Friday, July 29, 2011

Anatomy of a Journalistic Success and a Journalistic Failure at Voice of San Diego regarding public records

Voice of San Diego's Will Carless triumphs but Emily Alpert fails to get public records from local agencies. Click here for comparison.

I suspect that VOSD editor Andrew Donohue and CEO Scott Lewis are the ones who decide how hard to press for public records. I wonder if Buzz Woolley, the financial mainstay of Voice of San Diego, has let them know that he wants top school administrators and their lawyers to be treated much more gently than redevelopment administrators.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Shelia Jackson brouhaha makes me ask: Which newspaper is better, the San Diego Union-Tribune or the Voice of San Diego?

UPDATE: July 29, 2011
Here are my latest comments on the Jackson story in Voice of San Diego:

You guys are doing something wrong. I don't think your decisions are motivated by race, but the unbalanced racial makeup of the people you choose to attack exposes a problem. I'm not talking about the top elected officials. I am talking about how VOSD chooses which of the other 3 million people in San Diego to attack, protect, or discuss. There's something wrong with your methodology when so many of the people attacked are black women. There is something arbitrary and inequitable about your methods. The law of probability indicates that you are somehow pulling some of the cards out of the deck before the game begins.

You are exposing your methods unintentionally. The same thing happens with people who cheat on their taxes. The IRS spots them by looking for certain numbers that tend to pop up more frequently in the tax filings of people who are cheating. They use statistics to spot the fraud, without even looking at the reasons given for deductions.

VOSD has stepped gingerly around some stories, and stepped heavily into other stories.

The people that get the gentler treatment from VOSD tend to be white, not because VOSD is racist, but because, I suspect, the people whom Buzz Woolley and the rest of the top dogs at VOSD want to protect happen to be white. People high up on the food chain in San Diego schools are treated gently (and the superintendent there is a black man), while people who rank lower take the heat. Also, people down at SEDC get harsh handling.

Obviously, commenter "bigfan" doesn't like Shelia Jackson, and doesn't want to question VOSD's motives for choosing to attack Jackson while staying silent on more important issues in schools.

My point is that I think VOSD chooses stories for the wrong reasons, but not necessarily for racial reasons. But one must suspect that something is wrong when there is such a surfeit of black women being attacked. The laws of probability are being violated. The choices seem arbitrary. It appears that people are attacked if they are not on the protected list.

Let's look at the facts. When Regina Petty at SEDC wouldn't turn over public records, VOSD went after her with a vengeance. We were treated to 13 "Petty Watch" posts. It took two months of "almost constant hounding" to get SEDC to release public records.

But VOSD reported that when it asked for records from the County Office of Education "that would show if the trips were given to the agency rather than the employee, it didn't provide any." VOSD didn't begin an aggressive "Crosier Watch." No constant hounding. The difference in treatment was not due to the fact that the SEDC lawyer was black and Diane Crosier, the lawyer in charge of keeping public records out of public view at the County Office of Education, was white. It's because Petty had no friends at VOSD, and Crosier apparently does. I call it friendship when you meekly accept a "no" answer to a public records request instead of doing all you can to shame Diane Crosier into turning over the records.

I'm not saying VOSD shouldn't cover the Jackson story. I'm saying that we can clearly see that there is a problem when racial patterns emerge so clearly in VOSD stories. I'm saying VOSD needs to start telling the whole truth about schools in San Diego. And it should start with a "Crosier Watch."


My opinion of the San Diego Union-Tribune has been on the rise since it covered the Dan Puplava story about financial company kickbacks to an employee of San Diego County Office of Education.

On the other hand, the SDUT has kept the secrets of lots of powerful people in San Diego Schools.

For this reason, I never expected the SDUT to cover the story when school attorneys managed to get Judge Judith Hayes to issue an injunction saying I couldn't mention them on my website--or even speak their name. I wasn't surprised that no one from the SDUT was there on July 11, 2011 when USD law professor Shaun Martin spoke on my behalf before the California Court of Appeal in San Diego. He did a great job. On the other hand, when the presiding justice asked the opposing attorney if he had any case law to support his position, he said he couldn't find any cases. "I tried! Believe me, I tried!" he whined.

While I had no expectations of the SDUT, I was surprised and disappointed that Voice of San Diego would keep this story quiet. My only explanation is that Buzz Woolley, the chief financial supporter of VOSD, is very much a supporter of school administrators, and this support apparently extends to their attorneys. VOSD apparently wants to protect the secrets of those attorneys even when (or especially when) they obtain unconstitutional injunctions that violate the right to free speech. It also seems to want to protect them when they help schools keep secrets from voters.

Just a few weeks ago I complained to editor Andrew Donohue and CEO Scott Lewis that VOSD had repeatedly protected powerful white men while going after less-powerful black women in the same organization. In each case, the more powerful person knew or should have known what was going on, but VOSD didn't hound them with public records requests. It went after Regina Petty at SEDC with a vengeance, but never took such a stance with Diane Crosier at SDCOE. Instead of an aggressive campaign like the "Petty Watch" against SEDC attorney Regina Petty, VOSD meekly reported, "But when VOSD asked for records that would show if the trips were given to the agency rather than the employee, it didn't provide any. Instead, the County Office argued that in the past, it just wasn't required to report gifts given to the agency. Despite repeated questions, the agency gave no further explanation of why it wouldn't have to report those gifts."

SEDC Chairman of the board Chip Owen had to notice that huge amounts of money were being saved because employees left without being replaced. How did he explain that the agency kept coming in barely under budget? Why is it only his subordinate Carolyn Smith (and her finance director Dante Daycap) who are facing criminal charges? Owen was in charge, for heaven's sake! He was responsible for oversight! Everyone says he's sharp and effective. If that's true, he knew.

The case was similar to the problems in another redevelopment agency across town, where Nancy Graham (a white woman) took all the heat, and her boss, Fred Maas, resigning discreetly about a year after the excitement had passed

VOSD has also been very polite in its public records requests to SDCOE. In addition, it has found no reason to write about Dan Puplava and Diane Crosier's legal issues, and has gone silent on the story of Diane Crosier's odd relationship with the attorney to whom she gives millions of dollars worth of work. Meanwhile, VOSD triggered a state investigation of a lower-level SDCOE employee who recommended that a tiny fraction of the legal work be given to her husband's firm. You guessed it,Crosier is white, the other employee is a black woman.

When I complained, VOSD assured me that it was just a matter of chance that it so aggressively attacked black women. But black women are just 5% of the population. How does VOSD manage to find so many of them to pursue?

Still, I was willing to believe that VOSD wasn't racist. I figured it was simply protecting the powerful, and, of course, the powerful tend to be white and male.

Then I learned that VOSD has been following Shelia Jackson around. Now I'm really wondering what is going on over there on Historic Decatur Road. Did I mention that the law firm that obtained the injunction against me is the next-door neighbor of VOSD? Is there something in the water in Liberty Station?

[I should also mention that NBC reporter Rory Devine, mentioned prominently in the VOSD story below, also decided to keep mum about the school attorneys who got Judge Hayes to protect their secrets from exposure.]

Five Possible Problems on Jackson's Residency
July 27, 2011
by Emily Alpert

We teamed with NBC7 San Diego to do a television version of our story about questions swirling over where San Diego Unified school board member Shelia Jackson lives. Here it is:

Reporter Rory Devine did a good job breaking down this complicated story. She explained that there are three possible problems here:

• Whether or not Jackson lives in the area of the school district she was elected to represent.

We saw Jackson coming to a Kearny Mesa apartment complex late at night or leaving in the morning four times in a week, raising questions about whether she lives there. Jackson says she does not. The apartment belongs to her daughter and Jackson says she stays there a few nights a week. The schools trustee, however, also used that address as hers when registering a business in August last year.

• Whether it is appropriate for her to accept free rent from a San Diego Unified employee.

Jackson says she lives rent-free in her district at a home owned by Gwendolyn Kirkland. Jackson voted with the rest of the board to approve choosing Kirkland as an interim principal last year.

Jackson and Kirkland both argue that she was not swayed by the free rent; Jackson also said she had no role in the selection process that led up to Kirkland being presented to the school board...

Remarks on this subject:
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

Well, thank goodness the voice, in its zeal to uncover the truth about School Board member Shelia Jackson's legal domicile, mentioned that back in the day it was deemed perfectly okay for School Board President Ron Ottinger to live outside his District D at Coronado Quays and to send his youngest child to Coronado High School.

But Ottinger was rich and Anglo and could maintain a condo in the Gaslamp to keep up the fiction that he was a resident of District D. Ottinger also was the linchpin on the School Board threesome that kept Alan Bersin in business, so there was no way he was going to be sacrificed to some legal nicety that people are supposed to live where they are elected from. That residency rule was proved by Ottinger to be highly flexible.

In contrast, Shelia Jackson is African-American and working-class...

How Finland became an education leader

How Finland became an education leader
Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains how the nation achieved extraordinary successes by deemphasizing testing
By David Sirota
Jul 18, 2011

How has one industrialized country created one of the world's most successful education systems in a way that is completely hostile to testing? That's the question asked -- and answered -- in a new documentary called "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System." Examining the nation with one of the most comparatively successful education systems on the planet, the film contradicts the test-obsessed, teacher-demonizing orthodoxy of education "reform" that now dominates America's political debate.

On my KKZN-AM760 radio show, I talked to Harvard researcher Tony Wagner, who narrates the film and who is the author of the 2008 book "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need -- And What We Can Do About It." The interview became the basis for my recent newspaper column on the subject. Because that column generated so much feedback, I wanted to publish this abridged transcript of our larger discussion. You can listen to the full interview here.

What has Finland achieved, and what's the history behind its improved education system?

In the early 1970s, Finland had an underperforming education system and a pretty poor agrarian economy based on one product -- trees, and they were chopping them down at a rapid rate that wasn't going to get them very far. So they knew they had to completely revamp their education system in order to create a true knowledge-based economy.

So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland's performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.

So, Finland basically focuses on teachers and not on domestic testing. Those PISA tests that you cite are international assessments.

That's absolutely right. There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is "Trust Through Professionalism." The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that's without any testing at all...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the "I could have told you that" files: if everyone gets merit pay, it doesn't work

Merit pay study of New York City schools misses the mark
If anything, study proves building-wide bonuses are pointless
July 19, 2011
Education Action Group
Ben Velderman, project manager

Yesterday, the RAND Corporation released the results of a study that found merit pay had no effect on increasing student achievement or teacher motivation.

Teacher union supporters are gleefully promoting this study as proof that merit pay does not work.

Before the RAND study enters the information bloodstream and is accepted as conventional wisdom, Education Action Group would like to point out two serious concerns we have with the study:

First, buried three paragraphs from the bottom of RAND’s press release announcing the results, is this little stink bomb:

“Researchers also found that a majority of the schools disseminated the bonuses equally among staff, despite program guidelines granting school committees the flexibility to distribute the bonus shares as they deemed fit.”

In the summary, the study’s authors elaborate:

“About 31 percent of schools reported using individual performance as at least one of the factors for determining awards. The remaining schools either did not differentiate or reported using only factors related to time or job title but not individual performance.”

The authors go on to note the 31 percent of schools that actually recognized individual performance “generally remained cautious about deviating from egalitarian awards and slated 74 percent of staff, on average, for the modal award amount.”

This seems to be the research equivalent of a t-ball game in which everybody gets a hit and scores a run. If nearly every teacher is receiving “merit pay,” then it ceases to be actual merit pay, and becomes a kind of generic bonus that won’t motivate anybody. This throws the study’s findings into serious question...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Which teachers are substandard? Who knows?

Teacher Implores Union to Renegotiate
June 14, 2011

HunterJim posted

Sarah missed the part where the function of the teachers union was explained -- that would be to protect the jobs of the bad teachers.

Teachers at each school know who should not be teaching, but the union doesn't want to hear that. They want more teachers who will them pay more dues. As a taxpayer I would rather see fewer good teachers who can then teach the larger classes, and less expensive schools. We could even give the good teachers the raises that they deserve.

jim dodd

mlaiuppa posted

That's right. We do know. At Monroe Clark we all talked about the math teacher who did her real estate and travel agency work during class time, while her aide did all of the teaching and grading. And how this teacher walked out of her classroom three times. (This was years and years ago.)

Her behavior was the talk of the campus. We all wanted her fired because she reflected badly on our profession. I finally went to the Principal to ask that she be documented so she could be terminated because that is the process for termination.

He refused. He said if he did that and gave her a poor evaluation then if she wanted to post and bid out of the school no other school would take her and we'd be stuck with her. He was hoping she'd leave voluntarily instead of being forced. She should have been fired. Instead we were stuck with her for three years and then she went to some other school where I'm sure she was just as bad.

Principal refused to do his job. Thankfully he soon retired. He went into the EduCorp. business.

Unions make the district follow the contract. If the administration refuses to do their job, not much can be done. It isn't the union's job to fire teachers. It is the union's job to make sure the district follows the contract. There are provisions and processes for terminating a permanent employee. If the administration is too lazy to follow them, that is not the fault of the union.

Maura Larkins posted
I am not convinced that Hunter Jim and mlaiuppa really do know which teachers should be fired. Mlaiuppa gives a single example of a teacher who behaved outrageously, but there may have been others at the school who did an equally bad job while playing politics well enough to avoid criticism. I knew a special education teacher who never seemed to speak to her students at all except to make sure that they did not speak or move. Most of the time she sat at her desk, and her aide went around answering the students' whispered questions. She was chosen teacher of the year by a small committee of her pals on the staff. We need unbiased observers doing observations and evaluations.

Maura Larkins post script:
The more I think about Mailuppa's post, the more I am wondering if this supposedly horrible teacher actually did anything wrong. Mailuppa gives the impression that this teacher simply walked away from the school three times. Shame on Mailuppa if the teacher just ran to the bathroom. And anytime a teacher sits and corrects papers during class time, he or she is taking away from instruction time. Plenty of teachers use their prep time to sit in the lounge and gossip. Perhaps studying for a real estate test was a one-time aberration for this teacher, done in an emergency. I suspect Mailuppa may have been one of those gossiping in the teachers lounge about this particular teacher! There is a lot of logical inconsistency among human beings, and this might be an example of just such faulty reasoning.

What we need is a consistent, apolitical system for evaluating teachers.

How a School Board Makeover Fizzled

Heaven knows that the voters often fail to do their homework before voting, and there are big problems with the teachers union. Still, democracy and unions are two institutions that help keep our country livable. Our schools are better off with them than they would be without them. I am glad that we won't be turning SDUSD over completely to board members and administrators who like to wield arbitrary power behind closed doors.
But hey, CTA, how about a little more effort to create a plan to effectively evaluate teachers? The current system is a total flop. CTA doesn't like usi student test scores, so it should come up with another plan. The status quo is not acceptable. I can certainly understand the frustration of SD4; I just don't agree with the tactics of Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs.

How a School Board Makeover Fizzled
Jul 12, 2011
by Emily Alpert

The backers of an unusual plan to remake the school board turned in their petition with a bang. The mayor was there. So was a former state senator known for her controversial stands on schools. They were confident that it would move ahead, having gathered roughly 40 percent more signatures than the bare minimum they needed, a big margin for error.

Now their plan is going out with a whimper, killed not by tough debates or attack ads but just about the most mundane thing imaginable: It didn't get enough signatures to get onto the ballot.

The campaign said it turned in 133,000 signatures, more than the roughly 93,000 they needed. City Clerk elections analyst Denise Jenkins put the count a little lower, slightly shy of 130,000 signatures. The County Registrar of Voters sampled 3 percent of them and projected roughly 88,000 valid signatures, lower than the bar needed to put the initiative on the ballot.

That was so close that elections officials were legally bound to count every signature to be sure. So they went over every one and found 90,000 were valid, but more than 39,000 were not.

That comes out to almost one third of the signatures. Seventeen percent of all the signatures came from people who weren't registered to vote. Eleven percent were duplicate signatures. The rest were for a scattering of other reasons, including being in the wrong district or not including an address.

"It's kind of mind-boggling," said Erica Holloway, a spokeswoman for San Diegans 4 Great Schools. Holloway said they had already fished out some duplicate signatures before turning them in.
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Its downfall was strikingly similar to a bid by City Councilman Carl DeMaio to dramatically change contracting and outsourcing in the city last spring. DeMaio turned in more than 134,000 signatures, but a random sampling of 3 percent of those signatures found an unusually high number of duplicates, disqualifying it. The signature effort fell so far short that it did not qualify for a hand count.

Both campaigns hired the La Jolla Group, a political consulting firm led by Bobby Glaser, to gather signatures. I left a message for Glaser this morning to ask about the signatures and how it could come up so far short. I've also phoned Tom Shepard, another consultant on the campaign, but we haven't yet connected

Local politicos who have worked on other campaigns say the error rates are high.

Conservative political consultant Jen Jacobs, who worked DeMaio's aborted campaign, said she normally prepares for 10 to 15 percent of signatures to be tossed. (In this case, 30 percent were disqualified.) The firms that are paid to gather signatures are supposed to verify signatures to catch duplicates and unregistered voters.

Evan McLaughlin, political and legislative director for the regional Labor Council, which has spoken out against the school board measure, was stunned that one of every nine signatures was a duplicate.

"Firms should be double-checking these," McLaughlin said.

A group of philanthropists, business leaders, parents and others led the push to remake the school board. Known as San Diegans 4 Great Schools, they argued that expanding the school board and changing the way it was chosen would depoliticize the school board and reform a school district that was failing too many kids.

It would have expanded the board to include four new members appointed by a committee of university chiefs, parent leaders and a business representative. It would also have imposed term limits on school board members and changed the election system so that board members only ran within smaller subdistricts, instead of campaigning for votes from everyone in the school district.

Existing school board members and the teachers union opposed the idea of appointed school board members, calling it elitist and undemocratic. Labor leaders saw it as a power grab against the teachers union, which has been the biggest political force in recent school board races.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Helping Weakest Students Could Cost This School

That clashes with the gentler take on school reform that San Diego Unified has put to the test at Burbank, one that has steered clear of showdowns with the teachers union.

Helping Weakest Students Could Cost This School
Jul 20, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

The last bell had rung at Burbank Elementary. But the math problem still sat stubbornly on the screen before the handful of third graders who lingered with teacher Fred Montes on a hot afternoon.

The children stared up at the numbers under a whirring ceiling fan. Montes coaxed them through long division, step by step. Then the kids tried the next problem alone, scribbling on little white boards on their laps.

"Ready?" Montes asked before they went over the problem.

"To go home?" one boy asked.

"It's 3:03. We're not going home yet!" Montes exclaimed.

This is one way that Burbank is trying to turn around years of sagging test scores: Montes and other teachers choose to stick around and tutor kids who faltered on state tests. The Logan Heights school pays for the extra hours with a windfall of federal money meant to overhaul the very worst schools. It is slated to get $4 million over three years and already was awarded more than $1.1 million this year.

Now that treasured money could be in jeopardy — and all because Burbank focused on its weakest students. To extend the day, the school tutored struggling students after school. It also served up extra lessons for them during breaks. Teachers could volunteer to work more hours for more money.

But the feds say schools were supposed to add more school time for all children, not just some of them. Giving students more time to absorb lessons is a big push for the Obama administration, which has touted longer school days and a longer school year to help youngsters in the United States compete with China and India. California has warned schools like Burbank they must change their ways or lose the money.

That is stirring up confusion across California and at Burbank here in San Diego. The most obvious way to make sure all students get more time is to lengthen the school day and make all teachers stay there longer. Public schools cannot do that unless they square off with their teachers union over work rules.

That clashes with the gentler take on school reform that San Diego Unified has put to the test at Burbank, one that has steered clear of showdowns with the teachers union. And teachers aren't even sure that a longer day would be better for all kids, instead of just the ones who need the most help.

Last year California branded Burbank as a persistently failing school, one of only six called out in San Diego County...

KaiserPapers prevailed in 1st Amendment Lawsuit

This case involves yet another plaintiff who refuses to be deposed. If they don't have a case, they shouldn't file a lawsuit. Some people use the courts to bankrupt and intimidate, not to seek justice. In this case the plaintiff and developer, Stuart Lichter, who refused to be deposed for seven months, and was ordered by the court to do so, suddenly withdrew the case with Prejudice.

KaiserPapers prevailed in 1st Amendment Lawsuit
December 1, 2009

...The Kaiser Permanente Reform Committee [website: The Kaiser Papers] has been in existence for over a decade...In January 2008, KPRC created a section on the Kaiser Papers website known as The Downey section: Always the advocate for the public, the KPRC began to educate itself on the background and the projects surrounding the property. As with all other advocacy projects, it was KPRC’s intention to educate the public on the background of the Downey Property while also presenting material for the use of medical professionals and attorneys to assist the people that became ill while working on the properties.

Over a year ago, Stuart Lichter, the developer of the property, of IRG/Industrial Realty Group filed a defamation lawsuit against the Kaiser Papers; its owner Vickie Travis; Dina Padilla, a Congressional candidate; and two of the injured parties that became ill while working on the Downey Property.

In this lawsuit, the website, all of the Kaiser Papers, over 20,000 pages worth, was accused of presenting material that offended the developer. It is the KPRC’s belief that all of the parties first amendment rights were violated when the parties were sued and demands were made to eliminate not only the Downey Section but the entire Kaiser Papers advocacy website.

During this time, the Kaiser Papers website was hacked over 15 times
and other parties gained access to the Kaiser Papers website illegally and without authorization. The FBI has been involved and is still receiving information as of December 1, 2009. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been following the case for months. The Kaiser Papers website and all related websites were vandalized with the majority of the illegal alterations taking place one day before the court hearings.

...[On November 13, 2009] the Plaintiff and Developer, Stuart Lichter, who refused to be deposed for seven months and was ordered by the court to do so, suddenly withdrew the case with Prejudice. The lawsuit dismissed With Prejudice indicates that they can never again bring the same accusations in a court of law against any of the involved parties or the Kaiser Papers websites.

Patient safety and consumer advocates have seen an increase in Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits. Although the parties involved and the Kaiser Papers website prevailed in fighting against this attempt to violate the parties’ first amendment rights, it was done so at an extreme detriment to all of the parties involved. This victory may be a victory for advocates across the country that may also face a challenge to their civil liberties but it is still a hardship for Leonard Martin. Although Mr. Martin had initially prevailed against this harassing lawsuit, Mr. Lichter filed an appeal against him. Consequently, this injured party, Leonard Martin who is very ill, now has a legal bill to defend his win in court where he had no bill before the appeal was filed.

You may read the court document which is a pdf download at: Encl Endorsed Request for Dismissal.pdf

Thursday, July 21, 2011

60 percent of students in Texas study were suspended or expelled

Peg Myers, the president of Chula Vista Eductors, and former teacher at my school, Castle Park Elementary, would come in to the teachers lounge in the first week of school and identify several new students as troublemakers. Here's the problem. She complained about those same kids for the entire school year! I don't think she realized the implications of her unchanging complaints: she was implicitly admitting that she was not able to help a single one of those children improve their behavior. This also seems to be the case in Texas:

How do school discipline tactics affect children?
Florence Shapiro and John Whitmire
July 18, 2011

..."Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement" found that 60 percent of students studied were suspended or expelled based on an examination of records of nearly a million public secondary school students, spanning their six years of middle and high school. About 15 percent of students studied were disciplined 11 or more; nearly half of those students were involved at some point in the juvenile justice system...

This isn't "No Tolerance." It's More Like " Mo Ignorance!"
Half of Texas' Students Suspended, Study Finds
By Nirvi Shah
Edited by I, Praetorian; MA, PPS, PVC, ATM
July 20, 2011

...“We hope other states will follow Texas’ lead and put their systems under similar scrutiny,” said Michael D. Thompson, director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Justice Center. He raised a key question he said state education leaders should ask themselves: “Is our state’s school discipline system getting the desired results?”
The study found that the average number of days on which students missed at least some class time due to a disciplinary incident was two days for out-of-school suspension, 27 days for a placement at an alternative school, and 73 days if they were placed in a juvenile justice program.

While the numbers gleaned from analyzing student discipline in Texas may be shocking, the state’s rate of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions, at 6.9 percent, is lower than that of some other states, including California, at about 13 percent, and Florida, at about 9 percent.

Repeat Offenders

One statistic uncovered by the analysis of Texas discipline and juvenile justice records was that 15 percent of students were punished by suspension or expulsion 11 or more times. Those repeat actions make the effectiveness of those types of punishments questionable, Mr. Thompson said...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When you sue someone for $900,000 in a public court, you can't expect to keep it a secret

S.C. v. TheDirty
Citizen Media Law Project

On April 14, 2011, plaintiff "S.C." sued TheDirty, a gossip web site that advertises itself as the "first ever reality blogger," and Nik Richie, owner of the web site, for posting allegedly defamatory comments submitted by a third party. According to the complaint, the comments accused the plaintiff, who works at a church, of having an illicit relationship with the poster's boyfriend, and requests $900,000 in damages for defamation, public disclosure of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.The plaintiff claims she has suffered reputational harm in her community and her job as a result of the posting. The plaintiff also filed a motion to seal the case, but the motion was denied.

The defendants answered the complaint on May 17, 2011.

On May 20, 2011, the plaintiff's attorney sent an e-mail to the defendants' attorney stating an intent to add him as a defendant after the defendants' attorney apparently posted the plaintiff's original demand letter online with attachments, thus, in the words of plaintiff's counsel, "perpetuating this defamation." The e-mail also indicated a belief that the defense attorney had become a witness with a conflict of interest in representing TheDirty and Nik Richie.

On July 8, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend her complaint to include additional counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and public disclosure of private facts after defendant Nik Richie posted a copy of the court's order denying the plaintiff's motion to seal on his website. The post included a comment, "now it's game on," and gave readers an opportunity to comment on the matter.

The proposed amended complaint does not include a claim against the defendants' attorney. The defendants have not yet responded to the motion to amend and no ruling on the motion has been issued.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Teacher fired for Facebook photos with alcohol

Former teacher sues BCS
Mike Buffington
November 10. 2009

A former Apalachee High School teacher has filed suit against Barrow County Schools saying she was forced to resign against her will.

In a lawsuit filed on October 15, 2009, Ashley Renee Payne alleges that upon her arrival at work on August 27, 2009, she was “ushered” into the office of Dorann Mansberger, the assistant principal at Apalachee High School, for a meeting with principal David McGee. Payne claims she was provided no advance notice regarding the purpose of the meeting.

According to the court filing, McGee informed Payne that the school system strongly disapproved of her activity on the popular social networking site Facebook. Specifically, McGee objected to photos which showed Payne holding alcoholic beverages while on vacation and a status update which used a pejorative term for females.

According to Payne’s attorney, Richard Storrs, Payne was not shown the photo to which McGee objected, nor was she provided a copy of the photo. Storrs further stated that Payne does not know how McGee learned about the photo.

“We do not know how the photo came to the attention of McGee or the school district,” Storrs wrote. “We do not even know if a photo was provided, or possibly if there was just something described second hand. Ashley certainly had not made any student her ‘friend’ to enable access to her Facebook page.”

During the meeting, McGee allegedly told Payne that her online conduct was unacceptable and that if she did not resign, she would be suspended. McGee further advised that a suspension would adversely affect her chances for future employment. The filing states that McGee told Payne that she “could not win this” and that resignation was her best option.

As a result of the meeting, Payne resigned from the school system immediately.

The lawsuit states that Payne was not informed of her right to a hearing, nor was it disclosed that a suspension could only be for a period of ten days. As a result, Payne claimed her resignation was wrongfully coerced by McGee.

On September 17, 2009, Storrs wrote to the Barrow County School district requesting that Payne be provided with the hearing required by the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act.

Under the terms of the act, a teacher having an employment contract, must be provided with written notice of any alleged charges and allowed a hearing before the local school board to contest the charges.

On September 21, 2009, legal counsel for Barrow County Schools replied stating that Payne would not be allowed to rescind her resignation.

In court documents, Payne’s attorney accuses Barrow County Schools of acting in bad faith, failing to meet the requirements of the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act, being “stubbornly litigious,” and causing Payne “unnecessary trouble and expense.”

Payne is requesting legal relief in which Barrow County Schools will be compelled to provide written notice of the charges against her and arrange a hearing in which she is allowed to contest the charges. The lawsuit further requests that Payne be awarded full compensation under the terms of her contract beginning from the date of her “constructive termination” until such time as she is provided a hearing. Payne is also requesting her legal fees be paid by the school system.

Barrow County Schools public relations coordinator Lisa Leighton declined to comment on the pending litigation saying "We make it a practice to not discuss personnel matters in public. We do this to protect not only the system, but also employees and non-employees."


At the time of Payne’s resignation, Barrow County Schools did not have a policy in place regarding social networking. The Board of Education is set to vote December 1 on a policy governing system employees’ interaction with students via Facebook, MySpace and the Internet in general.

The new policy prohibits employees from establishing personal relationships with students that are unprofessional.

The policy states in part: “Employees who post information on Facebook, MySpace or similar web sites that include inappropriate personal information such as, but not limited to: provocative photographs, sexually explicit messages, use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing must understand that if students, parents or other employees obtain access to such information, their case will be investigated by school and district officials and if warranted will be disciplined up to and including termination, depending upon the severity of the offense.”

The policy further warns that the superintendent or his designees reserve the right to periodically conduct Internet searches to ascertain if employees have posted inappropriate material online.

According to Payne’s attorney, the proposed policy is “incredibly vague and overbroad.”

“It would bar a teacher from having a glass of wine at dinner in a restaurant, because a student might wander by,” Storrs said.

According to Leighton, Payne’s conduct at the time of her resignation was governed by the Professional Standards Commission Code of Ethics which mandates in part that “an educator shall always maintain a professional relationship with all students, both in and outside the classroom.”

Storrs maintains Payne did not violate the ethics code.

“There was no policy proscribing Ashley’s Facebook content and she did not post anything that was unethical or improper,” he said.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rating Teachers: What VOSD Members Think

Rating Teachers: What VOSD Members Think
Updated: Jul 5, 2011
by Grant Barrett

In the last year, a national debate over whether there's a better way to judge teachers has exploded. The Obama administration has pushed schools to use what's known as "value-added data" to evaluate teachers and decide their pay.

A Los Angeles Times investigation last year pushed the issue out of academia and into the mainstream, inspiring strong backlash and fevered discussion.

The idea is simple: Measure how much each child improves over time, instead of simply how high they score.

It is a powerful way to examine the impact of educators and schools, proponents argue, because it strips away kids' inherent advantages and disadvantages.

The idea is also deeply controversial. Statisticians debate whether it is technically possible to tease out how a teacher impacts a student from a multitude of other factors. Teacher unions say tests are a shoddy way to measure teaching in the first place.

San Diego Unified has turned away from Obama's plan and panned the idea of using the data to rate teachers. It has embraced a softer touch: using similar information to study what gets good results.

Last week we surveyed our members (those who have donated to support to ask them:

How should schools use "value-added data" to measure teacher performance?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Instead of laughing at sex doll prank, school has student charged with felony

Teen faces prison after sex doll prank goes awry
The Associated Press
July 5, 2011

When 18-year-old Tyell Morton put a blow-up sex doll in a bathroom stall on the last day of school, he didn't expect school officials to call a bomb squad or that he'd be facing up to eight years in prison and a possible felony record.

The senior prank gone awry has raised questions of race, prosecutorial zeal and the post-Columbine mindset in a small Indiana town and around the country, The Indianapolis Star reported in its Tuesday editions.

Legal experts question the appropriateness of the charges against Morton, and law professor Jonathan Turley at George Washington University posed a wider question about Morton's case on his legal blog.

"The question is what type of society we are creating when our children have to fear that a prank (could) lead them to jail for almost a decade. What type of citizens are we creating who fear the arbitrary use of criminal charges by their government?"

A janitor at Rushville Consolidated High School saw Morton run away from the school May 31, and security footage showed a person in a hooded sweatshirt and gloves entering the school with a package and leaving five minutes later without it, according to court documents.

Administrators feared explosives, so they locked down the school and called police. K9 dogs and a bomb squad searched the building before finding the sex doll.

"We have reviewed this situation numerous times," Rush County Schools Superintendent John E. Williams told the newspaper last week. "When you have an unknown intruder in the building, delivering an unknown package, we come up with the same conclusion. ... We cannot be too cautious, in this day and age."

Morton was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and institutional criminal mischief, a felony that carries the potential of two to eight years in prison.

"I know there has been plenty of pranks done at that school," said Morton's mother, Cammie Morton. "I went to that school. When I heard what they was charging him for, my heart just dropped."

Joel Schumm, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, questioned the validity of the charges.

"Their reaction is understandable, but use the school disciplinary process," he said. "Don't try to label the kid a felon for the rest of his life."

The Rush County Prosecutor Philip J. Caviness told The Associated Press that he doesn't intend to seek a prison term for Morton, but said school officials acted appropriately and that the charges are warranted.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the charges that we've filed," he said.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts focused on Morton's case recently in his nationally syndicated column, suggesting that Morton's case was another example of unfair treatment for a black youth without a wealthy family.

Morton's father brushed off that suggestion when Pitts asked him about it, and Morton's mother declined to discuss that point with The Star.

Morton's attorney, Robert Turner, also downplayed race, suggesting that the size of the small blue-collar city an hour southeast of Indianapolis played a role.

"I don't think they do this sort of thing very often," Turner said. "Had this happened in Indianapolis ... they would not have had this kind of charge filed."

Morton's mother said Tyell Morton wants to attend college, but is worried about the case...

Detroit Charter High Schools Underperform Public Counterparts, Analysis Shows

Detroit Charter High Schools Underperform Public Counterparts, Analysis Shows
Roy Roberts

The majority of the Motor City’s charter high schools underperform the city’s traditional public schools, according to an analysis published Thursday by Detroit News.

The report found that just six of 25 Detroit charter schools had higher math or science proficiency rates on the Michigan Merit Exam than those in Detroit's traditional public schools. The analysis notes that charter schools only surpassed Detroit Public School performance in social studies.

"We were not surprised in that we have consistently believed and said that there are both excellent charter schools and low-performing charter schools as there are both excellent and low-performing public schools," Steve Wasko, a spokesman for Detroit Public Schools, told The Huffington Post.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run, have gained momentum around the country. A surge of laws passed this legislative session expanded the number of charter schools that allowed to open. According to data from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, 1.8 million students attended 5,277 charter schools in the 2010-2011 school year -- an increase of 11.8 percent over the previous year.

Supporters laud charter schools' flexibility and the proliferation of options for parents, while critics condemn them for sucking resources out of public schools and underserving high-need populations. Beyond those objections, the overall efficacy of charter schools is in question. The most authoritative study on the issue -- out of Stanford University in 2009 -- found that only 17 percent of the charter schools studied outperform public schools and that 37 percent "deliver results that are significantly worse" than those expected of traditional public schools.

Studying charter schools in Detroit is particularly important as the city faces a massive enrollment crisis and uses charters as a key component of its "Renaissance 2012" reform plan. Gov. Rick Snyder's recently announced plan to have Detroit's lowest-performing schools answer to a special state-run authority (run by emergency manager Roy Roberts) is still thin on details, but it is known that the new structure will have the authority to charter new schools.

"I think it raises a red flag for the district as they move toward turning over traditional public schools into charter schools," said Marytza Gawlik, who taught at Detroit's Wayne State University until this summer.

And, outside the city, it matters because U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called Detroit -- with its low literacy rate, low performance and mounting debt -- a "ground zero" for education reform, signaling that if performance can increase there, it can happen anywhere.

Wasko, though, said drawing a connection between the charter school analysis and the district's reform plans would be a "flawed" attempt. He said the Renaissance 2012 plan "has quality as its middle name at every level."

"We've carried through that at every step to bring us the highest quality partners who know how to evaluate charter proposals," he added.

Wasko also noted the News analysis considers Detroit charter high schools, whereas the new charters opened as part of the Renaissance plan will not be high schools.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Could the Atlanta Cheating Scandal Happen Here?

Could the Atlanta Cheating Scandal Happen Here?
Jul 7, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

A bombshell broke in Atlanta this week: A state investigation in Georgia found that Atlanta teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on standardized tests for students, a widespread practice that was covered up by area superintendents and ignored by the superintendent.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first raised questions about test scores at some schools more than two years ago, pointing out schools that had seemingly unbelievable gains on state tests in a single year. The school district did its own investigation, which the state rejected as flawed.

Could this happen here in California?

Maybe, but if it does we wouldn't be able to detect some of the same things that Georgia investigators did. Besides looking at massive gains at specific schools, one of the ways that investigators sniffed out cheating was by analyzing erasures: how often wrong answers were erased and changed to right answers. If a school or a classroom has extraordinarily high rates of wrong-to-right erasures, it's a red flag.

But California doesn't collect that data anymore. USA Today mentioned that absent data in a sweeping investigation of cheating across the country earlier this year:

John Boivin, administrator of California's standardized testing program, says his state once conducted random test audits at 150 to 200 schools a year. California dropped the audits two years ago because of record budget deficits. And the state no longer collects data on which schools show unusually high rates of erasures on answer sheets — sometimes a clue, experts say, that either students or school officials might be cheating. Total savings: $105,000.

Instead of auditing or tracking erasures, California relies on school districts to report and investigate any alleged cheating, Boivin told me in an interview earlier this year. But as the scandal in Atlanta shows, school districts may not be the best at policing themselves.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Jury selection begins as Clemens perjury trial opens; judge raps House over audio deposition

Jury selection begins as Clemens perjury trial opens; judge raps House over audio deposition
By Associated Press
July 6, 2011
WASHINGTON — Roger Clemens’ perjury trial opened Wednesday with both sides raising the prospect of calling a roster of former baseball stars as witnesses and the judge angrily criticizing Congress for withholding an audiotape of Clemens’ deposition at the heart of the case.

Clemens is accused of lying under oath to the House Government Reform Committee in 2008 when he denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs during his record-setting career as a major league pitcher. The trial began with an intensive jury selection process expected to last into next week...

Schools' Financial Watchdog Stripped of Powers

Schools' Financial Watchdog Stripped of Powers
Jul 6, 2011
by Emily Alpert

When parents and teachers plead and protest to save beloved programs and people, strapped school districts have had to think twice about whether it is prudent, knowing a higher power is watching.

County offices of education can refuse to sign off on unsound budgets and force school districts to rewrite them if financial projections are flimsy. They can even stop districts from cutting checks. And they have forced school districts to plan two years into the future, explaining publicly how their budgets will be balanced.

Now those powers are on hold.

Schools still have to show the county office that they can get through this coming school year. But this year, the county office cannot judge their budgets for the next year or the year after, the first step that can trigger more intensive interventions to keep school districts solvent. School districts can just disregard their advice on how to keep themselves afloat in the future.

The changes, made with little public discussion, came in an 11th-hour budget passed by Democratic lawmakers last week. They put a pause on oversight powers that were given to county offices of education two decades ago, after several school districts suffered financial meltdowns.

Now the biggest watchdog over school budgets has been pulled back at a time when more and more districts are weighing financial peril against the yearning to cancel painful, unpopular cuts.
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"School districts are under a lot of pressure," said Lora Duzyk, assistant superintendent of business services at the San Diego County Office of Education. "It's hard sometimes to withstand that pressure."

Financial hawks lambasted lawmakers for cutting back on budget oversight and pressed the governor to veto that part of the bill. School Services of California, which advises school districts on finances, argued it would put hundreds at risk of insolvency. The president of the California School Boards Association called it "a statutory invitation to fiscal recklessness."

Teachers unions cheered the move. They argue the decisions should rest solely with the local school board members that voters elect and oust.

County offices tend to be more financially cautious than school boards, a step removed from the political and emotional turmoil of school cuts. While the San Diego County Office of Education does have an elected board, it attracts much less public attention and protest.

"Their budgets are not going to be changed or rejected by someone else," said Jim Groth, a longtime Chula Vista teacher and a board member for the California Teachers Association, the biggest teachers union in the state. "It puts the decision-making back on local districts and local school boards."...

L.A. Unified to spend $20 million on parent centers

L.A. Unified to spend $20 million on parent centers
Los Angeles Times
June 16, 2011

This former one-room school house from 1876 has been refurbished as a parent center at a Vernon elementary school A historic one-room schoolhouse became the backdrop Thursday for a parent-involvement initiative that includes spending $2 million to upgrade or add parent centers across the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The unveiling is part of a pronounced effort by the last two district superintendents to reshape and increase parent involvement. Some parent leaders have questioned the sincerity or at least the competency of the outreach.

It will be up to local schools to find money in their budgets or through fundraising to staff the parent centers.

For years, the quaint, wood-frame 1876 structure -- that looks like it was lifted from the "Little House on the Prairie" tales -- sat marooned in the parking lot of the former, now-demolished district headquarters.

Now the diminutive building has been refurbished and moved to Vernon City Elementary School.

The interior has roll-away desks, laptops, white boards, a play-space for preschoolers and books for children ("We Are a Rainbow") and parents ("Parenting Without Guilt," a homework planner and a guide to help disabled students transition to independent adult life).

Classes in parent centers have included help with parenting, nutrition courses and English-language instruction.

More than half the school system’s 1,000 schools have parent centers in varying conditions.

Earlier, a nonprofit controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa refurbished parent centers at schools under its control, using private donations.

The broader L.A. Unified effort will be paid for largely by voter-approved school-construction bonds. The district hopes to add or improve 300 centers with this tranche of funding.

The assigning of space to a purpose other than teaching could prove problematic in the district's ongoing negotiations with independently operated charter schools.

Charter proponents have said all available school spaces should be set aside for charters in need of classrooms.

The parent center was showcased in the same week that the Board of Education ignored its own process for involving parents in the naming of Los Angeles Central High School No. 9.

The $232-million arts high school on Grand Avenue downtown will be named for recently retired Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, the school board unanimously decided this week.

At the same meeting, veteran parent leaders complained about school officials not following legal guidelines for including them in district decision-making. A few even threatened legal action.

Several years ago, the district disbanded some parent advisory committees.

Parent Judy Haft said she noticed some board members appeared to pay little attention as parents protested the naming of the high school; two had stepped out of the meeting, she said.

"After our group spoke, I watched in utter dismay the behavior of the board as the remaining speakers expressed themselves or poured out their hearts," Haft said. "What a joke."

Some officials have said they want to diminish the impact of "professional parents" who dominate committees, sometimes long after their children no longer attend district schools.

There has been much debate about how to get more parents involved in education. Some experts see the key element as direct one-to-one participation in a child's learning.

Others talk of the need and right of parents to have an actual say in the governance of a school and political power within the school system.

"This is an awful lot of money to put into a specialized room that is not invariably connected to instruction," said district parent and former school board member David Tokofsky. "The real issue is not parent centers; it's customer service.

"It’s not whether you put all the parents in a room. It’s whether anyone who wants to reach out to a school is responded to the way we have come to expect and demand customer service from Jack in the Box or Toyota."

The school board recently did away with allowing parents to vote on school-reform plans for individual campuses, directing Supt. John Deasy to come up with a better way to involve parents in the process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Frontline Examines Bridgepoint Education

I recommend clicking on the headline below to get the original story with many good links in the text:

Frontline Examines Bridgepoint Education
Jun 29, 2011.
by Will Carless

The PBS public affairs show Frontline aired a show on the for-profit education sector last night that focused on the education of military personnel and veterans and took a close look at San Diego-based Bridgepoint Education.

Bridgepoint, which my colleague Liam Dillon and I looked at in our story about the company's extraordinary growth and controversial history, has become one of the largest private employers in San Diego County in recent years.

In its piece, "Educating Sergeant Pantzke," Frontline interviewed two former employees of Ashford University, one of Bridgepoint's two online campuses, who criticized their former employer. Former Ashford enrollment advisor Wade Cutler said he wasn't discouraged to sign up applicants who weren't ready for study.

"They don't say that," Cutler said.

"What do they say?" the interviewer asked.

"They say everybody is a good fit. The military is a perfect fit."

Here's the Frontline video:

Educating Sergeant Pantzke
For-profit colleges promise veterans a high quality degree -- but do they deliver?

The piece examines a trend that has raised concern in the U.S. Senate and in several states across the country. As for-profit universities have boomed, they've attracted a significant share of their revenue from students in the military who pay for their studies via the federal G.I. Bill.

That's a concern to Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who has used the committee he chairs, the Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, to criticize the for-profit education industry and Bridgepoint. From our previous story:

Harkin zeroed in on Bridgepoint two weeks ago in the latest in a series of hearings he has been holding about the for-profit education business. In a lengthy denunciation of the company, Harkin lambasted Bridgepoint for duplicity in its marketing, lavish executive compensation and dismal dropout rates.

The senator pointed out that while Bridgepoint was making record profits last year, 84 percent of the students in its two-year programs were dropping out, according to a sampling of students by his committee.

"In the world of for-profit higher education, spectacular business success is possible despite an equally spectacular record of student failure," Harkin said.

Since the hearing, Harkin has announced that he plans to introduce legislation to tighten the regulation of the for-profit education industry.

Since we wrote our story about Bridgepoint, we've also blogged about the company's continued explosive growth, an investigation of the company by New York's attorney general, and Bridgepoint's boost from weaker-than-expected new U.S. Department of Education federal aid guidelines.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Kaiser has made $5 billiion in profits since 2009 and pays George Halvorson, it's CEO, nearly $8 million a year

Tell Kaiser: Support Health Insurance Reform

Even though it's a "not-for-profit" company, Kaiser has made $5 billiion in profits since 2009 and pays George Halvorson, it's CEO, nearly $8 million a year.

On top of that, Kaiser executives are ignoring their own employees wh are asking for adequate staffing levels at Kaiser facilities, and they're trying to cut benefits for caregivers.

Please sign this letter to Mr. Halvorson, asking him to support AB 52. This bill would give state regulators the authority to reject excessive and discriminatory rate increases.

Please sign this letter to Kaiser asking them to support AB 52.

We, the undersigned, request that Kaiser Permanente support AB 52 to give the state the power to approve or deny proposed health insurance rate increases. This bill will give California the power it needs to protect consumers.

As a "not-for-profit" company, Kaiser has carefully cultivated a progressive image, but your opposition to AB 52 is anything but progressive. As a very profitable not-for-profit, having made $5 billion in profits since 2009, Kaiser certainly does not need the ability to raise rates on customers whenever it wants.

Kaiser has a real opportunity to lead the industry and reform health insurance in the state. Please make the right decision and support the passage of AB 52.