Thursday, April 05, 2012

CA: School board to parents — “screw the law, we do what we want”

ADELANTO, California - A group of activist parents in this impoverished community were thwarted again in their bid to become the first in the nation to seize control of a public school under a controversial "parent trigger" law designed to shake up chronically failing schools.

Capping an emotional four-hour meeting, the board of the Adelanto School District in California's Mojave Desert voted 5-0 on Wednesday night to reject a petition invoking a 2010 state law that permits parents to effectively seize control of low-performing schools.

But supporters of the petition vowed to challenge the board's action in court.

The trigger effort, backed by a well-funded activist group, Parent Revolution, but opposed by the teacher's union, has been closely watched as a key battleground in an intensifying fight over the nation's $500 billion-a-year investment in public education.

The Florida legislature narrowly defeated a parent trigger bill earlier this month, after a fierce debate, and several other states, including New York, Michigan and Louisiana, may consider similar bills this year.

"The nation is watching this evening. California is watching," said former California state Senator Gloria Romero, who co-sponsored the legislation.

The outcome of Wednesday's meeting marked the second time the Adelanto board has denied a petition submitted by families seeking a takeover, finding they fell short in collecting valid signatures from parents representing at least half of the 642 students at Desert Trails Elementary.

The petition drive has been fraught with acrimony as the two sides accused each other of fraud and forgery in trying to meet the 50-percent threshold or in presenting rescission affidavits from parents who claimed they were misled into initially giving their support.

"I could care less if I don't get elected to office again, but today I stand for all of Adelanto in saying we will not be duped by anybody," school board member Jermaine Wright said in explaining her vote against the petition.

Even after a second rejection, it appeared the debate in Adelanto, a community of about 31,000 people made up predominantly of low-income minorities, was far from over.

Patrick DeTemple, the organizing director of Parent Revolution, said the group planned to challenge the board in court, insisting supporters had collected valid signatures from "a solid 70 percent of the parents."

At its core, the dispute has pitted parents ready to take drastic action to reshape management of their school against parents concerned that sweeping, untested changes promised under the "trigger" measure would worsen the situation.

"Our children are much too precious to turn them over to groups that have no track record of proven success," said Lanita Dominque, a teacher and president of the Adelanto District Teachers Association.

Petition supporters cited years of chronically poor academic performance at the school, where more than half of the students fail standardized state tests in math or reading.

Takeover advocates have called for converting Desert Trails into a charter school in the fall, allowing them to hire non-union teachers or renegotiate the union contract. They have said they would like the charter to be run by a coalition of parents, teachers and district administrators, rather than by a private charter school management company


    ‘Hijacking Holocaust Remembrance’: Video Slams ‘Anti-Israel Radicals’ at Northeastern University

Americans for Peace and Tolerance/On Campus (APT), an organization that claims to “expose radical ideologies that threaten the academic integrity and knowledge seeking mission of America’s college campuses,” has released a disturbing new video. The group, which deals with issues impacting Jewish students who support Israel, is accusing Northeastern University faculty of “abusing Holocaust Remembrance events for political purposes.”

APT claims the video exposes professors and guest lecturers comparing Israelis to Nazis, disparaging Jews and issuing other unfavorable statements in recordings and e-mails. The nearly 17-minute video does, indeed, raise some questions.

“Northeastern is a popular and respected school, but there does exist a problem — mostly confined to a few anti-Israel radicals among the professoriate and the administration,” said APT President Charles Jacobs in a media release. “These individuals have used a chair donated for the purpose of teaching students about the genocide of European Jews to demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel and its supporters.”

Jacobs went on to call these actions “unscholarly, insensitive and hurtful.” Additionally, he said that it is troubling that certain Jewish faculty members are not speaking out about these issues. It is “academic freedom,” Jacobs believes, that is used to protect those who he believes are willing to defame the Jewish community.

In a press release, the APT laid out three, specific actions that it is calling for in reaction to the video coverage that has been released:

    1. The University should apologize and launch an independent investigation into how such demonization of Israel and the Jewish community could have occurred on campus.

    2. The University should form a new Holocaust Awareness Committee composed of faculty sympathetic to Jewish peoplehood.

    3. Professors who claim that Jews act like Nazis are engaging in hateful bigotry. To prevent such bigotry in the future, the University should extend its existing minority sensitivity training programs to include the Jewish people.

Below, watch the video that provides evidence, APT says, of anti-Israeli bigotry among Northeastern University faculty members:


British universities to get control of High School courses

A-levels will be designed by universities under reforms aimed at ending years of political meddling in the exam system.  The biggest shake-up for 30 years will see leading academics deciding the content and format of A-level courses as Whitehall’s influence is stripped away.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has written to the exams watchdog, detailing the reforms to courses starting in 2014.  It is hoped that the overhaul will restore rigour to exams, following years of tinkering that have dented public faith in A-levels.

His intervention comes as a study by Cambridge Assessment, which runs the OCR exam board, found that 72 per cent of 633 lecturers questioned – mainly from the Russell and 1994 university groups – have had to adapt their teaching because first-year students are not suitably prepared.

Under the plans, elite universities will publicly endorse A- levels they have been involved in developing and lead post-exam reviews to ensure that standards are maintained. Exam boards will be required to demonstrate that they have consulted academics extensively about subject content, syllabus and the style of questions.

The Department for Education would have no role in deciding the structure and content of A-levels under Mr Gove’s plans, which could also see the end of bite-size modules and the AS-level, introduced by Labour as a stepping stone to full A-level.

In addition, GCSEs may get tougher to prepare students for the revamped exams that follow them.

In his letter to Ofqual, seen by the Daily Mail, Mr Gove said: ‘Leading university academics tell me that A-levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree..... I would therefore like to see universities having far greater involvement in the design and development of A-level qualifications than they do at present.’

He said there should be a ‘particular emphasis on our best, research-intensive universities such as those represented by the Russell Group’, adding: ‘This means that government must take a step back in order to allow universities to take a leading role.

‘In future, I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A-level qualifications.  ‘It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills, than that ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment.’

The changes will affect A-levels in key subjects including English, maths, the sciences and history from September 2014, with final exams taken in the summer of 2016.

Confidence in A-levels has been damaged with repeated reforms, such as the scrapping of final exams in favour of modular courses and multiple resits.

Mr Gove said he was concerned that A-level courses split into several modules – which students can keep resitting to bump up their final grade – were hampering children’s ‘deep understanding’. He also questioned the division of A-levels into AS- and A2-levels.

The reforms were disclosed as Cambridge Assessment revealed the results of an 18-month study.  It found that 60 per cent of universities run remedial classes for first-year students to fill glaring gaps in their  subject knowledge and boost essay-writing skills, including basic grammar.

Mark Dawe, OCR’s chief executive, said: ‘The design and content of qualifications has increasingly become the domain of government-funded bodies. One effect of this has been to disenfranchise university lecturers, tutors, and admissions staff.’

The lecturers questioned by Cambridge Assessment called for school exams to contain more advanced material and open-ended essay-style questions to stretch the brightest students.


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