What You Need to Know About Just For Kids and Who's Backing It
Susan Notes: At first glance, this is a Florida story. But a little research shows that Just for Kids is on the move. Note the corporate-politico alliance that funds this particular number-crunching.
Ohanian Comment. At first glance, the article below is a Florida story, but be aware that Just for Kids is making this pitch nationwide. Your district could well be next. Ostensibly a non-profit working for children, Just for Kids, of course, has a political agenda. Their real point is to make mandatory testing look legitimate. As Bob Schaeffer, education director for FairTest, observes, "There is some political value in having an outside group that looks neutral ratify your work, particularly when your program is controversial."
Note: Here are states where Just for Kids is established--and who financed them.
Arkansas thanks the Arkansas Department of Education, the Office Research, Management, and Evaluation at the University of Arkansas, and the Arkansas Business and Education Alliance
Colorado thanks The Colorado Partnership for Educational Renewal, The Public Education and Business Coalition, the Colorado Forum, the Education Commission of the States, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Research and Development Center for the Advancement of Student Learning in Ft. Collins, the Colorado Department of Education, the Rose Community Foundation, the Donnell-Kay Foundation, and Governor Owens' office
In Florida, Just for Kids is an initiative of the Council for Educational Change [established by the Florida Annenberg Challenge]. Its programs:
Partner with Business
Mobilize Parents and the Community
Engage in Research and Development
Serve as a Catalyst for Public Policy
In Massachusetts, Just for the Kids is an initiative of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education!
In New Jersey, Just for the Kids was established and is maintained by the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Education.
Tennessee thanks the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation, the Education Commission of the States, the Tennessee Department of Education and Governor Sundquist for their Just for Kid site.
Washington thanks Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Washington Mutual, for supporting this effort.
Texas thanks the following for funding the development of Just for Kids:
American Income Life Insurance Co.
Arter & Hadden
AT & T
Austin Community Foundation
Austin Industries, Inc.
Baker & Botts, L.L.P.
Baylor Health Care System
Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation
Cardinal Investment Co., Inc.
Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation
Central and South West Corporation
Compaq Computer Corporation
Dodge Jones Foundation
Education Commission of the States
Goldman, Sachs & Company
H.E. Butt Grocery Company
Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst
Hobby Family Foundation
Hunt Oil Company
International Bank of Commerce
J. McDonald Williams Fund of the Dallas Foundation
J.F. Maddox Foundation
Jack and Dee Willome Fund
James R. and Judy C. Adams Fund
Jim Deatherage & Associates, P.C.
John Castle Fund of the Episcopal Foundation
John T. & Margaret Sharpe Fund
Marilyn Augur Foundation
McClanahan & Clearman, L.L.P.
Meridian Advisors, Ltd.
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Mort Meyerson Family Foundation
Pier One Imports, Inc.
Public Strategies Inc.
Ray Ellison Charitable Fund
Robert & Janice McNair Foundation
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
Saxon Publishers Inc.
Shell Oil Company
Sid Richardson Foundation
Silicon Graphics Computer Systems
TDK USA Corporation
Temple Inland Inc.
Texas Commerce Bank
Texas Instruments Foundation
Texas Instruments, Incorporated
Texas Utilities/ENSERCH Corporation
Trammell Crow Company
United Way of the Bay Area
Valero Management Company
Vinson & Elkins, L.L.P.
Washington Mutual Foundation
Wells Fargo Bank
William & Gay Solomon Fund
Williamson Printing Corporation
Here are the education powerhouses making up the board of directors of Just for Kids:
Founder and CEO: Tom Luce, 1990 unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Texas.
Jim Adams, Chairman, Texas Instruments (Retired) - San Antonio
Carolyn R. Bacon, Executive Director, O'Donnell Foundation - Dallas
Dennis R. Berman, President, Denitech Corporation - Irving
Albert C. Black, President and CEO, On-Target Supplies and Logistics - Dallas
Bob Buford, Chairman and CEO, Buford Television - Dallas
John R. Castle, Jr., Attorney at Law - Dallas
H. Scott Caven, Jr., Vice President, Goldman, Sachs & Co - Houston
Bruce Gibson, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Reliant Energy - Houston
Richard A. Haberman, President, The Vara Company, Inc. - Austin
Sally Junkins, Community Leader - Dallas
Jim Loose, President and CEO, Galloway-James, Inc - Dallas
Bernard Rapoport, Chairman and CEO, American Income Life Insurance - Waco
Cinthia S. Salinas, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado - Aurora, Colorado
Barton E. Showalter, Partner, Baker Botts LLP - Dallas
Lionel Sosa, President, KJS Advertising & Public Relations - San Antonio
Don Williams, Chairman, Trammell Crow Company - Dallas
Kneeland Youngblood, M.D., Emergency Medicine Physician - Dallas
Firm to crunch FCAT scores
By Bob Mahlburg
August 16, 2003
TALLAHASSEE -- Undeterred by the controversy over school testing, Gov. Jeb Bush has asked a politically connected Texas company to do a computer analysis on the state's FCAT scores and suggest more changes to Florida schools.
"I love it," Bush said, when asked about the computer-analysis program known as Just for The Kids. "They're a little bit different twist on our grading system, but it's very similar."
Bush met privately last week with the program's founder and head, Tom Luce, a Dallas attorney with strong Republican ties. Luce began the program when Bush's brother, George W. Bush, was governor.
Supporters say the program allows schools to be compared more fairly than with Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores alone because it weighs differences such as wealth, race and language skills. For example, a low-income school with Spanish-speaking students can be compared with a school with a similar makeup to find out which does better and why.
"It shows you comparable schools," said Sheila Arredondo, program director for the Education Commission of the States in Denver, a partner in the program. "Teachers find this more fair."
But critics say Just for The Kids puts too much emphasis on test scores and makes superficial recommendations that vary little from state to state. They say it also pushes a political agenda that coincides with the president's national school reform program called No Child Left Behind.
"It's happy hour research," said Richard Kouri, president of the Texas State Teachers Association when Just for The Kids began in that state eight years ago. "You could have come to that same conclusion with four teachers at happy hour -- like it helps to have the principal talk to teachers."
Demographics are key
Just for The Kids says it combines scores such as the FCAT with demographic figures to suggest ways to improve specific schools -- all for free. The program, which has been endorsed by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, has received more than $1 million in federal funds so far, and the nonprofit company also gets private funding.
"We take the data that the state was producing anyway, their data, their FCAT, and present it in a way for parents and educators to find out the best priorities," Luce said.
It makes recommendations to states on ways to improve schools and puts its findings on a Web site for the public to examine.
Bush said that allows parents to do their analyses -- perhaps comparing the math test scores of schools with similar demographics and looking at why some might do better than others. "It's a good measurement," he said.
But the critics say the approach encourages people to judge schools based on tests and numbers, when they should be looking at a myriad of factors that affect school performance.
"It's very complex," said Al Kauffman, who teaches at Harvard Law School and led legal challenges against school testing in Texas. "If all you're really doing is mixing some numbers in a computer and saying poor kids do worse, we all know that. It's important to look at demographics, but I don't think a greater emphasis on test scores is a way to do it."
Many companies offer similar computer analysis products, but there's no evidence they help learning, said Eva Baker, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation Standards and Student Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"The question is, how do you know it makes things better?" sheasked. "You need to give them a level of advice that someone can figure out what to do."
Luce said his group has been studying Florida schools for months and preparing recommendations. He said he first met with Bush about a year ago, and the governor was interested immediately.
Asked if he plans to apply the group's findings to schools in Florida, Bush answered, "Absolutely."
Plan surprises leaders
But many top Florida education officials said this is the first they have heard of the program. Among them are Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and the leaders of groups of school boards and superintendents.
"If this is a valid group and has credentials and can show they have theability to give us some suggestions as to how to improve education, I'm open to the possibilities," Constantine said. But evaluating such offers often is tricky, he said.
"The opportunities that people suggest to help you are a quagmire," he said. "You don't know which way to step and which one is really beneficial and which one is just a company out to make money."
Asked about Just for The Kids, Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association, said, "Nobody has talked to me about it."
But Blanton said he has heard from plenty of for-profit firms pitching similar test comparisons.
"There are a ton of private companies that will take your FCAT scores and match them up and say they will improve your schools," he said. "It's a cottage industry."
Just for The Kids has expanded to eight states and is adding a dozen more under the auspices of the National Center for Educational Accountability, a nonprofit company chaired by Luce that partners with the University of Texas and the Education Commission of the States.
Critic: It's all about testing
Bob Schaeffer, education director for the Massachusetts-based group FairTest, said Just for The Kids' real goal is helping state officials persuade people to back mandatory testing of kids. In Florida, parents protested twice in Tallahassee earlier this month after thousands of third-graders were held back for failing the FCAT.
"There is some political value in having an outside group that looks neutral ratify your work, particularly when your program is controversial," he said.
Luce is politically connected with the Bush family, having supported George W. Bush since he was Texas governor.Luce ran for Texas governor in 1990, stressing education issues.
The NCEA is funded by private grants and gifts, Luce said. He said he had been unaware of government backing until he was shown a report revealing the program has gotten funds from the U.S. Department of Education. The company's nonprofit tax returns for 2002 show government grants made up nearly $500,000 of its $2 million in revenue.
Luce said his venture is driven by a desire to improve schools and is not tied to politics. But Schaeffer said it's no coincidence that the group expanded nationally around the same time as the president's No Child Left Behind plan.
Paige, the U.S. education secretary, said in a January 2002 speech that the NCEA will help No Child Left Behind by providing "fair comparisons in each state" and ideas to improve schools.
Gov. Bush said he worked with Luce on a school awards program and he admires his efforts.
Firm to Crunch FCAT Scores
INDEX OF RESEARCH THAT COUNTS