I CAN Learn is a dvd-based program to teach math. Students sit at computer, put on headphones, pop in the appropriate dvd, and watch an instructor on video teach math. They are then quizzed on the material and based on the results of that quiz either repeat the lesson or move on.
In February 2005, the Fort Worth Weekly published an article about that company called I CAN Earn. I'll summarize: kids aren't showing improvement, and there are suspicions that bribery has been involved in getting school districts to adopt the program.
I'm not surprised. I worked in a school district that forced that program on its teachers against the advice of the math department chair of every school in the district. I know this to be true--I was the district's math chair, and I was the person getting the recommendations from each school. We all agreed that the program itself might have some value in certain circumstances, but it could not be the primary method of pedagogy for teaching Algebra 1.
I won't go into further detail--the post would be exceedingly long--but here's the condensed version. In addition to the program itself each school had to buy all the computer hardware to run the software. Additionally, furniture was needed--our district chose glass-topped desks with the monitor under the glass, so the students were always looking down. But the glass reflected the overhead lights, so the curtains had to be closed and the lights covered. Teaching in those circumstances was like being in the Bat-cave. Teachers no longer taught; they were reduced to being "the answer guy" and the classroom IT specialist (someone had to keep that network of computers running). It was while several of us were undergoing training in the first Bat-cave that the superintendent said that he was imposing this program because "every superintendent has a pet project, and this is mine."
Oh, and the guy was a crook, and I'm absolutely convinced he received kickbacks. I ended up leaving that old district, partly because I couldn't accept that computer program. When the Fort Worth Weekly reporter later contacted me about I CAN Learn, and told me her suspicions and where the evidence led her, I could only nod in agreement based on the limited experience I had in my own district.
A couple years later, that district dropped the program because students weren't performing any better. "It no longer fits our needs", said the district spokesman.
If you read the entire Fort Worth Weekly article, you might recognize two names--one of them is Mike Huckabee, and the other? Guess.
So why do I dredge up this story from seven years ago? Because I CAN Learn is in the news again.
Mose Jefferson, the eldest brother and chief political strategist of embattled U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges that he bribed Ellenese Brooks-Simms, the former president of the Orleans Parish School Board, to ensure her support for a computer-based algebra curriculum he was selling.
Two of the seven felony counts faced by Mose Jefferson, 65, stem from what federal prosecutors describe as two attempts to cover up the bribes by meeting with Brooks-Simms and trying to persuade her to give the feds a bogus explanation for the $140,000 she accepted from him.
Unbeknownst to Jefferson, Brooks-Simms had already cut a deal with the government. At both meetings, she wore a wire to record her conversations with Jefferson, according to a source close to the case.
The Congressman keeps $90,000 in cash stashed in his freezer, and his brother bribes school district officials to buy the I CAN Learn program. Nice family.
The charges against Mose Jefferson have no direct bearing on William Jefferson, who is awaiting trial in Virginia on 16 unrelated corruption charges.
But the case does have close links to the congressman. John Lee, the founder of JRL Enterprises (the company that sells I CAN Learn), has held fundraisers for him. William Jefferson has been a big supporter of "I CAN Learn," arranging for at least some of the $45 million in congressional earmarks the company has received.
The exact amount of money the congressman set aside for the company is unclear, because until recently bills containing earmarks passed by Congress did not identify which member inserted the request.
Lee said JRL Enterprises did nothing inappropriate.
In a previous interview, Lee described the commissions paid to Mose Jefferson as the going rate for "introductions to the decision-makers." Lee has said he does not know which members of Congress arranged for JRL's earmarks; regardless of who inserted them, the company's hiring of Mose Jefferson was unrelated, he said.
I hope they're able to pin some of this on Lee. Too much taxpayer money in too many states has gone to this man--who's crooked, in my opinion--and it's got to stop.