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March 30, 2013

35 Atlanta educators arrested in massive test-fixing scandal

It certainly seems like every time an urban area outperforms the norm an investigation uncovers fraud and test fixing. Maybe we shouldn't put so much focus and financial rewards on test scores? Ex-Atlanta Schools Chief Charged in Cheating Scandal - NYTimes.com
Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde. In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury. Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison. . . . Those test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House. And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent. On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true. Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” the indictment said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. . . .

March 29, 2013

Government corruption and the creation of Florida Gulf Coast University

The Dark Side of Florida Gulf Coast University, March Madness Sweetheart | Mother Jones
The less inspiring story, however, is how FGCU rose up out of the swamp. To put it bluntly: The school paved over it, using government connections to pressure the US Fish and Wildlife Service into green-lighting the development and in the process wiping out one of the last vital habitat areas of the severely endangered Florida panther. FGCU's is a particularly extreme version of a familiar story. For a century, South Florida developers have stared down all comers—and methodically reshaped the environment in the process. . . . The state began moving ahead with plans to build the school in Estero, but there was a problem. Because the land was part of the Everglades ecosystem, federal law required the approval of both the Army Corps of Engineers (which enforces the Clean Water Act) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (which enforces the Endangered Species Act). Although the the Corps initially dragged its feet on the project, it eventually yielded under pressure from Republican then-Sen. Connie Mack. (The location is visually striking, but not ideal. As the St. Petersburg Times reported, "Two months into construction, the site was flooded with three feet of water, and since it opened, the university has been caught three times illegally pumping water off its campus into adjacent swamps.") But the Fish and Wildlife Service was a tougher sell. After studying the proposal, and considering not just the impact of the university proper, but of the tens of thousands of acres that stood to be developed if it went forward, the agency did something it almost never does—especially in South Florida, especially in the 1990s. It issued a "jeopardy" draft opinion, finding that the placement of FGCU was "likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Florida panther." The report carried with it a hint of doom. "It cannot be overly stressed that continued deterioration, fragmentation, or loss of habitat will reduce the South Florida panther population below the level essential for demographic and genetic health, leading to extinction," read one underlined passage. The entire area studied by FWS, it concluded, would become uninhabitable to panthers. . . .

March 28, 2013

Idaho teacher under investigation for saying "vagina" during biology lesson about reproductive system

The local Mormons, who are two-thirds of the small town, reacted violently to any mention of the word "vagina," crossing themselves, fainting, and fanning themselves with the golden plates the angel Moroni gave to Joe Smith before ascending to his own private planet. Saying ‘Vagina’ During Biology Class Leads To Investigation Of Idaho Science Teacher | TPM News
Parents in Dietrich, Idaho, aren’t very happy with the way science teacher Tim McDaniel is teaching their children human anatomy. That is to say, they’re unhappy that he is teaching them human anatomy at all. In a formal complaint made against the 18-year Dietrich School veteran by at least four parents, McDaniel is chided for using the word “vagina” during a tenth-grade biology class on the human reproductive system. Among other complaints submitted to the school: McDaniel explained the biology of an orgasm, taught students about STDs and birth control, and showed a clip from An Inconvenient Truth, which led to a discussion about climate change. “I teach straight out of the textbook, I don’t include anything that the textbook doesn’t mention,” McDaniel told the Twin Falls Times-News. “But I give every student the option not attend this class when I teach on the reproductive system if they don’t feel comfortable with the material.” No student has ever opted out, McDaniel said.