Friday, November 30, 2012

High-tech companies that find certain autistic employees are the best at their jobs

I found this article fascinating. Click on the title to see the entire amazing story. It includes a boy who used Legos to tell the story of his life.

The Autism Advantage
New York Times
November 29, 2012

When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading. At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic. “Then came sadness,” Annette says. Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent. The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.

What they read, however, didn’t square with the Lars they came home to every day. He was a happy, curious boy, and as he grew, he amazed them with his quirky and astonishing abilities. If his parents threw out a date — Dec. 20, 1997, say — he could name, almost instantly, the day of the week (Saturday). And, far more usefully for his family, who live near Copenhagen, Lars knew the train schedules of all of Denmark’s major routes.

One day when Lars was 7, Thorkil Sonne was puttering around the house doing weekend chores while Lars sat on a wooden chair, hunched for hours over a sheet of paper, pencil in hand, sketching chubby rectangles and filling them with numerals in what seemed to represent a rough outline of Europe. The family had recently gone on a long car trip from Scotland to Germany, and Lars passed the time in the back seat studying a road atlas. Sonne walked over to a low shelf in the living room, pulled out the atlas and opened it up. The table of contents was presented as a map of the continent, with page numbers listed in boxes over the various countries (the fjords of Norway, Pages 34-35; Ireland, Pages 76-77). Thorkil returned to Lars’s side. He slid a finger along the atlas, moving from box to box, comparing the source with his son’s copy. Every number matched. Lars had reproduced the entire spread, from memory, without an error. “I was stunned, absolutely,” Sonne told me.

To his father, Lars seemed less defined by deficits than by his unusual skills. And those skills, like intense focus and careful execution, were exactly the ones that Sonne, who was the technical director at a spinoff of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecommunications company, often looked for in his own employees. Sonne did not consider himself an entrepreneurial type, but watching Lars — and hearing similar stories from parents he met volunteering with an autism organization — he slowly conceived a business plan: many companies struggle to find workers who can perform specific, often tedious tasks, like data entry or software testing; some autistic people would be exceptionally good at those tasks. So in 2003, Sonne quit his job, mortgaged the family’s home, took a two-day accounting course and started a company called Specialisterne, Danish for “the specialists,” on the theory that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Huge amount of tax dollars spent unnecesarily for school attorneys

The case of Mike Harris v. Roseville Joint Union High School District (even the name of the school district is redundant!) should be shocking. Sadly, this behavior tends to be the norm for school districts.

"“During the lawsuit, I asked to see the district’s attorney bills so I could keep track of how much the district was spending,” Harris says. “I estimate the district paid around $300,000 total to their lawyers and my attorney to keep me from seeing my son’s records.”

“This is not just a question of them trying to violate my rights,” Harris adds. “This is a question of how much money was wasted in the attempt. $300,000 is a huge amount of money, especially now in hard economic times when so many teachers are losing their jobs and so many school programs are being cut. The $300,000 should have been used to pay for teachers, books, or other costs related to educating our students, not a misguided and irresponsible attempt to deny me my rights as a parent.

“It makes absolutely no sense to spend so much money that way. It would never happen if they had to spend their own money—but apparently they operate using different standards when they spend the taxpayers’ money.”

See remarks of Justice for Ninth Circuit in Ka. D. v. Solana Beach School District.

Parent: Trustees' Fight to Keep Records Secret Cost $300K
by Terry Francke, General Counsel
Californians Aware
December 5, 2011

A Northern California school district’s commitment to unlawful secrecy cost it an estimated $300,000 in attorney’s fees—most of it paid to two different law firms to unsuccessfully defend against a parent’s lawsuit to obtain access to his son’s pupil records, the parent says.

Almost two years ago, Mike Harris asked the Roseville Joint Union High School District to show him records in connection with his son’s expulsion from the basketball team for having created a satirical video—off campus and on his own time—about adolescent drug use in the affluent Granite Bay community, and posting it on Youtube. The district showed him some, but not all the requested records.

“They gave me what they said were my son’s complete official record but what they gave me was nowhere near the complete record. They claimed the electronic records and emails that they maintain and use on a daily basis were not official records and that they did not have to give them to me. They were wrong,” Harris says.

When Harris’ efforts to persuade the school to let him see more of his son’s pupil records failed, he hired Paul Nicholas Boylan, an attorney specializing in records access law, to file a lawsuit to help him gain access to the withheld information.

Last January Boylan commenced the court action arguing that the California Constitution, Education Code and Public Records Act gave Harris the right to view his son’s records and that the school district violated Harris’ rights as a parent when they decided to them secret.

The district hired Trujillo & Vinson, a San Francisco Bay Area law firm, to defend against Harris’ lawsuit.

[Maura Larkins comment: Why didn't Trujillo & Vinson tell the school that it must release the records? Because they wanted to keep taxpayer money flowing to their firm.]

“The District’s defense was vigorous,” Boylan says. “They did everything they could to prevent Mike from seeing records that any parent should be allowed to see. But in the end the court decided to defend not just Mike’s rights, but all parents’ rights to see their children’s school records.”

On May 20, Placer County Superior Court Commissioner Margret Wells entered judgment holding that the district violated Harris’ rights and ordered the district to provide Harris with access to a complete copy of his son’s records, including emails and other electronic records.

“It was a huge victory,” Harris says.

But the dispute wasn’t over. As the winning party, Harris asked the court to order the district to pay his attorney’s fees and court costs.

“That’s when things got really nasty,” Boylan says. “As hard as the district fought to avoid letting Mike see his son’s records, they fought even harder to avoid reimbursing Mike for what it cost him to enforce his rights.”

When Harris filed his request for reimbursement, the district hired a second law firm, Meyers & Nave, a large law firm with offices in six cities, to work with Trujillo & Vinson to oppose the claim. However, right before the hearing on Harris’ motion, the case settled when the district agreed to pay Harris’ attorney’s fees and court costs.

“During the lawsuit, I asked to see the district’s attorney bills so I could keep track of how much the district was spending,” Harris says. “I estimate the district paid around $300,000 total to their lawyers and my attorney to keep me from seeing my son’s records.”

“This is not just a question of them trying to violate my rights,” Harris adds. “This is a question of how much money was wasted in the attempt. $300,000 is a huge amount of money, especially now in hard economic times when so many teachers are losing their jobs and so many school programs are being cut. The $300,000 should have been used to pay for teachers, books, or other costs related to educating our students, not a misguided and irresponsible attempt to deny me my rights as a parent.

“It makes absolutely no sense to spend so much money that way. It would never happen if they had to spend their own money—but apparently th

ey operate using different standards when they spend the taxpayers’ money.” As part of the settlement, the district has agreed to let Harris meet with the district board of trustees.

“Over the past two years I have often wondered who was in charge and if they would be held responsible for wasting our taxpayer dollars,” Harris said. “I am certain the Board of Trustees does not know the real story of what happened in my case. They should know so that this does not happen to anyone else. We can’t afford it.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Solana Beach School District loses after using more tax money for yet another appeal in the Ka. D. v. Solana Beach case

See all Solana Beach School District posts.
See all Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz posts.

Irony alert: One of the partners of the Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm, Leslie Devaney, has been a board member of CALA, Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse, an organization that criticizes unnecessary litigation!

The only good thing that Solana Beach School District did for the taxpayers with its excessive spending on the Ka. D. v. Solana Beach case was to cause trustee Art Palkowitz to decide not to run for reelection. The District didn't intend to do this, of course. It probably thought no one would notice what it was up to.

After a justice on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal expressed astonishment that Solana Beach had already wasted so much taxpayer money on the case, Solana Beach School District paid even more public money to the firm to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Ninth Circuit seemed to be wondering what the school board members were thinking when they decided to pursue the case.

Here's what the justice said on Feb. 17, 2012 in Pasadena:

"I am curious.

"This whole dispute is about counsel [attorney] fees, I assume.

"Nobody in their right economic mind would be carrying this case to the Ninth Circuit that seems to me to involve something like $67,000 [in attorney fees]....

"What's really at stake here in terms of the lawsuit itself is whether you should reimburse somewhere between 6 and 7 thousand dollars [to the parents].

"For this amount of money you've gone through a hearing before a hearing officer, a proceeding in the District Court, and now you're appealing to the Ninth Circuit.

"It seems to me, and I don't blame you necessarily, I just want to be clear. This whole dispute is about counsel fees, isn't it?"

On Nov. 26, 2012 the Supreme Court denied the appeal.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cheating scandal: Feds say teachers hired stand-in to take their certification tests

I've been saying for years that we need more highly-capable teachers.

Cheating scandal: Feds say teachers hired stand-in to take their certification tests
By Adrian Sainz
The Associated Press
Nov. 25, 2012

It was a brazen and surprisingly long-lived scheme, authorities said, to help aspiring public school teachers cheat on the tests they must pass to prove they are qualified to lead their classrooms.

For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. — himself a longtime educator — to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.

Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds — if not thousands — of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.

Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver's licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.

The hired-test takers went to testing centers, showed the proctor the fake license, and passed the certification exam, prosecutors say. Then, the aspiring teacher used the test score to secure a job with a public school district, the indictment alleges. Fourteen people have been charged with mail and Social Security fraud, and four people have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the scheme.

Mumford "obtained tens of thousands of dollars" during the alleged conspiracy, which prosecutors say lasted from 1995 to 2010 in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Among those charged is former University of Tennessee and NFL wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who is accused of employing a test-taker for a Praxis physical education exam. He was charged in late October with four counts of Social Security and mail fraud. He has pleaded not guilty and is out of jail on a $10,000 bond. He has been suspended by the Memphis City Schools system.

If convicted, Mumford could face between two and 20 years in prison on each count. The teachers face between two and 20 years in prison on each count if convicted.

Lawyers for Mumford and Wilson did not return calls for comment.

Prosecutors and standardized test experts say students were hurt the most by the scheme because they were being taught by unqualified teachers. It also sheds some light on the nature of cheating and the lengths people go to in order to get ahead.

"As technology keeps advancing, there are more and more ways to cheat on tests of this kind," said Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas. "There's a never-ending war between those who try to maintain standards and those who are looking out for their own interests."

Cheating on standardized tests is not new, and it can be as simple as looking at the other person's test sheet. The Internet and cell phones have made it easier for students to cheat in a variety of ways. In the past few years, investigations into cheating on standardized tests for K-12 students have surfaced in Atlanta, New York and El Paso, Texas.

Still, most of the recent test-taking scandals involved students taking tests, not people taking teacher certification exams. Cheating scams involving teacher certification tests are more unusual, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Schaeffer notes that a large-scale scandal involving teacher certification tests was discovered in 2000, also in the South. In that case, 52 teachers were charged with paying up to $1,000 apiece to a former Educational Testing Services proctor to ensure a passing grade on teacher certification tests.

Teachers from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi took tests through Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., in 1998. The college was not accused of wrongdoing.

Educational Testing Services also writes and administers the Praxis examinations involved in the Memphis case. ETS spokesman Tom Ewing said the company discovered the cheating in June 2009, conducted an investigation and canceled scores. The company began meeting with authorities to turn over the information in late 2009, Ewing said.

"These cases are rare, but we consider them to be very serious and something we have to guard against happening for all the honest test-takers, students and teachers," Ewing said.

Ewing said ETS observes test-takers and reviews test scores to try to root out cheaters. ETS also has received anonymous tips that have led them to cheaters, Ewing said.

Prosecutors in the Mumford case say he, the teachers and test-takers used the Internet and the U.S. Postal Service to register and pay for the tests, and to receive payment. The indictment does not say how much he allegedly paid the test-takers.

An experienced educator, Mumford was working for Memphis City Schools when the alleged scam took place. Authorities say Mumford defrauded the three states by making the fake driver's licenses.

"What happens at many testing centers is that a whole bunch of test-takers show up simultaneously, early on a Saturday morning, and the proctors give only a cursory look to the identification," Schaeffer said. "It's not like going through airport security where a guy holds up a magnifying glass and puts our license under ultraviolet light to make sure it has not been tampered with."

Mumford was fired after news of the investigation came out, and others, like Wilson, have been suspended. But at least three teachers implicated in the scandal remain employed with their school district.

Kingston, the university professor, said prospective teachers may not be confident in their knowledge base to pass the test. Or, the cheaters may believe they are smart enough to pass on their own but also know they are poor test takers.

Kingston said his research has shown that cheating on exams is getting more prevalent.

"The propensity to cheat on exams both through college and for licensure and certification exams seems to be increasing over time," said Kingston. "People often don't see it as something wrong."

The pressure of passing the test could make people do things they normally would not do. And it could take a while for authorities and test-taking services to catch up with the cheaters.

"When people come up with a new method for cheating, it takes some time for folks to figure it out, partly because this has been an understudied area in the field of assessment," Kingston said.

Nina Monfredo, a 23-year-old history teacher at Power Center Academy in Memphis, has taken Praxis exams for history, geography, middle school content, and secondary teaching and learning.

Monfredo, who passed all her tests and is not involved in the fraud case, said the exams she took were relatively easy for someone who has a high school education. She said some people use study aids to prepare, but she didn't. And she didn't feel much pressure because it was her understanding that she could take the test again if she did not pass.

"If you feel like you can't pass and you hire someone it means you really didn't know what you were doing," she said. "I think it would be easier to just learn what's on the test."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Elementary teacher was abusive, parents say

Three comments on the story below:

Ken Platt · Works at Dept of The Navy

If there was really anything to this case then charges would have been filed and the teacher would have been name by now. Especially since this has been supposedly going on for 5 years.

Aaron Burgin [reporter]· Vista, California

Not necessarily, Ken. One of the points of the article is that the administrators haven't filed charges in cases of emotional abuse. So, no, charges might not have been filed even if there was anything to the case.

Maura Larkins

Here we have yet another reason why schools should conduct meaningful evaluations of teachers. The current system is a joke. Evaluations by principals are virtually useless because they are compromised by school politics. Many abusive teachers are protected by administrators and the teachers union. Outsiders should be coming in to schools and observing teachers, and the observations should be stepped up when the question of abuse arises, to protect both students and teachers.

Elementary teacher was abusive, parents say
Humiliation of kids should be reported beyond administrators, they contend
Aaron Burgin
Nov. 21, 2012

SAN DIEGO — For five years, a group of parents complained that one Hardy Elementary teacher’s behavior toward students went beyond discipline — they said it was abuse.

According to their children, the teacher would hurl books across the class or publicly humiliate kids who had body odor by spraying them with aerosol. The teacher would instruct classmates to “think bad thoughts” about students who misbehaved, forgot homework or did poorly on an assignment.

The parents complained to the College Area school principal and followed up with a written complaint to the district. Eventually they were told their complaints lacked merit.

Now, the parents are pressing for the San Diego Unified School District to take a stronger stance against emotional abuse — with steps including reporting accused teachers to law enforcement for investigation.

Although that might sound excessive for a teacher who never laid a hand on a student — and in fact, nonphysical abuse is a crime that’s rarely, if ever, prosecuted — state law and district policy call for just that response.

“The district administrators have turned their backs on our kids,” said Susan Hopps-Tatum, who has emerged as parent advocate for the district to better address cases of reported abuse by its employees. “Emotional abuse has as much of an effect on our children as physical abuse, and the district fails to recognize this.”

The state penal code includes emotional abuse in its definition of child abuse and requires teachers and administrators to report even suspected abuse to child welfare or the police.

According to the school district’s administrative code, “Examples of emotional abuse include such things as belittling, screaming, threats, blaming and sarcasm.”

School district and law enforcement officials would not comment on the specific complaints by the Hardy parents.

They did say the requirement for reporting emotional child abuse is not nearly as clear cut as the parents are reading it.

Area Superintendent David Lorden, who reviewed the Hardy complaints, told The Watchdog he believes the district has the right to conduct its own inquiry to determine if a case “rises to the level of abuse.”

“Until we prove otherwise, they are just allegations,” Lorden said. “It can’t be like, ‘I don’t like the way my teacher talked to my child.’”

That process — letting district officials conduct their own review and decide whether to involve other authorities— seems to be the prevailing practice.

Officials with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, which would prosecute local emotional abuse cases, said it has never handled a straight emotional abuse case.

“When we do handle those cases, they are usually the underlying count of a sexual, spousal or physical abuse case,” said Gina Coburn, spokeswoman for Jan Goldsmith’s office. “There hasn’t been one tried by itself.”

Judith Neufeld-Hernandez, a substitute teacher who pulled her son out of San Diego schools in response to his complaints about the Hardy teacher, said her son would beg his parents on Sunday nights not to make him go to school on Mondays.

“He told me that being in her class was like being a gladiator: You don’t know whether you are going to the lion’s den or if it will be your classmate,” Neufeld-Hernandez said.

Hardy Principal Kathy Wolfe declined to comment. A reporter was not allowed to speak to the teacher involved in the complaint. The U-T is withholding the teacher’s name because the district deemed the complaint unsubstantiated.

School district officials said they do not track complaints against teachers. They said the language of the law gives the district latitude in responding.

“To some parents, if their kid gets screamed at by their teacher, they consider that abuse,” district spokeswoman Linda Zintz said. “If we were to report each of these complaints, law enforcement would be inundated.”v Rod Pacheco, the state assemblyman who sponsored the bill updating the state’s child abuse and mandated reporter laws, said school officials have a duty to report teacher behavior such as what was alleged at Hardy to authorities.

“You’re not entitled to do things like that; it’s not 1910 anymore,” Pacheco said. “It’s 2012. You just don’t get to treat kids that way.”

Pacheco, who handled several high-profile sexual abuse cases during his tenure as Riverside County’s district attorney, disagreed with school officials’ interpretation of the law.

“Clearly, they are not supposed to be evaluating the complaint,” Pacheco said. “If some child says, ‘Teacher X has abused me,’ it is not incumbent on them to decide if that is true. That is not the foundation of whether they report it.

“When they get a complaint they have a duty to report it, period. If it is false, the authorities will determine it is false.”...

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Free Speech Died on Campus

It is important to note that Mr. McShane did not block Ann Coulter's speech. A country with free speech needs to teach students the difference between serious discussion of issues and irrational, anti-social ranting. I'm not saying that Ann Coulter is an irrational, anti-social ranter, but one would need to stop and think carefully before deciding one way or the other. I think this is exactly what the Fordham students did. I think it is reasonable to conclude that the Republican students at Fordham decided they didn't want their organization to be identified with Ann Coulter.

How Free Speech Died on Campus
A young activist describes how universities became the most authoritarian institutions in America.
November 16, 2012

At Yale University, you can be prevented from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on your T-shirt. At Tufts, you can be censured for quoting certain passages from the Quran. Welcome to the most authoritarian institution in America: the modern university—"a bizarre, parallel dimension," as Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, calls it.

Mr. Lukianoff, a 38-year-old Stanford Law grad, has spent the past decade fighting free-speech battles on college campuses. The latest was last week at Fordham University, where President Joseph McShane scolded College Republicans for the sin of inviting Ann Coulter to speak.

"To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans . . . would be a tremendous understatement," Mr. McShane said in a Nov. 9 statement condemning the club's invitation to the caustic conservative pundit. He vowed to "hold out great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed."

To be clear, Mr. McShane didn't block Ms. Coulter's speech, but he said that her presence would serve as a "test" for Fordham. A day later, the students disinvited Ms. Coulter. Mr. McShane then praised them for having taken "responsibility for their decisions" and expressing "their regrets sincerely and eloquently."

Mr. Lukianoff says that the Fordham-Coulter affair took campus censorship to a new level: "This was the longest, strongest condemnation of a speaker that I've ever seen in which a university president also tried to claim that he was defending freedom of speech."

I caught up with Mr. Lukianoff at New York University in downtown Manhattan, where he was once targeted by the same speech restrictions that he has built a career exposing. Six years ago, a student group at the university invited him to participate in a panel discussion about the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that had sparked violent rioting by Muslims across the world.

When Muslim students protested the event, NYU threatened to close the panel to the public if the offending cartoons were displayed. The discussion went on—without the cartoons. Instead, the student hosts displayed a blank easel, registering their own protest.

"The people who believe that colleges and universities are places where we want less freedom of speech have won," Mr. Lukianoff says. "If anything, there should be even greater freedom of speech on college campuses. But now things have been turned around to give campus communities the expectation that if someone's feelings are hurt by something that is said, the university will protect that person. As soon as you allow something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings, anything and everything can be punished."

You might say Greg Lukianoff was born to fight college censorship. With his unruly red hair and a voice given to booming, he certainly looks and sounds the part. His ethnically Irish, British-born mother moved to America during the 1960s British-nanny fad, while his Russian father came from Yugoslavia to study at the University of Wisconsin. Russian history, Mr. Lukianoff says, "taught me about the worst things that can happen with good intentions."

Growing up in an immigrant neighborhood in Danbury, Conn., sharpened his views. When "you had so many people from so many different backgrounds, free speech made intuitive sense," Mr. Lukianoff recalls. "In every genuinely diverse community I've ever lived in, freedom of speech had to be the rule. . . . I find it deeply ironic that on college campuses diversity is used as an argument against unbridled freedom of speech."

After graduating from Stanford, where he specialized in First Amendment law, he joined the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization co-founded in 1999 by civil-rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to counter the growing but often hidden threats to free speech in academia. FIRE's tactics include waging publicity campaigns intended to embarrass college administrators into dropping speech-related disciplinary charges against individual students, or reversing speech-restricting policies. When that fails, FIRE often takes its cases to court, where it tends to prevail.

In his new book, "Unlearning Liberty," Mr. Lukianoff notes that baby-boom Americans who remember the student protests of the 1960s tend to assume that U.S. colleges are still some of the freest places on earth. But that idealized university no longer exists. It was wiped out in the 1990s by administrators, diversity hustlers and liability-management professionals, who were often abetted by professors committed to political agendas.

"What's disappointing and rightfully scorned," Mr. Lukianoff says, "is that in some cases the very professors who were benefiting from the free-speech movement turned around to advocate speech codes and speech zones in the 1980s and '90s."

Today, university bureaucrats suppress debate with anti-harassment policies that function as de facto speech codes. FIRE maintains a database of such policies on its website, and Mr. Lukianoff's book offers an eye-opening sampling. What they share is a view of "harassment" so broad and so removed from its legal definition that, Mr. Lukianoff says, "literally every student on campus is already guilty."

At Western Michigan University, it is considered harassment to hold a "condescending sex-based attitude." That just about sums up the line "I think of all Harvard men as sissies" (from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920 novel "This Side of Paradise"), a quote that was banned at Yale when students put it on a T-shirt. Tufts University in Boston proscribes the holding of "sexist attitudes," and a student newspaper there was found guilty of harassment in 2007 for printing violent passages from the Quran and facts about the status of women in Saudi Arabia during the school's "Islamic Awareness Week."

At California State University in Chico, it was prohibited until recently to engage in "continual use of generic masculine terms such as to refer to people of both sexes or references to both men and women as necessarily heterosexual." Luckily, there is no need to try to figure out what the school was talking about—the prohibition was removed earlier this year after FIRE named it as one of its two "Speech Codes of the Year" in 2011.

At Northeastern University, where I went to law school, it is a violation of the Internet-usage policy to transmit any message "which in the sole judgment" of administrators is "annoying."

Conservatives and libertarians are especially vulnerable to such charges of harassment. Even though Mr. Lukianoff's efforts might aid those censorship victims, he hardly counts himself as one of them: He says that he is a lifelong Democrat and a "passionate believer" in gay marriage and abortion rights. And free speech. "If you're going to get in trouble for an opinion on campus, it's more likely for a socially conservative opinion."

Consider the two students at Colorado College who were punished in 2008 for satirizing a gender-studies newsletter. The newsletter had included boisterous references to "male castration," "feminist porn" and other unprintable matters. The satire, published by the "Coalition of Some Dudes," tamely discussed "chainsaw etiquette" ("your chainsaw is not an indoor toy") and offered quotations from Teddy Roosevelt and The college found the student satirists guilty of "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality."

"Even when we win our cases," says Mr. Lukianoff, "the universities almost never apologize to the students they hurt or the faculty they drag through the mud." Brandeis University has yet to withdraw a 2007 finding of racial harassment against Prof. Donald Hindley for explaining the origins of "wetback" in a Latin-American Studies course. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis apologized to a janitor found guilty of harassment—for reading a book celebrating the defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in the presence of two black colleagues—but only after protests by FIRE and an op-ed in these pages by Dorothy Rabinowitz.

What motivates college administrators to act so viciously? "It's both self-interest and ideological commitment," Mr. Lukianoff says. On the ideological front, "it's almost like you flip a switch, and these administrators, who talk so much about treating every student with dignity and compassion, suddenly come to see one student as a caricature of societal evil."

Administrative self-interest is also at work. "There's been this huge expansion in the bureaucratic class at universities," Mr. Lukianoff explains. "They passed the number of people involved in instruction sometime around 2006. So you get this ever-renewing crop of administrators, and their jobs aren't instruction but to police student behavior. In the worst cases, they see it as their duty to intervene on students' deepest beliefs."

Consider the University of Delaware, which in fall 2007 instituted an ideological orientation for freshmen. The "treatment," as the administrators called it, included personal interviews that probed students' private lives with such questions as: "When did you discover your sexual identity?" Students were taught in group sessions that the term racist "applies to all white people" while "people of color cannot be racists." Once FIRE spotlighted it, the university dismantled the program.

Yet in March 2012, Kathleen Kerr, the architect of the Delaware program, was elected vice president of the American College Personnel Association, the professional group of university administrators.

A 2010 survey by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that of 24,000 college students, only 35.6% strongly agreed that "it is safe to hold unpopular views on campus." When the question was asked of 9,000 campus professionals—who are more familiar with the enforcement end of the censorship rules—only 18.8% strongly agreed.

Mr. Lukianoff thinks all of this should alarm students, parents and alumni enough to demand change: "If just a handful more students came in knowing what administrators are doing at orientation programs, with harassment codes, or free-speech zones—if students knew this was wrong—we could really change things."

The trouble is that students are usually intimidated into submission. "The startling majority of students don't bother. They're too concerned about their careers, too concerned about their grades, to bother fighting back," he says.

Family Claims Football Coach Injured Boy

This story is remarkably similar to the LeBlanc v. Poway Unified case.

Family Claims Football Coach Injured Boy
By Diana Guevara
Oct 4, 2012

Tamara Hansel tells NBC 7 reporter Diana Guevara that a football coach for the San Marcos Pop Warner Football League allegedly harmed her son.

A mother has filed a restraining order against a youth football coach after she claims her son was injured by him.

Tamara Hansel’s 10-year-old son began playing with the San Marcos Pop Warner Football League last month. She claims when the boys began misbehaving, Coach Greg Stephens singled her son out and caused assault injuries to her boy.

“When he got to our son he grabbed him by the front of his chest plate, dug his fingers into his neck and shook him front to back side to side very roughly,” Hansel said. “Which left my son with whiplash and a concussion. He's actually been out of sports now for three weeks.”

Hansel and her husband took their son to the hospital after he began vomiting, she said. Then they called the police and on Sept. 14 they filed a restraining order. Hansel said her husband, Dan Hoffman, argued with the coach just days before the incident, saying that he was punishing his son too hard by making him run too many laps in the heat.

“He has specifically said I will punish your son for your actions he was speaking to my husband,” she said. “Then this happened the following Sunday.”

NBC 7 San Diego tried to reach Stephens, who is also the current president of the Pop Warner Football League, but he has not returned any phone calls.

Court documents show his response to the allegations, where he defends his coaching. "I don't find either one of these activities to be punishing as football requires running, strength and mental awareness,” court documents state. “I am not a coach who strives on punishment.”

Hansel says her son has since been switched to another football team within Pop Warner and that they still come in contact with Stephens. She said Stephens has to remain at least 25 feet away from her and her son.

There are no criminal charges pending at this time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Was the first warning that something was wrong in Poway a May 2012 article by VOSD's Andrew Donohue?

See Update April 2015

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Why exactly was Poway Federation of Teachers President Candy Smiley (left) so happy in this picture?

A few months after this picture was taken, it was revealed that all three Poway Unified board members endorsed by Smiley's organization had voted to sell bonds that would force a future generation to pay a billion dollars in interest for a $126 million loan.

Voice of San Diego editor Andrew Donohue wrote an interesting article last May about "the unique lesson Poway has to teach."

Donohue noted, "Over the last two decades, though, the union and district have forged an uncommonly collaborative bond that started with trust on the budget and has now gone far beyond."

Yes, they were collaborative all the way to a huge scandal about CAB school bonds.

I don't believe that the board would have been able to pull of the CAB stunt without the blessing of the teachers union.

When there's too much "collegiality" among the people who run schools, different points of view don't get aired. Decisions are made behind closed doors. All the public ever sees is the smiling faces of the people who get along so very well together.

School boards work hard to present an image of peace and joy, but that's often the signal that the rest of us should start worrying.

I did more research and found a strong link between the Republican Party and the five Poway school board members who created the CAB bond deal.

Linda Vanderveen, Andy Patapow and Marc Davis openly claim Republican credentials. I couldn't find a party affiliation for Penny Ranftle or Todd Gutschow, but they both received the endorsement of Republican Poway Mayor Don Higginson. It seems that ALL the board members either were Republicans or managed to make themselves acceptable to Republicans.

Interestingly, Marc Davis got the approval of the Poway Federation of Teachers as well as the Republican Party. Penny Ranftle and Todd Gutschow also were endorsed by Poway Federation of Teachers.

Clearly, the bond deal was designed to please Republican constituents who insisted on no new taxes. Todd Gutschow made clear that this demand by constituents was what pushed the board into designing the unusual bond deal.

On November 6, 2012 voters threw out Vanderveen, and likely would have thrown out Patapow if there had been another challenger. Patapow squeaked ahead of Vanderveen by 2032 votes out of about 50,000. Voters replaced Vanderveen with a Democrat, Kimberley Beatty.

Where the Teachers Union and District Love Each Other
May 9, 2012 | Updated: Aug 3, 2012
Voice of San Diego

When Candy Smiley talks about the school district, the pronoun she uses subtly belies the unique lesson Poway has to teach.

"We," she says over and over again.

"We didn't spend the $6 million from the feds. We can't control the state budget," she says. "When we got the money, we could've hired teachers. We decided collectively not to, that we would save it so that we could ensure that teacher salaries would return."

Smiley leads the union for teachers at Poway Unified School District. Further south, things aren't so friendly. The San Diego Unified School District has repeatedly made end-of-days financial warnings, only to find a way to put off painful cuts at the last second. Meanwhile, union leaders have engaged in a full-throated campaign to discredit the district's numbers and the people that produce them. Nobody trusts the numbers; nobody trusts each other.

Things used to be like this in Poway, too.

Over the last two decades, though, the union and district have forged an uncommonly collaborative bond that started with trust on the budget and has now gone far beyond. Upheaval in the leadership of the San Diego teachers union has led to a pledge of greater unity with the district. Meanwhile, the district has continued to plead with the union to at least sit down and start negotiating a solution to a fiscal crisis that looks likely to put hundreds of teachers out of a job.

If both the district and its teachers are serious about repairing their relationship, then Poway is as good a place as any for them to study.

I originally interviewed Smiley and Poway Superintendent John Collins for a story we did on the revolution happening in teacher evaluation, but Poway's tale didn't fit directly into the story.

Still, I learned a lot from our conversation and many of you have asked for more reporting highlighting solutions being used by other communities.

So here are four takeaways from my research:

• How They Came to Trust Each Other

The way Collins and Smiley describe it, Poway once struggled with many of the same problems other local school districts have today. The district and its unions argued over money. The budgets weren't transparent. Nobody trusted each other.

But about a decade and a half ago, things changed. A new superintendent came aboard. The union president wanted to throw out the emotions and just get down to the data. So, the district and the union sat down and went through the budget line by line. They no longer argued about what the problems were, but rather simply how to solve the problems.

From Smiley:

Once you start talking about the data, you start building a trusting relationship.

Everybody grew to understand the budget in a very honest, transparent way. It wasn't "he said, she said." That is the way we have been doing our business ever since. Today, the two groups still sit down together in a room five times a year to do this. The budget is color-coded to show everyone what's gone up and down. For every question the union has, the administration has an answer and documentation to back it up.

In San Diego Unified, the district has offered to bring the union in and go line by line through the budget. So far, the union hasn't taken them up on the offer.

The union argues that the district has a history of miscommunication when it comes to its budget. And it has a point. District officials admit that for years, their budget was in disarray, and that incorrect information was often given out.

But the same officials say that confusion is a thing of the past. District Deputy Superintendent of Business Operations Phil Stover says confidently that he knows where every penny in the district is being spent. All the union has to do is ask, he says, and he can lay it all out.

In Poway, that’s already happening.

Smiley again:

We can ask any question we want and I have complete confidence that I will get a straight answer and there will be back-up documentation.

Pretty soon, you just start building a trust. And when they are honest with me we are honest with them.

I feel very responsible for this relationship that was built before I arrived.

Says Collins:

Over the years what that's resulted is a relationship with the union that's based in trust and open and honest communication. Everything's on the table. All our records are available.

We've already agreed on what the facts are and then we focus on solving the problem.

Instead of arguing we don't want to do this, it was, what are we going to do to keep the district from going bankrupt.

Collins and Smiley even issue joint communications to employees and management. • What That Means Practically for District Finances

In Poway, teachers have taken a 4.3 percent salary rollback and the district has offered early retirement to avoid layoffs. Not out of the ordinary. Other places, like San Diego Unified, have also made similar moves.

However, the rollbacks expire this year and the two sides say the district can handle the increased costs. They decided not to spend one-time money from the federal government immediately after receiving it, instead putting it in a reserve. And they're already talking about renegotiating if everything doesn’t pan out.

"They agreed if things get worse we'll be back at the table," Collins said.

• One Reason Behind the Relationship

Poway teachers are a rare breed in San Diego County.

They're part of the American Federation of Teachers, one of two big umbrella teachers unions in the country. Most teachers across the region, and those in San Diego, belong to the National Education Association.

As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written about, AFT leader Randi Weingarten has been pushing for unions to be actively participating in school reforms.

"I know the AFT has been very progressive," Collins said.

• What That Means for Everything Else

Now, back to the reason I interviewed Smiley and Collins to begin with.

There's a revolution happening right now in how data is used to evaluate teachers and push accountability. It's very controversial, and San Diego Unified isn't having any of it.

Big districts across the country, though, have been.

So I wanted to know if Poway's considering the use of sophisticated data to measure teacher performance.

Their answer: The two sides are in the early stages of meeting and talking about this very thing.

The Poway Federation of Teachers has surveyed its members. They recently had an all-day meeting about assessments with teacher union representatives from every school, every principal, the superintendent, his cabinet and four of the five school board members.

Smiley says evaluation needs to go beyond just test scores. There needs to be multiple measures.

"I'm confident that we will be building our own evaluation tool and we'll decide if we use test scores," she said. "We hope we'll be designing this — rather than having someone else design it for us."

Collins, not surprisingly, agreed.

"We're going to try to get some models in before we get told how to do it. We're hoping we can show the state a better model," he said.

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert in Poway education. This piece is based off of two interviews and a tip I'd received. If you think it's off base or there's something I'm missing, comment on this story or email me. I'm the editor of VOSD and you can reach me at or 619.325.0526.

[Maura Larkins comment: In fact, over a period of years I repeatedly told Andrew Donohue that VOSD was ignoring corruption in our county schools. His response was to refuse to publish important stories. Scott Lewis backed him up. I suspect that Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs' deep pockets are responsible for VOSD's kid-gloved handling of school issues.

In Poway, as in most school districts, the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth

In Poway, two wrongs don't make a right
Mark Schaeffer
Voice of San Diego opinion
Nov 8, 2012

I attended Midland, Twin Peaks, and Poway High schools for much of my K-12 years. When in high school, the school board fired the superintendent, alleging cover-ups in the construction as one of several points. Following this, those board members voting to fire were subject to a recall election.

Then, a custodian of my acquaintance claimed the Mount Carmel auditorium was problematic. I do remember being on-stage for a holiday concert in 1977, wondering what would happen (thankfully, nothing).

When renovation work started, a manager said (I paraphrase), either the original work had no inspectors, or they should be imprisoned.

"Two wrongs do not make a right" should apply here.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Lise Meitner, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics

Lise Meitner From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian, later Swedish, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics.[4] Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize. [5] Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women's scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.[6][7][8] A 1997 Physics Today study concluded that Meitner's omission was "a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist" from the Nobel.[9] Element 109, Meitnerium, is named in her honour.

Meitner was born into a Jewish family as the third of eight children in Vienna... As an adult, she converted to Christianity, following Lutheranism,[1][15] and being baptized in 1908.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Meitner was acting director of the Institute for Chemistry. Although she was protected by her Austrian citizenship, all other Jewish scientists, including her nephew Otto Frisch, Fritz Haber, Leó Szilárd and many other eminent figures, were dismissed or forced to resign from their posts...

After the Anschluss, her situation became desperate. In July 1938, Meitner, with help from the Dutch physicists Dirk Coster and Adriaan Fokker, escaped to the Netherlands. She was forced to travel under cover to the Dutch border, where Coster persuaded German immigration officers that she had permission to travel to the Netherlands. She reached safety, though without her possessions. Meitner later said that she left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse.

Émilie du Châtelet

Advocacy of kinetic energy

In it, she combined the theories of Gottfried Leibniz and the practical observations of Willem 's Gravesande to show that the energy of a moving object is proportional not to its velocity, as had previously been believed by Newton, Voltaire and others, but to the square of its velocity. (In classical physics, the correct formula is Ek = 1⁄2mv², where Ek is the kinetic energy of an object, m its mass and v its velocity.)

[edit]Translation and commentary on Newton's Principia

In 1749, the year of her death, she completed the work regarded as her outstanding achievement: her translation into French, with her commentary, of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, including her derivation of the notion of conservation of energy from its principles of mechanics. Published ten years after her death, today du Châtelet's translation of Principia Mathematica is still the standard translation of the work into French.

Feeding homeless teenagers in Vista Unified

VISTA: Group starts effort to feed homeless teens
Aug. 26, 2012

Volunteers Alex Gamble and Donna Harden stock the shelves in the Vista Teen Outreach's food pantry at Alta Vista High School on Wednesday. The program aims to help feed poor and homeless teens, and donations can be made at Kings Stationers, Sport About, the Vista Chamber of Commerce and all Vista fire stations. The food pantry is the first of several they expect to set up at middle and high schools in the Vista Unified School District.

A group of Vista residents has come together to help feed homeless teenagers in the city.

The dozen or so volunteers started collecting food in November for the effort, which they're calling Hunger Hurts.

Last week, they started distributing the food in a food pantry they created at Alta Vista High School.

Eventually, they plan to have food, clothing and toiletries available at all Vista Unified School District's middle and high schools, said Debbie Medrano, one of the organizers.

Denise Gamble came up with the idea after hearing about the need from customers of her store, Sport About.

"Coaches were telling me that one of their biggest concerns was trying to get food in the kids before they leave school," Gamble said. "I was just kind of blown away by that."

About 2,700 of the more than 22,000 students in the school district are classified as homeless, district officials have said.

The increase is the result of higher unemployment and more rigorous efforts to identify such students, they said.

Homeless, as defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, doesn't just mean students living on the streets, but anybody who lacks "a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence." That would include families who are bunking with relatives or living in trailers.

"We're just trying to show the kids that people out here care and we want them to have a great life," Gamble said. "They're our future."

The volunteers wanted to focus on older kids because they thought there were other programs that collected food for younger children, she said.

The older students "want to go to be normal, and a lot of them are worried about what they're going to eat, if anything," she said.

Originally, the group wanted to start with community barbecues to help feed the needy. However, the volunteers have since decided to start with food banks at schools.

They have also donated some of the food collected to North County Lifeline.

Those with food, clothing or toiletries to donate can drop them off at King's North County Stationers, 1688 S. Melrose Drive, or Sport About, 1310 E. Vista Way.

Friday, November 02, 2012

San Diego Taxpayers Association statement on Proposition 32 is patently false

It's Jim Groth v. Chris Cate in this video from KPBS.

From the interview (and article):

"Groth said union members can choose whether to belong to a union, and if they do belong, they can still opt out of political contributions."...

"Cate said it’s “patently false” that union members can choose whether to be in a union."

Surprise, surprise. Mr. Cate's statement is the one that's patently false.

Teachers don't have to join any union.

If they choose not to join, however, they pay a partial fee because they get salary increases and contract benefits along with all the teachers who pay union dues. This fee does NOT include the part of union dues that goes to political campaigns.

Also, teachers who DO join a union can opt out of fees that go to political efforts.

And, of course, corporations are allowed to use UNLIMITED amounts of money for political purposes thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. They don't need to ask permission from the workers who produce the profits. SuperPACs are also allowed unlimited political expenditures.

Prop 32: Pro, Con And Where The Money Is Coming From
October 29, 2012
By Megan Burke, Maureen Cavanaugh, Peggy Pico

...Jim Groth, a Chula Vista teacher and member of the board of directors of the Prop 32-opposing California Teachers Association, told KPBS corporations outspend unions 15-to-1 in political contributions.

“This is really an attack on the middle class, it’s an attack trying to silence to middle class,” Groth said. “It is putting corporate interests first.”

“This proposition is coming from millionaires and billionaires who have exempted themselves from this Proposition 32 so they can write the rules in Sacramento and they can continue with what they’re interested in,” he said... 'What they have to do is fill out within CTA (California Teachers Association), you fill out one form, one card, and that takes care of it,' he said...