Friday, January 06, 2012

Jessamine superintendent Young refutes New York Times insinuations of bribery


Young's Group Recommended Measured Progress,
Not Pearson

Jessamine County Schools Superintendent Lu Young told KSN&C, by phone from Washington DC today, that her involvement with a panel called together to recommend a test vendor for Kentucky schools was not influenced by a prior Australian trip sponsored by the AASA, but partially funded by the Pearson company.

Young told KSN&C that the invitation to take the trip came in Spring 2010. She traveled in July 2010. She was asked to serve on the KDE committee in February 2011. It was then that she learned Pearson was a bidder but said she was "not conflicted in the process." At no point did [the trip] haunt me, she said.

Young explained the KDE process to KSN&C saying that she served on one of three groups. Her group looked at technical issues related to the test. As the tally sheet below shows, her group did not recommend Pearson. But after all three groups' scores were tallied, Pearson came out on top.

(See RFP determinations at the end of this post.)

Young said she shared the information with New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, but to no avail.

She recently sat down with the Jessamine Journal to go over the details.

This from the Jessamine Journal:
A national story this week examining possible connections between an education publishing company and trips for state education officials zeroed in on Jessamine County’s schools chief, Lu Young. Young spoke candidly about the matter Tuesday, giving her side of the story and filling in what she called “glaring omissions.”

The New York Times piece by Michael Winerip began by questioning Young’s integrity, pointing to her involvement in a state committee recommendation of Pearson, Inc. for a contract after she participated in a trip to Australia sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, a nonprofit branch of the company.

Young made the trip to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney in July 2010 with nine other superintendents from around the country. The visit featured an “international symposium” and focused on a dialogue about “21st-century skills” and collaboration as members of the group looked at Australia’s education system.
While the Pearson Foundation provided grant funding for the trip, Young attended at the request of Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). She was invited as part of the just-formed AASA Council of County Superintendents.

“Pearson did not contact me and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Australia?’” Young said. “The director of my professional association invited me to attend, and I did that — as a learning experience, just exactly as it was described to me.”

Winerip downplayed the seriousness of the trip, writing there was “ample time for play” and citing Young’s quote in a promotional video that kangaroos were a “highlight” of the visit to Canberra. Young also met with education leadership from the local, regional and federal levels during the trip, learning about national standards, expanding broadband use in education and 21st-century learning.

“The story made it sound like they were kind of junkets, and I was embarrassed by this article that sounds like the only important thing I got out of it was pictures of kangaroos,” Young said. “There was a lot of really, really good learning going on.”

The group was accompanied by Kathy Hurley, a vice president of both Pearson Education and the Pearson Foundation. Young said every interaction she had with Hurley focused on impacting American education and there were never any “sales pitches” for Pearson products or services.

“There wasn’t ever any quid pro quo, any expectation that we were going on this trip and then we would do something for them in return,” Young said.

The superintendent returned from the trip and went back to work for the new school year. It was in February 2011 when she stepped into the water she saw as clear but Winerip saw as muddy in the Times article.

With a dozen or more others, Young was asked to serve on a technical scoring group for assessment vendors at the state level. She received proposals from three companies — Pearson, Measured Progress and CTB/McGraw-Hill — before the committee met to go over the proposals.

“It was at that point that I knew that Pearson was one of the three, and even then, in all candor, that did not in any way conflict me,” Young said. “I wasn’t making any connections to Australia at all, (and) had not been contacted by Pearson or any of the vendors, and still to this day have not since.”

The committee’s recommendation came from the accumulation of three scores: a technical score, a cost score and an oral-presentation score.

Winerip’s story suggested that Young favored Pearson, citing the Australia trip and that Young and her fellow committee members recommended Pearson despite McGraw-Hill’s lower bid. But Measured Progress was the company that came out on top in the two scores Young judged, according to the final scoring sheet, a public record Young provided.

The technical scoring group graded each proposal based on a rubric, agreeing what number to assign for each section of the scoring guide. Measured Progress received 2,220 points out of 2,400; Pearson and McGraw-Hill scored 2,180 and 1,800, respectively. The three finished in the same order in oral-presentation grades, in which Young was also involved.

The third score, based on cost, was the responsibility of staff in the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Office of Administration and Support and did not involve Young. Cost scores also had Pearson second, with McGraw-Hill on top with the lowest price and Measured Progress third with the highest. The grand-total scores out of 4,600 possible points were Pearson with 3,884, Measured Progress with 3,579, and McGraw-Hill with 3,467.

The state department of education announced April 15 that it had contracted with Pearson to provide content-area tests and writing assessments. The $7.66 million contract period ends June 30, 2012, with the possibility of three additional two-year renewals for a total of $57.8 million, according to KDE documentation.

Winerip’s story ran in the Times earlier this week and included one quote from a statement Young had e-mailed to him in which she said the trip and contract selection were “completely unrelated.” The article hit closer to home when it was reprinted in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Tuesday; Young said the Herald-Leader did not contact her for comment.

“I’d be happy to answer any questions anybody has about it, because I didn’t feel like I had a chance to really tell my side of the story after the article was reprinted,” she said.

Young said she welcomes the scrutiny that comes with her position but that the insinuations of corruption “sting a little bit.”

“We are in positions of trust and authority, and I think the community has a right to know what our activities are, but I don’t think that anybody has a right to just imply any kind of misconduct or bad behavior,” she said.
Winerip did not immediately respond to an e-mail Wednesday morning.

Young was one of three finalists for the Fayette County superintendency — Kentucky’s second-largest — over the summer and was named the state superintendent of the year by the Kentucky Association for School Administrators in November. She is in her 29th year working in the Jessamine County district, her eighth as its superintendent.

“I have legitimate, reasonable, honest responses to things that could look like allegations against my integrity or ethical behaviors,” Young said. “The Australia trip was not frivolous; it was not done in exchange for any influence on my part at all — none whatsoever. And my participation in the state in (the review) process was exactly as it was prescribed and designed to be: one of 13 or 14 people who went through a very regimented process to review those proposals and to rank-order those for recommendation in the procurement process.”
Below are the determinations and findings from the RFP as posted according to the model procurement code:


Anonymous said...

It would seem that by Ms. Young's account, that her trip did not have any influence on her participation in the assessment vendor selection. I do think that educational leaders we do need to start reconsidering our participation in these types of workshops or conferences. To me this trip to Australia is like so many other conferences which are held throughout the US and World: A vacation under the guise of work. Yes, we network, present and go to some of the presentations and workshops during the usual three day event but in this electronic age do we really need to pay thousands of dollars of airfair, lodging, etc and travel to LA, Philly, FLA or Vegas, much less Australia in order to be professionally developed?

I understand that this trip by Ms. Young did not cost her district any money, but it was indirectly paid for with funds generated by the vendor through the sales of products and resoruces to districts for children. We shouldn't try to cleanse or conscience with the idea that it was free because it wasn't, school funds paid for the trip and the overpriced product which we bought is what paid for the vacation.

I would be interested to know if given the option of paying for two classroom sets of textbooks or taking a trip to Australia, which she would choose because to me, that seems to be a fair comparison in light of the expense.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the real story here is about Ms. Young but instead her description of the three pronged evaluation format: Technical, Oral Presentation and Expense.

According to Ms. Young, "The third score, based on cost, was the responsibility of staff in the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Office of Administration and Support..."

I thought the commissioner said he didn't have anything to do with the selection this statement by Ms. Young indicates that a department within KDE which is accountable and certainly influnced as well as over seen by the commissioner was very much involved in the selection.

Even more confounding is that neither the technical or oral presentation group rankings identified Pearson as the top choice but neither did the cost rankings put Pearson as first in the number one spot. The only consistent aspect of the evaluation of the three vendors was that Pearson was second in all measurements.

Why even bother with evaluating them if in the end you aren't willing to decide on one of the top picks, either McGraw-Hill due to expense or MP for technical value?

All I know is that it doesn't look right that the commissioner says he wasn't involved when KDE was actually participating in the selection and it smells of influence and favortism when your commissioner is taking free trips from the multimillion dollar vendor who received a contract for your state when it was neither the lowest bid nor the best product.

Anonymous said...

I like Mrs. Young, but I can't believe this top administrator accepted the trip from Pearson. (There are Fulbright scholarships for administators and they look good on a resume) The acceptance of the "gift" was foolish and, I would say hypocritical. I'm certain she has reminded her teachers not to accept gifts from parents.

More interesting, though, is the fact that someone in Kentucky is feeding teh New York Times the scoop on all of this. Very interesting indeed....

In the end, though, I hate to see my choice for FCPSs uperintendent raked over the coals.