Monday, May 22, 2017

Despite A’s at Gompers, former student talks about feeling unprepared

First I want to say that it was brave and generous of UCSD student Felipe Morfin Martinez to come forward and say that his K-12 education did not adequately prepare him in science. I'm glad he brought that issue to the attention of the public.

I noticed that Felipe blames only the director of his high school--not his teachers--for his lack of academic preparation in science. I think Felipe is allowing his good personal relationships with his teachers to interfere with his assessment of the situation.

I believe that Felipe was short-changed, but I believe the problem started in elementary school, and I believe that teachers share the blame as much as principals.

Also, I suspect that Gompers doesn't provide adequate remediation for kids who didn't learn basic concepts in elementary school.

Also, it's possible that Felipe wasn't really much interested in science. He says,

"I wanted to do science and I guess it clicked on me when I was probably in 10th grade or ninth grade where it was like, ‘my dreams aren’t going to happen because I can see it. I’m not ready for that, I’m not prepared for that.’"
Why would he give up on science in "10th grade or ninth grade"?

I know from personal experience that an effective teacher can teach kids to thoroughly understand math and science concepts. Felipe's problem isn't that his classes weren't advanced enough.  Felipe must have taken courses up to and including pre-calculus to get into UCSD. He could also have taken two more years of calculus.

The problem is that only a minority of kids deeply understand basic concepts. And often those kids learned more at home than at school.

During my years teaching in elementary school I far too frequently heard teachers claiming that the math was too hard for any teacher to understand. I once contradicted such a teacher, and then I learned to keep my mouth shut.

The problem is a lack of basic education in elementary school and a lack of remedial education in the higher grades. And you need super good teachers to make remedial education fun and fascinating. You can't just have hacks that pass out easy math worksheets...

inewsource

inewsource published an investigation last week into the quality of education at Gompers Preparatory Academy — a nationally recognized charter school that promises “students can succeed at the university of their choice.” After the story ran, Felipe Morfin Martinez came forward to share his experience.

Morfin Martinez graduated from Gompers in 2016 and was awarded a full-ride scholarship to the University of California San Diego where he is studying communications.

He told inewsource that he realized early in his Gompers education that he wasn’t being challenged in his classes. Despite earning straight A’s, he said, he knew he wasn’t prepared to achieve his dream of pursuing a career in science. When he shared his concerns at home, he said, his parents responded: “You don’t believe in yourself, look at your grades.”

Morfin Martinez says he’s proud of his straight A’s at UCSD, “but they’re not the classes I wish I could take. They’re not organic chemistry, they’re not the chemistry series, the math series, they’re not the classes that people value.”...

Friday, May 19, 2017

All Kids Can Have Great Teachers (Without Firing Any Teachers

The best teachers should be able to rise far above average teachers on the salary scale — and they should have far more responsibility. All Kids Can Have Great Teachers (Without Firing Any Teachers

No one really knows what’s going on in individual public school classrooms. Observations by principals tend to be fleeting and few. We don’t need to fire anybody, but we do need to use highly-skilled teachers and ordinary teachers where they can do the optimal good.

The truth is that the critical moments in learning don’t happen continuously five hours a day. They add up to at most a couple of hours each day, and probably much less.

The rest of the time an ordinary teacher can handle lesson reinforcement, computer activities, art projects, silent reading, etc.

The best teachers should be able to rise far above average teachers on the salary scale — and they should have far more responsibility. In my plan, each classroom would have a full-time regular teacher.

Several classrooms would share a master teacher, who would be responsible for student progress, teaching lessons part-time and guiding the regular teacher.

Gifted regular teachers would be eligible to become master teachers. Instead of bringing in vendors selling the latest gimmick for tens of thousands of dollars, master teachers would do all necessary training.

Here’s the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300
New plan: $100+$50+$50+$50+$50 = $300 (minus exorbitant cost of education vendors)

If we add more money, we could have more master teachers. Meaningful evaluations of teachers would have to be instituted. Current evaluation systems are worse than useless.

My plan would call for frequent observations by both master and regular teachers, who would observe classrooms in other districts to keep school politics at bay. The observations would have a beneficial side effect: they would allow teachers to pick up new ideas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Catherine Lhamon, ACLU attorney in LAUSD last-hired/first-fired case, talks about Betsy DeVos



Catching up with Catherine Lhamon
By Benjamin Wermund
02/09/2017
 

The Obama administration’s actions to combat campus sexual assault rocked higher ed. Now, college leaders and advocates are wondering what to expect from the Trump administration. 

Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who previously ran the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under President Barack Obama, says she’s dismayed that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hasn’t spelled out her position on the federal enforcement role in campus sexual assault. 

Lhamon said she would’ve expected DeVos to walk into her Senate confirmation hearing prepared to say whether she would maintain the Obama administration's guidance that spelled out the standard of evidence for sexual assault administrative hearings at colleges and universities. 

“I would have hoped that she had heard from all sides before that date, but I look forward to her getting up to speed,” Lhamon said. “Also, I noted with interest her saying that her mother's heart is ‘piqued’ by the issue. I hope it is piqued in ensuring civil rights for all students under her charge.”

— DeVos, who started work on Wednesday, did not specifically mention the issue of campus sexual assault in a speech to staff. But she said she's committed to ensuring that students have "learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm." At her confirmation hearing, DeVos said it would be premature to say whether she’d keep the existing guidance in place...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Study: students who got vouchers did much worse than students who didn't

"They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point."

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins
Kevin Carey
NYT
FEB. 23, 2017

...In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Three consecutive reports, each studying one of the largest new state voucher programs, found that vouchers hurt student learning. Researchers and advocates began a spirited debate about what, exactly, was going on.

Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution noted that the performance gap between private and public school students had narrowed significantly over time. He argued that the standards, testing and accountability movement, for all its political shortcomings, was effective. The assumed superiority of private schools may no longer hold.

Some voucher supporters observed that many private schools in Louisiana chose not to accept voucher students, and those that did had recently experienced declining enrollment. Perhaps the participating schools were unusually bad and eager for revenue. But this is another way of saying that exposing young children to the vagaries of private-sector competition is inherently risky. The free market often does a terrible job of providing basic services to the poor — see, for instance, the lack of grocery stores and banks in many low-income neighborhoods. This may also hold for education...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

High school and college classes should start later

Down With 8 A.M. Classes: Undergrads Learn Better Later In The Day, Study Finds
April 19, 2017
Sara Sarwar
NPR

" College classes start too early in the morning for students' brains.

"While most colleges have start times of around 8 a.m., Jonathan Kelley advises NPR Ed that the ideal start time would be more like 10 or 11 a.m. The reason: People fall into different "chronotypes," which people know as "early birds" and "night owls." In this sample, night owls outnumbered early birds by far. The reasons for this are biological, says Evans.
"

Are we actually setting kids back with our emphasis on academics in kindergarten?

I've been in education for 20 years, and there's a disturbing trend afoot in kindergartens around the US
Christopher Brown
Business Insider
Apr. 17, 2017

Being a kindergartner today is very different from being a kindergartner 20 years ago. In fact it is more like first grade.

Researchers have demonstrated that 5-year-olds are spending more time engaged in teacher-led academic learning activities than play-based learning opportunities that facilitate child-initiated investigations and foster social development among peers.

...Here's how play helps children

Research has consistently shown classrooms that offer children the opportunities to engage in play-based and child-centered learning activities help children grow academically, socially and emotionally. Furthermore, recess in particular helps children restore their attention for learning in the classroom.

Focus on rules can diminish children's willingness to take academic risks and curiosity as well as impede their self-confidence and motivation as learners — all of which can negatively impact their performance in school and in later life.

Giving children a chance to play and engage in hands-on learning activities helps them internalize new information as well as compare and contrast what they're learning with what they already know. It also provides them with the chance to interact with their peers in a more natural setting and to solve problems on their own. Lastly, it allows kindergartners to make sense of their emotional experiences in and out of school.

Friday, April 14, 2017

This researcher asked kids what's wrong with U.S. schools. Here are their ideas.

Who knows the most about school? Students.
Alisha Huber
Upworthy
May 22, 2015

This is not news: America does pretty badly when it goes up against other countries academically. This is true even if we take it one state at a time—no single state, no matter how wealthy or small, matches the top scoring countries...

New report alleges decades of sexual abuse at elite Connecticut prep school

UPDATE:

Ex-Choate Teacher Spent Years Working In Connecticut Schools After Sex-Abuse Accusations David Altimari
Hartford Courant
April 14, 2017

One of the 12 former Choate Rosemary Hall teachers accused this week of sexually abusing students has spent most of the 18 years since the allegation surfaced as a teacher and administrator at Connecticut public schools that were not made aware of his past, including as a Litchfield high school principal until last week.
Jaime Rivera-Murillo was one of 12 former teachers at the prestigious Wallingford boarding school accused of inappropriate relations with students in a blistering 48-page report released Thursday by Choate officials.
Rivera-Murillo, who resigned as principal at Wamogo Regional High on April 6, was accused by a 17-year-old girl of forcing her to have anal sex in a swimming pool during a 1999 school trip to Costa Rica, the report said.
Rivera-Murillo, who denied the allegations to school investigators, was fired from Choate in 1999. He subsequently worked as a teacher at Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury, Harrison High School in New York and Newtown High School, where he was also assistant principal.
None of the schools was notified of the allegations until Choate informed the superintendent of the Wamogo district last month, just before Rivera-Murillo was placed on leave...

ORIGINAL POST:

It seems that a lot of schools and churches readily cover-up sexual abuse of children. Board members should insist on being informed of all allegations of abuse, and should be held responsible.

Public schools seem to be as bad as, if not worse than, private schools in covering up problems.


New report alleges decades of sexual abuse at elite Connecticut prep school
washingtonpost.com
Peter Holley
April 14, 2017

Choate Rosemary Hall is known for being one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, an institution with alumni like President John F. Kennedy, two-time presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson and playwright Edward Albee.

The elite Connecticut private school is also a place that has for decades fostered a pattern of sexual abuse and misconduct between teachers and students, according to a troubling new internal investigation initiated by the school to address abuse allegations.

...The report names 12 former Choate faculty members who engaged in what it said were substantiated instances of sexual misconduct with Choate students dating back nearly 60 years, five of whom are no longer living. The report recounts the alleged abuse in explicit detail, documenting the experiences described by 24 survivors, some of them as recently as 2010.

The report notes that in some cases the school acted swiftly to address the alleged abuse, but in many cases the school failed to alert police or allowed faculty members to resign, avoiding serious legal consequences.

“The detailed content of this report is devastating to read”...

Friday, January 27, 2017

If stubborn education attorneys had settled case of girl forced to pee in a bucket, San Diego Unified wouldn't have to pay over $1.29 million

A student was forced to urinate in a bucket during class. She sued — and won.
A Southern California classroom was filled with high school freshmen when one of them realized that she needed to run to the restroom.

Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, however, had a policy at the time stipulating that students were not permitted to take bathroom breaks during class — and the teacher took a strict interpretation of it.

The teacher, Gonja Wolf, forbid the 14-year-old girl from leaving the classroom that Wednesday in February 2012. Instead, she let the girl pee in a bucket, then empty it in a classroom sink, according to a lawsuit.

The gossip reportedly spread through the school, then hit the news media, leading to the girl’s anxiety, depression and an attempted suicide.

Now five years later, the San Diego Unified School District was ordered Wednesday to pay the student, who is now 19, more than $1.25 million in damages and $41,000 to cover medical bills, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Something like this never should have happened to a 14-year-old girl just entering high school,” Brian Watkins, an attorney for the teenager, told the newspaper this week. “She took the stand and told a really embarrassing story, she told the jury how this has affected her life and how she is still working through issues.”

The ruling Wednesday concluded a years-long court battle in the Superior Court in San Diego.
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2012 against Wolf and the San Diego Unified School District, claims that on Feb. 22, 2012, the girl was forced to urinate in a small supply room next to the classroom and then take her urine back into the classroom for disposal. The lawsuit argues it was done to “humiliate and disgrace” the girl for trying to use the restroom during class time.

It states:
In the presence of several of [the student’s] male classmates, Wolf told [the student] that she could not leave the classroom regardless of the urgency of the situation and that she would have to pee in a bucket if she really needed to go. These instructions were explained in the presence of said classmates and Wolf then took [the student] to a small room and instructed her to pee in a bucket, then empty the contents in an unused classroom sink, and finally return the bucket back to the room.
The lawsuit alleges that the girl “was given no choice except to comply with these instructions.”...

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ivanka Trump and Evita Peron: does a chilling foreboding cause shivers in your spine?

Does Ivanka do a more eerily accurate impersonation  of Evita than Madonna did in the 1996 movie? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qauSHc0UU



Ivanka Trump                                                                Evita Peron

Here are the descamisados, then and now:

UPDATE April 20, 2017

The cult has begun:

Ivanka Trump Has Huge Chinese Fan Club Worshiping ‘Goddess Ivanka’
Eric Baculinao
NBC News
April 20, 2017

BEIJING — Ivanka Trump is fast becoming a cult figure for many in China, her popularity spiking so much there is already an online fan club dedicated to "Goddess Ivanka" with thousands of followers.

The boost in the first daughter's appeal has been such that her Chinese lawyers are currently filing several trademark applications in her name in a bid to stop hundreds of copycat Chinese companies cashing-in on her brand.

The applications in China have involved a bewildering array of products, from jewelry and underwear, to mattresses and formula milk powder — all filed in the name "Ivanka Trump" or similar sounding names since her father became U.S. president...


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Improving children's executive functions

Why Executive Function Is A Vital Stepping-Stone For Kids’ Ability to Learn
brain
iStock/manopjk

...STRATEGIES
  • Breathing buddies: Students lie down on the floor with a favorite stuffed animal on their chests. They slowly breathe in and out, watching the animal rise and fall. This helps students calm down when they are upset and gives them a strategy to implement when they feel themselves getting worked up.
  • Teachers keep “meta boxes” in their classrooms full of fidget toys students can use to help them pay attention when they feel like they need to move.
  • When transitioning between subjects or recess, teachers often play calming music and let only five kids in at a time to limit the chaos.
  • Many elementary school teachers have had the experience of asking a question, seeing many hands in the air, but then calling on a student who says he forgot. That could be a working memory problem. Some Carlisle teachers are proactively addressing this by letting those kids record their thoughts on paper or a device so they can contribute when they’re called on.
  • Carlisle was an early adopter of Wexler’s Activate program, too. The iPad lessons focus on typical working memory games that require students to remember the order of things, progressively getting harder as the game develops. The physical games reinforce the online learning with social interactions that help embed the memories in movement. Mass ball is one game that requires students to throw a ball in a specific sequence. Students have to juggle paying attention to the order and catching the ball.
  • Carlisle teachers also have students do a lot of balancing games, which help with executive functioning. Teachers might ask students to walk on a line balancing bean bags on their heads or to do the same walk on tiptoe. Teachers also use relay races to get kids moving, since exercise alone helps with executive functioning.
Adults have an attention span of about 12 minutes with a fully developed executive functioning system, so it’s no wonder kids can’t focus without a break. “It cannot be overemphasized that all of us need to be thinking about taking information in smaller chunks,” said Malinda Mikesell, the reading supervisor for the Carlisle Area School District. She said kids need an opportunity to do something with the information on their own before having the chance to reset for the next chunk of information...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Discipline in schools: are the adults worse than the children at Horton and Castle Park Elementary Schools?

Here are two stories of misbehavior at schools. In the first, students became noisy in the cafeteria and grabbed a bathroom pass from an employee's pocket. In the second, teachers celebrated the last day of school by saturating curtains, walls, upholstered furniture and carpet in the teachers lounge with soda and desserts that were left over from parties in their classrooms.

Too many adults in schools confuse authority with power. They think whoever has power gets to do whatever they want. Quite a few teachers and administrators are as desperately in need of lessons in respect as the worst-behaved students.

Story One

ACLU criticizes S.D. elementary school for forcing students to plank

San Diego Union-Tribune
Dec. 5, 2016
Horton Elementary School in southeastern San Diego has come under fire for disciplining students for misbehavior by forcing them to hold a plank position on a hot blacktop surface, which the ACLU said amounts to corporal punishment.

An incident occurred in October when a ruckus erupted in the cafeteria after a student reportedly took a bathroom pass from an employee’s pocket. The school replaced open recess for fourth- and fifth-graders with structured exercising, including the plank or push-up position.

Some of the students’ parents were banned from campus for 14 days under threat of prosecution after they complained to the principal...

San Diego Unified disagrees that corporal punishment was used, rather Horton “modified open recess” for the students for three days “as a result of unruly behavior displayed by students during the lunch period on Oct. 14,” district spokeswoman Shari Winet said in a written statement...

The rowdy lunchtime incident prompted staff to summon the principal, Staci Dent, who arrived at the cafeteria to find some students pounding on their desks or tables...

According to the ACLU and parent complaints filed with the district, students were “forced to get into a push-up or ‘plank’ position, and hold the pose for a significant period of time, potentially as long as several minutes.” Some developed blisters on their hands after they “were forced to hold their hands against the scalding hot blacktop” or face time in juvenile hall, according to the principal’s threats, the ACLU said in its letter to Marten.

...The principal sent “stay away” letters to at least four parents informing them they were banned from campus for 14 days under a provision in the Penal Code. The letters threatened the parents with arrest and prosecution should they “enter onto district property in the future and should they cause disturbance or disruption....Read more here.



Story Two--Food Fight at Castle Park Elementary
by Maura Larkins
Dec. 11, 2016

There was a huge food fight at Castle Park Elementary School when I was a teacher there.

The walls, furniture and carpet of the teachers lounge were saturated with sodas and cake on the last day of classes. It took the custodians over a week to clean it, and another week for it to dry. There were absolutely no consequences for any of the immature, negligent teachers who made the mess. (No students were involved.)

The next year one of the teachers returned to the lounge on the last day of school wearing a raincoat. She was planning to do a repeat performance, but no one else was interested.

The teacher in the raincoat (I'll call her "R" for raincoat) had a habit of becoming enraged when students weren't suspended when she demanded it. She and her "family" (I kid you not; that's what her clique of teachers called themselves) controlled the principal and the district administration.

"R" also caused huge legal bills for the district and was finally transferred out as part of the "Castle Park Five" when the district tried to retake control of the school from the rogue teachers.

Ironically, David Loy, chief counsel for the San Diego ACLU, went out of his way to cover-up everything that happened at Castle Park Elementary. He went out of his way to undermine my First Amendment rights in this law suit. I suspect that some wealthy ACLU donor (someone like Irwin Jacobs) gives large donations to the ACLU and in return asks the San Diego ACLU to foster his pet projects, one of which is to increase the arbitrary power of school administrators. Irwin Jacobs is my top suspect because he has spent huge amounts of money trying to mold schools to fit his vision, which even included packing the SDUSD board with unelected board members.

I think the adults at Horton Elementary would have been more successful at encouraging kids to value self-control if they involved the kids in some highly organized but fun physical activities.


Friday, December 09, 2016

Who wants to help rich parents pay for preschool? Trump and San Diego Unified

Also see "Trump’s plan intended to reduce high cost of childcare through tax breaks" at EdSource.

The Learning Curve
By Mario Koran
Voice of San Diego
December 8, 2016

Tax deductions and rebates are at the heart of President-elect Donald Trump’s child care policy proposal, writes EdSource, a plan that would offer the most help to high-income families, some help to middle-income taxpayers and not much help at all to low-income parents.

“The plan very much tilts towards high-income families who need the least help,” said Elaine Maag, senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

There’s widespread agreement among education experts that access to quality, early education programs can pay dividends for students in school later in life. There’s also widespread agreement among parents that costs can prohibit families from taking advantage. In August, San Diego Unified announced – to much fanfare – that it was launching a “game changing” Preschool for All initiative. Despite its catchy title, however, that initiative amounted to letting parents pay up to $1,060 for a full day preschool spot. In other words, San Diego Unified’s initiative gave high-income parents an affordable preschool option, but did little for middle- and low-income parents who couldn’t afford what San Diego Unified is charging. In that way, San Diego Unified’s Preschool for All initiative isn’t so different than Trump’s proposal.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A new computer program that morphs faces reverses racial bias in children

Researchers developed a facial photo-matching game that reverses racial bias in children
Lila MacLellan
Flipboard.com
Nov 3, 2016

In a recent study from Yale University, preschool teachers were found to spend more time watching African-American children, and especially boys, for signs of misbehavior, than they did children of other races. 

Sadly, this didn’t surprise anyone who knew it to be true from experience.
"Yale study suggests racial bias among preschool teachers" https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/09/27/yale-study-suggests-racial-bias-among-preschool-teachers/ …
More science to prove what black people already knew

These findings, which were published in Child Development, led the scientists to believe that the children were likely extending a negative perception about an unknown race to all people of that category. This is a symptom of the so-called “other-race effect,” which makes it challenging for a person to make distinctions between the individual faces of another race. (It’s at play when you hear someone make the cringe-inducing comment that people of one group “all look alike to me,” but it doesn’t always suggest underlying racism.)

Because learning to individuate faces has been shown to reduce race-based implicit bias in adults, the researchers decided to test the method with children...

Is the dumbest person on the staff in charge of the school?

In my experience there are many school administrators who aren't the brightest bulbs on the porch. In addition there is a problem of arrogance and egotism and lack of empathy in some principals' offices. But if dressing as Donald Trump was a dumb thing to do, voluntarily posing with a woman dressed as Hillary in prison garb was much worse. One wonders if this principal and his secretary planned this display.

Virginia principal dresses as Trump, secretary as Clinton in prison garb
by Vernon Freeman Jr.
Daily Kos
November 2, 2016

R.E. Lee High School website/Emberly Lynn Martin Facebook
Principal Mark Rowicki dressed as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump 
and School secretary Stephanie Corbett dressed as Hillary Clinton. (R.E. Lee High 
School website/Emberly Lynn Martin Facebook)

STAUNTON, Va. – Some Virginia parents are outraged after the Principal at Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton dressed up as Donald Trump and a school secretary dressed as Hillary Clinton, in prison garb, for Halloween.

A photo of pair was posted on the school’s website in a Halloween photo album of costumes worn by students and staff...

The photo has since been removed.

Since the photos went public, parents in Staunton have criticized the administration for the “politically charged costumes” on school grounds.

One of those parents was Emberly Lynn Martin, who graduated from the high school and has two daughters.

“I don’t care who you are or are not voting for. You are professionals, who work with children. Some more impressionable then others. The fact that any school official would think it’s okay to dress like this leaves me appalled and floored,” Martin wrote on a Facebook post with the controversial image. “What message are you sending to any of them when their high school principal dresses up like a man who wants to deport them, says things like “she’s a nasty woman”, or “grab em by the p—–?”...

Sunday, September 04, 2016

A typical American school? This school doesn't want this parent to talk about what's going on in classrooms

 This sounds just like my school: those in charge don't want to talk; they have spies and a gossip mill to keep everyone in line; power depends on politics, not professionalism; the goal is to present a facade of a smooth-running machine to the public.

I believe there should be a whole lot more open, honest communication at schools.

I like the idea of parents creating their own groups outside the control of the PTA, and inviting teachers and principals to come and talk to them. I do think that more time should be set aside for teachers to communicate with parents and with each other. I think the school should make sample iPads available for parents to peruse, but I think I might feel uncomfortable if another parent were photographing my child's written or digital work.

I also think teachers need to be paid a lot more, and be more accountable.


Is this volunteer parent an enemy spy? A school district treats her like one.
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post
September 4, 2016

March 18 was a typical day for Melissa Dana, a parent and physician who volunteers as a classroom aide in Falls Church City schools. Her local elementary school was having an Ancient Civilizations Festival. She played a 15-minute video for each class and helped students use an app on their iPads to write Chinese calligraphy.


As instructed by the school’s teachers, she checked to see if the children were working just on calligraphy and not other parts of the app. Curious about what her child was learning, she looked at some of the apps. She took screen shots so she could view them later at home. She noted what students were doing with the technology and took some photos of what was on their iPads without identifying any student.

She also asked her child’s teacher about the activity, chatted with another teacher who was a friend and, on her way out, stopped to talk to the librarian.

That’s when it gets weird. All of her movements were reported to Falls Church City Schools Superintendent Toni Jones.

Photo:  Supt. Tori Jones

Jones called Dana in five days later and gave her a letter saying she better watch her step. “Please accept this as a formal notification that making interview or meeting requests and impromptu questioning which causes staff to feel uncomfortable is not appropriate during the course of the school day and/or on school grounds,” said the letter, which ended with “Regards, Toni.”

Despite 14 years of unpaid effort on behalf of the city’s schools, Dana was told by Jones she would no longer be allowed to volunteer if she did not mend her ways.

Dana has been a critic of Jones. Such tension between school leaders and active parents is common but rarely reported. School districts say they welcome outsider involvement. The Falls Church City school board’s mission statement says “our schools must be responsive and accountable to the community.” But parents like Dana often feel a chill if they ask too many questions.

In a statement, the school district said Jones warned Dana in part because “we are careful to protect student privacy and data.” It also bothered staff that Dana had asked to meet with staff members “on more than 20 occasions” during the school year and “wrote over 2,100 emails to 145 separate FCCPS email accounts,” according to the statement.
The best teachers I know like dealing with parents. A teacher who worked last year at an elementary school told me a majority of her colleagues “were thrilled that Melissa was asking questions.” Jamie Scharff, an International Baccalaureate teacher at George Mason High School, said he has “never met a parent as sincerely dedicated to helping the schools” as Dana.

Jones’s letter accused Dana of “attempting to log on inappropriately to at least one technology device, and taking random pictures not associated with tasks assigned to you in your role as a parent volunteer.” Dana said the charge of logging on inappropriately was “absolutely false” and “I was taking very specific pictures of the activity to which I was assigned.”
What bothers me most is the school district presenting her large number of emails as a sign of misbehavior. Dana told me she was concerned by teacher complaints of mismanagement and made hundreds of contacts with parents and teachers, plus school board members. What’s wrong with that? She said 234 people emailed her their support for a satisfaction survey she was advocating.

In May, several people, including Dana and her husband, formed a group called The Falls Church Way, seeking more input on school policy for parents, teachers and community members. The group wants the board to include staff, parents and community members in its evaluation of Jones this month. Jones has agreed to meet with the group every month.
School officials often consider such groups a nuisance. But asking questions can lead to meaningful change. Smart administrators know that and listen carefully to parents before threatening to ban them from volunteering.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.

Neil Hamburger
"The best teachers I know like dealing with parents."

You must not know many teachers. The best teachers resist dealing with parents because parents want their snowflake to be given less work, or easier work, or to have their C bumped up to an A for no good reason. The sheer amount of nonsense parents ask for is outrageous. Bad teachers just succumb to it because they don't care.
Gator1151
I see the school district superintendent came from Oklahoma. You could ask those parents if they were sad or glad to see her go. But who tattled on the volunteer to start this mess? Looks to me like those elementary school teachers need adult supervision themselves.
Sean Derry Teachers are in the business of managing the education of children, not managing adults. I don't think the average person in the public realizes how little time teachers have to belabor the minutiae of school policy with parents. Your child's teacher is usually dealing with 20-25 children and their parents. That is one person serving as the contact point for 60-75 people, plus the demands of paperwork, planning and dealing with whatever management throws at them.

Volunteers should volunteer. No teacher trying to assist 20 plus little children needs an adult volunteer who needs monitoring and attention. Would you walk into an ER and follow the staff around taking pictures and asking questions after a major car crash? By the way, a child's identity and image is private and schools are legally obliged to be discreet. Do you want a volunteer in your child's classroom to be wandering around and snapping pictures for unknown reasons? Think about it.

Most schools have steering committees that involve parents. This volunteer should join or start such a committee and stick to actually volunteering in the classroom.
taverngeek
The risk for school administration is that involved parents and volunteers can decide to run for the school board and become the administrator's boss. It is far better for administration to answer questions than risking inspiring a questioning person to run for the local school board. 
Kary Bear
Sounds like typical office politics to me. 'Office politics' means 'bullying and pressure to fit in' really just worded in a more adult way for grown ups who don't want to admit they act just like kids. But it's normal, sadly, and what goes on in any work place or any place where many people work together, unfortunately. It's just a part of life, and when someone feels on edge because they worry you might threaten their security, their job, or even their unaccounted for corruption, they will retaliate most of the time. That's when you need to cross all your t's and dot all your i's and sorry, but, snapping photos in a classroom setting without permission is wrong. So of course they're going to use it against someone when they're just looking for something to use against you. They can't know for sure what she took a picture of, and taking pictures of other children's phones and such, IS inappropriate.
MatthewWP
What's Jones hiding?
MontereyTwilly
3:20 PM PST [Edited]
She sounds like a great employee to me. This is so common in schools and in business, an employee does great work and their superiors get threatened. Jones should be investigated.
pcwag
Guilty of impersonating a real teacher, which today borders a crime.

A typical American school? This school doesn't want this parent to talk about what's going on in classrooms





March 18 was a typical day for Melissa Dana, a parent and physician who volunteers as a classroom aide in Falls Church City schools. Her local elementary school was having an Ancient Civilizations Festival. She played a 15-minute video for each class and helped students use an app on their iPads to write Chinese calligraphy.
As instructed by the school’s teachers, she checked to see if the children were working just on calligraphy and not other parts of the app. Curious about what her child was learning, she looked at some of the apps. She took screen shots so she could view them later at home. She noted what students were doing with the technology and took some photos of what was on their iPads without identifying any student.
She also asked her child’s teacher about the activity, chatted with another teacher who was a friend and, on her way out, stopped to talk to the librarian.


That’s when it gets weird. All of her movements were reported to Falls Church City Schools Superintendent Toni Jones. Jones called Dana in five days later and gave her a letter saying she better watch her step. “Please accept this as a formal notification that making interview or meeting requests and impromptu questioning which causes staff to feel uncomfortable is not appropriate during the course of the school day and/or on school grounds,” said the letter, which ended with “Regards, Toni.”

Despite 14 years of unpaid effort on behalf of the city’s schools, Dana was told by Jones she would no longer be allowed to volunteer if she did not mend her ways.

Dana has been a critic of Jones. Such tension between school leaders and active parents is common but rarely reported. School districts say they welcome outsider involvement. The Falls Church City school board’s mission statement says “our schools must be responsive and accountable to the community.” But parents like Dana often feel a chill if they ask too many questions.

In a statement, the school district said Jones warned Dana in part because “we are careful to protect student privacy and data.” It also bothered staff that Dana had asked to meet with staff members “on more than 20 occasions” during the school year and “wrote over 2,100 emails to 145 separate FCCPS email accounts,” according to the statement.
The best teachers I know like dealing with parents. A teacher who worked last year at an elementary school told me a majority of her colleagues “were thrilled that Melissa was asking questions.” Jamie Scharff, an International Baccalaureate teacher at George Mason High School, said he has “never met a parent as sincerely dedicated to helping the schools” as Dana.

Jones’s letter accused Dana of “attempting to log on inappropriately to at least one technology device, and taking random pictures not associated with tasks assigned to you in your role as a parent volunteer.” Dana said the charge of logging on inappropriately was “absolutely false” and “I was taking very specific pictures of the activity to which I was assigned.”
What bothers me most is the school district presenting her large number of emails as a sign of misbehavior. Dana told me she was concerned by teacher complaints of mismanagement and made hundreds of contacts with parents and teachers, plus school board members. What’s wrong with that? She said 234 people emailed her their support for a satisfaction survey she was advocating.

In May, several people, including Dana and her husband, formed a group called The Falls Church Way, seeking more input on school policy for parents, teachers and community members. The group wants the board to include staff, parents and community members in its evaluation of Jones this month. Jones has agreed to meet with the group every month.
School officials often consider such groups a nuisance. But asking questions can lead to meaningful change. Smart administrators know that and listen carefully to parents before threatening to ban them from volunteering.
8

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.
Neil Hamburger
"The best teachers I know like dealing with parents."

You must not know many teachers. The best teachers resist dealing with parents because parents want their snowflake to be given less work, or easier work, or to have their C bumped up to an A for no good reason. The sheer amount of nonsense parents ask for is outrageous. Bad teachers just succumb to it because they don't care.
Gator1151
I see the school district superintendent came from Oklahoma. You could ask those parents if they were sad or glad to see her go. But who tattled on the volunteer to start this mess? Looks to me like those elementary school teachers need adult supervision themselves.
Sean Derry
Teachers are in the business of managing the education of children, not managing adults. I don't think the average person in the public realizes how little time teachers have to belabor the minutiae of school policy with parents. Your child's teacher is usually dealing with 20-25 children and their parents. That is one person serving as the contact point for 60-75 people, plus the demands of paperwork, planning and dealing with whatever management throws at them.

Volunteers should volunteer. No teacher trying to assist 20 plus little children needs an adult volunteer who needs monitoring and attention. Would you walk into an ER and follow the staff around taking pictures and asking questions after a major car crash? By the way, a child's identity and image is private and schools are legally obliged to be discreet. Do you want a volunteer in your child's classroom to be wandering around and snapping pictures for unknown reasons? Think about it.

Most schools have steering committees that involve parents. This volunteer should join or start such a committee and stick to actually volunteering in the classroom.
taverngeek
The risk for school administration is that involved parents and volunteers can decide to run for the school board and become the administrator's boss. It is far better for administration to answer questions than risking inspiring a questioning person to run for the local school board. 
Kary Bear
Sounds like typical office politics to me. 'Office politics' means 'bullying and pressure to fit in' really just worded in a more adult way for grown ups who don't want to admit they act just like kids. But it's normal, sadly, and what goes on in any work place or any place where many people work together, unfortunately. It's just a part of life, and when someone feels on edge because they worry you might threaten their security, their job, or even their unaccounted for corruption, they will retaliate most of the time. That's when you need to cross all your t's and dot all your i's and sorry, but, snapping photos in a classroom setting without permission is wrong. So of course they're going to use it against someone when they're just looking for something to use against you. They can't know for sure what she took a picture of, and taking pictures of other children's phones and such, IS inappropriate.
MatthewWP
What's Jones hiding?
MontereyTwilly
3:20 PM PST [Edited]
She sounds like a great employee to me. This is so common in schools and in business, an employee does great work and their superiors get threatened. Jones should be investigated.
pcwag
Guilty of impersonating a real teacher, which today borders a crime.