Thursday, July 21, 2011



Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Attorney General Holder, Secretary Duncan Announce Effort to Respond to School-to-Prison Pipeline by Supporting Good Discipline Practices

WASHINGTON –Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the launch of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaborative project between the Departments of Justice and Education that will address the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system. The initiative aims to support good discipline practices to foster safe and productive learning environments in every classroom.
“Ensuring that our educational system is a doorway to opportunity – and not a point of entry to our criminal justice system – is a critical, and achievable, goal,” said Attorney General Holder.  “By bringing together government, law enforcement, academic, and community leaders, I’m confident that we can make certain that school discipline policies are enforced fairly and do not become obstacles to future growth, progress, and achievement.”

"Maintaining safe and supportive school climates is absolutely critical, and we are concerned about the rising rates and disparities in discipline in our nation’s schools,” said Secretary Duncan. “By teaming up with stakeholders on this issue and through the work of our offices throughout the department, we hope to promote strategies that will engage students in learning and keep them safe.”

The goals of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative are to: build consensus for action among federal, state and local education and justice stakeholders; collaborate on research and data collection that may be needed to inform this work, such as evaluations of alternative disciplinary policies and interventions; develop guidance to ensure that   school discipline policies and practices comply with the nation’s civil rights laws and to promote positive disciplinary options to both keep kids in school and improve the climate for learning; and promote awareness and knowledge about evidence-based and promising policies and practices among state judicial and education leadership.

In order to implement the initiative, the two departments will coordinate with other organizations in the non-profit and philanthropic communities who are also working to help ensure students succeed by addressing inappropriate school discipline. These groups include the Council of State Governments and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.  The Supportive School Discipline Initiative will build upon the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ work to increase and enhance the school discipline data available through the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Departments’ proactive efforts to ensure disciplinary policies support students and are administered in a non-discriminatory manner.  

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Duncan announced this initiative during the quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, whose membership includes representatives from 12 federal agencies and nine practitioners.   The council coordinates federal juvenile justice and prevention programs to help better serve at-risk youth.   A priority issue for the council is education and at-risk youth.   More information on the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice is available at:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Story by Joy Resmovits Huffington Post
NEW YORK -- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced Tuesday that widespread cheating inflated Atlanta Public Schools' 2009 state standardized tests scores.

The product of a two-year investigation, the report concluded that systematic cheating occurred within Atlanta Public Schools -- which had been lauded for its quick testing gains -- including at least 44 of the 56 examined schools. The report implicated 38 principals, noting that 178 educators pled the Fifth Amendment when questioned. Eighty-two other educators confessed to various forms of cheating, including erasing wrong answers on students' multiple choice exams and then replacing them with the correct ones.

"The 2009 CRCT [test] statistics are overwhelming and allow for no conclusion other than widespread cheating," a summary of the report circulated by the governor's office said.

The cheating can be traced back to as early as 2001, the report found. It detailed how warnings of cheating in late 2005 were ignored and how the school system destroyed documents and provided false statements to hide wrongdoing.

"In a statewide erasure analysis ... the Atlantic Public School system test results demonstrated a pattern of wrong to right changes, evidencing that these changes did not occur in a valid testing environment," Gov. Nathan Deal said at a Tuesday press conference.

"We share a common resolve to address these problems ... so this dark cloud will not continue to hang over the system, the city and the state," he continued.

Deal forwarded the report to several officials to determine whether its conclusions warrant the filing of criminal charges. The report also illuminated painful consequences for APS students: Because the cheating inflated their scores, causing thousands to miss out on remedial education.

Reports of cheating on standardized tests with the goal of bolstered performance have increased in frequency in recent years, according to Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. Schaeffer, who has tracked such revelations, noted in the past only a few reports surfaced each year, but now several appear weekly.

"The number of confirmed reports of score manipulation has exploded," he said.

Whether the growth is because of better reporting or simply more cheating is unclear. Still, Schaeffer and others say the pressures placed on teachers by policies that stress standardized test scores -- such as No Child Left Behind -- foster an environment ripe for cheating.

"Cheating was caused by a number of factors but primarily by the pressure to meet targets in the data-driven environment," according to the report's summary. "A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in APS, which created a conspiracy of silence and deniability with respect to standardized test misconduct."

"School districts don’t have incentives for policing themselves. Their reputations depend on a steady rise in performance that accountability mandates of NCLB require," said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College.

And with about 15 states preparing to tie test scores to teacher evaluations after a nationwide legislative push toward test-based accountability, Schaeffer said, the pressure is only bound to increase. "We know that the more pressure it's brought to bear, the more people crack," Schaeffer said.

Still, the cheating exposed in Atlanta, he said, is more pervasive and widespread than any he'd seen before.

"The size and scope based on the number of names in the Georgia report appears to be significantly larger than anything before," he said.


Investigators spent more than two years looking into much-lauded gains on 2009's state standardized tests after questions about "statistically improbable" test score increases were first raised by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

An initial report was deemed superficial, with one high-ranking official saying her testimony had been edited to soften the blow.

Then-Governor Sonny Perdue ordered a new report, this time with the help of Georgia's equivalent of the FBI.

When Deal took office, he allowed the investigation to continue -- and received its results last week. In his Tuesday press conference, Deal told reporters that "there will be consequences" for those implicated by the report.

The report itself was not released to the media, though officials gave the Atlanta Journal Constitution an early look at the document.

According to the AJC, the investigators concluded that APS chief Brenda Hall -- who retired recently after serving the full length of her term despite the investigation -- "knew or should have known" about the cheating. Hall led Atlanta's troubled schools for 12 years, leading to her being named "Superintendent of the Year" in 2009.

"I was really disappointed," said Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education who has since become a critic of what she sees as the corporatization of education policy. "I had thought that Beverly Hall was one of our best superintendents, that she was the real deal."

The report criticizes a culture of cheating, fear and retaliation. According to the AJC, it also chronicles the lack of cooperation by officials in the investigation. It alleges that school administrators tampered with the investigation and tried to avoid taking blame for the mess.

AJC education blogger Maureen Downey spelled out what she saw as the motivations for the drawn-out cheating episode:

I think some of their motivation was less self-serving; they wanted to fulfill Dr. Hall’s vision that low-income children from single parent homes and tough neighborhoods could and would succeed at levels comparable to suburban Atlanta peers.


Atlanta is not alone in allegedly gaming its numbers. Schaeffer said cheating headlines have popped up in the last month alone from Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Florida.

In June, Andrés Alonso, CEO of Baltimore's schools, announced that evidence of cheating had been found at two elementary schools over the last two years. He accompanied the announcement with a promise that the 2011 standardized tests

would be the most "extraordinarily transparent set of scores of any urban district in America."

Shortly afterwards, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed cheating in a letter to state superintendents of education. Duncan wrote:

I am writing to urge you to do everything you can to ensure the integrity of the data used to measure student achievement and ensure meaningful educational accountability in your State. As I’m sure you know, even the hint of testing irregularities and misconduct in the test administration process could call into question school reform efforts and undermine the State accountability systems that you have painstakingly built over the past decade.

Representatives from Duncan's office said they would let the letter speak for itself in light of the Georgia incident.

While Congress struggles to overhaul No Child Left Behind, it might embed more provisions for monitoring tests. But Pallas said states might see this as yet another unfunded mandate.

Besides, Schaeffer said, more policing doesn’t always work.

"It's like trying to enforce marijuana laws," he said. "The more security personnel you add, the further underground cheating gets."

Standardized tests are easy to game, he added. "There are simply too many places in the process where people touch the test or have the opportunity to manipulate scores," he said.

"I've never seen so many cheating scandals as there have been in the last few years," Ravitch said. "As we get closer to this deadline of [100% proficiency under NCLB by] 2014, it's not surprising that there are schools and districts where these things happen again and again."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bishop L. J. Guillory, Ombudsman General Questions JP Morgan: Status In America

                                 The Ombudsman General Questions:  JP Morgan?

What if you made a 1.5 billion dollar mistake and couldn't take it back? According to recently unearthed court documents, one of the world's most prestigious law firms may soon face this question, and everyone from the federal government to one of Wall Street's biggest banks wants to know the answer.

This is a story about how small errors can have big consequences. Legal filings indicate that, three years ago, the venerable law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP accidentally gave away $1.5 billion of its clients' money, and the fact that the clients just happened to include the investment bank JP Morgan Chase makes the story all the more intriguing. Dan Rather Reports producer Adam Teicholz, poring over court documents in the public record, has uncovered for the first time that this mistake could become the biggest legal malpractice case in American history.

The story begins five years ago, hundreds of miles away from Wall Street. The Big Three automakers were struggling, even before the economy tanked. General Motors was desperate for cash and was able to get a massive loan from a group of banks, headed by JP Morgan. Wanting to protect its risky investment, the JP Morgan group staked claim to an astonishing $1.5 billion worth of the automaker's cash and property as collateral.

Fast forward to 2009, GM is heading to bankruptcy, and everyone who has done business with the company is worried about getting paid. The federal government is using TARP money to smooth the bankruptcy process and it repays JP Morgan the $1.5 billion... for the time being. It turns out that a year earlier a law firm representing GM had mistakenly filed a document saying that JP Morgan and the group of investors it headed, had given up their claim to the $1.5 billion in collateral. If a court ultimately decides that JP Morgan has technically lost claim to that money, that means the bank should never have been paid back with the TARP funds in the bankruptcy.

All this may have gone by unnoticed by anyone beyond some very nervous lawyers at JP Morgan and the firm that made the error who got together in June 2009 and wrote an affidavit saying that the $1.5 billion release had been a mistake. Except at some point before March 2010, some other eagle-eyed lawyers, seemingly led by Eric Fisher (at the time of the law firm Butzel Long, and now at Dickstein Shapiro) found the error. They were representing groups to whom GM had owed money but who were not paid after the bankruptcy, people like parts suppliers and corporate bond holders (who are known as "unsecured creditors"). They saw $1.5 billion that could be theirs and started salivating, filing claim to the money in federal court.

What this means is that, although JP Morgan is saying otherwise, the esteemed bank and the group of investors it led could be out well over a billion dollars. But this is about much more than a big bank losing big money. This is about how the bank's lawyers may have made one grandiose oversight. Because although it was a different law firm that made the initial mistake, it was Simpson Thacher who signed off on it representing their client JP Morgan ("Nice job on the documents," one Simpson Thacher lawyer wrote). And in the world of legal malpractice, who is representing whom means everything.

Founded in 1884, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is one of New York's famed "white-shoe" firms, with a client list that reads like a who's-who of the world's most important businesses. But now this firm is in a whale of a mess and could be in the position of shutting its doors for good. That's because when a lawyer's mistake leads to his client losing money, the client can sue, and in theory, every dollar of that loss comes out of the lawyer's pocket. There is no doubt among the experts we spoke to that despite Simpson's healthy profits, a $1.5 billion judgment against it could cause the firm to shut down, fire its lawyers and liquidate its assets.

That probably won't happen; law firms have malpractice insurance, and it's not in JP Morgan's interest to shut down Simpson Thacher. Plus, the fact that this case has been pending for a long time (our earliest documents date from March, 2010) means JP Morgan, the other creditors, and the government are probably working behind the scenes to negotiate a deal. Besides, when we talked to malpractice experts Bennett Wasserman and Krishna Shah, of the law firm Davis Saperstein & Salomon, they pointed out that recent case-law lets lawyers who make mistakes reduce their liability if their client has a lot of in-house lawyers reviewing everything. Few companies have more lawyers in-house than JP Morgan -- although at this point it's unclear to what degree JP Morgan's own lawyers signed off on Simpson Thacher's oversight. Still, the details as we have them don't look good for the law firm, even though nobody thinks that there is any fraud involved, just an honest mistake.

As for whether JP Morgan is responsible for their lawyers' potentially costly screw-up even though they never meant to give up the money, bankruptcy experts we contacted said that they're probably out of luck, based on the facts as presented in our documents. The bankruptcy code is crafted with a strong bias for so-called "bright-line rules." Congress, when creating the law, wanted very much to avoid situations like the one at hand. It's in the economy's interest to get everything settled in a bankruptcy so all the debtors and lenders can know their liabilities and get on with doing business unencumbered by litigation and questions about who owns what. Once all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed, generally courts are very loathe to disturb things.

In JP Morgan's favor, though, Barry Adler, the NYU bankruptcy professor who helped us navigate the complicated world of bankruptcy, told us, "It's going to be a rare judge who says you lost 1.5 billion dollars because you checked the wrong box." Even Adler says, however, that if bankruptcy judges stick to a strict reading of the law, JP Morgan and the lenders in the group will probably be out of luck, losing their collateral and ending up back at the end of the line like all other unsecured lenders, with just pennies on the dollar for what it's owed.

So if JP Morgan is going to have to cough up, who gets the money? GM's unsecured creditors are the ones currently trying to get the court to force JP Morgan to relinquish the money. That means they clearly think it's going to them. That would normally make sense; once the creditors with collateral get their money, the leftovers go to anyone else who's owed money. This time is different, though, because the government played such a pivotal role in paying off the bankruptcy. And according to bankruptcy law, that means they are first in line to get paid back.

The unsecured creditors are afraid enough of this argument that they've filed suit to get a court to cut the government out of the picture before anybody even knows if this 1.5 billion dollars is really up for grabs.

The government refused to comment, but they gave a pretty big hint that they're after something: before we could ask anything, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York Jerika Richardson said "I assume you'd be asking about what the United States' interest in this money could be?" That sounded like an interesting question. "Sure. Yes," our reporter said. She responded that in that case, "we've spoken to the line attorneys and we're not going to be able to help out with this."

If the government does get its hands on the money, it will be quite a coup: President Obama was at a factory in Ohio earlier this month bragging about the success of the auto bailout. The administration has pointed out that the bailout, which was supposed to cost $48 billion, looks like it will only cost $14 billion. If JP Morgan and its affiliated investors have to let go of their $1.5 billion, and that money ends up going to the U.S. Treasury, the price-tag for taxpayers would drop that another 10 percent. After the last arbitration is complete and the last lawsuit concluded, who ends up paying is the biggest question of all. There is much about the outcome that is currently unknown, but these may be nervous days at one of the most world's most successful law firms.

The court documents that form the basis for this report were mostly generated by the group of investors and creditors trying to get the money from JP Morgan and the other lenders in its group. Still, the facts do not seem to be in dispute. We reached out to both JP Morgan and Simpson Thacher for comment. The law firm stopped answering our calls. JP Morgan declined to comment.

Dan Rather Reports airs Tuesdays on HDNet at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET. This show is also available on iTunes.