If you're worried that a private postsecondary school you are considering might be a "diploma mill," here are some warning signs.
In general, the institutions are unaccredited, operate for-profit, grant academic degrees and offer substandard or minimal teaching, with little, if any, work or evidence of competency, said Steve Boilard, managing principal analyst for education at the Legislative Analyst's Office.
Cailin Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau serving northeast California, testified at a hearing to lawmakers in Sacramento Wednesday on the issue of diploma mills.
She provided the following warning signs:
- The recruiter uses high-pressure sales tactics, especially with younger students.
- The recruiter exaggerates the possible income or job you could end up with or the cost is higher than other places. Peterson said one place was charging $14,000 for a massage therapy certificate that could have been obtained at a community college for $250.
- Look for schools that are unaccredited or ones that claim accreditation through fraudulent institutions."Whether or not the school tells you it's accredited, look at the accrediting institution, look at the standards used to become accredited," Peterson said.
- If the degree program seems too fast, too easy, there's probably a reason why.
- The recruiter encourages you to lie on your financial aid form to qualify.
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California lawmakers are exploring the problem of diploma mills — businesses that offer fraudulent degrees and certificates for little to no work and an often significant fee — and trying to determine how best to identify and root them out without quashing innovation.
"Substandard education robs students of their time and money, but customers of diploma mills are more likely to be complicit," said Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento, who chairs the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review.
"The most serious consequences occur when individuals with fake credentials are hired into positions for which they are not qualified, and in doing so, take away positions from people who have earned the degrees."
At a nearly 2.5-hour joint hearing of the Assembly's committees on Accountability and Administrative Review and Higher Education Wednesday lawmakers listened to expert testimony that seemed to lead to many more questions than answers.
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Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
California is "long overdue" for a revamp of the education policies that govern teacher dismissal that would make it easier to fire those accused of heinous acts against children, said L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy today.
On Wednesday, Deasy will be in Sacramento testifying in support of SB 1530, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima.
The bill seeks to give school boards more authority in firing teachers, making the decision of the Commission on Professional Competence advisory. It would also allow a district to expeditiously remove a teacher from the classroom on accusations of sex abuse, drugs or violence without having to follow the weeks of notification requirements currently in place.
The California Teachers Assn. has come out strongly against the bill and said it attacks teachers' due process rights and does not address the "failures of leadership" at L.A. Unified.
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L.A. Unified plans to begin collecting data on suspension rates at the individual classroom and teacher level starting this summer as part of its effort to improve its schools, a district official said today.
"It starts at the classroom level," said Isabel Villalobos, coordinator of student discipline and expulsion support for L.A. Unified. "We're building systems where we can determine is [the suspension rate because of] a particular student, a particular teacher, or is it a combination of both."
The district has worked to detail its suspension rates over the last year, tracking more details including who is suspended and for how many days, but now it will be "drilling down into the classroom" and collecting data relevant to each teacher, Villalobos said. She said the plan is to have the system up and going in July.
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California State Assembly.
Several bills are being heard by the state Legislature in Sacramento this week that aim to address problems with school discipline.
These include AB 2242, which seeks to reduce out-of-school suspensions for students under the category of "willful defiance," an often very subjective classification that includes behavior such as failing to bring materials to class, not paying attention or talking back. The bill would limit the use of such suspensions and instead have students sent to an in-school supervised suspension classroom.
More than 40 percent of suspensions in California are given out for "willful defiance," said Laura Faer, education rights director for the nonprofit Public Counsel. And because it is so subjective, it often has a much greater impact on students of color. A report released today by UCLA's The Civil Rights Project found that a black male student with disabilities was most likely to be suspended from the classroom in California compared to other students.