Education & Schools
Cheating scandals make a mockery of school reform efforts PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Steve Gunn   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 14:43
Public school employees who falsify student data are making a mockery of reform efforts
By Steve Gunn
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Across the nation, lawmakers and school boards are demanding better results from public education.

They want to set the bar higher for American students by adopting a tough new set of national standards and demanding passing grades and solid attendance. They want to set the bar higher for teachers and administrators by demanding more accountability for student learning.
They’ve tried to put some teeth in these new policies by adopting penalties for those who do not meet standards. Failing teachers can now lose tenure protection in many states. Schools and programs that don’t meet benchmarks can lose government funding or risk state takeovers.

All of this is necessary to get America’s education system back on the track of excellence.

The problem is that lawmakers and policymakers have limited reach. They can establish laws and standards, but it’s up to local educators to implement them, and often measure their own degree of success in meeting them.

But sometimes those educators cheat to get themselves or their schools off the hook, or to maintain a steady flow of state dollars. It’s a breach of faith on the part of school employees that cannot be tolerated, and must be met with harsh and decisive disciplinary action.
Cheating accusations spreading across Ohio
The latest controversy comes from several school districts in Ohio, where officials have been accused of "scrubbing" student academic scores and attendance records to avoid penalties.
In the Columbus school district, officials are accused of withdrawing many sub-par students that are still enrolled, then re-enrolling them on the district roster. That allows them to "break a student’s streak of continuous enrollment," according a story published by

Why would they do this? Only the test-scores of students who've been enrolled without interruption are counted in the school’s overall state testing data.

Tina Abdella, former internal auditor for the Columbus district, told the media that she tried to investigate anonymous tips about scrubbed attendance records, but was diverted by the superintendent and later fired by the school board.

In the Lockland, Ohio school district, officials have been accused of falsely eliminating 36 low-scoring students from its rolls in an effort to improve its state report card. An email from Superintendent Donna Hubbard appears to suggest that school officials actively "scrubbed" state testing data.

"Have we done everything we can do on the scrubbing?" according to an email, attributed to Hubbard, which was recently published by the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We are just 2.3 P.I. index points away from receiving an effective report card for the district … If you can contact someone to find out how to recode these students so that their scores won’t count against us, we may be able to pull this off."

Reports of similar activities have been reported in the Toledo school district. 

Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost is investigating the allegations in Columbus, Lockland and Toledo, and has expanded the probe to include all school districts in the state. He believes "it’s likely" more school districts have been cheating in similar ways.

This story could turn much uglier very soon.
Scandals here, there and everywhere
The national focus on school employees cheating to avoid increased accountability goes back to last year’s Atlanta scandal.

A total of 110 teachers in 44 Atlanta schools were accused of helping students cheat on standardized tests. All have been on administrative leave with pay, costing the district about $1 million a month in compensation for teachers who aren’t teaching.
As far as we can tell, 11 of the teachers have been targeted for termination, one was actually fired and four more resigned. The district superintendent recently raised eyebrows by calling back 12 of the accused teachers to work, based on "insufficient evidence" against them.

In El Paso, Texas, Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was fired earlier this year, and pleaded guilty to several counts of criminal charges, for "scheming with six district employees to game the federal accountability system by forcing some students to drop out of school, keeping other students from enrolling, stripping some foreign students of their credits and sending false data back to state and federal education agencies," according to the El Paso Times.

The idea was to artificially inflate the district’s standardized test scores -- and the flow of government money that's tied to those results, according to media reports. Four former building principals from the district have since complained they were fired after refusing orders to participate in the cheating.

In Oklahoma City, a teacher at a district high school recently told that he and others were instructed by a principal to falsify enrollment and attendance records so they appeared to satisfy federal grant requirements.

Ironically, the Oklahoma City district had already been investigating similar accusations at a different high school.
A nationwide epidemic?
To top it all off, reporters from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which broke the cheating scandal in that city, have indicated that suspicious test scores from roughly 200 school districts across the nation resembled the false scores recorded in Atlanta.

As the newspaper noted, the analysis of scores from other districts is not direct evidence of cheating. "But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools," the Journal Constitution wrote.

In nine of those districts, scores varied so unpredictably that the odds of the shifts occurring without some form of intervention (or cheating) were worse than one in 10 billion, according to the Journal Constitution.

In 196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts, there were enough suspect tests to make the odds of the scores happening by chance more than one in 1,000, the newspaper said. 

"In Houston, for instance, test results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year," the newspaper reported. "When children moved to a new grade the next year, their scores plummeted – a finding that suggested the gains were not due to learning."

At the Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis, about 42 percent of fourth-graders passed the state math test in 2010. The following year, as state investigators prowled the halls looking into allegations of cheating, only four percent of the same students passed the state math test.

As the Journal Constitution put it, "Experts say student learning doesn’t typically jump backwards."
Cheating can never be excused
In several districts where cheating scandals have erupted, teachers, administrators and their apologists have suggested that higher student achievement standards and the focus on high-stakes standardized testing has driven otherwise honest school employees to cheating.

Damany Lewis, the first teacher fired as part of the Atlanta scandal, said the following to the special commission that determined his fate:

"We were told failure was not an option. Teaching and learning was the primary focus of the teachers. Results were the primary focus of this district and our administration."

So the goal should have been to prepare the students to provide the best test results possible, instead of cheating on test scores to make the results look better than they were. Cheating is never an excuse.

What sort of message does this send to students? Instead of setting an example of good citizenship by living under existing rules while trying to change them, teachers simply cheated to get around the rules.

Some students in Atlanta and other districts were probably aware of this wink-and-nod system before it was exposed, and certainly knew about it afterward. Too many of them likely came away with the idea that cheating is okay in an unfair world, particularly since teachers do it.

The Journal-Constitution also noted that test scores help schools identify problem areas for individual students. "Falsified test results deny struggling students access to extra help to which they are entitled," the newspaper said.

The crucial goal of increased accountability in education is to find out if schools are getting the job done for their students, and demanding improvements if they are not. We owe that much to the taxpayers who fund the schools and the students who are depending on a quality education to prepare for the life ahead of them.

Those who lie and cheat to save their own skins are making a mockery of school reform efforts. A student with an artificially enlarged test score is not being properly served.

The only people served are the teachers and administrators who have something to gain by turning in false data. They should be tossed out on their butts as an example to others who may be tempted to doctor the documents just a bit.
Contact Steve Gunn This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (231) 733-4202

Governor Quinn Signs New Laws to Make Schoolchildren Safer and Healthier PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Leslie Wertheimer   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 14:29
CHICAGO – August 8, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today signed three new laws designed to make Illinois schoolchildren healthier and safer through immunizations, anti-bullying measures and alternative education programs. Today's action at Pershing West Magnet School is the latest by Governor Quinn to further strengthen education in Illinois.

“We are working every day to strengthen education in Illinois," Governor Quinn said. "As millions of students prepare to go back to school later this month, these new laws will put vital public health data in the hands of parents, protect our children from bullying and improve their health."

House Bill 5013, sponsored by Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is designed to boost vaccination rates. The new law requires public and registered nonpublic schools to make immunization and health exam statistics publicly available. While such data is now posted on the State Board of Education (ISBE) website, this reform will make it easier for parents to see just how many of their children’s classmates are not vaccinated. August is National Immunization Awareness Month.

The State of Illinois requires vaccinations to protect children from a range of diseases. Failure to be properly immunized can lead to high absenteeism, heart problems or even brain damage. According to ISBE, more than 60,000 students (about three percent) were not in compliance with immunization or health exam mandates during the 2010-11 school year. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers and is supported by public health advocates, the Chicago Teachers Union and the March of Dimes. The law is effective Jan. 1.

Governor Quinn also signed House Bill 1473, sponsored by Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), which allows the Chicago Board of Education to implement a program to break down barriers between students of different backgrounds. The law is inspired by the successful “Challenge Day”, which employs a carefully-designed, day-long series of trust-building exercises to foster new levels of empathy and respect. The law is effective immediately.

In addition, Governor Quinn signed Senate Bill 3259, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), which creates the Commission for High School Graduation Achievement and Success to help boost high school graduation rates. The Commission will examine alternative education programs in Illinois and other states, as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Learning Exchanges, the Illinois Pathways Initiative and other tools for keeping at-risk teens in school. The Commission’s report is due to the governor and General Assembly by November 1, 2012 in advance of veto session. The law is effective immediately.

Governor Quinn continued to emphasize the need for public pension reform to ensure adequate resources for education in Illinois. Unless comprehensive pension reform is enacted, a new analysis prepared by the Governor's Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) shows that Illinois is on track to spend more on pensions than education by Fiscal Year 2016. Governor Quinn has proposed a comprehensive plan that will eliminate the unfunded liability over 30 years. The governor recently called a special session dedicated to pension reform on August 17.


20 More QC Students Awarded Back-to-School Shopping Sprees PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Holly Nomura   
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 14:25

Loebsack Encourages Students to Apply for Fall Internships PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Joe Hand   
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 08:31
Washington, D.C – Congressman Dave Loebsack today announced that his office is now accepting applications from Iowa college students to participate in a Congressional internship program in his Washington, D.C., Iowa City or Cedar Rapids offices.  The internship program is open to undergraduate students and recent graduates, regardless of major.

“As a former educator, I have seen the benefits that internships can provide by giving students a firsthand look into the government process,” said Loebsack.  “I encourage all hardworking, motivated students and recent graduates to apply.”

Interns in the Washington, D.C. office will have the opportunity to learn about the legislative process and the federal government by working closely with the legislative, communications and constituent services staff members.  Interns in the Iowa offices will have the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge about how a Congressional office provides constituent services and interacts with members of the community.

Interested candidates should email their cover letter, resume, a short writing sample and a letter of recommendation to  Please indicate which location you are applying for in the subject line.



School board member under fire for speaking her mind to taxpayers PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Ben Velderman   
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 08:29
By Ben Velderman
WEST HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Do individuals forfeit their First Amendment right to free speech when they become school board members?
The president of the West Hempstead Union Free (New York) school board seems to think so, but the district's official policy on free speech won't be known until board members re-examine their code of ethics in October.
This philosophical debate was sparked by a postcard board member Cynthia DiMiceli sent to the community last spring – at her own expense – explaining why she had voted against the district’s $55.2 million proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year.
The postcard had no discernible effect on the budget’s fate, which breezed through the board and was later ratified by the voters, but it so angered board President Walter Ejnes that he denounced DiMiceli as an “insecure megalomaniac” who generates “unnecessary controversy.”
A tiny handful of community activists are calling on DiMiceli to resign her post. They claim her actions violated the board’s code of ethics, which require members to “abide by all board decisions once they are made and assist in carrying them out effectively,” according to the West Hempstead Herald.
DiMiceli says the Education Establishment is “bullying” her because she dared use her rights as a private citizen to question the direction of the school district.
“Just because I’m a board member, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to speak my piece,” she tells, adding that her comments represent her views only.
Despite the overheated rhetoric from her critics, DiMiceli is faithfully executing the official duties of her office by working with her fellow board members to lead the district and implement its policies.
This controversy is really about DiMiceli’s decision to ignore the establishment’s sacred teaching that all board members must march in lockstep, so as to present a “unified front” to the community.
The "united front" is believed to be an essential ingredient to a healthy school district. In reality, it's a ploy used by defenders of the status quo to supress criticism and alternative points of view. DiMiceli is standing up to those tired ideas, and is catching plenty of flak for doing so.
'We must change this way of thinking'
DiMiceli decided to run for the school board in 2010, over concerns about the deterioration of the district’s facilities and the overall quality of education being provided to students. She has two children in the district, and witnessed the decline first-hand.
“Everybody can complain, but that’s not my style,” she says. “I wanted to find solutions to fix the problems.”
And the problems are significant.
West Hempstead is located in New York’s Nassau County, which has the highest median property taxes in the nation, according to CBS 880. DiMiceli says her personal property taxes have doubled over the last 15 years.
Despite all the spending, the district’s test scores have mostly stagnated and student enrollment has declined. Taxpayers are paying more and more, but results aren’t improving.
“That’s not logical to me,” she says.
So when school administrators presented the West Hempstead school board with a $55.2 million budget proposal this spring, DiMiceli grew concerned the district wasn’t addressing the structural deficit that’s expected to begin in 2014.
After the board passed the budget 5-2, DiMiceli shared her concerns in a postcard-letter to West Hempstead residents, explaining why she voted ‘no.’
Economic conditions -- decreasing tax revenue, increasing health insurance and retirement costs for employees -- are creating “tremendous challenges for future budgets," DiMiceli wrote.
"Therefore, if we do not spend wisely and make provisions for the future now, our standard of education will drop even further along with the value of our homes.”
She also noted that opposing a school budget is a sure-fire way of getting labeled as anti-public education.
"In my opinion, we must change this way of thinking," DiMiceli wrote. "I feel that in order to improve the quality of education in West Hempstead, we must have the courage to face and admit our deficiencies and work together to find new ways to raise district wide academic achievement.”
The letter – which is clearly identified as representing only DiMiceli’s views – did not urge taxpayers to vote a certain way on the May 15 budget vote. It only raised questions that she believes the community must begin addressing, sooner or later.
'Good board members learn to compromise'
DiMiceli’s letter drew a stinging rebuke from the board president.
In a letter to the West Hempstead Herald, Ejnes wrote that “good board members learn to compromise, and if a decision does not go your way, it is unheard of to go out publicly and undermine the board’s final decision.”
At Ejnes’ urging, the board will revisit its code of ethics in October to determine the course of action if a member violates the policies.
The school board’s attorney has already reviewed the legality of DiMiceli’s actions, but the board has refused to make his findings public.
“If my critics feel that they are right, they should ask the Board of Education why aren’t they releasing the legal opinion of their own attorney?" DiMiCeli wrote in a recent letter to a local news site. “I will leave that up to you to assume the response.”
Despite the controversy her letter has generated, DiMiceli plans to keep pushing the board to share as much information as possible with the public.
“Certain things can’t be discussed publicly, such as contract negotiations or information about a certain student. But everything else should be public."
Information leads to more transparency and more accoutability, key components to ensuring that a school district is being run properly.
"This is a $55 million a year business,” DiMiceli says. “I do what I think is the right thing to do.”
Contact Ben Velderman at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or at (231) 733-4202.

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