There Goes Our Money!

I’ve made it through about 15,000 lines of State Department financial reports and my eyes are going cross-eyed.

One thing I have figured out through this endeavor is that there sure are a lot of folks who’ve figured out how to get their hands on our state’s education dollars.

Of course, we know the national testing giants have firmly embedded themselves and continue to leech millions of dollars each year from Oklahoma.

For example, Pearson, Inc was given $2,860,073 since July 2013 to develop the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program (OAAP). These are the portfolio assessments used to “test” our more severely handicapped students. However, this amount pales in comparison to the $14,904,421 given to CTB/McGraw-Hill for the “flawless” administration of our Grade 3-8 OCCTs and High School End-of-Instruction (EOI) tests. That’s nearly $18 million of our tax dollars well spent, isn’t it?

Last night, I also shared that Wes Bruce from Indiana has been paid nearly $34,000 for his three months of “consulting” via Skype with our SDE. It turns out Mr. Bruce is not our only out-of-state consultant, or our most expensive.

The SDE also sent $198,500 to a consulting company named Bowstein, LLC, a Florida-based Marketing Communications firm. I’m not sure what this company did for their money, but hey, it’s Florida. They do everything right! I am also sure no one in Oklahoma provides marketing services. What is our SDE marketing anyway?

We also mailed checks totaling $385,186.00 to Catapult Learning West LLC in Camden, New Jersey. According to their website, “Schools nationwide turn to us for the very best in school improvement models, professional development, Common Core solutions and intervention services.” How nice. I wonder what we bought with this money.

Then there is a payment of $63,000 to Behavior Doctor Seminars in Kansas. They are supposedly experts in behavior modification techniques and positive interventions. Perhaps this was for our SDE employees:-)

I also found it interesting that our state paid Bank of America over $408,000 for various services last year. This does not include $10,159.24 for “service charges.” I’m not a banker but that seems like a lot.

Finally, our state also saw fit to send over $1.4 million dollars to a consulting firm named UPD in Baltimore, Maryland. UPD is short for Urban Policy Development, LLC.

Here is the spreadsheet showing the various payments. Nearly $1 million dollars is coded as: “Collect business data and develop an implementation plan.” Another $415,000 is for “Renewal Consulting Year 2 Funding” with the final $49,957 going for “ED-FI Dashboard Training and Implementation.”

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According to the company website,

WHO WE ARE

UPD Consulting is a Baltimore-based, minority-owned public sector management consulting firm that helps public school districts, state education agencies and local government agencies transform into organizations that manage performance for better outcomes.

One of the characteristics that sets UPD’s professionals apart is our direct and extensive experience in public sector management. All of UPD’s partners and most of its professional staff have recently worked in senior or executive level positions reforming school districts and government agencies from the inside. Our first-hand knowledge of managing and reforming public sector programs grounds our strategies and implementation assistance in the day-to-day realities of executing change at the local level.

WHAT WE DO

UPD is a management consulting company that specializes in implementing reforms in education that improve results. We do this in two ways:

By implementing complex reform projects within your organization, and
By building the capacity of school, district, and state managers through new systems, processes, and skills.
Our core areas of consulting:

Performance Management
Education Data Systems
Organizational Transformation
Educator Evaluation
Complex Project Implementation

Like seemingly every other company that touts “innovative school reform,” this organization has also received significant amounts of capital from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The company consists of a group of relatively young policy wonks with business degrees or public sector management experience. They also have connections to the Gates Foundation’s work with the Baltimore and Washington DC school systems. The firm worked with six of the seven states who received the first round of Race to the Top (RTTT) grants. Here is the description for a $400,000 Gates Foundation grant awarded to UPD in 2008.

PROJECT BACKGROUND:
Program Officers at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sought to build a multi-district collaborative among the District of Columbia Public Schools, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Prince George’s County Public Schools to share best practices on innovative reform strategies. Specifically, the Gates Foundation wanted to help these three districts develop and implement programs to measure teacher effectiveness through student growth, develop charter schools, and create early warning systems for high school drop-out. The Gates Foundation hire UPD to help plan and score the collaborative and to generate a set of objective criteria against which the districts could measure their relative progress on the three initiatives. UPD developed detailed diagnostic rubrics that outside evaluators could use to objectively assess each district’s progress.

PROJECT OUTCOMES:
UPD created a 100 page diagnostic rubric on measuring teacher effectiveness, developing charter schools, and creating early warning systems. Each section contained measurable criteria of three to five categories against which partner districts would benchmark their progress over time.

Wow, a 100-page teacher evaluation rubric! Wouldn’t that be handy?

My best guess is that our state department is paying UPD for assistance with our Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Program, or maybe to develop our value-added model for teacher evaluation, or maybe to provide data warehousing, or maybe to develop charter schools, or who the hell knows what else. How would we know?

See if you can find anything about UPD anywhere on the state department website. I have reviewed the previous 24 months of Board agendas and handouts and found no mention of this company or the services they are contracted to provide. Our state is not even included in UPD’s client listing of school districts and state education agencies. In short, neither one of us says anything about the other on any public website.

Why so much secrecy? It seems like if we are going to pay someone $1.4 millions dollars that it would at least make a Board consent agenda. Our SDE is sending millions of Oklahoma tax dollars to testing companies and consulting firms across the nation. I am still digging up numbers for other out-of-state entities like Mathematica (for TLE), Battelle for Kids, and Measured Progress. I will update the blog once I finalize these figures. This will certainly amount to millions more. Does this sound like good stewardship of our state funds?

What happened to an administration of transparency? I have just scratched the surface here. Imagine what we might find with a more thorough examination of the OSDE expenditures. Again, our state superintendent brags about cutting millions from her budget, yet millions more continue to flow unfettered out of our state.

We need a superintendent that will protect our limited resources and direct it back to Oklahoma classrooms and teachers instead of to out-of-state testing companies, high-priced consultants and commercial vendors.

 

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18 thoughts on “There Goes Our Money!

  1. I think it might be time for the citizens of Oklahoma to call for an audit of the SDE. Something just doesn’t add up!

  2. I am an oklahoma teacher, mother of 2, and wife to an Oklahoma police officer. My husband an I often have a hard time making ends meet. As a result he takes extra jobs when they come up and I am forced to work summer school and afterschool to help ease our burden. I am outraged by our state dept saying they don’t have the funding to pay their teachers more (to be more competitive with surrounding states) yet millions of dollars are funneled out of our state. I wonder if Dr. Barresi has to worry about paying her bills on her salary?

  3. Thank you for uncovering a small part of the corruption in which our SDE is embroiled. It is time for a change.

  4. Wowzers, actually that online school is based in Virginia & it’s CEO pulls in more than $5 million. I worked for them & they are FOR-PROFIT, period, end of discussion. This year a new online school was approved Connections Academy is part of Pearson which is a UK corporation.

  5. Wow! Amazing collection of information! I learn so much through your posts! I can’t wait to hear what you think about the immigrant children being dumped off near Lawton. I’m pretty sure DHS won’t be providing funding for the education of these children!

  6. As a parent of public school children in this state, I first say “thank you”, Mr. Miller, for bull-doggedly wading through all this information to shed light on these things. Secondly, I feel overwhelmed — this is just the “tip of the iceberg”, I’m sure, when it comes to government spending in our state and in our country. Keep unveiling the questionable choices, Mr. Miller, so we can ask the right questions and make our government officials accountable for these things! Thank you!!

  7. This reminds me of the “on-line” school that received close to 8 million of the states monies this past year. Oh yeah…did I mention this on-line company was based in Connecticut?!? Here ya go! Glad our state could help your state out!

  8. I have the same question as Claudia, “Did you find out about what was paid to Mathmatica?” I would be very interested in that figure.
    They were very visible at the VAM working group meetings. They fielded our questions with non answers and ignored all of our suggestions. Even though the VAM formulas they had set up in every other state have turned out to be terribly flawed and are causing numerous problems;they must have been quite costly because the state department couldn’t even afford to provide the teacher and administrators participants with water at these meetings.

    • I am looking for info on Mathematica. It is not listed where it would be expected. Like you and Claudia, I know they have worked extensively on our state’s very own Very Asinine Model (VAM). I will keep digging!

  9. I am sure you have only scratched the surface. And people wonder why schools are struggling? This is a tremendous disappointment, especially when school districts are in need of funds. And if the dollars need to be spent, why not try and find some OK companies that could provide the same services? Thanks Rob for all you are doing. Hopefully people will listen before we face another 4 years of this.

  10. My friend and I are especially interested in Batelle for Kids.

    Thank you for your considerable donation of time to ferret out these facts.

    At least I didn’t compare you to the lemurs!

  11. Against my better judgment, I responded to a telephone poll conducted one of “Janet What’s Your Last Name this Week Baresi”. It was an interesting poll, questions about whether you liked this candidate more than Baressi. Many, many questions involving private schools. Good to see candidates for the office conducting polls.

    I felt a bit sorry for the polltaker, she obviously was suffering from a very bad cold, and was hard to understand at times. But I hung in there, wanting so see what all the questions were.

  12. The Behavior Doctors (Dr. Laura Riffel) used to be paid for through a SPDG grant. It might be a GSEG grant now, but it is a federal grant and the services she provides is written into the grant. It’s for PBIS. This was going on before JB’s term.
    Granted, that’s a small piece of the pie.

  13. There is no doubt that UPD was a critical player in the development of TLE. I know UPD has been sending representatives to consult with TPS for several years as TLE was being researched and constructed. It would be helpful if someone in the TPS organization could clarify UPD’s role/fees/payment sources in developing TLE. We all know that the Gates Foundation was a substantial financier for TLE development, but was that the only source of funding for TLE? I spoke with one of the principal owners of UPD when he was in Tulsa recently, and he told me that UPD had THREE contracts with Oklahoma: one for TLE and one for Value-Added Measures, but he refused to discuss the third contract and changed the subject. There is definitely something highly secretive going on here. If OKC won’t provide an explanation in their budget expenditures, maybe TPS will.

  14. Wow. Just wow. Makes me kinda queasy thinking about all this waste of money when teachers (and districts) are barely scraping by. Lord have mercy.

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