Americans still look to God

A new Gallup poll finds that “Fifty-seven percent of Americans say that religion can answer all or most imgresof today’s problems, while 30% say that religion is largely old fashioned and out of date. Americans have in recent decades become gradually less likely to say that religion can answer today’s problems and more likely to believe religion is out of date.imgres

“The latest update on this long-term Gallup trend comes from Gallup’s May 8-11 Values and Beliefs survey. Gallup asked this question once in the 1950s, once in the 1970s, and multiple times in the 1980s and each subsequent decade.

“The 82% choosing the “can answer today’s problems” options in 1957 is in line with a number of other measures from that decade showing a high level of religiosity, including religious service attendance, importance of religion, and the percentage of Americans with a formal religious identity.

“But Americans’ belief that religion can answer most problems dropped — to 62% — when Gallup next asked the question in the 1970s, and it remained at about this level in the 1980s and 1990s. Americans’ belief that religion offers answers fell to 60% in the 2000s, while those stating the secular belief rose to 25%.

“So far this decade, an average of 57% of Americans have held this view, representing a small but notable decline. Continue reading “Americans still look to God”

Anti-choice wins in court

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law on Thursday, ruling in favor of anti-choice protesters who argued that being required to stay 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech.ThinkProgress reports that “The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to safeguard women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.images-2

“By its very terms, the Act restricts access to ‘public way[s]‘ and ‘sidewalk[s],’ places that have traditionally been open for speech ac­tivities and that the Court has accordingly labeled ‘traditional public fora,’ ” the opinion states. “The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests.”

“Reproductive rights advocates had been hoping the justices would uphold the policy, which they say has gone a long way to ensure that woman can safely enter abortion clinics. More than 30 pro-choice organizations filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Massachusetts’ buffer zone, which was approved in response to a mass shooting at several of the state’s abortion clinics.

“According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which closely tracks threats and violence against abortion providers across the country, buffer zones have had a measurable impact in the areas where they’re in place. A recent survey conducted among NAF’s member organizations found that 51 percent of facilities in areas with buffer zones reported a decrease in criminal facility after the policy was enacted, and 75 percent of them said it helped improve patients’ and staff members’ ability to access the clinic. Continue reading “Anti-choice wins in court”

U.S. schools fail to help disabled

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday focuses his quest to improve classroom performance on the 6.5 million students with disabilities, including many who perform poorly on standardized tests.imgres

As Huffington Post reports, “Duncan, who has spent his years in the Obama administration using accountability measures in existing laws to drive improvements in student performance, on Tuesday joins Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, to announce a new framework for measuring states’ compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that supports special education and services for children with disabilities. The law originally was known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

“After years of holding states accountable under the law for such things as timely evaluations of students and due process hearings, the Education Department plans to look at results. For the first time, the government will define compliance with the law not just in terms of what states do for students with disabilities, but with how those students perform.

“Focusing on inputs has worked on improving that type of compliance, according to information the Department released Tuesday. For example, in 2006, 84.8 percent of initial evaluations of students with disabilities were completed on time. By 2010, that number had increased to 96.9 percent. At the same time, national average math proficiency hardly budged from 33.2 percent in 2005-2006 to 35.2 percent in 2009-2010 — representing a dip from 38.7 percent in the previous year.

“Basic compliance does not transform students’ lives,” Duncan said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math” at sufficient levels by the time they graduate from high school, he added.

“According to this new results-driven accountability framework, states will be responsible for students with disabilities’ participation in state tests, gaps in proficiency between students with disabilities and their peers, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the only national standardized test. This marks the first time the NAEP, which is often described as a low-stakes test, has been used for school accountability. Continue reading “U.S. schools fail to help disabled”

Reading to baby

The people who told you to turn off the TV, now say to read to your baby. Easy advice to give if you’ve never done child care.

This is the first time the American Academy of Pediatrics — which has issued recommendations on how long mothers should nurse their babies and advises parents to keep children away from screens until they are at least 2 — has officially weighed in on early literacy education.

As the New York times, explains, “While highly educated, ambitious parents who are already reading poetry and playing Mozart to their imageschildren in utero may not need this advice, research shows that many parents do not read to their children as often as researchers and educators think is crucial to the development of pre-literacy skills that help children succeed once they get to school.

“Reading, as well as talking and singing, is viewed as important in increasing the number of words that children hear in the earliest years of their lives. Nearly two decades ago, an oft-cited study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than have those of less educated, low-income parents, giving the children who have heard more words a distinct advantage in school. New research shows that these gaps emerge as early as 18 months.

“According to a federal government survey of children’s health, 60 percent of American children from families with incomes at least 400 percent of the federal poverty threshold — $95,400 for a family of four — are read to daily from birth to 5 years of age, compared with around a third of children from families living below the poverty line, $23,850 for a family of four.

“With parents of all income levels increasingly handing smartphones and tablets to babies, who learn how to swipe before they can turn a page, reading aloud may be fading into the background.

“The reality of today’s world is that we’re competing with portable digital media,” said Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician in Orangeburg, N.Y. “So you really want to arm parents with tools and rationale behind it about why it’s important to stick to the basics of things like books.” Continue reading “Reading to baby”

Women quitting in peak years

As the economy struggles to get back on track, the labor participation rate remains feeble for almost everyone. Still, the losses affecting this group of women — who normally would be in the prime of their careers — stand out imgres-2from the crowd and highlight the challenges facing middle-aged workers who, for whatever reason, find themselves out of a job.

The New York Times reports that “Since the start of the recession, the number of working women 45 to 54 has dropped more than 3.5 percent. There are now about one million fewer women of that age in the labor force than at their peak at the end of 2009. For younger women the rate of decline was about 2 percent — and many of those in their 20s dropped out to return to school or left the work force temporarily to focus on caring for young children.

“Men, too, have been pushed out of the labor market as jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries have been slow to return. But the rate of decline among adult men has largely tracked the curves of the economy and has been spread more evenly across ages. Mr. Shepherdson, who highlighted the drop in working women in a recent report for his firm, Pantheon Macroeconomics, said that even in a slow-growing economy “women’s participation should not have fallen at all, especially among the women in their prime earning years.”

“The fact that more elderly people are living longer may be behind many middle-aged women’s decision to stop working. Most employers do not offer flexible schedules for workers caring for elderly family members. And increasingly, women in their 40s and 50s are sandwiched between caring for aging parents and their own dependent children, including young adults still living at home.

“A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2013 reported that 27 percent of the women surveyed had quit their job to care for a child or family member. Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations, an advocacy group for home care workers and patients, said the difficulties can stack up. “Women are falling out of the work force to be primary caregivers to aging parents,” she said, “but as women go out of the work force it means they sacrifice their own financial security.” Continue reading “Women quitting in peak years”

The deadly nuclear family

Sarah Schoener writes in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times “After spending two years studying services for domestic violence survivors, I was surprised to realize that one of the most common barriers to women’s safety was something I had never considered before: the high value our culture places on two-parent families.imgres

“I began my research in 2011, the year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than one-third of American women are assaulted by an intimate partner during their lives. I talked to women in communities that ranged from a small rural mining town to a large global city, in police stations, criminal courts, emergency shelters, job placement centers and custody proceedings. I found that almost all of the women with children I interviewed had maintained contact with their abusers. Why?

“Many had internalized a public narrative that equated marriage with success. Women experiencing domestic abuse are told by our culture that being a good mother means marrying the father of her children and supporting a relationship between them. According to a 2010 Pew report, 69 percent of Americans say single mothers without male partners to help raise their children are bad for society, and 61 percent agree that a child needs a mother and a father to grow up happily.

“The awareness of the stigma of single motherhood became apparent to me when I met a young woman who was seven months pregnant. She had recently left her abusive boyfriend and was living in a domestic violence shelter. When I asked if she thought the relationship was over, she responded, “As far as being together right now, I don’t want to be together. But I do hope that in the future — because my mind puts it out there like, O.K., I don’t want to be a statistic.” When she said this, I assumed she was referring to domestic violence statistics. But she continued: “I don’t want to be this young pregnant mom who they say never lasts with the baby’s father. I don’t want to be like that.” Continue reading “The deadly nuclear family”

Millennials reject gender

More than two-thirds of millennial say gender doesn’t matter as it once did. Now conventional gender roles = conformity.images-1

As USA Today reports, “They’re young. They like things their way. They don’t like stereotypes and steer clear of conformity. Because young people ages 34 and younger are legions larger than the dominant-until-now-Baby Boom generation, their likes and dislikes command lots of attention. High on their list is gender identity — a concept they’re increasingly resisting.

“Gender stereotypes are conformity,” says Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of The Intelligence Group, a consumer insights and strategy group based in Los Angeles whose summer/fall 2013 report about gender paints a vivid portrait of younger generations’ attitudes.

“The survey reveals that “gender is less of a definer of identity today than it was for prior generations. Rather than adhering to traditional gender roles, young people are interpreting what gender means to them personally.”As a result, gender rules and traditional stereotypes are fading. From college housing to clothing, language and parenting, gender-neutral increasingly is the preferred positionGeneration Y alone is estimated at 80-90 million in the USA (compared with 75 million Baby Boomers) and 2 billion worldwide. It’s growing because of immigration. And because they think and behave the same globally, experts say these young people will change society in profound ways.The online survey measured opinions of a nationally representative sample of 900 people ages 14-34, two-thirds of them 18-24 (termed Generation Y or Millennials), and the remainder 14-17 (often termed Generation Z).

“Among the findings:

• More than two-thirds agree that gender does not define a person the way it once did.

• 60% think that gender lines have been blurred;

• Nearly two-thirds say their generation is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be feminine and masculine. As a result, 42% feel that gender roles today are confusing.

“You can be one thing one day and another the next,” Gutfreund says. “In previous generations, there was no going back and forth. Now, there’s incredible fluidity to everything.”

“Fluidity” is exactly how generational expert Bruce Tulgan, founder of a management, research and training company in New Haven, Conn., describes what he’s observed.

“They would say not just men and women; it’s everyone along the spectrum. Everybody has his or her own gender story,” he says. Continue reading “Millennials reject gender”

Google vs the gender gap

Google has promised to do all it can to recruit more women into Silicon Valley, and now the company is putting its money where its PR is. On Thursday, it launched a $50 million initiative to teach young girls how to code.images

Just last month, Google announced that only 17% of its tech employees are women. The gender disparity is a dire issue for all tech companies. There will be 1.4 million computing jobs available in 2020, but only 400,000 computer-science graduates from U.S. universities to fill them. Part of the problem is that only 12% of computer-science degrees go to women, and in order for Silicon Valley to survive and thrive, it must be able to recruit more engineering talent from the other 50% of the population.

“Coding is a fundamental skill that’s going to be a part of almost everything,” Megan Smith, VP of Google[x], tells TIME. “So for kids to really at a minimum just be able to express themselves in code and make things and feel confident, that would be important — no matter what their career is.”

Google has invested a lot more than just money in the project. The company conducted research to determine why girls are opting out of learning how to code: the number of female computer-science majors has dropped dramatically since 1984, when 37% of computer-science degrees went to women. How do we get them back into computer-science classrooms?

Google found that most girls decide before they even enter college whether they want to learn to code — so the tech world must win them over them at a young age. They also found that there were four major factors that determined whether girls opted into computer science: social encouragement, self-perception, academic exposure and career perception.  Continue reading “Google vs the gender gap”

“cultural promiscuity” in art audiences

No facet of society – not even the arts – is immune to the conversation about metrics, measurement and big data.imgres

As LA Weekly explains, “On Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, museum administrators, marketers and cultural leaders gathered at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the presentation of “Culture Track 14” hosted by the Music Center. Billed as revealing a “dramatically changed cultural landscape,” the 2014 study – and the conversations around it – drove home many particulars that audience members already assumed and other dynamics long at play.

“Arthur Cohen, CEO of the culture consulting firm LaPlaca Cohen, painted a picture of today’s arts audience as overcommitted, hyper-connected, overstimulated and characterized by “cultural promiscuity” – meaning they aren’t as likely to join organizations or buy subscriptions, which continues a seismic shift, particularly for performing arts organizations. The idea that “everyone likes everything” doesn’t come as much of a surprise in a moment when pressing that ubiquitous “like” button has come to signify so much about how we express ourselves.

“Millennial” (18-29) and “Prewar” (over 70) participants were shown to be the most active, with “Gen X” (30-49) and “Boomers” (50-69) the least active. (Diversity and income range were not covered in this presentation of the research sample, and audience questions on this point led to private discussions when the event dispersed.)The Culture Track research found that culture is “social first,” meaning a big part of the attendance decision is based on making connections and spending time with friends and family. This holds true especially for millennials, who are the least likely to participate in an event alone. One of the most interesting findings in the presentation was that 79 percent of audiences define going to a national, state or municipal park as a cultural activity, with 87 percent participating at least once a year. It’s rare to see constituencies such as museums and parks leaders at the same table, but perhaps a conference bringing them together could result in impactful collaborations. Could the L.A. River be our next great cultural institution? Also along these lines, presenters also brought up the fact that L.A. is ahead of other cities in terms of diversity and trends.http://www.laweekly.com/publicspectacle/2014/06/11/a-study-shows-how-audiences-are-changing-but-should-data-guide-artistic-decisions

“The closing panel discussion brought certain tensions to the surface. Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, immediately stated that she doesn’t make creative decisions based on research; rather, she hopes to guide audiences toward content they didn’t know they wanted.Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) director Philippe Vergne took issue with the use of the word “culture,” and quoted the artist Carl Andre: “Art is what we do. Culture is what is done to us.” Vergne pointed out that “we” are in the knowledge industry, not the entertainment industry, which brought to mind the architect Rem Koolhaas’ observation that “culture is work, not just passive consumption.”Another topic that deserves further consideration, but was not covered by this event, relates to patronage. Seeing that patrons and foundations are increasingly focused on audience participation and quantifiable impact, we run the risk of failing to protect and promote the immeasurable value of the arts. The balance between scholarship and engaging a fast moving, celebrity-driven culture whose attention is harder and harder to hold is delicate, and we need visionary patrons more than ever. 

“If art audiences are searching for authenticity and connection, as Culture Track indicates, the study raises the question of why and how arts organizations should use data. Studies such as this one are useful for deciding how to package and promote cultural content – topics on which LaPlaca Cohen is available to advise. But the most authentic thing organizations can do is follow one of Philbin’s assertions: artists are leading the way, and organizations should follow the visions of the artists they support. Quantitative value should follow qualitative, not the other way around. As Tom Finkelpearl, the new Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York, recently stated in The Art Newspaper, “We don’t see the arts and culture sector solely through the prism of economics.” 

Continue reading ““cultural promiscuity” in art audiences”

Money is time

The absurdity of having had to ask for an extension to write this article wasn’t lost on Maria Konnikova, writing recently in the New York Times:  “It is, after all, a piece on time and poverty, or, rather, time poverty — about what happens when we find ourselves working against the clock to finish something.In the case of someone who isn’t otherwise poor, poverty of time is an unpleasant inconvenience. But for someone whose lack of time is just one of many pressing concerns, the effects compound quickly.images

“We make a mistake when we look at poverty as simply a question of financial constraint. Take what happened with my request for an extension. It was granted, and the immediate time pressure was relieved. But even though I met the new deadline (barely), I’m still struggling to dig myself out from the rest of the work that accumulated in the meantime. New deadlines that are about to whoosh by, a growing list of ignored errands, a rent check and insurance payment that I just realized I haven’t mailed. And no sign of that promised light at the end of the tunnel.

“My experience is the time equivalent of a high-interest loan cycle, except instead of money, I borrow time. But this kind of borrowing comes with an interest rate of its own: By focusing on one immediate deadline, I neglect not only future deadlines but the mundane tasks of daily life that would normally take up next to no time or mental energy. It’s the same type of problem poor people encounter every day, multiple times: The demands of the moment override the demands of the future, making that future harder to reach.

“When we think of poverty, we tend to think about money in isolation: How much does she earn? Is that above or below the poverty line? But the financial part of the equation may not be the single most important factor. “The biggest mistake we make about scarcity,” Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist at Harvard who is a co-author of the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” tells me, “is we view it as a physical phenomenon. It’s not.”

“There are three types of poverty,” he says. “There’s money poverty, there’s time poverty, and there’s bandwidth poverty.” The first is the type we typically associate with the word. The second occurs when the time debt of the sort I incurred starts to pile up. Continue reading “Money is time”

Phone surveillance ruled illegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.images-1

As Wired reports, “The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for somethingChristopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

“The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

Your phone sends signals to the nearest cell towers so that the communications network system knows where to route a call should one come in. Many providers collect and store the location of towers a customer connects to at the beginning and end of the call for billing purposes. FBI agents in Davis obtained these records without a search warrant and used them to place the defendant, Quartavious Davis, near the scene of a number of robberies.

Continue reading “Phone surveillance ruled illegal”

Women writers drinking

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as Olivia Laing did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? images-1As Laing writes in The Guardian, “And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer?

“In her 1987 book Practicalities, the French novelist and film-maker Marguerite Duras says many shocking things about what it means to be a woman and a writer. One of her most striking statements is about the difference between male and female drinking – or rather the difference in how the two are perceived. “When a woman drinks,” she writes, “it’s as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in a woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It’s a slur on the divine in our nature.” Ruefully, she adds a personal coda: “I realised the scandal I was creating around me.” Continue reading “Women writers drinking”

Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism

We’re living in a time of extremes: extreme weather conditions, extreme political polarization, and extreme power and income inequality. As TruthOut asks, “How did we get to this point? It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Rather, over the course of the last 30 years, the erosion of social contract the New Deal ushered in has reached a stage such that the United States of America is no longer a democratic republic – or a polity concerned with a shared future.

“Henry A. Giroux, a professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada has written extensively on the way in which the political economy has been reconfigured from one that guaranteed citizens a social safety net and promoted paths to a middle class way of life, to a system where a neoliberal oligarchy has accumulated a preponderance of wealth and power that makes democracy impossible, while simultaneously pushing politicians to chloroform the New Deal and Great Society era reforms. The result of this long march to change the fundamental agreement citizens had with their government is a middle and lower class that are compliant, afraid, desperate, and powerless in society- or dispoable. In other words, neoliberal ideologues have squashed democratic movements that use political processes to create a more just and more economically equitable society. Continue reading “Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism”

The truth about violence and mental health

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on imgres-2mental illness. But as TruthOut asks, ” what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings and gun violence overall?

“To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy ― and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

“Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings ― how big a factor is mental illness?On the face of it, a mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist: what normal person would go out and shoot a bunch of strangers?But the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it. If you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man ― that probably describes thousands of other young men.A 2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons. 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind ― which means 3 out of 4 did not. Continue reading “The truth about violence and mental health”

Coke vs obesity

“Coca-Cola is taking on obesity,” read the AP coverage of the company’s new commercial this week, “with an online video showing how [much] fun it could be to burn off the 140 calories in a can of its soda.”

As The Atlantic reports,”The scene puts a covey of Californians around a comically oversized bicycle on Santa Monica beach. imagesThey stationery-cycle in montage for 20 to 30 smiling minutes each (depending on each person’s size and vigor), until they’ve burned the requisite number of calories to coax an aluminum can along a whimsical Rube-Goldberg-type trapeze. The can eventually reaches the big payoff, when a giant disembodied hand bestows to the pedaler Coca-Cola.

“Not everyone thought it looked fun. “They’re showing exactly why you wouldn’t want to drink a Coke,” brand consultant Laura Riessaid, presumably not while biking. “Twenty-three minutes on a bike is not fun for most people.” (23 minutes was the average time required for a 140-pound person—though as Adweek noted, the average 20-year-old man weighs 196 pounds, and the average woman of the same age weighs 166 pounds.)

“It’s also uncomfortably evocative of a lab experiment where hamsters run on a wheel until they are delivered a pellet of, say, opium. But others in the foodie world were less skeptical of the marketing move than they were enraged by it. I probably would have been too, if I were still capable of strong emotions. Continue reading “Coke vs obesity”

What counts as a “school shooting”?

When students are killed, injured, or put in harm’s way on school grounds, when does it “count” as a school shooting? Not all of the time, according to a number of right-wing commentators — and CNN.images-1

ThinkProgress reports that “In a news report published Thursday, CNN amends its prior reporting that there were 74 school shootings since the Newtown Massacre — a number calculated by gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety — and concludes that there have instead been just 15.

“CNN determined that 15 of the incidents Everytown included were situations similar to the violence in Oregon — a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school,” the article explains. Except for the times when those criteria don’t apply: “Some of the other incidents on Everytown’s list included personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals,” the article explains, apparently nixing Everytown’s bright line criteria that encompassed all incidents “when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts” in exchange for its own subjective assessment.

“Among those incidents not included was a brawl that escalated outside a college basketball game at Chicago State University, a shooting at a Mississippi town’s football game that left a 15-year-old dead, and a Georgia college that saw two shootings in two days. As Everytown points out in response to CNN, these discounted shootings led to 25 deaths and 45 injuries. They included familiar scenes of students hiding under desks and running for cover. And many of them were characterized by CNN as “school shootings” at the time of the incidents. Continue reading “What counts as a “school shooting”?”

The true student debt crisis

If you borrowed money from the federal government to finance your education and you’re having an extremely hard time paying it back, I have good news for you. As Slate reports, “President Obama has just signed an executive order that expands eligibility for Pay As You Earn, a newish program that caps the monthly debt payments of eligible borrowers to no more than 10 percent of their monthly income. And if you still have outstanding debt after 20 years, or 10 years if you work in the public sector or for a nonprofit, it will be forgiven, like a youthful transgression.imgres-1

“You crazy kid! Remember when you thought taking on this student loan debt made sense because getting a college education meant that you’d eventually earn enough to pay it off? Oh gosh. Those were the days. Clearly you had been passed the peace pipe once too often.

“Cutting debt payments for cash-strapped borrowers is a nice gesture. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama fared well with under-30 voters, and Pay As You Earn will give some of them a nice little boost, just in time for the midterm congressional elections. But there is a much larger problem that the president’s feel-good proposal fails to address, which is the fact that people who take on federal student loan debt aren’t earning enough to pay it back. America’s higher education institutions aren’t offering value for money. And that’s a problem that tinkering with the federal student loan program won’t solve.

“To state the obvious: Borrowers can’t handle their debt payments because of the general weakness of the economy. It would be far easier for borrowers to repay their student loan debt if they weren’t unemployed or underemployed, and it would be easier still if they were employed in jobs that offered robust wage gains over time. Yet the debt crisis also reflects the corruption of mass higher education in America.

Continue reading “The true student debt crisis”

California rejects teacher tenure

A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. imgresThe decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.

Both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/us/california-teacher-tenure-laws-ruled-unconstitutional.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 Continue reading “California rejects teacher tenure”

Charting disaster

As an antidote to the “grow grow grow” mentality of the elected officials and business leaders pushing charter schools, a recent report by University of Oregon professor and political economist Gordon Lafer outlines what’s wrong with privatization of public schools.

The report, titled Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, focuses on the model of Rocketship, a national charter elementary school organization that hopes to expand its Milwaukee footprint to eight schools by 2018.

City officials have even considered carving out the lowest-performing parts of the city’s schools for charters to operate, similar to the New Orleans “recovery district.” Milwaukee’s Chamber of Commerce and Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett are among the charter chain’s supporters, raising millions to help it grow.

Rocketship’s investors, who are tech industry heavyweights, claim altruistic intentions: they care about the kids! But they’re also profiting from the expansion of charter schools, a market for their own products and services.

Case in point: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, on the board of Rocketship, is also an investor in a company called Dream Box, which runs software the schools use for math applications. In the public sector this type of self-dealing is often prohibited, because schools should be choosing the service or product with the best track record, not the one that will enrich investors.

So it’s no surprise that businessmen like Hastings find investing in charters much more appealing than paying more taxes to support public schools. Continue reading “Charting disaster”

Risky business

Six years after the financial meltdown there is once again talk about market bubbles. The New York Times asks, “Are stocks succumbing to exuberance? Is real estate? We thought we had exorcised these demons. It is therefore with something close to despair that we ask: What is it about risk taking that so eludes our understanding, and our control?imgres

“Part of the problem is that we tend to view financial risk taking as a purely intellectual activity. But this view is incomplete. Risk is more than an intellectual puzzle — it is a profoundly physical experience, and it involves your body. Risk by its very nature threatens to hurt you, so when confronted by it your body and brain, under the influence of the stress response, unite as a single functioning unit. This occurs in athletes and soldiers, and it occurs as well in traders and people investing from home. The state of your body predicts your appetite for financial risk just as it predicts an athlete’s performance.

“If we understand how a person’s body influences risk taking, we can learn how to better manage risk takers. We can also recognize that mistakes governments have made have contributed to excessive risk taking.

“Consider the most important risk manager of them all — the Federal Reserve. Over the past 20 years, the Fed has pioneered a new technique of influencing Wall Street. Where before the Fed shrouded its activities in secrecy, it now informs the street in as clear terms as possible of what it intends to do with short-term interest rates, and when. Janet L. Yellen, the chairwoman of the Fed, declared this new transparency, called forward guidance, a revolution; Ben S. Bernanke, her predecessor, claimed it reduced uncertainty and calmed the markets. But does it really calm the markets? Or has eliminating uncertainty in policy spread complacency among the financial community and actually helped inflate market bubbles? Continue reading “Risky business”