February 2015

Clarification from a former Spotlight student and his parents in response to Saratoga High School Falcon's November 14, 2014 article "Tutoring In The Shadows" (Please click here.)

Clarification from Spotlight Education:

This is a long overdue response from us to the Saratoga High School the Falcon article that was published on 11/14/2014 about our tutoring service. Originally we planned to work with school for clarification; however since we continue receiving inquiry from parents due to this article, we feel it is best to publish an official response and hopefully that will answer some of the confusions that have been raised by the article.

1. We like to clarify this article was written based on an old interview recoding, that was conducted for a similar but entirely different topic on 10/19/2013 (Please click for details.), and almost all of the evidences that were used in the article were students that tutored with us before school year of 2013. It is unfortunate this news article and the reporters failed to clearly identify the situation, and we regret for any damages that may have caused us from its implication.

2. Although we respect the freedom of press, we regret there were no follow-up interview or validation requests prior to 11/3/14 when Falcon reporter Deepti Kannan wrote in her email, "Sabrina Chen and I are current editors of the Saratoga Falcon and we are writing to inform you that we are publishing a story about the ethical debates aroused... The story includes some of your quotes from our interview with you last September... We believe we have represented you fairly". The original interview recording on 10/19/2013, however, was mostly focused on hypothetical situations and philosophical debates. If anyone is interested in the copy of recording, please email us your request.

3. Contrast to what was stated in the newspaper, we have never solicited any quizzes or test questions from our students throughout the years of our business practice. We have never done that in the past and will not do that in the future. In addition, this is also inaccurately claimed by the reporters as one of the interviewee Samuel Breck stated in his prior clarification (Please click here.)

4. As of 11/1/2013, Spotlight no longer included any past quizzes as part of our practice materials for our students. Although the number of old quizzes we had were very small in number, comprising less than 2% of our teaching materials, the decision to remove them was made consciously after meeting with Principal Robinson and learning about their sensitivity in Oct, 2013. We were not made aware of any sharing guidelines at the time, and had no prior knowledge on how teachers would recycle their old quizzes and how often or which one would be recycled. Spotlight also did not and do not own any copy of classroom tests.

5. All of the above information were clearly communicated to Principal Robinson during our 11/10/2014 meeting before the article was published on 11/14/2014. We also asked him to inform the reporters when he met with them in the afternoon, so those reporters would have the correct and up-to-dated information for their article even if they still decided afterwards to proceed with their reporting over an obsolete practice.

6. Both students that were mentioned in the Falcon newspaper, Samuel Breck and Meghna Chakraborty, took tutoring with us in the school year of 2012 till the end of school year on June of 2013. There were no current or newer evidence listed in the article from school year of 2013 and 2014.

7. More than 25 correction requests have been made since the article was published on 11/14/2014. Only a very small number of them were included in the correction the Falcon and its reporters made on 12/8/2014, and some of the published corrections still failed to correctly reflect the correction requests we made.

Teaching has always been our primary focus at Spotlight. We emphasize on solid learning, and all of our tutoring programs and services are designed to help our students gain a solid understanding and fundamentals so they can perform well not only at high school but also hopefully in their college later on. Just as our statements to one Falcon reporter, A. Liu, on 10/16/13 when she approached us anonymously and inquired for old SHS tests, "We don't have tests from previous years. ...There is no short-cut in learning. Have a sound understanding in fundamentals are most important since the current subject will pave the road to next higher level class. Once you understand, you will perform well in the class." This is the principle we will continue to stand for and strive in our center.

  January 2015

Clarification from a former Spotlight student and his parents in response to Saratoga High School Falcon's November 14, 2014 article "Tutoring In The Shadows"

The following clarification were written and provided solely by the Brecks. This update was published as a courtesy on their request, and Spotlight takes no position in its statements.


Editors in chief Sabrina Chen and Deepti Kannan finally admit in print: " ... the article inaccurately described certain situations or statements."

In Fall 2014, as part of their journalism class, Sabrina Chen and Deepti Kannan relied on fabricated quotes and obsolete tutoring center practices to write a purported "news article" that was published in The Falcon student newspaper.

Last November, Samuel Breck a Saratoga senior, identified 14 misleading edits of his recorded interview for the biased article. Editors in chief Sabrina Chen and Deepti Kannan eventually admitted their inaccurate editing in print: "Although we believe that the article was largely both accurate and fair, the article inaccurately described certain situations or statements."

They published several corrections under the direction of a defamation attorney that their journalism class teacher directed them to. Samuel Breck also requested retraction of a defamatory illustration that portrayed a "cheating" student and tutors.

Samuel Breck in 2013 initiated the story, to relate his experience at a tutoring center, which he attended in 2012 when he was a 14-year-old sophomore.

Samuel Breck's recorded interview was not accurately represented in the students' article. Samuel Breck quickly obtained a professionally transcribed copy of the recorded interview. Based on careful review of the transcript and the recording, a sample 2 of the 14 misquotes are corrected below. We include Samuel Breck's original, unedited quotes, taken directly from the interview recording, with no misleading or biased edits.

If you would like a complete copy of the interview transcript and the full set or corrections, please contact Samuel Breck.

As the United States Supreme Court has held, "[i]f an author alters a speaker's words but effects no material change in meaning, including any meaning conveyed by the manner or fact of expression, the speaker suffers no injury to reputation that is compensable as a defamation." Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 US 496, 516 (1991). "Put another way, [a quotation] is not considered false unless it would have a different effect on the mind of the reader from that which the pleaded truth would have produced." Id., at 517. A comparison of the Article with the recorded interview demonstrates that many of the statements attributed to Samuel in the Article are substantively dissimilar from what he said in the interview.

The quotes are printed below with strict adherence to editing standards found in AP News Standards & Practices, and The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Following The SPJ Code of Ethics, we have replaced one name with "[teacher]", following their guideline, "Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication." The Code also requires updates as any further corrections are identified, which will be posted right away.

Corrections to the student newspaper article's misquoting of Samuel Breck (2 of 14):

1. The student reporter asked Samuel Breck if he generally expects tutoring centers to give students files on specific teachers, Samuel said, "No. When I think like tutoring I just think like some tutor that just helps me to like figure out, like helps me keep my thoughts together, or just to like sit me down in that spot and help me work it out. That's what I expect from tutoring."

Note: The article inaccurately claimed Samuel said that when he first walked into Spotlight, he said he saw files and files of materials from high school teachers. The article inaccurately claimed Samuel said students gave old quizzes to Spotlight.

2. The student reporter asked Samuel Breck for his opinion about teacher-student communication, related to a certain class at the school. Samuel Breck was not a member of the class.

The student reporter said, " ... like there's some online resource with a bunch of questions and people were using and like [teacher] found out and freaked out, and then he like rewrote all his tests, right? Do you think like teachers deserve to know that kind of information?"

Samuel said, "I think they do deserve to know that."

The student reporter said, "But it's just hard for the students."

Samuel said, "It's just really hard for the students to come forward because they have a lot of peer pressure from all their friends, obviously."

Note: The context of the question had nothing to do with any Spotlight tutoring classes, nor any class that Samuel Breck was enrolled in. The article mistakenly claimed Samuel said he was fearful of peer pressure.


December 2013

On Oct 16, 2013, Samuel Liu and Sabrina Chen, Saratoga High School Falcon reporters, contacted us for interview for a story they plan to work on. Ever since then, Spotlight has been unfairly attacked by a series of false allegations. By working with school officials and teacher for clarification, it is clear now, as school principal has stated, that the story is fabricated and untrue from the beginning. And yet till today we have not received any apology from those two students over their arrogance and the way they manipulated the story intentionally.

In the email Samuel and Sabrina sent us on Oct 16, 2013, they made a serious allegation, "..., We recently contacted a student who used Spotlight tutoring services. He said that, prior to taking a test, he received the identical test from Spotlight tutoring services. The story that we're writing deals with this issue: is it considering abetting cheating for tutoring services to acquire tests for certain classes, then disseminate these tests to students? ...". Nevertheless, when we met on Oct 19 for interview, they couldn't provide information about the test they alleged in the email. Quickly they changed it to be quiz and wanted to spark on philosophical discussion instead. As quizzes and tests are entirely different (tests don't go home where quizzes may depending on the teacher), we asked them to stop mixing both and making wrongful claims in the context of their story.

In addition, as we understand, before they approached us for interview, Samuel has already discussed the story topic with other editors in multiple newspaper meetings. People told him not to proceed with the story since it doesn't have any truth. And many people that have tutored with us also told Samuel Spotlight does not cheat. But yet, Samuel and Sabrina insisted on proceeding and use false claims to engage us in their story reporting. We even found out Samuel's sister was the one that emailed us on Oct 13 with a claimed interest in our tutoring service as well as a deliberate inquiry for past tests as extra practice. And of course we never heard back from her after we told her we do not have any past tests in our center.

Every student at Saratoga High knows no teachers allow tests to go home. So how can it be possible for any tutoring center like Spotlight to have access to those tests and even distribute them to students as practice, and further help students earn dishonest grades? If in fact this does occur, then no doubt the implication becomes a very serious accusation. But the big question is did we do that? As Samuel stated in his email in Oct 27, 2013, he heard this story about us from only one single source, and he and Sabrina have very good reasons to believe the claim the student source made. What are their reasons to believe one person instead of many others? Did they ask to see the evidence from their source? Have they tried to validate the story at all? If they don't want to believe their newspaper peers who has told them Spotlight does not cheat, have they then at least tried to talk with other students at Saratoga High School? We have been asking to see the evidence and specific information about the story (such as teacher, class, and test name), so far neither Samuel nor Sabrina can provide us any information.

After interview, we tried to get a copy of interview recording and sought help from the newspaper adviser since we couldn't get any response from the students. However, this is the email I got from Samuel on Oct 23, 2013, "Thank you for expressing your fears. I would appreciate it if you limited correspondence to within The Falcon. Your going to school officials wouldn't help your cause, though there's nothing I can do to stop you from doing so. Know that school officials have little to no sway over what is published in the paper. ...,. Giving you a transcript of your quotes. We will do this. .... As journalists, we will publish the story we see to fit publish. ...". The email was filled with such an arrogance and disrespect, and it was hard to believe it is coming from a high school newspaper reporter. In addition, it took us almost 3 weeks to get a copy of our interview recording with the help from the high school principal, Mr. Robinson. I do not understand why it is so difficult for us to get a copy of interview that we have taken part in as the sole participant with Samuel.

After weeks of communication with school officials on the story and evidence, finally on Nov 6, 2013, Saratoga High principal, Mr. Robinson, stated in his email to us, along with the interview recording, that "It is clear that Spotlight does not have past tests to share with students to help them in taking current tests. ... I have a feeling that this whole situation was fabricated and untrue from the beginning. ...".

We still do not understand why these two students chose to target at Spotlight with such a story, but their actions have clearly violated the principal of journalism and unjustly damaged reputation and integrity of others, including our business and all of our students, as well as their own high school newspaper. It is clear that both students were trying to create a story to fit their own purpose at the cost of others. For this, we honestly believe they owe everyone a public apology here. Until they can make that apology, they won't recognize the mistake they made and how much they have unfairly hurt the others.
As of today, we are still waiting...

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