ Fuentes claims that the New Orleans public schools decided “against a contract with CEP.” Actually, the school board awarded a contract to CEP, and CEP chose not to proceed.
Fuentes relied on long since rebutted or recanted allegations, and systematically avoided contact with the people most familiar with CEP’s work–union leaders, superintendents, principals, teachers, students and families. CEP is making a difference in the lives of thousands of young people who critically need its services. These students, families, teachers and staff deserved better, and so do your readers.
RANDLE RICHARDSON, CEO
Community Education Partners
As Nation subscribers, we have trusted your articles to be truthful. However, as the representative of the Houston teachers and the bargaining agent for the Houston CEP employees, we are aware of numerous factual errors in “Failing Students, Rising Profits,” including:
§ Fuentes alleges that Carl Shaw’s assessment instrument was challenged because CEP disagreed with the results. Shaw’s assessment tool was canceled by both Houston ISD and the Texas Education Agency because Shaw was unable to produce validity and reliability studies or a technical manual, fatal flaws in any assessment instrument. Losing those contracts cost Shaw considerable current and future income.
§ Fuentes alleges that CEP charges twice the district per-pupil expenditure. She unfairly compares the average per-pupil cost with the cost of an alternative placement. As with all special programs, alternative education is more expensive. An honest comparison would have been between the slightly less than $10,000 per-pupil cost of CEP and the $17,000-$21,000 the district was paying for district-run disciplinary alternative programs. CEP’s charge was about half the district cost, and the program has been considerably more effective than the district’s.
§ Fuentes’s portrayal of the CEP program is not what we see in Houston. CEP takes students who disrupt the education of others and in many cases are headed toward dropping out and returns them with improved behavior, stronger academic skills and self-confidence. Had Fuentes contacted the teachers and principals who receive returning CEP students, she would have heard that repeatedly.
Fuentes systematically avoided contact with the two union presidents and their staff assigned to the CEP units. In Houston and Philadelphia, AFT affiliates are the bargaining agents for CEP employees, in addition to representing public school employees. Had she made contact, Fuentes could have spoken to people who know the current program. We would have provided teachers from both CEP and the school district to explain the impact of CEP on our students. She would have heard many firsthand accounts from those who have seen this program turn the lives of children around in a positive manner.
GAYLE FALLON, ROSE CHRATAIN
Houston Federation of Teachers
Annette Fuentes has twisted a few of the facts concerning the evaluation conducted by Temple University researchers. The evaluation study focused only on the 175 former CEP students who were transitioned back to the Philadelphia public schools at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year, and those students’ progress on a number of factors and variables was monitored throughout the school year.Thus the population for the study was 175, not the 4,300 students mentioned in the article. While the university evaluation made reference to the CEP study as a way of describing the progress those 175 students had made while at CEP, the focus of the study was on student outcome data obtained after they returned to the public schools.
The study was really about the transitioning process and relied entirely on school district data–it was totally independent of CEP. The evaluation addressed many student outcomes, and positive findings were reported on most of the behavioral measures, such as attendance and suspensions. This suggests that student behavior was, indeed, transformed while attending CEP schools. However, relative to student achievement, the study concluded that “after the CEP intervention, student grades tend to revert to prior academic performance levels and are essentially the same, on average, as the comparison group.” Finally, in terms of costs, the study reported that “the cost per CEP student is about $11,350 or about $2,000 more than the average per-pupil cost, with a substantial portion of the total amount reimbursed by the state.”
Center for Research in Human Development and Education, Temple University
As the CEO of the Philadelphia school district and the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we wish to highlight a number of factual inaccuracies in Annette Fuentes’s “Failing Students, Rising Profits.” We were surprised that the writer had no interest in obtaining our input as a way to gain perspective on alternative programs, like CEP, operating in the district.
In 2002 an analysis showed that the district-run alternative programs were spending nearly $30,000 per student in schools that were categorized as persistently dangerous, with high truancy and dropout rates. We had to do better. When we partnered with CEP, we developed effective alternative education programs that cut costs in half and served more students more effectively.
We know Fuentes is just plain wrong about the data on these students. A student’s enrollment in an alternative setting does not negate that child being counted in district data. To the contrary, placing students in alternative settings insures that they will receive targeted instruction, take all tests and be counted in all data as required by federal law.
Our test scores, in fact, have risen for the fourth straight year, the number of persistently dangerous schools has declined and more schools are making adequate yearly progress. CEP has contributed to that dynamic, and because of its success as our first provider we have now expanded to eleven sites served by a variety of providers.
The story also tries to dismiss the results of an independent study of the CEP program conducted by Temple University for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The fact is, CEP had no role whatsoever in providing data, as the article claims. Rather, the data were provided by the district. To suggest otherwise is wrong.
Politics is irrelevant to this issue. When a child in need turns to us for help, he or she doesn’t ask our party affiliation. Our job is to do all we can to help these children be successful in the classroom and in life.
School District of Philadelphia
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
I taught for twenty-eight years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Community Education Partners is the latest scam to rip off a piece of the $500 billion-plus spent every year on public education. Despite its avowed mission to educate the hardest-to-teach students, which public schools are glad to jettison, CEP’s real goal is self-enrichment. As a result of its political savvy, it’s been able to impose exorbitant per-student charges and evade the accountability spotlight. In the process, it’s proving that privatization of education is an easy way of lining one’s pockets without delivering on one’s promise.
Randle Richardson’s fulminating comes as no surprise. In the last month of my reporting, when I began asking him to respond to comments from critics, Richardson became increasingly frantic. He e-mailed me numerous and redundant documents and overnighted a succession of packages of lengthy letters he wrote reiterating what he’d already said in our two-hour phone interview. One packet contained rebuttals to Houston Press articles and a strange collection of statements by both critics and supporters, some meant to pre-empt questions I had not asked. One was a letter he’d apparently requested from the Texas Education Agency stating that it was not investigating CEP. And there was a collection of e-mails and letters meant to discredit a former Atlanta CEP teacher I’d interviewed. His final letter to me bordered on intimidation.
Richardson doesn’t mention CEP’s debacle in Atlanta or the fact that his schools fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, which Richardson told me is now part of CEP’s contractual agreements. Here’s another fact he didn’t note: Both Orlando CEP schools were rated F, failing, by the state education department last year. What was CEP’s response? It chose to go to an ungraded status. How’s that for accountability?
Gayle Fallon has been shilling for CEP and Richardson since 2000. Her photo and effusive endorsement appear on the CEP website. CEP flew her to Broward County, Florida, to convince its school district to contract with the company, according to the Press. The Press also reported that Fallon attacked former Houston school assessment expert Tom Kellow after he’d posted a critical assessment of CEP’s first Houston school to an evaluation professional’s listserv. Fallon e-mailed Kellow’s colleagues assaulting his credibility. Rather strange business for the head of a teachers union. Her letter this time, attacking Carl Shaw, referred to by one former Houston school board member I know as “the guru” of Texas educational testing, seems likewise an involvement in issues that are none of her business. But pit-bull Fallon is eager to fight CEP’s battles.
The Press reported that Fallon denied “rumors that she is a consultant for CEP or is on its payroll” and that she claimed to support CEP in part because her godson attended a CEP school: “She credits CEP with making him a more respectful and polite young man. He still, she sighs, does not want to do his homework. (CEP would be no help in this area, since there is no homework at CEP; students are not allowed to take books home.)” Despite Fallon’s impassioned defense of CEP’s Houston schools, the Press reported on February 17 that “right now one of the most effective tools HISD [Houston Independent School District] has for keeping kids in line is threatening them with a stay at CEP. And kids will tell you, administrators are using that.” Sounds positively inspiring.
Fallon and Philadelphia teachers union head Ted Kirsch embrace CEP because they support zero-tolerance and high-suspension policies, placating members who wanted those low-achieving, disruptive students booted into CEP, which has agreed to let its staff unionize. In Atlanta it’s another story. Atlanta’s teachers union head, Verdallia Turner, told me CEP teachers had contacted her, complaining about mandatory overtime and chaotic classrooms and asking to join the union. “The principal said I could come in and talk to them about unionizing,” Turner said, “but the company then said no.”
Fallon and her ally Richardson are piqued that I didn’t talk to her or to pro-CEP sources they know to get a balanced view. Well, I visited the CEP Miller school in Philadelphia at its ribbon-cutting last December and met Milton Alexander, its principal; then-CEP vice president Barbara Braman (who told me “What CEP has created is what the rich have created for their kids–beautiful schools, uniforms and lots of individual attention”); Philly schools CEO Paul Vallas (who bragged about his “tough love” disciplinary code); the district’s alternative programs head Gwen Morris; and, of course, the students. And what an unhappy group they were, standing like props in the freezing cold without coats, referred to as “the worst kids” by Republican hack John Perzel. When I tried to talk to the kids, I was hustled away by Morris. The Miller school may be new and shiny but the computer-centric “teaching” that goes on inside is not what the rich give their kids.
Bill Evans, whom I interviewed by phone, now says his report was really “about the transitioning process.” But it is called a CEP “Program Evaluation Report” and used data from the Philadelphia school district and CEP. In fact, he expressed his “frustration” that it was taking so long to get the statistics he needed from Richardson’s shop: “CEP has some things now being reviewed in their corporate offices in Nashville, some of the data they pulled together. I guess they need to have it reviewed by their corporate offices.”
Independent? Appendix A consists of CEP data on attendance, achievement and state standardized test scores–the same data CEP sent to me. The report states: “CEP staff participated in the evaluation, particularly in terms of assisting with data collection and analysis at the individual student level relative to program components and gains they made on reading tests.” Evans says his report wasn’t meant to survey any more than the small group of former CEP students–the survey response rate was actually 57 out of 175 CEP students, for a measly 33 percent response rate. So how valid is such a report when CEP has been in Philadelphia for six years, affecting more than 4,000 kids? Evans also told me that part of the student survey was conducted in person at school, with CEP and district staff present. He was sure students spoke freely. It seems a truly independent and meaningful evaluation of CEP has yet to be done. And if Richardson has his way, it never will be.