Magnolia charter troubles having an impact beyond LA Unified

Magnolia-Charter-schools-2New troubles for the non-profit charter school network, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS), are beginning to raise concerns beyond LA Unified, where the sudden closure of two schools for fiscal mismanagement expanded yesterday into what could be a larger investigation.

In a letter outlining a recent fiscal audit that led to the closure of the two LA Unified schools, Magnolia Science Academy-6 and Magnolia Science Academy-7, district officials detailed a number of irregularities and called the parent organization itself “insolvent.”

At least one other county has noticed.

“We will pay attention to this – we wouldn’t want to find out that our school would have to close because other schools are in trouble,” said Don Bolce, director of special projects at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which renewed a charter petition last year for a Magnolia school located on the outskirts of Cupertino after reviewing concerns about the school’s finances.

“We recognize that with a charter school that is part of a charter management organization, a problem at one school could impact other schools – if there is a problem, it endangers the system,” he told LA School Report.

Messages seeking comment from Mehmet Argin, the MPS chief executive, were not immediately returned.

MPS currently operates 11 schools across California: eight in LAUSD, plus three others, including one in Santa Ana that has been of concern to school and county officials in Orange County despite winning approval for $18 million in facilities bond money.

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Analysis: How to avoid a school board runoff in 4 easy steps

LAUSD School Board runoff Election 2014 With seven candidates vying for the vacant LAUSD school board seat in South LA, what would it take to pull ahead of the pack and head off a costly stand-alone runoff?

Coinciding with the California statewide primary on June 3, the special election was called to fill the District 1 board seat, left vacant by death last year of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte.

We asked Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, whose expertise in local politics helped steer Mayor Eric Garcetti, among many others, to victory, for his armchair analysis based on the number of candidates in the field — although not on the specific candidates themselves.

Carrick concedes, “It’s tough to get to ‘fifty-plus-one,’ ” the magic majority for an outright win.

Tough but not impossible.  Here’s what he says the potential winner needs:

Great name recognition: “In a large field, with lots of challengers name recognition is especially important. Running up a huge margin in a race without an incumbent is hard. The kind of name ID a candidate would need usually doesn’t come easily with a non-incumbent.”

A robust campaign operation: The idea, he says, is to generate enough community support that the second-place candidate stays below 40 percent. It’s harder in such a larger field, he says, making the campaign operation all the more important.

Hope the lesser-known candidates don’t ‘pop’: “If the lowliers add up to more than 10 percent combined, it gets much harder.”

Fingers-crossed for a high turnout: It helps the frontrunner in a crowded field; low turnout magnifies the power of each vote cast.

What could all this mean for the presumed front-runner, George McKenna?

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McKenna, leading in school board race, won’t commit on Deasy

George McKenna School Board LAUSD*UPDATED

With three weeks to go before the election, George McKenna, a leading candidate for the LA Unified school board representing south LA, is refusing to clarify whether he supports John Deasy, the district’s current superintendent.

McKenna’s unwillingness to provide a clear answer comes at an important time for the school district, the second-largest in the country, as it faces contract negotiations with teachers and other union members, an approaching deadline on a challenging budget and an ongoing shift in curriculum.

Although Deasy has an impressive record in his three years at the helm, including raising student achievement and graduation rates, recent school board elections have eroded his support.

While The Los Angeles Times endorsed McKenna from among the seven candidates in an editorial that indicates he is a strong supporter of Deasy, there has been concern by some who have discussed issues with him that he could be changing his story behind closed doors.

A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told LA School Report of attending a meeting in which McKenna said flatly, “the first thing he would do is fire Deasy.”

McKenna denied that in a letter to LA School Report  saying, “this is a total fabrication as I never said that or ever conveyed such sentiments.”

Fueling uncertainty were remarks McKenna made during and after a candidate forum earlier this week. The first question, from a charter school parent and former teacher, directly addressed the question of mixed messages:

“We have heard widely different reports on your point of view on Superintendent Deasy and his tenure with the district. Very specifically, do you believe the superintendent is doing a good job with the district and if elected would you support keeping Deasy’s current contract in place through 2016, or would you work to reopen and reconsider?”

McKenna dodged the question, answering, “Your question to me is not misplaced, but it is a question I have no interest in, whether the superintendent’s contract is reopened or not.”

After the forum, when LA School Report sought to clarify McKenna’s response, he again declined to answer directly, saying, “I am not an elected official, I am a private citizen watching a Superintendent in the newspaper.”

Despite numerous follow-up efforts to elaborate, McKenna would not budge: Continue reading

LAUSD candidates agree (!) on value of public charter schools

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The latest forum for candidates running in a special election to fill the vacant seat in South LA’s District 1 produced unexpected agreement last night on some of the most volatile issues in public education.

The four contenders who participated – Alex JohnsonRachel JohnsonGenethia Hudley-Hayes and George McKenna – saw eye to eye on nearly every core issue involving charter schools, including those that have been particularly contentious for the Los Angeles Unified school board.

The consensus could be partially attributed to catering to the crowd: the event was sponsored by CCSA Families, an advocacy group affiliated with the California Charter School Association, and more than 200 parents and teachers, many of whom were wearing CCSA Families t-shirts, filled the room at at Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

But the area has long been plagued with low-performing schools in a high-needs population, and charters have proven popular with parents.

Even the sole candidate endorsed by the teacher’s union, Rachel Johnson, was unabashed in her support of charters – despite the union’s fierce criticism.

“We [must] move past that adversarial ‘oh, the charter schools are taking us over’ idea” she said. “No. Charter schools are educating our students.”

Seven candidates are competing in the June 3 special election. The four last night agreed that charter schools are higher performing than traditional public schools and should be used as models; that there should be no cap or limit on charter growth; that ‘co-location’ between public charter schools and traditional public schools should be supported.

Perhaps most surprising was consensus that charter school operators should be allowed to takeover failing traditional school – a privilege that the board stripped from charter operators in its agreement with the teachers union three years ago.

The event was marked by polite restraint and only the slightest sign of criticism.

“We can’t keep doing the same old things that we were doing [30 years ago],” Alex Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said to much applause. “We just can’t. It is ineffective, and it is unacceptable and our children deserve change here and now.” Two of his opponents, McKenna, and Hudley-Hayes are more than twice his age, 33, and have been involved with LAUSD for decades.

If there were buzzwords of the evening, they were “accountability,” mentioned by every candidate numerous times; “choice” and “scale.”

“If they (charter schools) are doing a better job, we need to figure out what they are doing, find out what can be brought up to scale,” said Hudley-Hayes.

In a rare divergence, McKenna, a recently retired administrator, broke rank with the others on the question of his support of current LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. While his three adversaries voiced support for Deasy, McKenna said the issue of whether the superintendent is doing a good job and whether he would support re-opening Deasy’s contract, “is a question I have no interest in, whether the superintendent’s contract is reopened or not.”

McKenna later told LA School Report that as a private citizen, he doesn’t “know enough about the Superintendent’s performance” to evaluate him and refused numerous times when pressed to answer. Continue reading

LAUSD labor relations lets the sunshine in (kinda)

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 12.24.50 AMUPDATED*
A committee launched last year by LA Unified’s Office of Labor Relations to provide public information on labor negotiations is meeting today to discuss the district’s collective bargaining contracts. That the committee even exists has not been reported until now.

Called the “Sunshine Committee,” it is intended to bring transparency to the negotiating process. According to a district memo issued last August, the committee’s mission is to provide a forum for parent representatives to review initial bargaining proposals between LAUSD and its labor partners. Among the items on the agenda today are teacher evaluations and an initial bargaining proposal from the principals’ union, AALA.

The formation of the committee signals a policy change for the district, which for years fulfilled its disclosure requirements by giving only minimal public notice at school board meetings, as required by law. Any public access to the secretive negotiation process is a rarity in California, where negotiations with school employee unions is specifically exempted by law from the Brown Act, which requires public access to meetings of local agencies.

In practice, however, the new committee is still a long way from transparent. According to a district staff member, the Sunshine Committee’s meetings are not considered public; no minutes of the meetings are taken; the names of the parent-members appointed to the committee are not publicly available, and information about the contract proposals themselves is not posted on the website.

The staff member said the office is currently updating its website, and some documents relating to past meetings, could not be made available.

In addition to negotiating with the principals union (AALA), LA Unified is expected to enter into labor negotiations with its two largest labor partners SEIU and UTLA in the next few weeks.

Discussions related to collective bargaining issues is one of the few occasions in which school board members may meet or discuss issues outside of public view.


* A previous version of this story stated that a document presented before the committee in August was not available on the LAUSD website. It is, and can be found here.

Hudley-Hayes still has big-name support in LAUSD board race

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Despite her inability to substantiate a number of academic credentials and other claims on her resume, Genethia Hudley-Hayes still has the backing of  her major supporters in the race for the LA Unified District 1 board seat.

“Outsiders don’t get it,” said one longtime south Los Angeles activist who spoke to LA School Report on the condition of anonymity. “Our community closes rank when it feels attacked.”

Still in her camp is one of her biggest endorsers — U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, whose district overlaps with the open board seat, left vacant by the death of longtime board member Marguerite LaMotte.  Bass told LA School Report, “There has been a lot of carelessness and it’s extremely unfortunate. But I will continue to support her.”

District 1 stretches from Hancock Park south to Long Beach. The population is increasingly Hispanic, but for 40 years, voters have consistently elected a black woman to the school board.

Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who along with Bass announced his endorsement of Hudley Hayes in February, before discrepancies in her resume were confirmed, has apparently not changed his position. Messages left by LA School Report asking if he has withdrawn his endorsement were not returned.

The timing is important: with candidates busy preparing direct mail pieces timed to drop when vote-by-mail ballots arrive early next month, a high-profile face featured on campaign literature can make a big difference in swaying voters. The special election is scheduled for June 3.

Bass said Hudley-Hayes, who served as on the school board as president more than 10 years ago, bring the board together. “She has a long track record of working on educational issues,” she said. ” She was able to build consensus amongst board members on a variety of issues at a contentious period of time.”

Commentary: Mayor Garcetti’s elephant in the room

Via KPCC

Via KPCC

In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.

Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.

The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”

But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?

I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.

Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.

Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.

The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.

And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.

Analysis: Hudley-Hayes resume raises more than red flags

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Rather than jump to conclusions in the case of allegations first reported here earlier this month, that a LA Unified School Board candidate, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, has numerous inaccuracies in her resume, we at LA School Report embarked on our own due-diligence.

What we found were a series of repeated conflicts and inconsistencies over a number of years, without any apparent attempt to publicly set the record straight, thus posing serious questions about her candidacy for LA Unified school board race on June 3.

The controversy first came to light when campaign staff for Alex Johnson, one of her opponents, approached the Hudley-Hayes campaign before the filing deadline, recommending she drop out quietly for what his campaign calls “a pattern of pattern of academic falsification.” (See story here). Instead, Hudley-Hayes, a longtime civic leader and public servant, responded publicly that she would not be “bullied” out of the race. (See story here).

To get to the bottom, our own reporters have done their best to verify, independently, the accuracy of her current resume and her past biographies. Here are the inconsistencies LA School Report has found:
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Analysis: Zimmer takes center stage in LAUSD drama

zimmerfourEmerging as something of a Shakespearean figure, LA Unified School Board trustee Steve Zimmer took central stage earlier this week at a long board meeting complete with its share of sound and fury.

Zimmer, facing one of the most challenging moments in his political career, had been publicly cryptic about his position on the evening’s big decision: whether the vacant seat on the board left by the sudden death of Marguerite LaMotte should be filled by a board appointment or special election.

Ever since an election last spring created a board more sympathetic with positions of the teachers union, Zimmer has played an increasingly pivotal role on the fractured board, leaving him somewhat stuck in the middle. While he was re-elected last year with big support from the union’s super PAC, Zimmer nonetheless recently stepped in to help save Superintendent John Deasy’s job- a move that couldn’t have gone down well with union leadership that has made no secret of wanting Deasy’s head.

This week, as a critical vote on a split board, Zimmer appeared sympathetic and earnest, repeating multiple times that he came to listen to the packed room — filled with members of the South Los Angeles community who made impassioned pleas both in favor of an appointment and an election. Continue reading

Filling LaMotte Seat by Election or Appointment? Board is Decider

LaMotteIf history is any guide, a school board election is in the offing.

As officials at the LA Unified school board scramble to work out options with the city and county on how best to fill the school board seat left vacant last week by the sudden death of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte, they are weighing elements of timing, tradition and of course, politics.

The law relating to vacancies on the school board, written into the LA City Charter, clearly lays out two options for the school board: appoint a replacement or call a special election.

And while appointing someone may seem simpler, cheaper and faster, doing so has big liabilities.

Politics
For one, it’s dangerous politically. The seat for school board district 1, which encompasses a wide swath of south LA, extending from Hancock Park to Gardena, has been held continuously by a black woman since 1979. That was the first year board members were no longer elected at-large, a change brought about in part because the black community argued it was under-represented electorally. So having the school board hand-pick an appointee raises red flags in the black community, which is already voicing concerns.

Tradition
For another, there’s a long tradition of vacancies being filled by election, not appointment. City council seats — which are frequently vacated by members seeking higher office — have uniformly been filled by special election. The last long term appointment was in 1966.

Timeline
But calling a special election takes consensus, too. The last time a special election was called by the school board was when Jose Huizer vacated his seat after being elected to city council in 2005.

Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 11.49.34 PMThat year, the school board fast-tracked a special election in late November by giving notice and approving a motion (seconded by LaMotte) to hold a stand-alone primary the following March and consolidating with a statewide election for a run-off in June 2006.

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Villaraigosa Helped Broker Deal to Keep Deasy Superintendent

Dr. John Deasy, and Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011 |Richard Vogel/AP

John Deasy, Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011

LA School Report has learned the deal to extend the contract of LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy might not have been possible without the involvement of former LA mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

According to three people with knowledge of events, none of whom would speak for attribution, Villaraigosa made a flurry of calls to both Deasy and Board President Richard Vladovic to help broker a deal. The calls continued through yesterday, just before the board went into a closed-door session that ended with the announcement that Deasy’s contract would extend to mid-2016.

Meanwhile, Villaraigosa’s successor, Eric Garcetti told reporters today that he had spoken to all the parties and discussed the matter with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said on Monday he believed Deasy and the board should continue to work together.

Garcetti said he had also spoken to “almost all the board members” in an effort to help Deasy remain in his job. He said he told Deasy he supported him and would “do everything I can” to help resolve the situation.

“I was hopeful he’d stay,” Garcetti said.

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Story of Deasy Media Frenzy in 15 Tweets

imagesNo matter what happens later today when LA Unified superintendent John Deasy is set to emerge from a closed-door session with school board members to discuss his future, the events leading up to this moment remain murky. Will we ever know if Deasy is being pushed out, resigning or something in between?

One thing is clear: a story posted on the LA Times website last Thursday, stating as fact that Deasy was ‘to resign’ set off a twitter frenzy, despite the fact that, well, it wasn’t entirely true. Exactly what transpired last Thursday between John Deasy and the school board president Richard Vladovic may never be revealed — but what we do know is the media moved from certainty to rumor in what we might call a twitter-u-turn:

 

 

 

 
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Commentary: “A Dangerous Game for UTLA”

 

(Published in today’s Los Angeles Times)

Ousting Supt. John Deasy, as the union wants, would hurt students.

by Jamie Alter Lynton

The leadership of the Los Angeles teachers union recently conducted a survey among its members asking if they had confidence in Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy. Although it was highly unusual for the union to mount this kind of frontal attack on the superintendent, the maneuver wouldn’t have raised eyebrows had it not been for the union’s full-court press to influence the vote. Not only did the union send out misleading information about Deasy’s record, it also posted unflattering, juvenile caricatures of him on its website.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when the vote went overwhelmingly against Deasy. But it almost certainly left a lot of people in Los Angeles wondering what the superintendent had done to raise the union’s wrath.

There’s no question that the forceful and popular superintendent is shaking things up: In two years, he has pushed the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the lowest-performing districts in the country, toward significant progress. He has promoted ideas that are good for students, such as expanding school choice through charters and other options. He has pushed to improve the quality of teaching and administration, in part through developing a fair measure of teacher performance and finding ways to keep good teachers, not just those with seniority. Some of these ideas are new to Los Angeles, but they are hardly radical and are all supported by the Obama administration and top educators across the country.

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Commentary: Do You or Don’t You Support Deasy?

If you were running for School Board it might seem obvious you would need to be prepared to answer this simple question:

“Do you support current LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy?”

But at last week’s District 6 candidate forum for the Los Angeles School Board race in the San Fernando Valley, this question made for some interesting theater:

Antonio Sanchez, an organizer and former staffer for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa confirmed straight away with a “yes.”

Monica Ratliff, a lawyer and elementary teacher, demurred, saying she is “hesitant to evaluate someone’s job performance based on articles I’ve read,” and would “need to know more” before evaluating him.

Maria Cano, a former LAUSD organizer, said, “I would think twice about evaluating him as a successful employee.”

All three of these candidates have been endorsed by the teachers union, which has been deeply critical of Deasy.  But some candidates are having a hard time giving “The Supe” a clear thumbs up or down. Why?

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In DC, Duncan and Villaraigosa Praise LA

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Earlier this week in Washington, I was able to catch up with a number of familiar faces including President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Asked about school progress in Los Angeles, Duncan expressed optimism for the gains LAUSD has made since Superintendent John Deasy took the helm.

“He has a powerful vision – and it’s promising,’ said Duncan. ‘He’s provided leadership and a real opportunity for students in LA to continue to improve.”

Duncan wasn’t the only one with Los Angeles schools on his mind.

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Commentary: Union Points Fingers on Sex Abuse

UTLA: Everything to Hinder, Nothing to Help?

Lots of blame was dished out last week after a state audit found weak dismissal and reporting practices at LAUSD regarding teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

Especially vocal was ULTA president Warren Fletcher, who has consistently lobbed criticism at LAUSD for how it has managed the scandal.

Now I am a Prop-30-supporting-dyed-in-the-wool union Democrat, but I have to ask – shouldn’t the teachers union also take some responsibility here?  Not if you ask the current UTLA leadership, which continues to insist on sacrificing student well-being to protect even pedophiles.

But things could be changing.
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“No” On Teacher Evaluation Bill

It’s not often that a single piece of legislation can be called catastrophic for the future of education in California, but Sacramento has managed to create it. It’s called AB 5 – a bill that will legislate how teachers are evaluated, and it has re-appeared Frankenstein-like, with the backing the powerful teachers’ unions. Stuffed with watered-down amendments and other late-breaking shenanigans, this bill is a disaster, even with the new ‘sunset’ provision that may have been slapped on today.

The bill has suddenly become so urgent that the Senate Education Committee met late Wednesday to cut a deal for last-minute changes so it could be rushed to a vote before the close of the legislative session Friday.  Its resurrection is a bold attempt to gut school districts’ power to assess teachers — and will hamper the districts’ ability to use test scores or student progress as part of the equation.

That long-standing but little-used power is conferred on school districts by a law called the Stull Act, dating from 1971. It cannot be a coincidence that AB 5′s rise from the dead coincides with a Judge’s ruling earlier this summer, which ordered LAUSD to adhere to the Stull Act and use test scores as part of teacher evaluation. The ruling was celebrated by LAUSD chief John Deasy and groups of teachers, parents and school administrators – but came as a shock to the teachers’ unions. So in a stunning show of political muscle, the teachers’ lobby is propelling AB 5 forward. One of the bill’s more outrageous stipulations: that the evaluation process be subject to local collective bargaining – akin to letting your drunk teenager negotiate for the car keys. In effect, the bill will make it easier for those teachers who don’t help students learn hang onto their jobs in the classroom.

So Frankenstein has arrived, ugly and powerful enough to stave off meaningful teacher assessment. For too long as a state we have refused to appropriately link teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores, the very thing this sort of bill could be accomplishing. Even a third-grader could tell you AB 5 deserves an “F” — and should be voted down in the Senate.

Welcome to LA School Report

Today I am pleased to announce the official launch of LA School Report. My goal is to provide meaningful coverage on issues related to the Los Angeles public schools and to shine a light on a system that receives little attention despite its enormous importance. As the second largest school system in the country and one that commands an annual budget of over $6 billion dollars, the Los Angeles Unified School District faces complicated and controversial challenges that too often receive little scrutiny. LA School Report will provide news coverage, analysis and commentary on these issues and enrich the discourse on issues related to public officials, school policies and ultimately about the future of this city. I encourage you to get informed, be engaged, and to have an impact on education in Los Angeles.

- Jamie Alter Lynton, publisher

Update: API Delayed Until October

For those of you wondering when the California Department of Education (CDE) will release its much-maligned Academic Performance Index (API) for 2012, don’t hold your breath.

The API Index is the single number used to reflect a school’s progress, based on statewide testing. Traditionally timed to coincide with the start of the school year, the API release has instead been pushed to October 3, 2012.  That’s an additional month after the release of individual test score results — which have also been postponed — and are now due on August 31st. (Los Angeles Times)

According to the CDE, more time is needed to investigate last spring’s testing scandal - when students allegedly took hundreds of photos of the standardized test and posted them on social networking sites. If you don’t have time to hunt down CDE’s buried press release, click here.