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The Attempted Murder of Public Education

by: DocJess

Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 06:19:23 AM EDT

Like many people, I believe in high quality, compulsory, public education. Especially in this day and age, when all vocations require basic knowledge. It's virtually impossible to function well in modern society without the abilities to read, write, and undertake basic math. In addition, a GOOD education also provides the student with the ability to reason things out, to think, and to draw conclusions.

When I was growing up, parents would talk about living in places with the best school districts, because they valued their children's education as a means to a better life. Now, with so many childless households, many people still want to live in communities with good school districts. If you are a property owner, you know that the higher-ranked your school district, the higher your property values. 

I live in Pennsylvania, where School Board members are supposed to be non-partisan. They crossfile for the primaries, and if a voter doesn't keep up, he/she has no idea about the politics of the individual candidates. You might think this doesn't matter, and it really didn't used to matter at all, because people ran for the school board because they wanted the best possible education for their community's students.

But it matters now, because the far right contingent of the Republican Party is out to destroy public education in America. Some of what they are doing is blatant, like attempting to teach creationism (often under the guise of "intelligent design") AS science IN science classes. They even have some sneaky ways of doing this: click here for more details. 

An even more brazen example comes from Utah, where a state senator wants to do away with all compulsory public education, because "we need to restore the expectation that parents are primarily responsible for the educational success of their own children." Source.

Between creationism and the straight-up murder of public education come charter schools. Some are good, but far too many are simply money makers for the owners. And a lot of those owners have political and financial connections to the legislators and school board members who make decisions about charter schools.

In my town, we have a true schism between the school board and a lot of the people who send their kids to school. It's a cautionary tale about what can happen when people don't pay attention, and when entrenched  political groups refuse to see the forest for the trees.

The story is after the jump. Read it: my town's story could easily be your town's story soon. 

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 1384 words in story)

Dear GOP: Why do you hate me? An Open Letter

by: DocJess

Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 05:33:57 AM EST

Dear GOP:

What have I ever done to you to make you hate me so much? 

I was born female and somehow you want to deny me, and all the other women and girls, things you consider sacrosanct for men. Oh wait, not all men, just those that are straight, white and Christian. But I digress. I look at the abominations of legislation you are trying to pass in state after state, and ask myself what would have become of me had you passed those things when I was a girl.

Luckily for me, I was born into a family that valued education for both sons and daughters. My dad paid for his college education with help from the GI bill. As adults, with children, both my parents earned graduate degrees: a Masters for my mom, and Masters and a PhD for my dad. From the day I started school, it wasn't a question of whether I'd go to college, but where. Same for my brother. And in our generation we too have a slew of degrees. 

One of the reasons I was able to get an education, and make great use of said education was because I had access to birth control. If you, as a party, had your way, I wouldn't have educational opportunities: I'd be home raising kid after kid, home-schooling them (how, I don't know since I wouldn't know anything).

I admit, I have trouble sticking with a specific career path, but I've succeeded in a number of avocations. Things I learned in one area have led to accomplishments in another. I used my education to build large-scale transportation projects for the FAA, the FWHA, and in Europe, I built pollution models for the EPA, I've done defense work, and designed, developed and delivered training programs in the fields of medicine, logistics and manufacturing. Above all, I became a doctor and I've saved lives. On the side there has been a slew of volunteer work with functional illiterates, and I was even a Mensa officer. Accomplished, for a blonde girl. And yet, you want me barefoot and pregnant. Why would you condemn me to have either spent my life unaccomplished, or completely devoid of love and sex. I don't get it.

To add insult to injury, now your presidential candidate front runner, Spawn of Satan himself, has decreed that ALL public funding for ALL education should cease. Really. Watch:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

So I guess what you're saying is that not only should I have been denied birth control, but my mother should have had to give up HER career to stay home and school my brother and me. And what of my mother's mother, who is currently rolling in her grave after having been a suffragette and having worked with Margaret Sanger on the whole birth control thing back in the teens and twenties. 

So let's move this a few decades into the future under the Republican doctrine. Here I would be, an uneducated mother having poorly schooled my children while my husband worked two jobs because in this economy that's pretty necessary. Likely, he would die young from overwork. I wouldn't have a bunch of friends (many of those friendships forged in elementary school and still vibrant today), I'd have no skills, I'd be 75 years old, with no Medicare, no Social Security, having never made a decent contribution to society and I'd be toothlessly pushing a shopping cart around downtown Philly looking for something to eat, an indoor bathroom, and a safe place to sleep at night. 

And that IS the logical outcome of a Republican idea set that evokes more the 1850's then anything else. I can only conclude that you hate me, or you'd never want to put me, and all the other women, in that position. Your position shows a lack of foresight, and a lack of character. Character matters.

I stand with Andrew Shepherd. I stand with Barack Obama. I stand with every other American who wants to continue our rise from the economic mess you Republicans put us in, who believes in education, birth control, climate change caused by humans, science, evolution and all that this country stands for. You want to lead this country into darkness. I stand with the light. 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Pennsylvania Wins 2001 Map, Loses Public Universities

by: DocJess

Thu Feb 09, 2012 at 06:26:12 AM EST

Yesterday, the Federal District Court threw out the 2010 State Assembly and State Senate district map, saying " we are compelled to conclude that the election should proceed under the only-existing plan, the 2001 Plan." No one sued about the CD map, so that monstrosity stays. This use of the 2001 map is a good thing. 

Sadly, in the annual budget, Tom Corbett set forth a plan to cut medical assistance, set an asset threshold for food stamps, cut cash grants to people who are temporarily disabled or victims of domestic violence, and which included no Marcellus Shale taxes. The biggest ax was reserved for the public universities. Only Lincoln was spared: a 30% cut to Penn State and Temple, and 20% cut to all the other universities. This on top of last years approximately 20% cuts. So my question is: at what point does Pennsylvania lose all of its public colleges and universities? What makes them public is that they're predominantly funded by public monies. Public higher education facilities provide good educations to people who might not otherwise be able to afford college. College educations generally being seen as an investment for states: educate people giving them the skills to work jobs requiring college-level skills. Go figure. Would it be snarky to infer that Corbett is only concerned with getting kids enough education to read enough to get drivers licenses so they can go dig for shale oil? But never enough education to do the engineering for that hellish project?  

Another interesting part of the budget is that it takes away all sorts of funding to cities and counties, replacing the programs (state-funded, city/county administered) with block grants. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of block grants, but not when the dollar amounts are cut in half.

Right now, both the state Senate and the Assembly are majority-Republican. Here's hoping that people take a look at the budget and decide to vote out the Republicans and vote in a majority that respects education, transportation (which was also woefully underfunded in the Corbett budget) and funds the needs of people who are hurting. Corbett was committed to no tax increases: we pay a 3.1% income tax here. A hike to 3.5% would have kept the social net in place, or greatly decreased the cuts in other areas, and would barely impact the people who are working. 

Discuss :: (11 Comments)

What if there were no public schools?

by: DocJess

Fri Jan 13, 2012 at 05:52:47 AM EST

Last week, we informed you about a Pennsylvania school district where the teachers and support staff were working for no pay, as the Corbett administration had cut their funds, and was refusing to release funding available to the district in June.

While school legislation varies by state, since 1918 ALL US states have had compulsory education requirements. That means the state, normally through local school boards but with a mix of Federal, state and local funding, provides education and that it is mandatory for children to attend from age 5-7 (depending on the state) through age 16-18 (again, depending on the state.) Yes, there are certain exemptions, but the bottom line is that people pay taxes which go to support the school district, and education is provided. 


Modern compulsory attendance laws were first enacted in Massachusetts in 1853 followed by New York in 1854. By 1918, all states had compulsory attendance laws. One reason for the acceptance by the states of these laws was the belief that the public school was the best means to improve the literacy rate of the poor and to help assimilate an immigrant population that grew at a high rate between the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Another explanation is that as children were required to attend school for a number of years, factory owners found it more difficult to exploit the cheap and plentiful child labor. (Emphasis mine)

So what does it say about our values when a school district is allowed to implode? I cannot understand how this story is not getting huge national play...

There is a lawsuit:

The school board and some parents in Delaware County's Chester Upland School District filed suit in federal court today against the state, the education department and legislative leaders, asking that the district be adequately funded through the end of the school year, at a cost of about $20.7 million.

The money should come from state allocations normally due the district which are now being diverted to pay charter schools, the lawsuit said, and from state education department reserve funds.

State officials have repeatedly said they will not send money to the district.

There was a brief vigil last night, but nothing really came of it, except plans for another meeting. The underlying debt problem here is that the state had control of the school district for a number of years, mismanaged everything, causing debt to run up and many children to flee to charter schools. Corbett is now saying that maybe the state will take over again (like that worked so well the last time, she said with dripping sarcasm), and that he is legally obligated to fund the charters prior to funding the public schools. That last point is one of the bones of contention in the current suit. Additionally:

The lawsuit also said that because payments to charter schools are based on Chester Upland's 2010-11 budget, which was $17 million more than this year, payments based on the 2010-2011 spending levels should be halted unless Chester Upland's state funding is restored to that year's levels.

That increased budget was due to the stimulus funding.  Remember that when it comes time to argue about the role of government.

Chester-Upland is nowhere near the only school district with money problems. More of these situations will keep happening. I keep thinking about the phrase I emphasized in the first quote: is it possible that reactionary state governments, in addition to endeavoring to deny suffrage, are also using school funding as a weapon against the poor and immigrants? Think about it: without basic literacy, what job can one get? You can't even navigate a car if you cannot make sense of the street signs. If you're rich, schooling is never an issue, there are always private schools available. But basic education is not just a right in this country, it's a legislated entitlement, even if you're too poor to afford private education. 

This election year is all about which is worse: big government or big business. That's the frame. Education is something that government is supposed to do. Worldwide:

Children are entitled to a free, quality basic education. Recognizing this entitlement, world leaders made the achievement of universal primary education by the year 2015 one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Think about the countries that don't provide education. Here are a few: Nepal, Chad, Sudan, Chad and the Congo. Plus lots more in sub-Sahara Africa and Southeast Asia. Do we really want to end up on that list?

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Teachers to work with no pay

by: DocJess

Fri Jan 06, 2012 at 13:00:00 PM EST

Here in Pennsylvania, we have a governor who believes education is not a necessity for poor kids, especially black ones. I have a huge spreadsheet from last year when Corbett announced the education cuts. It's too big to post, but if you want a copy, email me and I'll send one over. The faulty logic employed in Corbett's calculations was to pretend that 2009 stimulus money was still coming. It was a specious oversight, done on purpose.

So here are some numbers (from the spreadsheet released by Corbett's office) related to Chester-Upland, a poor district. 43% of the 3,600 children comprising the student body live in poverty. Total funding for the 2010-2011 school year - $43 million. Total cuts (Basic Ed, PA Accountability Grant, Charter School Reimbursement, Educational Assistance Program) - $18 million, or about 32%, totaling $2,542/student.

And here is the news from the acting superintendent:

We now face a very challenging financial crisis. We are currently unable to fund the district’s payroll expenses after January 4, 2012.

That's right, as of yesterday, there is no money to pay the employees.

There is a chunk of money (about $18 million) that Corbett could release now, prior to the planned disbursement in June. But no word from Tom's office. The teachers and support workers, however, have a different message: they will work as long as they can, even with no pay. To the students, (yesterday) from Gloria Zoranski, president of the Chester Upland School District’s employee associations:

We also have a message for the students of the district – we will be at work tomorrow, so come to school prepared to learn.

That's right - to all those who think teachers are money-grubbing, union-first-kids-last types - they'll work without pay to teach. And janitors? They don't need Newt's kid-janitor program: they'll be on the job, too. 

This is what the 2012 elections will be ALL about: do we educate kids or do we allow the teabaggers to continue on their destructive path? And as an aside, this is why it's such a big deal that Mittens won't release his tax return: with the money he's got in the Caymans, avoiding American taxes, and the 15% rate he pays on the money Bain is still paying him, well, let's just say that the money he didn't pay would easily have kept Chester-Upland going another few months....fewer dollars for his undocumented gardeners, but more to teach Johnny to read.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Republicans Fighting Hard Against School Funding in Colorado

by: Oreo

Wed Oct 19, 2011 at 17:16:40 PM EDT

Colorado Republicans are fighting a proposed tax increase that is meant to fill the gap for the cuts in education. If you live in Colorado or know somebody that does please vote for Proposition 103.

God forbid kids get a decent education without huge class sizes.

Proposition 103 would restore state income, corporate and sales taxes to their 1999 levels for the benefit of education:

  • Corporate income tax and personal income tax rates would increase from 4.63% to 5%.
  • The state sales tax rate would increase from 2.9% to 3%.
  • The initiative would raise an anticipated $532 million per year.
  • The new funds must go toward preventing further cuts to education — preschool through higher education – and, depending on the economy and recovery, could begin restoring funding for some of the devastating cuts of the past three years.
  • The new rates would be in effect temporarily for five years, beginning in January 2012.
You can get more info on Prop 103 here.


Discuss :: (2 Comments)

States Can Now Opt-Out of No Child Left Behind

by: Oreo

Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 13:32:54 PM EDT

The disaster that is the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind is effectively over.

President Obama this morning unveiled major changes in the way public schools are evaluated, scrapping an essential element of President George W. Bush’s signature education program in favor of letting states come up with their own plans.

Bush had good intentions with his No Child Left Behind plan of 2002, Obama told a crowd of educators and students, but it ended up inspiring states to lower their standards and schools to “teach to the test.”

“Accountability is the right goal,” Obama said, “but experience has taught us that in its implementation No Child Left Behind is ... hurting instead of helping.”

Obama's plan will basically throw out the requirement that every student pass state tests by the 2013-2014 school year, and let states draft their own plans to improve the performance of struggling students in troubled schools. - LA Times

In a related note... If you live in Colorado or know somebody that does please urge them to Vote Yes on Proposition 103 next month when they get their mail in ballots.

This November, Proposition 103 gives Coloradans the opportunity to keep Colorado competitive by investing in the foundation of our success, our kids, schools, and communities.

Our schools have experienced drastic cuts for three straight years, increasing class sizes and laying off teachers. If we do nothing, schools throughout the state will face a fourth year of cuts. As a result, Colorado kids will face a competitive disadvantage as our investment in preschool, K-12 and higher education will fall farther and farther behind the national average.

Proposition 103 is a simple proposal that offers a five-year time out from school cuts. Prop 103 will restore the tax rates Colorado had throughout the 1990s. All of the new revenue will go to preschool, K-12 education and higher education. After five years, the rates will return to current levels.

The foundation of strong communities begins with good schools and a re-investment in the education of Colorado kids that ultimately results in a skilled workforce and jobs in Colorado.


Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Today's Education Moment

by: DocJess

Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

Last December, I wrote about the PISA scores. They're international education assessments, and the US didn't do very well. NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a division of the Department of Education. Yesterday, they published their results of how 4th, 8th and 12th graders fared in the arena of history. Last month, it was civics. They test every few years nationwide.

Take a few minutes and check out the sample questions in the 9 areas in which NAEP tests. With the exception of art and music, which are representations of the idea not the test, you'll see that the questions are reasonably straightforward and things that kids should likely know at those three grade levels. As you finish each sample test, you'll be able to see the type of scores that are generated by the people who'll be in charge in 30-40 years. Check especially US History, Civics, Math and Science. Prepare to be appalled.

Two other education stories for today. After 30 June, the Los Angeles Unified School District will no longer be serving chocolate or strawberry milk, only plain. LA is the second largest school district in the US after NY. Strawberry milk has the exact same sugar content as an equal amount of Coca Cola. (Or any cola.) Imagine:

Soft drinks were banned in Los Angeles schools in 2004. But if you think that means kids are protected from too much sugar at school, think again. Children are regularly able to select a school breakfast that contains more added sugar than a can of soda. A popular breakfast offering of Frosted Flakes doused in chocolate milk with a side of coffee cake and a carton of orange juice contains 51 grams of added sugar (or 79 grams of total sugar counting those that occur naturally in the milk and the juice).

LA serves more school breakfasts than NY: and for a lot of kids, it's LA school breakfast or nothing.

In Philadelphia, City Council is debating whether to charge 2 cents per ounce for sugared soft drinks sold in the city. It failed last year, and probably will again this year. Another option is raising property taxes another 10% over last year's increase. All to fund the schools. It is rather high: a 2 litre bottle of soda goes on sale for 69 cents. With the tax, it would be an additional $1.34. 

I believe that something needs to be done to fund schools, raise the nutritional content of food and beverages served in schools, and OF COURSE to raise knowledge levels in all grades. But I lack sympathy for the people who protest a soda tax, or a potato chip tax......don't get me wrong, I know that sales taxes are recessive and thus disproportionately affect the poor.  But this is truly a case of the chickens coming home to roost. Sin taxes go all the way back to the Puritans. Really:

Puritan New England was awash in laws attempting to control sin, and the means varied from taxes to outright prohibition. These were known as sumptuary laws, defined as the regulation of extravagance in food, dress, tobacco use, and drinking on religious and other grounds.

So long as only some people are taxed, the bar has been set. Oh, cigarettes are bad, let's tax them. And alcohol. And cars costing more than $40,000 (which expired in 2002). Now soda, then chips. Get enough PETA members onto a City Council and you'll see a dead animal consumption tax.

The problem is that since taxes are for public spending, the public should pay them. Education of our children benefits all of us, whether we currently have kids in school or not. The cost of a lack of education is incalculable. Why put it on the backs of those who can least afford it? Taxes are necessary, and it is wrong to not share the burden. 

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Did you go to school?

by: DocJess

Tue May 31, 2011 at 09:00:00 AM EDT

I went to public school. Statistically, you probably did, too. Even if you didn't, living in the United States it was available to you. You know, free, public education. Actually, compulsory education. To wit:

Until the 1840s the education system was highly localized and available only to wealthy people. Reformers who wanted all children to gain the benefits of education opposed this. Prominent among them were Horace Mann in Massachusetts and Henry Barnard in Connecticut. Mann started the publication of the Common School Journal, which took the educational issues to the public. The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. As a result of their efforts, free public education at the elementary level was available for all American children by the end of the 19th century. Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. By 1918 all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school.

This is a list of current state-by-state requirement, since it is the states that handle education today. That is, the states provide education and say that up to a certain age, kids are required to attend.

Is it still free, compulsory education if you have to pay thousands of dollars a year for it? 

From the Wall Street Journal:

Most states prohibit public schools from charging for core classes. But schools can generally charge for supplemental materials, a category that has been broadly defined. In Iowa, for instance, paper is considered "not essential to the teacher's presentation of a course," and thus need not be provided at public expense, the state Department of Education website explains.

A 52% increase in some fees this year at the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., means a typical high-school student now owes $235 at enrollment, plus supplies fees as high as $65 a class. The tab will be similar next year at Wheaton North High School in Wheaton, Ill., after a recent fee hike: $221 for baseline registration plus $150 per sport and class fees as high as $50 each.

And in California:

It's true that you can enroll and attend class at a California public school without paying an entrance fee or a tuition bill. But what if the teacher tells you that it's going to cost $90 to purchase the novels that you must read to pass AP English, or that you have to pay $30 for your Spanish workbook? Is your education still free? What if you want to join the basketball team but the school hits you with a $50 uniform fee? Is basketball part of your education, and if so, can the school make you pay to play?

Charging for instructional materials as well as for art, music and sports programs is increasingly common in the state's public schools, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing that such fees violate Article IX. In December, a tentative settlement was reached with the Schwarzenegger administration, but it was rejected by the judge in the case on technical grounds.

What happens when the cost to parents tops several thousand dollars a year, in addition to the thousands they pay in property taxes? It's already happening in Ohio.

There are some who say that property taxes are already so high that parents should share some of the burden directly. Fat Boy Slim effectually said so in Jersey when he cut the school budgets. Of course, the court found that to be unconstitutional. 

Others point out that one of the ways to get more tax money is to have more people earning money and paying income taxes, giving states and the Feds more money...ostensibly a bigger pot from which education could be funded, especially if stop funding war, crops, oil companies, and the rich. Fareed Zakaria has a plan, modeled in part after what Germany does, but it requires a lot of education.

Education is a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later deal. Either we commit to an educated work force, or we're in real trouble in 20 years. Do you really want to get a shot from someone who doesn't know the difference between 10ccs and 100ccs? 

Think about it, and remember, if you read this, thank a teacher. Floor is open for your suggestions. 

Discuss :: (19 Comments)

Killing our Children

by: DocJess

Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

On the front page of yesterday's USA Today was an article about American girls hitting puberty at earlier and earlier ages. The percentage of 7-year-old girls entering puberty is 10% of white girls, 15% of Hispanic girls, 23% of African-American girls, and 15% overall. Yes, you read that right: SEVEN YEAR OLD GIRLS. This is very bad on all sorts of levels, the worst being the increased rates of estrogen-driven cancers. While medical science is unsure of the reasons why, the research is circling around environmental toxins (phthlates, BPA and pesticides leading the list), obesity (30% of kids are either overweight or obese), lack of exercise, lack of time spent outdoors, too much time in front of TVs and other screens. (This last concern doesn't directly cause a problem, but takes time away from time spent outdoors or involved in other activities.) And let's be honest: every major refereed study has shown that eating an "American" diet is worse than eating a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low in processed foods, animal products and fat. 

So I'm thinking about kids and food and exercise and I read that kids in some Chicago schools are no longer allowed to bring lunches from home (unless they have allergies) because school lunches are "healthier". Look at the picture at the top of this link, look at the stuff on the tray, avoid reading the caption and see if you can identify the "food". It's not just that I doubt it's healthy, I can't seem to identify any of the components.

Where I work, there is a cafeteria. It's not a great place for vegetarians. But one day, they had this "mix your own pasta" so I ordered some pasta with roasted veggies and meat-free red sauce. It was pretty good. I ate some for lunch. Some for dinner. Brought more of the same "portion" for lunch the next day, and had enough left for two more meals. I don't know what they serve in school cafeterias, and I have precious little experience with work cafeterias, having spent much of my career in small settings where there weren't enough employees to warrant a cafeteria. But I'm betting cafeterias are not as good an option as bringing food from home the way it was brought when I was a kid. The exception, OF COURSE, would be those millions of kids who have no food at home: less healthy food being better than none.

When I was a kid we all brought lunch from home. We had neat lunchboxes. (Mine had a stewardess on it, and an airplane on the thermos.) Lunch was a sandwich and a piece of in-season fruit, and some milk. And "sandwich" was a simple affair. 

We had recess where we went outside and ran around: often the boys would play softball, and the girls would play hopscotch and play on the playground equipment. After school, there was a snack of a piece of fruit, homework, and then outside until dinner. 

I rail about the failing education system, and this is just as bad: we're killing our kids with bad food, no recess, and inactivity. We know there is a correlation between eating a healthy breakfast and doing well in school. We know that exercise builds both healthy bodies and healthy minds.

What is wrong with us?

I'm adopting a puppy this weekend. To qualify, I had to go through an application process that included a 12 page form, an interview, a test on what I knew about potential dog illnesses, a home inspection, 5 personal references, and a grilling of my vet. When I pick up the puppy, I'll need to sign a paper that promises I'll adhere to standards related to her feeding, grooming, medical care and training. The rescue organization is assured that my home is a safe, happy place for her. Meanwhile, stories abound of children in foster care who die of malnutrition, abuse and neglect. Why do we care more about puppies than children? And don't misunderstand, I was glad to go through the process, I don't think the puppy standard is too high, I think the child standard is too low.  

Why does it seem we care more about puppies than children?

We look at the debt ceiling, and the issues related to what government spends our money on, and yet here is something that affects the majority of us: how we treat our children, and those children to whom we're related, or are kids of friends. How many kids under 10 do you know who only eat tan or brown foods? Those are hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, mac and cheese plus cookies, candies and chips or any colour. What do your kids, and those who visit snack on in your house? 

When is the last time you said to a kid: "Get outside and play. Don't come back unless I call you."? If you're over a certain age, you know you heard that on a regular basis. Has "outside" become so dangerous or inconvenient that we're risking the health of the next generation? 

OK, I'm done. Your turn....floor is open. 

Discuss :: (9 Comments)

Corbett and Kasich: When Will the Recall Petitions Start?

by: DocJess

Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

Tom Corbett is the governor of Pennsylvania. His released budget proposed massive cuts to education. Including a 52% cut to the state's public colleges and universities. As an aside, they haven't gotten additional funding from the state, in actual dollars, in more than 10 years. Part of the Penn State system may well close. In terms of K-12, rich districts are rewarded, and poor districts are penalized. In Chester County, the poorest district is Coatesville, with a student poverty rate of 38%. For the 2011-12 school year, each student will lose $1,037 in state funding. In the richest district, Unionville-Chadds Ford, with 4% poverty, each student will lose $117. More data here and here. I have the spreadsheet for all the districts in the state: it's too big to post, if you want a copy, email me and I'll email it to you. In total, the cut is $1.18 billion.

What Tom is NOT doing is taxing fracking and other oil and gas extraction in the state. Even Texas taxes those things. Corbett can't, since that's what funded his campaign. 

A line item Tom is expanding, to $1.9 billion, is the cost of prisons.  Amazingly, he doesn't see that the more you cut education, the more you increase the prison population.

And I'd name him worst governor of the day, if not for John Kasich. This peach is shutting down the state job creation and training office, and replacing it with a private-public group that will be selling off the state liquor stores and investing the money on Wall Street, because that "actually" creates jobs. No joke. Oh, and he heads the new group. Really.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

PISA Scores: US Needs to Try Harder

by: DocJess

Thu Dec 09, 2010 at 07:28:24 AM EST

If you're a long-time DCW person, you know I'm a big believer in academics. People lacking basic knowledge are at a great disadvantage in many areas, both simple and complex. I have been convinced, for example, that since the dawn of the no doc mortgage, people believed they could afford a $500,000 house on an annual income of $40,000 because they could neither read the documentation nor comprehend the long term amortization math. In a simple way, if one cannot calculate percentages, he/she cannot know whether the item is a better deal at store 1, where the item is $200 with a 20% discount or at store 2, where it is $300 with a 50% discount.

The newest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores are out, and we really need to up our game. You can see the full rankings here. The testing is of 15 year-olds in 65 countries. We did the best in reading, where we ranked 17th. We came in 23rd in science, and 31st in math. Admittedly, the Chinese scores may well be outliers, as all the mainland Chinese students were tested in Shanghai, which has ostensibly the best schools in China, and only accepts the best and the brightest. That is compared to the US where testing is done across the nation, and the scores combines. Massachusetts, for example, scores higher than all other US states in nationwide testing, and would rank somewhat higher on an international list if considered independently.

The PISA scores matter because if we are to compete globally, we need the kind of workers who have the skills to excel in high-tech fields. We need nerds. 

So my guess is that you're reading this with one of two thoughts: either "So what? You're wrong, so long as you can look something up, it doesn't matter if you know it." -or- "That's awful, I wish I could do something." If you fall into the latter group, there IS something you can do. First, if you have kids of your own, make sure that they see you reading, and help them with their homework. Second, there are multitudinous opportunities to help students improve: volunteer tutoring programs and mentoring programs for example. Finally, consider caring more about academics than sports. We are somehow, as a nation, focused on team sports. This means that a lot of kids, maybe even most kids, spend a couple hours every day involved in sports, leaving less time for studying. Here's the quote:

The results also appeared to reflect the culture of education there, including greater emphasis on teacher training and more time spent on studying rather than extracurricular activities like sports.

“Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education, referring to the groundbreaking Soviet satellite launching. Mr. Finn, who has visited schools all across China, said, “I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and in 50 cities by 2029.”

While short-term getting our economy back on track may not be 100% dependent on the educational abilities of our workers, it certainly will be an issue in the coming decades. 

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Education: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by: DocJess

Fri May 21, 2010 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

The Good

In a country where high school dropout rates approach 50% in many cities, and where Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, Houston and Baltimore graduate fewer than 45% of their students, it's nice to see someone trying something that is showing promise.

Diplomas Now is a program funded by a $5 million grant from the PepsiCo foundation. (Yes, your soda dollars at work.) The thought was that by the time a kid gets to high school, it's way too late. So the program looks at at-risk kids beginning in 6th grade. Not just in terms of attendance, but also in terms of those who fail math and English or have behaviour problems. It appears that problems that early blossom over time. Results of one of the pilot programs?

  • Students off track in attendance: reduced by 52%
  • Students off track in behaviour: reduced by 45%
  • Students off track because of failing math grade: reduced by 83%
  • Students off track because of failing English grade: reduced by 80% 


Why do I bring this up? Not because I care about education, which I do, but because there is current Federal legislation winding its way through the process. Click here to read about it and then PLEASE call your reps. 

The Bad

Welcome to Texas. home of revisionist history. If you missed it, you can start here. Rick Perry's band of merry men on the Board are sticking to their guns and working towards making Texas public school education more evangelical than based on fact. At the hearing a couple days ago, 206 people showed up to comment: most in opposition, including Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP. From the review by educators:

We have reunited as public citizens to voice our concern, our collective disgust if you will, at the distorted culmination of our work. 

Plus, 72% of Texans don't want to see a religious co-opting of education:

Nearly three-quarters of Texas voters (72 percent) say that teachers and academic scholars should be responsible for writing curriculum standards and textbook requirements for Texas’ public schools. Only 19 percent prefer that an elected school board decide curriculum. 

The Boards' reaction? Shrug, we're holding the vote anyway. (It's today, and the curriculum will pass.)

The Ugly

Elena Kagan was once a clerk of Thurgood Marshall when he was a Supreme. Before joining SCOTUS, Justice Marshall argued separate but equal in Brown v. Board of Ed in front of the high court. That was in 1954. You'd think there would have been progress...but, from USA Today, 19 May, page 9A:

A study by the Southern Education Foundation -- which was founded in 1867 to improve educational equity in the South -- concluded that in six southern states, at least 30% of the black public school students attend schools that have a population of at least 95% black. Among these, Maryland (which some don't consider a Southern state) has the highest percentage at 45%, followed by Alabama (40%), Mississippi (39%), Tennessee (38%), Georgia (32%) and Texas (30%). [...]

[T]he rest of the country is as bad or worse: In New York state, 52% of black public school students attend predominately black schools. In neighboring New Jersey, 43% do. In Illinois, 57% do. In Michigan, 55% do. In fact, this clustering of black public school students at "black" schools is far work in Midwestern and Northeastern states than in Southern ones based on overall percentages. 

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Is Today's School Budget Vote in New Jersey a Referendum on Christie?

by: DocJess

Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 12:22:02 PM EDT

Today in towns large and small across New Jersey, polls are open for residents to vote on school budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Most years, this garners a 15% turnout, but this year may well be different.

Chris Christie was elected last year on a platform of fiscal "responsibility." So, in one of his first proposals, he cut $820 million from the state aid that normally goes to local school districts for FY 2011. He asked for teachers to not get their contracted pay raises, and to contribute to the health care. As an aside, it turns out that Christie is spending an additional $2 million on salaries and perks for his staff than Corzine did per the AP, including doubling the amount of his staff earning more than $100,000/year. But back to the school budgets.

The majority of people reading DCW attended public schools. Sure, some of you went to private school, and some were home schooled, but I'm sure most of you went to public school. And since you're reading this remember...if you can read, thank a teacher. School teachers nowadays normally pay for some supplies out of their own pockets: it's so ubiquitous, there's a special above the line deduction for it. 

In cutting state aid, Christie puts the school districts in a bad position. In general, they need to raise taxes to cover the loss in aid, but even in so doing, they are facing layoffs because they cannot make up the difference given their tax bases. 

Will people vote no on the budgets? If so, property taxes will not rise, but further municipal cuts will be necessary. It's possible that in some locales, class size could double. Is there waste? Probably, but why hang so much of it on school children, who don't have the ability to vote? If the budgets pass, does this mean that people regret electing Christie, or only that many fewer people voted? If the budgets fail, what happens to education in New Jersey? Currently, it's ranked #5 in the nation. 

So here's my favourite comment on the whole situation: 

I am a Republican and a teacher. Christie's assault on public education while increasing his patronage payouts to his 34 subordinates making over $100,000 has led me to do something I never thought I would do - vote Democratic.

Simply another political hypocrite who wants to bust a union so Republicans do not have to run against union money. All Christie supporters, please at least be honest about that. He is not bringing down property taxes, he is destroying public education, he continues the political patronage that is commonplace in Trenton and has successfully created the "strawman," the teachers.

However, in politics and life,this to shall pass.

Lets vote against our budgets tomorrow so we can hurt the kids, destroy the union, and support Christie in his move to "share sacrifice" with higher paid subordinates. Man of the people!

About says it all: we'll see what those who vote say, and how many of them turn out. 

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Sliding Down the Slippery Slope: Philadelphia and Texas

by: DocJess

Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 07:15:32 AM EDT

We've got a choice of two today: take your pick.

Let's start in Philadelphia where Mayor Nutter is proposing, as part of his plan to improve the dire financial situation in the City, two new taxes. The first is an annual per household charge of $300 to pick up the garbage. (Each and every one of you over a certain age should have read "pick up the garbage" hearing Arlo Guthrie's voice in your head.) Also a 2 cent per ounce tax on sugary sodas. The garbage tax is a minor slope: most people pay to have their garbage picked up. The problem in Philadelphia is that they haven't looked at what it actually costs to pick up the garbage as opposed to privatizing the service. The real issue is the soda tax. Most people are up in arms about it being two cents per ounce. To give you an idea of what that means, a two litre bottle costs about a dollar (on sale), and has about 67 ounces in it, making the total cost $2.67, or almost three times the cost. I don't have a problem with that per se: the slippery slope theory has said all along that once you start taxing cigarettes and liquor outrageously, they'd start taxing everything else in bits and pieces. So, now we're on to soda. Next up will be potato chips and cookies and then meat....it won't stop.

The bigger problem is that for some reason people think that "soda" is appreciably worse than those 10% fruit drinks which have the same amount of added sugar, and are only missing the carbon dioxide, phosphoric acid and caffeine.  Or worse than the diet soda, the fake sugars of which cause all sorts of direct organ problems. Or the other empty calories in the chips, cookies, and other junk food. Not to mention the fat content of hamburgers and hot dogs....it seems unfair to single out soda, but hey, you could see this one coming years ago.

Now, let's switch to Texas. I've been writing about the discussion there over history vs. religion for months and months. Finally, the Board voted, and it looks like Jefferson didn't make the cut. That's right, THOMAS Jefferson. Voting along party lines, 10 - 5, he doesn't make the history books, although Joe McCarthy does, as a hero. They also won't be allowing the separation of Church and State in their textbooks, plus all the other things we've been concerned about all this time. Think it doesn't matter? The State of Texas buys more textbooks than anyone else, and it's unlikely that the publishers will want several versions of the same books. The slippery slope here is that if other school boards agree to purchase these books, eventually history is revised to the point that it's only the Bible. Think that's hyperbole? Just wait and watch.

The goal of the Texas Board of Ed is to remove anything NOT related to the New Testament from school books. It's not just that they'll get history factually incorrect, this is an end run against teaching pure creationism in the schools. 

Often, there's not much to do, but this time there is. If you have a child in a local school, or even pay taxes which go to support schools, say, um, property tax, contact your neighbors and other parents, and the teachers and the school board. Public comments will be taken over the next several months. Send in your comments saying that you won't pay taxes that go to Texas-compliant text books. Get the school boards to say they won't buy them. Send copies to all the publishers. 

I'll add the addresses later today.....a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and a child's mind subject to propaganda and lies and then scrambled into pablum is even worse.

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