Category: education


As you may or may not already know, our second book in the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” book series comes out next month. This book, called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” is all about how we try to go about bringing together our political lives and values with those of our faith and live them out in meaningful and effective ways.

This volume has essays from many fascinating perspectives, and each chapter includes provocative questions at the end for further reflection, study or discussion. It’s a good book for individual or small group use, and uses accessible language so it can be of value to people of varying levels of theological and political engagement.

Chalice Press is currently offering a 30% discount on advance orders of the book, and they are also featuring Split Ticket as their book of the month.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT THE BOOK, AND FOR HOW YOU CAN GET THE 30% DISCOUNT.

Please pass this along to anyone else who might find this book of interest or value, and please let us know what you think of it once you read it. In fact, it would be fantastic to have some of you visit the Amazon page for the book and post your reviews there for potential buyers to read too.

Peace,
Christian Piatt

NewSpin
by Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

It seemed, while Cesar Chavez and its affiliates remained in the stratosphere with remarkable results on standardized tests, the administration was untouchable. Though criticized for such unorthodox practices as offering gift cards to new students, and as rumors of test tampering and misogynist treatment of staff bubbled to the surface, it was hard nonetheless to argue with the results Dr. Lawrence Hernandez and company were yielding.

It seems the power went to his head, though.

In a recent press release from the Colorado Department of Education’s communications office, Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones “expressed deep concern about the network’s egregious financial practices and dubious leadership” after a formal review of the Cesar Chavez School Network’s organizational and financial systems.

“The report makes clear that the leadership of the network prioritized its needs over the students and disregarded both basic business practices and common sense,” says Jones. “The leaders of Cesar Chavez School Network squandered taxpayer money, ignored basic legal requirements, over-compensated senior staff, engaged in nepotism and failed to provide accountability over the resources entrusted to them. The results demand swift action.”

“I fully encourage Pueblo City Schools to use this analysis in any way it sees fit to hold Cesar Chavez School Network accountable,” says Jones. “Taxpayers, teachers and parents across Colorado will find that reading the report is a deeply troubling experience on many levels. I anticipate that Pueblo City Schools, the authorizers of the original charters, will be even more disturbed.”

Pueblo City Schools’ own news release echoed the scathing criticism from the CDE, detailing “nearly 40 separate findings of fact that support misappropriation and mismanagement of funds and resources at CCA schools primarily by the three principal staff members: Lawrence Hernandez, CEO; his wife Annette Hernandez, COO; and Jason Guerrero, CFO. It also finds that some of the Board of Directors at CCA and DHPH were complicit in conflicts of interest that directly benefited them financially.”

“’The apparent magnitude of egregious misappropriation and mismanagement of the public’s money is shocking,” said Stephanie Garcia, president of the board for Pueblo City Schools, per the release. “’This pervasive and perpetuated abuse of taxpayer funding at the hands of the founders of the CCA schools, explains their years of aggressive and antagonistic efforts to keep Pueblo City Schools and other authorizing agencies from actually seeing what was going on.

“’As the authorizer of the charters for these schools, we take the suggestions of Commissioner Dwight Jones very seriously and will be looking at our options very closely. We will be examining all legal remedies at our disposal to address the inappropriate actions of those responsible for this obscene abuse of tax payer monies.’”

Following these damning statements, I followed up with Ms. Garcia with the questions below, followed by her responses.

Is the district pressing any charges against CCA/DHPH staff? If so, who and what charges? And if not, why?

The district does not have the authority to press charges against CCA/DHPH. We have however contacted the local district attorney, the Internal Revenue Service and the Attorney General’s office. They are the entities that will determine if charges are in order.

Have any civil suits been considered, and again, if so, against who, for how much and on what grounds?

CCA/DHPH has 11 current civil suits pending. They are being sued by former CEO Lawrence Hernandez. I understand the suits are about alleged wrongful termination and acts of discrimination.

How, if at all, do you feel this experience has changed the district’s outlook on Charter schools?

The district has been very pleased with our relationship with our other Charter Schools. YAFA and PSAS have always responded to the district’s requests for information regarding governance, finances and instruction. I believe the audit results clearly uncovered the real reasons why CCA and DHPH continually challenged our request for this information.

I do believe that the Board of Education will have clear qualifications and standards written into future contracts with any new charter and also when we renew existing charters. I believe this will affect charter contracts for all schools across Colorado, if not the Country. There has also been new legislation presented this year that would also tighten controls over Charter conduct.

What do you expect will change about CCA/DHPH governance moving forward?

Clearly, governance will have to change and accountability will need to be in place. That being said, we are still not certain if the two schools are recognized as being nonprofit entities. They were not able to produce their 2008 or 2009 990 (IRS revenue document) or other evidence that they are still recognized by the IRS. Also, given the audit results, if they have not already lost their nonprofit status, they may.

Beyond the over 15 million dollars in bond debt and lack of reserve as required by the State, tax payers may also be owed repayment of other State and federal funds that were clearly misspent. The Board is still meeting with local State and Federal law enforcement entities and representatives with the Colorado Department of Education.

At this point, we do not know if the situation is beyond repair regardless of new leadership.

Finally, I asked District Attorney Bill Thiebaut if they were considering any charges of their own, especially considering the District’s hands were effectively tied with regard pressing legal charges.

“In addition to receiving a copy of the final report (audit) presented to the Colorado Department of Education by MGT of America, Inc.,” says Thiebaut, “over several months we have received voluminous information from a variety of citizens regarding the operation of the Cesar Chavez School Network. Our office has been in communication with, among others, the Attorney General’s Office as well as School District 60 officials (Pueblo City Schools) regarding this information.

“Our staff is reviewing this information,” continues Thiebaut. “For now, that is all I am at liberty to say.”

Public School Cuts Run Deep
NewSpin
By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Call it schadenfreude, but I couldn’t help but smile when I read about Dr. John Covington, former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, having to contend with the ugly business of shutting down nearly half of Kansas City’s public schools. Granted, it was clear when he split town for the Midwest that he was entering a hot mess of a district.

But hey, when upward mobility calls, right?

Despite my sadistic need for karma to beat up Covington a little, the closure of 29 schools is nothing short of a crisis for children and families living in the city. Such a dire situation makes some of the recent developments in our own back yard a little easier to swallow.

Schools District 70 announced that, as of next year, it will be cutting back to four-day school weeks to try to balance the budget. Naturally, parents are concerned about the quality of their kids’ education, young ones taking the bus in the dark and what to do with the little buggers an extra day of the week when the rest of the world works.

Many parents in Pueblo are barely making ends meet as it is, particularly in outlying areas covered by District 70, and the challenge of paying for an extra day of child care every week might be the difference between making the car payment and giving it up to the bank. Obviously, the schools are trying to save money, so to stay open just to babysit would make no sense, but what to do?

As a vocal advocate that churches and community service groups should step up when there’s an identifiable need, this is a great opportunity to put words into real action. Some churches offer parents’ night out or daytime relief once a month or so for caregivers. But if retired, unemployed or underemployed congregants could provide a safe haven for children to play and continue learning, it might actually help all of us justify those big buildings that, too often, only get used on Sunday mornings.

The busing issue is more easily addressed. True, there might be days when the buses have to run in darkness or at least twilight, but how many parents are content to leave their children at a bus stop on their own, even in broad daylight? I realize that rural areas tend to create a climate where everyone knows everybody else, but given the fact that sexual crimes against children are usually committed by relatives or family friends, this is hardly an excuse for a lack of vigilance.

When I rode the bus to school – the city bus, mind you, not a school bus – in Dallas, my folks stayed with me until the bus came. Yes, it took time, but it also communicated to me that my safety was a priority. Sometimes we’d carpool and parents would take turns at this job, but even in the winter months when the bus ran into the evening, I knew there was always someone waiting for me on the other end.

Regarding the quality of education, the comments of a teacher friend of mine from District 70 makes the point well. She explained that, given busing schedules as they are now, combined with all the transitions kids have from one class or program to another, it’s hard for teachers to pack in all the curriculum-mandated material they’re expected to cover.

With the four-day schedule, she explained, teachers will still have the same number of contact hours in a week, but with one-fifth fewer transitions. This means longer periods of contact in the classroom, and, according to her, a better chance to cover important content than in a five-day system.

This still doesn’t point to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the absurdity of a donut-shaped district the educators and administrators are struggling to manage. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Schools sit square in the middle of it all, with some of its schools much closer to District 70 facilities than other schools in their own district.

It’s understandable how reluctant either district may be to consider redrawing district lines or cost-sharing more than they already do, but considering what Kansas City schools are now facing, reshuffling the deck sounds like a much less bitter pill to swallow if funding continues to lag.

Finally, this still doesn’t address the other problem we have in Southern Colorado, which is the value – or lack of it – that we seem to place on public school funding. Ours is one of the absolute lowest in per-capita funding of public education compared to income, and within Colorado, our two districts are near the bottom of that miserable pile.

I understand the resistance to raising taxes, particularly when we’re all hurting financially. But the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” tells only part of the story when it comes to children’s minds. Actually, the lack of investment will have a negative ripple effect, for decades to come, in the form of overburdened social services, swelling criminal-justice dockets, teen pregnancies, dropouts and substance abuse growing unchecked.

Maybe the more appropriate saying is “pay now, or pay later.” The four-day week may be relatively good news, compared to what may be coming if we don’t step up to support public education. Unless we’re looking for John “Hatchet Man” Covington to come back our way and work similar magic for our kids, it’s time to make big changes while we still have a chance.

I just posted my new podcast, “Time, Death and the Brain”

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com

Let me know what you think.

Peace,
Christian

If you’re in Southern Colorado, do not miss the fundraiser going on at the State Fairgrounds (Creative Arts Center) Sunday, Feb. 28th from noon to 7pm.

There’s no fee for admission, but all donations go to Week of Compassion for Haiti relief. Seven bands will play, and there will be great food and a silent auction. We’re expecting upwards of 700 to 1000 people, so get there early for a good spot.

Seven bands & tons of food Sunday, Feb 28, noon to 7pm

No admission to enter. Donations all go to Haiti relief through Week of Compassion.

If you have been following the three-part “WTF Chat” on my podcast with my WTF? (Where’s the Faith?) book co-creator and co-editor Brandon Gilvin, or if you’ve been waiting until all three parts were available at once, the time has come.

Check out http://christianpiatt.podbean.com/ for parts one through three-now available, or as usual, search “Piatt” in iTunes.

I also have a podcast posted about the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language. This is a sermon I offered at Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo Colorado and at Lee’s Summit Christian Church in Missouri, both in August.

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com/

Dig it.

Why CSAP Sucks
By Christian Piatt

(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.

We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.

In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.

For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.

Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.

A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not.

Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.

A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.

Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.

For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?

We have no idea.

That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.

Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient.

My first webinar (online workshop) on “how to use Facebook as a ministry tool) was great fun and well-received. since then I’ve gotten several requests to host this workshop again, so it’s back along with an exciting webinar on how to select a literary agent an, ultimately, how to get published!

If you want to learn more about the events, go to christianpiatt.com, or email me directly at cpiatt@christianpiatt.com.

CLICK ON THE EVENT TITLES BELOW TO REGISTER:

Using Facebook as a Ministry Tool
Wednesday, September 30th, 1pm (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0″ social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the walls.


From “Writer” to Agented and Published “Author”
(w/ Lit. Agent Anita Kushen)

Tuesday, October 6th, 11am (MST)

Join the conversation with Author Christian Piatt and Literary Agent Anita Kushen about what it takes to move your passion for writing to the next level. Learn valuable information like how to find and select a literary agent, and how to become a published author.

Great news! Chalice Press has approved the first two titles for my proposed BANNED QUESTIONS book series.

The first two titles are:

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS

These are both due out in 2011, and I am currently working on the first book about the Bible.

I have a new Facebook Group where we can discuss these topics, generate ideas for upcoming titles, and where you can propose questions you’d like to see in the books.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE BANNED QUESTIONS BOOK SERIES GROUP

I look forward to your input as this exciting new series takes shape.

Peace,
Christian Piatt

I’ve had some questions about how to register for the online workshops – or webinars – I’m offering this month. Well, I have good news!

As of today, I have online registration available. You can click on any of the titles below to go directly to the event registration, and you can use any major credit card. In the future I hope to add Paypal Express Checkout, but we’ll start with this. You can also visit my website for more detailed workshop descriptions.

All webinars are $20 (though it will increase to $25 per session after July), and will last between 60 and 90 minutes. Registration is limited to 15 people per session, so be sure to reserve your spot as soon as you can. If you have questions about these webinars, if you have another topic you’d like for me to cover or if you’d like to participate in one of the events listed below on an alternate date, email me and let me know.

Podcasting 101
Tuesday July 21, 12 Noon (MST)

What is podcasting? How do I do it? Do I even need to? What can it be used for? Get an introduction to podcasting, including how to set up your own podcast, ways to promote it and content ideas for your episodes.

Blogging 101
Wednesday July 22, 10 AM (MST)

Learn how to blog, what it can do, and how to best promote your blog for maximum exposure.

Using Facebook as a ministry tool
Thursday July 23, 1 PM (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the walls.

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