Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Report: U.S. teacher training an "industry of mediocrity"

Report: U.S. teacher training an "industry of mediocrity"
June 18, 2013

The nation's teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom, even as they produce almost triple the number of graduates needed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 programs released Tuesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality review is a scathing assessment of colleges' education programs and their admission standards, training and value. The report, which drew immediate criticism, was designed to be provocative and urges leaders at teacher-training programs to rethink what skills would-be educators need to be taught to thrive in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.

"Through an exhaustive and unprecedented examination of how these schools operate, the review finds they have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms" with an ever-increasing diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic students, the report's authors wrote.

"A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars," the report said.

The report was likely to drive debate about which students are prepared to be teachers in the coming decades and how they are prepared. Once a teacher settles into a classroom, it's tough to remove him or her involuntarily and opportunities for wholesale retraining are difficult — if nearly impossible — to find.

The answer, the council and its allies argue, is to make it more difficult for students to get into teacher preparation programs in the first place. And once there, they should be taught the most effective methods to help students.

"There's plenty of research out there that shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor," said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a supporter of the organization's work.

Democrat Markell said: "We have to attract the best candidates" possible.

To accomplish that goal, Markell earlier this year signed into law a measure making admission to education programs more difficult in his state. Potential teachers must either post a 3.0 grade point average or demonstrate "mastery" results on a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT before they're even admitted to a program.

It's an idea the council has applauded and suggests other states should consider to limit the number of candidates entering teacher training programs.

"You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools," said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement. "If policymakers took this report seriously, they'd be shutting down hundreds of programs."

Some 239,000 teachers are trained each year and 98,000 are hired — meaning too many students are admitted and only a fraction find work.

Among the council's other findings:

— Only a quarter of education programs limit admission to students in the top half of their high school class. The remaining three quarters of programs allow students who fared poorly in high school to train as teachers...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Her lawyer says Simi Valley, CA teacher has mental illness

Malia Brooks, Calif. elementary school teacher, had sexual relationship with student under 14, police say
By Crimesider Staff
CBS News
June 13, 2013 (CBS) SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Malia Brooks, a 32-year-old elementary school teacher in Simi Valley, Calif., is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student under the age of 14, police say, according to CBS Los Angeles.

Brooks, who is being held on $2 million bail, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of lewd acts upon a child, oral copulation of a person under 14 years of age and three counts of genital penetration by a foreign object, the station reports.

It is unclear exactly how old the male student is.

The sixth grade teacher at Garden Grove Elementary School reportedly turned herself into authorities Tuesday.

Allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Brooks and a male student first surfaced on Feb. 22, police reportedly said. Officials allege the relationship took place over a four-month period beginning in late 2012.

At the time, letters were reportedly sent home to parents alerting them that a police investigation was underway. Brooks was not identified at the time because charges had not been filed.

Brooks, who was initially put on leave while the investigation took place, resigned from the district on June 5. She had been employed with the Simi Valley Unified School District since 2004.

Brooks' attorney, Ron Bamieh, says his client suffers from a mental illness, the station reports.

Although there are reportedly no indications that Brooks had any other victims, police are asking anyone with information regarding the allegations to contact the Detective Unit at (805) 583-6248.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Young, black and buried in debt: How for-profit colleges prey on African-American ambition

Young, black and buried in debt: How for-profit colleges prey on African-American ambition
Useless degrees are now too-good-to-be-true tickets to the American Dream -- targeted at those who can't afford it
By Kai Wright
Jun 9, 2013

There are a few dictums that have enjoyed pride of place in black American families alongside “Honor your parents” and “Do unto others” since at least Emancipation. One of them is this: The road to freedom passes through the schoolhouse doors.

After all, it was illegal even to teach an enslaved person to read in many states; under Jim Crow, literacy tests were used for decades to deny black voters their rights. So no surprise that from Reconstruction to the first black president, the consensus has been clear. The key to “winning the future,” in one of President Obama’s favorite phrases, is to get educated. “There is no surer path to success in the middle class than a good education,” the president declared in his much-discussed speech on the roots of gun violence in black Chicago.

Rarely has that message resounded so much as now, with nearly one in seven black workers still jobless. Those who’ve found work have moved out of the manufacturing and public sectors, where good jobs were once available without a higher ed degree, and into the low-wage service sector, to which the uncredentialed are now relegated. So while it has become fashionable lately to speculate about middle-class kids abandoning elite colleges for adventures in entrepreneurship, an entirely different trend has been unfolding in black America — people are going back to school in droves.

It’s true at all levels of education. Yes, black college enrollment shot up by nearly 35 percent between 2003 and 2009, nearly twice the rate at which white enrollment increased. But we’re getting all manner of schooling as we seek either an advantage in or refuge from the collapsed job market. As I’ve reported on the twin housing and unemployment crises in black neighborhoods in recent years, I’ve heard the same refrain from struggling strivers up and down the educational ladder: “I’m getting my papers, maybe that’ll help.” GEDs, associates degrees, trade licenses, certifications, you name it, we’re getting it. Hell, I even went and got certified in selling wine; journalism’s a shrinking trade, after all.

But this headlong rush of black Americans to get schooled has also led too many down a depressingly familiar path. As with the mortgage market of the pre-crash era, those who are just entering in the higher ed game have found themselves ripe for the con man’s picking. They’ve landed, disproportionately, at for-profit schools, rather than at far less expensive public community colleges, or at public universities. And that means they’ve found themselves loaded with unimaginable debt, with little to show for it, while a small group of financial players have made a great deal of easy money. Sound familiar? Two points if you hear troublesome echoes of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Between 2004 and 2010, black enrollment in for-profit bachelor’s programs grew by a whopping 264 percent, compared to a 24 percent increase in black enrollment in public four-year programs. The two top producers of black baccalaureates in the class of 2011 were University of Phoenix and Ashford University, both for-profits.

These numbers mirror a simultaneous trend in eroding security among ambitious black Americans with shrinking access to middle-class jobs. It’s true that the country’s middle class is collapsing for everyone, but that trend is most profound among African-Americans. In 2008, as black folks flocked into higher ed, the Economic Policy Institute found that 45 percent of African-Americans born into the middle class were living at or near poverty as adults.

For too many, school has greased the downward slide. Nearly every single graduate of a for-profit school — 96 percent, according to a 2008 Department of Education survey — leaves with debt. The industry ate 25 percent of federal student aid in the 2009–2010 school year. That’s debt its students can’t pay. The loan default rate among for-profit college students is more than double that of their peers in both public and nonprofit private schools, because the degrees and certificates the students are earning are trap doors to more poverty, not springboards to prosperity.

There’s been growing, positive attention to this problem, and the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to rein in the excesses of for-profit schools are arguably among its most progressive policy goals. But few have understood the for-profit education boom as part of the larger economic challenge black America faces today. The black jobs crisis stretches way back to the 2001 recession, from which too many black neighborhoods never recovered. Workers and families have been scrambling ever since, trying to fix themselves such that they fit inside a broken economy. And it is that very effort at self-improvement, that same American spirit of personal re-creation and against-all-odds ambition that has so often led black people into the jaws of the 21st century’s most predatory capitalists. From subprime credit cards through to subprime home loans and now on into subprime education, we’ve reached again and again for the trappings of middle-class life, only to find ourselves slipping further into debt and poverty.

Kiesha Whatley is an example. The 31-year-old mom in Queens, N.Y., has always done hair on the side to help make ends meet, so in 2006 she decided to go for her cosmetology certificate. She was in the city’s welfare-to-work program, but was able to fill her work requirement by going to school. She figured what she needed most was to get a credential — to get legit. So she enrolled at a small, mom-and-pop for-profit in Brooklyn that her cousin had attended years before, but which had since changed ownership. Over what Whatley says was a seven-month program, she racked up more than $7,500 in debt, much of which she thought was actually a grant. She has still not passed the state cosmetology exam and she’s back to doing hair on her own, now with debt she can’t dream of paying back.

The subprime mortgage crisis was fueled by a similar mix of economic desperation, financial illiteracy and aspirational ideology. For a generation, working-class people who hoped to achieve more permanent economic stability were told, loudly and repeatedly, that buying a home would validate them as legitimate participants in American life, not just as people with an asset, but as true neighbors and community members and citizens. Prosperity preachers and presidents alike sung the praises of the “ownership society,” as George W. Bush so often called it, in which “more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property.” Homeownership was understood then — just as higher education is now — as good no matter what. Just don’t read the fine print.

All it took was one devastating downturn for those doors to slam shut, forcing millions of Americans into foreclosure. That still unfolding crisis has been particularly devastating for African-Americans, who have lost more than half of their collective assets after being targeted with subprime mortgage products. The black-white wealth gap is larger today than it’s been since economists began recording it in 1984. And according to a recent analysis from the Alliance for a Just Society, ZIP codes with majority people of color populations saw 60 percent more foreclosures than white neighborhoods and these homeowners lost 69 percent more wealth.

Now, to make matters worse, expensive, nearly useless degrees may be to the bust years what expensive, totally useless refinance loans were to the boom: too-good-to-be-true golden tickets to the American Dream, sold in an unregulated market and targeted at the people for whom that dream is most elusive.

Last year, Garvin Gittens became a literal poster child for why that market is so dangerous. For several months, his face was plastered all over the New York City subway system as part of a city-led campaign to warn would-be students about debt scams. When we met last summer, Gittens laid out for me how he racked up more than $57,000 in public and private debt in pursuit of a two-year associate’s degree in graphic design at the for-profit Katharine Gibbs School, in Midtown Manhattan. Like subprime mortgages, the debt didn’t appear so intimidating at first, but just as balloon payments capsized so many tenuous family finances, a cascading series of loans, a few thousand dollars at a time, eventually caught up with Gittens. In the end, his degree proved as meaningless as it was expensive. When he went to apply for bachelor’s programs, no legitimate college would recognize his credits because the school’s shoddy performance had finally led the state to sanction it.

So Gittens has started over from scratch — but with tens of thousands of dollars in loans hanging over his head. As I listened to him recount his tale, just as he was about to once again begin his freshman year of college, what struck me most was how insistently the 27-year-old was holding on to his goal of getting credentialed. Even without a degree, he’d built a modestly successful graphic design business of his own. He’d landed fancy internships with hip-hop clothing designers and made smart choices like offsetting his design work with more reliable income from printing jobs. Yet a college degree remained such a coveted treasure for him that, even having wasting tens of thousands of dollars and two years of his life, he was prepared to do it all again.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Attorney Mark Bresee says no conflict for school board member Richard Barrera with job at Labor Council

Mark Bresee

The education elite--administrators and union officials and their respective lawyers--are already working together behind closed doors. They often oppose each other in public, but they're united in keeping the voters ignorant of how decisions are made in schools. Mark Bresee speaks from first-hand experience when he says, truthfully, that board member Richard Barrera's new job on the Labor Council isn't really a problem.

If anything, Barrera will probably be more likely to consider the wellbeing of students when deciding what demands he'll support for teachers.

Attorney: No Conflict for Labor Leader Trustee
By Wendy Fry
Jun 7, 2013
NBC 7 San Diego

An attorney for the San Diego school district has weighed-in on the controversy surrounding a trustee taking a job with the Labor Council.

Outside Counsel Mark Bresee says trustee Richard Barrera has no conflict-of-interest serving on both the school board, and as the chief of the Labor Council.

School trustee Barrera was recently elected as the leader of an umbrella organization that represents 135 unions, some of which are present in the San Diego schools.

"We are pretty much defined as a citizen's board," said Barrera about the school board. "So, obviously, people are going to have other jobs. If my compensation at the Labor Council was structured in a way that if a teacher's union gets a raise, then I get a raise, then I would be required to recuse myself but that's just not the case. My compensation has nothing to do with member union benefits."

The attorney, from the Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo firm hired by the district to do a legal analysis on the situation, agreed.

Barrera should refrain from participating in decisions on which the Labor Council has advocated a specific position, the lawyer also wrote.

In the meantime, an assistant to the board said Friday the board office has received more than 100 phone calls from the public expressing a negative opinion of the situation.

Tony Krvaric, chairman for the Republican party, said a robocall is going out to district parents informing them of Barrera's new job and connecting them to the district to complain.

"The board's own legal opinion urged caution when SDEA or CSEA issues are involved," Krvaric said. "What decisions on a school board don't affect the teachers unions, and who is going to pay for the legal analysis on each vote?"

To read the full legal opinon of the district's outside counsel, click here.

Source: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Attorney-No-Conflict-For-Labor-Leader-Trustee-210639971.html#ixzz2VbPQWeX9

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Sweetwater scandal: Ed Brand’s claims contradicted

Sweetwater scandal: Ed Brand’s claims contradicted
Did he or didn’t he ask for $40,000?
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
June 2, 2013

On May 30, the U-T published the testimony of Sweetwater Union High School superintendent Ed Brand, given to the San Diego County Grand Jury late last year.

In November–December 2012, the grand jury conducted secret hearings to inquire into the alleged corruption of trustees, administrators, and contractors in three South County school districts. Ultimately, 15 trustees, administrators, and contractors were indicted as a result of the proceedings.

Brand told U-T reporter Aaron Burgin on May 30, “If I knew what I know when they asked me to come back [as superintendent of the Sweetwater school district], I wouldn’t have done it.” (Brand's first stint as superintendent spanned 1995–2005; he returned in 2011.)

Brand also complained to Burgin that there was too much contractor influence in the district and that three trustees had asked him to go to the president of Seville Group Inc, Rene Flores, for campaign donations. (Seville Group Inc, or SGI, managed the district’s $644 million Proposition O bond until January 2012.)

The U-T reported: “He [Brand] said that within the first six to eight days of his arrival, [Bertha] Lopez, [Pearl] QuiƱones, and John McCann asked him to solicit campaign donations from SGI President Rene Flores and Jaime Ortiz, the company’s bond manager.”

In the grand jury transcripts, deputy district attorney Leon Schorr asked Brand: “Did you ask him [Flores] on behalf of McCann, [Jim] Cartmill, [Arlie] Ricasa, QuiƱones, or Lopez for any contributions?” Brand answers: “No. Never.”

But in another volume of the transcripts that have been officially released to the public (Brand’s were not) Flores tells deputy district attorney Schorr:

“I want to say something very quick. Dr. Brand in December asked me to give an additional $20,000 to both John McCann and Jim Cartmill and I didn’t do it right away during December for tax purposes. And so I didn’t do it. So he suspended us [SGI] without any reason…and subsequent to that there’s been evaluations done and we have been cleared — my company has been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

So, it seems there is a contradiction in the sworn statements.

Willful Defiance Suspensions Vary Widely Among San Diego County Districts

Click once to see enlarged image.
Willful Defiance Suspensions In San Diego County School Districts, 2011-12

I agree with the California Assembly. We need to lower the drop out rate because we need kids to grow up to be productive citizens. They won't learn that on the streets.

Willful Defiance Suspensions Vary Widely Among San Diego County Districts
By Kyla Calvert
June 3, 2013

In San Diego County, 42 percent of students suspensions in the last school year were for willful defiance. But districts vary widely in how often they used the category.

Students can be suspended in California for 24 types of offenses. They include causing physical harm, bullying and theft. But 48 percent of the state’s suspensions during the 2011-12 school year were willful defiance or disruption.

The state Assembly has passed a bill that would limit the use of willful defiance suspension to middle and high school students and only after a third offense. That bill will now be considered by the Senate.

In San Diego County, 42 percent of students suspensions in the last school year were for willful defiance. But districts vary widely in how often they used the category. It was used to justify between 50 and 55 percent of suspensions in the Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista Unified and Fallbrook Union High School Districts.

At the other end of the spectrum, Grossmont High School District did not use willful defiance suspensions at all last year and the Chula Vista Elementary School District used the category in only 8 percent of suspensions.

Supporters of the bill to curb these suspensions argue the category is too vague and is used as a catch all for disruptive students. They point to the fact that students suspended even once are more likely to drop out as a reason to look for other discipline methods. Opponents argue that school leaders should be able to decide what works best locally.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

LAUSD insurer sues to avoid paying $30 million Miramonte settlement

LAUSD insurer sues to avoid paying $30 million Miramonte settlement
Former teacher Mark Berndt at his 2012 arraignment on charges that he abused students at Miramonte Elementary School.
Los Angeles Times
By Howard Blume
May 31, 2013

An insurance company has sued the Los Angeles Unified School District seeking to avoid paying settlement costs related to alleged child abuse at Miramonte Elementary School.

The action, if successful, could leave the nation's second-largest school system on the hook for an estimated $30 million that it agreed to pay to 58 alleged victims of former teacher Mark Berndt. At least as many claims remained unresolved, with attorneys seeking higher compensation than the settlement provides.

The suit was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by New Jersey-based Everest National Insurance Co.

L.A. Unified also has sought compensation for more than $5 million spent to replace the entire Miramonte staff for half a year after Berndt's arrest in January 2012.

Everest "disputes that there is any coverage under the Everest policies" for the claims by L.A. Unified. "A judicial declaration is necessary and appropriate," according to the suit.

Six other insurers also are named as defendants. All have provided policies to L.A. Unified, the suit claims.

The type of coverage was general liability, and the companies should be responsible for Miramonte costs beyond a "self-insurance" amount, in the district's view. The district's share of the liability should be $3 million or $5 million, said Sean Andrade, an outside counsel representing L.A. Unified.

The likely outcome of the litigation would be a determination of who owes what, said Andrade, adding that all insurers have so far refused to pay Miramonte-related claims.

Everest sued "before the district could sue them for breach of contract or bad faith," Andrade said.

"It's troubling that these insurance companies which were compensated to provide this coverage are now trying to escape responsibility," said district spokesman Sean Rossall. "We’re going to do everything possible to ensure that the carriers honor our policies. We’ve been working diligently to resolve these cases in the best interests of the students while also honoring the district's obligation to preserve resources for all students.”

Berndt, 62, awaits trial on allegations that he spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students in his classroom as part of a tasting game. He has pleaded not guilty. He remains in custody in lieu of $23 million bail.

Southern California School District Settles Lewd ‘Tasting Games’ Claims
By Christina Hoag and Gillian Flaccus
March 14, 2013
Insurance Journal

The Los Angeles school district will pay millions of dollars to settle claims and lawsuits filed by students and families from an elementary school where a third-grade teacher was accused of spoon-feeding children semen in what he called “tasting games,” lawyers in the cases said Tuesday.

District officials did not reveal the total amount of the settlement, but attorney Raymond Boucher, who represents several Miramonte Elementary School students, said each claimant will receive $470,000.

District General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement covers 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed by students and parents against the district after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior spanning five years at Miramonte.

A few of the cases involved another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, who was charged with lewd acts on a child in a case involving a second-grader that authorities said was fondled in class in 2009.

The accusation surfaced after Berndt’s arrest, Holmquist said.

The 58 people involved in the settlement are all students, he said.

Prosecutors said in Berndt’s “tasting games” he fed students his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case.

Springer has also pleaded not guilty.

The allegations against Berndt came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.

Boucher, who represents 13 of the 58 students in the settlement, said proving some of the claims would have been a problem at trial.

Some children did not have photographs of themselves eating the cookies laced with a milky white substance, or of being fed spoonfuls of it, he said.

In addition, there was no way to prove the substance in photos was semen, he added.

Parents also understood that with so many claims, a jury verdict could bankrupt the district, he added.

“We had to do a balancing act and we understood, if you go that second route and you wind up (with the district) in bankruptcy, these clients will never receive compensation for what they’ve been through,” Boucher said.

Frank Perez, an attorney representing eight students, said parents chose to settle rather than put their children through the emotional upheaval of litigation and to put the case behind them.

Other attorneys blasted the settlement amount as paltry and said they would proceed with their cases.

“This is lifelong trauma,” lawyer Brian Claypool said.

Attorney John Manly said the district has not yet explained how the alleged incidents went undetected for so long.

“The district got a great deal today,” he said. “There’s not been a single explanation of who knew what when.”

The case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored.

It also shined a light on how slowly state officials act to censure teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse in the district and in other school systems...