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  • Thursday, November 24, 2005

     

    Orange Unified's Focus on Consultants PART 1

    Below is the first part in a year-long series about Orange Unified's multi-million dollar Focus on Results program. Originally ecast two months ago, the second part is also being archived here below in anticipation of Part III being released next week.


    A special news analysis series on Orange Net News /O/N/N/

    Orange Unified’s Focus on Consultants
    PART I: Unfocused with Few Results- A Record 19 OUSD Schools Fail Goals

    The Focus on Results educational consultant program in OUSD has cost taxpayers over two million dollars in educational tax funds over the last four years. All the while, the local community has continued to demanded hard data to back the expensive controversial program. This September 21st Focus on Results meeting marks the fourth year of Focus on Results in OUSD elementary schools, and the third year in OUSD secondary schools. Orange Net News will ecast this yearlong exclusive news analysis series that will examine the OUSD commitment, the financial implications, as well as the worth of the program to the greater Orange Communities that paid for the controversial consultant program.

    PART 1
    Even as the Orange Unified School Board this year was cutting back research proven academic programs (class size reduction and elementary music programs), slashing staff positions (classified and teaching), and playing a waiting game for news of a final budget commitment from Sacramento lawmakers, a top OUSD administrator reportedly told OUSD secondary principals that OUSD’s canceling of the controversial consultant training program called Focus on Results would happen “over my dead body”. True to that sentiment, and despite the deep cut backs on student centered programs and the fact that the OUSD Administration had shown in preliminary public budget projections that the Focus on Results program was cut as a contributing administrative budget cut, the controversial program is back this year after the OUSD Board approved an administrative request to switch the program to OUSD federal funds.

    During the OUSD Board’s budget meetings this year, over flow crowds showed up to support saving programs designated to be cut. The OUSD Administration showed that it was doing its part by cutting administrative spending including the controversial Focus on Results program. This “cut” would prove to be just a shell game as the OUSD Administration apparently had planned to shift the program’s cost to federal funds that OUSD receives. After using the program as a budget cut, this summer Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Cohen proposed the OUSD Trustees reinstate the program using OUSD federal training funds.

    At that June Board meeting, the OUSD Trustees approved Assistant Superintendent Cohen’s proposal to shift funding of Focus on Results to OUSD federal funds. During the meeting Trustee Rick Ledesma and Trustee John Ortega began raising concerns and questioning Cohen for data supporting the OUSD Administration commitment to Focus on Results. Like in the past, Cohen continued to stonewall the hard data requests. However this time with two OUSD Trustees pressing her, Cohen stated with this year’s soon to be released state test scores the OUSD Administration would have enough data to provide the long sought after hard data that Focus on Results has been worth OUSD’s investment.

    As of this month, those scores Cohen hoped would support the unprecedented consultant funding are now available for all to see. The millions invested in Focus on Results by Orange Unified, have resulted in no more than the modest average incremental gains in California’s standardized testing (at or below county average when excluding the impact that far below average scores Santa Ana Unified has on the county statistics). Those modest OUSD gains are similar to what other district’s have posted throughout the state without the controversial and expensive Focus on Results program.

    In addition, OUSD’s disappointing No Child Left Behind required Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) individual school score results appear to support the continued questioning of OUSD’s spending scarce educational dollars on consultants to get the same modest gains other district’s statewide achieved without spending scarce educational resources on expensive consultants.

    After two years of Focus on Results in the 2002 school year, ten Orange Unified schools failed to make their AYP goals in California’s No Child Left Behind testing regime. In the 2003 school year, OUSD Administrators again went before the OUSD Trustees and asked for hundreds of thousands more in educational tax dollars for expanding Focus on Results, claiming that it was too early to report any “hard data” on the success of the program. However, Cohen reported to the OUSD Trustees that the “soft data” (verbal feedback) was that the program was working. In the middle of financial crisis, the OUSD Trustees approved Cohen’s request. After another year of Focus on Results and the expansion of the program into secondary schools, eleven schools failed to make all their AYP goals.

    This summer, as Cohn requested continuing Focus on Results, she told questioning OUSD Trustees that with the release of this year’s state test data she would have enough information give them hard data on OUSD’s investment with Focus on Results. Now the state test data is in. As a district OUSD, like most California and most Orange County districts, continued the long expected small incremental upward progress in testing scores (this upward trend has occurred since the beginning of standards based testing in California), but the high stakes individual AYP scores this year are the worst ever for OUSD. This year’s AYP scores have resulted in 19 OUSD schools not making their mandated testing goals. That is a 73% increase over the number of OUSD schools failing to meet all their goals from last year.

    While those numbers are disturbing enough, this year’s AYP scores are even more dismal for the OUSD Administration. This year four schools actually showed drops in their state scores: Canyon Hills TRM; Lampson Elementary; Portola Middle School; and Prospect Elementary. The most disturbing figures for OUSD’s Focus on Results supporters are the negative score drops of Portola M.S. and Prospect Elementary. In August 2004 during the budget crisis, at the request of Cohen, the OUSD Trustees approved an additional $25,000 in local educational tax funds (beyond that year’s initial OUSD commitment of over $400,000 for Focus on Results) for a personal Focus on Results coach for Portola Principal Debra Thompson to “Provide the principal with additional coaching and technical support” from the Focus on Results consultants. Despite the additional $25,000 coach, Portola again failed to meet state goals for the fifth time and for the first time had a drop in scores (-5 points).

    While supplying Portola with a personal Focus on Results coach cost OUSD taxpayers $25,000 (and got them a five point drop in scores), over at Prospect Elementary OUSD seemed to be getting a bargain. Prospect Principal Kathy Bruce also had worked as a Senior Consultant for Focus on Results and had played a role in bringing the consulting firm to OUSD. Bruce appeared in front of the OUSD Board praising the Focus on Results program as seemingly the only program responsible for her schools rising scores. At that meeting, Bruce failed to reveal her affiliation with the Focus on Results firm. After ONN reported her ties with the firm, OUSD investigated. Bruce’s name was soon removed from the Focus on Results website that had listed her affiliation as a Senior Consultant while employed with OUSD. Bruce’s school Prospect Elementary is still used on the Focus on Results website to promote the private for-profit firm. The school is listed on the web site as one of six “Schools That Make a Difference” and the schools scores up to 2003 are listed. Since 2003, Prospect has failed to make its goals and is now a California Underperforming School. This year, the Prospect “difference” was the largest regular school drop of AYP scores in OUSD history, with the Prospect AYP dropping -17 points.

    While Cohen and Prospect’s Bruce at past OUSD Trustee meetings have given Focus on Results credit for the always increasing district scores (as does the firm’s website), since community leaders have called for hard data, and as schools fall short of goals, the OUSD “spin” on Focus on Results has changed over the years to other reasoning for spending millions. As test scores weakened and as the district statistician predicted increasing NCLB requirements becoming further out of reach especially for the district’s “student subgroups”, the OUSD Administrative reasons for the purpose of Focus on Results began to change. The first major spin shift was the program allowed educators to meet to share ideas. That spin was quickly debunked when the Orange Community Group (the leading Focus on Results community critic) pointed out that for years before Focus on Results OUSD held district wide workshops and meetings for all district staff (Focus only “trains” four teachers from each school) that allowed “sharing” without spending millions. In addition, the recent concept of Late Start Days (students arrive later to school) allows all of a schools staff to meet and more often than the once a month Focus meetings. Late Start Days only require a bi-monthly schedule change, leaving scarce funds available for student programs.

    Another recent spin coming from OUSD administrators to justify the millions of tax dollars on Focus on Results is that the program has given the participants a “common language”. While having created a “common language” is debatable considering the turnover of fully “trained” participants over the years, the Orange Community Group again points to the fact that only 4 teachers from each school are “trained” which does not come close to any “universal” district-wide “common language”. Critics point out that trying to replace or supplement the common educational language now employed by all teaching professionals, universities, researchers, and governmental institutions is not practical for 4 teachers from each school (40 total secondary) to impose on a district-wide staff of thousands. Critics also point out that the language of Focus on Results is program specific buzz-word jargon that has no practical classroom application.

    In Orange County, only Santa Ana Unified has more schools failing to meet their goals on the most recently released state scores than OUSD (this year 45 of the 55 Santa Ana Unified schools did not meet all goals). Santa Ana Unified also has spent plenty of resources on the Focus on Results program. It is not surprising OUSD statisticians like to compare OUSD scores to Orange County-wide scores. Those county-wide scores include Santa Ana Unified, the county’s most populous, poorest, and lowest scoring district, which artificially impacts county scores downward (and comparative scores upward). If you remove Santa Ana Unified’s scores out of the county average, it reveals that OUSD test scores are at or below the rest of the county average despite OUSD’s consultant spending.

    From the beginning, it was supporters of the Focus on Results program in OUSD that billed the program as a center piece of improving scores in OUSD. Community critics called that claim disingenuous considering the vast amount of research proven programs used by OUSD for school improvement. Yet supporters continued that mantra. As reports in the community sparked continued questioning of the program, the OUSD Administration seemed to become more determined to keep the controversial program at all costs. In the age of “educational research” (and a budget crisis) the OUSD administration was doing everything but researching one of its biggest general fund tax dollar programs. At one point district administrators called all district principals and vice principals to a Trustee meeting to give infomercial-like testimonials (without hard data) to how the program has transformed their schools (without giving numerous other educationally sound programs due credit). The assembled administrators heaped praise upon praise on the OUSD Trustees, and ended by giving the now teary eyed and choked up Trustees a standing ovation. As yearly AYP scores pointed to other important learning gaps and downward trends among student sub-groups, OUSD administrators stayed the course on their devotion to Focus on Results which does nothing to address those early warning sub-group gaps that could now lead to OUSD having a district with almost half its schools state designated as Underperforming Schools.

    This year, some district schools did have large leaps in AYP growth. Yorba Middle School, a center of staff opposition to Focus on Results, adherence to Focus on Results is limited to sending 4 staff members to the mandatory once a month meetings and a slogan on the daily bulletin. Ask any teacher on campus to point to how the school achieved a 25 point jump in AYP scores and even those 4 teachers who attended Focus on Results trainings will likely not point toward that program as a contributing factor. Outside the mandatory district meetings, Focus on Results is non-existent at Yorba. Yet the school, through hard work on student centered research proven programs, saw their scores jump 25 points.

    This year’s state testing shows districts across California and Orange County continued to incrementally improve scores as they have for the past five years. Clearly, the millions of dollars OUSD has invested in Focus on Results has not produced any results above and beyond the normal incremental scores in evidence across the state. The Focus on Results investment appears however to have helped deplete important educational tax dollars that were not available to help save sound educational programs of music and class size reductions.

    In addition, the blind “over my dead body” approach has resulted in the OUSD Administration failing to address the now long identified OUSD student subgroup populations that still continue to struggle with state testing. These are the same student subgroups that have been struggling on the achievement tests since before OUSD’s commitment to the Focus on Results consultants. To further complicate matters, with OUSD’s federal training monies dedicated this year to Focus on Results, it appears more general fund monies (that support all programs) will be used to address training for the critical “student subgroup” problems now reaching critical mass for testing results.

    Now, with a Category 5 AYP disaster clearly upon them, like the FEMA bureaucracy, the OUSD bureaucracy must play catch-up to save the “sub groups” of the lowest and poorest prepared students. Apparently, like other well warned elected governmental officials elsewhere, the OUSD Trustees may just watch helplessly as the test score dam breaks and a flood of district schools become labeled Underperforming as the long predicted storm of underperforming subgroups swamps district scores while the OUSD Administrator bureaucrats continue to Focus on Consultants.

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