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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

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12 Workers are Killed Daily on the Job in America

It would come as no surprise if you were unaware that April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day. We do not get the day off work or school. Banks do not close. Government does not shut down. The media do not even mention it.

However, it might come as a surprise that a dozen or so U.S. workers die on the job each day, given the common belief that the country is the wealthiest and greatest in the world. After all, don’t we have modern medicine, safety devices on our machines, effective training and mandatory breaks for those who operate dangerous machinery?

While American workers are responsible for the vast wealth accumulated by the richest CEO’s, bankers and industrialists, their lives and wellbeing are hardly valued at all. They are easily replaced by the millions of unemployed and underemployed. Slowing down production to a safe speed, installing safety features, and properly training employees all cut into profits and are far more expensive than a bouquet and a condolence check.

Working to Live, Not Dying to Work
Legislators routinely mischaracterize safety regulations as “job killers.” However, weak safety regulations are, in reality, people killers. In 1970, the year that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed, there were more than 14,000 deaths on the job nationally. By 2010, the number of occupational deaths was down to 4,574, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Despite this progress, there are still too many deaths occurring on the job and job deaths are increasing in some regions. The Sacramento Bee notes that workplace fatalities increased by roughly 25% in Pennsylvania between 2009 and 2010, despite a decline in the number of people actually working. There have also been many notable preventable workplace fatalities recently, like the Deep Water Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers, and the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, which killed 29 workers.

It is also worth noting that close to 3 million workers are injured or made sick at work each year.

No one should have to die or suffer serious injuries just to put food on the table.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Apr 27, 2012, 08:02 PM (1 replies)

Stand for Children Lynch Mob Wants MA Teachers Blood

Riding the wave of hysteria about our dysfunctional schools and incompetent teachers, Stand for Children (S4C) Massachusetts has acquired enough signatures to get an initiative on the November ballot that would make evaluations more important than seniority in layoff and transfer decisions.

S4C says that polls it commissioned in 2011 indicated 85% approval for their initiative, according to South Coast Today. "People inherently get it," said Jason Williams, director of the MA branch of S4C.

What they “get,” however, is not readily apparent. Williams thinks that his initiative will help increase involvement by skeptical or uninvolved parents at low income schools. This is delusional at best. Lack of involvement by low income parents has little to do with how teachers are evaluated, and a lot to do with parents’ social status. Many are working two or three jobs to make ends meet or are working during the afternoons and evenings and are thus unable to make after school meetings, fundraisers or open houses. Some do not feel comfortable or confident navigating middle class institutions like public schools. More importantly, while greater parental involvement is generally considered good for schools, it alone cannot turn low performing schools around or erase the effects of living in poverty.

Williams also evoked the oft-repeated mantra that seniority has caused the state's teacher of the year to be laid off because another teacher had more seniority. However, if Williams and other “reformers” really want to keep excellent teachers in the classrooms, they should be fighting for higher taxes, especially on the wealthy, so that districts could afford to hire and retain the best teachers and not have to lay off anyone. Furthermore, with sufficient funding, districts could offer more professional development to help all teachers become better at their craft, raising the quality of teaching for all students, not just those lucky enough to have teachers of the year.

It is also worth looking at what it takes to become a “teacher of the year”—a status typically not earned without going well beyond the call of duty and one’s contractual obligations. In other words, teachers of the year generally put in more unpaid volunteer time and labor than other teachers. Yet this is only necessary because it is impossible to accomplish all of our responsibilities within our contractual hours for which we are paid, let alone all the additional supports kids need. So why not fund schools sufficiently for teachers to be paid amply for their skill and commitment and to provide students with the services they need, rather than expecting bleeding heart martyrs to do it on a volunteer basis?

There is another significant problem with S4C’s initiative: Massachusetts is implementing a new evaluation system next year that has not yet been tested. The bugs have not been identified, let alone corrected. To base a teacher’s job and financial security on an untested system is premature and risky, particularly when there is no evidence that seniority has anything to do with the effectiveness of Massachusetts schools.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Apr 27, 2012, 08:01 PM (5 replies)

Half of All Americans Living In Poverty or Close to It

According to the latest census data, nearly 50% of all Americans (150 million people) are living in poverty or can be considered low-income (see Democracy Now). 38% of all African-American children and 35% of Latino children are currently living in poverty. This is a marked increase from the 1970s, when poverty rates were below 15%.

Despite this appalling statistic, the presidential candidates rarely, if ever, mention the words poverty or poor, with the notable exception of Mitt Romney’s declaration that he is “not concerned about the very poor.”

Romney’s remarks should have come as no surprise to anyone. The rich do not become rich through compassion. More significantly, they benefit from the persistence of poverty as it helps keep wages low and workers desperate, making it easier for them to squeeze more profits out of their workers.

Nevertheless, the blunder did support his detractors’ claims that he is out of touch with Main Street, so he made a lame attempt to defend himself by adding that there was a safety net for the poor, which is a gross exaggeration, and certainly not a justification for not caring. The safety net has been severely eroded over the past several decades with welfare “reform” and budget cuts. Yet even if there was a robust safety net, the poor would still be poor relative to the affluent. Even if homelessness ceased to exist and everyone had sufficient food, the majority of us would still be poor relative to the rich. They would continue to amass wealth by paying us less than the value of our labor. They would continue to maintain political and social hegemony. They would continue to control our working and living conditions. They would hold onto their yachts and mansions and summer homes, while we would still have to struggle to pay our rents and mortgages.

He also tried to imply that it wasn’t callousness on his part, but a campaign strategy to focus on the middle class, which is the same reason that Obama and most other political candidates in recent memory refrain from using the terms poverty and poor. On the one hand, the poor do not vote in large numbers and thus candidates can safely ignore them without any political cost. On the other hand, the ranks of the poor have been growing rapidly because so many formally middle class people have lost their jobs, pensions, investments and homes. Many are anxious about their own financial vulnerability. Thus, by ignoring or discounting poverty, candidates hope to make everyone who isn’t rich believe they are middle class, thus keeping the chronically poor, as well as the formally middle class nouveaux poor, optimistic about the future under their presidential candidate.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Apr 26, 2012, 10:47 PM (2 replies)

U.S. Government Study Confirms That Death Penalty is Useless Deterrent

The U.S. government is one of only a handful of countries that still executes its own citizens and it is fifth on the list of the most executions worldwide (see Axis of Evil). Politicians and advocates continue to insist that it is a deterrent against violent crime, yet the U.S. continues to have one of the highest homicide rates of any of the world’s most affluent nations. In fact, aside from Russia, no wealthy country comes close.

Thus it should be no surprise that a new government-backed study has found no evidence that the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent. The National Research Council was unable to find a link between the death penalty and the prevention of murder. (Democracy Now)

California to Abolish Death Penalty?
More than 500,000 signatures have been collected to get a referendum on the death penalty onto California’s November ballot, according to Democracy Now. If it passes, California would become the 18th state in the nation without a death penalty. California currently has over 700 people on death row. As of April, 2012, the death penalty had been abolished in Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Apr 26, 2012, 10:46 PM (1 replies)

Buffalo Teachers Refuse to Buckle to State Blackmail

Buffalo Public Schools teachers voted overwhelmingly last week to reject evaluation reform at six of its low performing schools, according to Buffalo News.com. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said that if the state withheld funding for such “arbitrary and capricious” reasons they would hold the state accountable and sue.

Education “reformers” have been taking advantage of the severe budget cuts districts have suffered over the past three years to blackmail teachers’ unions into accepting “reforms” that undermine their job security, collective bargaining rights and working conditions. In this case, New York had offered BPS $5.6 million in additional funding if they ripped up contractual rights, something that could only happen with approval of the new evaluations by the BTF.

When the union refused, the superintendent tried to blame them for the district’s financial woes and insinuate that it did not care about children’s wellbeing:
"The state has given us clear guidelines as to what we have to do . . . to restore these much needed funds to our schools. . . all that is needed for approval of this document is Mr. Rumore's signature. . . I continue to appeal to him to do what is best for the children of the Buffalo Public Schools . . .”

Never mind that the union had nothing to do with the budget cuts or that the teachers would have to sign away their job security in order to get the funds. The new evaluation plan would base teachers’ evaluations partly on student test scores, a metric that has virtually no correlation to teachers’ skill or performance in the classroom. More significantly, the test scores are most strongly correlated with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, under the new plan, teachers would be evaluated on the affluence of their students, rather than their merits as professionals. This is not only unfair and unreasonable for the teachers, but it could undermine the wellbeing of low income students by driving excellent teachers out of low income schools.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Apr 26, 2012, 10:45 PM (2 replies)

Is College Still Worth the Investment?

Half of all recent college graduates are currently unemployed or underemployed in low wage jobs unrelated to their training, the San Jose Mercury News reported this week. Roughly 1.5 million, or 53.6%, of those under the age of 25 with bachelor's degrees were jobless or underemployed. This is the highest rate in more than a decade.

While it is true that average wages are higher and unemployment lower overall for those with college degrees, the type of degree and its cost are becoming more and more significant, particularly for recent graduates who are facing a dismal job market and skyrocketing debt. With average student debt of more than $20,000 and the dearth of decent-paying jobs, college has become a big financial gamble for young people. Graduates with degrees in zoology, anthropology, art history and philosophy, for example, were among the least likely to find jobs in their fields, while many recent college grads are accepting low wage jobs as bartenders, baristas and retail clerks.

Government projections released last month indicate that only three of the 30 fields with the largest number of projected job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree: teachers, college professors and accountants. The majority of projected new jobs will be in retail, fast food and truck driving. According to the Mercury News report, close to 95% of the jobs lost during the recession and “recovery” were middle-income occupations like bank tellers, and many of these are not expected to return due to technological advances.

Considering the job prospects and the potential debt after four years of college, young people need to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of investing in a degree program. For example, if one is earning only $24,000 per year after taxes, or $2,000 per month, and spending half of that on rent, how can they afford to pay back any of their debt and still afford to eat? Even with an after-tax income of $36,000 per year, people living in high cost cities like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles would have a difficult time surviving and paying back their debts.

Deliberately choosing a college major in one of the few growth industries (e.g., K-12 or college educator or accountant) might seem like a prudent move. However, even this is a huge risk. 50% of all teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years, at which point, they may still be saddled with a large college debt and lack the skills for a more appropriate and adequately paying job. At the same time, the working conditions for both K-12 teachers and college professors have been deteriorating rapidly, with increasing teaching loads and student to teacher ratios, longer hours, increased responsibilities, and decreased opportunities for tenure and job security. Thus, even for those with the interest and desire to stay in the field, they could still find themselves jobless within their first few years.

Do I even need to say anything about the absurdity of becoming an accountant just to be able to pay off one’s student debt?

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Apr 26, 2012, 10:44 PM (14 replies)

Does Zip Code Really Matter?

A new report from the Brookings Institution reveals a strong correlation between housing prices and school test scores. However, many are claiming a causal relationship between housing prices and school quality, something that is not supported by the data.

There is indeed a strong correlation between housing prices and test scores. The Brookings study examined state standardized test scores from 84,077 schools in 2010 and 2011 and found that the average lower-income student attended a school that scored at the 42nd percentile on state tests, while the average affluent student attended a school that scored at the 61st percentile. The largest disparity was in the northeast, where homes near high-performing schools were worth 2.4 times more than those near low-performing schools on average. Connecticut’s Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk region had the largest test score gap and income disparity.

However, the main cause of both high test scores and exclusionary residency is familial wealth. It should be obvious that greater wealth allows one to purchase a more expensive home in a more affluent neighborhood. So long as neighborhood schools are attended primarily by children who live near those schools, they will continue to be segregated by class.

Wealth also leads to better health outcomes because wealthier people have greater access to healthy foods, cleaner environments, comprehensive health care, and less stressful working and living conditions. This results in affluent children having significantly lower rates of chronic disease and absenteeism, which can have a significant impact on academic success. They are much less likely to be born premature or with low birth weight, suffer lead poisoning or anemia, and numerous other conditions that can impair cognitive development or cause learning disabilities.

Affluent children have many other advantages growing up that improve their educational outcomes. For example, they have substantially larger vocabularies and pre-literacy skills before they have even entered kindergarten (see here and here) because they hear a greater variety of words at home as they grow up. They are also more likely to have enriching extracurricular opportunities like summer camps, travel, private arts and music classes, and they are more likely to have access to tutors, personal computers and educational toys and games growing up.

Of course affluent schools also tend to receive substantially more in donations from parents and community members than lower income schools, allowing them to retain arts programs, athletics and librarians. But the main reason for their higher test scores are the numerous life advantages their affluent students have enjoyed since the time they were still in the womb.

The report suggests that ending exclusionary zoning practices would significantly reduce the test score gap by making schools less segregated by social class. Desegregation of the schools might help raise test scores for some lower income students, particularly those who already have sufficient academic skills, motivation and familial support. But students who are far behind in credits and reading and math skills will need far more than the inspiration of being surrounded by higher achieving students or access to a librarian to bring them up to speed. There is nothing intrinsically better about affluent schools that would cause low performing students to suddenly excel.

If all schools were fully desegregated by class, with equal numbers of affluent and poor children, it is indeed likely that the gap in test scores between schools would decline. This is because the scores in the once predominantly affluent schools would likely decline with the influx of lower performing students while the scores in the hitherto lower income schools would rise with the influx of affluent children. However, desegregation should not have any significant effect on the test score gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds since their social class and life experiences would remain more or less unchanged.

It is also hard to imagine a scenario in which affluent parents would allow their privileged schools to be diluted with rabble from the other side of the tracks. These are the parents with the most political clout and the money to back it. They resist spreading parental donations equally throughout their school districts. They resist changing school funding rules to ensure that districts with lower property tax bases receive the same resources as their districts. They like their high test scores, Advanced Placement courses, arts electives and trouble-free campuses.

Yet if push came to shove and social class desegregation was imposed on them by the courts, they have the resources to transfer their children to elite private schools and many would likely do so.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Tue Apr 24, 2012, 06:50 PM (5 replies)

LAUSD Raises and Then Lowers the Bar

Schools are broken, so the mantra goes: Too many students are dropping out, while those who are graduating are doing so without proficiency in math and English. Therefore, we must hold them all to higher standards!

This reasoning is irrational and the solution is doomed to failure.

If the point of raising the bar is to prevent students from graduating when they haven’t mastered the basic skills, then graduation rates will necessarily decline when the bar is raised. Simply raising the bar cannot force kids who aren’t ready to meet the expectations to suddenly meet those expectations. Kids will not suddenly be able to pass a college preparatory science class, for example, simply because it is now a graduation requirement.

The problem isn’t the schools or the teachers, but the social circumstances of the students. Academic success is overwhelmingly influenced by factors outside of school, most significantly students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. (See here, here and here). Some researchers, like conservative economist Erik Hanushek, say the teachers’ influence accounts for less than 10% of students’ academic success, which means that it will take far more than better teaching to close the achievement gap and significantly improve test scores.

Despite the irrationality of the “reform,” school districts across the country started to implement tougher graduation requirements. In some districts, like Los Angeles Unified, every student was required to pass college-prep classes with a C or better (as required by the state’s university systems) and earn at least 230 credits in order to graduate.

Recognizing that they were setting themselves up for failure (to the tune of declining graduation rates), LAUSD has backed off these requirements, proposing to allow students to graduate with a D or better in their college-prep classes, according to the Los Angeles Times. The proposal would ultimately allow students to graduate with 25% fewer or 170 credits.

Critics have lambasted LAUSD for lowering their standards. However, requiring all students to take college-prep classes is actually a higher expectation than what previously existed, regardless of the grade earned or credits required to graduate. In the past, students were allowed to graduate without ever attempting a college-prep level course.

Another important point is that many of these students would not be attending a state university in the first place. There simply aren’t enough spaces available in the state systems to accommodate every high school graduate even if they did wish to go, while the skyrocketing costs are making the state’s two university systems out of reach for more and more young people. Thus, the C requirement would only be an issue for those students who were planning on attending to a state university immediately after graduation. Anyone else could attend a community college first and earn credits there in preparation for a later transfer to one of the university systems.

Ultimately, if we really want to see more students succeeding in high level courses, we need to make sure that they are adequately prepared for these courses academically and socially. They need sufficient support structures and they need them in place well before they even enter kindergarten. This will require a substantial social investment in families and a serious reduction in poverty.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Tue Apr 24, 2012, 06:49 PM (0 replies)

Georgia School Has 6-Year Old Arrested

Six-year old Salecia Johnson had a temper tantrum in class last week, according to her teachers at Creekside Elementary in Milledgeville, Georgia. Temper tantrums are not unusual for children at this age. However, her school’s response was extraordinary—they called the police, who handcuffed her and charged her with battery, according to Change.org. Police held her for an hour before notifying her parents. The school also suspended her for the remainder of the year.

While the charges have since been dropped and Salecia has been allowed to return to school, she has been traumatized by the experience, according to her mother, who has created a Change.org petition to ensure that her arrest records are purged and to end the use of the police for minor school discipline issues.

If you are interested in her signing her petition, you can click here: http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-in-the-handcuffing-and-arrest-of-6-year-old-salecia-johnson?utm_campaign=iAYgUBfXSW&utm_medium=email&utm_source=action_alert

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Mon Apr 23, 2012, 10:02 PM (5 replies)

The Irrelevancy of DNA

DNA has become an almost mythical molecule in the past 20 years. The Human Genome Project and the promises of personalized medicine and genetic testing companies like 23 and Me, give hope that we will find new treatments or cures for many tragic diseases, increase longevity and improve quality of life for millions of people. Hollywood has helped fuel our love affair with DNA with television shows like CSI and Dexter, which make DNA seem even more powerful than the police in catching bad guys.

What is often left out of the explanation is the fallibility of the police who collect the evidence and the scientists who analyze it. From the crime scene to the lab there are dozens of opportunities for contamination, damage or loss of specimens, either through carelessness, incompetency or maliciousness. Garbage in, garbage out: sloppy police work can easily invalidate or corrupt DNA evidence.

A suspect can be absolved if his DNA does not match any of the suspects’ DNA at the crime scene (assuming his attorney ever gets access to this evidence). However, even if his DNA does match the crime scene, if there were any breeches in security or protocol, he should also be released, since it is now unclear if his DNA got mixed in by mistake or in a deliberate frame-up.

These examples highlight just a few of the ways that DNA can “lie,” and result in an innocent person being punished.

A new report has found that the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has withheld critical evidence for decades that could have exonerated hundreds of prisoners and parolees. The defendants and their lawyers were not informed of flawed forensic work that could have led their acquittals. (See Democracy Now, 4/18/12) The DOJ investigated cases going back to 1995, but only focused on the work of one sloppy scientist, despite complaints that the problem was widespread and included numerous scientists. Further investigations will likely find many more people who should be exonerated.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Sat Apr 21, 2012, 09:57 PM (2 replies)
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