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Bullying data, an integration hearing, and a U bioethics update

Today’s education roundup includes the fact that Minnesota’s three largest school systems reported to the DOE no instances of bullying in 2009 and 2010.

Rep. Pat Garofalo's Education Finance Committee has finally scheduled hearings on the Integration Task Force's findings.

Today, Your Humble Blogger is offering up several slight items of note, in part because she needs to spend a little time prepping for tonight’s MinnPost Asks event, “The Marriage Amendment: The Meaning Behind the Messages.”

You’re coming, right? You should. It’s going to be lively.

The homework is because Richard Carlbom, executive director of Minnesotans United for All Families (the anti-amendment coalition), University of Minnesota Communications Studies Department Chair Ed Schiappa and I are going to screen and dissect commercials, YouTube clips and other multimedia communications that have tipped the balance in other states where same-sex marriage was on the agenda.

It’s also the first time we’ve held one of our newsmaker Q&As as a part of the Lifelong Learning series organized by the U of M’s College of Continuing Education. I hear we’re expecting a good turnout but still have room for walk-ins.

Data (and lack of)

Education Week recently carried an interesting item about the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, a biannual compilation of all kinds of indicators. The most recent, covering 2009 and 2010, was the first in which districts were asked to provide information about bullying and harassment.

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The American Association of University Women took a deep dive into the records and found that 14 of the nation’s 20 largest school districts reported no episodes of bullying or harassment at all. This despite the fact that research shows nearly half of middle- and high-school students reported being bullied in the 2010-2011 school year.

A wee bit of surfing revealed that Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul and Minneapolis, our largest school systems, did not report a single instance. Curiously, Anoka-Hennepin and St. Paul did provide a breakdown showing that a very few students were disciplined for bullying or harassment, the type of harassment and data about the race and other characteristics of the students disciplined.

Some smaller districts — I looked at Bloomington, for instance — did comply with the new reporting requirements.

My super-quick thought: Perhaps this is because Minnesota’s lax anti-bullying laws don’t actually require districts to document and track episodes. Indeed, a centerpiece of the recent settlement between the feds, Anoka-Hennepin and student plaintiffs who brought a civil rights action against the district last year was the creation of a state-of-the-art reporting system that will allow the DOE’s civil-rights division to keep tabs on things.

Integration hearing

Tuesday this space carried a story about the Legislature’s failure to schedule a hearing on the recommendation of a task force it appointed last year to consider the future of the state’s school integration policy and programming.

The task force failed to recommend ending formal desegregation efforts, which is the result the GOP lawmakers who appointed half of its members clearly wanted. One of said lawmakers, Rep. Pat Garofalo, is the head of the House Education Finance Committee and the gentleman who failed to find time for the hearing.

On Tuesday, I reported that word was the Farmington Republican was going to call the hearing for 10:15 Monday, which turns out to be true. Too bad that at that very hour one of the lawmakers who kept asking after the scheduling, retiring Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), will be receiving a lifetime achievement award at a meeting being held by a parents organization whose members wanted to testify.

Not that it matters: Testimony at the hearing will be by invitation only and the only invitees are the committee co-chairs.

“This is an informational hearing on the task force report and the co-chairs are the logical choice to present on behalf of the entire task force,” Garofalo explained yesterday. On other issues, the Legislature has taken comments from members of the public and other “interested parties” even at informational hearings where no committee action was taken.

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My inbox also contains a couple of e-mails from folks who are disappointed that I did not subject his two quotes in Tuesday’s story to a truth test. The first was Garofalo’s explanation to the Pioneer Press several weeks ago for the lack of a hearing, which blamed state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius for failing to turn the task force’s recommendations into a proposal.

In fact, the statute creating the task force directed Cassellius to appoint six of the panel’s 12 members, convene the first meeting and deliver its report to the Legislature by Feb. 15, all of which she did.

The second, his statement to me on Tuesday, blamed Gov. Mark Dayton for failing to include a proposal in his budget and policy requests. Again, it was incumbent upon the Legislature and not the executive branch to hear the findings.  

And again, the possible end result of failing to act on the recommendations, many of which concerned creating accountability systems for the money that pays for integration, is that starting next year school districts will continue to get the money but will be subject to absolutely no requirement that they actually spend it on desegregation efforts.

Update on bioethicists

Finally, I direct you to one more entry into the equally heated discussions about academic freedom at the University of Minnesota, which, inconveniently for its administrators but fortuitously for those of us who require periodic health care, employs a stable of bioethicists.

A month ago, U of M President Eric Kaler received a letter from a law firm representing Celltex Therapeutics Corp., a Texas stem cell company, which lately has been at the epicenter of a mounting, tangled controversy. It asked him, in essence, to muzzle Leigh Turner, PhD, a U of M professor of bioethics who raised questions about Celltex and its relationship to a prominent bioethicist.

Dr. Carl Elliottumn.eduDr. Carl Elliott

The university community waited with bated breath, not least because Kaler delegated the job of replying to General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, who has something of a controversial profile in this department ever since he asked a faculty committee on academic freedom to consider whether similar speech — criticizing the university itself over a controversial drug trial — by one of Turner’s colleagues, Dr. Carl Elliott, would have a chilling effect on controversial research.

Last week, Rotenberg wrote back to Celltex [PDF], attaching a copy of the relevant Board of Regents policy.

“Faculty members at the University of Minnesota have the academic freedom, without institutional discipline or restraint, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write on matters of public concern,” the letter stated. “Professor Leigh Turner’s February 21, 2012 letter to the FDA is fully covered by this principle of academic freedom.”

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Yesterday Elliott, who also blogs for the Chronicle of Higher Education, published an article on a little-known wrinkle in his own saga. In 2008, he wrote, the U of M demanded $56,000 from a St. Paul retiree named Mary Weiss, the mother of a man who killed himself during a controversial psychiatric drug trial that Elliott investigated.

“Why? Her mentally ill son had committed suicide in what many observers considered to be a stunningly corrupt, exploitative research study at the university, and Ms. Weiss had the audacity to sue. When her lawsuit was dismissed on statutory grounds, the University of Minnesota apparently decided to send a message to her and other potential litigants: It notified her that she would be asked to pay $56,535 to the university for its court fees. Yes, you read that correctly. A young man killed himself in a research study at the University of Minnesota, and the university demanded $56,535 from the dead man’s mother.”

I suggest you click on over there and read the whole piece. Me? I’ve got work to do.