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Response from Randle Richardson regarding the CEP report

As noted before, Randle Richardson, the CEO of Community Education Partners (CEP), left a comment on the Hair Balls post in which Houston’s LULAC chapter and the Texas ACLU raised concerns about that report evaluating CEP’s effectiveness. He left a similar comment on my post, and also sent me an email with a couple of other documents, which I will provide here. The comment, which he reproduced in that email he sent me, is as follows:

Response to June 12, 2010 Off the Kuff article entitled, “Not everyone was impressed by that CEP report”

I am writing to address the issues raised in your June 12, 2010 article entitled, “Not everyone was impressed by that CEP report.”

Members of LULAC 402 and the Houston Press questioned the integrity of the report since CEP paid the evaluators and you raised the issue that this should have been disclosed up front. Not having the facts, I understand why you would raise the issue. Here are the facts:

· HISD selected the evaluator. CEP was contractually bound to pay the evaluator regardless of the findings.

· When CEP initially requested the cost of the evaluation be shared by the District during the spring 2009 contract negotiations, HISD explained it was their standard procedure to select the evaluator and the vendor was required to pay for the evaluation.

· The contract between HISD and CEP detailing the terms of the evaluator’s selection and payment is a public document. It has been on file with HISD, therefore available to the public since the contract was executed in March 2009.

I do not believe this small faction of LULAC 402 members, nor the Houston Press, would question the findings of the evaluation or payment terms if the evaluation had been negative toward CEP.

Your article also mentioned that transparency was an issue raised by the Texas ACLU. The ACLU has never visited the CEP Program, never requested information from CEP nor ever expressed a concern to CEP. The contract is a public document and all student data is entered into HISD’s Chancery System. All data is routinely monitored by HISD’s Office of Federal and State Compliance. This information is available to the public.

The LULAC 402 report questions the professors’ methodology and states, “the profs were working with incomplete data.” The standards to evaluate CEP were set forth in the contract and the professors’ were required to analyze the data per those standards.

LULAC 402 is being less than honest in their claim that the professors were working with incomplete data. The A&M professors clearly indicated their first report was a “partial” report; that all data had not yet been collected and that no conclusions could be drawn until all data had been collected and analyzed The analysis done by LULAC 402 was not an analysis of the finished evaluation. Instead, LULAC 402 “analyzed” the partial report. LULAC 402 deliberately ignored Professor Goddard’s declaration that his first release was a partial report and no conclusions could be drawn. Professor Goddard issued a cautionary warning in writing to HISD and CEP not to release the partial report or draw any conclusions from it.

An example of how data has been misinterpreted is the conclusions drawn from the partial report about CEP’s performance under the leaver code standard. The partial report indicated 58 percent of students enrolled in CEP during 2008-09 had been located, which meant CEP did not meet the standard. The final report found that 91 percent of the students enrolled in CEP during 2008-09 had been located, which meant that CEP exceeded the standard.

Please note I refer to LULAC 402 rather than “LULAC,” as referred to in your article. LULAC 402 is one of 18 Houston area LULAC councils. Its “active membership” is small. A small faction of that membership has waged a five-year vendetta against CEP after CEP rejected a proposed program from one their members. Prior to that, we received plaques and thank you letters from LULAC 402.

I am more than happy to review the facts and documents detailing this five-year history, including sworn testimony refuting published statements previously made by the LULAC 402 member whose proposal was rejected by CEP.

For the record, when I spoke of transparency issues, I was referring to HISD, not CEP. I apologize if that was unclear.

The docs Richardson sent me were this snippet from a Texas Public Policy Foundation article on disciplinary alternate education programs (DAEPs) and this letter from Julie Harris-Lawrence of the TEA that praised CEP. See them for yourself. My thanks to Randle Richardson for the feedback.

Not everyone was impressed by that CEP report

Last week, a Texas A&M researcher released a report that evaluated the effectiveness of Community Education Partners (CEP), the provider HISD uses for its disciplinary alternate education program. The evaluation was very positive for CEP, saying it did a good job meeting or exceeding the metrics that are set for it. But since then, there has been some dissension about the report.

Houston’s League of United Latin Americans chapter is slamming a glowing evaluation of the two Community Education Partners schools conducted by two A&M professors.

The professors’ report, which according to an HISD spokesperson was financed by CEP, found that CEP “performed well, relative to expectations.”

But the LULAC report questions the professors’ methodologies and states the profs were working with incomplete data. It also states that an internal CEP report on the number of student dropouts in 2007-08 do not match figures CEP gave to the Texas Education Agency.

There’s an interesting discussion in the comments of that Hair Balls post between Randle Richardson, the CEO of CEP, and Press reporter Craig Malisow about that post and the fact that CEP paid for the report, which their contract with HISD required them to do. I think that’s relevant information that should have been disclosed up front, but I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. I don’t have LULAC’s report, and I didn’t find it on their website, so I can’t give a detailed analysis of it. Malisow’s response to Richardson suggested the Press may do that, and I hope that’s so. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for it.

LULAC wasn’t the only group unhappy with that report. All I know is I still don’t know what to think about CEP. I definitely agree with the ACLU’s Terri Burke when she says “a lot more transparency” is needed here. In the end, the CEP contract was renewed, so here’s hoping we get that. School Zone has more.

CEP gets a good grade

As reported by Hair Balls, the Texas A&M consultant that was brought in by HISD and Superintendent Terry Grier to evaluate Community Education Partners (CEP), its provider for the disciplinary alternate education program, has now issued his long-awaited report. You can read it here, but the short answer is that CEP was given a fine evaluation. Here’s the executive summary of the report:

Observations of CEP schools indicated that both CEP campuses were well‐organized to effectively manage behavior and deliver instruction with clear goals. CEP referrals also reportedly have a positive impact on the behavioral and learning climate of home schools. Importantly, CEP exceeded the standards for most quantitative contract indicators. For example, results indicate that CEP exceeded performance expectations relative to the state assessment (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), pre and post‐assessment, middle school promotion rates, and leaver status. Where standards were not met, specifically for disciplinary action rates and attendance, two facts should be observed. First, for both disciplinary action rates and attendance, the contract called for examining the performance of students who attended CEP for 120 days or more, thus focusing these analyses on less than 10% of the student population served by CEP; CEP would have met these standards had the entire population of students served been considered. Second, the contract provides CEP with an opportunity to remedy any performance issues noted in its evaluation. In sum, the vast majority of data gathered and analyzed for this evaluation indicates that CEP performed well relative to expectations.

The whole report is worth reading for the feedback it got from principals, which suggested a few places for improvement. The Chron story about the report has an interesting tidbit:

The analysis of dropout data showed that CEP lost 9 percent of its students in the 2008-09 school year. Records showed that many left for schools outside Texas, to be home-schooled or to go to their home country. But 158 students — of the 2,913 enrolled — could not be accounted for.

The researchers did not look at the number of students who were referred to CEP but dropped out rather than enroll. That has been a concern for critics of CEP, including former HISD administrator Bob Kimball, who has done his own studies of CEP, and advocates with the League of United Latin American Citizens, Council 402.

As we know, keeping track of dropouts is a big problem in this state.

Anyway. Grier had made an effort to get HISD out of its contract with CEP, for which the cost of the program was cited as a concern, but in the end that contract was maintained, with some changes. It’s hard to read this report as anything but a validation of Gayle Fallon and the HFT, who were staunch opponents of cutting ties with CEP and had vouched for its effectiveness all along. See here for all previous blogging on this topic.

HISD to keep CEP

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has been pushing for months to get HISD out of its contract with Community Education Partners (CEP), its provider for the disciplinary alternate education program. He ran into opposition from HFT President Gayle Fallon, who has strongly disputed some of Grier’s claims about CEP’s effectiveness, and from some HISD Trustees. Grier, whose main argument was that CEP cost too much, has now given up this fight, at least for the time being.

Reversing position after months of discussion, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told trustees today that he no longer wants them to cut the CEP contract, but keep it going, albeit with some changes.

The turnabout comes before the district has ever received its long-delayed assessment of CEP from a Texas A&M professor.

Instead of the 1,600 student spots set aside now, that’ll be reduced to 1,200 (which just happens to be about the number of spots CEP provided this school year). The target maximum will be reduced another 100 in 2011-12 and another in 2012-13.

The contract amount will go from $18,290,221 in 2009-10 to about $13.7 million in the next school year for a savings of more than $4.5 million — not including the cost of special education and transportation. The district is setting aside money to pay extra if it uses more than the maximum cap for those years.

Grier said it wouldn’t work for the district to try to start an in-house alternative program before the start of next year, and Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett said there wouldn’t be any cost advantage in going with the Harris County Department of Education.

I still haven’t come to a conclusion of my own about CEP. It was certainly worth reviewing, due to its size and total cost, and I’m glad Grier brought the subject up. I never saw any conclusive evidence to back up Grier’s claim that students were being referred to CEP needlessly, however, and in the absence of an alternate proposal, there was no compelling case in the end to change. Perhaps after the A&M report comes in we can take this up again. The Chron and School Zone has more.

Two trustees speak about CEP

This week, Carl Whitmarsh forwarded to his list a pair of articles written by HISD trustees on the subject of CEP and the changes that have been proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier. Since that has been such a contentious topic, which took up a fair bit of time in the interviews I did with Grier and with HFT President Gayle Fallon, I figured I’d reproduce them here. The first is from Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, the second from Trustee Carole Mims Galloway. Click on to read them.

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Interview with HISD Superintendent Terry Grier

On Monday I published an interview with HFT President Gayle Fallon in which we covered a number of topics relating to HISD, many of which are a source of contention between the HFT and HISD Superintendent Terry Grier. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Grier and discuss these issues, among others, with him. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

As was the case with Fallon, Grier is a strong advocate for his positions. I found both conversations to be illuminating and thought provoking, and I hope you will, too. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Among the things Superintendent Grier and I discussed were the state of HISD’s finances. He painted as positive a picture as he could, but there’s a lot of not so good out there.

More on Grier’s alternative to CEP

The Chron has a story about HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s recent proposal to replace Community Education Partners (CEP) with a school swap program for some students with discipline issues.

The transfer program, meant to give students a second chance in a traditional school away from their friends, would not be open to violent offenders or to those who require suspension to a separate alternative program under state law. But Grier, who recently floated the idea with principals, said transfers might be granted for students who are frequently tardy or who get caught drinking beer at a football game, for example.

“What intrigued the principals about this is that many times they have seen that kids moving from one school to another school in a year — many times because parents just stayed ahead of the rent collector — do better in different environments because they’re not around old friends,” Grier said.

[…]

The transfer students and their families must agree to a contract with the new school, and each child is put on a behavior-intervention plan, which could require meetings with a social worker or an outside social services agency, said Michael Haggen, deputy superintendent of the Recovery School District. A school psychologist also checks in with the students.

If the students misbehave, they can be kicked to an alternative school. Otherwise, the change of setting is permanent, Haggen said. The students do not get to return to their home schools.

Last year, 82 New Orleans students were given discipline transfers while 442 were expelled to special alternative schools, according to Haggen. That’s out of 35,725 students.

[New Orleans school superintendent Paul] Vallas said the Philadelphia school district, which he used to run, had a discipline transfer system, but he acknowledged it didn’t work. Gwen Morris, who worked as Vallas’ chief of alternative schools in Philadelphia and now consults in New Orleans, agreed. She said the old Philadelphia system did not offer students any supports or help them change their behavior.

The idea for Houston is that the transfer school would have money provided to them for mentors for these students, who would have entered a similar contract before transferring. It sounds like there are still a lot of details to be worked out, and there’s not much of a track record for the idea as yet. I refer you back to my interview with Gayle Fallon for the case against making this change.

Something that I still don’t think has been adequately explored in all of this:

According to HISD data, only a quarter of the 2,441 referrals to CEP last school year were for mandatory reasons.

Level IV misconduct will result in mandatory removal to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, which in HISD means CEP. Discretion exists for Level III misconduct:

Level III acts include misconduct for which an administrator may suspend the student, place the student into in-school suspension, or, if the administrator finds the Level III misconduct to be serious or persistent as defined in this Code, refer the student to a district-level Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP). The principal or other appropriate administrator makes the disciplinary determination on the basis of the severity of the misconduct. The period of the suspension is limited to three days per occurrence.

Click the link to see the long list of Level III offenses. Fallon has told me that generally speaking it takes six or seven of these offenses for a kid to be labeled persistent and get referred to CEP. What needs to be clarified here is how many of the 1800 or so non-mandatory referrals to CEP were for fewer than, say, five Level III offenses. Superintendent Grier has said that some referrals to CEP are for minor infractions. I want to try and pin down what he means by that, and how often it happens.

Interview with Gayle Fallon

As you know, I’ve been following the news in HISD lately, in particular the political struggle going on between new HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and the Houston Federation of Teachers, over things like the proposal to dump CEP as the disciplinary alternate education provider, and the teacher dismissal plan. In a recent post, I noted that some of the claims Superintendent Grier was making about CEP were completely at odds with claims being made by HFT President Gayle Fallon. That led to Fallon leaving a comment on that post and sending me some data about HISD’s disciplinary statistics, and ultimately to this interview I conducted with Fallon:

Download the MP3 file

It’s clear that Fallon and Grier don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues. I thought she made a pretty strong case for the HFT’s positions; I’d be interested to know what you think. I am working on arranging an interview with Grier and hope to have that done and posted within the week.

HISD disciplinary data

Last week, I noted some differences of fact between HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and HFT President Gayle Fallon over the cost and use of alternate school CEP, which Grier wants to dump. Fallon left a comment in that post, and followed it up in a reply to an email I sent her with some spreadsheets detailing how many referrals to CEP there have been in the past three years. I’ve uploaded them all to Google Docs and placed them in this folder for your perusal. They’re broken down by HISD Trustee district and school. A couple of observations:

– Over the three years listed, the number of students referred to CEP was less than four percent of the total disciplinary incidents. Based on that, it’s hard to say that students are being over-referred. Suspensions, in school and out of school, were the vast majority of the punishments.

– The flip side of that the relatively small number of students sent to CEP makes it an appealing target for cost cutting. By my calculation, an average of 3234 students per year were referred to CEP. HISD paid CEP $22 million last year, which works out to $6802 per student. By comparison, Fort Bend ISD was allocated $4871 per student by the state; Tomball ISD got $5783. Especially given that not all CEP referrals are for the full school year, it’s not unreasonable to think there may be a cheaper way to do this.

– One thing you see as you pore through all this data is that in both absolute and per student terms, there are far more incidents and CEP referrals from the middle schools than from the high schools. Hair Balls made this observation as well, noting that many of them are “overage” middle schoolers. I presume that one reason for the decline in high school referrals is simply because many of these troublemaking middle schoolers have dropped out or gotten entangled in the criminal justice system instead. One wonders if there’s a viable strategy to reduce the number of middle school offenders. That would pay dividends if it could be done.

– I’m going to explore some of these questions in more detail in the coming days, as I have an interview with Fallon lined up and am working on getting one with Grier. If there’s anything you think I should ask, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: For reasons not clear to me, the files themselves are not visible in the folder. So here are the direct links to the files themselves:

Eastman, District 1

Galloway, District 2

Rodriguez, District 3

Harris, District 4

Lunceford, District 5

Meyers, District 6

Moore, District 7

Davila, District 8

Marshall, District 9

Sorry for the confusion.

Fact check on Aisle 5, please

As we know, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has proposed ending HISD’s relationship with Community Education Partners (CEP), which provides alternate schools for kids with discipline problems. Following that, the Chron editorialized in favor of Grier’s stance.

Grier contends that CEP costs too much — $22 million annually and $180 million since 1997. During that period a number of other school districts across the nation severed ties with CEP, some on grounds that it was not effective in either educating or reforming students with disciplinary problems. In Atlanta, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the city’s school district and CEP, charging that its alternative schools were functioning as curriculum-deficient warehouses for minority students. The Atlanta district subsequently ended its contract with CEP and settled the ACLU suit.

In the case of HISD, critics have long complained that middle and high school principals routinely send students with relatively minor behavioral issues to the CEP campuses.

The superintendent is proposing that a smaller alternative school for serious student offenders, including those bringing drugs or guns on campus, be established at a cost of $14 million a year. Interested groups, including CEP, could bid for a contract to run the new school.

On Wednesday, HFT President Gayle Fallon wrote a letter to the editor disputing several of the Chron’s assertions.

The Chronicle asserted that HISD teachers send students to CEP for minor infractions. That is not true. According to HISD records, it takes an average of six to seven serious disciplinary infractions before a student is sent to CEP for persistent misconduct. The state law defines “persistent misconduct” as a student who is so disruptive that a teacher cannot teach other students effectively with this child in class. Less than 2 percent of the Level 3 infractions reported to the district end up at CEP. These are the serious cases.

Grier states he can do the disciplinary program cheaper, but let’s look at his record. The cost of his internal programs in Guilford County, N.C. ($41,281/pupil) and in San Diego ($27,105/pupil) were both higher than our current cost. His programs also gave the appearance of discriminatory practices. In Guilford his alternative schools had 89 percent African-American students in a district that was 45.5 percent African-American.

What we have here is not a difference of opinion but a difference of fact. Grier and the Chron say that kids can be sent to CEP for minor infractions; Fallon says that’s not true. Grier and the Chron say that CEP is too expensive; Fallon says that Grier’s proposed alternative cost more in the places where he’s tried it before than what CEP does now. How is any interested observer, let alone an HISD Board member, supposed to decide on a preferred outcome if we can’t be sure who’s got their facts straight and who doesn’t? It cannot be the case that both Grier and Fallon are correct, though they both could be partially right. It sure would be nice if we could get a definitive, objective evaluation of what everyone is saying. Until then, I don’t know about you, but I’m confused.

Grier pushing to dump CEP

As we know, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has been pushing to get HISD away from using Community Education Partners (CEP) as a provider of alternate schools for kids with discipline issues. He has now made his recommendation to the Board of Trustees, who were somewhat skeptical.

Grier, who has been on the job six months, said CEP’s price tag — nearly $22 million this school year — is too high. He wants the school board to invite other groups to submit proposals to run a smaller, less expensive alternative school. CEP could re-apply.

“We want the best program to meet the needs of our kids,” Grier told the board at a Monday night meeting.

The new alternative school, estimated to cost $14 million, would serve only those students who commit serious offenses such as selling drugs or bringing weapons on campus that require expulsion under state law or district policy. HISD currently gives principals the option of sending students to CEP for discretionary reasons such as smoking, using profanity or chronically misbehaving.

Grier is proposing that students who commit less serious offenses get sent to another HISD campus in a swapping program. Problem students at one middle or high school would be sent to another in hopes that their behavior would improve in a different environment — away from friends but without the metal detectors and strict rules of an alternative school.

Hair Balls has more on this, in particular more on the pushback from the trustees. I don’t know enough about this to fully form a judgment, but Grier’s proposal would cost less and would be less punitive to students whose infractions are minor, and both of those things are appealing to me. There are clearly some legitimate concerns, though, and I do agree that this is another big change at a time when there’s a whole lot else already going on. I’d like for there to be a full and frank debate so that we can make a well-informed decision. As such, stuff like this isn’t helpful:

Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon, an ardent supporter of CEP whose union has exclusive bargaining rights at the Houston campuses, criticized Grier’s idea.

“That jerk is willing to throw these kids away rather than save them so he can divert a few dollars into his asinine new programs that no one wants,” she said.

I get that HFT doesn’t much care for Grier right now, and I certainly get that they have good reason to feel like they’re under siege. Fallon’s job is to protect the teachers’ interests, and I don’t expect her to be too happy about this idea. But if you hope to persuade me of the merits of your argument, that’s not the way to do it. So please, tell me why CEP is the better choice. I can’t make a good judgment if I don’t have that information.

HISD and CEP

I think this is a good idea.

The wide disparity in principals’ use of schools run by Community Education Partners has caught the attention of HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, who questions whether schools are kicking out too many students on trivial grounds.

Texas law requires that students be sent to disciplinary alternative programs for certain reasons — such as assault and selling or using drugs or alcohol — but gives principals discretion over less serious offenders.

“Why are some schools sending so many children to CEP for what on the surface look like much less serious disciplinary actions?” asked Grier, who, after four months on the job, has ordered a comprehensive review of the Houston Independent School District’s arrangement with CEP.

The new superintendent is considering whether to ask the school board to end its $20 million annual contract with the Nashville, Tenn.-based company, which has run alternative schools in HISD since 1997.

If the district does oust CEP, Grier has said he likely would start an in-house alternative program like most other districts.

This is a big, costly program that affects a lot of kids, so it’s a natural target for a new Superintendent to study. I don’t know what will happen, but I certainly think it’s appropriate to take a look at it and see what might be done better. I should note that Grier first brought up CEP and its contract last month, as the contract originally had a renewal deadline of December 15. That has now been pushed back to March 1, so whatever happens should be underway by then. For more on Grier’s actions, see here, and for more on CEP in general see this Press cover story from 2001, which painted a very unflattering picture of it.