Tagged: New Jersey

The secret to fixing bad schools


City Hall ain’t so snazzy on the outside either

…Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It’s a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. A quarter are thought to be undocumented, living in fear of deportation.

Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How things have changed. From third grade through high school, students’ achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What’s more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.

As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I’ve never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy.

Ask school officials to explain Union City’s success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There’s abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing…

Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. “My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children,” the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. “It’s all about exposure to concepts — wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. ‘Let’s do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.’ I don’t ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 — I could teach a monkey to count.”

From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers…

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.

RTFA. I’m going to track down David Kirp’s “Improbable Scholars” as soon as it’s published. There are few topics that grip my attention more than the destruction of public education in America – and how to repair it. Restoration has become one of my highest political priorities.

David Kirp offers a playbook–not a prayer book–for reviving public education.

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First same-sex wedding held at West Point Cadet Chapel

Cadet Chapel, the landmark Gothic church that is a center for spiritual life at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, hosted its first same-sex wedding Saturday.

Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, exchanged vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony, attended by about 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.

The two have been together for 17 years. They had a civil commitment ceremony that didn’t carry any legal force in 1999 and had long hoped to formally tie the knot. The way was cleared last year, when New York legalized same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama lifted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military.

The brides both live in New Jersey and would have preferred to have the wedding there, but the state doesn’t allow gay marriage…

The NJ legislature passed a law allowing same-sex marriage. Republican Governor Christie vetoed it.

“It has a tremendous history, and it is beautiful. That’s where I first heard and said the cadet prayer,” Fulton said, referring to the invocation that says, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”

The ceremony was the second same-sex wedding at West Point. Last weekend, two of Fulton’s friends, a young lieutenant and her partner, were married in another campus landmark, the small Old Cadet Chapel in West Point’s cemetery.

Fulton has campaigned against the ban on gays in the military as a member of two groups representing gay and lesbian servicemen and servicewomen. She graduated from West Point in 1980, a member of the first class to include women.

She served with the Army Signal Corps in Germany and rose to the rank of captain, but left the service in 1986 partly because she wanted to be open about her sexual orientation. President Obama appointed her last year to the U.S. Military Academy’s Board of Visitors.

Nice to see the US Military continue to march into the 21st Century at a faster pace than some political chickenhawks. For those of us who lived through the end of Jim Crow in our military, the result isn’t a complete surprise. Unlike some politicians, the Pentagon accepts the law of the land – instead of trying to slink back into the past.

A surge of support for New Jersey’s Christie acting like a grownup

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s approval rating has leaped 19 percentage points since superstorm Sandy slammed the state, as voters by a wide margin applaud his response to the crisis…

The Republican governor, who will face re-election in 2013 and is considered a contender for the U.S. presidency in 2016, has a 67 percent favorability rating among registered voters in the state, up from 48 percent in October.

The boost is notable because Christie’s ratings have stayed steady between 44 and 50 percent for his nearly three years in office, according to David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll…

Christie, a Republican star, angered some within his party by offering strong praise for Democratic President Barack Obama’s storm response in the days after Sandy and just before Election Day. Critics say Christie’s praise may have helped Obama’s re-election…

A Quinnipiac University poll on Tuesday found almost nine in 10 New Yorkers gave Christie top ratings for his performance.

Among New Jerseyans, 81 percent said Christie and Obama showed “needed cooperation and bipartisanship,” while 12 percent said Christie went too far, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found.

I sincerely hope the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican keeps up the current sophomoronic level of finger-pointing. It’s important that the Republicans who survived Tea Party self-immolation actually work to achieve bi-partisan resolution of economic issues. In many cases only doing so by taking advantage of districts gerrymandered by Republicans in the last Congress.

Still, it’s with a mixture of glee and a sense of historic justice that we can watch the religious nutballs and 19th Century purists march forward on their task of marginalizing the Republican Party that welcomed them in the door so many times in the name of opportunism.

New Jersey’s Governor Christie reverses stand on tax hikes — storm repairs must be paid for


Click on to enlarge

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has pushed aggressively for cutting and capping taxes in New Jersey during his three years in office, said Tuesday that people who lived in towns destroyed by Hurricane Sandy were likely to pay higher taxes to help rebuild.

“It’s got to be paid for,” he said. “There’s no magic money tree.”

In a 40-minute news conference in Trenton, Mr. Christie said he expected the federal government to do as much as it had done for victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast to help rebuild New Jersey. And he said that municipalities would be allowed to raise property taxes more than the 2 percent limit that he signed into law in 2010 to cover costs brought on by the storm.

“No one’s ever happy with higher taxes, but the fact is, what annoys people more than anything else is waste,” he said. “As long as they know that the money’s being spent in a way that’s helping to bring their town back to life, I think people will understand it’s got to be done.”

He’s right about ordinary Americans, rank-and-file Republicans. As far as “professional” Congressional Republicans are concerned – Good Luck!

It was a striking endorsement of the role of higher taxes and the federal government in helping the recovery, particularly coming from a governor who has often been held up as a leader in the movement to rein in both.

But Mr. Christie, wearing a suit and tie rather than the fleece jacket seen in his TV appearances the last two weeks, disagreed that the storm had brought on a change of heart. Unlike Mitt Romney, he said, he had never questioned the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Emergency response is always something that I’ve thought was an appropriate governmental function,” he said.

“There are plenty of instances that can happen in our country where a state by itself is not equipped to deal with the results of a natural disaster,” he continued. “And so the country needs to band together to help its other states to be able to get over something that has been disproportionately foisted on one or two or three states of the 50. But no, it hasn’t turned me from a limited-government guy to a big-government guy.”

The sort of revelation that keeps recurring among conservatives once they realize they’re being boors in the face of an emergency. Trouble is – many of them go straight back to being pigheaded once electricity has returned to their own neighborhood. And screw everyone else!

Woman charged with fatal penis enlargement by silicone injection

Does she look like she’s been practicing on herself?

A 35-year-old woman pleaded not guilt…in a Newark court to second-degree reckless manslaughter, more than a year after the East Orange man whom she had allegedly performed a penis enlargement procedure on died of a silicone embolism.

Authorities say Kasia Rivera, also of East Orange, had no medical training when she allegedly injected silicone into 22-year-old Justin Street at her Glenwood Avenue home on May 5, 2011. It shot directly into Street’s bloodstream, shutting down his organs, authorities said. The father of two young sons was dead the next day…

Rivera was charged in December, after the medical examiner ruled Street’s death a homicide, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor William Neafsey said. A grand jury returned an indictment last month and she faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the crime.

Rivera, who is free on bail, appeared this morning in a pattern red jacket and black dress. From her pronounced features, Rivera appears to have either performed cosmetic injections on herself or received them from someone. She stood silently for the brief arraignment in Superior Court in Newark, and later refused a reporter’s request for comment…

The state is not alleging at all that she purposely caused his death, but that her behavior, her acting with no training, no preparation led to his death.” Neafsey said after the hearing, referring to the charges against Rivera. “Performing this type of procedure, basically a surgical procedure on him without any proper training or certificates, that’s why it’s reckless.”

Reckless? Feckless. Eeoough!

New Jersey mall cop orders Muslim woman to remove veil

A woman shopping at a New Jersey mall said Saturday that she was shocked when a security guard told her to take off her niqab, the traditional face veil worn by some Muslim women.

Wakeelah Salaam, born in the U.S. and raised Muslim, told WABC Ch. 7 Eyewitness News she felt threatened after the same guard at Bridgewater Commons mall approached her twice.

“He said, Maam, I’m telling you, you cannot wear that mask in here,” Salaam told ABC. Salaam said she felt so uncomfortable she eventually called the police. After speaking to police, she left the mall…

Salaam regularly wears a face covering, a hijab, or headscarf, and a long dress in public, leaving only her eyes exposed…Some women choose to wear the scarf so men don’t judge them by their appearance…

She said she’s worn the niqab to court and to visit a relative in prison without complaint, so was surprised by the security guards actions.

Later, an executive from the company that runs security at the mall called Salaam to apologize.

Our security guard has received additional training in cultural diversity, said the spokesperson. “We respect her right to dress according to her religious beliefs.”

Salaam told ABC she appreciated the apology, but would probably choose a different mall to shop at in the future.

What is there to say? You can come with snappy little jokes about mall cops and nuns, Hassidic Jews, whatever. The company providing security guards did a lousy job at hiring or training or both. This is, after all, supposed to be the United States of America in the 21st Century.

New Jersey capitol [temporarily] survives toilet paper emergency

City employees are flush with relief today after officials with Mayor Tony Mack’s administration said they’d moved forward with an emergency purchase of toilet paper and paper towels as supplies dwindle in city buildings.

Meanwhile, Mack’s office announced last night it had accepted donations from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to provide a six-month supply of toilet paper…The move ends a stalemate between council and Mayor Tony Mack’s administration that has lasted since September when council first rejected the $46,000 contract over concerns about a $4,000 price tag for hot drink cups.

Stocks of toilet paper have been dwindling for weeks and are nearly depleted at City Hall and police headquarters. The emergency contract with the Pennsauken-based Amsan authorizes the city to purchase $16,000 worth of toilet paper, paper towels, and toilet-seat covers…

In a letter to Mack earlier this week, PETA offered to step in with a six-month supply of toilet paper for city buildings. The catch: it’s printed to say, “Slaughterhouses are so filthy that more than half of all meat is contaminated with fecal bacteria. Wipe cruelty from your diet. Go vegan. PETA.”

“If Trenton’s City Council cannot reach an agreement today, I have a cheeky solution that will help offset your financial troubles and call attention to public health and cruelty to animals at the same time,” PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman wrote. “This unique bathroom reading material would help city employees consider a vegan diet, and prevent their health from going down the toilet.”

Meanwhile, Dyson is donating 15 of its Airblade hand-dryers, machines that produce 400-mile-per-hour sheets of wind that push water off hands instead of drying them with the use of a heating element.

“Using paper to dry hands can be costly and creates waste,” said James Dyson, inventor of the machines. “With Airblade, our engineers have developed a way to dry hands hygienically and efficiently.”

The company claims the machines can dry 22 pairs of hands for the cost of a single paper towel and could generate $220,000 in savings over five years.

Sounds like the City Council would probably refuse to pay the electric bill for the hand dryers, as well.

Dontcha love beancounters?

Maryland Senate votes to approve same-sex marriage bill


Maryland governor Martin O’Malley after supporting same-sex marriage
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Maryland Senate voted Thursday evening to legalize same-sex marriage, the latest sign of growing national recognition of such unions among gay and lesbian couples.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill into law. “All children deserve the opportunity to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home, protected equally under the law,” O’Malley said in a statement after the vote.

New Jersey lawmakers approved same-sex marriage this month, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the legislation. He has said voters should decide the issue in a statewide referendum…

Proving once again what cowards Republican politicians may be.

…Lawsuits seeking to expand civil unions or turn back laws banning same-sex marriages are working through the courts in at least 12 states, including Hawaii, Minnesota and California, the organization said.

The flurry of activity is a stark change from two decades ago, when the issue of same-sex marriage first gained national attention. Just a decade ago, no states allowed such unions…

In November, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported a more divided public — 46% in favor of same-sex marriages and 44% opposed. But Pew also said the uptick in support seems to be gaining steam, having jumped 9 percentage points in two years.

The shifting attitudes have emboldened proponents of same-sex marriage.

“There’s no question that with so many Americans having changed their minds and opened their hearts as they’ve heard the stories of real couples and thought about why marriage matters, we now have tremendous momentum towards ending marriage discrimination,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, which favors recognizing a right to marriage for gay couples.

“We could see a nationwide victory as soon as one to two years. It could also take as much as 10 years.”

The homophobic Right will dedicate their money to referenda in parallel with the history of racists losing control of legal segregation in the United States during the rise of civil rights movements, civil rights legislation respecting the Constitution. Part of their dedication to green power rather than a constitutional dedication to civilization will be the bucks they will continue to spend on trying to save DOMA, the so-called Defense Of Marriage Act which took another just hit, today.

Despite year-old court order, kids in tainted daycare still not being regularly tested for mercury poisoning


Catherine Cuffy and son Garrett at the Franklin Township site after demolition

Despite a judge’s order more than a year ago, the children who inhaled toxic mercury vapors in the infamous former Kiddie Kollege day care still have not been monitored for potential medical problems.

The story attracted national attention in July 2006, after New Jersey inspectors discovered babies and children playing inside a heavily contaminated Gloucester County building that had once been a thermometer factory.

Kiddie Kollege has become a frequently cited cautionary tale as laws have been adopted to keep other children from being subjected to toxins. But the 100 who were exposed over two years at the Franklin Township day care and nursery school have been nearly forgotten in a bitter court fight that is again gathering steam…

“I keep wondering how our kids got lost in the system,” said Catherine Cuffy, whose son, Garrett, attended Kiddie Kollege from age 18 months to 3.

“Other than demolish the building, they haven’t done anything for the children,” Cuffy said. “There was no follow-up to find out ‘did the mercury affect them, and how?”

When the state Department of Health tested the children’s urine in the weeks after the day care was closed, Garrett’s had an elevated level of the toxin. Subsequent tests showed the levels had dropped…

Years of litigation led to a stormy three-month trial and a Jan. 11, 2011, verdict by New Jersey Superior Court Judge James Rafferty. All of the defendants were negligent, he said, because they knew of the contamination before the day care obtained approvals to open.

Rafferty, who delayed his retirement to finish the case, ordered the defendants to contribute to a $1.5 million fund for neuropsychological tests until the children reached age 24. Relying upon expert medical testimony, the judge said there was a need for early detection and treatment if health problems emerged.

But the testing was never launched.

Some of the necessary funds are already in escrow. RTFA and you need a scorecard to figure out which combination of lawyers, politicians, property-owners sucks the most. No one seems to give a damn about kids.

It’s been a year since the testing was ordered to start and none of that seems to be as important as shuffling the stacks of money required to guarantee the tests – with lawyers taking a cut at every hearing.

Copper sues deli over bagel sandwich seasoned with body hair

A police officer is suing a New Jersey delicatessen and its cook, who admitted stuffing body hair into the officer’s bagel sandwich in revenge for a traffic arrest.

The lawsuit filed by Patrolman Jeremy Merck of the Evesham, New Jersey, Police Department seeks unspecified damages from Good Foods to Go in Marlton, New Jersey, and its cook, Ryan Burke…

Merck ordered an egg, cheese and turkey bagel and after eating part of it, he found it “was adulterated with pubic, chest or other human hair,” the lawsuit said.

Merck sought medical help and was checked for communicable diseases at a hospital, his attorney, Bruce Zamost, said on Friday. None was detected.

Burke, who served Merck the sandwich, was later charged with aggravated assault, retaliation against a public servant and food tampering. He ultimately served 15 days in jail.

According to a police report from the criminal case, “Burke admitted to tearing out hairs from his chest and his pubic area and placing them on Ptl. Merck’s sandwich out of anger due to the fines and lawyers fees he had from the prior arrest in 2009…”

A woman who answered the phone at the headquarters of the restaurant chain declined to comment on reports Burke was fired after the sandwich incident. The restaurant’s lawyer, Mark Sander, could not be reached for comment…

Har.

I’m never surprised over what people will do for retaliation – nor am I ever surprised by how often these dodos are caught after choosing to do something truly stupid.