Category Archives: David Safier

Explorer News, a press release is not a news story

by David Safier

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that I write a monthly column for The Explorer, a weekly distributed mainly in the Marana/Oro Valley/Foothills area. But seeing as how I'm criticizing the paper, it probably isn't necessary.

Melvin_newsclipA few days ago, I went to the online home page of The Explorer and found the image at right among its news clips. No problem with the headline, "State Senator Al Melvin signs 'No New Taxes' pledge" or the pic of him shaking Grover Norquist's hand. But I looked at the copy below and thought, "This sounds like it's written by Melvin's PR team, not by a reporter."

Sure enough, I followed the link to the "story." It's more than a mere puff piece. I'll bet my blogger's hat it's nothing more than a copy of a Media Release Melvin sent to The Explorer, and most likely to every news outlet in the state (except maybe the Weekly, which Melvin hates).

If the Explorer thought this Media Release was newsworthy, it should have rewritten it as an objective piece stating what Melvin did — he went to Washington D.C. and signed the "No New Taxes" pledge. The paper could include a quote from the release, that's fine. But to publish a campaign-crafted puff piece with all its self-congratulatory language as news goes against any notion of what journalism is supposed to be.

If the paper is going to publish all or part of a Media Release, at least it should be called what it is by revealing the source. Don't simply put this at the bottom:

"© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed."

If I'm right, that's not even accurate, unless The Explorer can copyright material that was sent to the paper.

NOTE: The link to the Melvin story is no longer on The Explorer's home page. However, the story itself is still on the website.

A self-indulgent trip down memory lane

by David Safier

Stay_classy_rangeMy new home on The Range is official. While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is clinging to his last shred of plausible deniability, Weekly editor Dan Gibson lost his when he committed to my new position in print. He went so far as to say my presence on the blog "should class up the joint a bit." Stay  classy, The Range!

I've been looking through my old BfA posts and found (a) there are a lot of them and (b) a few of them are worth remembering. So, without anyone requesting it, I'm taking a trip down memory lane. This one stops in July, 2009. If I don't get bored, I'll keep plowing up through to the present.

• I met Mike Bryan, who started BfA, when he and I co-blogged an election integrity trial in late 2007. At lunch one day, I told him I'd like to write regularly on the blog, mainly about education. He quizzed me, probably to see if I had anything to say, then handed me the keys to the kingdom. I wrote my first post under my byline in February, 2008. Since then, the blog has grown to include multiple contributers from the Tucson and Phoenix areas.

• McCain declared his rustic pleasure palace in the Sedona area was a "ranch" in 2008. Dr. Word (a character I created for that post) was furious, saying that a ranch had sheep and cows and animals like that, and McCain's spread was all opulence, no cattle. A few others made the same observation independently of mine, but the Guardian in the U.K. actually referenced my post directly. I decided to look through the web to see if there was a real McCain Ranch and discovered there once was an appropriately fictional McCain Ranch, owned by The Rifleman on the old TV series. I uncovered a bunch of black and white stills from the show, put McCain's head on Chuck Connors' shoulders and captioned them.

• Also in 2008, I received emails from an anonymous source telling me K12 Inc. was sending student essays to India to be scored and commented on. After receiving enough details, including student papers and other materials, I wrote a long post, which I followed with other long posts. Phoenix-area journalist Brahm Resnik was the first to pick it up, then the Star, then Education Week. K12 Inc. ended the practice, stating in a letter to stockholders that "bloggers" had written about the outsourcing, that it was a mistake and the company would no longer send papers out of the country. The for profit corporation left open the option of outsourcing the papers to graduate students and others in the U.S. I've been writing about K12 Inc. regularly ever since, including a post yesterday. Many current K12 Inc. stories include a reference to the outsourcing scandal.

• Late in 2008, I received an email (I depend on the kindness of tipsters) from a young woman vet from Missouri with a young child who returned from Iraq and went on a four generation vacation to the California shore. She happened to stay at a beach house owned by then state Rep. Vic Williams, who stiffed her family for its $400 deposit. She sent me all the documentation, including the court records (she took Vic to court!) that said Vic owed her family $1800 because of expenses and other particulars. Vic continued to ignore the judge's decision. Jim Nintzel took up the cause in The Weekly. Long story short, Vic paid up, the vet used the money to help pay for tuition and books at a local community college. She and I are Facebook "friends." She seems to be getting along well.

• I began going after Goldwater Institute's education guy, Matthew Ladner, in early 2009, beginning a series of "Fools Gold" posts. Ladner decided to comment, and comment, and comment. Between him, me and a slew of verbose and knowledgeable commenters, the discussion/arguments stretched for thousands of words. Among the subjects was Ladner's contention that Arizona actually spent more per student on education than other states — something like $9,700. After back-and-forths stretching days and weeks, Ladner had to admit that his figure included capital outlays (money for buildings, etc.) which are not included in the state-by-state comparisons for a number of reasons. In a rare admission of error, Ladner wrote in one of G.I.'s Daily Emails that I had pointed out the error in his figures (he even mentioned me by name) and admitted he shouldn't have included those figures in his comparisons. Later on another blog where he contributes, Ladner called me his personal troll because I dogged his tracks so diligently. These days, Ladner works for Jeb Bush and edits the ALEC Education Yearbook, where he uses that same high figure I refuted when he writes about Arizona education spending.

• Sen. Steve Yarbrough's taxpayer-funded goldmine, his School Tuition Organization funded by Tuition Tax Credits, is back in the news. Coutesy of Tucsonan Jen Darland's voluminous research, the whole STO story made the Republic and the East Valley Trib in mid-2009 in two extensive, damning, multi-part series. I covered it as well. The Star to its discredit ignored the story, even though it was uncovered right here in Tucson. Mari Herreras wrote a very good summary of the issue in the Weekly, but anyone in Tucson who didn't read alt weeklies or blogs didn't have a clue.

• I'll end with a quote I posted in 2008 from William Makepeace Thackery's 19th century novel, Vanity Fair, which I was rereading at the time after reading it once in high school and kind of enjoying it. It's like Thackery was writing about our bitter, hatred-filled right wing. Everything old is new again.

"He was proud of his hatred as of everything else. Always to be right, always to trample forward, and never to doubt, are not these the great qualities with which dullness takes the lead in the world?"

If the plate don’t fit, we must adjust it. Give us a hand.

by David Safier

9788984E_smSomebody at the Star made a great catch. They spotted this license in Tucson sometime last week. Someone bought the new Extraordinary Educators license plate from the state that has "ARIZONA" at the top and "Support our Schools" at the bottom and put an all-too-appropriate message in between.

Ann-Eve Pedersen sent me the pic and suggested, since the two of us are taping our cable access show, Education: The Rest of the Story, Friday afternoon, it would be fun to have people help us come up with some other messages for the license plate. We'll use the best ones on a segment of the show. My first thought is, "PLEASE, GOV," (Support Our Schools). I'm sure you can do better.

Remember, the clock is ticking. Deadline Friday morning.

Here's the template license, for reference.


EARLY ENTRIES NOTE: Cheri has chimed in with 5 entries here, including Arizona [Y CANT YOU] [B WILNG2] and [SLOW2] Support Our Schools. On Facebook, we have dozens. REFUZS2, OUGHTA, SUKSAT, DEMANDSU, EVERY1, 4KIDS, and on and on. C'mon, join the fun! The contest ends Friday morning, because Ann-Eve Pedersen and I will be announcing the winners at our taping of "Arizona: The Rest of the Story" Friday afternoon.

“15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell”: an inside look at K12 Inc.

by David Safier

This is simply chilling. A teacher who spent a year teaching in one of K12 Inc.'s online charter school tells all in an Edweek blog post, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale. Since Education Week is subscription only, I don't know if non-subscribers can read it (Will someone tell me in the comments please?), so I'll give you a taste of the bitter gall in the story.

Darcy Bedortha is a teacher who decided to give online education a try at one of the K12 Inc. schools (she doesn't say which one). "I became a teacher because I am an advocate for youth and social justice," she writes, but she soon found that wasn't her role. It was to manage and unmanageable number of online students, keep them from leaving and recruit new students.

Darcy taught high school English. One day a week, she had "blackboard sessions" with her classes. About 10% of the students logged on. Students enrolled and dropped out regularly, meaning they were working on a whole assortment of projects and assignments she had to oversee — 30 separate courses at one point.

My first month of teaching exhausted me, and there was never a moment in 15 months to catch my breath (many of us taught summer school, with no extra compensation, per employment agreement). Teachers are responsible for setting up courses, due dates, course pathways, etc. in connection to an extensive and ever-changing digital curriculum which is fraught with technical glitches and system-level errors. Teachers are also required to be available to students during the day, late into the evening and on weekends. In addition, they must contribute to "special projects".

At one point, when a colleague took an unexpected leave, Darcy had a 476 student classload. A normal classload was 300 students or more.

She learned early on that marketing was at least as much part of a teacher's job as teaching.

In my experience, the conversation was never about how our students were struggling, how we could support those who were trying to learn the English Language, how we could support those who were homeless or how we could support those with special needs. . . . [It] was marketing: how to get more children enrolled, how to reach more families, how to be sure they were pre-registered for next year, how to get Facebook pages and other marketing information "pushed out" to students.

Marketing was geared at poor communities and marginal students, many of whom were at risk and in need of human contact and support.

The majority of students at the school are the kinds of kids whose histories and current realities cause concerned adults to keep eyes open for signs of trauma, those that haunt the dreams of educators and social workers. My students were survivors – of suicide attempts, of bullying, of abuse, of neglect, of the attempted suicides of siblings or best-friends or boyfriends. Some of them battle addictions and destructive habits; some self-harm, isolate themselves, or even run away.

I was an English teacher, so my students would write. They wrote of pain and fear and of not fitting in. They were the kinds of young people who desperately needed to have the protective circle of a community watching over them. They needed one healthy person to smile at them and recognize them by name every day, to say "I'm glad you're here!"  Many of my former students do not have that.

Her school had 303 students enrolled in special education programs who teachers were somehow supposed to help online — how, I don't know. "259 of them were failing while 17 had no grade at all." She had students who weren't native English speakers, some of whom had parents who spoke no English. How anyone can teach students like that online with a very limited opportunity to talk with them directly and no face-to-face interaction is a mystery to me.

Part of me hopes this story is a hoax, that someone made up Darcy Bedortha and created a narrative based on what can be found in news articles, because I don't want to believe it's as bad as she makes it sound. But I doubt it. I've read the damning articles, and I've also carried on email discussions with former K12 Inc. teachers in various parts of the country, and their stories, though not quite as dire, are similar to Darcy's.

The profit making, publicly traded K12 Inc. is driven by the need to satisfy its stockholders. Its CEO, Ron Packard, wants to keep making his $5 million-and-more yearly salary. The only way to stay profitable is to recruit as many students as possible regardless of their suitability for online learning and to keep them on the rolls as long as possible, even if they rarely log on or complete assignments. It's profits first, students last.

UPDATE: This just in. K12 Inc. CEO Ron Packard has stepped down to start a new company connected to K12 Inc. It looks like the idea is to take K12 global.

“Vouchers on steroids” for all!

by David Safier

Republicans love widows and orphans funds. What better way to pass conservative legislation than to have it serve the least fortunate? "How dare you oppose services for those poor, neglected [fill in the blank]!" Then, once the legislation is passed and the elephant's trunk has slipped under the tent flap, the rest of the pachyderm's body inches inside the tent, expanding the legislation to serve the people they really care about. Hint: it's not the widows and orphans they really care about.

Our Republican lege passed the Goldwater Institute-created Education Empowerment Accounts (also called Education Savings Accounts) in 2011. If you want a play-by-play accounting of the bill, you can read my 2011 post about it. The basic idea is, the state sets up voucher-like accounts for children which their parents can spend for a variety of educational purposes — private school, tutoring, educational materials and so on. What they don't spend one year rolls over to the next. Anything left unspent when the child graduates can be used for college tuition. It's the first of its kind in the country and possibly the most dangerous form of school voucher legislation I've seen.

Originally the bill was limited to students with learning disabilities and foster children. Then it was expanded to include children attending schools with state grades of D or F. In this next legislative session, Rep. Debbie Lesko, holding hands with G.I.'s ed guy, Jonathan Butcher, will push a bill to make the vouchers available to every child in Arizona. (FYI: Butcher is also co-chair of ALEC's Education Task Force.)

I don't know if the bill has been written, but based on Howie Fischer's article, here's one of the many negative outcomes we'll see from the legislation. Every child currently enrolled in private school and every child being home schooled will be elegible for the money. This could happen right away, or it could be phased in over a number of years. The money will come from the state's already bottom-of-the-barrel state funding for education unless the lege decides to create a separate pot of money for these kids, which is unlikely. That's about 60,000 private school students and over 22,000 home schoolers who will get taxpayer dollars for the first time, meaning our ed dollars will go to about 9% more students. In other words, state funding for public (district and charter) education will drop by about 9%. There's much more nasty stuff going on here, but free money to students already in private schools or being home schooled is enough for now.

Huppenthal: “We need more money for schools . . . oops, I mean for data collection”

by David Safier

I'm learning that Ed Supe John Huppenthal is either a true geek or a geek-wannabe. He loves plowing through data and studies. His pride and joy is an educational computer-based math game he created, FreeThrow, which he's been trying to get schools across the state to use and hopes to sell nationally. I know Sunnyside District uses it to some extent (though I can't say whether it's because of the game's effectiveness or as a way for Isquierdo to curry favor with Hupp), but I haven't seen anything recent about other districts using it.

And Hupp's a crazy promoter of improving the Ed Department's data system. He's once again begging the lege to send him $16.5 million to upgrade the system. He'd actually like more than $50 million, but he's trying to lower his expectations.

Maybe the money is needed. Maybe the schools and staff would benefit from a computer system that functions better. But when will he become an equally enthusiastic promoter for increased education funding? Here's the closest Hupp has come to advocating for more money for schools.

"Our school system needs to be compensated at least for inflation," he said. "And they need a little bit of catch-up ground from the cuts over the last couple of years."

That's a pretty weak sermon coming from the Ed Supe's bully pulpit. It's nothing close to his continual drumbeat for (Oh boy! Computers!) money to upgrade his data system.