Monday, October 31, 2011

Listening to Mozart seems to trigger neurons that make the brain function better--and saves lives!

This story is about making the brain work better--much better, in the case of one doctor who tripled his polyp detection rate when listening to Mozart.

Could Mozart Decrease Your Risk of Colon Cancer?
By Katie Moisse
ABC News
Oct 31, 2011

Doctors were more likely to detect precancerous polyps during colonoscopies if they had Mozart playing in the background, a small study found.

It only included two doctors, but for one, listening to Mozart more than tripled the polyp detection rate from 21.25 percent to 66.7 percent, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston reported today at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting. Undetected, the polyps — called adenomas — can become cancerous.

“Anything we can do get those rates up has the potential to save lives,” study author Dr. Catherine Noelle O’Shea said in a statement. “While this is a small study, the results highlight how thinking outside the box — in this case using Mozart — to improve adenoma detection rates can potentially prove valuable to physicians and patients.”

The polyp detection rate for the other doctor studies rose from 27.16 percent to 36.7 percent.

The study adds weight to the “Mozart effect” — the long-standing observation that listening to music can lead to a short-term improvement on some mental tasks. Some experts attribute the performance boost to a more positive mood or increased arousal. Others say complex music triggers a response in the brain that makes it better equipped to tackle an additional task...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math

Fact Check: High Schools Struggling with Math
October 10, 2011
by Keegan Kyle
Voice of San Diego

Statement: "There are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math," San Diego Unified school board member John Lee Evans said Sept. 27 at a board meeting.

Determination: True

Analysis: Students at San Diego Unified schools have been scoring better and better on state tests in recent years. Scores have steadily risen across most grades, ranking the district above California's other major urban districts.

It's a positive trend, but school officials say there's still plenty of room for improvement. While discussing test scores at a recent school board meeting, Evans highlighted one such area.

"At the same time that we have those high (district-wide) figures," he said, "I've heard in the last day or two that there are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math."

Evans asked district staff at the meeting whether that number was accurate. Ron Rode, who oversees an office that monitors test scores, stepped up to microphone.

"We do have some in the single digits and this has been a long-standing issue where we see higher performance at the elementary schools and then it drops as grade level increases, precipitously at high school unfortunately," Rode said.
Subscribe to the Morning Report.

We checked the numbers, too, and they back up Evans' description.

Arroyo Paseo Charter High School in City Heights finished dead last with 1.8 percent of students demonstrating proficiency in math — able to complete basic geometric and algebraic tasks like calculating surface area and solving linear equations. The highest scoring school, Scripps Ranch High, had 57 percent of students meeting state standards.

Overall, about one in four San Diego Unified high schools came close to Evans' mark, with the percent of students meeting state standards falling in single digits. Here's the score for each school:

Though scores were dismal in some cases, they used to be much worse overall. The percentage of high school students meeting state standards in math nearly doubled in the last five years. Less than one out of every three students met or exceeded state standards in math last year.

At the school board meeting, Rode also pointed to a statewide trend that extends to San Diego. As students get older, they tend to score worse and worse on state test scores. And those low marks from high schools bring down the district's overall average.

The reasons for the precipitous decline aren't clear, but researchers suggest that school instruction gradually grows further apart from the concepts examined in state tests. By high school, the gap is wide enough that few students meet state standards.

Test results show a social difference as well, Rode said in an interview. At younger ages, students seem more eager to do well on tests. As they grow older, students become wiser of the lack of accountability tied to state tests, which don't affect grades, and then don't take testing as seriously. High school juniors may also focus on preparing for college placement exams rather than state tests, Rode said.

Because some high schools in San Diego Unified came close to Evans' description of math scores last year, we've rated his statement True...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Should Your Company Go After Anonymous Bloggers?

I'm not anonymous. My name is Maura Larkins. But sometimes people will only reveal the truth if they can remain anonymous.

Should Your Company Go After Anonymous Bloggers?
By Cynthia Hsu
October 24, 2011

If your business has ever received criticism by an anonymous blogger, you may be irritated. You might also start to wonder if defamation law might be on your side.
Suing someone who has caused harm to your businesses' reputation and cost you money can be an option.

But it's more difficult now that there are various online platforms like Facebook, online message boards, Twitter, or forums where bloggers can keep their identity under wraps. Businesses may wonder if it's ever an option to go after someone who is nameless. It is - but whether or not it's a good idea is up for you to decide.
If you have the blogger's IP address, there are methods that you can employ to track down where the offending posts came from.

On the other hand, if all you have is their username you may have a more difficult time getting a handle on their identity. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Google isn't required to give you their personal identifying information. In fact, they'll likely fight to withhold this information to protect their customer. You'll probably have to win a court order to reveal their identity.

And courts can be hesitant. If the defamatory post is considered political speech, it can receive a high level of First Amendment protection. This can hinder your chances in court.

Courts, however, seem to be more inclined to grant orders in cases where anonymous bloggers have posted confidential insider information on the web.

You should also be aware that the blogger themselves can assert certain privileges to shroud their identity. In some circumstances, they can claim a reporter's privilege, which can protect them under their state's shield laws.

Companies that go after anonymous bloggers will likely face hurdles even though remedies are available under defamation law. Therefore, it might be necessary to go through several court proceedings in order to prevail.

Friday, October 21, 2011

W. enters my wife’s schoolboard race

(Credit: AP/Courtesy of the author)

W. enters my wife’s schoolboard race
Our family gets a close-up look of how big money has taken over politics -- even at the local level
By David Sirota
Oct 21, 2011

Before it happens, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel when you see a slickly produced, oil-CEO-financed flier implicitly attacking your 11-month-old baby for not being old enough to attend school and explicitly criticizing your family for not being able to afford a home...

Six months ago, when my wife, Emily, decided to run for a school board seat here in Southeast Denver, I was (perhaps naively) expecting what we used to get from the most local of local races for such part-time, unpaid positions: lots of door knocking, a few yard signs, maybe a barbecue or two...

Emily knew it would be a tough race against her opponent, a deep-pocketed investment banker, but she felt confident she could run a solid campaign. She thought her experience as a social worker and community organizer in Denver gave her the tools to mount a good ground game, and she felt that her longtime policy work at the federal, state and local level was a good match for the school-board job. She also has deep roots in the community; her campaign has been endorsed by the district’s state representative and city councilors, by the city auditor, and by the key legislators who serve in the state’s senior education policymaking positions.

...Emily had thought a “big” contribution meant a few friends joining up to scrape together $500. But, in the last few weeks, news broke that oil CEOs and financial executives were cutting $10,000 and $25,000 checks to her opponent. We found out that notorious front groups like Stand for Children were funneling in tens of thousands of dollars of out-of-state financial industry cash, and we started hearing about serious threats of retribution from big-time professional politicians.

...In the process, this little grass-roots school-board race has become so inundated by big money and national political forces that none other than former President George W. Bush just made an education-themed appearance – one clearly designed to influence the education debate dominating the upcoming school board election.

At the local level, there are often no campaign contribution limits at all, so the rich are free to dump enormous sums of money into elections.

(Here in Denver, for instance, EdNewsColorado reports that “one quartet of donors gave a combined $92,000 each to the same three candidates, all of whom have been endorsed by the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and by Stand for Children” — two front groups funded by the financial industry.)

[Maura Larkins comment: Regarding Democrats for Education Reform, I would like to say that it's nice that some Democrats are willing to stand up to the teachers union. Stand for Children, however, sounds like they are just knee-jerk corporate types.]

As NBC’s local affiliate 9 News noted in reporting on a coordinated Republican Party attempt to buy school board races all over the state, “Once thought to be ‘mom and pop,’ [school board] elections have now turned into coordinated, professional campaigns.”

...In one row, it contrasts my wife and her opponent based on the “number of children [each has] in Denver Public schools.” (My wife’s opponent: “3 daughters, 15 years and counting”; my wife: “0.”) And I can tell her that voters will realize that this particular comparison is grossly unfair, because it suggests that our son not being old enough to attend school is somehow a personal failing.

...I know that whether she wins or loses, the real damage has already been done.

When the same elites who fund federal elections start pouring unfathomable sums of money into our community’s school board races, it robs us of the last promise of democracy: the hope that while wealth and power dictate federal and state policy, every person can still have a small impact on his or her own local community.

...It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that the only elections that matter are celebritized presidential and Senate contests, and that local elections for your school board or town council or county commission don’t count. Clearly, that’s not the case. The most powerful people of all sure think those local races do matter...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oregon doctor who was required to have chaperone sues for defamation

Darm v. Craig
October 12th, 2011

In July 2011, medical spa doctor Jerrold "Jerry" Darm sued blogger Tiffany Craig for defamation in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon. Darm alleged that Craig defamed him when she wrote about a 2001 disciplinary order against the doctor from the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners.

Craig wrote on June 30, 2011, on her blog that Darm was reprimanded for demanding sex from a patient, and that Darm was required to have a chaperone when examining adult female patients. The order in fact states that Darm touched and kissed the patient, from which the patient inferred Darm was seeking sex. The order did require the presence of a chaperone for Darm's treatment of adult female patients. Craig did not mention that the order against Darm was lifted in 2009.

According to, Craig moved in August to dismiss Darm's lawsuit under Oregon's anti-SLAPP laws. Craig argued that "'the gist' of the blog entry is true and the statements, in context with a provided hyperlink to state medical board records, were opinions based on those facts." Craig also argued that Darm, as a prominent local doctor, is a public figure. Darm argued that because he never treated Craig, his record is not a matter of public interest. also reports that the court ruled in September that the case is a matter of public interest, and that Twitter is a public forum. A hearing is set for Oct. 20, when Darm will have to present a viable defamation claim.

Related Links:
Oregon's first Twitter libel lawsuit pits Tigard doctor against Portland blogger

Website(s) Involved:
Criminally Vulgar (blog)

Legal Counsel:
Thomas McDermott
Linda Williams

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Professor told stuttering student not to speak

Professor who told stuttering student not to speak acted inappropriately, County College of Morris officials say
October 12, 2011
By Dan Goldberg and Nic Corbet
The Star-Ledger

The college today said an adjunct professor acted improperly when she told a stuttering student not to speak in class because he was "infringing on other students’ time."

RANDOLPH — The County College of Morris acknowledged today that an adjunct history professor acted improperly when she told a stuttering student not to speak in class because he was "infringing on other students’ time."

Administrators declined to say whether any explicit disciplinary action was taken against the professor, Elizabeth Snyder, but expressed disappointment with the e-mail she sent sent to Philip Garber Jr. several weeks ago.

"The message was that because it does take him awhile to ask a question or answer a question, that it was interfering with the rights of other students," said Bette Simmons, vice president of student development for the Randolph college.

"That made me feel very mad," said Garber, who filed a complaint with the Office of Student Development.

Garber, 16, of Mansfield, described himself as shy, but said he was eager to participate in his first semester at the school, where he is taking two college courses to supplement his home schooling. Contemplating a career in photojournalism, Garber has been an avid participant in class, but his stutter causes him to speak slowly and methodically — often repeating himself.

"I do enjoy asking questions and participating in debates," he said.

In the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Star-Ledger, Snyder urged Garber to save his questions for after class, and said that if he knew the answers he should write them on paper instead. "so we do not infringe on other students time."

"This way, you can express your ideas and knowledge completely and I will have a better understanding of what you know," Snyder wrote in the e-mail. "You can give me the sheet after each class.

"Hope these suggestions help to make your experience in my class enjoyable and productive," she wrote.

Snyder could not be reached for comment today.

Simmons said it would have been better if Snyder had simply advised students in the class to be patient with Garber.

"One of the things that we’re all getting to have a better understanding of is to accommodate a student who stutters is not as easy as providing a sign language interpreter," she said.

Jim McClure, spokesman for the National Stuttering Association, said Garber’s initiative was somewhat unusual.

"The problem most kids who stutter have is they grow up being ashamed of their stuttering and so they don’t speak up in class," McClure said. "When a kid who stutters raises his hand and wants to talk in class, that’s a good thing. That’s a healthy thing."

About 1 percent of the population struggles with stuttering, according to the organization. Originally thought to be a psychological problem, the condition is now considered mostly physiological, and there’s new research that suggests it is often genetic, McClure said.

Snyder has taught at CCM for 10 years. She has not been suspended, but the administration would not comment on internal discussion with an employee.

"We don’t share personnel matters," Simmons said. "It’s a college practice, especially if things are still ongoing."

Garber is now in a separate section of the same history class, and said he is happy with how the matter was resolved.

"I made the decision to switch because I felt that if I stayed, there could be some unforeseen bad consequences," he said. "I do like the college experience."

Geta Vogel, principal at Warren County Technical School, where Garber spent his freshman year in high school, said Garber never had any problems with other students or his teachers. Garber began the school year by e-mailing his teachers explaining his stuttering problem, Vogel said.

Vogel told her staff to show patience and appreciation for who he is.

"Every kid adored him," she said. "I don’t mind going on record for Phil Garber. He is a joy and we were very sorry to lose him."

Students on the CCM campus today were quick to support Garber.

"Don’t teachers usually encourage you to participate in class?" said Mike Cortese, 21, an electronics engineering technology major. "He can’t help the stutter."

Since the New York Times first reported Garber’s story on its website Monday, Garber has received numerous calls, e-mails and texts of support. His YouTube channel, thestutteringman, received more than 70 complimentary comments within 24 hours of the story being published.

"I’ve been very lucky to have avoided much of the discrimination and bullying that many people who stutter experience," Garber said. "To a certain extent, I’m sure this is true of any person with a disability, people will always treat you differently, and it’s not always in a negative way, but it always makes you feel kind of weird."

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Color-coded IDs draw support from some students, parents

Conservative parents and students in Orange County want kids to be assigned color-coded IDs based on test scores. We all know that standardized test scores tend to correlate strongly with socio-economic levels. Recent research also shows that innate ability has far less effect on the success of poor kids than it does on middle class kids. So why not just have kids go around with a name tag that shows how much their parents make?

This policy actually might discourage some kids who are working very hard. Test scores are related far more closely to socio-economic levels than to student effort. I suspect that many of the kids who support this policy don't need confidence-building. Why would a school do this? Because it's easiest to raise the scores of the above-average students, and thus raise the average score of the school, without changing the scores of the below-average students. This doesn't give us a better-educated society, it just gives us a better-educated elite.

Oct. 7, 2011
Color-coded IDs draw support from some students, parents

A group of about three dozen students at Kennedy High School arrived to campus Friday wearing their color-coded IDs to protest the Anaheim Union High School District's earlier decision to eliminate the controversial incentive program.

They said they wanted to show support for the program that assigned students color-coded ID cards and planners based on their state test scores, and required those who performed poorly to stand in a separate lunch line and awarded the others with discounts.

"Maybe it's just the conservative in me that says that it's just too bad that others didn't study or work hard enough for it," said Jason Seo, who helped organize the protest. "When I see what I do versus a person without a black card there are big differences. For one, I study a lot more than they do, so to call it 'intellectual discrimination' as some people put it, is stupid in it of itself."

The students taped, stitched and glued their cards onto clothing and backpacks to prominently show classmates, teachers, parents and administrators that they want the district to reinstate color-coded ID system.

...The program, in place Kennedy and Cypress high schools, was designed to urge students to raise scores on the California Standards Tests, but it also raised concern among parents and students who said it illegally revealed test scores and embarrassed those who didn't do well.

Anaheim Union officials announced on Thursday the district would eliminate the program after complaints from many students and parents, and after the state Department of Education called it unlawful.

...AnneMarie Conley, a UC Irvine educational psychologist who has extensively studied student motivation strategies in Orange County schools, called the system earlier this week "one of the worst ideas ever" to promote learning.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Bridgepoint Flirts With Fletcher

...[T]hey gave to help advance the candidate they believed had their business interests in mind. And political experts said donations from a large number of employees are rarely made without some hope of advancing their business's interests...Increasingly, the company has become involved in local politics and Fletcher, an assemblyman, has been a favorite. He promoted the company as a "San Diego Success Story" in a May 2010 video on his state website.

See all posts re Bridgepoint Education.

Bridgepoint Flirts With Fletcher
October 6, 2011
by Liam Dillon
Voice of San Diego
Bridgepoint, San Diego's fast-rising for-profit higher education company, is continuing to flex its newfound local political muscle.

Employees at the company and people in their households gave $12,500 to mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher, the San Diego Daily Transcript reported last week. From the Transcript (subscription required):

Bridgepoint had, by far, the highest number of employees giving to the same candidate, and none of its employees gave to anyone but Fletcher, according to the disclosure forms. Included on the list of Bridgepoint givers are Chief Executive Officer Andrew Clark, eight vice presidents and five others who list their title as "executive." The entire management team listed on Bridgepoint's website each gave the maximum amount to Fletcher. ...

While Bridgepoint employees interviewed for this story said their reasons for donating were personal, some owners of local businesses said they gave to help advance the candidate they believed had their business interests in mind. And political experts said donations from a large number of employees are rarely made without some hope of advancing their business's interests.

As we detailed in March, Bridgepoint has a brief but controversial history. In just four years, it's become a major local employer with soaring profits and enrollment. At the same time, it's attracted numerous federal and state investigations for its recruitment practices and use of student loan dollars. Just this week, Bridgepoint revealed in a regulatory filing that North Carolina's attorney general was investigating the company for possible violations of the state's consumer protection law.

Increasingly, the company has become involved in local politics and Fletcher, an assemblyman, has been a favorite. He promoted the company as a "San Diego Success Story" in a May 2010 video on his state website.

Fletcher's campaign told the Transcript in a statement that he views everyone who donates to his campaign as individuals.

"The individuals who are employed by Bridgepoint believe Nathan is the best candidate for mayor and support his plan to innovate and create good-paying jobs for San Diegans," the statement said. "The only interest company leaders have in the mayor's race is ensuring a strong, healthy future for the city where they are headquartered."

The Transcript story also detailed donations from multiple employees at different companies to mayoral candidates Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vindicated: Ridiculed Israeli scientist wins Nobel

"I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying," he recalled. "I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong."

This story reminds me of high school girl culture. No, wait. This is simply typical of human beings, right?

Vindicated: Ridiculed Israeli scientist wins Nobel

JERUSALEM -- When Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman claimed to have stumbled upon a new crystalline chemical structure that seemed to violate the laws of nature, colleagues mocked him, insulted him and exiled him from his research group.

After years in the scientific wilderness, though, he was proved right. And on Wednesday, he received the ultimate vindication: the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

The lesson?

"A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks," Shechtman said.

The shy, 70-year-old Shechtman said he never doubted his findings and considered himself merely the latest in a long line of scientists who advanced their fields by challenging the conventional wisdom and were shunned by the establishment because of it.

In 1982, Shechtman discovered what are now called "quasicrystals" - atoms arranged in patterns that seemed forbidden by nature.

"I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying," he recalled. "I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong."

The discovery "fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in awarding the $1.5 million prize.

Since his discovery, quasicrystals have been produced in laboratories, and a Swedish company found them in one of the most durable kinds of steel, which is now used in products such as razor blades and thin needles made specifically for eye surgery, the academy said. Quasicrystals are also being studied for use in new materials that convert heat to electricity.

Shechtman is a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. He is the 10th Israeli Nobel winner, a great source of pride in a nation of just 7.8 million people. Shechtman fielded congratulatory calls from Israeli President Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Every citizen of Israel is happy today and every Jew in the world is proud," Netanyahu said.

Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy, said Shechtman's discovery was one of the few Nobel Prize-winning achievements that can be dated to a single day.

On April 8, 1982, while on sabbatical at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington - now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology - Shechtman first observed crystals with a shape most scientists considered impossible.

The discovery had to do with the idea that a crystal shape can be rotated a certain amount and still look the same. A square contains four-fold symmetry, for example: If you turn it by 90 degrees, a quarter-turn, it still looks the same. For crystals, only certain degrees of such symmetry were thought possible. Shechtman had found a crystal that could be rotated one-fifth of a full turn and still look the same.

"I told everyone who was ready to listen that I had material with pentagonal symmetry. People just laughed at me," he said in an account released by his university.

He was asked to leave his research group, and moved to another one within the National Bureau of Standards, Shechtman said. He eventually returned to Israel, where he found one colleague prepared to work with him on an article describing the phenomenon. The article was at first rejected but was finally published in November 1984 to an uproar in the scientific world.

In 1987, friends in France and Japan succeeded in growing crystals large enough for X-rays to verify what he had discovered with the electron microscope.

"The moment I presented that, the community said, `OK, Danny, now you are talking. Now we understand you. Now we accept what you have found,'" Shechtman told reporters.

Shechtman, who also teaches at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said he never wavered even in the face of stiff criticism from double Nobel winner Linus Pauling, who never accepted Shechtman's findings.

"He would stand on those platforms and declare, 'Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.'" Shechtman said. "He really was a great scientist, but he was wrong. It's not the first time he was wrong."

Shechtman's battle "eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter," the academy said.

Nancy B. Jackson, president of the American Chemical Society, called Shechtman's breakthrough "one of these great scientific discoveries that go against the rules." Only later did some scientists go back to some of their own inexplicable findings and realize they had seen quasicrystals without understanding what were looking at, Jackson said...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A new yardstick to measure schools?

A new yardstick to measure schools?
Legislation on Brown’s desk would overhaul how California measures academic success
Oct. 4, 2011

Senate Bill 547 would still use standardized test results, but those could account for only 40 percent of the overall yardstick.

SACRAMENTO — California’s traditional yardstick of success in public schools may be broadened beyond the existing method solely driven by test scores.

Legislation sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk would scrap the state’s reliance on the Academic Performance Index — a measurement that ranks school performance based on a series of standardized exams.

In its place, the state Board of Education would be directed to adopt a more comprehensive set of high school accountability benchmarks that would include graduation rates and career and college readiness.

Some weight, but not more than 40 percent of the overall scores, would still be assigned to how many test questions students answer correctly.

Standards for middle and elementary campuses also would be rewritten to de-emphasize test results.

The legislation requires the new assessment policy, called the Education Quality Index, to be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Using only test scores to determine proficiency has been turbulent going almost from the outset, drawing protest and praise from Sacramento to Washington. Many educators bristle at having their success judged on how students “fill in the bubbles” while others say that’s the only way to hold schools accountable.

Brown’s looming decision carries with it widespread implications for education in California. Nearly 5 million students in grades 2-11 take the standardized tests every year.

“This bill will change schools to help better prepare kids for the real world,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat carrying the legislation.

But to what extent — and how — are questions left unanswered until the state Board of Education fills in specifics by a 2014 deadline. The uncertainty is one reason why educators still cast a wary eye on the legislation.

“There are so many unknowns at this point,” explained Ron Rode, executive director of the office of accountability for the San Diego Unified School District.

Yet there are positives, Rode said. Generally, the San Diego Unified board philosophy appears to match Steinberg’s goals.

“The board wants to look at critical thinking, creativity — broadening how we evaluate the performance of students,” Rode said.

Teachers have similar reservations. “We are concerned about the vagueness,” said Jim Groth, the San Diego-based representative on the California Teachers Association board. For them, a major question is funding: implementation costs have not been fully vetted.

However, teachers see value in the reforms, particularly in language that could eventually provide districts with more latitude.

“It’s getting away from the one-size fits all, test-test-test mentality,” Groth said.

The Academic Performance Index, or API, has its defenders. Among them is Frances O’Neill Zimmerman, a former San Diego Unified trustee, who argues that the policy has sparked a resurgence in academic achievement.

“Parents depend on it,” Zimmerman said. “Scores may be flawed. There may be too much testing. That can be remedied. But if you toss out the API, the community and the public have no way of assessing what is happening at their public schools.”

The legislation, Zimmerman said, “is an end run around accountability.”

Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego, said he’s not convinced that college and career readiness can be fairly measured.

Diluting existing standards could easily “mask some of the low test scores. We do have a serious achievement gap in this state,” he said, referring to the disparity between some lower-scoring minority students and other groups.

Nevertheless, he supports taking another look at the API, but would prefer that educators take time to craft recommendations and follow those with legislation.

Steinberg insists that “test scores aren’t everything” and parents and the community are not receiving a complete picture of school performance.

Many educators have said they are under too much pressure to produce scores on paper — the result of the No Child Left Behind legislation once hailed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

No Child Left Behind threatens failing schools with sanctions — even firing staff or shutting down the worst performing schools. That approach, critics say, has forced teachers to concentrate on exam results instead of focusing on broader student needs. Some suspect the demand for results contributed to test-cheating scandals by teachers and administrators in Atlanta and elsewhere.

Groth, the CTA representative and veteran teacher, said that pressure to do well on tests robs students.

“Teachers are teaching to the test. The creativity of the classroom has been taken away,” he said.

Changes may be on the way at the federal level. President Barack Obama last month announced a plan to grant states waivers from key elements of the federal law, including a 2014 deadline for all students to meet baseline standards in math and reading...

Solana Beach School District special education preschool case goes to Court of Appeals

Case goes to Court of Appeals
Del Mar Times
Oct. 4, 2011

A legal case involving a Solana Beach School District special education preschool student, begun in August 2010, is now with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case is being handled by Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz lawyer Dan Shinoff.

The case has been paid in large part by the Special Education Legal Alliance, formed seven or eight years ago to support potentially precedent-setting cases where the outcome could impact other districts and other cases, said SBSD superintendent Leslie Fausset.

“What happens in so many of these cases is that even if you are right, you have a tendency to settle because it’s often less expensive to settle than it is to go through the full court process,” Fausset said.

She said there is a tendency for districts to settle even when they may not agree because “it is expeditious to do so financially for the district.”

The purpose of the alliance, she said, was for school districts to contribute to a fund to provide resources that would support districts “when they were in the midst of a case that potentially was precedent-setting.”

“Laws get written, and there’s a lot of interpretation with any written law,” Fausset said. “When you settle, you don’t have the opportunity of getting full, clear definition of the intent of the law.”

The Special Education Legal Alliance provides a way for districts to pursue a case through the courts to receive more comprehensive interpretation of the law. “The lack of definition is not helpful,” she said.

The alliance is county-run, Fausset said, and is voluntary for districts. She said her district makes an annual contribution of about $.50 per student, for a projected cost for 2011-2012 of approximately $1,418.50.

“I’ve been very supportive of it,” Fausset said of the legal alliance.

The case to date has cost about $51,650 — about $11,600 from the district and about $40,000 from the legal alliance.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tri-City loses effort to block use of documents

Two stories about the publicly-owned Tri-City Hospital's efforts to avoid transparency.

U-T says Tri-City lawsuit attempts to abridge free speech

Ricky Young
Sept. 26, 2011

U-T anti-SLAPP motion against Tri-City, Sept. 26
Tri-City lawsuit against the U-T, Sept. 15

The San Diego Union-Tribune filed an anti-SLAPP motion today against the Tri-City Healthcare District, alleging that the agency's Sept. 15 lawsuit against the newspaper should be stricken as an attempt to abridge free speech rights.

The public hospital district says it mistakenly sent the U-T attorney-client privileged information in response to a public-records request for executive expense records. The newspaper returned the documents in question as a courtesy, but the agency is suing to block any use of the information.

The newspaper's motion claims the healthcare district's action is a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," not allowed under California law. The motion calls the agency's lawsuit "a brazen affront to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

The U-T Watchdog team, which filed the public-records request, has asked the district for its response to the anti-SLAPP motion and will add it to this post when it's received. The next hearing on the dispute is Oct. 21 before Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman.

Tri-City loses effort to block use of documents
The healthcare district says release to the U-T was a mistake
Aaron Burgin
Sept. 20, 2011

The San Diego Union-Tribune prevailed Tuesday in opposing the issuance of a temporary restraining order in connection with a lawsuit filed against the newspaper by Tri-City Healthcare District.

The district sought to block any use whatsoever of documents that the district sent to the U-T by regular mail and email, along with its initial response to a reporter’s request under the California Public Records Act for executive expense reports and receipts.

Inclusion of of the attached documents was a mistake, the district says, and the newspaper is not entitled to them because of attorney-client privilege.

The U-T reviewed the documents, decided they were not newsworthy at this time and returned them on Monday. Even though the U-T destroyed all copies, the healthcare district proceeded with its application for a restraining order enjoining the U-T’s use or publication of, or reliance on, the communications.

Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman denied Tri-City’s application for a temporary order Tuesday morning, and declined to prevent publication of the underlying information.

The two parties will meet again in Pressman’s courtroom Oct. 21, when the court will hear arguments on whether the district’s request for a preliminary injunction should be granted. In the meantime, the newspaper agreed to give the district reasonable notice before publishing any story that discloses the information the district claims is privileged.

The Oceanside-based district said any use of the privileged documents would put it at a competitive disadvantage.

“Additionally, publication will reveal the district’s litigation tactics and strategy,” the lawsuit states.

Jean-Paul Jassy, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the U-T, said the restraining order sought by the district would be a prior restraint, which is when the government takes action to block communications before they occur. The U.S. Supreme Court, according to the U-T’s response to the district’s lawsuit, has repeatedly ruled that prior restraints are unconstitutional.