Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kentucky Board of Education to Meet

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The Kentucky Board of Education will meet Wednesday and Thursday, February 6 and 7, in the State Board Room of the Capital Plaza Tower in Frankfort.

On Wednesday, the board will meet in full session at 9 a.m., with committee meetings that afternoon. On Thursday, the board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee will meet at 9 a.m. The full board will meet immediately following that meeting.

Agenda items include a report from the Covington Independent school district on efforts to help low-performing schools, final consideration of regulations related to assessment and accountability and school council allocation deadlines.

A full agenda follows.

FEBRUARY 6-7, 2008


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

9:00 a.m. (EST)

I. Call to Order

II. Roll Call

III. Approval of minutes from the December 6-7, 2007, regular meeting

IV. Report of the Secretary of the Education Cabinet

V. Report of the President of the Council on Postsecondary Education

VI. Report of the Executive Director of the Education Professional Standards Board

VII. Report from the Pre-K to 16 Council

VIII. Report of the Commissioner of Education

IX. Full Board Items
A. Report from the Covington Independent School District and update on KDE’s work with low-performing schools– Elaine Farris, Steve Schenck and Johnnie Grissom; 90-minute presentation/discussion
B. Hearing Officer's Report -- Kevin Noland; 10-minute presentation/discussion

X. Lunch

XI. Full Board Items (Cont'd)
C. 703 KAR 5:060, Interim Accountability Model (Final), 703 KAR 5:020, The formula for determining school accountability (Final); and 703 KAR 5:001, Assessment and Accountability Definitions (Final) -- Ken Draut, Rhonda Sims and Kevin Hill; 40-minute presentation/discussion
D. Discussion of Next Steps Regarding the Commission on Interscholastic Athletics Report -- Brigid DeVries, KHSAA Commissioner and Kevin Noland, KDE Deputy Commissioner; 35-minute presentation/discussion

XII. Management Committee Meeting
A. Action/Consent Items
1. 2007-2008 Local District Tax Rates Levied
2. 2007-2008 Local District Working Budgets
3. District Facility Plans: Kenton, Larue and Pulaski County School Districts and Eminence Independent School District
4. District facility plan amendments: Whitley County and East Bernstadt Independent School Districts
B. Action/Discussion Items
1. Requested waiver for school districts from the March 1 deadline in 702 KAR 3:246, Section 2, by which local school boards must provide school councils an allocation for funds and positions for the upcoming school year
2. 702 KAR 7:065, Designation of Agent to Manage High School Interscholastic Athletics (Final)
3. Release of Jackson Independent School District from a Declaration of Emergency
4. 702 KAR 3:270, SEEK Funding Formula (Final)
C. Review Items
1. KHSAA Annual Reporting Requirements


6:00 p.m. (EST)
(No business to be conducted)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

9:00 a.m. (EST)

XIII. Curriculum Committee Meeting
A. Review Items
1. Draft Adolescent Literacy Plan
2. Action plan for A5 and A6 programs
3. Assistance to schools with high dropout rates


XIV. Approval of Action/Consent Agenda Items (approved as a block of items)
A. Local District Tax Rates Levied
B. Local District Working Budgets
C. District facility plans
D. District facility plan amendments

XV. Report of the Management Committee on Action/Discussion Items

XVI. Report of the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee on Action/Discussion Items

XVII. Board Member Sharing

XVIII. Information Items
A. KDE Employment Report
XIX. Litigation Report
XX. Internal Board BusinessXXI. Adjournment

XXII. Lunch
SOURCE: KDE press release

Tough Choices with Damaging Consequences: Lee Todd on the Impact of Budget Cuts at UK

Tuesday night I attended Governor Beshear's Budget Address, where he introduced his recommendation for 2008-2010. He has proposed that the University of Kentucky's state appropriation be cut by an additional 12% in 2008-2009 and remain flat in 2009-2010, which equates to $50 million less in our appropriation each year of the biennium. The Governor warned us a few weeks ago that the tough budget environment would force him to recommend a substantial cut for UK and all of postsecondary education. His recommendation is now in the hands of the General Assembly.

It is very important that you understand three things.

First, if the Governor's recommendation is enacted by the General Assembly (and that's a big "if"), it would have a devastating impact on our University. Let's be clear about this - the cuts the Governor proposes would require tough choices with damaging consequences. Because over 75% of our state appropriations are used for salary and benefits, we would have to consider everything - including layoffs, salary and benefit freezes, and program closures - to handle a cut of this magnitude. Our students would face substantial tuition increases, fewer scholarships, and greater personal debt. We have not made any specific plans because we want to see how the General Assembly responds. But we will take some precautionary measures to prepare ourselves in case the budget does not improve substantially. We will be communicating with affected areas about these measures.

Second, you need to understand that the fight for UK's budget is not over - it is just beginning. This is a 60-day process. This is only Day 16. As soon as the Governor finished his speech Tuesday, I started making the case to our friends in the legislature and to the people of our state that any cut in support for higher education - and certainly one of this size - is bad public policy. Our state faces budget challenges today because too many of our citizens are poor and too many of them are sick and too many of them have limited futures. And the only way to change that is to maintain our commitment to building strong universities and especially a strong flagship. It is that simple.

This University can be the catalyst for change because we attack Kentucky's problems - we educate students, improve the health of Kentuckians, and build businesses and create jobs. We know we can make a difference. And we know the General Assembly believes in our work. They acted with boldness and vision two years ago when they funded the Top 20 Business Plan as the mechanism for improving the condition of our Commonwealth. Kentucky's hope for a better future summons them again.

We will work with our supporters in the General Assembly to find ways to build a budget that maintains our momentum. We have a plan for progress and that plan is working. I am confident in our message and in the General Assembly's willingness to help us as much as they can.

Third, the next two months will be full of debates in Frankfort and stories in the papers. It is easy to get distracted by all of that. My job is to worry about the budget and work with the General Assembly to improve the proposed budget. This University needs each of you to stay focused on your responsibilities - the hard work of helping our students succeed in our
classrooms and laboratories; doing research that stretches our knowledge and improves lives; and reaching out to families, businesses, and communities across our state. Our argument for state support is made stronger every day because you are working every day to make a difference in the lives of our students and Kentucky's people.

Thank you for that effort.

Lee Todd

SOURCE: Campus-wide email

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

President Bush on Education

During last night's State of the Union address President Bush sent a contradictory message on America's public schools.

He said,

"Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results. Last year, fourth and eighth graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. African American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs."

He called on Americans to work together to provide extra help for struggling schools.

About a minute later, he abandoned them. Rather than fixing the non-performers, Bush called for a $300 million initiative that would provide federal tax dollars to encourage students to flee struggling inner-city schools.

And where would these students go?

White House counselor Ed Gillespie told Education Week that President Bush "has some concerns about the declining number of faith-based and parochial schools in inner cities around the country and low-income neighborhoods." Because of this, Gillespie said, Bush was ready to "urge Congress to enact a program he calls 'Pell Grants for Kids.' "

"Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning," Bush said.
Is President Bush inferring that the law is incapable of improving such schools? It sounds like it. But if a heavy-handed federal law is incapable of providing progress for all American students - granted, on an inadequate budget - then why is the federal government muscling in on a state's right issue.

And there is little evidence private businesses would do any better. Some charter schools have done well, on hard work. Others, not so much. But it sure sounds like the charter schools have really been struggling in DC.

Whatever Kentucky schools exist, they need to be adequately funded to deliver the services their students need - or they will never reach their goals.

The DC Opportunity Scholarships program Bush referred to is far from universally loved.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals said,

"While NASSP strives to improve education for all students, there is no conclusive evidence that alternative schools do a better job of educating students than traditional public schools.

In fact, a report released by the Department of Education in June 2007 found “no evidence of a statistically significant difference in test scores” between students participating in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and students who did not participate in the voucher program.

Choice for choice’s sake is no reason to divert much-needed funds away from America’s public schools – especially when the schools affected are often the ones in greatest need."

Then there was this from the Cincinnati Black Blog:

The president called upon the members of Congress to renew NCLB.

"The No Child Left Behind Act is a bipartisan achievement. It is succeeding. And we owe it to America's children, their parents, and their teachers to strengthen this good law."
His remarks on education were interrupted by applause three times. And indications are that Congress will clap again - when they dismantle No Child Left Behind.

Cincinnati's low-performing Taft Elementary Eliminating Principal, Staff, Curriculum

This from

Cincinnati Public Schools has decided to wipe the slate clean and clean house at one of their poorest-performing schools.

The problem is consistently low test scores from students at Taft Elementary in Mt. Auburn.
The school district has not only decided to get rid of the school's principal and teachers, but it's also doing away with the school's curriculum.

Some parents said they like the proposed changes, they just wish they knew about it before Wednesday's announcement...

...A team of teachers and administrators has made the decision to replace the school's principal and 11 teachers after repeated failures to raise student test scores.

The scores are about 20 points below the district's average.

Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent, Rosa Blackwell, said the district had no other choice, but to revamp the school in order to comply with the "No Child Left Behind Act."

"Unfortunately, too often, teachers aren't attracted to low performing schools. And, perhaps we need to look at some incentives to get the best of the best minds to come into these schools to work with our children," Blackwell said.

Blackwell said the district also had a difficult time keeping certified teachers on staff, sometimes relying on substitute teachers.

The school will return next year under the STEM program.

The STEM program stands for, the science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum...

Beshear on the education Budget

Kentucky Pachyderm 2 brashly leaked a copy of tonight's budget speech...which is still going on. Thanks to David for the tip.

This from Governor Beshear via Ky Pachy:

...In Kentucky, we are dealing with inherited numbers so dire that were we to allow it, they could cast a deep, dark cloud over this Commonwealth for an immeasurable period.But dark clouds are for the weak, the timid, the narrow thinkers and those unwilling to roll up their sleeves to work smarter, harder and more efficiently.

This night we do not shrink from the task. Rather, we accept this challenge to lead!

This night we unveil a budget that – albeit austere to the point of pain – will once and for all start us on a path toward financial stability.Based on projected revenues for the next two years, our spending plan is logical, well-reasoned and strategic...

...Though limited, such actions can lead to real achievements. As Ralph Waldo Emerson penned, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Let's take a look at some of the acorns in this proposed budget.


My commitment to the education of children in elementary and secondary schools remains steadfast. K-12 education is our highest priority, as it should be.

Our founding fathers said exactly that when they constitutionally mandated an adequate system of education for children.Without providing our children a proper foundation at the elementary and secondary levels, the role of colleges and universities is diminished because of remedial requirements placed upon them.

So, while most of the rest of government will have to make do with significantly less, this budget provides the funding to maintain the SEEK base per pupil guarantee for the next two years. I fully recognize that protecting the education of our children by sparing SEEK from cuts has serious consequences elsewhere, since it represents thirty-three percent of the General Fund.

But it is the right choice.

Furthermore, although we cannot do all that I would like in the field of early childhood education and development, we must take steps forward. To begin that process, I will create an early education and care coordination committee. This committee will bring all providers – the public school sector, the private sector and Head Start – to the table to increase service efficiency, reduce duplication and produce common standards of practice.As conditions improve, we must expand the availability of early care and education to more Kentucky children.


In postsecondary education, I am deeply disturbed by the agonizing position in which we find ourselves. I strongly believe in the missions and goals of our colleges and universities, and I regret offering a budget with reductions in this area.

But given severely limited resources, the fact that I have recommended no reduction in the formula which funds K-12 education, and the fact that we must provide for the basic health and human needs of the most vulnerable in our society, we will simply be unable to maintain the current level of increased spending for institutional operating budgets.

I have been warned about the easy option of large tuition increases. I urge all of the presidents and boards of our universities to scrutinize their own operational costs, as the rest of government has to do. And I know that they will because it is the time for all of us to discover greater management efficiency and cost containment.

But I also believe that in spite of the necessity of reductions, this budget provides ways to continue the momentum begun by the 1997 higher education reform effort.

In this budget:

I recommend that the need-based student financial aid programs be held harmless from budget cuts.

In addition, I recommend funding of the Kentucky National Guard tuition award program. The men and women serving our nation and our Commonwealth deserve
no less.

What we also can do at this time is address some of the capital needs of our universities – both human capital and bricks and mortar needs – in helping meet 20 20 goals of excellence.

I recommend a sixty million dollar bond authorization for a new round of “Bucks for Brains.” This program has attracted and retained some of the brightest faculty and research teams in the nation. In times like these, we simply must invest in the future.

I recommend restoration and funding of all previous vetoed bond projects that have not moved forward. These had the support of both the House and Senate in 2006. Many are on the campuses of our state universities. There should be no debate about moving forward now.

In addition, I recommend that the General Assembly authorize all of the agency bond projects requested by the universities for this biennium. As you know, these projects require no debt service from the state. Rather, such bonds are paid for by the universities' own revenues. By authorizing all such requested projects, the universities will have the flexibility they need to choose the ones most important to them. As you will see when you review my entire recommended capital construction budget, we can authorize all such projects and still remain within our debt capacity policy.

We also must address two university projects that won't cost additional general funds. Murray State University needs authorization to finish its Chemistry Building with funds previously authorized.

The University of Louisville requires authority to spend private funds to renovate Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. I recommend language which will allow both projects to proceed.

My friends, if and when additional resources become available, higher education should be a top priority for new funds...

...In the area of honoring prior commitments, I recommend the following:

We should issue one hundred million dollars in bonds for the School Facilities Construction Commission. The initial Offers of Assistance for these projects were authorized in the 2006-2008 budget. Prior promises to our school districts have been made, and they should be honored.

I also recommend that we authorize an additional 100-million dollars in offers of assistance over the next biennium. We must provide adequate facilities in which our children can be educated...

...Another area we must address is our public pension systems. They have large unfunded liabilities. This problem did not appear overnight, and Kentucky cannot and will not solve it overnight – particularly through some large infusion of cash. Again, right now, there is no cash!

What we can do now is address the increasing costs. These programs are not sustainable at current levels. Therefore, I will offer a specific proposal on pension reform in the coming weeks and I look forward to working with you as we resolve this critical problem...

UK invites Nominations for Teachers Who Made a Difference

UK wants to help you give one of your favorite teachers a pat on the back.

Nominations are now being accepted for the 10th Annual Teachers Who Made a Difference program hosted by the University of Kentucky College of Education. Nominees can be teachers, professors, principals or other educational professionals. They do not have to be graduates of the University of Kentucky.

So, who stimulated your mind? ...encouraged and challenged you? ...who inspired you to become who you are?

Why not take a minute to thank a teacher who meant something to you?

Monday, January 28, 2008

PLAN/EXPLORE Results to be Released

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – Results from the 2007 administration of the PLAN and EXPLORE assessments will be released on Wednesday, January 30.

A news release will provide state-level data. School- and district-level data will be available on the Kentucky Department of Education’s Web site at the Testing and Reporting link at 2 p.m. EST.

The EXPLORE program is a high school readiness examination designed to help 8th graders explore a broad range of options for their future. The exam assesses four subjects (English, mathematics, reading and science) and provides needs assessments and other components to help students plan for high school and beyond.

The PLAN program helps 10th graders build a solid foundation for future academic and career success and provides information needed to address school districts' high-priority issues. The exam assesses four subjects (English, mathematics, reading and science) and is a predictor of success on the ACT.

SOURCE: KDE press release

P-12 Cuts a Giant Step Backward with Staff Reductions, Larger Class Sizes

Steve Clements and Susan Weston have an article in last week's Business Lexington:

...The governor's worst-case scenario for 2008-09 would undo much of the recent improvement.

Leaving aside health benefits, planned state funding was $471 million higher for 2007-08 than it had been two years earlier, but the proposed cuts could undo $290 million of that growth in 2008-09. If inflation stays high into next year, the rest of any real increase could disappear.

Local funding growth may be able to offset a fraction of the state cuts. In past years, while added state dollars have gone heavily to benefits, district growth has been able to fund some positive developments.

For example, all-day kindergarten has become common, and average class sizes have dropped from 26 to 23, and down to 20 for kindergarten through third grade. School districts have added around 4,600 additional certified employees in the last decade, staffing the kindergarten and class size changes along with other efforts that include expanded preschools, new alternative schools, and intensive reading interventions.However, districts may find it harder to raise their contributions in coming years.

The tax legislation known as House Bill 44 limits districts to annual increases of 4 percent in revenue on their "existing" tax base. That allowed real growth in years when inflation was below 4 percent, but the recent higher inflation could make them unable to keep up with growing costs. That 4 percent limit does not apply to "new" property — such as farmland converted to residential neighborhoods — so growth zones like Fayette and Jessamine counties may still be able to outpace inflation, but an economic slowdown could also hurt there.Nor is federal funding likely to relieve those difficulties: those dollars are a small portion of Kentucky's total education spending, and there's little momentum in Washington for a big increase.How will declining funding affect our schools?

Since more than 80 percent of district spending goes to payroll, a cut anything like the governor's worst-case scenario will likely require staff reductions and increased class sizes. Salary schedules will probably not keep up with the cost of living, so most educators who keep their jobs will see their buying power decline. As in any workplace, those changes can damage morale, and even professionals as dedicated as Kentucky educators may find it hard to bring their fullest energy to classrooms for a while.

State funding for specific programs may decline for things like textbooks, school technology, after-school tutoring and staff professional growth. Some districts may have to return to half-day kindergarten and reduce funding to schools for supplies and other needs. Valuable extracurricular programs or some course offerings that exceed state requirements — such as foreign languages and most math classes beyond Algebra II— may no longer be possible.

The losses will surely affect Kentucky's future. Younger students who receive weaker preschool and have larger primary classes may have a tougher time throughout their school years and on into adulthood. Older students may enter college or the workforce weakened by the losses to their middle and high schools.

Schools with the lowest scores and slowest improvement have been identified as a top priority for state intervention. It may be especially difficult to give those schools the added help they need to catch up and meet state goals for 2014.

State cuts could also have an immediate impact on how Kentucky is perceived nationally. Our historic education failings are well known, but our reform work has given us a credible claim to be a state that is moving steadily forward. These funding losses could change that. For national corporations, that could immediately make Kentucky a less appealing location...

As in Alabama: Pre-K plans could face challenge

There is no more important variable to the success of any educational effort than the presence of a high-quality faculty.

This is true at every level of education and in every circumstance.

Consider the case of smaller class sizes. Any veteran teacher knows that their ability to build productive relationships with their students is limited when the numbers get too large. Smaller classes allow for more personalized and more effective instruction. If that was not true, private schools would have 60:1 student teacher ratios.

But when California decided to implement their state-wide lower class size initiative a few years back - without consideration for whether enough qualified teachers existed - the program collapsed under the weight of poor results. The right idea; killed by bad implementation.

The same could be true of Kentucky's effort to expand pre-school opportunities in Kentucky - if we're not careful to implement the program gradually, as qualified teachers become available.

During a school board campaign a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go door-to-door and speak to many citizens about our schools, and what might be done to improve them. I still remember one parent in particular. She was upset because she couldn't afford to get her daughter into pre-school - and she knew what that would mean for her later on. It meant that her child would start out "behind."

As we talked, I learned that her problem was that she made too much money. Not so much that I would trade her salaries, but too much for her to be considered poor - thus qualifying for free pre-school. She was African American, educated and working. She had been able to afford a small starter home off of Bold Bidder Drive; away from the inner city and its challenges. She was exactly that kind of person I could imagine making the most of such an opportunity for her daughter. In a fair system of free public education, her daughter would not have to start out two years behind her "competition." But it was not to be.

Recently the Prichard Committee has taken up the good cause of universal pre-school in Kentucky for 3 and 4 year olds. This is admirable for any group that is interested in closing achievement gaps. Education limits the size of such gaps at the outset. And they have taken into account our need for qualified teachers who would make the program a success. We need to move quickly to approve such a program - but implement it as sufficient numbers of qualified teachers become availble.

We can't afford to ruin public support for a great idea by moving too quickly.

This from the Press-Register:

[Alabama Governor] Bob Riley's plan to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program could run into a major obstacle: a shortage of qualified teachers.

The majority of those wanting to teach elementary school earn a degree with an elementary education certification, which allows them to teach kindergarten through sixth grade. A separate early childhood designation certifies teachers for pre-kindergarten through third grade. Most choose the elementary option because they'll have more flexibility in landing a job.

"If you can teach seven grades, it enhances your marketability," said Lester Smith, human resources director for Baldwin County Public Schools, who added, "Most teachers are very concerned about finding that first job."

Pre-K teaches basic skills to 4-year-olds, preparing them to step up to kindergarten the next year. Children who complete pre-K perform better through their school years, have higher graduation rates, and eventually earn higher salaries, according to various studies.

Alabama's pre-kindergarten program has won extensive praise, but reaches only a fraction of the children who might take part.

Still, a major expansion would be pointless without qualified teachers...

Students Click, and a Quiz Becomes a Game

GREAT NECK, N.Y. — The games had begun. In a darkened classroom at Great Neck South High School on a recent afternoon, the Advanced Placement physics students sped through a pop quiz, furiously pressing keys on hand-held clickers. A projection screen tracked their responses in real time, showing who knew what through an animated display of spaceships — individually numbered for each student — that blasted off or fell by the wayside with each right or wrong answer.

As students in Matt Sckalor’s physics class at Great Neck South High School click their answers, the results go up on a screen. They can instantly see their progress, and how the class did.
The students were not competing for grades (it was only a practice quiz), but they certainly acted as if they were.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” yelled a boy from the back of the class. “What’s the next question?” The Great Neck district has been introducing the clickers in an effort to liven up traditional classroom teaching with a more interactive approach. After a successful test at one of its high schools, Great Neck expanded the technology to other schools.

The clickers are part of an increasingly popular technology known as an audience response system, which has been used for everything from surveying game show audiences to polling registered voters. That technology is now spreading to public and private schools across the country...

This from the New York Times. Photo by Joyce Dopkeen.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Latest teen suicides bring number to 13 in Welsh town

From the Telegraph (Jan 24):

Under a sky that is an unappealing mix of muddy brown, inged with grey, an old man treads carefully past the charity shops along Nolton Street, in the centre of Bridgend. A couple of gloomy-faced teenagers, in Reebok Classics and hooded tops, hang out in front of the cut-price fashion stores, but otherwise the place is deserted. It is 9am and a thick mist swathes parts of this small town on the edge of the South Wales valleys, reducing visibility to a few feet.

It is a ghost town in more ways than you could imagine.

Natasha Randall was the seventh young person in Bridgend to take their own life in recent yearsOver the past year, Bridgend has been stunned by the suicides of seven of its young people.

Yesterday morning every person in the Aroma Café was poring over a newspaper, absorbing details of the latest tragedy.

Seventeen-year-old Natasha Randall, or Tasha as she was known, hanged herself in her bedroom a week ago today as her father, Kelvin, and stepmother, Katrina, busied themselves downstairs. Her smiling face beams out of the pages as she makes a mock gangster gesture with her hands. Behind her, her good friend Liam Clarke does the same. Liam, 20, is also dead. He hanged himself the day after Boxing Day.

Liam was also a friend of Gareth Morgan. They both drank at a local pub, The West House. The 27-year-old father of one was found dead, having taken his own life on January 5. Before Gareth, Liam and Natasha there was Zachary Barnes, an angel-faced boy of 17 who was discovered hanging from a washing line at a block of flats in August last year.

Thomas Davies, 20, hanged himself from a tree on February 20, 2007. It was just two days before the funeral of his close schoolfriend David Dilling, 19, who had also hanged himself earlier that month. David's best friend was 18-year-old Dale Crole, who went missing in September 2006. His badly decomposed body was found four months later on January 5, 2007 - a year to the day that Gareth committed suicide. Many in Bridgend wonder if they have yet seen the end.

Indeed, within 24 hours of Natasha's death two of her friends attempted to take their lives, though fortunately both failed.

The fact that all seven of those who died were somehow linked has raised questions about a suicide pact. Some have even gone so far as to propose the chilling theory that the propose were part of an internet suicide cult.

Several of those who have died had pages on Bebo, the social networking website, and had posted messages on each other's ''memorial walls" - virtual books of condolence.

The truth, say residents of Bridgend, is less sinister, yet no less bleak. As one girl I spoke to outside Bridgend College told me yesterday: "Suicide is just what people do here because there is nothing else to do."

From the Guardian:
Detectives investigating the latest in a series of young suicides in the Bridgend area of south Wales are to re-examine 13 deaths - including four cases officially closed.

Police will look for similarities amid concern that some or all of the unexplained deaths could be connected, sources close to the investigation told the Guardian.

In a statement, South Wales police said they would be "reviewing a number of cases of sudden deaths ... We are not reinvestigating the deaths but we are looking at any possible links between them."
From the International Herald Tribune:

BRIDGEND, Wales: Seven young people have apparently killed themselves in the last 12 months in this South Wales town that once thrived on coal mining. Adults are
desperate to make it stop.

The rash of suicides — and front-page news stories about other young people whose suicides were prevented by last-minute intervention — seems to be the only topic under discussion in the cafes and shops of this town of 40,000.

"People are saying it might be some sort of cult, but we don't know, " said Luke Wills, 25. "There is something amiss, but we don't know what."

Police say there appears to be no common link between the deaths. But at least one newspaper published a photograph of two of the dead together, fueling speculation of suicide pacts struck among friends linked by Internet social networking sites.

"It's nothing like that," said Alicia Johns, a friend of 17-year-old Natasha Randall, who was found dead last week. "What people are saying is not true. But people get down and they do it. It's all from the same group, I knew these people."

In addition to Randall, six young men between the ages of 17 and
27 have also been found dead in the area. Authorities have ruled three of the cases to be suicides; the others are still under investigation, but suicide is suspected.

The deaths have contributed to a mood as grim as the nearly perpetual damp mists that shroud Bridgend in the long winter months. Surrounded by small green hills, the small commercial city empties quickly at nightfall, giving the town a desolate — and dangerous — feel.


USERS of social networking websites have been accused of "romanticising death" after the seemingly copycat suicides of seven young people in a small town in Britain.

British police have denied media reports of an internet suicide cult, but said they were investigating the computer of a 17-year-old girl who was found dead last week in Bridgend in southern Wales.

Natasha Randall was the seventh young person from Bridgend and surrounding areas to be found hanged since January last year. Most of the seven, all aged under 21, were known to each other and were users of the social networking website Bebo, The Times reported.

Bridgend's Labour MP Madeleine Moon said she was concerned about a string of memorial pages that appeared on Bebo and other websites after the suicides and showed "some sort of romanticism of death".

"What is concerning is that you're getting internet bereavement walls. That's not going to help anyone," she said.

"What people need is not to go into a virtual world of the internet to deal with emotional problems... They need to stay very much in this real world and talk to real people."

Visitors have left hundreds of messages on Ms Randall's Bebo profile and on a memorial website called Gone Too Soon, which allows bereaved friends and family to create a profile for loved ones who have passed away.

Visitors to Gone Too Soon profiles can leave messages and virtual candles on profiles and view pictures of the deceased.

Police said they had not found a direct link between the seven suicides, but one officer said it was possible the memorial pages and Bebo played a part in the deaths.

Lawmakers cracking down on abusive teachers

States pursuing new penalties, closing loopholes

Heeding a steady drumbeat of sexual misconduct cases involving teachers, at least 15 states are now considering stronger oversight and tougher punishment for educators who take advantage of their students.

Lawmakers say they are concerned about an increasingly well-documented phenomenon: While the vast majority of America's teachers are committed professionals, there also is a persistent problem with sexual misconduct in U.S. schools. When abuse happens, administrators too often fail to let others know about it, and too many legal loopholes let offenders stay in the classroom.

Advocates include governors, education superintendents and legislative leaders...

...The ideas emerging in state capitals come at a time when U.S. media have been reporting steadily on individual cases, along with more in-depth examinations of the problem...

...A nationwide Associated Press investigation published in October found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct. Experts who track sexual abuse say those cases are representative of a much deeper problem because of underreporting...

...Some states are looking to increase penalties, expand background checks or broaden their ability to police charter schools for abuse, like Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah. Kentucky and South Carolina are considering making it illegal for teachers to have sex with older students.

Several states are tackling a major problem — the loopholes that allow problem teachers to move from one school district to another, or from one state to another. The AP investigation found that what education officials commonly call "passing the trash" happens when districts allow a teacher to quietly leave a school, or fail to report problems to state authorities, or fail to check with state authorities before hiring a teacher, among other glitches.

In eight states, legislators are pursuing changes to close those gaps, including California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Washington state and West Virginia...

This from MSNBC.
Teachers found guilty of sexual assault include Debra LaFave of Florida.
Photo by Tim Boyles / Getty Images

Cuts 'will be painful,' Beshear says

Budget to deal with shortfall due out Tuesday

FRANKFORT - Gov. Steve Beshear certainly isn't building any grand expectations for the first two-year budget he will unveil Tuesday night in Frankfort to the General Assembly and a statewide television audience.

"We are in a real financial crisis," Beshear said this week. "The current fiscal year, that ends June 30, we have about a $430 million shortfall that we're having to deal with."

And the picture is even bleaker for the next two years with a budget that has a shortfall of more than $600 million.

Beshear doesn't favor any tax increases, so his plan will include deep cuts.

"It will be painful," he said...
This from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

C-J on The Science Gap

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Senate passed two important math and science initiatives, 36-0.

No doubt Senate leaders put these initiatives at the top of their agenda to make a point: Improving math and science education can't wait.

In 2007, similar initiatives passed the Senate but then died in the House because of gubernatorial election-year politics and objections of the teachers unions. Modifications have been made to accommodate the teachers -- although the offending parts will have to be confronted one day.

The House should act quickly on these bills. Kentucky lags in science and math the way it lags in so many areas...

...Why does it matter? First, many of the best jobs of the future will depend on math and science skills. The expanding fields in the new economy include computer science, environmental engineering, health care and biomedical engineering. At the top of the list of jobs that are on the decline are manufacturing and agriculture -- two Kentucky staples...

...Why does it matter? First, many of the best jobs of the future will depend on math and science skills. The expanding fields in the new economy include computer science, environmental engineering, health care and biomedical engineering. At the top of the list of jobs that are on the decline are manufacturing and agriculture -- two Kentucky staples.

This from the Courier-Journal.

Jefferson County ready to unveil school assignment plans

Final decision expected by mid-May

Civil-rights leaders want to make sure schools stay racially integrated. Parents want to keep school choice. And students want to stay where they are.

The stakes will be high tomorrow when officials with Jefferson County Public Schools make public their highly anticipated student-assignment proposals in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling rejecting the district's desegregation policy.

"This is something that's going to impact the entire community," said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP. "We are being watched across the nation."

Among those watching are school districts that want to see how Jefferson County, which has been nationally recognized for its integration efforts, will move forward after the Supreme Court said it can no longer assign individual students to schools based on their race.

Determined to avoid resegregation, Jefferson County officials have spent months weighing options such as neighborhood schools, income- and geography-based assignments, open enrollment and other plans...

...But whatever proposal is chosen will signal a historic shift in how school diversity is defined and achieved -- and usher in a new chapter in Louisville's long struggle with race and education...

This from the Courier-Journal.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Into the Woods ...for a weekend retreat

I'm off to commune with Mother Nature and Baby Jesus.
You kids behave while I'm gone.

School Board tries to recover 'Bong Hits' court fees

This from the Juneau Empire:

A lawyer representing the former local high school student whose "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner unfurled a lengthy free speech debate is accusing the attorney for the Juneau School Board of harassing his client over a $5,000 legal bill.

Douglas Mertz said the board's lawyer is trying to force his client, Joseph Frederick, to leave his job in China to face a February deposition in Juneau regarding his personal finances.

"The only motive here is revenge, retaliation and harassment," said Mertz, who filed a motion Tuesday with the U.S. District Court to prevent Frederick from being forced to appear in court in person.

Frederick was ordered to pay court fees of about $2,000 each for a U.S. Supreme Court case and the most recent District Court case he lost. With added interest, his fees total roughly $5,000, Mertz said...

Fewer School Cases on High Court’s Docket This Term

This from Education Week: (subscription)

Just before the U.S. Supreme Court broke for a four-week recess in late January, the justices added a case to their docket involving alleged sexual harassment in a school district central office. But they turned down a different school district’s appeal in a special education case that several national education groups had urged them to accept. The actions underscore how this term will be substantially less momentous for education than the court’s 2006-07 term, which resulted in landmark decisions on the use of race in K-12 schools, student free-speech rights, special education, and state restrictions on teachers’ unions. ("Education and the Supreme Court: The 2006-07 Term," July 18, 2007.)

State won't forgive school loans

Citing federal cutbacks, the state is phasing out three college loan-forgiveness programs it's been using to attract and keep teachers, nurses and public-service attorneys in Kentucky.

Under the changes announced this week, students who take out loans after June 30 will no longer be eligible for the forgiveness benefits.

And it remains unclear what benefits will be available to students who took out loans before that deadline, according to officials at the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority/Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corp...

This from the Courier-Journal.

Girl, you'll be a woman ...sooner than expected

Puberty is arriving ever younger in American females
8 is no longer considered abnormal

AT 8 or 9 years old, the typical American schoolgirl is perfecting her cursive handwriting style. She's picking out nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in sentences, memorizing multiplication tables and learning to read a thermometer.She's a little girl with a lot to learn.

And yet, in increasing numbers, when girls this age run across the playground in T-shirts, there is undeniable evidence that their bodies are blossoming. The first visible sign of puberty, breast budding, is arriving ever earlier in American girls.

Some parents and activists suspect environmental chemicals.

Most pediatricians and endocrinologists say that, though they have suspicions about the environment, the only scientific evidence points to the obesity epidemic. What's clear, however, is that the elements of female maturity increasingly are spacing themselves out over months, even years -- and no one quite knows why.

While early menstruation is a known risk factor for breast cancer, no one knows what earlier breast development means for the future of girls' health...

This from the LA Times. Photo by Lisa Adams.

Senate OKs two bills to improve math, science education

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The Senate unanimously approved two bills yesterday aimed at improving education -- with an emphasis on math and science.

Senate Bill 2 would require the state to cover the cost of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams for public school students in all subject areas beginning with the 2008-09 year.

It also would provide grants to help school districts develop programs and offer more classes online to boost the availability of high-level math and science classes for high school students.
And it would help middle school students prepare for the more rigorous high school classes, while also assisting elementary teachers in developing skills...

...The Senate also passed SB 64, which would increase the number of math and science teachers by allowing those who graduate with math or science degrees and who want to teach to become certified through an alternate process...

This from the Courier-Journal.

House passes university bonding bill after long debate

Ryan Alessi @ PolWatchers reports:

The state House, for the fourth year running, passed a measure allowing public universities to sell bonds for constructing campus projects without those moves counting against the state government's total debt.

While the bill -- sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville -- passed the chamber unanimously by a 91-0 vote, it only sailed through after a lengthy debate over the concept of prevailing wage.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said on the floor that he considered attaching an amendment to Damron's university bonding bill that would repeal prevailing wage, which sets a minimum pay rate for construction workers on public projects....

...But it sparked a stream of opposition from Democrats...

Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, said "whether you're building a school house or an outhouse, you still deserve a living wage that you can provide for your family."

The normally mild mannered Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, rose to politely chide Moore, a freshman lawmaker, saying he would give Moore some latitude for a honeymoon period...

...Moore later joked that he understands the honeymoon period in Frankfort is short -- like "a one night stand."

On the merits of the actual bill, Damron described it as a way to give universities more financial flexibility while still allowing the General Assembly oversight...

Deadline passes for the No-DUI principal

The 15-day limit for suspended Fishers High School principal Scott Syverson to request a hearing to oppose a termination of his contract has passed, and Hamilton Southeastern Schools officials are positioned to vote when they meet Feb. 7.

The school board scheduled the vote on Syverson's contract after he was suspended for a Dec. 22 traffic stop on 96th Street west of Allisonville Road.

Syverson failed a series of sobriety tests in the stop by a Fishers police officer, but was driven home and not arrested.

After Police Chief George Kehl determined he should have been arrested, prosecutors charged him with drunken driving.

Syverson was suspended Jan. 4 and notified of the proposed termination soon after that.

Syverson is scheduled to appear in court in March for a bench trial on two counts of drunken driving.

This from the Indianapolis Star.

2 Georgia Schools to Pay Students to Study

FAIRBURN, Ga. (AP) — Learning is supposed to be its own reward, but when that doesn't work, should students get paid to do it?

That's the question two Georgia schools are asking in a 15-week pilot program that is paying high-schoolers struggling in math and science $8 an hour to attend study hall for four hours a week.

The privately funded "Learn & Earn" initiative, an idea from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is touted as the first of its kind in the state and one of a few similar programs nationwide.

"We want to try something new," said Jackie Cushman, Gingrich's daughter and co-founder of the group funding the initiative. "We're trying to figure out what works. Is it the answer? No. Is it a possible idea that might work? Yes."

Forty students at Bear Creek Middle School and Creekside High School, both in the Atlanta suburb of Fairburn, began participating in the program Tuesday. The eighth- and 11th-graders chosen had to be underperforming in math and science, and many are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

The hope is that the bribes will boost students' motivation to learn, attend class and get better grades.

Aside from the hourly wage, eighth-graders will get a $75 bonus, and 11th-graders $125, if they improve their math and science grades to a B and achieve certain test scores. For the older kids, that adds up to $605 for a semester of studying.

This from the Associated Press, photo by John Amis.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kid says, 'Behavior Teacher Broke My Finger'

Teacher says, 'Don't go to the nurse or I'll get in trouble for it'

Educator Resigns, Apologizes
Principal Says Incident Began As Horseplay

CLOVERDALE, Ind. -- A Cloverdale Middle School anger-management teacher resigned after he broke a student's finger during what began as horseplay, school officials said.

Scott Porter recently broke an index finger of Jordan Mundy as they were wrestling each other during an anger-management class, Jordan and the school's principal said...
...Jordan told 6News that he and Porter -- who he said was his favorite teacher -- were wrestling on the ground and that Porter eventually got rough.

"He got me back in a headlock. I grabbed him with his head between my hands ... and as soon as I did that, he said, 'Tap out or something breaks,' and I tapped out, and he grabbed that finger," Jordan said.
Jordan said his finger is broken in three places. Jordan said Porter put his damaged finger in a splint but told him not to see the school nurse.
"He goes, 'Don't go to the nurse or I'll get in trouble for it,'" Jordan said...

This from the

Missed it by that much

In the stack of 80+ pardons handed down by out-going Governor Ernie Fletcher was one from former Superintendent of Public Instruction Alice McDonald.

According to a report yesterday from Mart Hebert at WHAS, McDonald's plea was plucked from the stack just minutes before the action was to have become official.

This from Mark Hebert:

Alice McDonald Gets Pardon......Almost

... McDonald's pardon request was included in a stack of pardons that the Governor's Office of General Counsel took to the Secretary of State's office in the closing hours of the Fletcher administration. But before the pardons were officially filed, someone from Fletcher's office rushed down to pluck McDonald's and one or two others out of the pile.

McDonald was convicted of two felonies in 1998 for destroying documents being sought by investigators and getting paid for state work she didn't do. In her pardon request, McDonald told the governor she's caring for her sick mother but would like to get back into the education field. She's having a tough time doing that with felonies hanging over her head...

...Fletcher's general counsel, David Fleenor, would only say that the folks who got pardons were supposed to get them and those who weren't, didn't....
Alice McDonald served as Kentucky’s Superintendent of Public instruction from 1984 until January 1988. She was a fierce opponent of the Council for Better Education and attempted on several occasions to intimidate the Superintendents and quash the efforts that lead to the landmark decision in Rose v Council for Better Education.

As state superintendent, McDonald touted the virtues of Kentucky’s public school system but did little to move beyond the status quo while maintaining her political relationships with the General Assembly. In fact, the troubles of McDonald’s administration contributed greatly to the elimination of the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which legislators ultimately came to see as part of the problem with Kentucky’s schools.

During her tenure, the Kentucky Personnel Board received numerous complaints about McDonald’s conduct in office. Her critics charged that she had hired unqualified political associates for key positions in her department and had granted contracts or fees to political supporters, and that personal items were printed for her within the department at state expense.

McDonald’s approach to her duties as State Superintendent and her extensive use of Department of Education personnel in support of her own political aspirations stand in sharp contrast to the approaches employed by the Education Commissioners who would come later.

In an interview conducted in May 1990, former Lexington Herald-Leader Editor, John Carroll recalled McDonald’s administration.
I thought Alice McDonald came in with a very clear understanding of what had to be done and what was important. And she was pathologically political. She could not refrain from shaking down employees, and coercing people, and playing political games. She had a perfect opportunity to ride a white horse. And, every now and then you see somebody who just is constitutionally incapable of doing things properly and she was one of them. I regard her recent arrest for shop lifting as just more of the same. I think she’s got something in her, in her psychological make up that doesn’t allow her to do things properly on a consistent basis. And so, she lost an opportunity that she had to be effective. I liked her when she started out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Webb-Eddignton to be Vice Chair of House Education Cmte

Patrick Crowley at Northern Kentucky Politics reports:

Plum post

Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington [who replaced new Education Commissioner Jon Draud] will be named vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee Wednesday morning. Decent assignment for a lawmaker who has been on the job for less than two weeks.

Stein to Shoot Down Guns-on-campus Bill

Kathy Stein says Bob Damron's campus gun totin' bill (HB 114) won't get past her committee. Good.

Jody Richards says it won't get past him either. Doubly good.

Damron dangles universtiy presidents with the Bond Bill. Typical.

This (and photo) from the Courier-Journal:

Campus gun bill is likely to die
Various officials oppose proposal

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A bill that would allow people to bring guns onto college campuses -- and use them if they were threatened -- may die in a legislative committee amid growing concerns by educators and others.

"This is a really bad idea," said Centre College President John Roush, whose private college in Danville bans firearms. "It would run counter to our tradition and the principles on which we operate our community."

Other university presidents also oppose House Bill 114. And while it has more than 50 co-sponsors in the 100-member House, it is stuck in the Judiciary Committee because the chairwoman opposes it.

Rep. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat who heads the committee, said HB 114 is "way too broad" and she doesn't plan to call it for a committee hearing or vote.

Kentucky law allows post-secondary schools to ban firearms on their campuses. HB 114, sponsored by Rep. Robert Damron, D-Nicholasville, would change that.

It would let people bring guns to campus in their vehicles and also would apply to other university property, such as sports arenas or hospitals. In addition, gun owners could remove firearms from their vehicles to defend themselves, their property or someone else.

Damron supported past successful gun legislation, including Kentucky's concealed carry law. He said in an interview that he simply wants to allow responsible gun owners to keep their weapons in their cars when they drive to work or school.

"This is not a big deal," he said...

...Stein's plan not to hear the bill angered Damron, who accused her in an interview of "sticking a knife" in his eye and called her "gun control Sally." Stein said she believes Damron's comments were "inappropriate" but added that she's not upset. "I have a very thick skin. I've been called worse by better." ...

...Some critics said the bill could lead to "road rage" incidents on campuses similar to the 2007 shooting in a Louisville parking lot that left a man brain damaged after he and another driver pulled guns at a stop sign...

...The presidents of Kentucky's public universities generally have limited their comments on the bill to saying they want to retain the authority to ban guns on their campuses...

...Stein said university officials may be worried about offending Damron, who also is sponsor of a bill that would allow state universities to issue bonds for construction projects without state approval. That's something major universities have been desperately seeking in recent years.

Stein called it "inappropriate" to link the two issues.

Damron said the public universities' opposition to the gun bill shows they are "out of step" with public opinion and could well affect whether lawmakers decide to approve the bond bill...

...Damron said that if he can't get the bill sent to a more favorable committee, he may try to force a vote on the House floor without a committee hearing by getting at least 25 lawmakers to sign a discharge petition...

...But House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green said he won't remove the bill from Stein's committee -- where it was sent by House leadership -- and doesn't
support it....

Viewed with suspicion?

US President George W. Bush leans over to talk with a girl after Bush participated in a lesson for young children on the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day during a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC, 21 January 2008. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty.

This from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Report: Ohio, Ky., relatively fair in school-fund allocation

This from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

In most states, school districts whose students are predominantly low-income or minority get the least public funding, a new report says.

But Ohio and Kentucky in recent years are reversing that trend.

A study by the Education Trust, a Washington-based education think tank, shows Ohio and Kentucky bucking the national trend of short-changing disadvantaged public schools.

School districts across the country spent on average $938 less per pupil at high-poverty districts than at low-poverty districts in 2005, the most recent year studied. The funding gap has widened since 1999, according to EdTrust.

Similarly, high-minority school districts were funded at $877 less per pupil than districts with few or no minorities. That funding gap narrowed since 1999, the report found.

"Many of the school districts with the greatest needs often receive the least funding, begging the question of whether we're setting some students up for failure," wrote Carmen Arroyo, EdTrust research director.

EdTrust based its analysis on census reports and federal education statistics...

...Kentucky in 1999 spent $801 more per student in high-poverty districts than in affluent districts. By 2005 it improved that to $878 more per impoverished student.

The state also wiped out its gap affecting high-minority schools.

No Pass, No Drive: Debates in southern states

This from the Charleston Daily Mail [WVa]:

Linking licenses to grades unproven
Think tank says plan needs study, may harm education

A national think tank that studies education policy issues is cautioning West Virginia officials against tying teenagers' driving privileges to academic performance.

Gov. Joe Manchin is pushing legislation requiring high school students to make at least a 'C' average to maintain a driver's license.

Only four states - Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee - have such 'No Pass, No Drive' laws, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

A commission spokesman said these laws could actually have negative effects on a student's education.

Teens who want to keep their driver's license might register for the easiest classes possible to make passing grades, said Michael Colasanti, a researcher with the commission.

"That would be perilous," Colasanti said. "Students could think to themselves, 'If I don't make a 'C' in this class, I won't keep my driver's license. So I'll take the easier math class to pass.'

"What happens down the road when colleges look at their transcripts? That's just a possibility when tying academic performance to holding a driver's license."

Colasanti also said some teachers could inflate grades out of sympathy so students could hang onto their licenses.

Those factors account for such laws not catching on in more states, he said.

In 1990, Kentucky and Tennessee became the first states to revoke driving privileges based on academic performance. Mississippi followed in 1994, and North Carolina was the last state to adopt such a law in 1997...

...Lisa Gross, press secretary for the Kentucky Department of Education, calls her state's No-Pass, No-Drive laws a success.

In Kentucky, students must earn passing grades in at least four classes to drive. Most high school students there take six or seven classes at a time, Gross said.

But Gross acknowledged that no one keeps data on how many licenses are suspended because of failing grades.

And like West Virginia, Kentucky also takes away licenses from teens who quit school.

That law has proven to be effective, Gross said.

"Our dropout rate has gone down over the last 10 years," she said. "We still have about 5,000 or 6,000 who drop out every year, which is still a lot of kids. But many students think twice before dropping out if their license is going to be revoked." ...

Charges upgraded for Elgin High School student accused of stabbing teacher

"...a teacher in an adjacent classroom heard Gilbert's screams, saw blood on the floor and shouted at the youth to stop. The student stopped his attack, sat at a desk and put his head down..."
The Backstory, and today, this from the Chicago Tribune:

Charges against a 16-year-old Elgin High School student accused of stabbing a teacher last week have been upgraded to attempted first-degree murder, prosecutors said Tuesday at a hearing in Cook County Juvenile Court.

The youth, who is not being identified because he has been charged as a juvenile, had taken a class last year from teacher Carolyn Gilbert, and on Friday, he asked whether he could wait in her classroom until his bus arrived, prosecutors said.

She said he could and was beginning to turn to some of her work when he ran up behind her, threw a coat over her head and stabbed her in the neck, head and upper body, said Kevin Frey, an assistant state's attorney....

...Gilbert, a family and consumer science teacher, has lost vision in one eye and may lose the eye, officials have said...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oregon school bans motto for religious reference

This from the Oregonian:

BLUE RIVER -- Despite the connection to the school mascot, a rural school district has banned a proposed motto for a graduating high school class because it contains a religious reference.

Some of the 90 seniors at McKenzie High School had been inspired by a Bible verse quoted at the August funeral of a classmate killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident.

The entire verse was: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles."

It was read at the memorial service for Ryan Snapp, who died Aug. 10 after hitting a tree in the alcohol-related crash.

The students deleted any references to God in the proposed motto based on the verse and the school mascot name, the Eagles.

But McKenzie School District officials rejected the motto as too religious: "They that believe shall mount up with wings as eagles."

Brianna Rux, 17, one of the seniors, disagreed with the decision and wrote a guest opinion in The Register-Guard protesting it.

She said the verse seemed particularly fitting, given the mascot name and that class members have pulled together to rise above their grief...

"Ourselves being Eagles, it seemed a good way to describe who we are that no matter what we believe in, we can overcome," she told the Eugene newspaper on Friday.

McKenzie school Superintendent Sally Storm said the owner of the company that was going to publish the high school graduation announcements recognized the motto as part of a Bible verse and called the school district office.

Storm said she called Bruce Zagar, the school district's attorney, to get a legal opinion on the matter.

"I started to run it past him and he immediately said, 'That's Isaiah 40:31,' " she said.

At that point, Storm said, she had no choice.

"My duty is to follow the law in this case -- the U.S. Constitution -- which doesn't allow public schools to either interfere with the practice of religion or establish a religious practice," she said.

Zagar told the newspaper that simply omitting the reference to God from the verse doesn't alter its origin -- the Old Testament.

In a formal opinion, he advised the district that both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions prevent any public entity from taking any action which establishes, sponsors, supports or otherwise condones a particular religion or religious belief.

McKenzie High School student body president Casey King said Friday that most members of the senior class have accepted the decision.

King said the class has adopted a replacement motto: Nothing we do changes the past; everything we do changes the future.

Magician charged in Texas kidnapping had school visitor pass

This from the Dallas Morning News:

Lewisville: Magician had pass; girl's dad may seek protective order

LEWISVILLE – A 22-year-old man charged with kidnapping a 9-year-old girl from Creekside Elementary School signed in at the front office and was given a visitor's pass before doing a magic show in his former teacher's classroom, officials said Friday.

Front-office staff, who remembered Daniel Catarino Reyes from previous visits when he performed magic acts, called the teacher for permission to send him to the classroom.

"It was an unscheduled visit, but he did follow the appropriate process," said Karen Permetti, a spokeswoman for Lewisville ISD.

The precise sequence of events after Mr. Reyes left the front office Wednesday is unclear. The court document states that he visited at least two classrooms. During the magic show in one class, he asked children about their heights, weights and home addresses. He also asked who could keep a secret, the affidavit states.

At some point, he showed a handwritten note to the girl's teacher "requesting that two children be allowed to leave the classroom with him."

It was not clear what the note said or who wrote it...

Student attack on teacher 'like out of a horror movie'

This from the Chicago Sun Times:

ELGIN -- A 16-year-old Elgin High School student has been charged with aggravated battery after allegedly stabbing his teacher following semester finals Friday, according to police.

The 16-year-old male has been charged with one count each of aggravated battery with a dangerous weapon and aggravated battery to a person known to be a teacher, both Class 2 felonies, according to a release from Elgin police.

The teen is accused of attacking his 50-year-old female teacher with a knife at the school at 1200 Maroon Drive in the northwest suburb on Friday morning.

The male student entered the teacher's empty first-floor classroom at 11:15 a.m. shortly after the early dismissal of students following semester finals, according to witnesses.

The witnesses, who identified the victim as family and consumer sciences teacher Carolyn Gilbert, said she was stabbed with a steak knife four times in the back of her neck and once near her eye. They said the scene was "like out of a horror movie" and that the student stabbed her with such force that the knife blade broke off.

Tony Sanders, district spokesman, did not say what provoked the attack or if the student was enrolled in any of Gilbert's classes.

Witnesses said that during the attack, a male teacher entered the room and intervened, ending the attack. After which, witnesses said Gilbert cried, "my eye, my eye."

Witnesses said the male teacher restrained the student until the school's police liaison officer and Elgin police arrived. The student was immediately taken into custody by police and transported to the Elgin Police Department...

Shock and Awful: School destroys video evidence of shocks

We never heard back from B F Skinner disciple Matthew L Israel since our last posting about the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center's use of controversial shock treatments. He intended to allay our concerns by providing access to “an accurate summary of what JRC is really about.”

KSN&C didn't buy it and offered a retort.

Whether aversive techniques can work for the most difficult students is not the only question here. Water boarding would work too. Whether or not JRC is competent to administer any techniques in a professional, ethical and humane fashion is also at issue.

The Village Voice reported in 2006:
"The commonwealth of Massachusetts assessed $43,000 in fines to 14 current and former employees of the Judge Rotenberg Center (featured in "School of Shock," October 11–17) for describing themselves as "psychologists" without holding Massachusetts licenses, in violation of a 1996 state law."
But Israel's been too busy to write back. He's been spending time in front of the Massachusetts legislature.

The Boston Globe reported this week:

Lawmakers consider limits on skin-shock therapy

In many ways, the high-pitched scene that unfolded in a packed State House public hearing today was nothing new: Over the past two decades, critics of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center have condemned the center's skin-shock therapy as cruel and barbaric, while supporters of this special education school, largely parents, have praised the facility as life-saving for mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed students.
He is apparently also spending time in the AV room.

This from AP and therawstory: Photo from Mother Jones.

Investigator: School Destroyed Video
It Was Ordered to Preserve of Students Being Shocked
A special education school destroyed videotape showing two of its students being wrongly given electric shock treatments despite being ordered to preserve the tape, according to an investigator's report.

One student was shocked 77 times and the other 29 times after a prank caller posing as a supervisor ordered the treatments at a Judge Rotenberg Educational Center group home in August. The boys are 16 and 19 years old and one was treated for first-degree burns.

The Disabled Persons Protection Commission planned to release the report Tuesday concluding that one of the teenagers was severely physically and emotionally abused by the treatments. The commission has referred the case to the Norfolk district attorney's office.

The videotapes compiled footage from cameras inside the home in Stoughton. An investigator with the commission, which examines abuse allegations and can refer cases for criminal prosecution, viewed the tapes and asked for a copy, according to the commission's report obtained by The Boston Globe.

But school officials declined, saying they "did not want any possibility of the images getting into the media." The investigator told the school to preserve a copy so state police could use it in their criminal investigation. A trooper later told the investigator the tapes had been destroyed...

...Earlier this week, the school's founder and director Matthew Israel said the tapes were reviewed by several investigators and were not preserved because the investigation "seemed to be finished." ...

... State Sen. Brian Joyce, who has long sought to ban shock therapy from the school, said Israel and his staff should be investigated for obstruction of justice.

"I believe the tape was intentionally destroyed because it was incriminating," said Joyce, a Democrat. "I intend to ask the attorney general to investigate." ...
Below is a parent's description of how Israel's controversial techniques were applied to his son. Let's not forget, his son did not get to JRC by being an angel. JRC works with tough kids - kids who understand their own treatment protocols, maybe even better than the staff. Read it and decide for yourself.

This from the Boston Globe:

Parent details toll taken by shocks at group home

A Taunton [MA] man said his 19-year-old emotionally disturbed son seemed to be thriving at a group home, run by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, before staff members were duped into giving him 77 punishing electric shocks one night last summer...

...But, according to graphic details from a state investigative report made available to the Globe this week, his son encountered a night of horror on a weekend last August, after experiencing 10 months without any shocks.

The incident, triggered by a caller who pretended to be a central office supervisor giving punishment orders, is now the subject of a criminal investigation. The case was also the focus of a State House hearing this week as lawmakers considered a bill that would severely restrict the school's shock-treatment programs.

The report, issued by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, outlined a motive for the hoax: The alleged caller, Stephen Ferrer-Torres, a runaway from the group home who has not since been located by police, asserted to other students that he had been bullied by Dumas's son and another resident, who received 29 wrongful shocks based on the caller's instructions, according to the report...

...In the report, the commission gave a harsh assessment of the group home's staff. It found that three of six staff members assigned to the Stoughton group home had been employed for less than three months. Two had repeatedly failed basic training tests, and two had been on probation for various infractions...

After the hoax call came in at about 2 a.m. Aug. 26, according to the report, Dumas's son told staff numerous times that they were violating his shock treatment protocol and suggested that the caller may be a prankster. At one point, he said, "Get on the phone and find out what is going on. . . ."The 77 shocks he received were, in part, based on his unwillingness to passively receive the shocks.

...half-hour standoff occurred in the hallway...But after that, the staff tied Dumas's son to a board, restraining all four limbs. The teenager, resigned to his fate, said, "Let them know I'm being compliant." During the next hour, he received dozens of rapid-fire shocks to his abdomen and limbs, which in fact violated his treatment plan. At one point, he complained, "Mister, I can't breathe."

...Of the two power levels of shock treatments used by the school, Dumas's son received the most powerful each time, school officials have said. Shift supervisor Michael Thompson, on the job for two months, left the room at one point, saying he wanted to "either cry or throw up," the report said...

Today's editorial from the Globe shoots right down the middle: Fix JRC or close it down.

The battle over skin shocks

ON WEDNESDAY, desperate parents begged lawmakers at a State House hearing not to interfere with the work of the controversial Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton. They had reason to be concerned.

Some state lawmakers take a dim view of skin shock treatments at the center, a view that may not be in the best interest of the school's autistic, retarded, and emotionally disturbed students. Even a new bill trumpeted as a compromise by sponsors could undermine treatment programs that many parents view as the best hope against self-destructive and violent behavior by their children. The state Department of Mental Retardation is better qualified than lawmakers to set limits on treatment
methods at the center - or decide whether it should operate at all.

The situation is tense. Senator Brian Joyce of Milton, a cosponsor of the bill, is passionate in his belief that the center is not only hurting patients but also manipulating their parents' emotions.

Joyce, who can barely disguise his contempt for the center's founder, Matthew Israel, says it is the Legislature's "moral obligation to stop the wholesale application of this so-called aversive therapy." Israel says the bill is just another in a long line of overboard attempts to close his center, which administers brief skin shocks to deter violent behavior by some patients who don't respond to traditional therapies.

The public has reason to be confused about a center that has been embroiled in complex legal battles dating back decades. But the proposed legislation only makes matters worse. It might seem reasonable to pass a law that limits skin shock treatment to cases involving "a clear risk of injury to self or others." But the bill would also bar shocks to treat "minor behavior problems, even if said behaviors are identified as antecedents to targeted challenging behaviors." So, if a disturbed patient is known to rub his head vigorously for several seconds before biting or gouging himself, the shock could not be administered during the "antecedent" behavior, but only at the onset of the actual attack. The whole point of aversive therapy is to discourage the attack before it begins.

Both the patients and public will be best served if the Department of Mental Retardation, which certifies the Rotenberg Center, concentrates fully on the competence of the center to administer the treatment, instead of the treatment itself. There are plenty of reasons to scrutinize the center closely, not the least of which is the questionable quality and training of the workers who administer the shocks.
Rotenberg staffers made a mind-blowing error of judgment in August when they shocked two emotionally disturbed students on the phoned-in order of a former patient posing as a medical supervisor. And Rotenberg top officials followed that up with a gross error in judgment, or worse, when they destroyed videotapes of the incident despite a warning not to do so by a state investigator who had viewed the tapes.

If the Rotenberg Center can't do its job consistently and ethically, then DMR should shut it down. But the Legislature shouldn't foreclose the option of skin shock treatment as a last resort for desperate patients.
Autism Diva reports:

The Judge Rotenberg Center Charges $216,000 a year in tuition room and board.

According to the 2005 JRC tax return, Dr. Matthew Israel has a salary of $306,831.

In addition, he uses a tax vehicle known as a deferred compensation plan (where he doesn't pay taxes on deferred income) of $58,360 for a grand total of $365,000 in yearly compensation.

The Judge Rotenberg Center received $41.7 million in public support from state governments. Only $4,585 was contributed by indirect public support. JRC earned approximately $76,000 in interest and investment income in 2005.

The JRC had $708,000 in legal fees for that year?!

Another $100,000 in postage?! ...

More background from:
Mother Jones, August 2007, "Why Can't Massachusetts Shut Matthew Israel Down?"
The Village Voice, October 2006
Anderson Cooper, March 2006
Autism Diva, March 2007 - with a highly-edited (distracting musical soundtrack, no less) 10-minute YouTube video from Christschool.
Matthew Israel Interviewed at Mother Jones
Stirring the Pot, January 2008, responded to particular claims made by Israel, like this:
"Prove it. Prove that the improvement in students over years of therapy is due to that therapy, not in spite of it. Show us the hordes of thankful graduates who should be swarming the blogosphere with congratulations to you, Mr. Israel, if your 100% success rate is truly due to skin shock therapy's intrinsic benefits, not to the fact that aversives subdue aggression by force, not through learning."
"The percentage of overall people who have graduated away from the shock therapy
is only 4% of those at the center. 4%. Another point that I think we all should be aware of is the portion of the aversive's program that deals with the withholding of food ("
The Boston Herald, Feb. 15 and 23, 1995 - Reported here. ABUSE UNCOVERED IN DEATH AT BRI Victimization of 19-year old Linda Cornelison called "inhumane beyond all reason"
You Tube video from AutTV