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  • Wednesday, April 12, 2006

     

    PART 3: FOCUS ON CONSULTANTS

    A Principal working for a firm she recommends that then gets multiple contracts; pirated works copied without the owners’ permission; top administrators comparing the program to “marriage encounter training”; 40% of the consultant contracts cut back with no reciprocal program cuts: Welcome to the Focus on Results program in the Orange Unified School District. 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 that include years with budget cuts of popular programs. Orange Net News is producing this yearlong exclusive news analysis series that examines the OUSD program; the financial implications; and the worth of the program to the taxpayers that paid for the controversial consultant program.

    PART III- The Cohen Report
    The long anticipated OUSD administrative report on the controversial $2 million dollar Focus on Results consultant program by OUSD Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Cohen was received by the OUSD Trustees at their November 17th, 2005 Board meeting. Despite questionable statistics, clear misinformation, and a stunning revelation by Cohen that for three years OUSD administrators cut back the programs payment fees to the consultants by 40% (without cutting the actual yearly budget requests for funding by the same amount), the report was quickly embraced by the Board’s Liberal Block led by OUSD Villa Park Democrat Kathy Moffat and her voting block allies Kim Nichols, and Wes Poutsma. Only fiscal conservative OUSD Trustee Rick Ledesma questioned the findings. Greater Orange Community Organization (GoCo) released a statement calling the Cohen Report “misguided and misinformed misinformation”. The group also labeled the Cohen Report’s off-the-wall analogy of the Focus on Results program to “marriage encounter training” as “more new age bureaucratic babble that ranks right up there with the county Sanitation District’s Dharma consultant program”. The watchdog group also called for an investigation into why the OUSD Board was misled on the yearly budget requests that specifically approved spending funds on a “consulting contract” and why, even while the district was in multi-year fiscal crisis with the consultant fees being cut back 40%, the program dollars were not also cut 40%.

    Moffat: Ignore That Typo

    Orange Net New (ONN) had reported that the November 17th Agenda item on Focus on Results for the first time would try and link that program to a landmark California court ruling called the Williams Act. The GoCo criticized the OUSD Administrations attempt to link Focus on Results in the November 17 agenda item to a binding legal decision as an example of “another morph” of a program that has no purpose and continues to morph into “the flavor of the month”. As the November 17th meeting began, Board President Kathy Moffat announced that the Focus on Results Agenda Item had a “typo”. Moffat said: “The words William Case Settlement in the first paragraph should not be included, that was a typographical error”. After striking those words from the item, Moffat offered no other explanation on how such a major “typo” on such an important report escaped the review of OUSD Trustees and Administrators before the agenda was published, but after the story in ONN’s Orange Unified Schools Digest was ecast.

    Moffat Misinformation

    Moffat continued her opening remarks by reporting she was invited by Assemblyman Joe Cotto to an Orange County Urban Schools Conference held on November 9th (Cotto is a San Francisco Bay area Democrat that sits on the Assembly Education Committee [8 Democrats; 3 Republicans] chaired by star Assembly liberal Los Angeles Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg). Moffat stated that at the conference she and OUSD Assistant Superintendent Rachel Morga presented information on OUSD’s involvement in the Step Up to Writing program Moffat stated other school districts reported on their success with other programs “included Focus on Results”. However, Moffat did not mention which school district presented Focus on Results as a success story (only OUSD and Santa Ana Unified have Focus on Results in Orange County). Orange Net News contacted Coto’s office and spoke with Mike Welch the staffer in charge of the conference who confirmed that the Focus on Results program was not officially presented by any school district at the conference. Welch added if the program was mentioned in passing, he had no record of who mentioned it, but it was certainly not “officially presented” as a conference success story.

    “Marriage Encounter” of the Educational Kind

    Despite the current research driven state of education, Cohen began her report by stating she continues to struggle trying to explain to those concerned how Focus on Results succeeds. Cohen then tried to explain away her lack of data by trying to compare the Focus on Results program by using the analogy of Focus on Results being akin to “Marriage Encounter Training”. Cohen projected a Marriage Encounter Training slide onto the Boardroom projection screen with her ideas of the similarities between the two listed. Cohen’s surreal Dr. Phil “marriages encounter training” moment led her to reason “How do you measure the success of marriage encounter training” and therefore her logic…How do you measure the success of Focus on Results?

    Cohen’s Data: Unscientific, Incomplete, Out of Context Innuendo

    Next Cohen introduced four areas of her reports alleged “measurement”; Data; Literature; Observations; and Employee Input. The only “data” in the Cohen Report is the same unscientific data available on the Focus on Results website. Simply put, the theory is any increase in achievement scores in any district that pays for Focus on Results is totally the product of Focus on Results. No research required controlled variable and none of the multitude of other district programs that impact scores is acknowledged. The illogical belief is- if you have Focus on Results, then it must be responsible. This is how the Cohen Report uses OUSD’s API scores (of course only the improving scores). Cohen reasoned in her report that any increase in OUSD scores, since buying the program, was entirely due to the Focus on Results program. Cohen offered absolutely no connection between those scores and Focus on Results. Cohen totally ignored the dozens of other highly effective research proven programs in place all across the district. Cohen gave 100% credit of all OUSD API increases to OUSD purchasing the services of this one program. As unprofessional, unrealistic and unbelievable as this assertion was, the statement was embraced by the OUSD Board Liberals as “proof” that the Focus on Results “works”. However, the converse to this “one magic program” theory was never discussed: Is Focus on Results then also responsible for the drop in API scores at the many OUSD schools that had drops (including Focus on Results intense schools Portola and Prospect) and for the growing amount of underperforming schools (now at 19) in OUSD?

    In addition to the fact the API data lacks any connection to Focus on Results, Cohen’s Report lacks any scientific based “control group” to prove any of Cohen’s assertions. The Cohen Report also failed to reveal that most districts throughout California have been steadily increasing API scores since the inception of standardized testing for a whole list of well publicized reasons that include: increased testing awareness; to basically just teaching to the standards; or the many research driven programs like the OUSD program that also had a report presented on November 17th, CSUF’s TASEL M program or Step Up to Writing.

    Cohen also failed to report that OUSD’s steady progress, after investing millions in Focus on Results, is not statistically different than the average California school district’s progress that did not invest the millions of educational tax dollars in the controversial consultant program. OUSD is only unique in the fact that it invested an extra $2 million for the same results most of the state achieved without the expense. When this year’s API scores were released, California State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O’Connell released this statement confirming that since 2001, statewide California schools have steadily achieved:

    State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today released results of the 2005 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program that show California's public school students are making widespread gains in nearly every subject and grade level tested.

    Forty percent of students statewide scored at the proficient or advanced level in English-language arts, an increase of 5 percent over last year, while 38 percent of students scored at the proficient or advanced level in mathematics, an increase of 4 percent over last year. Since 2001, California students have improved by 9 percent in English-language arts and 6 percent in mathematics.

    “With five years of data, we can now see a clear trend of student gains in nearly every subject and every grade," O'Connell said. "This impressive gain in student achievement can be traced back to the implementation of our comprehensive standards-based educational system. Since California adopted rigorous standards…our schools have made steady improvement."


    For full text CLICK ON: http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr05/yr05rel86.asp

    The Cohen Report data also misleads and manipulates the facts by reporting the OUSD District API score as higher than the average for Orange County and California API scores. The report fails to point out that the reason why the total OUSD District API score is higher than the statewide average California API score is that the statewide scores originally started off much lower than OUSD’s API (the same applies to Orange County as a whole, whose county-wide figures include Santa Ana Unified). Comparing the raw current OUSD, Orange County and California API scores does not show where the scores started years ago, the percentages of increases each had, reasons why those increases took place, or the students measured. The Cohen Report leaves out the fact that OUSD increases are in line with the increases all California districts have made, as reported by the State Superintendent, since 2001. It is as if Cohen said “Look, my gas tank has more gas than yours”. The Cohen Report makes completely misleading comparisons.

    Another case of blaring misinformation in the Cohen Report is how it completely misleads by implying that no other improvement programs exist in OUSD (there are dozens), and therefore there is no other explanation for any of OUSD’s schools API score increases except Focus on Results. As misleading as giving Focus on Results 100% credit for any schools API increases is, it is important to note what important facts about the OUSD testing data the Cohen Report leaves out. The Cohen Report made no mention of the following facts: since Focus on Results, the number of failing OUSD schools has risen to a record 19 schools (second only to Santa Ana Unified in Orange County); OUSD math scores have dropped; that OUSD failed to make its all of its district API targets this year; or that OUSD Focus on Results “poster school”, Prospect Elementary had a record 19 point drop in API scores failing to meet any of its growth targets. The Greater Orange Community Organization (GoCo) asked:

    “If, as the Cohen Report declares, that the Focus on Results program is responsible for all API growth that OUSD (just like almost every other California school district) is having, then shouldn’t Focus on Results also be responsible for the glaring API problems OUSD has too? Will the OUSD Administration next come to the Board with a new $2 million dollar program to fix 19 failing schools?

    Lack of Literature Support

    If the problematic data wasn’t bad enough, the GoCo describes the Cohen Report’s presentation of supporting research as “the most unprofessional misinformation presented in the OUSD Boardroom meeting since the Orange Recall”. In this section, Cohen projected dozen’s of names of leading educational researchers onto the Boardroom projection screen and rapidly read off of the names of “leading researchers” and areas they have researched, thus implying by association that these researchers have researched, approved, or are involved with Focus on Results. Nothing presented in this section directly was applicable to Focus on Results except by opinion and innuendo by Cohen reading a list of researchers’ names. Cohen then took snippets of some researchers’ writings out of context and again implied, through association, that Focus on Results was a researched program of those dozens of researchers. Later it was apparent that Cohen’s innuendos obviously mislead some of the Trustees to believe those researchers approved Focus on Results, which in fact is not what Cohen stated.

    Employee Input: Out of Context and Unknown

    Again using the big screen, Cohen projected in “infomercial” style anonymous positive comments about Focus on Results from “employees” and read each. The quotes were not identified as to who made them (subordinate administrators or teachers) or how or where they were solicited. All the quotes were positive, thus implying 100% positive “feedback”. GoCo characterized this section of the report as “unscientific second hand evidence that will be thrown out in the court of public opinion”.

    Yorba Staff Rejects Focus on Results as Impacting Their School
    The Cohen Report used Yorba Middle School as an example of Focus on Results working. Cohen noted the schools 25 point jump in API last year as proof that Focus on Results is working at that school. The Greater Orange Community Group (GoCo) asked a group of Yorba teachers to conduct a survey of their colleagues about Focus on Results at Yorba. The group of survey teachers surveyed 30 of the 33 regular Yorba staff teachers before school and during lunch over a two day period following the Cohen Report.

    Of the 30 teachers surveyed, only a total of five (16%) stated that had any idea what Focus on Results was. Of those five teachers who stated that they knew what Focus on Results was, only two stated that they use anything having to do with Focus on Results in the classroom. One of the two teachers who answered Yes that she uses Focus on Results (she has attended the program meetings for 3 years) replied:

    “I asked my class today to write down an explanation why so many of them where failing math. That’s Focus on Results right?”

    Three teachers who have gone to Focus on Results meetings as Yorba representatives have remarked they still do not know what the program is about. Two of those teachers represented Yorba for a full year at the meetings, another one is representing Yorba this year. The facts of the GoCo Yorba Teacher Survey are that 82% of the teachers at Yorba have no idea about Focus on Results, and 93% of the Yorba teachers surveyed are not using anything to do with Focus on Results in the classroom. After the questions, teachers explained to their colleagues that Cheryl Cohen was attributing their schools 25 point jump in API scores last year to the Focus on Results program. The survey teachers wrote:

    “When told about Cohen giving Focus on Results credit we were universally met by laughter and disbelief. Some teachers however then got frightened for answering our survey because they had not yet reached tenure status.”

    When asked what they thought did contributed to the success of Yorba, a long list of teaching strategies and other researched based programs were mentioned, none having anything directly or indirectly to do with Focus on Results. In addition, as a California Underperforming School, Yorba must have a Trustee approved School Improvement Plan. While many programs are mentioned, Focus on Results is not. The survey teachers wrote:

    “When visiting teachers come to Yorba to observe our programs, it is our Read 180, Tassel M, or our ESL programs, they visit. No one ever mentions Focus on Results except when the district administrators visit classrooms to do bulletin board checks.”

    Other misrepresentations of Cohen’s Report about Yorba include the required Instructional Leadership Team “ILT”. Envisioned by Focus on Results as a separate committee with no other duties, Yorba Principal Frank Huerta just changed the name of the Department Chair Committee to the ILT Committee. While in name it is an ILT Committee it still functions as the Department Chair Committee. Furthermore, almost a third of the way through the year and Yorba still has not produced the Focus on Results required “SmartE” goals for this current school year. At the November Yorba “ILT” meeting the review of the very expensive Focus on Result’s “Instructional Walk Through” conducted at Yorba consisted of Principal Huerta just handing out the 16 point 1 page paper (the result of 1 day’s work of 12 teachers and administrators walking in each classroom for five minutes and checking bulletin boards) and read the 10 Positive Feedbacks (Ex #9- Daily agenda in most classes.) and 6 (needs improvement) I Wonder…? (Ex #3 Why is there no student work in some classrooms?) then went on to other school business. (See the link below to view the entire one page 16 point document). The 1 page report was not shared school-wide.

    The Yorba Teachers also wrote that Cohen’s visits to Yorba over the past few years have consisted of “sitting on chair for two hours during the yearly 8th grade promotion ceremony” and that “no one from the district office has asked our staff for input on what our staff owes our rise in scores to. Dr. Godley just visited Yorba last week and he didn’t ask any of us. Dr. French certainly would have”. In addition, the contention by Cohen that the Yorba Principal is “an instructional leader” was met with harsh criticism from the Yorba Staff. The staff teachers write in their opinion of Cohen’s comments about their principal:

    “[the] principal has no real teaching experience. He was promoted as an administrator at our school before he even finished his administrative credential. Many of our teachers feel his confrontational style has splintered the school and alienated both certificated and classified staff. His lack of any original school-wide initiatives has led him to tamper and interfered with successful longstanding programs like our parent conferences, to the point of destroying them. Our untenured staff members are afraid to give their opinions because he is known to dislike any criticism. Far from being seen as any kind of leader, teachers at Yorba feel our school achieves and functions despite him, which is a testament to our highly qualified staff. We only can imagine how much better we would be with a real “instructional leader”.

    Apparently, if Assistant Superintendent Cohen was interested in understanding what is working in OUSD to raise scores she would have done her homework and met with the Yorba teachers before misleading the OUSD Trustees about how Yorba achieved their 25 point API increase.

    Liberal Trio Cheers Cohen; Conservative Ledesma Questions Cohen
    Cohen’s Report apparently did hit its mark with the OUSD Liberal Block of Moffat, Nichols and Poutsma. The three who are all very close to Cohen personally, all praised Cohen, the report and the program. Trustee Wes Poutsma (who as a former OUSD Assistant Superintendent you would expect him to understand the lack of data in the Cohen Report) pointed to the Cohen Reports misinterpretation of API scores and declared that was proof enough for him that the program is working. Poutsma then again showed he has no remote concept of how to speak publicly stated that no community member has complained to him “that children were learning to read and write”. The Greater Orange Community Organization characterized Poutsma’s continued ill-thought-gaffs “self inflicted insult and injury”.

    However, as the OUSD Trustees’ Liberal Block praised the Cohen Report, and the other Trustees remained silent, it was fiscal conservative Rick Ledesma who questioned Cohen on the ongoing costs of Focus on Results. Ledesma, looking for middle ground, reasoned if the program was working why not cut back to those schools that only needed it. Nichols quickly sprang to Cohen’s aid stating that why should some schools get it and others not. Nichols comments totally ignores the present reality that Underperforming Schools, Title I schools and other school designations give some in-need schools added funding while those schools that do not fall in those categories receive none.

    Where is the 40%?
    During her exchange with Ledesma, Cohen revealed that for about three years the Consulting Contract payment has actually been cut back by 40%. After the meeting, community members question if the 40% cutback is true, why weren’t Cohen’s requests for the Focus on Results programs not cut back by 40%? Her agenda budget requests items for Focus on Results the past three years were not cut back, and they list the request for the total cost as Focus on Results Consultants. If the payment to the consultants has been cut by 40% for the last three years, then where is that money going to? Was Cohen truthful in her budget requests? Was the OUSD Board tricked when they approved a Consultant Contract and not all the money was going to a consultant? Where is the accounting? Could that 40 % savings have been applied to save class size reduction or the music program? Was the fundraising by the Orange Education Foundation needed? Perhaps instead of Focusing on Consultants, OUSD Trustees should Focus on Administrators. //

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