Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Problems in STS foreign student exchange program

 Danielle Grijalva continues to advocate for young people suffering in unhealthy or dangerous homes who get no help from the agencies who who took their money. Here's her latest story:

 16-year old Salla Rautiola from Finland

 16-year old Salla Rautiola after exposure to allergens

Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CFES)
Dec. 28, 2015

16-year old Salla Rautiola signed a contract in January 2011 with STS Kielimatkat for an exchange student year in the French-speaking part of Canada.

STS promises a carefully screened host-family, school placement and local representative and support persons in the exchange-country. They also promise to take into account the health information given in the application form when choosing the host family. Salla had reported that she is allergic to dogs, cats and pollen.

STS provided the host family information in July 2011, one month before the departure date, but withheld the information they had received the day before from STS CANADA that STS could not fulfill the French-speaking program. Instead, Salla would have to be placed with an English-speaking family.
As a host family, STS had chosen a 62-year old single Jamaican immigrant who for the most part socialized with her own relatives and culture and who spoke only Jamaican creole. The Canadian life-style or traditions were not present in any way in her filthy and moldy house. In the Helsinki District Court, as STS witness, a former male exchange student, who had lived in the same house a couple of years earlier, told the court that the host mother never cleaned. He witnessed that it was his and another exchange student’s responsibility to clean the house. At that time there was still a vacuum cleaner in the house. During Sallas stay there was no vacuum cleaner in a house with wall-to-wall carpet. This witness also told the court how the basement was used as a living room where they watched TV and used the computer.

STS Finland country manager, Mira Silvonen, continued insisting that the condition of the home was suitable for an allergic person and gave up to seven different explanations (move, cellar, store etc.) for the pictures Salla had taken of the house.

The shocked child protection officials in Finland stated that they would not even temporarily place a minor in conditions like that. Responsible for this host family’s approval as a host family for an allergic minor for ten months was area representative Sandra Hanniman/STS Foundation Canada.

Within two months, Salla started to get allergic reactions from all the dust and mold (picture). She could not go to school, but the host mother did not let the school know about Salla’s absence as required, something STS later blamed Salla for and issued her a warning about. Because of her strong allergic symptoms, Salla asked both the host mother and the area representative, Sandra Hanniman, to take her to see a doctor, but the host mother stated that: «The doctors don’t know anything» and the area representative said: «Let’s see».

 As parents we had to get the medicine here in Finland and mail them as express to Canada.

Instead of helping Salla get to the doctor, STS Canada area director Kim Berry decided to issue a warning to Salla regarding her host mother not informing Salla’s school about her absence. Salla was invited to STS Canada office 14. Nov. 2011. Salla had written a four page complaint about all the problems and failures on STS’ part so far:
  • There was no school placement arranged by STS when Salla arrived. Salla was turned away from Gisele la Londe-school, because they had no knowledge of the exchange student. It took almost a week to arrange a school placement.
  • The host mother left for five days leaving Salla alone with the allergic symptoms. The host mother did not leave any contact information to Salla and strongly forbad Salla to inform STS about her absence.
  • The host mother did not check her mailbox despite Sallas request. Salla had no key to the mail box. The expensive medication we had sent from Finland lay in the mail box nine days before Salla finally got them.
  • The host mothers fierce mood swings raised questions. She could be laughing and dancing by herself, but in an instant lose her temper and throw dishes to the floor. Once Salla saw a ziplock-bag on the kitchen table and the host mother told her not to touch it and that it was marijuana. As parents we became worried about that and asked STS to investigate. Despite the pictures taken of the supposed marijuana bag, STS only threatened to issue another warning to Salla for spreading unfounded rumours. The local representative, also the host mothers best friend, stated that she did not believe it was marijuana. That was all STS did. Case closed.
The Canadian area director, Kim Berry, did not even bother to view the complaint Salla had left in the STS office 14. Nov. 2011. Nor did STS Finland manager, Mira Silvonen, reply in any way. Whereas STS Canada country manager, Yannick Becu, sent his greetings to me: Strict demand to not interfere in matters.

Aware of Sallas cat and dog allergy, the area representative Sandra Hanniman tried to temporarily house her in her own home where there were several cats and dogs. Salla started getting an allergic reaction during the first evening and had to organize a place for herself with her friends for almost for a week because STS was not capable of doing so.

After having moved to the second host family, we found out that the host mother was a chain smoker with two dogs. The host mother also told how the area representative had convinced her to take an exchange student just for a while to » try it on».  She had agreed to keep the exchange student at most for two months, i.e. to the end of January 2012. At Sandra’s request, this was kept secret from Salla and us.

STS asserts that the host families live up to certain standards, that they are carefully screened and backgrounds checked, homes are inspected and photographed etc. With both of Sallas host families, these promises turned out to be just lies. When showing the pictures taken from Sallas first host family to STS Finland manager Mira Silvonen, she disputed the pictures were not from the host family’s house. STS did not have pictures from the house at all, neither did they show any interest in inspecting the conditions even though STS Canada has an office in Ottawa. When Salla moved in with the second family, STS’ office had no information about the family. We had to ask for address and other information several times. More specific information, for example the age or profession of the host mother, was never given to us.

In the second host family, the host mother’s nephew was a frequent visitor. This army man harassed Salla and without Salla knowing it, loaded porn on her computer. Salla experienced the situation extremely awkward, but was too scared to inform STS about it, because she had already learned that there would not be any kind of support from STS. She also knew that STS could use that porn on her computer as an excuse to dismiss her. A third party got involved and the army man confessed.
STS was aware of the latter host family only hosting temporarily to the end of January 2012. Without even trying to find a new host family for the rest of Sallas exchange time, Mira Silvonen deliberately began fabricating grounds for dismissal demanding supplementary reports about Salla’s health. Mira Silvonen did not think that Salla could have been taken to a health inspection in Canada. Instead she invited us as Salla’s parents to STS office in Helsinki to «discuss Salla’s allergies». On Friday 20. jan. at four pm Mira Silvonen, arrogantly announced that she had dismissed Salla from the program and that Salla would leave on Sunday.

As grounds for dismissal, Silvonen submitted breach of contract. According to Silvonen, we had not given essential information about Salla’s health. We should have mentioned that tobacco smoke can cause symptoms to an allergic person. Silvonen as a layman, had also decided that Salla had asthma that we also had not informed STS of. Mira Silvonen later in Court described how she was shocked to hear that a person allergic to pollen could get a reaction from apples during pollen season. It was the same with an allergic person suddenly getting a reaction from combination of for example spices, perfumes etc. All this should have been mentioned in the application form according to Silvonen.

STS advertises, that they comply with the recommendations of the Finnish national board of education regarding international student exchange. According to these recommendations, as well as STS’s own special terms of conditions, the exchange student and her parents should be informed about dismissal as soon as possible. The organization is also responsible for giving appropriate help and support before dismissal.

Mira Silvonen acted totally against the agreement. She bought flight tickets one month earlier and kept the dismissal secret from Salla and us until two days before departure. Silvonen says that she takes responsibility for the dismissal. She has never communicated, explained or apologized to Salla. She e-mailed the flight tickets without a comment about her decision.

It was left to us parents to inform Salla about this totally unexpected dismissal. In Canada the regional director Kim Berry had told Salla that the reason for her dismissal was «not sufficient interest towards the school» and therefore Salla did not appreciate the opportunity to study abroad. Apparently, Kim Berry was not aware of the fact that Salla was quite successful and was going to be moved to higher class after Christmas.

The Helsinki District Court sentenced STS Kielimatkat to refund €6.505 (US$7105) to Finnish Salla Rautiola due to unfair dismissal and numerous other breaches of contract in their exchange student program.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

School district, Fragozo face off in court

On March 25, 2016 San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Whitney dissolved the restraining order obtained by Escondido Union School District against its own board member Jose Fragozo.

From the Superior Court website:

03/25/2016Minutes finalized for Hearing on Restraining Order
heard 03/25/2016 01:30:00 PM.

03/25/2016Temporary Restraining Order dissolved.

03/25/2016Restraining order as requested denied without prejudice.

Original story:

It seems we have familiar shenanigans going on in San Diego school districts. Escondido Union School District is trying to silence a whistle-blower by destroying his political career.

Here's a pathetic accusation against Jose Fragozo, a board member in Escondido Union School District: "violating personal space."  How is this an offense that deserves a restraining order? 

Then we have "pointing a finger"! Seriously--pointing a finger. 

And my personal favorite, "demeaning staff."  Demeaning staff is normally considered de rigour behavior in school districts. 

Other school officials have committed actual crimes and yet managed to maintain the full support of their districts, and immunity from prosecution. 

I assume this entire case is based on political conflicts.

School district, Fragozo face off in court
by Steve Puterski
Coast News
December 23, 2015

VISTA — The battle between the Escondido Union School District and trustee Jose Fragozo went before a judge on Dec. 18 at the San Diego County Superior Court.

Fragozo is subject to a temporary restraining order filed by Superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra with supplementing statements from three other EUSD administrators on Dec. 2 after the four alleged threatening and harassing behavior from Fragozo. The district is attempting to make the order permanent.

During last week’s hearing, EUSD Board of Trustee Zesty Harper testified Fragozo’s behavior grew increasingly volatile over the last year.

The hearing lasted several hours and was continued until Dec. 23.

Trustee Zesty Harper testified as a witness for the district and Rankins-Ibarra saying Fragozo’s demeanor behind closed doors increasingly grew more aggressive, intimidating and threatening over the past year.

Harper, who was elected last year, said she saw several incidents of Fragozo violating others’ personal space, pointing a finger in faces and demeaning staff during meetings.

The district’s attorney, Daniel Shinoff, told the court his clients suffered through tirades and threats of physical violence from Fragozo. In addition, Shinoff said Deputy Superintendent Leila Sackfield felt, at one point, she had been falsely imprisoned, while Assisatant Superintendents Kelly Prins and Kevin Rubow were targets of bouts of yelling “as close as possible” with Fragozo pointing his finger in their faces.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Sackfield "felt" she was falsely imprisoned? Why didn't she call the police? Why didn't she file a criminal complaint? I suspect the accusation was dreamed up long after the event in question. Has anyone questioned Sackfield's propensity for paranoia?]

Shinoff also cited 158 school shootings since 2013 including three local shootings have given the four added reasons for concern, but Fragozo’s attorney, Laura Farris, blasted Shinoff for attempting to link her client and mass shootings.

During Farris’ opening statement, she said her client has not threatened any district official and his passion for the district stems from wanting the best for its students. She added Rankins-Ibarra is overly sensitive to others in disagreement with how to approach the district’s issues.

In addition, Farris claims the district has prevented Fragozo from performing his duties and “obliterated” his constitutional rights.

“He demanded accountability for test scores,” Farris said. “They are using the shootings to get Mr. Fragozo out of the picture.”

Update from Superior Court files:

Court request to continue the Hearing on Restraining Order and reissue the temporary orders was granted. The Hearing on Restraining Order was continued to 01/08/2016 at 09:00 AM in Department N-21.

For more on Escondido Union School District, see Coach Carter case.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

What can parents and teachers do to fix the serious problems noted in the article below? Easy. Talk to kids!
"Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early-learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing: One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.” Take a moment to digest that devastating conclusion."

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less.

Edmon de Haro

...The academic takeover of American early learning can be understood as a shift from what I would call an “ideas-based curriculum” to a “naming-and-labeling-based curriculum.” 

Not coincidentally, the latter can be delivered without substantially improving our teaching force.

[Maura Larkins comment: It seems clear that most people have given up hope of improving the quality of our teachers. But it could easily be done--without firing any teachers. All you need to do is evaluate teachers effectively, and then assign each teacher to an appropriate job. The best teachers should be used in a completely different manner than they are today--rotating for short periods of time each day among several classrooms.]

Inexperienced or poorly supported teachers are directed to rely heavily on scripted lesson plans for a reason: We can point to a defined objective, and tell ourselves that at least kids are getting something this way...

...New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. 

The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.
That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.

Because so few adults can remember the pertinent details of their own preschool or kindergarten years, it can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades. The changes are not restricted to the confusing pastiche on classroom walls. Pedagogy and curricula have changed too, most recently in response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s kindergarten guidelines. Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called “seat work” (a term that probably doesn’t need any exposition) and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades, in which a teacher carefully controls the content and pacing of what a child is supposed to learn.

One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art. Kindergarten is indeed the new first grade, the authors concluded glumly...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cuomo throws in the towel on teacher quality

I am hard pressed to decide who is  more opposed to effective teacher evaluations: the teachers union or administrators. We don't need test scores to evaluate teachers. Unfortunately, most administrators are not good evaluators. In many, if not most, cases administrators were not gifted teachers themselves.  (That's  often exactly why they became administrators.)

We should evaluate teachers, but we shouldn't fire ineffective teachers. We should just give teachers jobs commensurate with their abilities. Plenty of classroom activities can be done by less-than-brilliant teachers and we can use the best teachers to train the less gifted teachers. Heaven  knows administrators aren't good at training teachers. Here is my plan to share responsibility for student learning between a regular teacher and a part-time master teacher.

Would a guarantee to not fire ineffective teachers get the teachers union on board? I think it might. The main goal of the teachers union seems to be to protect the teachers who have political connections. Sadly, these union leaders and their cronies are not generally the most effective teachers. Why don't we protect their jobs, and protect the kids at the same time?
--Maura Larkins

 Cuomo throws in the towel on teacher quality
December 19, 2015
Gov. Cuomo once called himself the “students’ lobbyist.” Now he’s got a new message: Sorry, kids — maybe someday.

On Tuesday, the Board of Regents officially said amen to that. In a near-unanimous vote, the board took the recommendations of a Cuomo panel and banned any serious consequences for rotten teachers — no matter how embarrassing their students’ scores on state tests.

Teachers who can’t teach, in other words, will get to keep standing in front of whiteboards, confidant that no one will ever lay a glove on them. And too bad on the kids.

True, the new no-consequences rule is supposed to last “only” four years. “At least” is a lot more like it...
Rewind to 2010: State lawmakers, drooling over hundreds of millions in bribe money from Washington, required schools to use test scores in deciding a teacher’s future employment.

But the lawmakers’ plan, as Cuomo would later say, was “unworkable by design.”...

Just last week, the state reported its latest teacher-rating stats: Nine out of 10 teachers scored as “effective” or better — even though two out of three kids continue to flunk the tests...

In Cuomo’s case, because the teachers unions (with help from the likes of West­chester County Exec Rob Astorino) have managed to panic massive numbers of parents into “opting out” of having their kids take the tests. Those parents are voters...

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew boasted of his “gum up the works” battle to prevent evaluations in the city...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

UCSD fails to comply with research reporting law 98% of the time

Law ignored, patients at risk
Stanford University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and other prestigious medical research institutions have flagrantly violated a federal law requiring public reporting of study results, depriving patients and doctors of complete data to gauge the safety and benefits of treatments, a STAT investigation has found.

The violations have left gaping holes in a federal database used by millions of patients, their relatives, and medical professionals, often to compare the effectiveness and side effects of treatments for deadly diseases such as advanced breast cancer.

The worst offenders included four of the top 10 recipients of federal medical research funding from the National Institutes of Health: Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of California, San Diego. All disclosed research results late or not at all at least 95 percent of the time since reporting became mandatory in 2008.

Drug companies have long been castigated by lawmakers and advocacy groups for a lack of openness on research, and the investigation shows just how far individual firms have gone to skirt the disclosure law. But while the industry generally performed poorly, major medical schools, teaching hospitals, and nonprofit groups did worse overall — many of them far worse.

The federal government has the power to impose fines on institutions that fail to disclose trial results, or suspend their research funding. It could have collected a whopping $25 billion from drug companies alone in the past seven years. But it has not levied a single fine.

The STAT investigation is the first detailed review of how well individual research institutions have complied with the law.

Read more: Popular heart surgery carried hidden danger

The legislation was intended to ensure that findings from human testing of drugs and medical devices were quickly made public through the NIH website Its passage was driven by concerns that the pharma industry was hiding negative results to make treatments look better — claims that had been dramatically raised in a major lawsuit alleging that the manufacturer of the antidepressant Paxil concealed data that the drug caused suicidal thoughts among teens.
“GlaxoSmithKline was misstating the downside risks. We then asked the question, how can they get away with this?” Eliot Spitzer, who filed the 2004 suit when he was New York attorney general, said in an interview.

The STAT analysis shows that “someone at NIH is not picking up the phone to enforce the obligation to report,” Spitzer said. “Where NIH has the leverage through its funding to require disclosure, it’s a pretty easy pressure point.”...