Did a Misguided U.S. Department of Education E-mail “Confirm” Its Improper Favoritism of the PBIS Behavioral Framework?

Using the School Climate Transformation Grant to Misrepresent, Re-Brand, and Strong-Arm Educators toward Only "Department-Approved" PBIS Consultants

Dear Colleagues,


   I actually began writing this Blog message over two weeks ago.  But—as you will see below—a number of events have occurred during the writing process. . . some as recently as this past Thursday.

   The back-drop of this message is the fact that different long-employed staff at the U.S. Department of Education (NOT Congressionally-appointed leaders) have influenced federal grants, National Technical Assistance (TA) Centers, and national and state education practices through their advocacy of their own (that is, the staff members) desired programs and frameworks.

   And this has happened for at least two decades !!!

[CLICK HERE to read the entire history in a recent Blog: 

“The Art of Doubling Down: How the U.S. Department of Education Creates Grant Programs to Fund and Validate its own Frameworks—The Tainting of RtI, PBIS, MTSS, and SEL”]

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  • And while they claim that U.S. Department of Education staff do not advocate for or promote any singular framework, program, or intervention, they do. . . often surreptitiously behind the scenes.
  • While they claim that federal grant winners should know what “free” resources are available to them from the National TA Centers (hence, their blatant promotion of these Centers), they strong-arm federal grantees (see below)— including state departments of education—to  use only these Centers and their personnel. . .

. . . also ignoring the fact that taxpayer dollars are used to fund these Centers (thus, for you and me, they are not free).

  • And, while they claim that they follow their own statutory regulations (organized in the Education Department General Administrative Regulations—EDGAR), they intimidate federal grantees who correctly follow these regulations with federal audits and the potential of returning already-awarded (and often spent) federal grant funds. . .

. . . when those grantees have chosen non-National TA Center consultants to lead their activities.

   Of course, current staff at the U.S. Department of Education will claim that they would never do these things.

   But these same staff are embarrassed when reminded that their colleagues were found guilty of similar offenses back in the mid-2000s when overseeing the Reading First state grants. . . grants that expended approximately $5 billion dollars to state departments of education from 2002 through 2006.

[CLICK HERE to see the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General’s September 2006 Report on the Reading First debacle]

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   Critically, as you will see in the story below, we believe that we have a possible admission by a U.S. Department of Education staff person that the U.S. Department of Education is singularly promoting the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) National TA Center within the recently-awarded School Climate Transformation Grant program.

   Below are the details to this story.  Details that may put my status at the U.S. Department of Education at a high level of risk.

   But. . . details that must become public as the only way to handle a bully is to expose the bully !!!

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The School Climate Transformation Grant and the Misrepresentation of the National PBIS TA Center

   Proposals for the second school district-focused (Local Education Agency—LEA) School Climate Transformation Grant were submitted last year by systems across the country to the U.S. Department of Education on July 22, 2019.  During the last week of September (2019), 69 districts or LEAs were awarded grants ranging from approximately $1,250,000 (for five years) to $3,750,000. 

   Additionally, fourteen (14) state departments of education (SEA) were awarded the state version of this grant in November, 2018—with the same range of funding.

   Critically, as noted, this was the second School Climate Transformation Grant competition.  This first one—also including both LEAs and SEAs, respectively—ran for five years from October, 2014 through September, 2019.  This program included 71 LEAs and 12 SEAs—all different from the more-recent awardees.

   In total, across these two different LEA- and SEA-focused grant programs (2014 and 2018-19), the U.S. Department of Education has committed approximately $375 million dollars to this program.

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   But the U.S. Department of Education has not committed this money to “a program”. . .  they have tried to commit it exclusively to the PBIS framework supported by the National PBIS TA Center.

   Indeed, on the U.S. Department of Education’s website for the LEA-version of the School Climate Transformation Grant, it states:


The School Climate Transformation Grant—Local Educational Agency Program provides competitive grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) to develop, enhance, or expand systems of support for, and technical assistance to, schools implementing an evidence-based multi-tiered behavioral framework for improving behavioral outcomes and learning conditions for all students.


Projects should: (1) build capacity for implementing a sustained, school-wide multi-tiered behavioral framework; (2) enhance capacity by providing training and technical assistance to schools; and (3) include an assurance that the applicant will work with a technical assistance provider, such as the PBIS Technical Assistance Center funded by the Department, to ensure that technical assistance related to implementing program activities is provided.

   Now, here, the U.S. Department of Education will point to the words “such as” and say that any viable PBIS technical assistance provider would qualify, but their actions speak louder than their words.


  • For the entirety of the first 2014 School Climate Transformation Grant, districts/SEAs awarded the grant were required to send representatives every year to the National PBIS TA Center’s October national conference.

For five years at this conference, not a single presenter who did not support and reflect the TA Center’s PBIS framework were invited to present at this Conference.

  • Moreover, at the first Grant Directors’ Conference for the new, recently awarded 2019 School Climate Transformation Grant—held in Washington, DC last month on January 27-28, 2020, grantees were made to listen to an entire day of National PBIS TA Center directors or staff who only discussed the Center’s PBIS framework and the specific consultants (with e-mails included) who were available to provide (“free”) technical assistance services.

Significantly, a number of attendees—who knew that this PBIS “info-mercial” was occurring—stated that, had they not known what was happening from previous years and U.S. Department of Education interactions, they would have felt pressured to adopt the TA Center’s framework and consultants.

Indeed, they noted that many new grantee representatives were actually feeling like they needed to abandon the activities written into (and awarded in) their original grants, in order to change to ones presented by National PBIS TA Center personnel.

   Now, once again, U.S. Department of Education staff will point to the one or two questions at the Washington, DC meeting where grantees asked if they had to use National TA Center consultants. . . and were told no.

   But the misrepresentation here is that (a) these answers were transitory in nature; (b) this information was not independently initiated, offered, or reinforced by Department staff before or after the questions; and (c) the Department’s actions in having a full day of National PBIS TA Center presentations spoke louder than any words.

   Federal agencies and staff are continuously warned to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest.

   At the very least here. . . even if just for the two LEA School Climate Transformation Grant programs over the past five years, it does not appear that U.S. Department of Education staff have avoided (at least) the appearance of a conflict of interest.

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The School Climate Transformation Grant and the Rebranding (Again?) of PBIS ?

   A little history:  In the middle of the decade just-passed, when federal and state approaches to “response-to-intervention” (RtI) experienced a national “push-back” by educators, the U.S. Department of Education (largely within the Office of Special Education Programs) rebranded the approaches into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as “multi-tiered systems of supports.” 

   The push-back occurred because many “national experts”—some working through of the U.S. Department of Education’s National RtI TA Center—were advocating questionable psychometric and procedural strategies . . . with results that were less than stellar.  Moreover, an independent, controlled national RtI literacy study of over 25,000 first through third graders in 13 states found that these RtI strategies either (a) were no better than the absence of such strategies in the Comparison Group (in Grades 2 and 3), or (b) under-performed the absence of such strategies (in Grade 1).

   Relative to behavior:  While not completely or fully public, the U.S. Department of Education has similarly rebranded “positive behavioral interventions and supports”— mostly through a selected number of federal grant programs.

   Indeed, after it commissioned an independent evaluation of PBIS that was particularly critical of the framework (circa April, 2013), the Department jointly awarded the two top state PBIS groups (in Illinois and Maryland) a grant that cumulatively cost taxpayers (when combined with its evaluation component) nearly $25 million dollars . . . all in an attempt to experimentally validate the PBIS framework that the independent report had just panned. 

   Here, the U.S. Department of Education rebranded PBIS as MTSS-B (Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports—Behavior) something that a few state departments of education have picked up. . . we believe, because their PBIS programs have not been working and have such questionable reputations.

   Meanwhile, the most-recent School Climate Transformation Grant—despite its heavy emphasis on the PBIS framework— referenced “multi-tiered behavioral frameworks” on three occasions.  Two of the three times that the words “multi-tiered behavioral frameworks” appeared, they were followed by the words “such as “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.”

   And so, the question:  Is the U.S. Department of Education planning to rebrand “PBIS” into a “Multi-Tiered Behavioral Framework” (MTBF) because—as with RtI—PBIS is increasingly being seen in the educational community as an ineffective pariah?

   And is the U.S. Department of Education using the School Climate Transformation Grants (both 2014 and 2019)—and part of their $375 million dollars in funding both to further bankroll the National PBIS TA Center (and its consultants), and to attempt to expand on the TA Center’s infamous count of “the number of PBIS schools in the country” ???

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The U.S. Department of Education Denies Its Strong-Arm Tactics . . . Until a Misguided Department E-mail Lands in MY E-mail

   As reports came out of the Grant Directors’ meeting in Washington, DC (note that I am the Outside PBIS Consultant on three current School Climate Transformation Grants), I decided to get clarification on what actually occurred.

   Hence, I e-mailed Carlette KyserPegram, the U.S. Department of Education’s Program Manager for the School Climate Transformation Grant in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools.  I also copied Ms. KyserPegram’s supervisors in her office, as well as Frank Brogan, the Assistant Secretary in charge of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

   My February 3rd (9:40 PM) e-mailed asked her:

  • To clarify the Department’s position on how Grant Awardees should contract with—as required by the Grant’s Request for Proposals—outside PBIS Consultants to help guide the implementation of grant activities at the district and school levels;
  • To validate the reports that Grant Awardees were strongly “encouraged” to use consultants from the National PBIS TA Center; and
  • To explain why only representatives from the National PBIS TA Center made presentations for an entire day of the two-day Washington, DC conference. . . when other non-TA Center PBIS national consultants—some who worked on successful School Climate Grants during the first 2015 to 2019 Grant “run”—could have been invited.

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   On February 4th (9:03 AM)—not 12 hours later, Ms. KyserPegram responded as follows:

Good Morning Dr. Knoff,

I am not sure exactly what your heard or were told regarding information given out at our recent School Climate Transformation Grant – Local Educational Agency (SCTG-LEA) new grantee meeting; however, it appears from your email that you may have been misguided. At no time during the meeting were grantees told they could not use consultants outside of those affiliated with the National PBIS TA Center. What we did share at the meeting is that the National PBIS TA Center (as well as other TA Centers) receive funding from the US Department of Education to provide technical assistance to our grantees. Participants were given an overview of these centers in an effort to help them understand the Centers’ purpose and available resources. We encouraged grantees to take advance of any and all relevant, useful, and appropriate resources available to them at no cost through these Centers.

As is relates to contracting, we remind all grantees procurement transactions using SCTG-LEA grant funds must be conducted in a manner consistent with the standards in the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, located in 2 CFR 200.317-200.326. This section requires that grantees use their own procurement procedures (which reflect State and local laws and regulations) to select contractors, provided that those procedures meet certain standards described in the sections mentioned above. Grantees who did not follow the procurement standards will likely need to implement a corrective action and/or revise their procurement plans.

As it relates to the PowerPoints slides you attached to your email, I am not sure of its relevance to the recent meeting as those were presented to the FY2018 SEA cohort.

If you have remaining questions or concerns, feel free to reach out for additional clarity.

C. KyserPegram

  [ NOTEThis is Ms. KyserPegram’s entire, unedited response. ]

_ _ _ _ _

    Later that day (February 4th) at 12:38 PM, I followed-up with Ms. KyserPegram (again copying her supervisors, Tina Hunter, Nicole White, Rita Foy Moss, and Assistant Secretary Brogan).

   Among the points in this e-mail were the following (direct quotes below):

1. I have now heard from all three grantee contingents of professionals who attended last week's Washington DC meeting. The clear consensus is that virtually all of Tuesday was an "info-mercial" for the PBIS National TA Center, and that there was an implicit "sell job" pushing attendees from using only consultants from the Center.

In fact, a number of my colleagues were so disheartened about the irrelevance of the information that they left the Tuesday sessions early.

4. I appreciate your reiteration of what grantees need to follow relative to outside consultants. However, that is not what some in your audience heard. One of my superintendents was so taken aback by the consultant-selection discussion that she thought she was going to have to re-start her entire grant. It was only because she was with her on-site Project Director (who ran one of the first 2014 School Climate Grants) that she was told that their selection of their outside consultant was acceptable.

I was told that two attendees asked, at the Washington meeting, what they needed to do if they were using a non-PBIS National TA Center consultant. They were quickly told that "that was OK"—but the clear impression/message from your Department presenters was that that was "out of the norm."

In the end, I reiterate my belief that there should be an immediate e-mail clarifying this situation with/to all SCTG grantees with a clear statement that grantees have the right to choose their own PBIS consultants—and that these consultants do not need to be affiliated in any way with the National PBIS TA Center.

5. Finally, my colleagues thought that the Tuesday sessions would have been far more useful if a diversity of different PBIS models and consultant (not all from the TA Center) who had directed SCTGs from the FIRST cohort had presented.

This again, echoes my belief and recommendation that your Office needs to invite other national PBIS experts—who do not use the National TA Center's framework and are unaffiliated with the Center-- to the next four national SCTG meetings—giving them "prime" time slots on the agenda. Moreover, I believe that your Office need to commit to and ensure that there are at least an equal number of presentations at these meetings relative to PBIS TA Center representatives versus "Other" Non-affiliated TA Center National PBIS experts.

_ _ _ _ _

   Given how quickly Ms. KyserPegram responded to my first e-mail, I was surprised that I did not hear back from her in a timely way.  And so, on February 8th at 2:46 PM, I e-mailed her again to ask about a response.

   Critically, as I e-mailed her back, I also knew that she had been calling different LEA School Climate Grant sites—some that had contracted with PBIS Consultants who were not from the National PBIS TA Center . . . (a) asking them about their contracting procedures, and (b) telling them that, if their procedures did not conform to U.S. Department of Education regulations, their grants could be audited, and they could be required to pay back (already expended) grant funds.

   Significantly:  The U.S. Department of Education’s Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) explicitly states (Section 75.515) that:

Subject to Federal statutes and regulations, a grantee shall use its general policies and practices when it hires, uses, and pays a consultant as part of the project staff.


  • The Department of Education’s statutes defer to the district’s own policies and practices (with deference to federal state law and statute) to guide its hiring of outside consultants;
  • The School Climate Transformation Grant’s Request for Proposals (RFP) explicitly stated that LEA’s should hire an outside PBIS consultant as part of the application and implementation process (see the Department’s Program Description of this Grant on its website—cited above); and
  • The Grant RFP (sent out in late May, 2019) directly quoted EDGAR 75.515 (as above).

   So. . . if Districts knew these requirements even prior to applying for this grant. . . if they were re-told this information at the end-of-January Washington, DC Directors’ meeting . . . why would the U.S. Department of Education’s Program Manager for this Grant be calling—unannounced—District leads to “remind” them about this requirement—telling them also that they might be audited and need to repay grant funds?

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   On February 13th at 2:08 PM (nine days after my second e-mail, and five days after my reminder e-mail), I heard back from Ms. KeyserPegram as follows:

Good Afternoon Dr. Knoff:

Attached please find the slides that you requested.

As indicated in the attached slides, the PBIS TA center is a U.S. Department of Education grantee whose purpose is, among other things, to assist SEAs and LEAs that received or will receive School Climate Transformation Grants (SCTGs) with developing and implementing PBIS frameworks that are designed to keep students engaged in instruction and improve academic outcomes.

See https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/07/25/2018-15928/applications-for-new-awards-technical-assistance-and-dissemination-to-improve-services-and-results.

The PBIS TA center does not advocate for, fund or support the implementation of any singular approach to PBIS, and the Department does not endorse any particular product or model of PBIS. As the Department funds the PBIS TA Center to provide no-cost technical assistance to SCTG grantees, the presentation gave SCTG participants information about the Center’s resources and services available to them. However, SCTG grantees are free to use consultants of their choosing in addition to, or instead of, the services of the PBIS TA Center, and this is what we communicate to grantees. As I said in my earlier email, at no time during the meeting were grantees told they could not use consultants outside of those affiliated with the PBIS TA Center.

C. KyserPegram

  [ NOTEThis is Ms. KyserPegram’s entire, unedited response. ]

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   At this point, I figured we were done. 

   Even though Ms. KyserPegram (a) totally ignored my request for “equal time” for PBIS presenters—not from the National PBIS TA Center—at future Washington, DC Directors’ meetings, and (b) she refused to address how some LEA Grant Directors felt at last month’s meeting. . .

   I knew that her “sanitized, politically-appropriate response” meant that I was not going to receive an honest admission from her.

   BUT. . . what happened next completely shocked me !!!

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   At 3:43 PM on February 13—less than two hours after receiving Ms. KyserPegram’s response, I received the following unexpected and incorrectly routed e-mail from Rita Foy-Moss who is a Program Officer in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Office of Safe and Healthy Schools.

   Sending the e-mail to Carlette KyserPegram, and copying it to Nicole White, Ms. Foy-Moss e-mailed simply:

   “Good show!

     Thank you.


   Seven minutes later, at 3:50 PM, Ms. Foy-Moss e-mailed again, saying:

   “Foy Moss, Rita would like to recall the message “SCTG and the U.S. DoE’s Singular Promotion of the PBIS TA Center and Staff”

   The title of the recalled message was the title of the e-mail that I had originally sent to Ms. KyserPegram over the past week.

_ _ _ _ _


   Clearly, Ms. Foy-Moss mistakenly included me on her e-mail list.

   Just as clearly, she was positively reinforcing her colleague, Ms. KyserPegram for the e-mail that she sent to me.

   But what exactly was she reinforcing???

   My interpretative hypotheses of her cryptic message is that Ms. Foy-Moss was reinforcing Ms. KyserPegram for writing me an e-mail that:

  • Was written in such politically vague and/or correct language that no one could question that motives or actions of the U.S. Department of Education relative to the School Climate grant or the Washington, DC meeting;
  • Reinforced the U.S. Department of Education’s procurement policies without taking the pressure off of School Climate grantees who are not using National PBIS TA Center consultants;
  • Did not acknowledge—much less confirm—my request to clarify the impressions of some School Climate grantees who felt pressured to work with National PBIS TA Center consultants and to utilize their PBIS framework in their grants;
  • Avoided addressing my requests (to Ms. KyserPegram) for “equal time” for PBIS presenters—not from the National PBIS TA Center—at future Washington, DC Directors’ meetings; and
  • Maintained the practices within the U.S. Department of Education of promoting the PBIS framework and work of the Department-funded National PBIS TA Center.

   Ultimately, whatever Ms. Foy-Moss intended, she must have been concerned (horrified???) enough about her e-mail “getting into the wrong hands” to have sent me a retraction within seven minutes.

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   It has not been a “state secret” that the U.S. Department of Education has singularly advocated and promoted the use and funding of the PBIS framework that it initiated and has helped to develop since 1998.

   What is shocking is how the Department has gotten away with it—especially as critical members of Congress who oversaw the respective Education Committees were briefed about the problem during the Reading First debacle, and how the Department’s Inspector General was asked to investigate the situation over a decade ago.

[CLICK HERE to read the entire history in a recent Blog: 

“The Art of Doubling Down: How the U.S. Department of Education Creates Grant Programs to Fund and Validate its own Frameworks—The Tainting of RtI, PBIS, MTSS, and SEL”]

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   Moreover, there are no illusions that Ms. Foy-Moss’ faux-pas is going to change anything—from a political or even Departmental perspective.

   The U.S. Department of Education will continue this tact as long as they can (continue to) get away with it.

   What needs to change is that educators across the country need to recognize that the program evaluations conducted on the PBIS framework have demonstrated that the framework as currently structured is not successful

   And these same educators need to take these results and the information in this (and previous) Blog(s) as a “call to arms” to discontinue their affiliation with the National PBIS TA Center—and its state affiliates—and to utilize other proven, evidence-based approaches.

   As I have shown in many past Blog messages, the federal general and special education laws (i.e., ESEA and IDEA) do not require the PBIS framework

   They require a generic consideration of how positive behavioral supports (separately) and interventions (separately, and in lower case terminology) can be applied to assist students, staff, and schools in the areas of school climate, and social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.

   At the very least, there is an appearance here that the U.S. Department of Education is guilty of a conflict of interest. . . or that it has sustained—across years, and staff, and grant programs—an actual conflict.

   When and how will the actions needed be taken?