Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who is exposing the underbellies of school systems, U-T San Diego or Voice of San Diego?

My challenge to Will Carless at VOSD and Jeff McDonald at U-T San Diego: Why don't you find out the truth about what's going on at SDCOE?

Now that Will Carless has replaced Emily Alpert at VOSD, why doesn't he conduct a "Crosier Watch" similar to the "Petty Watch" he conducted in 2008?

Over the past few years, only a few limited stories about the tactics of education attorneys have crept into the press. Reporters have to beg and plead and practically stand on their heads to get their stories published. Voice of San Diego dropped its coverage of SDCOE attorney shenanigans, and laid-off its stellar education reporter Emily Alpert. CEO Scott Lewis claimed that he didn't have enough money to pay her.

But that explanation doesn't hold water.

Voice of San Diego benefactors Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs, who claim to care about education, could have easily paid Emily's salary with their pocket change if they'd wanted her to stay. And I suspect she would have wanted to stay if her job description had been made more appealing, which would have included being allowed to publish her stories freely. At one time she must have hoped that all her work would result in some changes for children in schools.

It seems Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Emily Alpert weren't on the same page.

I recently discovered (in a story by Jeff McDonald at the U-T) that SDCOE executive Dan Puplava, whom Emily had started investigating, was fined $7000 and had his brokers license suspended while AIG Financial, which was paying Puplava big bucks for moonlighting with them, was fined $300,000 for not properly overseeing him. Still, Puplava retains his job as head of the SDCOE Fringe Benefits Consortium.

Voice of San Diego never even placed a link in its Morning Report to the U-T San Diego story.

To its credit, VOSD's Will Carless is doing a great job investigating a school bond scam in Poway pulled off by board members and their lawyers.

But if VOSD had been willing to aggressively investigate education attorneys, the Poway Capital Appreciation Bonds scandal might have been prevented. Of course, the downside of that for VOSD would be that it wouldn't have an exciting school bond story to write about.

It seems that journalists are a bit like Plaintiff lawyers: they actually benefit from corruption and wrongdoing because investigation it gets them money and fame.

All along, of course, the school attorneys are making work for themselves by advising school boards to ignore the law.

But the public doesn't hear much about this.

In fact, even private bloggers like me and Scott Dauenhaur get sued by SDCOE lawyer Dan Shinoff for defamation on behalf of himself and his pals at SDCOE. SDCOE should stop tax dollars to stop public discussion of school attorney tactics, but it won't.

Shockingly, it seems that U-T San Diego's Jeff McDonald is more willing to expose SDCOE than Voice of San Diego is. As a member of Voice of San Diego, I never thought I'd be forced to confess that we need the U-T in order to get balanced news reporting in San Diego. I never thought Doug Manchester's rag would sometimes do a better job on education than Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs.

The U-T freely admits that it is using the paper to influence voters and officials. You know you're reading a biased paper when you read the U-T. The Union-Tribune has been killing important stories for years.

The problem with VOSD is that the bias is in the censorship--you don't know which stories they killed because donors didn't like them. Except, of course, in cases where VOSD started a story--and then killed it.

See similar problem in Maryland.

Bridgepoint cuts 450 jobs in San Diego

Ashford University Cuts 450 Jobs
By Consumer Bob, R. Stickney and Sarah Grieco
NBC 7 San Diego
Sep 25, 2012

Ashford University announced approximately 450 layoffs Monday morning. A majority of the layoffs were from San Diego, according to a school spokesperson Shari Rodriguez. Employees were told to come in early when they were shown a video and offered a two-week severance package.

Rodriguez says it is part of a company-wide reorganization.

“We were called in to this meeting that we were called in for on Friday, and we had no idea what this meeting was,” a laid off employees told NBC 7 San Diego. “This video comes on and within 30 seconds they’re like, ‘Your position no longer exists, you’re terminated.’”

Another former employee said she was in a room with 100 people when they were told by a human resources representative their positions no longer existed.

“They just said because of all the changes, they were getting laid off," she said. Employees said they were shocked by the news.

“Nobody expected it, it was a shock to everyone,” said a former employee in her 20s. “People were crying, people who have families, people who had just bought cars because they thought they had a stable job no longer have any of that.”

About a dozen former employees gathered at a Pacific Beach bar after they were told the news.

All laid off employees had worked for Ashford for less than six months and worked primarily in the recruitment area. An administrative employee told NBC 7 San Diego that many of those laid off were admissions counselors who dealt primarily with the students.

A statement from Ashford University said the following:

"Ashford University is committed to providing its students with the best opportunity to succeed, and, to that end; a reorganization of Ashford's student-facing staff has been implemented with the goal of improving student retention and academic success. As a result, 400 Ashford employees have been reassigned to roles that will support this new process and, regrettably, approximately 450 Ashford Admissions positions in San Diego and Denver have been eliminated."

The Poway deal gets fishier

I already knew that school boards hired lawyers to help them get away with violating the law, but in Poway they took this practice to a whole new level. This is the district that called kids "depraved" for cheating on tests.

The Poway deal gets fishier
By Felix Salmon
SEPTEMBER 26, 2012

Remember Poway, and the exorbitant interest costs it was paying on its debt? At first glance, those costs were so huge because of the way the deal was structured: there were no interest or principal payments before 2033, and the final payments weren’t due until 2051.

In reality, however, there was something else going on as well: while Poway claimed to have only borrowed $105 million, they were lying about that: in fact, they borrowed $126 million, taking a $21 million kickback on top of the $105 million they were ostensibly borrowing.

As such, in reality they’re “only” paying $855 million of interest on a $126 million principal amount, rather than the $876 million of interest on $105 million in principal that we originally thought. But this is not a good thing. In fact, Will Carless — who’s been pushing this story hard, and has done a huge amount of work in reporting and explaining it — makes a very persuasive case that it’s illegal.

After all, the whole point of pushing the repayment dates back to 2033 and beyond was that Poway had already maxed out everything it was allowed to borrow before that. “When voters allow a school district to issue bonds,” Carless explains, “they set what appears to be a strict dollar limit on how much can be borrowed”. But somehow, that cap on the amount the district can borrow does not seem to be well defined. Somewhere along the way, definitions got fuzzy.

It should be pretty simple, this question of how much someone has borrowed: you just look at how much money they received when they did the borrowing. And to determine how much interest they’re paying, you take all the money they repay, and subtract that initial amount.

But Poway isn’t doing that. Instead, it’s defining the amount that it’s borrowing as the face value on the bonds. Set a bond with a low face value, and you get to borrow much more than face value, without going over the borrowing limit set by voters.

And that’s exactly what Poway did. By artificially jacking up the interest rate on the bonds — and the longest-dated bond, remember, had an interest rate of a whopping 7.2% — Poway managed sell the bonds at a substantial premium to par. That action, according to a formal letter filed by the California attorney general’s office, was not legal. The AG’s office didn’t prosecute Poway, on the grounds that doing so would cause Poway to incur substantial litigation costs. But it explicitly said that Poway’s behavior was unlawful, and that if this kind of thing became a habit, then it might indeed end up being prosecuted.

What’s more, if Poway sold these bonds at 120 cents on the dollar, there’s no way it could buy them back at 105 cents or less, as I suggested a few weeks ago: unwinding this deal is going to be expensive. Not $850 million expensive, of course, but tens of millions of dollars all the same. I was going on the fact that Bondview shows the bonds trading at about 101 cents on the dollar, but there might be something weird going on there.

In any case, the more we learn about this Poway bond, the smellier it gets. And of course officials aren’t talking:

“The simple fact is that [Poway Unified] did not borrow any more funds than those approved by the voters,” Superintendent John Collins wrote in an email on August 29.

Collins wouldn’t elaborate on this position. He and the Poway school board did not respond to several requests for interviews. Nor did Poway officials agree to interviews with their legal or financial staff.

Well done to Carless for pushing on this; I hope his piece causes enough of a stir that Poway is going to be forced to answer for its actions in some forum. But in the meantime, it would be great to get some clarity on which bonds in particular ended up selling at well above par, and where those bonds are trading today. If, that is, they’re trading at all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mitt Romney: Teachers Unions' Contributions To Political Campaigns Should Be Limited

Mitt Romney: Teachers Unions' Contributions To Political Campaigns Should Be Limited
The Huffington Post
By Mollie Reilly

Mitt Romney embraced campaign finance reform on Tuesday. But rather than targeting unlimited corporate contributions or lending his support to existing campaign finance legislation, Romney instead suggested limiting teachers unions' donations to politicians.

The Republican presidential candidate came down on teachers unions for supporting political candidates during an NBC-sponsored forum on education in New York City. During the "Education Nation" event, moderator Brian Williams asked Romney about his thoughts on the teachers' strike in Chicago.

"I don’t know that I would prevent teachers from being able to strike,” Romney said, acknowledging that "allowing to teachers to strike on matters such as comensation" is within their rights.

Instead, Romney said the focus should be on removing the teachers unions' money from the political equation.

“We simply can’t have a setup where the teachers unions can contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interests of the kids," Romney said. "I think it’s a mistake. I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It’s the wrong way for us to go. We’ve got to separate that.”

Romney also noted that the unions tend to be particularly friendly to Democratic candidates.

The former governor's comments fall in line with arguments made against the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, in which the court ruled that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts on campaigns under the First Amendment. Romney has previously declined to criticize the ruling, telling the Portsmouth Herald's editorial board that he believed "their decision was a correct decision."

Romney has advocated for overturning legislation like the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, instead supporting unlimited individual contributions to campaigns as long as there is full disclosure...

Is it possible that Romney is upset with teachers because they didn't give him a good science education?

Mitt Romney Wonders Why Ann Romney's Airplane Windows Don't Roll Down Huffington Post

...After his wife's plane was forced to make an emergency landing this weekend, Romney told the Los Angeles Times, he was worried for her safety. The candidate then continued on a bizarre tangent that showed just how little the Republican nominee understands about flight.

“I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe and sound. And I don’t think she knows just how worried some of us were,” Romney told the paper. “When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly."

Romney said the biggest problem in a distressed aircraft is that "the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous."...

Dan Puplava fined, broker's license suspended, but SDCOE still loves him

Dan Puplava and Diane Crosier had their pal Dan Shinoff sue for defamation when Puplava's dealings were exposed by Jeff McDonald of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2009. Their target settled because he didn't have enough money to pay lawyers to carry on the lawsuit. I assume that was the plan all along, since I doubt that Puplava and Crosier wanted a trial where the whole truth might come out.

Regulators also imposed a $300,000 fine on Puplava’s broker-dealer, AIG Financial Advisors, now known as SagePoint Financial Inc.

See all Dan Puplava posts.

Office of Ed manager was fined, suspended
FINRA found issues with his side business
By Jeff McDonald
May 18, 2012

The official in charge of a $270 million public investment fund for 6,400 educators in the region was fined $7,000 last year and had his broker’s license suspended for three months. He retained his official post.

Daniel Puplava, 50, manages the deferred compensation program for the San Diego County Office of Education. He has simultaneously worked for private brokerage firms, one of which was fined $300,000 in January for failing to supervise him and guard against conflicts of interest.

The fines were issued by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the nonprofit regulatory agency that was reviewing the matter when the U-T wrote about Puplava’s dual roles in 2009.

At the time, Puplava worked for AIG Financial Advisors of Phoenix. He now works for his brother’s company, Puplava Financial Services of San Diego.

In his county schools job, Puplava meets hundreds of potential investors while hosting retirement workshops aimed at growing the deferred compensation program. He said in written responses to questions that he does not refer participants in the county program to his brother’s firm.

“I do not speak of or mention Puplava Financial Services at my presentations,” he wrote. “In addition, the (county schools office) has policy rules and practices that have been put into place that must be followed. If I violate the rules there would be consequences.”

Puplava is paid $108,696 a year by the schools office to run the deferred compensation program, which offers securities, annuities and other investments to educators seeking to boost their retirement beyond government pensions.

The Office of Education said it was aware of the investigation findings and penalties but could not discuss the case in any detail due to confidentiality requirements for agency personnel.

“Mr. Puplava is no longer in a supervisory position and this behavior is not acceptable to SDCOE under SDCOE policy or practice,” the office said in a statement.

Puplava’s pay remained the same when he was removed from a supervisory position, the office said.

Puplava’s dual positions were first reported by the U-T in 2009. The newspaper obtained client statements listing Puplava’s county telephone number as his primary contact for his private investment sales.

The paper documented that Puplava earned $355,000 in commissions in 2006 and was named to the 2008 Achiever’s Council, an honor reserved for agents of AIG Financial Advisors whose commissions and fees exceed $250,000 a year.

County schools officials defended their decision to permit Puplava to run his outside business, saying it was a viable company when Puplava agreed to run the deferred compensation program and there was NO need for him to give up that business.

Still, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority looked into the matter.

Puplava was not penalized for having conflicts of interest between his public-sector job and his personal brokerage business.

Instead, FINRA said Puplava failed to properly supervise a signature stamp that was being used by an assistant. He also kept blank forms signed by his clients, which is not permitted.

“Puplava had customers sign blank securities business-related forms and retained these blank securities business-related forms in his customer files,” FINRA said. “Puplava was aware of his member firm’s prohibition against this practice.”

Puplava said he would have prevailed in the case but admitted the allegations to minimize his legal expenses.

“I was informed by my attorney that I had an excellent chance of defeating any FINRA claims, but the cost would be prohibitive,” Puplava wrote. “Therefore, I settled with FINRA.”

Puplava, who said he shared his commissions with other brokers, accepted the $7,000 fine and two suspensions late last year — one for 20 days and one for three months. The longer suspension was satisfied in January.

The full-time county schools job requires Puplava to hold a broker’s license. Office of Education spokesman James Esterbrooks said Puplava avoided duties that required a license during his suspensions.

“He was in the office doing paperwork,” Esterbrooks said.

Regulators also imposed a $300,000 fine on Puplava’s broker-dealer, AIG Financial Advisors, now known as SagePoint Financial Inc.

“The firm failed to implement a supervisory system reasonably designed to address any conflicts of interest,” investigators from FINRA wrote in their published findings.

In response to questions from The Watchdog, a spokeswoman for the company said, “The protection of our clients’ assets is paramount to SagePoint Financial. Mr. Puplava has not been affiliated with SagePoint Financial since January 2010.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

English Learners Put High-Tech Blackboards to New Use

Wouldn't it be great if someone did a follow-up on the results of the huge investments (see last paragraph in story below) made by local school districts in digitized whiteboards? Here's a story from 2008.

English Learners Put High-Tech Blackboards to New Use
Voice of San Diego
Friday, Feb. 1, 2008

...Magic is now standard at El Toyon Elementary School in National City, where Vazquez teaches bilingual classes for first and second grade students. Here, every classroom boasts an interactive whiteboard; across the National School District, half of classrooms got the tools this year.

National, a district with a history of achieving against the odds, has adopted the technology more widely than any other school district in San Diego County. It's an unlikely Mecca for high-tech, a school where educators say most children go home to play with Nintendos, not PCs. Ninety percent of its students are from low-income households; nearly 70 percent are still learning English.

But here, the technology has yielded results, according to an early study. Test scores ticked upward in the high-tech classrooms, where 5 percent more students passed state tests compared to their less-wired counterparts. Teachers report that students are more attentive and excited, and go absent less frequently.

National City's success points to an emerging focus for the technology: Bringing second-language students up to speed. English-language learners are the core challenge for National City schools, said Superintendent Dennis Doyle, and interactive whiteboards offer new ways to coax them toward success. Eighteen teachers tested the tools districtwide last year. This year, more took on the technology, with 20 boards in use at El Toyon alone.

"It's like … the Wii," Doyle said. "Everyone wanted it. You didn't have to advertise."

Interactive whiteboards aren't new. British schools embraced the boards four years ago, pouring nearly $50 million in government funds into the technology. Proponents tout the boards as a way to keep fickle students engaged, and to cater to different learners with multi-sensory lessons. Yet researchers have been skeptical, noting that achievement hasn't surged as the boards crop up in British classrooms.

But Britain is a world away from National City, where educators say the whiteboards are ideal for English-language learners. The tool is new to National City, but the methods aren't: lots of images and lots of interaction. To explain a word in English, Vazquez can pull a picture from the web; to keep students from tuning out, she sprinkles her lessons with quick quizzes, and invites students to the board to move objects and words onscreen.

[Maura Larkins comment: all of this can be done by any good teacher with a blackboard! When I was a teacher, I had banker boxes full of pictures and appropriate worksheets that I would pull out when my students wanted to pursue and unexpected topic.]

...Interactive boards aren't a magic bullet, educators caution. Like other technologies, they depend largely on how — and if — teachers use them. Past efforts to digitize U.S. classrooms have fizzled, lacking support from teachers, who need training and technical support, said B.J. Afeman, a project specialist in the San Diego County Office of Education. After computers did little to boost scores in the 1990s, many schools are wary of placing their hopes in technology, especially with a budget crisis looming, Afeman said.

"You can't just buy a laptop and expect kids to get smarter," said Afeman, who worked closely with National City on the project. "National did it differently."

National is known for doing things differently — and well. Statewide, its math scores top all other school districts with similar percentages of low-income and English-learning students; its English scores rank fourth. In 2004, two National elementary schools were tapped as exceptionally high-performing schools by Springboard Schools, an Oakland nonprofit that analyzes school success. Its test scores regularly rank it among schools that are far wealthier, whiter and more English-savvy.

Computers are plentiful here compared to most schools in San Diego County, with nearly one computer for every three students. But the key is how computers are used in National City schools, Doyle said — not how many there are.

Teachers decide when and how to use the boards, and are key to whether the lessons flourish or flop. Learning to use the technology takes time, as does crafting special lessons. It took Vazquez six hours to assemble her half-hour class about orange juice. Now, however, she and other El Toyon teachers can always use that lesson, pulling it up year after year.

Doyle has wisely tied technology to measurable goals, instead of heralding the technology itself, said Bruce Braciszewski, executive director of the Classroom of the Future Foundation. National also pushed professional development via the whiteboards. Teachers can trade ideas, archive their charts, and discuss individual students' progress through the system.

"Teaching is no longer that job you do all by yourself," Doyle said.

...South Bay Union School District, centered in Imperial Beach, is eyeing the technology, but nervous about the price, especially as California aims budget cuts at schools.

...Chris Oram, National's technology director, estimated the systems' total cost at $500,000. Each board costs roughly $7,000 including pre-made programs and egg-shaped controllers for students, Oram said. Individual schools pay for the boards, usually out of federal and state funds allocated to help low-income students and English-language learners. Each National City school receives between $250,000 and $500,000 annually in such funds.

National elementary schools also pay for three full-time employees to troubleshoot and train teachers to use the boards — a $250,000 cost,
Oram estimated...

[Maura Larkins comment: I wonder if the whiteboards turned out to be a white elephant. Dennis Doyle hasn't revealed why he suddenly resigned, but perhaps the board was unhappy about excessive spending similar to that in the story below.]

Lavish Spending at San Diego Anti-Terror Center
Colin Weatherby
Voice of San Diego
Oct. 5, 2012

An anti-terrorism center in San Diego was cited in a U.S. Senate report on Wednesday for its excessive spending, reports the U-T.

The state-operated center purchased 55 flat-screen televisions, claiming that the purchase was necessary for monitoring the news. The former director of the center was fired after spending nearly $75,000 on the purchase. The TVs were meant to be used for a training program that never happened, and were instead used to display calendars.

Throw in a few sixers, a bowl of peanuts, and a couple of Chargers posters and we might have San Diego's best new sports bar, right? OK, maybe not.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.

Here is more evidence about how much we harm children by failing to educate them.

Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.
New York Times
September 20, 2012

For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.

Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting. Four studies in recent years identified modest declines, but a new one that looks separately at Americans lacking a high school diploma found disturbingly sharp drops in life expectancy for whites in this group. Experts not involved in the new research said its findings were persuasive.

The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.

The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found.

White men lacking a high school diploma lost three years of life. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed. But blacks over all do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is National Board Certification for teachers a joke?

National Board Certification
December 2007

...Several teachers from our school have pending applications to become National Board certified. Today is the day that their results came out. Today is the day that I learned that National Board Certification is a big fat joke on the American Public School System. Despite the program’s ambitious aim to reward stellar teachers, I realized today that lousy teachers can easily become certified, while great teachers can be rejected and ignored.

You don’t have to be an excellent teacher to become National Board Certified; you just have to create an excellent application portfolio. You can be a loser teacher and become certified! All you need is one good buddy who passed in a previous year to hand over their old portfolio, and then--voila! Throw in a few good videos of yourself teaching a lesson, rewrite your old buddy’s information to match your own, and there you have it- the prestige of being a National Board Certified teacher. What bullshit! Mrs. Frankenstein, who thinks that Alaska is a part of Canada, passed the National Boards today. Esther, who confuses her students with stories of Harriet Tubman building a railroad and thinks that the word legal is a noun, has been a National Board Certified teacher for years. What a joke! On the other hand, wonderful teachers like Caroline, who engage their students on a regular basis and teach phenomenal lessons, are rejected for certification. How ridiculous! I can’t believe that the National Board Certification committee doesn’t realize the holes in their program.

I have lost all respect for those who brag about being certified. Losers can get certified and master teachers can be rejected. The title holds no true standard of excellence.

Of course, now that I have figured out the system, I will definitely apply for National Board Certification. (If I am still a teacher in three years!) Not for the prestige of the award, but because I want the money.

Fagen, Friedman Fulfrost loses PERB case for Jurupa Unified School District

PERB decision against Jurupa Unifed (represented by Fagen, Friedman, Fulfrost) in the case of Ermine Nelson
See also CTA indemnifies Jurupa Unified (!?!)


Charging Party,



Appearances: Richard Ackerman, Attorney, for Ermine Fredrica Nelson; Fagen Friedman &Fulfrost, LLP, by Kerrie Taylor, Attorney, for Jurupa Unified School District.
Before Eric J. Cu, Administrative Law Judge.

...[I]t is found that the Jurupa Unified School District (District) violated the Educational Employment Relations Act (Act), Government Code section 3543.5(a). The District violated the Act by informing Ermine Fredrica Nelson that her employment with the District had been terminated effective March 3, 2010 in retaliation for her participation in protected activity.

Pursuant to section 3541.5(c) of the Government Code, it hereby is ORDERED that the District, its governing board and its representatives shall:


1. Retaliating against Ermine Fredrica Nelson by inaccurately informing her that her employment with the District had been terminated.


1. Within ten (10) working days following the date this Decision is no longer subject to appeal, rescind the September 15, 2010 letter issued to Nelson.

2. Within ten (10) workdays of the service of a final decision in this matter, post at all work locations where notices to certificated employees in the District customarily are posted, copies of the Notice attached hereto as an Appendix. The Notice must be signed by an authorized agent of the District, indicating that it will comply with the terms of this Order.

Such posting shall be maintained for a period of thirty (30) consecutive workdays. Reasonable steps shall be taken to ensure that the Notice is not reduced in size, altered, defaced or covered with any other material.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicago teachers are suspending seven-day strike

Chicago teachers suspend strike, classes to resume
September 18, 2012

Chicago teachers are suspending a seven-day strike in the nation's third-largest city, a move that will send thousands of students back to classrooms.

The union's House of Delegates voted Tuesday to suspend the strike after learning details of a tentative contract agreement.

A proposed settlement was presented to delegates during the weekend. Sticking points included teacher evaluations and job security, provisions at the core of a debate about the future of public education across the nation.

The union delayed its vote to give teachers more time to assess the contract they'll vote on in the coming weeks.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had pushed for a quick resolution as parents found alternatives for about 350,000 students. He even went to court to try to force teachers back to class...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jackson, Miss., schools to no longer handcuff students

Jackson, Miss., schools to no longer handcuff students
Associated Press (AP)

Public schools in Jackson, Mississippi, will no longer handcuff students to poles or other objects and will train staff at its alternative school on better methods of discipline.

Mississippi's second-largest school district agreed Friday to the settlement with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had sued over the practice of shackling students to a pole at the district's Capital City Alternative School.

Nationwide, a report from the U.S. Department of Education showed tens of thousands of students, 70 percent of them disabled, were strapped down or physically restrained in school in 2009-10. Advocates for disabled students say restraints are often abused, causing injury and sometimes death.

The Mississippi lawsuit was filed in June 2011 by Jeanette Murry on behalf of her then-16-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It said staffers routinely restrained students for hours for offenses as minor as dress code violations, forcing them to eat lunch while chained to a stair railing and to shout for help when they needed to go to the bathroom.

The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, says all district employees will stop handcuffing students younger than 13, and can only handcuff older students for crimes. In no case will employees shackle a student to a fixed object such as a railing, a pole, a desk or a chair.

"It's apparent there were severe problems that we hope now are being addressed and will be alleviated," Lee told lawyers in court Friday, just before signing the settlement order.

Troubles at the alternative school helped spark the proceedings that have jeopardized the accreditation of the entire 30,000-student district. The suit also reinforces criticism of alternative schools statewide. A 2009 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that such schools "overemphasized punishment at the expense of remediation."...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chicago teachers extend strike, mayor seeks court order

See update HERE.

Did Camille Zombro move to Chicago? It seems unreasonable for teachers to reject 16% pay rise, just because they don't want to be accountable for student test scores. And the deal that "delegates" rejected even included an appeals process! At least in San Diego Unified, the rank and file was allowed to vote--and they promptly rejected the hard line of Camille Zombro and Emma Leheny (the chief counsel for California Teachers Association). In Chicago, the union leaders won’t let the rank-and-file vote until leaders have had a chance to exert pressure on them. This certainly isn't about teachers wanting to help kids learn.

Chicago teachers extend strike, mayor seeks court order
By Mary Wisniewski
Sep 16, 2012

The confrontation between Chicago teachers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel escalated on Sunday when their union extended a strike and the mayor said he would go to court to block the walkout, risking more friction within President Barack Obama's political coalition as the November 6 election nears.

There will be no classes in Chicago public schools on Monday and Tuesday, affecting 350,000 kindergarten, elementary and high school students.

The showdown left in doubt a deal on wages, benefits and education reforms for 29,000 unionized teachers that negotiators thought they had struck on Friday to end the biggest labor dispute in the United States in a year.

It also could widen a rift within the Democratic Party between education reformers such as Obama's former top White House aide Emanuel, and organized labor, which the Democrats need to get out the vote in the election.

Chicago union President Karen Lewis said some 800 union delegates met on Sunday and decided to consult with rank-and-file members before voting whether to end the walkout...


It sounds like an excellent compromise has been reached regarding teacher evaluations in Chicago. Teachers will be paid more, and will be more accountable.

See previous post on CTU strike.

In Chicago, Outline for a Deal on Teacher’s Contract
New York Times
September 14, 2012

Five days into the teachers’ strike that has halted classes for 350,000 public school students across this city, leaders on both sides of a contract fight said Friday afternoon that they had an outline in place for an agreement that could clear the way for schools to reopen Monday.

Robert Bloch, the attorney for the teachers’ union, said that both sides were still working out the details but that union officials were “hopeful” that they could present a complete agreement to the union’s house of delegates on Sunday.

“This has been one of the most difficult labor contracts negotiated in decades,” he said when asked why negotiations had taken so long.

Emerging from the negotiating room shortly after Mr. Bloch, David J. Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said, “The heavy lifting is over and the framework is in place.” Later, he added that parents “should be prepared to have their kids in school by Monday.”

The two sides broke up for the day but plan to reconvene Saturday morning in Mr. Bloch’s office to work out the remaining details...

Among the proposed changes, according to schools officials: teachers’ raises would average 16 percent over four years at a cost of $320 million, as had already been offered, but would be distributed differently; health insurance rates would not rise for teachers with families, as had been planned, if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program; and an appeals process would be created for teacher evaluations, which have been a significant area of disagreement...

Rahm Emanuel: Rahmbo at the School Barricades
Chicago mayor and Obama confidant Rahm Emanuel explains his cool approach to the city's teachers strike.
Wall Street Journal
September 14, 2012

...Members of the Chicago Teachers Union will reportedly receive 16% raises, over three years, in exchange for accepting a new teacher-evaluation system that relies partly, but not heavily, on student test scores...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Did Channel 10 deliberately misinform the public about Sweetwater trustee John McCann's "patriotism"?

10News and Sweetwater's John McCann, True Patriots?
By Susan Luzzaro
Sept. 13, 2012

Many people believe a 10News report broadcast at 5 p.m. on September 12 deliberately misinformed the public.

On September 10, the Sweetwater Union High School District held a special meeting with an ambiguous agenda that suggested controversial interim superintendent Ed Brand would be awarded a contract. After several hours of deliberation, the board had nothing to report to the public.

Approximately 20 speakers addressed the board prior to the special closed-session meeting. When Kathleen Cheers, a community advocate, gave her speech to the board, she pointed out that the trustees had forgotten to do the pledge of allegiance. About 15 minutes later, board member John McCann requested a pledge of allegiance. The audience laughed.

“They were laughing at Mr. McCann’s opportunism,” said Cheers in a September 12 interview. 10News quoted Stewart Payne, a member of Occupy Sweetwater, explaining the laughter as well: "The moans and groans you hear aren't about the Pledge of Allegiance. They're about John McCann making it about himself again.”

Nevertheless, 10News told the story differently. “Disrespectful laughter at the flag and victims of 9/11,” said news anchor Kim Hunt, leading into the story. “10News has obtained an audio recording of a recent local school board meeting where the crowd appears to laugh at a request to say the pledge and a moment of silence for 9/11…. Joe Little tracked down the people in the audience to get their take on the audiotape,” said Hunt, perhaps inadvertently suggesting the tape’s provenance was dubious.

The newscast included a four-second audio clip of McCann’s request being met by laughter. Before introducing the sound bite, 10News reporter Joe Little told the TV audience, “During the meeting, trustee John McCann realized the board forgot to say the pledge of allegiance.” Joe Little was not in attendance at the meeting.

Whether or not 10News had a recording of the entire meeting — including Cheers’s comment about the pledge being forgotten prior to McCann’s request for the pledge — is unknown.

Payne, a Sweetwater parent and one of the five people who took corruption charges to the district attorney’s office, sent the following message to Joe Little upon viewing the report: “I have watched the [10News] story of the board meeting held at SUHSD on Monday. While I feel the story was fairly reported, it is based on inaccurate and misleading information…”... Payne, who is one of those accused of disrespecting the flag, rarely speaks of his military career. He served 21 years in the Marines, was in three combat zones, and retired as a sergeant major. Following the 10News report, late on September 12, Sweetwater board member Bertha Lopez phoned Little, requesting that he retract his story due to the erroneous context presented. She emailed him today to follow up. As of late afternoon September 13, Little had not responded to Lopez’s messages or two phone calls left by this reporter.

To resolve strike, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) reaches agreement on new evaluations: there will be an appeals process

See update HERE.

It sounds like an excellent compromise has been reached regarding teacher evaluations in Chicago. Teachers will be paid more, and will be more accountable.

See previous post on CTU strike.

In Chicago, Outline for a Deal on Teacher’s Contract
New York Times
September 14, 2012

Five days into the teachers’ strike that has halted classes for 350,000 public school students across this city, leaders on both sides of a contract fight said Friday afternoon that they had an outline in place for an agreement that could clear the way for schools to reopen Monday.

Robert Bloch, the attorney for the teachers’ union, said that both sides were still working out the details but that union officials were “hopeful” that they could present a complete agreement to the union’s house of delegates on Sunday.

“This has been one of the most difficult labor contracts negotiated in decades,” he said when asked why negotiations had taken so long.

Emerging from the negotiating room shortly after Mr. Bloch, David J. Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said, “The heavy lifting is over and the framework is in place.” Later, he added that parents “should be prepared to have their kids in school by Monday.”

The two sides broke up for the day but plan to reconvene Saturday morning in Mr. Bloch’s office to work out the remaining details...

Among the proposed changes, according to schools officials: teachers’ raises would average 16 percent over four years at a cost of $320 million, as had already been offered, but would be distributed differently; health insurance rates would not rise for teachers with families, as had been planned, if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program; and an appeals process would be created for teacher evaluations, which have been a significant area of disagreement...

Rahm Emanuel: Rahmbo at the School Barricades
Chicago mayor and Obama confidant Rahm Emanuel explains his cool approach to the city's teachers strike.
Wall Street Journal
September 14, 2012

...Members of the Chicago Teachers Union will reportedly receive 16% raises, over three years, in exchange for accepting a new teacher-evaluation system that relies partly, but not heavily, on student test scores...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Terry Williams is facing the death penalty for killing a man who raped him for five years

Terry Williams is facing the death penalty
Sept. 13, 2012

Terry Williams is facing the death penalty in three weeks for killing the man who repeatedly raped him.

But when Terry was convicted, the jury didn't know the whole story. At the time of his trial, jurors say they had no history or background of the sexual assault and abuse that Terry Williams had suffered for years.

Terry was brutally raped for five years, beginning when he was thirteen, by an older man he trusted -- Amos Norwood. When the jury learned his information after the trial, five jurors came forward to say that they no longer supported his death sentence. Even Norwood's widow has forgiven him, and does not want Terry to be executed.

Sign the petition on asking Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania to stop Terry's execution scheduled on October 3 -- click here to add your name...


Governor Tom Corbett, PA Board of Pardons, District Attorney Seth Williams: Grant Clemency to Terrance Williams, Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse
by Sue Osthoff
Philadelphia, PA

Signed with 74,762 supporters
25,238 NEEDED

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is preparing to execute Terrance “Terry” Williams on October 3, 2012, in spite of staunch opposition to his execution from the victim’s widow, five jurors from trial, child advocates, former prosecutors and judges, faith leaders, mental health professionals, law professors and others...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thomas Nugent, judge in Bruce Kelman v. Sharon Kramer defamation case between experts on toxic mold, jails one health advocate

See Sharon Kramer's site.

Sharon Kramer, a health advocate who testified in toxic mold cases, was sued in 2010 by a fellow expert for defamation. She was found liable for writing, “Dr. Kelman altered his under oath statements on the witness stand" in the article at the bottom of this post. But Kramer says someone else wrote the article, and she was merely referenced as an expert.

In 2012, after a trial, in which Plaintiff was represented by Keith Scheuer and defendant represented herself, Judge Thomas Nugent of San Diego Superior Court ordered Kramer to sign a statement including the words, “I do not believe Dr. Kelman committed perjury."

Judge Nugent threw Ms. Kramer in jail for three days for contempt for refusing to sign this statement. After three days, he freed her, recognizing that she had not made the statement that she was accused of making, and that opposing counsel had simply made it appear that she had made this accusation.

Here's the March 14, 2012 court transcript:

North San Diego Superior Court, Dept. 30, case number 2010-00061530

THE HONORABLE THOMAS NUGENT: “…I recalled you even said that it wasn’t you who had accused the gentleman of perjury or of altering his testimony. It was rather counsel’s efforts to try to make it sound that way. I don’t know if I remember that right or not, if you did say that or that is how you feel.

[Maura Larkins comment: Judge Nugent should not be concerned with Ms. Kramer's feelings--only with her actual publications.]

THE HONORABLE THOMAS NUGENT: More importantly, I would really strongly urge you give every consideration to agreeing to the proposal counsel made which simply said, “I didn’t mean that”. “I didn’t mean to suggest that”. I’m not saying you have to do that. I’m not. You didn’t hear that from me...

SHARON KRAMER: “No. I did not hear the important thing. I did not hear an apology that the courts framed me for libel seven years ago and I am sitting here in handcuffs for speaking the truth about fraud and policy. If you want to send me back to jail, fine. But I’m not signing an apology for the courts doing that...No. What you’re asking me to do is fraud– to collude with the court to defraud the public...

On March 27, 2012 the following post was published on ContemptOfCourtFor.Me:

"[On] March 13...While Mrs. Kramer was unlawfully incarcerated and being given a false criminal record in the County of San Diego, California, Mr. Kelman was rendering an Expert Toxicologist Opinion on behalf of the County of Orange, California. His “expert” opinion was that the Social Security Administration building in which an abnormal number of employees have cancer and autoimmune diseases, is safe for occupancy by the County employees.”

[Maura Larkins comment: Apparently a Louisiana jury did not believe Mr. Kelman, and found that Social Security workers had indeed been sickened by mold.]

...[A]fter being unlawfully incarcerated for refusing to commit perjury which would aid to defraud the public...She was made to appear before the handcuffs, chains and jail garb with no make up, unbrushed hair & two nights of very little sleep...

While feigning confusion, the Court acknowledged the evidence that Mrs. Kramer was framed for libel by Mr. Kelman’s attorney and the prior courts. No longer mandatory, the Court still strongly urged Mrs. Kramer to sign the fraudulent retraction under penalty of perjury after giving her a false criminal record and incarcerating her for refusing to retract something that she did not do – with the underlying matter having broad adverse impact on public health policy..

On 08/31/2012 there was a Motion Hearing (Civil) at 01:30:00 PM. Ms. Kramer was sanctioned $3000 for three statements.

Jury Finds "Toxic Mold" Harmed Oregon Family, Builder's Arbitration Clause Not Binding
March 9, 2005

A Clackamas County jury on Friday (March 4, 2005) held Adair Homes Inc. responsible for faulty construction practices that caused toxic mold to thrive inside Paul and Renee Haynes' new home in Sandy, Oregon. The jury also found Adair's negligence caused illness in Mrs. Haynes and the couple's two small children – Michael, 6, and Liam, 4. The family experienced severe respiratory, digestive and cognitive impairment. One half of a million dollars was awarded to the injured family.

The case is a first in the Northwest to award damages for personal injury to a family exposed to mold in a newly built home. "This verdict is significant because it holds construction companies responsible when they negligently build sick buildings,” said Kelly Vance, the family's attorney.

Adair Homes, Inc. which builds hundreds of residences each year in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, built the house on the Hayne's five acres in early 2002. Four months after moving in and becoming ill, the family discovered rampant mold growth inside the walls of their new home. Dry wall and insulation were installed while the frame was wet from recent heavy rains. Evidence presented during the trial proved there was standing water in the wall cavities and the crawl space long after the construction was completed. This led to the growth of the toxigenic fungi. “You couldn’t have made the framing in that house more wet if you had sprayed it with a firehose," stated Vance.

By the time the Haynes discovered the mold, it was too late. Mrs. Haynes and the children were exhibiting neurologic and immune system damage. Paul Haynes reported the problem to Adair Homes, but the company refused to take responsibility. The family was forced to flee their new house in an effort to save the health of the mother and young sons.

Two separate medical evaluations substantiated that both Renee Haynes and her son, Michael, had mold antibodies in their blood, indicative of dangerous exposure levels to mold. Numerous experts, including a fungal immunologist, an occupational therapist and a neuropsychologist testified concerning the Haynes children's developmental and sensory integration disorders that began shortly after moving into the Adair built home. The family's treating physicians and therapists agreed that Liam’s and Michael’s medical needs from the mold exposure will continue for several years to come. Michael’s teacher testified that he was placed in a special disabled room at school and may need to remain there until at least junior high school. She expects Liam to suffer the same fate.

Amazingly, the Haynes family almost did not even get to tell their story to a jury. Adair, like many other commercial entities, utilizes an arbitration clause in its contract. That clause designates a specific preferred arbitration service. Adair uses Construction Arbitration Services, Inc., a company based far away from Adair's market, in Dallas, Texas. After the case was filed, Adair moved to stay the case pending arbitration and submitted an affidavit from the owner of the arbitration service, Marshall Lippman. The judge allowed the case to go to trial when the family's attorney showed that Lippman had submitted a false affidavit concealing the fact that he had been disbarred by the State of New York and Washington D.C. The disbarments occurred because Lippman had been found to have stolen funds from his clients.

Dr.Bruce Kelman of GlobalTox,Inc, a Washington based environmental risk management company, testified as an expert witness for the defense, as he does in mold cases throughout the country. Upon viewing documents presented by the Hayne's attorney of Kelman's prior testimony from a case in Arizona, Dr. Kelman altered his under oath statements on the witness stand. He admitted the Manhattan Institute, a national political think-tank, paid GlobalTox $40,000 to write a position paper regarding the potential health risks of toxic mold exposure. Although much medical research finds otherwise, the controversial piece claims that it is not plausible the types of illnesses experienced by the Haynes family and reported by thousands from across the US, could be caused by "toxic mold" exposure in homes, schools or office buildings.

In 2003, with the involvement of the US Chamber of Commerce and ex-developer, US Congressman Gary Miller (R-CA), the GlobalTox paper was disseminated to the real estate, mortgage and building industries' associations. A version of the Manhattan Institute commissioned piece may also be found as a position statement on the website of a United States medical policy-writing body, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Sharon Kramer
Mycotic Disease Awareness

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Florida university slammed for defense in hazing death case

Florida university slammed for defense in hazing death case
By Barbara Liston
Sep 11, 2012

(Reuters) - The family of a Florida A&M University drum major killed in a brutal hazing ritual is "appalled" by the university's claim that the student was responsible for his own death, their lawyer said on Tuesday.

"We are appalled at the audacity of this institution to blame this murder on the victim," said Christopher Chestnut, lawyer for the parents of drum major Robert Champion Jr.

He spoke in reaction to the motion lawyers for Florida A&M filed in Orange County Circuit Court on Monday, when they called for dismissal of the Champion family's wrongful death lawsuit.

The motion said the 26-year-old Champion volunteered to be hazed, in a bid to gain respect from fellow band members, and thus was responsible for his own death.

"Robert Champion, Jr. expressly assumed the risk of the hazing injuries that caused his death," wrote FAMU lawyer Richard Mitchell, in the bluntly worded court filing on Monday.

FAMU also argues that Champion, by submitting to hazing, was an active participant in a forcible felony which makes his family ineligible to win a lawsuit against the university.

"No Florida public university or college has a legal duty to protect an adult student from the result of their own decision to participate in a dangerous crime while off-campus and after retiring from university-sponsored events, as Robert Champion, Jr. did here," Mitchell said.

Chestnut, however, said the issue was not Champion's age but peer group pressure and the university's internal culture.

"There are cultural pressures within the college that is allowed here that basically facilitate this culture. For you to succeed and thrive, part of being in college and in the band is being accepted," Chestnut said.

The university has acknowledged that hazing was a longstanding problem in the band, but Chestnut said it was important to note that Champion was the first band member killed by the ritual.

"Anyone in a hazing has the expectation that I may get hurt but no one expects to be killed...

Evidence piles up that Bush administration got many pre-9-11 warnings

Evidence piles up that Bush administration got many pre-9-11 warnings
By Robert Windrem
NBC News
September 11, 2012

Video: Author Kurt Eichenwald talks about what the White House knew leading up to the attacks and how they used the intelligence information in the months after.

On the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, there is mounting evidence that the Bush administration received more intelligence warnings than previously known prior to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000. Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter, wrote in an op-ed piece in Tuesday’s newspaper about a number of previously unknown warnings relayed to the White House by U.S. intelligence in the weeks and months prior to the attacks.

Eichenwald wrote of the warnings in his new book, “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.”...

The man who calls himself Papa Doug now owns all of San Diego's major papers.

The UT-San Diego yesterday denied that it had bought the North County Times, but today admitted that it had. This makes Voice of San Diego all the more important to San Diegans.

U-T Buys North County Times
September 11, 2012
Voice of San Diego

Developer and U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester now owns two major daily newspapers in the San Diego region: The company jointly owned by Manchester and his partner, U-T CEO John Lynch, bought the North County Times for $11.95 million. Voice of San Diego reporter Rob Davis is on the story and has been tweeting about it this morning:

11 Sep 12
Rob Davis@robwdavis
NCT publisher confirms that, yes indeed, the sale is complete now. Today. For real...

11 Sep 12
Rob Davis@robwdavis
Yesterday's non-sale fiasco has the bad odor of a case of We Wanted to Control Our News So We Denied The Report...

11 Sep 12
Rob Davis@robwdavis
The man who calls himself Papa Doug now owns all of San Diego's major papers. Good time to reread my profile of him.


Syria, Bahrain and Yemen get worst ever rankings

“This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world,” Reporters Without Borders said today as it released its 10th annual press freedom index. “Many media paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements. Control of news and information continued to tempt governments and to be a question of survival for totalitarian and repressive regimes. The past year also highlighted the leading role played by netizens in producing and disseminating news.

“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.

“It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index. This year, they are immediately preceded at the bottom by Syria, Iran and China, three countries that seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror, and by Bahrain and Vietnam, quintessential oppressive regimes. Other countries such as Uganda and Belarus have also become much more repressive.

“This year’s index finds the same group of countries at its head, countries such as Finland, Norway and Netherlands that respect basic freedoms. This serves as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom. It is worth noting the entry of Cape Verde and Namibia into the top twenty, two African countries where no attempts to obstruct the media were reported in 2011.”...

Would you spend 2 and a half years in jail to earn $104 million? The IRS hopes so

Whistle-Blower Awarded $104 Million by I.R.S.
New York Times
September 11, 2012

Sometimes, crime does pay.

Bradley Birkenfeld, a former banker at UBS, recently completed a 2.5-year prison sentence for conspiring with a wealthy California developer to evade United States income taxes.

But Mr. Birkenfeld, 47, has a lot to show for his time and effort: The Internal Revenue Service acknowledged Tuesday that information he provided was so helpful he would receive a $104 million whistle-blower award for revealing the secrets of the Swiss banking system.

Divulging the schemes that UBS used to encourage American citizens to dodge their taxes, Mr. Birkenfeld led to an investigation that has greatly diminished Switzerland’s status as a secret haven for American tax cheats and allowed the United States Treasury to recover billions in unpaid taxes.

In addition to the $780 million that the Swiss bank paid in 2008 to avoid criminal prosecution, the bank turned over account information regarding 4,700 American clients.

The unprecedented disclosure of Swiss banking information — which caused a fierce political debate in Switzerland before ultimately winning approval from the country’s parliament — set off such a panic among wealthy Americans that more than 14,000 of them joined a tax amnesty program. I.R.S. officials say the amnesty has helped them recover more than $5 billion in unpaid taxes.

Mr. Birkenfeld’s award, the largest ever paid by the I.R.S., is also a milestone for the agency’s whistle-blower program, which offers informants rewards of up to 30 percent of any fines and unpaid taxes recouped by the government. The program was revamped in 2006, offering higher rewards and more incentives for citizens to report tax dodges, in an effort to help recover more of the estimated $100 billion a year in underpaid taxes. But the program has been dogged by bureaucratic delays and institutional resistance within the I.R.S., causing some members of Congress to publicly complain that it was being undermined.

While Mr. Birkenfeld’s $104 million award is far less than the billions he sought, its sheer size — which amounts to more than $4,600 for every hour he spent in prison — could spur a surge in new whistle-blower complaints...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago teachers strike to avoid effective evaluations of teachers

I am disappointed in Chicago teachers. If they don't want student scores used in teacher evaluations, then they should have long ago come up with an effective teacher evaluation system. They simply don't want effective evaluations because they don't want to admit that some teachers are much, much better than others. Here's my idea for how to use teacher evaluations.

From Wall Street Journal:

"The two sides have been negotiating for months over issues including wages, health-care benefits and job security. The city has offered teachers a 3% pay raise the first year and 2% annual raises for the next three years. The average teacher salary in Chicago is about $70,000.

"On Sunday night, city officials and union leaders said the wage issues aren't the sticking point. Rather, the two sides are at loggerheads over a new teacher-evaluation system and how much of it should be weighted on student test scores, and over job security for teachers laid off from low-performing schools."

In contrast, teachers in San Diego Unified agreed to concessions in the face of revenue losses by the school district, as discussed in Voice of San Diego:

"The tentative agreement rolls back layoffs thanks to concessions from educators, who agreed to forgo a series of pay raises they were promised by the school board two years ago. Union members also agreed to continue taking five unpaid days off for the next two years.

"A more controversial aspect of the tentative agreement is a provision that calls for teachers to take up to 14 additional unpaid furlough days if voters fail to pass either of two tax measures placed on November’s ballot. That would shorten the school year by as much as three weeks."

Chicago Teachers Go on Strike
Wall Street Journal
September 10, 2012

Chicago's public-school teachers hit the picket lines Monday, shutting down classes for about 350,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district.

The strike came after the city and the Chicago Teachers Unions failed to reach agreement on a four-year contract. The two sides had been negotiating for months and kept talking until late Sunday night before the union announced the strike would go forward. It is the first teachers strike in Chicago in a quarter-century and the first in a big U.S. urban district since one in Detroit in 2006...

Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized union leaders for not delaying the strike, given the progress both sides said had been made in talks through Sunday. "This is a strike of choice," Mr. Emanuel said at a news conference Sunday night. "And because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary." Union leaders said the city's recent concessions were effectively too little, too late, after what they have characterized as bullying in talks in the months leading up to the deadline... The conflict comes amid broader tension during the economic downturn between public-sector unions and state and local governments trying to plug budget gaps.

The Chicago battle has pitted Karen Lewis, one of the country's most vocal labor leaders, against Mr. Emanuel, one of its most prominent mayors and the former White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama. The Democratic mayor has made efforts to overhaul the city's public education a centerpiece of his administration.

The two sides have been negotiating for months over issues including wages, health-care benefits and job security. The city has offered teachers a 3% pay raise the first year and 2% annual raises for the next three years. The average teacher salary in Chicago is about $70,000.

On Sunday night, city officials and union leaders said the wage issues aren't the sticking point. Rather, the two sides are at loggerheads over a new teacher-evaluation system and how much of it should be weighted on student test scores, and over job security for teachers laid off from low-performing schools...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

"Why Elites Fail" explains why school administrators and teacher unions work together to protect their turf at the expense of students

I have seen school administrators and teacher unions working together, at the expense of students, to protect their respective turf. The following brilliant article shows why this happens and asks whether true meritocracies are actually possible.

This article is adapted from Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, © 2012 by Christopher Hayes and published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House Inc.

Why Elites Fail
Christopher Hayes
The Nation
June 6, 2012

In 1990, at the age of 11, I stood in a line of sixth graders outside an imposing converted armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, nervously anticipating a test that would change my life. I was hoping to gain entrance to Hunter College High School, a public magnet school that runs from grades seven through twelve and admits students from all five boroughs. Each year, between 3,000 and 4,000 students citywide score high enough on their fifth-grade standardized tests to qualify to take Hunter’s entrance exam in the sixth grade; ultimately, only 185 will be offered admission. (About forty-five students, all from Manhattan, test into Hunter Elementary School in the first grade and automatically gain entrance to the high school.)

I was one of the lucky ones who made it through, and my experience there transformed me. It was at Hunter that I absorbed the open-minded, self-assured cosmopolitanism that is the guiding ethos of the current American ruling class. What animates the school is a collective delight in the talent and energy of its students and a general feeling of earned superiority. In 1982 a Hunter alumnus profiled the school in a New York magazine article called “The Joyful Elite” and identified its “most singular trait” as the “exuberantly smug loyalty of its students.”

That loyalty emanates from the deeply held conviction that Hunter embodies the meritocratic ideal as much as any institution in the country. Unlike elite colleges, which use all kinds of subjective measures—recommendations, résumés, writing samples, parental legacies and interviews—in deciding who gains admittance, entrance to Hunter rests on a single “objective” measure: one three-hour test. If you clear the bar, you’re in; if not, you’re out. There are no legacy admissions, and there are no strings to pull for the well-connected. If Michael Bloomberg’s daughter took the test and didn’t pass, she wouldn’t get in. There are only a handful of institutions left in the country about which this can be said.

Because it is public and free, the school pulls kids from all over the city, many of whom are first-generation Americans, the children of immigrant strivers from Korea, Russia and Pakistan. Half the students have at least one parent born outside the United States. For all these reasons Hunter is, in its own imagination, a place where anyone with drive and brains can be catapulted from the anonymity of working-class outer-borough neighborhoods to the inner sanctum of the American elite. “I came from a family where nobody went to college. We lived up in Washington Heights. We had no money,” says Jennifer Raab, who as president of CUNY’s Hunter College oversees the high school as well. “It was incredibly empowering.” When she surveys the student body, “it gets me very sappy about the American dream. It really can come true. These kids are getting an education that is unparalleled, and it’s not about where they come from or who they are.”

But the problem with my alma mater is that over time, the mechanisms of meritocracy have broken down. In 1995, when I was a student at Hunter, the student body was 12 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic. Not coincidentally, there was no test-prep industry for the Hunter entrance exam. That’s no longer the case. Now, so-called cram schools like Elite Academy in Queens can charge thousands of dollars for after-school and weekend courses where sixth graders memorize vocabulary words and learn advanced math. Meanwhile, in the wealthier precincts of Manhattan, parents can hire $90-an-hour private tutors for one-on-one sessions with their children.

By 2009, Hunter’s demographics were radically different—just 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic, according to the New York Times. With the rise of a sophisticated and expensive test-preparation industry, the means of selecting entrants to Hunter has grown less independent of the social and economic hierarchies in New York at large. The pyramid of merit has come to mirror the pyramid of wealth and cultural capital.

How and why does this happen? I think the best answer comes from the work of a social theorist named Robert Michels, who was occupied with a somewhat parallel problem in the early years of the last century. Born to a wealthy German family, Michels came to adopt the radical socialist politics then sweeping through much of Europe. At first, he joined the Social Democratic Party, but he ultimately came to view it as too bureaucratic to achieve its stated aims. “Our workers’ organization has become an end in itself,” Michels declared, “a machine which is perfected for its own sake and not for the tasks which it could have performed.”

...In his classic book Political Parties, he wondered why the parties of the left, so ideologically committed to democracy and participation, were as oligarchic in their functioning as the self-consciously elitist and aristocratic parties of the right.

Michels’s grim conclusion was that it was impossible for any party, no matter its belief system, to bring about democracy in practice. Oligarchy was inevitable. For any kind of institution with a democratic base to consolidate the legitimacy it needs to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. The rank and file will not have the time, energy, wherewithal or inclination to participate in the many, often minute decisions necessary to keep the institution functioning....

Read more here: Why Elites Fai.l

Monday, September 03, 2012

It's Called Labor Day, Not SuperPac Day

It's Called Labor Day, Not SuperPac Day (includes video)
Sept. 3, 2012

Prop 32 was intentionally written to advantage corporate special interests and disadvantage working people. The SuperPAC Billionaires are enthusiastic about Prop 32, because it will only make their independent expenditures more powerful.

SuperPac Billionaire, who can also be found on twitter, made a video about his plans once Prop 32 passes. But voters across California are fighting to make sure that never happens.

As a teacher I've dedicated my life to bettering others, and I deserve a voice! I'm saying "no" to this greed by voting "no" on 32!
- Kimberly Laws, San Diego

Join Kimberly by pledging today to vote No on 32