California School Board strips local PTAs’ fundraising powers

Well, the school board out in Santa Monica did it, stripping the fundraising and spending powers of individual PTAs. Now parents from wealthier Malibu, which has no representation on the school board, are talking secession.

From the Malibu Patch:

In what two board members proclaimed to be the most significant votes of their tenures, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously late Tuesday to shake up the district’s fundraising rules.

Shortly before midnight and after more than three hours of public input, the board voted 6-0 to prohibit school PTAs from raising money to hire personnel and to block them from funding programs and services eliminated in the wake of state budget cuts.

The nonprofit Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation will be placed in charge of these efforts as early as the 2013-14 school year, but no later than July 2014.

“Allowing individual PTAs to raise and expend money to hire staff in SMMUSD is a practice … [that] has created great inequities across the district,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. It “creates a climate in which the instruction and instructional experiences students receive and the conditions in which teachers work are altered by the amount of money individual PTAs can raise.”

The sweeping changes will spark a “change in culture that includes caring about all children in the district,” said Board member Laurie Lieberman, who added that the move isn’t a cure-all to closing the achievement gap.

But the changes have also wrought divisions between parents in Santa Monica and Malibu, which has no representation on the Board of Education and is now looking to splinter off to form its own district.

Chain Gang Elementary seems far-fetched ’til you read the news

A raid on the principal’s house turned up 32,000 images and 12,ooo videos of child pornography. Truth goes totally beyond fiction.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

A former elementary-school principal in Iowa has been sentenced to 30 years in prison after admitting he secretly set up a camera in the boys’ bathroom in his school to produce child pornography.

Robert Burke of Dubuque pleaded guilty in August to one count of producing child pornography. The activities took place at the Sageville Elementary School in Dubuque.

Chief US District Judge Linda Reade rejected a request by Mr. Burke’s lawyer that he receive a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. The lawyer had argued that Burke cooperated fully with federal agents once his crimes were discovered. He stressed that his client never physically touched a child in a sexual manner.

In addition to the 30-year prison term handed down on Monday, Burke was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and to serve 20 years’ probation upon release from prison. No restitution payments were ordered.

Burke told federal agents that he installed the video camera in January of this year. He was arrested in early June.

Officials were able to identify 59 boys who were photographed while standing at a urinal in the public-school bathroom. A number of other victims could not be identified, according to court documents.

Burke saved the recorded videos from his secret bathroom cam and stored them on computer drives at his home.

His activities were discovered after an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in Washington downloaded eight images of child pornography from an IP address that authorities later traced to Burke’s home computer.

To read more, click here.

Texas school teaches to the test, and only to the test

From the New York Daily News:

A Texas elementary school principal who was suspended is  taking “teaching to the test” to a whole new level.

For most of the 2010-11 year, Field Elementary School only  taught third-grade students two subjects — math and reading – according to a  July report by the Dallas Independent School District dated July 14 and  originally reported by the Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, the students received  almost no instruction in social studies, science or other subjects.

To make up for the gap, teachers were encouraged to invent  grades.

The hyper-focus on math and reading set many students back a  year in most subjects, but boosted Field Elementary’s score on the Texas  Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Test (TAKS). The school’s TAKS score helped  it earn “exemplary” status from the state of Texas.

For third graders, math and reading are the only TAKS scores  that count statewide.

According to the report, Field Elementary Principal Roslyn  Carter “directed and caused false school records to be created relating to  teachers of record, grades of students for subjects not taught, and grades from  teachers for students they did not teach.”

The report cited 10 employees for failing to report the  falsification of student records.

Carter is on paid administrative leave, while the Dallas  Independent School District investigates the false grade scandal.


Parents in uproar over Malibu plan to redistribute PTA wealth

Update: The school board–politically weighted  toward less-wealthy Santa Monica–is pushing ahead with this, despite widespread and vehement opposition from Malibu parents. See the Malibu Times for further details.

I believe that both parents (citizens) and government officials need to find ways to increase equity for students in poorer neighborhoods, but this California proposal may be heading straight for the Land of Unintended Consequences by butting heads with parents’ self-interest.

The plan before the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District–which has strong support among school board members despite vocal parent opposition–would take funds raised by individual PTAs and put them in a district-wide pot (the nonprofit Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation) to be divvied up equally among all schools, rich and poor.

From the Malibu Times:

Supporters say this type of change is needed because schools that raise more money through their PTAs are able to provide better classes and programs to students that others cannot. The new policy, they say, would help create economic parity by helping to close the widening achievement gap.

Those against the plan believe it is unfair to take the PTA money from schools that raise more. Opponents who showed up at last week’s meeting, mostly comprised of Malibu parents and PTA members, said it would level the achievement gap only by lowering the standards of schools that excel in funding and academics. They also called the plan rushed, unclear and lacking in transparency. Some vowed to withdraw their support and stop donating money to PTAs if the change goes through the Board of Education at the end of this month.

While the school superintendent points to other school systems that have successfully adopted this approach, such a conclusion does seem counter-intuitive and perhaps counter-productive.  One parent reported that her PTA stopped fundraising efforts upon hearing news of this plan.

Of course, draconian budget cutbacks are the driving force behind all this:

State funding for Santa Monica and Malibu schools was reduced last year by 19 percent, reverting the SMMUSD back to 2005-2006 budget levels. Locally, PTAs did an exemplary job raising money in the 2009-2010 school year, just under $4 million total, but from school to school, the money is distributed unevenly. The average cost per student on the elementary school level ranges, according to the presentation, from a high figure of $1,100 to a low $65. The Education Foundation raises an annual $400,000 to $500,000.

It’s a fascinating article. You can read it here.

Do you think this plan has merit, or is this another example of Mark Twain’s adage (and my epigraph to Chain Gang Elementary): “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”

Gifts not freely given

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is under fire for requesting the e-mail addresses of Whitman College students who attended a lecture the conservative organization funded. (The foundation has a reputation for attaching strings to its gifts to colleges and universities.)

Inside Higher Ed has more:

The “Classical Liberalism Lecture Series,” funded by Koch, brought Gary Liebcap, a professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to campus last month to give a lecture on “The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited.”

Faculty members started to get worried when they heard that the foundation, as part of its grant, asked for the e-mail addresses of students who attended the lecture. Faculty members objected to the idea that a funder was entitled to know which students attended and to get private information, such as their e-mail addresses. Ruth Wardwell, a college spokeswoman (to whom faculty members also referred inquiries), confirmed that the foundation asked for the students’ e-mail addresses, but said that Whitman didn’t provide them. She also said that the college hasn’t decided whether to honor the request of faculty members not to seek additional Koch money.

According to a statement from the Koch Foundation, the request was designed to help students. “In addition to sponsoring speakers series, the foundation provides resources to expand students’ educational opportunities and career development. This includes connecting them with more information about conferences, events and seminars where they can pursue their area of study, in addition to internship and employment opportunities to help them start a career after graduation, which is particularly important with high unemployment in an economically challenging time,” said Tonya Mullins, director of communications for the foundation.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

So it sounds like the Koch Foundation wants to help students—at least those with an interest in conservative causes—network and find jobs. Now, if the Kochs are big proponents of free-market solutions, why don’t they simply recruit students openly by taking out ads that say: “Become conservative and get a job!”  I’m sure they’d have plenty of takers. Why ask a college to violated its standards and policies for money?  Maybe they got it confused with Congress.

This isn’t the first time the Koch Foundation’s practices have raised eyebrows on campus. In May, a controversy erupted at Florida State University over a gift from the Koch Foundation to the school, which had strings attached:

The agreement created a donor-approved advisory board for a gift to support the economics department. The advisory board can’t appoint anyone to a faculty slot or set up a new academic program, but it can veto a hire paid for with foundation funds.

The university insists that there are numerous protections in place to assure sound, faculty-led decision making on the program. But many faculty critics say that letting a foundation play this role gives away pivotal power that should rest with professors alone, and sets a dangerous precedent.

The Koch Foundation has a similar agreement with Utah State University. Inside Higher Ed has more.

And by the way …

On a somewhat related note, there’s a new poll out from a Fairleigh Dickinson sociology professor that indicates Fox News viewers know less about current events than people who don’t watch the news at all. In other words, that watching Fox News is worse than nothing. This may seem counterintuitive, unless you’ve seen Fox and Friends.

Hey, I report. You decide.

Update: Koch Industries (IP address has developed an interest in this website.