Friday, December 13, 2013

Board member: State Superintendent admitted to school ratings fraud

Tom Burnham and Ken Thompson inflated ratings, said School Board member Bill Jones

In a May, 2013 Clarion-Ledger story on Mississippi public school ratings that were falsely inflated by former education employee Ken Thompson, Thompson defended his actions, calling the calculation adjustments he made negligible and saying that he was overworked. (See “Some Miss. schools' accountability ratings inflate after 'arbitrary' appeals process,” May 15, 2013.)

According to the Clarion-Ledger, Thompson said in an interview that “he would not change his decisions — decisions that were, by nature, subjective. He also said his department was understaffed and had too narrow a time frame to complete a review of the appeals.” He described some data changes he made as “negligible” and said his decisions were not “arbitrary.”

But that's not the picture painted by School Board member Bill Jones in a September 2011 meeting regarding an internal investigation of the Mississippi Department of Education.

Jones said he suspected the rating for the school district in his home town of Petal had been falsely inflated by Ken Thompson.

When Jones confronted former state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham about the issue, Jones said Burnham admitted to the ratings fraud. Jones said Burnham's comment was: “Well, we try to help these districts. You know, if we can help them, we help them.”


An internal investigation of the Mississippi Department of Education occurred during 2010 and 2011 at the request of then-Chairman of the Mississippi Board of Education, Charles McClelland. Charlie Evers and Toby Frazier, then-employees of the Mississippi Department of Education's watchdog arm, the Office of Educational Accountability, handled the investigation that revealed corruption, cronyism, and school ratings fraud. They were assisted by contractor Lisa Williamson.

The findings of the probe were revealed at the September 2011 meeting to McClelland and current School Board member Bill Jones, who was also aware of some problems within the Department of Education and the Office of Educational Accountability.

During the meeting, Jones, Evers and Frazier all said they believed that then-Director of the Office of Research and Statistics (ORS), Ken Thompson, was arbitrarily changing school ratings. ORS was the division within the Office of Educational Accountability responsible for crunching the numbers that factor into a school or district rating.

Specifically, Jones said he discovered that his home-town school district, the Petal School District, received a “Star” rating it did not deserve from Thompson. (The highest school or district rating possible at that time was “Star.” Top Mississippi schools now receive an “A.”)

Transcript excerpt (see pages 13 and 14 of document):

Bill Jones: Well, look. Let's talk about basic fairness, OK? See, with all Ken Thompson's machinations over there with those numbers and playing around, which district has totally gotten screwed? Which districts have been given benefits they're not entitled to? That's the kind of thing we're interested in. Recently, the numbers came in [noise] … Burnham came walking in and said, “Congratulations.” And I said, “For what?” [He said,] “Star district.” I said, “We didn't make it.” He said, “Huh? Yeah, you did.” I said, “No, look at the numbers here.” And he realized Ken Thompson had given us the wrong damn, old sheets. And he walked off. So I came home to Petal thinking we didn't make it. Saturday morning I'm out riding my bike at the bike trail at USM. … The head of security at USM … He pulls up, and we get to talking. He said, “Yeah, we made it.” I'm on the damn state Board of Education, and I'm wrong! I called the superintendent (of Petal School District) and said, “What the hell? How did we make it?” He said, “Well, I got an e-mail from Ken Thompson.” He figured that was the gold standard.”

During the meeting, the investigators said they believed Burnham knew fraud and deception was occurring. (See page 22 of transcript document.)

McClelland asked: “In you all's mind, do you all think Burnham knows that there is something going on wrong?”

Evers, Frazier and contractor Lisa Williamson replied in unison: “Yes.”

Later in the conversation, Jones again mentioned Petal's unmerited, inflated rating and said then-State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham admitted to the ratings fraud.

Transcript excerpt (see pages 25 and 26 of document):

Jones: I don't want to rain on my school district's parade, but you've got to have some ethics somewhere. When a guy tells me that we that made it, and I thought before I go home we didn't. And I call (Dr. John Buchanan, superintendent of Petal School District), and he's just hanging on to his job, too. Bear in mind, this is a good school district comparatively, and why go beat up the four or five top—why drag them down? I don't want to do that. So when I got off the phone with Buchanan, I called Tom Burnham. I said, “Tom, you're right. We did make it.” And he wouldn't give me a decent … all he would say was, “Well, we try to help these districts. You know, if we can help them, we help them.” … And I understood what he was saying: “We try to help these districts if we can.”

Charles McClelland: And we help you.


Bill Jones: [Unclear.]

Charles McClelland: When you talk about running an audit on these numbers that don't look right—I asked John (Gilbert, then-director of Educational Accountability) a month ago when these numbers first appeared, please run a check on [unclear] and Hollandale. Hollandale had jumped I think a hundred and something points. … It would be great if that happened, but it's unlikely. I have asked him just about every week. Well, he tells me that he have (sic) Toby (Frazier), or somebody, working—

Toby Frazier: That was Joe working on it.

Jones then said that he had not requested that the Petal School District receive inflated scores and speculated that the Department of Education could likely be inflating school scores at the request of state legislators. (The state Legislature appropriates money for the Department of Education.)

Jones said to McClelland: “Let me tell you something, Charles, if they'll do it for me, for us without lobbying. God knows what legislators they're doing it for.”

Where are they now?

Burnham retired from the state Department of Education in June 2012. In October 2012, he took over as Interim Director of the Mississippi Principal Corps at the University of Mississippi, where he still serves.

After Burnham left, former state Deputy Superintendent Lynn House became Interim State Superintendent.

New State Superintendent, Carey Wright, was appointed by the Mississippi Board of Education in September 2013. Wright comes to Mississippi from the District of Columbia and has not previously worked with Mississippi public schools.

House is reportedly “weighing her options so that she can remain active in education.”


More information:

Amy McCullough is a freelance journalist who has donated this material to Jackson Jambalaya in memory of Charlie Evers who passed away on Aug. 26, 2013.


Pugnacious said...

It makes one suspect that Andrew Mullins knew of the fraud. But WHEN did he know it?
Amy knows how to hold their feet to the fire.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish and Amy McCullough are juggernauts of original reporting in Mississippi. Kudos to the outstanding job being done on Jackson Jambalaya.

Anonymous said...

Paula Vanderford is not a relative of Tom Burnham. She is a relative of his daughter's husband. His daughter is an assistant principal at Brandon High School.

Anonymous said...

Now if what was alleged was something serious like welfare fraud, food stamp fraud, or similar, then the investigations would have been wrapped and felony indictments would have already been filed against the perps. This kind of alleged thing is very different from those types of wrong doing.

Pugnacious said...

Kingfish and Amy McCullough are juggernauts of original reporting in Mississippi. Kudos to the outstanding job being done on Jackson Jambalaya.

Let's not leave out Enoch Sanders.

Anonymous said...

The State of Mississippi through the office of the state superintendent admits to a board member that they committed fraud to 'help' school districts that they could not help any other way.

It is political failure. Andrew Mullins is a William Winter disciple. Cecil Brown is too. Its sickening.

Anonymous said...

This 'Charlie Evers' ain't THE Charles Evers of Fayette.

Gone are the Dept of Education days of Charles Deaton who could sniff out education mercantilism.

Who is this AR Davis with a Delaware business charter and several Mississippi addresses, but formed in Oxford on Galleria.

Anonymous said...

More info on AR Davis already at JJ

Might want to check into the newly formed School Status LLC, with the same director and Hattiesburg P.O. Box address as Blue Consulting Group LLC.

"A R Davis
PO BOX 18938

The website for School Status is

A USPTO trademark application has been filed for "SchoolStatus" by Blue Consulting Group LLC for two different uses as follows


G & S: Computer application software for Internet-connected devices, namely, software for the holistic review, tracking and analysis of student data

G & S: Providing statistical information

A Linkedin listing shows someone claiming to be employed by both Blue Consulting Group and SchoolStatus (both in Hattiesburg MS).

Josh Deere's Experience
Lead Engineer
Blue Consulting Group

July 2012 – Present (10 months) Hattiesburg, Mississippi Area
Lead Engineer

Privately Held; 1-10 employees; Education Management industry

July 2012 – Present (10 months) Hattiesburg, Mississippi Area

Changing education, forever.

Anonymous said...

Be sure to read earlier Bigger Pie Forum posts on JJ where that comment is for more details.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 BPF: Private service using Miss. public school students' data

A former Mississippi Department of Education employee uses public school students’ test data as part of a private service he sells to school districts for thousands of dollars

Sunday, April 21, 2013 Former MDE employee included in department e-mails

A former Mississippi Department of Education employee appears in department e-mails regarding assessments for public school ratings at a time when, according to him, he did not work for the department in a full-time or contract capacity.
Russ Davis, proprietor of, a web-based service that helps public school teachers and administrators interpret school accountability data,

Anonymous said...

How about Tom Burnham's Sisters Daughter??

Pugnacious said...

It is political failure. Andrew Mullins is a William Winter disciple.

All the members of the 4-M Club(Mabus, Molphus,Moore & Mullins) are "disciples" of William Winter. It shivers me timbers that William Winter is at the helm of the MDHA. We'll never know how many donated "inconvenient facts" and archival materials have been flushed down the MDHA Orwellian Memory Hole during his tenure,in order to build his Civil Rights museum!

Pugnacious said...

Maybe William Winter should practice "economic reconciliation" and return all those millions of dollars that he scammed as Tax Accessor before becoming governor, and then put these dollars towards paying for his boondoggle. Does he really believe that, "build it and they will come?" PFFT!

Editor Birney Imes' Mother of All Puff&Fluff pieces on William Winter

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