Thursday, February 24, 2011

The poor are getting poorer, the rich richer. Does this mean some teachers have it harder, and some easier?

Feb 23, 2011
Separate but unequal: Charts show growing rich-poor gap
By Zachary Roth
Yahoo News

The Great Recession and the slump that followed have triggered a jobs crisis that's been making headlines since before President Obama was in office, and that will likely be with us for years. But the American economy is also plagued by a less-noted, but just as serious, problem: Simply put, over the last 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm.

Gradual developments like this don't typically lend themselves to news coverage. But Mother Jones magazine has crunched the data on inequality, and put together a group of stunning new charts. Taken together, they offer a dramatic visual illustration of who's doing well and who's doing badly in modern America...

Mar 1, 2011
How liberalism can survive the collapse of union power
By Michael Lind

In last week’s column, I argued that, because unions are likely to play an even smaller role in American politics and policy than they do today, progressives must come up with other strategies for mobilizing ordinary workers and voters to achieve goals like higher wages and a comprehensive system of social insurance. In a response published at Salon, Matthew Dimick of Georgetown University argues that "a liberalism without labor in a nation of staggering levels of economic inequality is even more unlikely."

Dimick notes correctly that universal, contributory social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare become more difficult to justify in a society with highly polarized incomes. He writes:

"It is a brute, if unappreciated, political fact that countries that have more universal social insurance programs also have less inequality in the first place -- that is, less pretax, pre-transfer inequality ... If there is less inequality to begin with, broad and universal social insurance programs look and feel more like, well, insurance, and less like Robin Hood redistribution from rich to poor."

On this point Dimick is correct. He is right, too, about the contribution of unions in other countries in reducing income inequality:

"By reducing pretax, pre-transfer inequality, labor unions broaden the appeal for such programs while also making them more politically feasible."

Dimick’s question is the right one: "The question is what causes lower pretax, pre-transfer economic inequality?" But he is wrong to imply that unionization is the primary factor, rather than one of several factors. Rising inequality is a rubric for a number of different phenomena that happened to occur at the same time in the last 30 years in the U.S., but not in many otherwise similar industrial countries...

Better-than-Average Scores, Big Achievement Gaps in Science

Better-than-Average Scores, Big Achievement Gaps in Science
February 24, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

San Diego Unified did better than the average for large urban school districts on a national science test, ranking fourth out of 17 big city districts in the percentage of students scoring proficient or above.

That may not be surprising, since San Diego Unified also has fewer students poor enough to get free or reduced price lunches than the average big city district, something that tends to make San Diego Unified look good when compared to other urban school systems.

But San Diego Unified also had some of the biggest achievement gaps between its white students and their Hispanic and black classmates, as well as economically disadvantaged students and better off ones, according to an analysis done by the school district itself. Boys also outperform girls.

And even with some of the highest scores among urban districts, San Diego has a way to go, with only 29 percent of fourth graders and 20 percent of eighth graders scoring proficient or advanced on the exam.

...Keep in mind, though, that California lagged near the bottom nationwide on these same science tests, which means San Diego was still behind national scores in both fourth and eighth grade.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Suicide turns attention to high school discipline procedures

Suicide turns attention to Fairfax discipline procedures
By Donna St. George
Washington Post
February 20, 2011

Nick Stuban was all about football, a quick-footed linebacker at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County who did well in the classroom, too: four As, two Bs and a C for first quarter. His history teacher described the 15-year-old as a "model student," and his German teacher was impressed by his enthusiasm for language. His attendance record was nearly perfect.

* Family of Fairfax teen suicide victim wants changes in school disciplinary policies
* A temperance movement springs up to combat Fairfax County schools' zero-tolerance policy
* A suspension, an unraveling and a suicide
* Why school zero tolerance policies make no sense

That changed Nov. 3, when Nick was suspended from school for buying a capsule of a substance known as JWH-018, a synthetic compound with a marijuana-like effect. JWH-018 was legal - Nick had checked it out first on Google - but he soon discovered that he had made a mistake with consequences far beyond anything he expected.

"I don't know what I was thinking," his father recalls Nick saying.

Over the next 11 weeks, his mistake unraveled much of what Nick held close - his life at school, his sense of identity, his connection to the second family he'd found in his football team. Nick's emotional descent was steeper than anyone imagined, and its painful finality brought light to a discipline system that many Fairfax families call too lengthy, too rigid and too hostile.

Nick took his life Jan. 20, the second student in two years to die of a suicide amid the fallout of a disciplinary infraction in Fairfax. In March 2009, Josh Anderson, 17, a football player at South Lakes High School, committed suicide the day before his second disciplinary hearing.

Suicides are never associated with a single cause, experts say. But Nick's difficulties - based on interviews with family, friends, experts and school officials, and more than 100 pages of case documents - allow a close look at how consequences intended to help a student correct course instead can fuel a growing despair.

His story follows patterns described by parents in at least a dozen other Fairfax cases with similar disciplinary consequences. Even first-time offenders are out of school for long periods - a month, two months, longer if an appeal is filed. When they return, more than half are not returned to their original schools and can face difficult transitions - new teachers, new friends and new classes.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale vigorously defends his discipline system...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

MiraCosta pursuing money from Richart

See all MiraCosta College posts.

MiraCosta pursuing money from Richart
Judge awards attorneys fees to Cozad
North County Times - The Californian
February 18, 2011

MiraCosta College appears to be serious about collecting cash from its former superintendent and president Victoria Munoz Richart.

In a San Diego courtroom on Friday, Robert Bower, an attorney representing the college, asked Judge William Dato to schedule a contempt of court hearing against Richart that could give the college more power to collect money it paid her in a June 2007 settlement agreement. A court ruled last year that the settlement was void because it exceeded a state law that limits public employee severance packages to 18 months of salary and benefits.

Dato declined Friday to set the contempt hearing because he is being transferred south from his post at the North County courthouse in Vista to the main central San Diego Courthouse on Broadway. The college will have to ask a new judge in Vista for a hearing, which Bower said he intends to do.

Robert Ottilie, Richart's attorney, was not available for comment Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Leon Page ---- the Carlsbad attorney who successfully sued MiraCosta and Richart over the 2007 settlement ---- signed over his rights to enforce the judgement to the college.

Page said in a previous interview that he now trusts MiraCosta's board of trustees to collect the money, which some estimate as high as $1.2 million. Page supported the campaigns of four candidates who were elected to the college board in November.

The Richart case started with an investigation of illegal palm tree sales from the college's Horticulture Department. During that investigation, some board members and faculty actively questioned her leadership, while the board majority backed her decisions.

Amid the turmoil, Richart and the college reached a settlement, referencing public criticism of Richart that they said had potentially left the college open to a lawsuit. A court first upheld the agreement, but an appeals court later overturned that ruling and found in favor of Page.

On Friday, Dato also ordered MiraCosta to pay $472,804 in legal fees to Page's lawyer Ronald Cozad.

In a written ruling, Dato stated that "Page's action plainly enforced an important right affecting the public interest and conferred a significant public benefit."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Being bilingual delays Alzheimer's

Keep Sharp, Master More Languages, Delay Alzheimer's
Medical News Today
18 Feb 2011

A new study shows that bilingual patients did not contract Alzheimer's, the worst phase of dementia until five years later than their monolingual compadres. Mastering a second language can pump up your brain in ways that seem to delay getting Alzheimer's disease later on.

Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto discussed this phenomenon at the AAAS conference in Washington D.C. this week. Once annually, AAAS sponsors an international conference-four days of symposia, lectures, seminars, workshops, and poster sessions that cover every area of science, technology, and education. Nearly 1,000 scientists present new and exciting multidisciplinary research and developments to nearly 8,000 attendees who will participate in the meeting and network with colleagues.

Until recently, much of the study of bilingualism has centered on babies, as scientists wondered why simply speaking to infants in two languages allows them to learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one. Their brains seem to become more flexible, better able to multitask. As they grow up, their brains show better executive control, a system key to higher functioning as Bialystok puts it, "the most important part of your mind."

Bialystok took the time to study 450 Alzheimer's patients, all of whom showed the same degree of impairment at the time of diagnosis. Half were bilingual, and the rest monolingual.

The bilingual patients had Alzheimer's symptoms and were diagnosed between four and five years later than the patients who spoke only one language, she told the annual meeting's attendees this week. Her work supports an earlier study from other researchers that also found a protective effect.

When a person knows two languages, they are essentially turned on all the time, but the brain learns to inhibit the one you don't need, keeping your brain at a level of constant activity.

At the University of Maryland, scientists are studying how to identify adults who would be good candidates to master a new language, and then what types of training are best. Having a pretty strong executive control system, like the lifelong bilinguals have, is among the good predictive factors, said Amy Weinberg, deputy director of the university's Center for Advanced Study of Language.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SeaWorld San Diego offers teachers a free pass

Thanks to Tim Leung for telling me about the following story.

SeaWorld San Diego offers teachers a free pass
By Michael Stetz
February 17, 2011

Southern California teachers can enjoy SeaWorld for free this year.

SeaWorld San Diego is offering teachers a special deal: A free Fun Card, which gives them unlimited visits to the park for 2011.

The offer is to recognize teachers for their role in educating the region's youth, SeaWorld said.

"Education is one of our core values at SeaWorld and more than 100,000 students pass through camp and field trip programs every year," said John Reilly, the park's president. "We know how important a strong educational foundation is for our youth and we want to thank teachers for their devotion."

Southern California K-12 credentialed teachers are eligible for the SeaWorld Teacher Appreciation Program. The offer is available through April 30.

Teachers can visit this link for more details.

SeaWorld is also is also sponsoring an essay contest, which is open to third and fourth grade classes from Southern California elementary schools. About conservation, the essay contest runs from March 15 to May 3. The class with the winning essay will receive a VIP field trip to the park.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Teachers, school leaders come together in Denver

It sounds like teachers are the problem in New York City. They won't even come to the table because the possibility of layoffs was mentioned. Everything must be on the table in order to seriously talk about reform. I don't happen to think layoffs are a solution to improving education. I just think sacred cows are a hindrance to reform. Here's what I think is needed.

February 15, 2011
Teachers, school leaders come together in Denver
Bloomberg BusinessWeek

A first-of-its-kind summit among teachers and their bosses -- school board members and administrators -- kicks off Tuesday in what the Obama administration is touting as a watershed moment in collaboration for school improvement.

More than 150 school districts from 40 states are sending administrators and union leaders to a U.S. Department of Education summit billed as the nation's first large effort to have school labor and management talk about student achievement, rather than the nuts and bolts of labor contracts.

It's a summit organizers are hailing as a fresh start to kick off education overhaul efforts looming in Washington, including delicate negotiations over how teachers should be evaluated.

But already cracks are showing in the let's work together effort. The nation's largest school district -- New York City -- and the Washington D.C. district pulled out of the summit after teachers accused school administrators of going back on their word. Other large districts, including Chicago and Los Angeles, are also missing from the all-expenses-paid trip funded by the nonprofit Ford Foundation.

In New York, teachers last month withdrew from an agreement to attend after some officials talked about seeking layoffs. In Washington, the teachers' union withdrew after union officials say they felt "hypocritical" presenting to other school districts how to work together with management...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bill for SDSU v. David Ohton whistle-blower case: $1.87 million

See more San Diego school cases.

Bill for SDSU whistle-blower case: $1.87 million
Attorney for ousted football strength coach says he offered to settle for no money
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Brent Schrotenboer
February 14, 2011

Gordon & Rees Law Firm
* 2004: $200,741.66
* 2005: $236,898.46
* 2006: $65,386.80
* 2007: $129,501.57
* 2008: $182,409.90
* 2009: $73,577.35
* 2010: $23,294.03
* Total: $911,809.77

Kirby Noonan Lance & Hoge Law Firm
* 2010: $293,530.50
* 2011: $55,887.24
* Total: $350,417.74

Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek Law Firm
* 2004: $231,577.51
* 2005: $233,922.32
* 2006: $176.31
* Total: $465,676.14

Horvitz & Levy Law Firm
* 2010: $123,415.86

Vendors such as court reporters
* 2004: $14,773.87
* 2005: $4,208.75
* 2006: $996.60
* Total: $19,979.22

Source: CSU billing summary

The California State University System rang up $1.87 million in legal bills to fight a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former San Diego State football strength coach in 2004.

The system last month decided to end the case by agreeing to pay the coach, David Ohton, a $2.7 million settlement. That means the total cost of the case for the CSU was $4.57 million — an expense that comes amid state budget cuts and dwindling resources for state colleges...

Ohton’s attorney said he initially offered to settle the case for an apology and restoration of his coaching assignment — and no money — and was told no.

Marlene Jones, in-house counsel for the university system, said $1.35 million of the $4.57 million will be paid from a self-insured “risk pool,” which comes from taxpayer money. The rest, she said, would be paid by insurance. She said the legal department is frugal and cautious about expenses after hiring outside firms.

Some still questioned how the case was handled.

“They spent $1.9 million to defend it and ended up worse off than they were in the beginning,” said Dale Larabee, an attorney who followed the case but was not involved in it. “Especially when it’s taxpayer money, you would think they would use a little bit more rational sense to resolve this rather than turning it into a matter of principle.”

Four outside firms were used for the case, one of which — Gordon & Rees — billed the university $911,810 from 2004 to 2010.

Ohton filed suit in 2004, claiming he was removed as football strength coach in 2003 after assisting with a CSU audit that found mismanagement in SDSU’s athletic department. He was given lower-profile assignments, but never fired, and he will leave SDSU employment as part of the settlement.

The audit led to the ouster of Athletic Director Rick Bay and three other athletics employees. Ohton said he was illegally retaliated against and ostracized by head football coach Tom Craft.

Ohton filed suit under the California Whistle-blower Protection Act. Jones, who started overseeing the case in 2007, said that it dragged on largely because of the relative lack of legal precedent under that law...

Lawyer linked to SDSU case
He represented a potential friendly witness to strength coach
February 24, 2011

The Watchdog on Feb. 15 printed a story adding up the tab to defend San Diego State University against whistle-blower claims by former football strength coach David Ohton.

The story quoted Dale Larabee as “an attorney who followed the case but was not involved in it,” and he criticized the university’s handling of the case.

Attorneys for the university took issue with that wording.

Although Larabee didn’t work for either side in the case, and his name wasn’t in the public case file, attorneys for SDSU consider him “involved” because Larabee was the attorney for a potential witness subpoenaed by the university. The witness never testified. University attorneys saw the potential witness as friendly to Ohton, especially since Ohton said in a deposition that the potential witness, Courtney Bale, was godmother to his son.

Bale had won her own settlement from the university in 2009, for $150,000. Ohton won $2.7 million.

San Diego Union-Tribune Watchdog highlights this question: "Should there be any pension for [teacher] retirees?"

Clearly, Les Birdsall of San Diego is not interested in attracting the best and brightest to work as teachers in San Diego. Since teachers don't pay for, or receive, Social Security benefits, Mr. Birdsall seems to be asking if retired teachers should perhaps live in homeless shelters and collect food stamps. Why would the SDUT Watchdog print such a silly comment while at the same time failing to investigate costly shenanigans of insurance companies and lawyers at the San Diego County Office of Education? Has the Watchdog received any rabies shots? Is it mad?

See Slaying the Mythical Tax-Fattened Hog regarding public sector pay.

Educator pensions report raised questions
“The average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high?“
By Maureen Magee
January 31, 2011

Underfunded public pensions have made big headlines in San Diego and elsewhere, igniting a debate over the cost of retirement packages that often pits taxpayer groups against public employees, with the public somewhere in the middle.

A recent report by The Watchdog on educator pensions contributed to the debate. Some readers wrote to raise questions and voice their views — from outrage over what they call excessive pensions to sympathy for public employees whose retirement packages they believe have been unfairly called into question.

Mary Jean Word, a retired San Diego teacher, objected to our report claiming the educator pension system, like other public funds, offers “high benefits with no clear way to pay them.” She said the broad brush was unfair to those on the lower end.

“Do not include administrators with teachers,” said Word, who retired with 25 years service credit in California and receives an annual pension of $24,000. “They do not teach 20 to 150 students a day.”

Public educators from counselors to superintendents pay into the California State Teachers Retirement System. The program does not classify them by position, however, so separate data analysis was not possible. Although the top pension for a retired San Diego County educator is $281,034, the average retired educator in the county takes home just over $40,000 annually.

Much of the response to our story centered around whether that is a high number. For perspective, recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show the average person of retirement age receives about $19,000 from retirement, pension and/or Social Security benefits.
Teacher fund status

Jim Wirt of San Diego wanted to know more about the state of the teacher pension fund. “You could have at least mentioned that CalSTRS assets have fallen...”

The fund reported good news last month when it posted 12.7 percent investment returns for 2010, raising its portfolio to $146.4 billion. The fund peaked at $180 billion in 2007 and had fallen to $112 billion in early 2009.

Even so, the system is expected to go broke by 2045 unless contributions are increased by the state, school districts and California educators. Officials say the fund needs a 15 percent hike in employer contributions this year. Only the state Legislature has the authority to approve such an increase. Since the state faces a $20 billion budget deficit, many say it’s unlikely to happen this year.
Who’s to blame?

Marty McGee of La Jolla wants to know how California got into this mess. She wrote, “In order for your watchdog reports to lead to meaningful changes, the people need to know who did it.”

Some of the blame goes to California voters.

“A little-known ballot measure a quarter century ago, Proposition 21 in 1984, opened the door for much of the current controversy over California’s public employee pensions,” former Union-Tribune reporter and pension expert Ed Mendel wrote last year. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Before Proposition 21, pension funds had been required to put most of their money into bonds. The ballot measure allowed pension funds to shift most money to stocks and other riskier investments. Some have said that public pensions would be more manageable today if the funds had stuck with safer investments.

Other changes to CalSTRS have also contributed to the funding gap.

In an effort to address teacher shortages and convince veteran educators to put off retirement, CalSTRS benefits were sweetened about a decade ago under AB 1509, legislation sponsored by Mike Machado, D-Stockton.

To fund the added benefits, the legislation took a fourth of the money teachers had been contributing to their pensions and used it to seed the added benefit. The teachers no longer pay into the supplemental benefit fund, but they draw from it.
What about Social Security?

Tom Helmantoler, a retired Julian High School teacher, asks this: “What about Social Security? Why can’t someone who has qualified for Social Security in the private sector turn to teaching as a second career and keep the Social Security benefit they earned?”

More than two decades before the Social Security Act was signed, the Teachers’ Retirement Law took effect in California in 1913. Public educators decided to continue to opt out of Social Security in 1955 because CalSTRS offered better benefits. California teachers do not pay into Social Security while they pay into CalSTRS. But some have paid enough toward Social Security to qualify for the benefit from other jobs. Those retired educators see a significant reduction in Social Security benefits under a law designed to prevent double-dipping. Similarly, retired educators who qualify for Social Security as the spouse or widow/widower of a worker who was covered by Social Security also see a reduction in that benefit under the law.

Should taxpayers contribute anything?

Les Birdsall of San Diego asked broader, philosophical questions. “The story tells us the average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high? What would be a reasonable pension? Should there be any pension for retirees?”

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said governments must compete with private sector salaries and benefits or it will not attract a qualified work force. And that means offering a decent retirement.

“It’s very easy to say that public sector defined benefit programs are more generous than what most people get in the private sector,” she said. “But it’s really hard to say.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If Americans understood math

Feb 11, 2011
'Building a Society That Can Actually Do Things'
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego

The first time I met Chris Lawrence, I had just wrapped up moderating a panel on the dropout rate. Lawrence complained the panel was full of "vacuous nonsense," as he later put it. His frankness impressed me. So I do what I do when I meet someone interesting: I asked him to get coffee with me.

Lawrence, who teaches physics at Mira Mesa High School, is a good person to get coffee with. He's a big thinker who once flew planes for the Navy and decided to go into education after the release of the landmark report A Nation at Risk.

In San Diego Unified, he started a new program that trains students in renewable energy and once fought an overhaul of its physics programs. But he's worried we're still at risk. And he has ideas for an overhaul of his own.

In fact, when I asked him what was wrong with our high schools and how we could fix it, he rattled off so many answers that I decided to break them down into sections:

Changing High School

Finland is one of the places everyone touts. When you're 15 years old there, you have to start applying to high schools. They have more technical oriented, job oriented programs and then more university bound ones. You can still apply to the university from the technical level. But because they have two programs, 90 percent of the students or so actually graduate from what they call secondary. You can do that here. You'd have to Americanize it and allow multiple bites of the apple if someone wanted to try to go to university. But it could be done.


You'd set some clear grading and assessment criteria so that grades aren't all over the map. You could easily coordinate and align it with our UC, CSU and community college system. Universities wouldn't have to have remedial classes.

Rethinking Math

People aren't properly learning arithmetic. So let's base arithmetic on constructive and tangible things that people can actually do. Look at the serious problems that confront our youth today — they're broke, they don't understand money, they don't know how to feed themselves. Arithmetic to them is an abstract mathematics...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Test Scores Soar Here, But the Grades Aren't So Easy

Test Scores Soar Here, But the Grades Aren't So Easy
February 6, 2011
by Emily Alpert

Savannah Sparkman was used to automatically getting As for doing her schoolwork. She was stunned to see her grades sink after she transferred to Kearny High School of International Business.

"I put in all my effort and got Bs and Cs," said Sparkman, who moved from Japan as a junior. "I thought I was doing something wrong. Then I found out the average was Bs and Cs."

Teens swear there are no easy As at this school. And the numbers back them up.

Good grades are common at San Diego schools with high test scores. But not at the School of International Business, one of four small, themed schools carved out of Kearny High. It has some of the highest test scores in San Diego Unified. But its students aren't swimming in As and Bs.

Grades and tests don't always line up neatly for each individual. A teen might work hard in class and blow off state tests. But comparing grades and scores across whole schools helps reveal the gulf between grading at different schools. An A is not an A is not an A. earlier examined grades at the Met, a small school accused of grade changing. Grades there are tops, but test scores are not. International Business is at the opposite extreme, a school with top scores and surprisingly low grades.

How teachers grade students differs so much from school to school that it is nearly impossible to decipher what grades really mean. Scholars say even when teachers have the same set of marks, they often calculate grades differently. For instance, the Met allows students to improve their grades over time by doing more work, even months after a class ends. Less than a mile away at International Business, the only way a student can improve an old grade is to retake a failed class.

Grades may be slippery, but they can decide teens' futures. Tougher grading at schools like International Business could better prime students for tough colleges, but also hurt their chances to get in if colleges just don't know the difference. The school has tried to ensure that its grades mean something.

But its kids have to compete in a world where grades can mean anything.


Mike Little warns his accounting class that if they leave their balance sheets unbalanced, they'll get an F — maybe a D if he feels nice. He knocks off points if students round to the wrong penny or forget to bring their calculators...

"I'm very intolerant of things that would be bad for business," Little said. "If you work in a bank and your computer program rips people off, you get sued."

Principal Ana Diaz-Booz jokes that she braces for phone calls from parents and kids pleading to get out of Little's class when each semester starts. But tough grades are a point of pride for her school.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Swedish For-Profit Chain to Run NYC Charter School

See all posts on for-profit education.
See all posts on for-profit college recruiting.
See all posts on charter schools.

February 9, 2011
Swedish For-Profit Chain to Run NYC Charter School
Education Week
New School Is the Network's First in the United States
By Sarah D. Sparks

One of Sweden’s largest for-profit school networks plans to gain a toehold in American public schooling by managing its first charter school in New York City this September—a possible sign of the times as U.S. educators and policymakers step up their focus on global competitiveness.

The transplantation process started with a name change, from the tongue-twisting Swedish Kunskapsskolan to Innovate Manhattan Charter School. The school’s charter is held by an independent board—a nod to the city’s restriction on for-profit companies directly owning or operating public schools—but Margaret “Peg” Hoey, the president of Kunskapsskolan USA, said the staff is working to ensure the core Swedish instructional model won’t be lost in translation.

“Even though there may just be one school here, we are really entering into a global community of practice,” she said.

Following the Swedish framework, the school will develop a learning plan for each of its 150 6th and 7th graders based on a 35-step road map for the content students are expected to know in each subject by the end of middle school. Core subjects such as reading and math are taught in multiage groups by step and reconfigured as students progress. Electives are taught by grade level.

Innovate Manhattan doesn’t yet have final arrangements for facilities, but Ms. Hoey said the city has proposed that the school be set up in part of New York City’s education department building.

The school’s future principal is taking two weeks of intensive training at one of the network’s schools in Sweden. She will continue to work with a mentor principal online when she returns to New York later this month, and will return to Sweden for two-week refresher training in spring 2012.

The charter school’s board is seeking grants to send teachers overseas, too, but so far the instructors are meeting with their colleagues via Skype, an online videoconferencing program...

The cool kids really are that mean

The bad news is that teacher culture is similar to high school culture.

The cool kids really are that mean
By Eryn Brown
Los Angeles Times
February 8, 2011

It's something your teenage child already knows well: Those popular kids can be mighty mean.

But he or she might not be clued in to the conclusion drawn by a paper released Tuesday in the American Sociological Review, which found that the more central you are to your school's social network, the more aggressive you are as well -- unless you're at the top of the heap, in which case you're more likely to give your peers a break.

“By and large, status increases aggression, until you get to the very top,” said the study's lead author, UC Davis sociologist Robert Faris. “When kids become more popular, later on they become more aggressive.”

The study asked boys and girls in three North Carolina counties to list their five best friends, five people they had picked on (physically, verbally, or indirectly through ostracism and the like), five people who had picked on them and a variety of other questions about socioeconomic background, dating habits and so on.

The more connected a student was, the more likely he or she was to engage in hostile acts, suggesting that students see aggression as key to attaining and maintaining status.

As to why the most popular kids were less aggressive, the researchers suggested that it could be simply because they're genuinely super-nice. But a more likely explanation, said Faris, is that the kings of the hill simply have nothing to gain by lashing out. Striving with claws bared just makes them look insecure and weak.

Dan Kindlon, a Harvard psychologist and author of the books "Raising Cain" and "Alpha Girls"...

You Can Get Into College, But Maybe Not Out

Black and Latino students were also more likely to go to for-profit colleges than white or Asian students, something that raises worries, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity. Such colleges have been criticized for saddling students with unaffordable debt.

See all posts on for-profit education.
See all posts on for-profit college recruiting.

You Can Get Into College, But Maybe Not Out
February 7, 2011
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert

Only 35 percent of students who entered a community college in San Diego and Imperial counties completed a certificate, a degree or transferred to a university within six years, a new report has found.

That remarkable statistic underscores a problem that I want to pay more attention to as an education reporter: School districts aim to get students to college and often measure their success that way. But getting into college is just the beginning. What happens to students after they get there?

The sweeping study followed more than 250,000 students statewide who entered California community colleges in 2003 and traced their progress over six years. The research was commissioned by the Campaign for College Opportunity, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that aims to increase college graduation rates.

Community college students in the San Diego and Imperial region, which was grouped together, were slightly more successful than the state average in getting diplomas and credentials or transferring out.

But problems in the region still echoed the statewide issues that the Campaign for College Opportunity is spotlighting, especially when it comes to racial gaps: Latino students here were less likely to successfully complete a degree or certificate or transfer to a university from community college, for instance.

Black and Latino students were also more likely to go to for-profit colleges than white or Asian students, something that raises worries, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity. Such colleges have been criticized for saddling students with unaffordable debt...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Lawyer in Redskins defamation suit: "Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation"

Redskins owner Dan Snyder's face-off with City Paper gets uglier
Since purchasing the Washington Redskins in 1999, Dan Snyder has provoked heated emotions in the team's fans.
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post
February 2, 2011

The war between Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Washington City Paper just got a little hotter.

Snyder filed suit late Wednesday against the weekly newspaper and its parent company, Atalaya Capital Management, in New York state court, seeking $2 million in general damages plus unspecified punitive damages and court costs.

Snyder alleges in the suit that City Paper libeled and defamed him in a series of articles dating to 2009.

City Paper, whose articles about Snyder included an unflattering Nov. 19 cover story, released a letter from Snyder's attorneys to Atalaya that suggested the company would be in for an expensive fight if it didn't accede to Snyder's objections.

"Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation," said the Nov. 24 letter, which was written by David Donovan, the Redskins' chief operating officer and general counsel, and posted on City Paper's Web site Wednesday afternoon. "We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper." ...

In an interview Wednesday, City Paper Publisher Amy Austin once again stood by the Nov. 19 article, titled "The Cranky Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," and defended its author, staff writer Dave McKenna. "We don't believe there's anything wrong with what we published. The facts are correct." ...

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Are You Trapped in a 'Compliance Culture'?

Are You Trapped in a 'Compliance Culture'?
Education Week

Our book club discussion with Kathleen Cushman, author of Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, is going on all this week. Here's a sampling of some of the topics that have come up so far:

• Are teachers weighed down by a "compliance culture" in schools, and how do they balance curriculum demands with deeper, more student-centered learning models?
• What "small decisions" can you make as a teacher to spark students' engagement in a lesson?
• Do we overestimate the amount of direction students need from adults?
• Do prescriptive lessons diminish student creativity and motivation?
• How important is relevance in lessons? How do students develop the intellectual discipline to stick with assignments that don't seem relevant or exciting to them?
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Share your ideas, experiences, and questions. Join the discussion. (You don't have to have read the book.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

John de Beck opines on education consultants

John deBeck
posted Jan 31, 2011

...BOARD strategy is to avoid making cuts away from the administrative center and the board plan is to put these cuts on the back of the school sites.

That saves the jobs of former consultants turned into district high paid employees who have built a permanent job by making the board dependent on them for any ideas.

The Juarez community didn't get to cut the extra business manager who got himself assisted by a highly qualified chief financial officer or cutting the extra principals for the top heavy small high schools, or the massive public engagement and lobbying department, or the bloated legal department. No, they just went out to the schools in a phony democratic ploy to get them to cut class sizes and go through the suffering on their own. With all this central expertise why didn't this principal have accurate budget data, anyway?...

Murrieta Valley High School students face expulsion after phony gun report on campus

Murrieta Valley High School students face expulsion after phony gun report on campus
By Yazmin Alvarez, SWRNN
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two students at Murrieta Valley High School may face expulsion after spreading a rumor that a student was on campus with a gun, prompting a police investigation at the school Tuesday, school officials announced.

Authorities arrived at the high school after a parent was informed by their son that a student was carrying a gun, according to Murrieta Valley High School Principal Renate Johnson.

“The student called his parent who called police and within minutes a thorough investigation was started,” Johnson said.

The search revealed that the students had made up the story as joke and an email was sent to parents about the incident, Johnson said.

Parents were notified by email about the incident, with Murrieta Valley High School Principal Renate Jefferson urging parents to talk to their teens about student safety and the repercussions of making phony allegations.

“This is an excellent opportunity for you to talk to your teenager about the tremendous responsibility all of us have: To keep each other safe and not say or do anything to make a person feel unsafe. Students cannot make threats as a “joke” of spread the rumor that someone has a gun or other weapon, has drugs or wants to harm someone. Please impress upon them the seriousness of such an allegation or spreading a rumor… Endangering someone’s safety is never taken as a joke.”

Jefferson said a police investigation will be underway because of the false report. Suspension, behavior contracts and a possible recommendation for expulsion are also part of the consequences.

Is this what SDUSD would be like if SD4 get their way? Parents Demand Investigations at Two Charter Schools

Charter board members are often chosen by other board members, not elected like a school district board. While some charters opt to have representatives who are chosen by the parents or teachers, voluntarily putting it into their own rules, it is not required by law. That means that charter boards can sometimes veer from what parents or staff want, and it can be hard to say who speaks for the school.

While Promise and Tubman are charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run by their own boards, the school district is supposed to provide oversight because it approved the schools in the first place. Charters can be shut down if they violate their rules or perform poorly.

See all posts on San Diegans 4 Greater Schools.

February 2, 2011
Parents Demand Investigations at Two Charter Schools
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert

Parents and teachers at a small charter school in Chollas View are demanding that San Diego Unified launch an investigation of their school after the principal and new board members made a string of controversial decisions.

The Promise Charter School board changed dramatically last summer after some of its existing members, including the principal, voted to eject members and later added new ones.

Parents and teachers upset with the leaders allege that Principal Jose Orozco has intimidated parents who disagreed with him on everything from scheduling to staffing by barring them from campus and telling them to leave the school, and harassed their children by questioning them about their parents.

Fourth grade teacher Vicky Toscano said after one teacher was fired and others were told to reapply for their jobs, teachers have been afraid to question irregularities at the school, such as allegedly enrolling students who are too young for kindergarten. Teachers at the school have petitioned to form a union.

Orozco said the allegations of harassment are untrue and that the upset parents and teachers have resisted "anytime anyone tries to change anything at the school." For instance, Orozco said after he introduced new rules about inappropriate touching of students, teachers overreacted and complained they couldn't even look at kids. Other parents stepped forward to back the principal.

The upset parents and teachers are calling for San Diego Unified to choose a district representative to sit on the Promise Charter board, something that school districts can do under the law, monitor the school more closely and investigate their allegations. They say that some of the changes at the school, including altering its hiring policies, actually violate their charter, a founding document that sets out school rules.

The same demands were made by teachers and parents from Tubman, another charter that has been in turmoil. Tubman teachers recently joined the San Diego teachers union and have fought the firing of a teacher, alleging she was discriminated against as a labor leader.

The two charter schools share a board member and made common cause over their concerns.

After parents and teachers from the two schools spoke up at a San Diego Unified school board meeting on Tuesday night, school board President Richard Barrera asked Superintendent Bill Kowba to look into the concerns at both schools, saying that they were serious issues.

"Charter schools cannot be mini-dictatorships that exist on the dime of the public taxpayer," Barrera said. "And we need to make sure that we guard against that."...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Researchers Look for Ways to Curb 'Mean Girls' and Gossip

In my experience, many teachers act just like junior high school kids when it comes to bullying. Both students and other adults are their victims.

February 1, 2011
Researchers Look for Ways to Curb 'Mean Girls' and Gossip
Studies Take Aim at Playground Gossip
More and More Studies are Focusing on 'Relational Aggression' in Schools
By Sarah D. Sparks

Gossip and social ostracization may come far down on the list of concerns for educators trying to prevent bullying, yet emerging research suggests relational bullying, though often the most frequently overlooked, may hold the key to changing an aggressive culture in schools.

Of the three major types of bullying—physical, verbal and relational—relational aggression, has been the latest and least studied, both because it involves less visible, immediately dangerous behavior than fighting or verbal abuse, and in part because it involved more nuanced relationships among the bullies, victims, and bystanders.

“If you think of Columbine and other school shootings, the shooters were often victims of relational aggression, so there’s a growing recognition that emotional scars are real, and we need to create interventions to address those scars and prevent them from happening,” said Stephen S. Leff, a psychologist and director of the Friend to Friend and Preventing Relational Aggression in Schools Everyday (PRAISE) programs at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-editor of a current special issue of School Psychology Review on the topic.

The newer research into relational aggression is bringing into focus an alternative to the stereotypical image of the dull, socially awkward, and physically aggressive schoolyard bully: a popular, socially astute student who uses rumors and social isolation to control enemies, rivals, and friends alike. While students who physically fight tend to be avoided by peers, studies show relational aggression actually becomes more socially acceptable as students get older.

Antonius H. N. Cillessen, a professor of developmental psychology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, found in one four-year longitudinal studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader of American middle and high school students that the students considered by their peers to be the most popular were not the same as those most liked, and students perceived to be popular were the most likely to engage in gossip and social manipulation over time.
Hidden in Plain Sight

“It’s the dark side of popularity,” Mr. Cillessen said. “For the practice of education it’s pretty important, because the popular bully gets a lot of peer reinforcement. As adults we can say this is bad, you shouldn’t do this, but among peers, bullies have power. That’s a really difficult challenge for intervention research, because it means you don’t have to work only on the individual bully and victim, but you have to address all possible roles that a person can play.”
"Steps to Respect"

A teacher demonstrates an anti-bullying lesson in a video used in the Steps to Respect program, which fosters support for victims of gossip and ostracism.

One reason educators may have to take a more holistic approach is it is harder for adults to effectively identify individual episodes of social bullying.

“A huge problem is, how do you even know it’s going on?” said Hill M. Walker, a professor of special education and co-director of the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior at the University of Oregon. “Generally, you have to rely on self-reports from victims, and children for a variety of reasons are reluctant to define themselves as victims.”

Relational aggression has long been known as “covert aggression,” but the emerging research suggests that’s something of a misnomer: Social isolation, rumor-mongering, and manipulation have proven surprisingly easy for researchers to spot.

In a recent randomized, controlled studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader of 610 3rd through 6th-grade students in six Seattle-area schools, researchers led by Karin S. Frey, a research associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, found relational aggression on the playground was “semi-public” and episodes could go on for quite a while, even with adults present. “A student or students would speak negatively about a third party that was not among the listeners,” the researchers noted in a study in School Psychology Review. “Group members would laugh, gesture, or look ‘meaningfully’ in the direction of an isolated, unhappy-looking student.”

“It’s both parallel and a step on the path” to physical and verbal abuse, Ms. Frey said. For example, she noted that rumors often allege a boy has flirted with or had sex with another boy’s girlfriend, which can lead to fights. The investigation into the 2010 suicide of Massachusetts bullying victim Phoebe Prince suggested students had spread rumors that the 15-year-old was sexually promiscuous before she was allegedly raped by fellow students. “This kind of social aggression is much more painful than many people realize,” Ms. Frey said. “When you talk to individuals about being excluded, ostracized, they often say it would be less painful to be beaten up.”
The Popular Bully

In a way, studies like these are finally dissecting a phenomenon already well-documented in popular culture: The popular clique of “mean girls,” anonymous lists alleging the sexuality of various students, and suave but socially manipulative class presidents are all common tropes in adolescent literature and shows, from the “Mean Girls” movies to the “Glee” television series.

In the Seattle experiment, in which researchers easily identified “semi-public” relational bullying, teachers could not identify it and were surprised by some of the students identified as bullies.

The need to understand and address relational aggression is becoming more urgent, Mr. Walker said, as students interact more often online, away from even minimal adult supervision.

“Cyber-bullying poses a gigantic risk for our children,” Mr. Walker said. “It affords one person the ability to assume the identities of 10, 15, 20 people who can send messages and spread rumors about the targeted victim. Your friends who support your bullying can be told about it. So it’s a way for a bully to torture ... unmercifully.”

Mr. Leff said more researchers and educators are trying to include relational bullying awareness in their overall school climate programs, in part as a result of high-profile school and cyber victimization. He said there’s been a growing recognition over the last 10 years that some anti-bullying programs don’t address strategies for children involved in relational conflicts.
Ways to Intervene

Not every student is socially skilled enough to intervene between a bully and a victim without escalating the situation. That’s why the Steps to Respect anti-bullying program instead teaches bystanders to avoid feeding the bully’s energy by watching, laughing, and spreading rumors, Ms. Frey said. Students learn to comfort and support the victim of abuse without encouraging him or her to retaliate, which can escalate the problem.

“If you’re the victim and you’re surrounded by people watching, you don’t know what people are thinking,” Ms. Frey said. “They may be enjoying the spectacle, or they may be feeling really uncomfortable. But if they don’t say anything, it feels like they are all against you.”

In the Seattle study, researchers found “malicious gossip” dropped 72 percent after elementary schools instituted Steps to Respect, which trains teachers to identify relational aggression and encourage bystanders to stand up for ostracized children.

In the spring after the program began, researchers noticed only about a quarter of the amount of gossip observed in the fall semester: 234 fewer instances of gossip for each class of 25 students, and 270 fewer instances of a student being targeted for rumors.

Mr. Leff is exploring similar interactions in another program, Preventing Relational Aggression in Schools Every Day, or PRAISE, which includes training for teachers on ways to recognize more subtle bullying and explain to students the difference between normal social interaction and harassment. He said more educators and researchers are exploring this type of program.

“It’s a really tough balancing act,” Mr. Leff said. “The important part is to open up the lines of communication so teachers can give examples of types of behaviors that would be concerning and can slow kids down and make them think about the ways that their actions can hurt someone else.”

Judge Judith Hayes gives a win to SDSU education attorneys in Lance Louis case

Former Aztecs reach settlement over attack
Lance Louis, now with the Chicago Bears, allegedly snuck up on teammate in '08
By Brent Schrotenboer
January 31, 2011

Chicago Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis has reached a settlement agreement to end the civil suit filed against him by Nick Sandford, his former teammate at San Diego State.

Terms of the settlement were confidential. Louis’ attorney and Sanford’s father each declined comment.

Sandford had filed suit in 2009 alleging that Louis “snuck up” and attacked him in a team meeting room, causing a concussion, ruptured eardrum and facial injuries in early November 2008.

Sanford also sued former SDSU head coach Chuck Long, alleging that he covered up the incident. While Sandford missed the final three games of the 2008 because of his injuries, Long allowed Louis to play because it gave the team a better chance of success, according to the suit. The incident also was not reported to police until 15 day after it happened, according to police records.

Sandford’s suit sought to recover unspecified damages from defendants Louis, Long and the California State University, which oversees SDSU. But earlier this month, San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes dropped Long from the case.

“Long cannot be vicariously liable for the alleged battery against plaintiff,” Hayes wrote in her decision to drop Long from Sandford’s suit.

As a result of that ruling, the case ended for SDSU without any settlement cost to the university, according to a school official. The CSU system also had been dropped from the case in a ruling by Hayes last year.

Louis previously had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery stemming from the same incident and was sentenced to three years of probation, 40 hours of community service and 12 hours in anger management classes.

In 2009, SDSU reached an agreement with Long to pay for his legal representation in the event he was sued by Sandford. Long was fired after the 2008 season and now is the offensive coordinator at Kansas.