Tagged: schools

Republican supply-side economics bring doom and gloom to Kansas

Every year, right after the April 15 tax deadline, the U.S. Census releases its data on the prior year’s state tax collections. It is a fascinating document, filled with great data points for tax and policy wonks. It reveals a good deal about the state of local economies, economic trends and results of specific policies. In broad terms, the financial fortunes of the states are improving.

State government tax revenue increased 2.2 percent…according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections.

General sales and gross receipts taxes drove most of the revenue growth…

Let’s focus on Kansas, because of all the states its tax data reflects conscious policy choices as opposed to larger economic forces, such as falling oil prices.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the state radically cut income taxes on corporations and individuals. Going on the assumption that this would generate a burst of economic growth and higher tax revenue, no alternative sources of revenue were put into place. Similarly, the state failed to lower spending.

Alas, reality trumps theory. As we have seen almost every time this thesis has been put into practice, it fails. The tax cuts don’t magically kick the economy into higher gear and the government ends up short of money…

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NM kids are eating healthier, less obese

Child obesity rates in New Mexico continued a multiyear decline in 2014, but have remained stubbornly high among Native Americans and Hispanics, the state Department of Health reported.

Health officials cheered the report, which shows that the obesity rate for New Mexico third-grade students declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2014.

Patty Morris, project director, and others credit the decrease to a growing awareness of the serious consequences of childhood obesity and measures by school districts and government agencies to provide healthier meals and more physical activity for young children…

In just the past few years, salad bars have become commonplace in elementary schools, she said.

“They have mini salad bars for little kids,” said Rita Condon, program manager for Healthy Kids New Mexico. “They’re just the right size. They use them and they love them…”

Kindergartners showed a four-year decline in obesity, from 15 percent in 2011 to 11.6 percent in 2014…

Obesity rates among Native American third graders in New Mexico remain a challenge, but have shown some improvement.

About one in three Native American third-grade students is overweight or obese, the Department of Health report said.

The obesity rate for third-grade Native Americans edged down from 36.6 percent in 2010 to 32.6 percent in 2014.

Among Hispanics, just more than one in five third graders is obese – a figure that has varied only slightly since 2010.

For Anglo third-graders, the obesity rate has declined from 17.8 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2014…

Obesity is common, serious and costly, affecting more than a third of U.S. adults, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer…

And obese children were likely to remain that way as adults…

Officials say they are addressing the problem by offering training programs to school and preschool personnel throughout the state to encourage healthier meals that comply with new U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.

School districts around the state have proven eager to adopt the new standards…

All of which is good news.

We know for a fact that children across the country adapt to healthier school food programs. As much as purveyors of mediocre food campaigned for no positive changes, enlisting backwards parents and groups to support their profit structure – those campaigns have failed in states with the sense to move forward.

Kids respond – and they respond by developing new positive habits they bring home to their extended families.

Cultural differences remain and those reflect more complexity than this article offers. We had a breakfast discussion about this article, this morning, and while each of us had anecdotal experiences that both confirmed and denied cultural averages, nothing easy presented itself as a more complete solution.

What state education authorities have begun is a great step forward and should be applauded. It’s taken enough time to get this far.

Infrastructure advances worldwide — US politicians stick with crumbling bridges

While our politicians debate whether torture is really torture, is affordable access to basic health care necessary for people who work for a living, is climate change important [if it exists] – the rest of the world is simply advancing national and regional infrastructure beyond anything in the richest nation in the world.

In Switzerland, the world’s longest rail tunnel — straight through the Alps — is about to open.

At 57 kilometres, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will travel through the Alps between the northern portal of Erstfeld and Bodio in the south, will become the longest rail tunnel in the world once complete, stripping the title from Japan’s 53.85 kilometre Seikan Tunnel…

Italy now boasts Europe’s fastest high-speed train — capable of speeds up to 400 km/h (249 mph) — that will cut travel times between Rome and Milan — about the distance between Washington, D.C. and Providence — to two hours and some change…

Even as Americans are stuck traveling on the MegaBus, China has agreed to finance construction of a new high-speed line — through the formerly war-torn Balkan states — from Belgrade to Budapest — by 2017.

China has signed an agreement with the governments of Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia for the construction of a new high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the railway would be complete within the next two years. Feasibility studies are expected to to be carried out by June next year and the project completed by June 2017.

The new 200km/h line will reduce travel times from eight to around two-and-a-half hours between the two capital cities…

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Marijuana revenue helping schools on projects political hacks won’t fund

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As marijuana revenues trickle into the state, slow to meet projections, a few Colorado school districts are among the first to see some impact from the state’s new funds.

The state Department of Education’s program to fund capital projects — known as Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, grants — had received more than $1.1 million from marijuana taxes in May when it made the annual award recommendations.

The state also is readying another $2.5 million from pot taxes so interested schools can hire health professionals.

The additional capital project money has been welcomed as the state fund for the BEST grants has been declining and the program reached a cap for the financed grants it could issue through bonds…

The marijuana excise tax — which is 15 percent on unprocessed recreational pot sales on its first sale – — netted about $3 million from January through June 30. The education department receives the funds monthly and will dole out the awards recommendations every May.

Next year, officials estimate the pot contribution to the BEST grants will be about $10 million. But some school officials say there’s a misconception about where the pot money is going.

“I feel like the word on the streets is marijuana funding is going to schools, but certainly it’s not going to schools for operating costs,” said Ryan Elarton, director of business services for the Pueblo district. “And not every district gets it.”

Besides the new marijuana funds, BEST grants have been funded by sources including money from the state land trust and spillover from Powerball profits after funding the Great Outdoors Colorado fund…

From other marijuana revenue appropriated by the legislature, $2.5 million has been set aside to increase the presence of health professionals in schools.

Schools that apply for those grants and win could have that money by January.

It’s hilarious that schools may get back some of the necessities cut by conservative politicians — and they’ll be getting it from profits generated by legal ganja.

The sad part remains that folks trapped in the two-party belief system can’t get any results from simply going to the polls on election day. Frankly, issues like school safety, healthcare for the student population, reasonable curricula dedicated to learning and all that entails — are a natural for independent political organizing. Yes, just like legalizing marijuana.

Then, you’re not required to shove a natural local response to problems into a cookie cutter mold designed by seventeen lobbyists employed by a Congressional action committee.

The Pope thinks kids are wasting time online — he should think about why

Pope Francis has taken aim at today’s youth by urging them not to waste their time on “futile things” such as “chatting on the internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas”.

He argued that the “products of technological progress” are distracting attention away from what is important in life rather than improving us. But even as he made his comments, UK communications regulator Ofcom released its latest figures, giving the opposite message. It celebrated the rise of a “tech-savvy” generation born at the turn of the millennium and now able to navigate the digital world with ease.

So what’s it to be for youth and the internet? Time-wasting and futile? Or the first to benefit from the wonders of the digital age?

This debate has been raging since children first picked up comic books and went to Saturday morning cinema. The media, it has long been said, makes kids stupid, inattentive, violent, passive, disrespectful, grow up too early or stay irresponsible too long. Whatever it is that society worries about in relation to children and young people, it seems that we love to blame it on the latest and most visible technology. Anything rather than looking more closely at the society we have created for them to grow up in.

Fifteen years ago, when children were being criticised for watching too much television (remember those days?), I asked children to describe what happened on a good day when they got home from school and what happened on a boring day. From six year olds to seventeen year olds, the answers were the same: on a good day, they could go out and see their friends; on a boring day they were stuck at home watching television.

And why couldn’t they go out and see their friends every day? Far from reflecting the appeal of television, the answer lies in parental anxieties about children going out. As a 2013 report noted, children are far less able to move around independently than in the past. This is particularly true of primary school children, who are often no longer allowed to walk to school or play unsupervised as they once were. Their developing independence, their time to play, their opportunities to socialise are all vastly curtailed compared with the childhoods of previous generations.

And yet the number of children who have accidents on the road has fallen over the years and there has been little change to the rate of child abductions, which remain very rare.

There is little evidence that children are choosing to stay home with digital technology instead of going out. Indeed, it seems more likely that an increasingly anxious world – fuelled by moral panics about childhood – is making parents keep their kids at home and online. And then, to pile on the irony, the same society that produces, promotes and provides technologies for kids also blames them for spending time with them…

Sonia Livingstone asks useful questions. Questions – in my own experience – not asked often enough. Certainly not asked or answered in conversations with folks in charge of funds for education, funds for recreation, even those in charge of whether or not there will be funds for education or recreation.

Much less what comprises useful education and what roles recreation, sport, fitness and challenge should play in the lives of young people. What to do with communication and a view of the whole world?

American Schools vs. the World: expensive, unequal, bad at math!


Joerg Sarbach/AP Photo

More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education…

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading and ranks 21st in science and 17th in reading…

On average, 13 percent of students scored at the highest or second highest level on the PISA test, making them “top performers.” Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report…

The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000. The PISA report notes that, among OECD countries, “higher expenditure on education is not highly predictive of better mathematics scores in PISA.”

Much like health care, Americans who believe nothing counts better than dollars probably still believe we have the best education in the world – regardless of test results, in spite of diminishing GDP marching downhill in parallel to PISA scores.

In fact, it’s becoming fashionable on a couple of fronts to reject test scores like these. Aside from old-fogies fearful of furriners, the teaching infrastructure from the NEA to bloated bureaucratic structures won’t agree to any streamlining – even if we try to copy the Finnish model placing teachers into the upper pay scale of education and employment.

The grade school I attended had over 600 pupils K-8, 18 teachers, 1 janitor, a school nurse, 1 principal and a secretary. What does the employment roll look like in anything comparable in your town or city?

My school was typical of the several in a medium-sized New England factory town. Last time I checked on Albuquerque, New Mexico, the number of folks on the payroll of the city’s school board was one employee for every student [updated].

Yes, this is one of the easiest hot buttons to push on my brain. Because I received a pretty good education – supplemented by what my family came up with for my sister and me via books they bought and the neighborhood Carnegie library. Over the 9 years of that K-8 school, we had exactly 3 dropouts. And they were considered an anomaly. Ne’er-do-wells who only sat there waiting to be old enough to quit.

RTFA. Not too long for all the details and categories included. Think about it. I hope you get pissed off enough to apply pressure to the sensitive parts of your local politicians.

Have sports diminished the capabilities of American schools?

In her new book, “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist, tells the story of Tom, a high-school student from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who decides to spend his senior year in Wroclaw, Poland. Poland is a surprising educational success story: in the course of less than a decade, the country raised students’ test scores from significantly below average for the developed world to significantly above it; Polish kids now outscore American kids in math and science, even though Poland spends, on average, less than half as much per student as the United States does. One of the most striking differences between the high school Tom attended in Gettysburg and the one he ends up at in Wroclaw is that the latter has no football team, or, for that matter, teams of any kind.

Sports, Ripley writes, were “the core culture of Gettysburg High.” In Wroclaw, by contrast, if kids wanted to play soccer or basketball after school they had to organize the games themselves. Teachers didn’t double as coaches and the principal certainly never came out to cheer. Thus, “there was no confusion about what school was for—or what mattered to the kids’ life chances…”

I thought about Tom the other day, while I was watching my fourteen-year-old twins play soccer. It was the day before school began, but they had already been going to J.V. soccer practice two hours a day for nearly two weeks. I wondered what would have happened if their math teacher had tried to call them in two weeks before school started to hold two-hour drill sessions. My sons would have been livid, as would every other kid in their class. Perhaps even more significant, I suspect that parents would have complained. What was the math teacher doing, trying to ruin the kids’ summer? And why should they have to make a special trip to the high school so their kids could study trig identities..?

One of the ironies of the situation is that sports reveal what is possible. American kids’ performance on the field shows just how well they can do when expectations are high and they put their minds to it. It’s too bad that their test scores show the same thing.

One of my favorite beefs about the incompetence of American education. Not that sport should be removed. I’m a firm believer in physical education directed towards lifetime sports – of which soccer is one. Tennis, softball, table tennis, cycling, the range is endless. Dedication to the concept is almost non-existent in the United States.

So, schools waste money and time – and even more money on insurance – on sports like football. A self-feeding orgy of satisfaction for alumni who feel their achievements as students [scholars?] are measured in Sunday evening score boxes.

Teacher stalked by ex-husband – so Catholic school fires her!

A San Diego-area teacher was fired because her stalker ex-husband was due to get out of jail soon and could show up at her school, district officials said.

Carie Charlesworth…was let go by the San Diego Roman Catholic diocese because of concerns her former spouse could pose a threat to staff and students at the Holy Trinity School in El Cajon once he was released from San Diego County jail.

Martin Charlesworth was sentenced to jail for domestic abuse and stalking after he went to Holy Trinity in January in violation of a restraining order. The unannounced visit caused a lockdown and brought police to the campus.

The education department of the diocese said in its termination letter that Mr. Charlesworth had a 20-year record of abuse and violence toward women and they did not want to risk a confrontation on school grounds.

Carie Charlesworth told the Los Angeles Times she was stunned at losing her job after 14 years with the diocese and was considering both a lawsuit and a career change. Her ex-husband’s attorney told the newspaper Martin Charlesworth had meant no harm by his January visit and had only wanted to discuss details of their child-custody arrangements.

Surely no one is surprised at what passes for care and concern for women and children by the Roman Catholic Church. Or for that matter – local law enforcement.

Time after time, we learn of wives beaten or murdered by the criminal thug they’ve gotten a restraining order against. The lack of concern, the inability of law enforcement to provide protection, say, comparable to a bank vice-president is common. My disgust with a religion that turns its gold-encrusted back on women’s real needs time and again – just moved up another notch.

The NRA – like all bullies – are always cowards

The gun-lobby goons were at it again.

The National Rifle Association’s security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its “National School Shield” — the gun lobbyists’ plan to get armed guards in public schools — and this time they were packing heat.

About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets.

In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.

The antics gave new meaning to the notion of disarming your critics.

By journalistic custom and D.C. law, of course, reporters don’t carry guns to news conferences — and certainly not when the person at the lectern is the NRA’s Asa Hutchinson, an unremarkable former congressman and Bush administration official whom most reporters couldn’t pick out of a lineup. But the NRA wasn’t going to leave any doubt about its superior firepower

I won’t waste space here on the crap proposal from Hutchinson and the NRA. Sensible people are battling to stay free of the gangster lifestyle they advocate.

Hutchinson, pressed by reporters about the armed goons, said: “You go into a mall, there is security. And so there is security here at the National Press Club.”

A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,” Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. “There’s nothing I’m nervous about.”

The answer you would expect from a bully. The answer you would expect from a coward with 20 bodyguards.