Entries in Education (39)


GAO Report Exposes Rule-Breaking at for-Profit Colleges

Photodisc/Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report from the Government Accountability Office found several instances of rule-breaking at several for-profit colleges in the United States. Investigators who went undercover to pose as students found they could get away with blatant flouting of academic standards, such as plagiarism. Some even found they could get away with inserting photos of celebrities and politicians in lieu of written answers to essay questions.

When the investigators presented “fictitious evidence of high-school graduation -- either a home-school diploma or a diploma from a closed high school,” they were allowed to enroll in online courses at 15 commercial colleges, which were not identified in the report.

Once enrolled, the undercover students investigating the colleges engaged in “substandard academic performance,” including plagiarism, failure to attend class, failure to submit assignments and submission of incorrect assignments.

The investigation was conducted over the course of one year, from October 2010 to October 2011. Each investigator enrolled for one term. The report focused on the areas of enrollment criteria, cost, financial aid, course structure, substandard student performance, withdrawal and exit counseling.

Overall, eight of the 15 schools followed standard procedures regarding penalties for academic dishonesty, exit counseling and course grading. There were mixed results for the remaining seven schools.

At one college, “Our undercover student consistently submitted plagiarized material, such as articles clearly copied from online sources or text copied verbatim from a class textbook,” according to the report.

The first time it happened, the instructor told the student to paraphrase but gave full credit. The student continued to turn in plagiarized assignments and ultimately received a failing grade, but no action related to academic misconduct was taken.

There were also situations in which the schools and instructors followed standard policies.

At one college, a professor repeatedly tried to contact a student who logged into class but did not submit assignments or participate in discussions. When the student refused help, the professor locked the student out of the class.

The undercover investigation was done at the request of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Harkin’s office was closed Wednesday, but he released a statement Tuesday regarding the report, as was reported by the New York Times.

“The fact that many of the schools accepted incomplete and plagiarized work -- sometimes for full credit -- leads me to question whether for-profit college students are truly receiving the quality education they are promised to prepare them for a good job,” Harkin  said.

“Coupled with sky-high tuition costs, alarming dropout rates, poor job placement services and the many other troubling practices that we’ve uncovered in the HELP Committee’s investigation,” Harkin said, “it is obvious that Congress must step in to hold this heavily federally subsidized industry more accountable.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


More Arrests in SAT Cheating Scandal

Hemera/Thinkstock(MINEOLA, N.Y.) -- Eleven young adults, including three men who authorities say posed as students and took the SAT for others in exchange for money, surrendered to authorities at New York's Nassau County District Attorney's Office on Tuesday to face felony charges in a college entrance exam cheating scandal that continues to grow.

"Educating our children means more than teaching them facts and figures. It means teaching them honesty, integrity and a sense of fair play," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Tuesday in Mineola, N.Y. "The young men and women arrested today instead chose to scam the system and victimize their own friends and classmates, and for that they find themselves in handcuffs."

Joshua Chefec, 20; Adam Justin, 19; and George Trane, 19, were escorted by their parents as they turned themselves in to investigators on Long Island. The fourth accused man, Michael Pomerantz, 18, is expected to turn himself in Monday.

Authorities said the men headed up a cheating ring that charged students $3,500 in exchange for them taking the SAT or ACT. Prosecutors said that eight of the nine students who paid the four to take the tests surrendered as well Tuesday. They could all face misdemeanor charges.

Kathleen Fineout Steinberg of the College Board said the agency and Educational Testing Services would continue to review its security enhancements. The ETS hired a firm led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh to determine whether its security procedures were deficient.

This scam involved current or former students at Roslyn High School, St. Mary's in Manhassett, Great Neck South and North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck.

The charges follow the September bust of a ring allegedly led by Emory University student Sam Eshaghoff, who prosecutors say charged $1,500 to $2,500 to take the tests for six students. The students, who knew one another from Great Neck North High School, were also charged.

In 2011, 138 scores were canceled after ETS concluded that individuals had cheated on the exam. More than 2 million students take the test each year, according to the College Board website.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Student Suspended for Hugging -- A 14-year-old middle school student was suspended as a result of a Florida school’s strict no-hugging policy.

Nick Martinez said he hugged his best friend, a female student, quickly between classes, according to WKMG-TV, Orlando, and never thought the gesture would result in suspension. The principal at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay saw the hug and brought the two students to the dean, who issued a one-day in-school suspension.

“Honestly, I didn’t know, because I didn’t think hugging was a bad thing. I didn’t know you could get suspended for it,” Martinez told WKMG-TV. “A lot of friends are hugging. I just happened to be the one caught doing it.”

According to the school’s student handbook, students can be penalized for hugging or hand-holding with either a dean’s detention or suspension. Kissing calls for a one-day out-of-school suspension.

Martinez’s mother, Nancy Crescente, was outraged to learn her son had been suspended for the “mutual hug,” and is calling on the school board to clarify the policy.

As it stands, the school’s handbook doesn’t distinguish between an inappropriate hug, which could constitute harassment, and a mutual, friendly hug. It also makes no distinction in the policy between 11-year-old students and 16-year-olds, who all attend Southwest.

“We cannot make an opinion or judgment call on whether a hug is appropriate or not. It’s very difficult to police that on campus,” Christine Davis, the  public information officer for Brevard County Public Schools, told ABC News.

Davis said the school puts policies and procedures in place to help keep the students focused on learning.

The official policy across Brevard Country schools is that public affection is “in poor taste,” but it does not necessarily result in suspension. This middle school’s Student Advisory Council, a board made up of teachers, parents and administrators, reviewed the district’s guidelines and outlined the specific consequences for public displays of affection.

The school has no plans to change the policy.

Crescente told WKMG-TV that she would ask the board to change the policy and fight to have her son’s suspension scrubbed from his record.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


For-Profit Colleges Target Military Personnel, Market High-Interest Private Loans

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- America’s students are in debt, $1 trillion in debt in fact. But while most college graduates struggle to repay loans with less than 10 percent interest, some military personnel are drowning under significantly more expensive loans.

Holly Petraeus, CIA Director David Petraeus’s wife and an advocate for military families, told a Senate panel Thursday that for-profit colleges are actively targeting military personnel and their families, marketing private loans with inflated interest rates.

“There are some real concerns, there is real aggressive marketing right now to the military and not just to military members, but to their spouses and to their children as well,” Petraeus said.

To pay for the pricey private schools, these colleges often market “expensive private student loans” to service members, said Petraeus, who as the assistant director of the Office of Service-Member Affairs at the newly-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working to protect military families from such predatory loans.

Petraeus said she spoke with an Army wife at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky who had enrolled in an online course through a college she thought was officially associated with the military. She said representatives from the school, which actually had no military affiliation, called her a dozen times per day until she agreed to register.

But help was nowhere to be found once the school received her tuition payment. The woman ended up failing her course because she had trouble logging on, Petraeus said.

While meeting with service members around the country, Petraeus said she also heard horror stories of loan companies charging crippling interest rates. One internet lender, she said, tells service members who visit their site: “We  believe that your membership in the armed forces entitles you to special treatment. We speak your language!”  That language includes a steep interest rate on their loans that far out-paces rates on government-offered loans. And when military personel fall behind in their payments, harassing debt collectors take over.

“They may call a service member’s home and unit 20 or 30 times a day, threaten them with the uniform code of military justice, and tell them they’ll get them busted in rank or have their security clearance revoked if they don’t pay up,” Petraeus said. “We’ve even heard of a debt collector harassing a surviving spouse of a service member killed in action, insisting that she had to use the money from his death gratuity to pay off a debt immediately.”

College costs aside, many military members are in debt before they even enlist. Petraeus said that on a recent trip to Texas, “We were told that the average Air Force recruit arrives at Lackland Air Force Base for basic training over $10,000 in debt.”

“A continuing issue for the military is the general issue of indebtedness,” Petraeus said. "Unfortunately there are still too many young troops learning about wise spending through hard experience and years of paying off expensive debt.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cellphone Captures Boy Beating Gay Student

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(CHILLICOTHE, Ohio) -- An Ohio high school student waited in a classroom to attack a 15-year-old gay classmate, beating him repeatedly in a vicious assault captured by a bystander on a cellphone.

"I covered myself and shielded my body, and he kept hitting," the gay student, who did not want to be identified, told ABC's affiliate WSYX in Ohio. "Nobody did anything."

Now the boy's mother, Rebecca Collins of Chillicothe, has said she would seek justice for the Oct. 17 beating.

The Ross County Sheriff's office said it is investigating the attack but so far has not made any arrests.

James Osborne, principal at Union-Scioto High School, located about 50 miles south of Columbus, confirmed the "unfortunate" attack, and said "charges have been filed."

"It turns my stomach," Collins told ABC's affiliate station. "It's my son. I don't care, and they did it just because he's a homosexual."

Other students watched as the attacker waited for his victim to arrive in the classroom. He then shoved his prey to the ground, and repeatedly punched him in the face.

Collins said her son broke two teeth, and may have suffered a concussion.

The recording of the attack has been posted on Facebook and YouTube.

The student who initiated the attack was suspended for three days.

According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which helps gay students and works with schools to set up support programs, one in four LGBT students have experienced some form of assault in Ohio each year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


SAT Cheating Ring Forces Board to Rethink Security

Hemera/Thinkstock(LONG ISLAND, N.Y.) -- A cheating scandal uncovered last month in Great Neck, N.Y., may affect how millions of high school students around the country take the SATs, as the board that administers the test has hired a former FBI director to advise on enhanced security measures.

“It’s a problem,” said state Sen. Kenneth LaValle, who convened a hearing Tuesday on Long Island about standardized test security procedures. “This is not just in Great Neck. It’s across the board. It’s a national issue.”

The issue is impersonation -- students hiring a ringer to take the test for them. Seven current or former Great Neck North High School students were arrested last month, allegedly part of a cheating ring that paid a college student $2,500 to impersonate the other six and take the SAT for them.

Executives from the College Board said Tuesday they are considering “potential enhancements” to safeguard future tests. They include changes in the types, forms, number and qualification of acceptable identification; changes to requirements for collection of identifying information at the time of registration and on test day; additional test-day security requirements, including the use of digital photography.

“We are determined to provide the most rigorous test security available while not discouraging a single deserving student from pursuing his or her college aspirations,” College Board president Gaston Caperton said.

New York state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky told Caperton any test security changes need to come at his expense.

“I am very troubled by any improvements that you make where costs are passed along to the student taking the test. To me that would be outrageous,” she said.

The College Board has hired Freeh Group International Solutions, a consulting firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Immigrant Families Believed to be Fleeing Alabama in Scores

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- Scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from Alabama public schools, according to state education officials, after a court ruling upheld the state’s new anti-immigration law.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature and is widely backed by voters, allows police to check for papers and detain undocumented residents without bail. It also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students.

The law went into effect Thursday, and already attendance in Alabama schools has dwindled.

“My dad said that we are going to Mexico and we are going to have our own room, our own house, but I feel bad too because I’m going to miss my friends and my best teacher,” said Dayana Coria, a student at Huntsville’s McDonnell Elementary School, according to ABC News affiliate WAAY-TV.

Joe Ribera, who runs Mi Pueblo supermarket in Birmingham, said a lot of people have been buying bus tickets to leave the state.

“Maybe 35 tickets a day and normally we sell two, three, four,” he said.

Vianey Garcia, an illegal immigrant, said her family is being forced to leave the state for fear of being deported.

“We have to move. We have to leave everything,” Garcia said. “We can’t take anything because I’m afraid they can stop us and say why are you moving?”

Local and state officials, in an effort to keep students of immigrant families in school, insist that the state is only trying to compile statistics, not arrest students or parents, as privacy rights don’t allow schools to identify undocumented students by name. Under the new law, only new students are required to prove their citizenship.

“In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear,” Huntsville schools superintendent Casey Wardynski said Thursday on a Spanish-language television show.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


StoryCorps Celebrates Teachers with Oral History Initiative

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For Warren Weems, it was a fifth-grade teacher and a report card that motivated him to work in the classroom.

"I had a fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch, and she wrote on my report card -- and I still have it -- 'Warren is severely handicapped' or something like that and that made me so mad," he said. "I failed the fifth grade and then Ms. Burbwich took me under her wing....I always will remember her, you know."

Weems shared this story with his son Jason and wife Robin for StoryCorps' National Teachers Initiative, which the national nonprofit oral history project launched Monday to honor public school teachers.

StoryCorps is working with local communities, organizations and school districts to record, share and preserve teachers' stories to bring attention to their hard work and dedication.

The Weemses work at Leith Walk Elementary School in Baltimore. Warren Weems is a teacher's aide in his wife's first-grade classroom and Jason Weems is a kindergarten teacher's aide. Jason Weems interviewed his father for the StoryCorps recording.

"She does the teaching. I do the decorating, the paperwork, whatever law enforcement is needed," Warren Weems said with a laugh. "I sit back and figure out what each one of the children's needs are....I am their father, grandfather and whatever else."

Robin Weems said her husband added an air of excitement, especially for her male students.

"They just hang on every word that you say," she told him during his recorded interview. "They love for you to read stories to them."

Warren Weems, who said he felt an obligation to give back to his community, has volunteered at the school for nearly nine years.

"The rewards are worth it," he said.

Started in 2003 by radio documentary producer Dave Isay, StoryCorps dispatches specially trained technicians and recording equipment for anyone to use -- free of charge.

For the teachers initiative, the project plans to stop in several cities including New York City; Mobile, Ala.; and New Orleans during the school year to record at least 625 interviews with teachers and their interview partners. The teachers' stories will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"We have a saying -- we call it the classroom family," Warren Weems said. "I have pictures of myself, my wife and Jason, and then I have a picture of all the children on the door so they all feel part of the family."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


California School Superintendent Takes $800,000 Pay Cut over Next Three Years

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(FRESNO, Calif.) -- When a headline starts "School Official Gives Himself a Hefty...," the next word is usually "Raise."

But in Fresno County, Calif., School Superintendent Larry Powell gave himself a hefty pay cut.

On Aug. 31, Powell will retire and then be hired back to fill the remainder of his four year term, reducing his now $250,000 annual salary to $31,020. The move will add over $800,000 to county schools over the next three years.

"My wife and I are very well compensated. We've been very blessed...I've been in this business for 41 and a half years and these are tight budget times in California for public schools," Powell said. "My wife and I thought, what can we do that might help change the dynamic in my particular area."

Powell, 63, said that over the last three years his county has lost $1,600 to $1,900 in funding per student. There are 195,000 students in Fresno County and 356 schools.

"Fresno…has been labeled the Appalachia of the West. We're like a bar bell, we have extreme wealth and extreme poverty…there's no shortage of need locally," he said.

Powell and his wife, Dot, began investigating and realized that with Powell's pension and her retirement benefits from working as a school principal, they had plenty of money to live off of without his full salary. So Powell approached the board of education about letting him retire early and then rehiring him to fill the three years and four months remaining in his term as superintendent.

"It's a unique arrangement that I'm in and it allows me to give something back to the community in a tangible way and I don't think of it as being a hero at all. It was a perfect opportunity to do something where the public benefits, the taxpayer benefits…the taxpayer saves between $150,000 and $160,000 in reduced costs, the county receives $830,000."

Powell's positive actions follow a slew of scandals over the past year in California that highlighted the seemingly huge salaries of officials in the state's public sector. In July of last year, outrage erupted in Bell, Calif., at the revelation that the city manager made nearly $1 million a year. Last month, it was revealed that California's highest paid employee was a prison surgeon who no longer treated patients. That surgeon made over $777,000.

Chris Mathys, the manager of the Valley Taxpayer's Coalition in Fresno, said that his association hopes that Powell's pay cut inspires other public officials.

"That's the exact kind of thing that we need. What we're not seeing enough of is public servants coming forward and saying you've had to tighten your belt in private sector, your 401ks are shrinking," Mathys said. "When people like Mr. Powell come forward and are willing to take the personal cut..when it's your own wallet, your own household, then that really shows you're sincere about your efforts."

Powell said that since his decision was made public earlier this week, he's been overwhelmed by the response.

"My Facebook page has been hit with literally hundreds of thank yous…I'm no hero...It's a way to give back to the community I love and we're going to do that," Powell said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arne Duncan Feels ‘Very Badly’ for Kids in Rick Perry's Texas Schools

United States Department of Education(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, has taken aim at Texas Gov. Rick Perry for what Duncan describes as the abysmal quality of education in the state’s public schools.

“Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college," Duncan tells Bloomberg TV’s Al Hunt of Texas in an interview set to air Friday. "I feel very, very badly for the children there."  

Texas ranks 43rd among states for high school graduation rate, according to the Legislative Budget Board’s 2010 Texas Fact Book.  Slightly more than 61 percent of students graduate each year.    

“You have seen massive increases in class size. You’ve seen cutbacks in funding. It doesn’t serve the children well. It doesn’t serve the state well. It doesn’t serve the state’s economy well. And ultimately it hurts the country,” he says.   

Duncan attributes the conditions to Perry’s policies during his decade-long tenure as governor, including a more-than-$4-billion cut to public school funding in the state’s most recent budget.

Perry, who's long been an outspoken critic of federal education standards, has rejected participation in Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which he has said “could very well lead to the ‘dumbing down’ of the rigorous standards we’ve worked so hard to enact.”

Perry spokesman Mark Miner criticized Duncan’s comments, telling Bloomberg, “The president’s secretary of education may want to do a little more homework before commenting on education in Texas.

“Under Governor Perry, Texas has been a national leader in adopting college and career-ready curriculum standards that will ensure Texas students graduate prepared to succeed in college and the workplace,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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