Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Man who oversaw Flint lead poisoning switched to manager of Detroit Public Schools

Darnell Earley was appointed as emergency manager of Flint, Michigan, by Gov. Rick Snyder. As emergency manager he had expansive powers including control over the city’s public works, and while it was yet another Synder-appointed emergency manager who signed the contract to start pumping water out of the Flint River, Earley was the man in charge when the switch over actually happened and lead started leaching into the water delivered to homes.

Earley is, with some justification, under criminal investigation as part of the ongoing Flint crisis. So it’s not surprising that he’s hired a lawyer. What is surprising is what he did with his legal bills.
Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley tried to bill the cash-strapped city $750 an hour for an attorney to sit with him while he was questioned last month in Washington by a congressional committee and to represent him in ongoing criminal investigations related to the Flint drinking water crisis, records obtained by the Free Press show.
Earley, whose office was searched by state investigators on Feb. 29, and who told the City of Flint on March 11 that he is under criminal investigation in connection with the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water, wants the city to pay legal fees that already have topped $75,000 and continue to grow, records obtained under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act show.
Nothing shows that you have nothing but the best interests of a city caught in a budget crunch firmly in mind like billing them $75,000 because you—whoops!—slipped a lead mickey to its kids.

Those worried about Earley (a select group) might want to know what he’s been up to in the last year.
The state moved Earley from the Flint job — where he served from September 2013 to January 2015 — to a new post as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools. Earley served with DPS until Feb. 29, stepping down from the $225,000-a-year job amid controversy and with the school district in worse financial shape than when he took office.
Has anyone seen former FEMA director Michael Brown lately? Seems like these two might have a lot to talk about.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Can it make a big difference if we pay top teachers a top salary?

A recent Mario Koran story at Voice of San Diego leads with the results of some new research:

 "...[R]esearch shows teachers don’t react to financial incentives the way you might expect."

This is true as far as it goes, but this research applies to people who are already teachers.

We need to pay lots more to some teachers to draw a higher number of exceptionally-gifted individuals into the profession.

A few years ago I was happy to hear a school board member say that we needed more highly-intelligent teachers.

But I seemed to be the only person present who agreed with the board member.

"Oh, no!" another attendee protested. "We've already got very talented teachers! Just the other day I was talking to  a woman who is a paramedic who is very excited about becoming a teacher. She seemed so enthusiastic and dedicated."

Well, that's great. I agree that quite a few paramedics could make a successful transition to teaching, but the woman completely missed the point. We're talking about people who function at an even higher level than a good paramedic. We're talking about luring doctors and other similarly high-functioning people.

We need to pay the top 25-35% of teachers enough, and give them enough responsibility, so that people will choose teaching instead of medicine or science or journalism, etc.

Research shows that teachers today are drawn from lower-achieving college graduates than was the case decades ago. When I was a child many women who could have been doctors actually did become teachers. These days we'll need to pay high achievers much more money to get them in the schoolroom door.

Once they're in the classroom, I believe that the research on incentives cited by VOSD will prove true: financial incentives won't make a difference in how those new teachers teach.

Here's the VOSD story:

Why Paying Teachers More Won’t Fix Education

By |

A California appeals court last week reversed a 2014 decision that declared state laws governing teacher hiring and firing violated students’ equal rights to a quality education.
Plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California case –nine students represented by high-profile attorneys – argued state laws made it too easy to hire and too difficult to dismiss a small but significant number of ineffective teachers who disproportionately ended up in impoverished schools.
Last week’s decision vindicated teachers unions who saw the lawsuit as an attack on the tenure, layoff and dismissal policies they support.
In the reversal, a three-judge panel determined plaintiffs failed to show the statutes necessarily harmed students:

“Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.”
“I’m not going to mince words — we lost,” David Welch, founder of the group driving the lawsuit, said in response to the decision. “This is a sad day for every child struggling to get the quality education he or she deserves — and is guaranteed by our state constitution.”
Welch pledged to take the case to the California Supreme Court.
State superintendent of public instruction Tom Torlakson and the California Teachers Association applauded the ruling.
“Stripping teachers of their ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise and the appellate court justices saw that,” CTA President Eric Heins said in a statement.
Vergara has become symbolic of public skepticism that teacher protections like tenure are good for kids. Groups in both Minnesota and New York have initiated similar efforts to challenge teacher protections.
Last year, a poll conducted by USC and the Los Angeles Times found the overwhelming majority of  respondents thought teachers receive tenure too quickly (after 18 months on the job) and that performance should matter more than seniority when teachers are laid off.
“The judges are saying things are not right in California, that there are drawbacks to the current system, but this is not something for the courts to decide,” Katharine Strunk, an associate professor of education at USC,  told the New York Times regarding the Vergara decision.
“I don’t think anyone believes that these laws are the best we can do.”
In other words, regardless of Vergara’s outcome, there’s broad consensus the system could be better.
But if making it easier to fire ineffective teachers wouldn’t necessarily improve teacher quality, what would?
One reader wonders if there’s a way to incentivize better teaching with better pay.
Question: Why are teachers’ unions unwilling to allow for a more pay-for-performance model of teacher evaluations, compensation, promotions, terminations, etc?  We should want to reward the best teachers with better compensation and benefits so as to attract top talent and motivate great results; and we should rid ourselves of underperforming and/or burnt out teachers.  — Jon Bellmonte, interested reader
In 2014, then-Congressional Candidate Carl Demaio announced he’d lead a series of education town hall meetings in San Diego.
The Vergara decision had created a vacuum for teacher evaluation, Demaio said, and he wanted to fill it with measurable performance standards developed by local school boards, teachers and parents. Based on those standards, school districts would reward exceptional teachers:
“I want parental involvement in how we evaluate our teachers. But the most important thing is that we need to make sure that the dollars go to our best teachers. Our best teachers that are actually making progress with our kids should receive whatever available monies we have for pay increases or bonuses,” Demaio told KUSI.
Teachers unions typically reject merit pay. They say teachers aren’t motivated by money.
Lindsay Burningham, president of the local teachers union, told me in 2014 that teachers are motivated not by money and corporate values – but by working in collegial environments where teachers collaborate with colleagues and principals:
If pay was tied to student performance, or test scores, I don’t think teachers would risk it. Because so many factors impact learning that have nothing to do with what happens in the classroom – things like poverty and home life.
Don’t get me wrong, competitive pay helps, especially when you consider that San Diego Unified teachers are among the lowest paid in the county. If you look at the our Fight for 5 campaign, and see the things we’re pushing for, pay and benefit increases is one component – but it’s not the only one.
If salary is what attracts people to the teaching profession, those are the ones who leave after a few years and contribute to the high turnover rate. There’s so much more to it when it comes to retaining teachers, things like low class sizes.”
This was the same argument school board trustee Richard Barrera used when he testified during the Vergara trial.
Barrera pointed to inner city schools like Central Elementary – the school once led by current Superintendent Cindy Marten – as evidence San Diego Unified had raised performance at high-poverty schools by creating collaborative environments in which teachers wanted to work.
Things like merit pay, or even evaluating teachers based on the improvement shown by students in their class, would divide teachers and make them less likely to share information with their colleagues, Barrera said.
This might sound like a cynical attempt to preserve the status quo, but there’s evidence to support Barrera and Burningham’s points.
After the Vergara ruling in 2014, education writer Dana Goldstein highlighted some of the reasons merit pay has had trouble gaining traction:
“From 2009 to 2011, the federal government offered 1,500 effective teachers in 10 major cities—including Los Angeles—a $20,000 bonus to transfer to an open job at a higher poverty school with lower test scores. In the world of public education, $20,000 is a major financial incentive. All these teachers were already employed by urban districts with diverse student populations; they weren’t scared of working with poor, non-white children. Yet less than a quarter of the eligible teachers chose to apply for the bonuses. Most did not want to teach in the schools that were the most deeply segregated by race and class and faced major pressure to raise test scores.”
Firing bad teachers, Goldstein writes, doesn’t address the larger problem: getting good teachers to take jobs in high-poverty, racially isolated schools.
To do that, Goldstein writes elsewhere, we need to reimagine the problem, such as by focusing more on principals, instead of only looking to teachers.
That’s not to say school districts should stop looking for better ways to recruit, train and evaluate teachers. But reforms focused exclusively on teachers overlook the larger systems in which high-poverty schools operate.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Kids reacting to Trump bring fear and loathing to our schools

‘The Trump Effect’: Hatred, Fear And Bullying On The Rise In Schools

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center shines a light on a disturbing trend.


WASHINGTON - It was only a matter of time before kids started picking up the aggressive, divisive language that’s become a hallmark of the 2016 presidential campaign.

According to a new report by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center titled “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on our Nation’s Schools,” the race is stoking fears and racial tensions in America’s classrooms.

...The report identified two troubling trends: more openly racist and vicious bullying of minorities, and more fear and anxiety among immigrants and minorities about what would happen to them if certain candidates for president are elected.
The survey did not name specific candidates, but teachers named Trump, the Republican front-runner, in more than 1,000 comments — five times more often than they mentioned any of the other candidates.
And for good reason: Trump’s xenophobic, populist rhetoric has brought the nation’s political discourse to new lows. When he’s not indirectly bragging about his genitalia or mocking disabled people, Trump has proposed banning Muslims from entering the country, embraced the use of war crimes to deal with terrorism suspects, and has accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States.
The SPLC report also illustrates how American schoolchildren are adopting Trump’s overall tone — which so often includes name-calling and scapegoating. More than any specific policy proposal, teachers said, kids were expressing more hatred for more people.
“So many of my students have begun to show hatred towards refugees, low-income and poverty citizens, and there has been an increase in religious bias,” one teacher wrote. Scores of educators shared similar sentiments in the survey comments.
“There’s a sense that if someone doesn’t agree with you, it’s acceptable (even encouraged) to have hatred and anger towards them,” wrote another.
I can be neutral about Democrats and Republicans, but not about racists. Teacher’s comment to the Southern Poverty Law Center survey
Best known for tracking and combating hate groups and extremists, the SPLC has also expressed alarm about the support that Trump’s campaign is receiving from white nationalist groups.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke endorsed the real estate mogul earlier this year. Rather than denounce Duke outright on national TV, Trump hemmed and hawed, saying he would have to research Duke’s beliefs before commenting. Many viewed this as a dog-whistle appeal to conservative Southern voters, some of whom are still skeptical of racial integration.
Against the backdrop of such a venomous presidential campaign, teachers told the SPLC that they’re struggling with how to teach children what it means to debate respectfully, especially as the GOP race devolves into name-calling and trading insults about the rival candidate’s spouse.
The report also revealed how teachers feel torn between wanting to use the presidential election to teach civics and worrying about expressing personal political opinions to their students.
More than 40 percent of the teachers who filled out the survey said they were “hesitant to teach about the election.”...

Monday, April 11, 2016

School officer fired after video showed him body-slamming a 12-year-old girl

Link: School officer fired after video showed him body-slamming a 12-year-old girl
On March 29, Janissa Valdez, 12, was thrown to the ground by a school police officer named Joshua Kehm. Valdez and her mother spoke to KSAT-TV about what happened. 
A Texas school police officer who became enmeshed in controversy after he was captured on video seemingly body-slamming a sixth-grade girl has been fired from the San Antonio Independent School District.

District officials said officer Joshua Kehm was terminated Monday amid an investigation into an incident last month at Rhodes Middle School, in which he appeared to restrain and then throw down 12-year-old student Janissa Valdez.

“We understand that situations can sometimes escalate to the point of requiring a physical response; however, in this situation we believe that the extent of the response was absolutely unwarranted,” school district Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “Additionally, the officer’s report was inconsistent with the video and it was also delayed, which is not in accordance with the general operating procedures of the police department...

Saturday, April 09, 2016

North County Report includes intesting comments about CAB bonds and secretive lawyers


Someone complained to Google about the following post, and Google decided to play around with my blog. They moved the post from my home page. So I'm republishing it.

Note to Google:

By the way, Google, who is it exactly that you're doing favors for? I think this is a pretty tame opinion piece. What exactly is it that you don't want the public to see?

Your move, Google. Remember your own motto: don't be evil.


"...Beatty voiced concerns with Shinoff’s work for San Ysidro schools and a recent unsuccessful attempt to get a restraining order against an outspoken Poway Unified resident WITHOUT THE BOARD'S KNOWLEDGE" (emphasis added).
-- from North County Report by , Voice of San Diego April 6, 2016

Maura Larkins' comment:

I applaud Kimberly Beatty's efforts to have the Poway Unified School Board take more responsibility for the district's actions in court.
But Ms. Beatty has her work cut out for her if she thinks she's going to be able to get the board to deal with issues that it has traditionally let lawyers deal with.

There's a reason that school lawyers take action without consulting the board. It's the way things are done in most districts. It helps incumbent board members avoid controversial issues. And Beatty might have the courage to deal with hot-button issues, but I think she'll find that most of her fellows on the board will want to leave things as they are.

Sure, the board might decide to discontinue its relationship with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm. But will the board want to change the way legal business is normally handled?
School board members regularly set up firewalls so they can claim they know nothing about what the lawyers are doing. If Beatty is talking about the Chris Garnier case, then the board can hardly claim ignorance of what was going on. Perhaps Dan Shinoff didn't consult with them ahead of time, and ask for an official decision about how to proceed, but the board must have heard about the case since it was covered in the San Diego Union-Tribune and on Channel 10 News.

If the board had a policy of having school lawyers consult with them before filing any request for a TRO, we would have heard board members howling about the breach of protocol at the very next board meeting. Instead, the board maintained silence through months of news stories. During that time, the board must have been approving payments to Stutz law firm.

Many people know that I've had my problems with school attorneys, but it has become clear to me that legal problems are not entirely the fault of the attorneys.

Attorneys are hired first and foremost to protect school officials, not to protect the public interest. Attorneys are expected to do what needs to be done so the district can present a calm, happy face to the world, and the incumbents can be reelected when it comes time to vote.

We seem to have unique ethics rules for lawyers.

For example, most people would agree that an elected official is supposed to act in the interest of the public that elected him and pays his salary. But this apparently does not apply to the elected City Attorney of San Diego. Remember when San Diego went into paroxysms of outrage when City Attorney Mike Aguirre claimed that his job was to act in the public's interest in regard to the big pension scandal? Even the California Bar Association said that public entity attorneys represent the officials, not the public. Of course, the Bar Association's goal is to advance the careers of attorneys. I do not believe that any court has actually ruled on this question.)

The system is set up to protect board members from responsibility for their lawyers' actions. This set-up ensures that board members have plausible deniability if the district ends up in court. Board members can plead ignorance. In addition, school attorneys fight tooth and nail to keep board members off the witness stand. So when you go to the voting booth in school board elections, you're going to have to choose between incombents who have absolutely nothing to say about the district's legal problems and challengers who are also ignorant of what goes on behind the scenes.

So how does a school district communicate with lawyers on a day-to-day basis? You might think that the superintendent steps in and takes responsibility for communications with the district's legal counsel. Nope, not the superintendent, at least not in my experience at Chula Vista Elementary School District or in many districts I've read about.

Who is the district's contact person for the lawyers? Usually, it's the Human Resources Director. And does the HR director tell the attorneys what to do? Heavens no. The attorneys instruct the HR director.

(I did see an exception to this rule in Grossmont Union High School District in around 2008 when board members Priscilla Schreiber and Larry Urdahl challenged the status quo and asked questions openly in board meetings about what was going on with the lawyers. At that time Superintendent Terry Ryan revealed that Shinoff had a verbal agreement with SDCOE rather than a written one.)

It is clear to me that many elected officials and superintendents intentionally abdicate responsibility.

Why? I think they like not having to think about pesky problems like lawsuits. I guess you'd call that laziness. And they don't want the voters to hold them responsible for what goes on in schools. They think that if they keep problems covered up, they will be reelected.

And they are almost always right about that.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Drug firm charges UCSD with fraud

Drug firm charges UCSD with fraud
Nippon Zoki Pharmaceutical, a Japanese drug company, on April 1 charged the Regents of the University of California with fraud, claiming that UCSD defrauded the company and then engaged in "a whitewash campaign to sweep the embarrassing episode of academic fraud under the rug."

The complaint, filed in federal court in San Diego, said the company paid over $1 million to UCSD to determine whether a pain medicine developed by the company is effective in treating lower-back pains. The work was allegedly done by Dr. Koichi Masuda of UCSD's Orthopaedic Surgery department. The company charges the research was "not only objectively flawed, but likely outright fabricated."

When Nippon Zoki demanded the underlying data, "Dr. Masuda claimed that he did not have them," according to the suit. An internal investigation by the university found that the research was incorrect, but the university concealed its results to "protect its own reputation," according to the suit.

UCSD did not respond to a request for comment within the allotted time frame. However, if the university has a response of reasonable length, the Reader will print it.