Thursday, August 04, 2011

MO: Law banning teachers, students from Facebook “friendship”

A controversial new law in Missouri designed to protect students from sexual misconduct bans direct contact between educators and students on social networking websites, but has prompted criticism from those who say it goes too far in its effort to clearly define digital boundaries.

Senate Bill 54, also known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act," was signed into law on July 14 by Gov. Jay Nixon. The law requires state school districts to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities within 24 hours, and holds those districts liable if they fail to disclose suspected or known abuse by past employees.

It also bans registered sex offenders from serving on local school boards and strengthens criminal background checks on school bus drivers.

But one provision of the bill -- section 160.069 -- also prohibits teachers in elementary, middle or high schools from establishing, maintaining or using a "work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian," effective Jan. 1. "Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student," the new law reads.

The new law is believed to be the first of its kind nationwide. Other states and school districts have only recently formed guidelines and policies on student-teacher online interaction.

In Massachusetts, some districts have adopted a model by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees that bans "improper fraternization" via Internet and telephone.

Elsewhere, teachers in several districts in Toledo, Ohio, have been told they can communicate with students when it directly relates to school matters. But some teachers say Missouri's approach, although well-intended, is heavy-handed and will ultimately hurt students by restricting access to educators.

"Throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to social networking is bad policy," said Todd Fuller, spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, which represents 44,000 members statewide. "There's so much gray area in this bill that it's difficult for us to define them," Fuller said.

MSTA officials have recently received calls from educators on an "hourly" basis regarding the provision. Some callers have inquired about potential ramifications of the social networking clause, while others are concerned about breaking the new law unwittingly.

"What happens if I use a third-party website to communicate with students?" Fuller said, mimicking an educator. "That's not public. There are lots of elements beyond Facebook that are part of social networking that I don't think this bill takes into account."

State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, sponsor of the bill, told that the social networking provision bans solely "exclusive access" between a teacher and a student. "We are in no way trying to stop communication between educators and students," Cunningham said Monday. "We are allowing school districts to form their own policy with this and to police themselves. The social media aspect comes in because we're finding that it's an early pathway to sexual misconduct."

The bulk of the legislation, which was approved unanimously by the state's Senate on April 7, will take effect on Aug. 28 -- just in time for the new school year.

Districts will have several additional months to implement the social-networking aspect of the new law. "Frankly, a teacher that has nothing to hide will be real pleased by this, because it's going to show their good work," Cunningham said. "A good teacher is going to like this."

Randy Turner, a communication arts teacher at East Middle School in Joplin, Mo., told he's fearful districts will ban usage of social-networking sites altogether to eradicate any potential gray areas. "I understand people have concerns about who their children are having as friends on Facebook, but I know many teachers who have used Facebook, and all of them have been professional," Turner said. "We're not getting on there to be pals. It's a professional service."

Turner said he's also worried that the new law removes an important "avenue" for contact between teachers and students -- both during times of emergency and during the everyday grind of homework. "A student having difficulty with a classroom assignment probably won't want to advertise on Facebook that he or she is having a problem with it," he said.

Under the new law, Turner said teachers wouldn't be able to respond directly to seemingly innocuous questions like whether school will be in session tomorrow or to directly disseminate information during times of emergency. Turner said he used Facebook extensively in May following the tornado that killed at least 116 people in Joplin.

In a statement to, Facebook officials said a growing number of teachers everyday use social networks as a "valuable educational tool" to answer homework questions or to identify bullying. "It is imperative that this law does not limit schools' and teachers' ability to use technology in this way to educate Missouri's students, and we are working with the education and legal communities to investigate," spokesman Tucker Bounds wrote in an email to

Meanwhile, Robert Sigrist, assistant principal at Central High School in St. Joseph, Mo., said Cunningham's primary intention with the new law was to ensure that "inappropriate communication" does not take place between teachers and students online.

"This is an evolving thing," he told "It still has to be worked out as to what is acceptable. This is new technology, especially for people who don't tweet and aren't on Facebook, so there's always concern for the unknown."


NYC: Exam cheating is next cry for anti-test, anti-school reform activists

When the state releases the 2011 public school test scores on Monday, New York City kids may very well show gains over last year. If so, the children will continue an upward trend in achievement with improvements that are all the more impressive because the state has toughened the material and raised the passing grade.

Applause will be in order, but parents instead can expect stepped-up efforts to discredit the results. The better the children do, the louder the attacks will be. This is because anti-testing activists have formed an alliance with teachers unions to undermine the credibility of standardized exams in general. The activists are simply wrongheaded; the unions are calculating.

New York is among the states that are moving toward gauging teacher performance and deciding tenure based on how well students learn, with one big measure being progress on standardized tests. Discredit the exams, and no teacher can be held accountable.

The latest tactic is to raise the specter of widespread test cheating. The logic: When you raise the stakes for teachers, teachers will improperly help kids boost scores. For example, by erasing wrong answers and replacing them with correct ones.

Cheating can happen, and has happened recently in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington. So, aha, it must be happening on a grand scale in New York City - never mind that there has never been any hint of widespread fudging here. The instances that have come to light have been scattered and far from prevalent enough to drive up scores in 1,700-plus schools.

Meanwhile, the last independent investigation found zero evidence of cheating. Then-Controller William Thompson conducted the probe as he was running for mayor against Michael Bloomberg, giving Thompson incentive to prove reading and math improvements during the Bloomberg administration were a fraud.

Despite an 18-month-long audit, Thompson reported that he found "no instances of cheating" on any of the four tests in three subjects he examined during the 2008 and 2009 school years.

Recognizing that unions and activists will use scandals in other cities to stave off accountability, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and state Education Commissioner John King are setting up a high-level panel to ensure the integrity of student testing in New York.

That's a good thing, provided that Tisch and King take a statewide approach and do not suggest, without evidence, that the public has any reason to doubt student test performance.


Strong Australian dollar offers education bargains overseas

The $A used to buy around two thirds of a greenback. It now buys around $US1.07, roughly a 50% increase in buying power. It's been similar with the pound sterling. It's more realistic to look at it the other way around however. The Greenback and to some extent the pound have drastically lost value while the better managed "colonies" (Australia and Canada) have remained stable. So an $A now buys a lot more in the USA and the UK. And that makes private school fees look cheap overseas. Australians are big users of private schools. About a third of Australian students are educated privately and for High School the percentage is even higher

Japanese yen buy a lot of Greenbacks at the moment too. Even though the Japanese economy is in a bit of a pickle these days, Japanese politicians are nowhere near as destructive as Mr Obama

FORGET Sydney's breeding grounds for the rich and privileged - if you want to give your child a shot at being a prince, prime minister or poet it's now cheaper to send them to Eton.

Thanks to a robust Aussie dollar, parents can now bypass Sydney schools like Knox Grammar and The King's School and send their young blue bloods into the land of future lords and ladies at top British schools.

The tuition and boarding fees of elite private schools such as Cranbrook, Newington, The King's School and The Scots College are now more expensive than their once more posh English counterparts - yet lacking the illustrious alumni.

Cranbrook can boast gambling magnate James Packer as an old boy, but Eton has the pride of the parade in princes William and Harry.

However, what local schools lack in old boy status, they make up for with value for money, according to executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, Geoff Newcombe. "The quality of boarding here is very different from what it was a few years ago," Dr Newcombe said. "Many kids have to board because they live in distant places.

"There has been an incredible effort to make their accommodation more like home. It's on a very different level from the English schools. Eton is pretty basic.

Annual fees for board and tuition at Cranbrook for a Year 12 student top $51,621, while Eton charges $46,137.

At The Scots College, board and tuition is more than $49,000 for access to its honour board, which features Hollywood film director Peter Weir and artist Brett Whitely.

But Winchester, the most expensive boarding school in England, costs just $46,686 and boasts cricketer anti-hero Douglas Jardine and Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon among its famous alumni.

At Trinity Grammar the annual fees are $48,650 for an association with rock singer Richard Clapton, at Newington (nursery of chef Neil Perry and Wallaby captains Nick Farr-Jones and Phil Kearns) they are $45,432 and at The King's School (which produced Hollywood film director Bruce Beresford and former deputy prime minister John Anderson) they are $44,082.

Those fees rival the costs of top boarding schools in the US.

St Paul's in New Hampshire, which boasts among its old boys media baron William Randolph Hearst and US presidential contender Senator John Kerry, charges $45,000. Groton School in Massachusetts asks $44,266 and prides itself for the fact that most of the Roosevelts went there.

And Middlesex School in Massachusetts charges $43,809 and can gush about actors Steve Carell and William Hurt hurtling through its hallowed halls.

One of the cheapest of the best in the US is Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. For just $38,558, students can walk in the famous footsteps of author Gore Vidal, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown.


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