California PTA volunteers’ work equals that of 10,000 full-time employees

Fascinating numbers coming out of California. Parents volunteer because they want to–and many realize they must. It helps their schools, and it helps their kids.

From California Watch:

Step inside any public school these days, and you’ll likely see parents working alongside the staff.

They’re running arts education in some schools, coordinating major fundraisers, setting up school assemblies and planting campus gardens. The deep budget cuts of recent years have left a void, and an army of parents is trying to fill it with donated money and time.

The California State PTA estimates its members volunteered about 20.6 million hours last year, up slightly from 19.8 million hours two years earlier. Nationally, observers have seen a similar trend. VolunteerSpot, a company that helps organize volunteers, mostly in schools, has seen figures skyrocket in the course of a year. The site logged 2.25 million volunteer hours in 2011, up from 750,000 in 2010.

“We really saw a big rise in parents volunteering in 2010, when the reality of the budget crisis hit,” said Karen Bantuveris, VolunteerSpot’s founder and CEO.

Educators say parent volunteering makes sense on multiple levels. Not only is it sorely needed, but researchers also have shown a link between parent involvement and higher test scores and better school attendance.

Read more.

Georgia’s “Teach Freedom Act” whitewashes history

I came across a post in Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled Blog this morning that merits attention. Some Republican state senators are sponsoring a bill to force a Tea Party version of American history into Georgia schools. SB 426 is called “The Teach Freedom Act,” and it contains mandates to highlight the early years of U.S. history. Actually, its focus is nearly absolute—there is essentially no interest by its sponsors in anything more recent than the administration of John Quincy Adams, our sixth president.

So much for the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War II, and the civil rights movement—to name just a few other events that merit a Top Ten listing in American history. Given the extensive list of items to cover in SB 426, I doubt teachers would have time to get to the later stages, anyway. Then again, that may be the brilliant part of the plan. 

The bill is amazing, not just for its ideological focus, but because it is also fueled by a glaring ignorance of historical fact on the issue of slavery. In this case, “whitewashing” is not too strong a term. Maureen’s post centers on an article by Dr. James C. Cobb, one of Georgia’s leading historians, who had this to say about the perils of injecting ideology into academics:

In the 43 years that I have taught United States history in both state universities and the public schools, I have done my best to resist the temptation to turn my lectern into a “bully pulpit” for proselytizing my personal political gospel. Not surprisingly, I also get my back up when others, with no particular preparation in the field but a truckload of ideological axes to grind, attempt to prescribe both the content of historical curricula and the lessons that are to be drawn from them.

A textbook example of such an effort to control the textbooks is Georgia Senate Bill 426, introduced by Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, and others and currently under subcommittee review. “The Teach Freedom Act” seeks to “modify requirements for instruction” in U.S. history and other related social studies disciplines. In keeping with the spirit of a similar initiative launched with Tea Party backing in Tennessee, this legislation is premised on the belief that “a positive understanding of American history and government is essential to good citizenship.”

The problem from the get-go here is that the bill seeks a positive understanding rather than an informed one. Hence, it would require teachers to impart “an understanding of the mandate of the British government that required slavery in the colonies and the actions of various Founders who always opposed slavery, as well as early civic and religious movements to end slavery, and the self-correcting constitutional language the Founders included to allow the nation to end the institution of slavery….”

This item is particularly distressing because it suggests first of all that the sponsors of this bill are themselves poorly informed of the history of their own state. If there was a British “mandate” requiring slavery in the colonies, how was it that in 1735 the House of Commons passed a resolution affirming the initial decision of Georgia’s Trustees to ban slavery in the colony? Likewise, the “self-correcting constitutional language” supposedly drafted by the Founders “to allow the nation to end the institution of slavery” actually applied not to slavery itself, but to “the Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” i.e., the international slave trade, and even then it prevented Congress from taking action against that trade for the next 20 years. 

There’s more, and the article is well worth reading in its entirety. 

SB 426 should serve to remind us that some of our lawmakers legislate best when they legislate least.

Atlanta cheating scandal: Accused teachers don’t like APS deal so much

Money quote: “In this case, you have to be on another planet not to know what’s going on in Atlanta.”

Atlanta public schoolteachers who’ve been implicated in the cheating scandal and suspended, but continue to receive pay, just don’t see how quitting their jobs benefits them much.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A last-ditch attempt to push Atlanta educators accused of cheating off the payroll has so far failed to convince many to resign, partly because they have little incentive to go.

That means taxpayers will be on the hook for what is shaping up to be a costly firing process. The district has spent $6.2 million paying the salaries of suspended educators, an expense that increases $600,000 a month. Legal fees have cost the district at least $700,000 and will likely climb as APS attorneys work to build cases against about 120 educators still on the payroll. Those fired may be entitled to employment hearings, which average $9,000 a person.

Last week, APS met with about 60 educators who face the most egregious allegations to put an offer on the table: Quit now and avoid receiving a “charge letter,” the first step in the firing process, and one that can stain an educator’s career. Five educators have taken the deal, according to APS.

Other employees are considering the offer, said a district spokesman. APS said expected it would take some employees time to make a decision. In the meantime, the district plans to issue charge letters on a case-by-case basis. Superintendent Erroll Davis said Friday the district will start with those who confessed, and other egregious cases.

“If in fact they have done these things, if in fact the conclusions are inevitable, I think the benefits of resigning would outweigh the benefits of staying on the payroll for a couple of months,” he said.

But it is unclear is why accused educators would quit rather than challenge APS to prove the charges against them.

Read more.


Brouhaha over intelligent design book

A major textbook publisher has pulled an intelligent-degisn themed book from publication, pending further review.

From Inside Higher Ed:

Score one for science this week. Evolutionary biologists were horrified by the news that a scholarly press was going to publish a work in favor of intelligent design. But a spokesman for the publishing house confirmed to Inside Higher Ed Wednesday that the book’s publication is on hold as it is subjected to further peer review.

Earlier this week, the Panda’s Thumb, a blog about evolutionary theory, posted an item about a forthcoming book from Springer called Biological Information: New Perspectives. The blog-poster and other commenters said the book was a compilation of articles by creationists and intelligent-design proponents and Springer had no business publishing such “creationist pseudoscience.”

After the item was posted Monday, word spread and many more people started weighing in.

But information about the book had disappeared from Springer’s website by Wednesday morning, though a version could still be viewed on The company’s webpage, which just a day earlier listed the editors and a brief description of the book, had a message saying “an error occurred.”

Read more.