Saturday, November 29, 2008

Faux Teachers

The Dallas Daily News in Texas is exposing a Dallas school district that is supplying phony Social security numbers for foreigners being hired by the district to teach bilingual classes:
"There's no way we should be doing that kind of stuff," Ms. Olson said. "Even if your intention is good to help employees get paid, you can't use inappropriate procedures to do that."

Stopgap approach

The investigative report, obtained by The News through a records request, found "that the inappropriate procedure of assigning false SSNs has been systemic for several years" within DISD's alternative certification program, which prepares new teachers for state certification when they don't have traditional credentials.

A call Thursday to DISD's alternative certification office was not returned. In recent years, DISD has hired people from various countries, including Mexico and Spain, to deal with a shortage of bilingual teachers.

The fake numbers were assigned as a stopgap to expedite the hiring process, the report says. The numbers were supposed to serve as temporary identification numbers until employees received real Social Security numbers. Once employees got the real numbers, they were supposed to tell district officials so the fake ones could be replaced.

The investigation found no indication that the fake numbers were provided to the Teacher Retirement System, the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.

However, according to the report, a sampling of several fake numbers showed that they had been included in a July quarterly report sent to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Also, when investigators reviewed a sampling of personnel files, they learned that the fake numbers were entered on Department of Homeland Security and IRS forms. The forms are not transmitted outside the district but are made available to the appropriate federal agency upon request.

In July, the district discovered that 26 of the false numbers were in use after matching DISD employee Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration database. The numbers were already being used in Pennsylvania. DISD officials did not know Thursday whether the practice had caused problems for anyone holding the legitimate numbers.

The district's investigative unit, called the Office of Professional Responsibility, began looking into the fake numbers after the Texas Education Agency's division of educator investigations advised the unit in July that it had discovered the district issuing false numbers in 2004.

That year, the TEA division became aware of the practice when DISD faxed copies of about 100 new Social Security Administration cards for foreign citizens – most of whom had been assigned district-issued numbers – and asked TEA to replace the old numbers, according to the investigative report. The state office told DISD at the time that it's illegal to make up Social Security numbers and pass them off as legitimate, the report says.

'A mess'

Doug Phillips, TEA's director of investigations and fingerprinting, said his office believed the district had stopped the practice because there was no evidence that it continued. He said Thursday that he didn't know which laws forbid issuing fake Social Security numbers.

"We just knew it looked bad and smelled bad," Mr. Phillips said. "That was the first time we'd ever heard of that one."
Ah, but it gets even better...

A research service has found another link to social security tampering from within the education system...
For the past year more than 2,000 New York children have been interacting with online tutors who claimed to be from Texas but were actually based in India. The 250 tutors were hired by a private company under the federal No Child Left Behind program.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education revealed the tutors were never screened with required fingerprint and background checks before they began working with the children, according to a report by the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Richard Condon.

Mythili Sridhar, a co-owner of Socratic Learning Inc, the company that supplied the offshore tutors, admitted in a letter that the tutors did not live in Texas. Ms. Sridhar, who trains the tutors, wrote that they "tutor from there homes," failing to correctly spell the word "their," according to the New York Sun.

"Socratic blatantly violated its contract and we are suspending their contract pending further action by the state," a Department of Education spokesman, Andrew Jacob, said. "We will notify parents of any students who enrolled with Socratic Learning this fall they should select" a new provider.

The company's Web site advertises its primary service as "online one-on-one tutoring with highly qualified college degreed instructors." Last year, the department reminded the company to send a list of its online tutors but it never did so, the report said. Outside providers of tutoring services are required to submit a list of their employees to an electronic database maintained by the Department of Education, which then conducts the background checks.

In November, Carmela Cuddy, an official from the education department's Office of Personnel Investigation, advised Socratic Learning that it would not grant security clearance to any staff members who didn't have Social Security numbers.

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