Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't abolish teacher tenure By Donna Brazile

(CNN) -- Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," and coupled with the blurb, "It's nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that."
The cover is a slap in the face to every teacher who has dedicated his or her life to bettering the lives of children. Right now, we should be lifting up and championing educators. The last thing we should be doing is discouraging or dampening the enthusiasm of a new generation.
Worse, the Time story gives sloppy credence to the well-funded, well-orchestrated attacks from a small cadre of wealthy business interests, many of whom have never even set foot in a classroom. These attacks on public education, educators and neighborhood schools have unfortunately become the norm. It's gone too far. Enough is enough.
Due process policies such as tenure are put in place to protect good teachers from being fired without cause. They aren't there to protect "bad" teachers. In fact, research from economist Jesse Rothstein suggests removing tenure might worsen educational outcomes because it would eliminate one of the major attractions to the profession. And since one of the biggest challenges in public education these days is teacher retention and recruitment, abolishing tenure could be incredibly harmful.
Recently, Democrats for Public Education was formed to show that Democrats remain united around a core set of principles. As a co-chair, I've seen how in just two months after officially launching, scores of elected officials, activists and party leaders in all 50 states have signed up to join our organization as supporters. They understand it's time we collectively push back against efforts to undermine our schools, our teachers and the children themselves.
DPE conducted a poll with Harstad Strategic Research, a Colorado-based firm that worked on President Barack Obama's historic 2008 election and 2012 re-election. The poll shows voters support public education in resoundingly large numbers. Roughly two thirds of Americans agree with traditionally Democratic positions when it comes to education.
I've seen an awful lot of polling through the years. And there isn't a profession out there that wouldn't love to have the kind of favorability numbers enjoyed by local public schools and teachers in this survey.
Moreover, any campaign manager would give his or her eye teeth for their candidate to have these results and engender these warm feelings among the masses. Contrary to what some naysayers -- and magazine covers -- continue to hawk, the American people are proud of their public schools. And they're proud of their teachers, too.
Overall, 82% of voters able to rate their local teachers believe them to be excellent, very good or good. So, even though we've seen lawsuits from California to New York scapegoating "bad teachers," the divisive views espoused by Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee simply aren't rooted in public opinion.

Kurdish women a force to be reckoned with for ISIS By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz

Derik, Kurdish-controlled northern Syria (CNN) -- Don't be fooled by the pretty songs they sing in their downtime -- these women are among ISIS' most deadly enemies.
Brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing military fatigues, the women perform military parade drills at a memorial ceremony for slain fighters in a dusty lot in northern Syria.
"Our martyrs do not die. They live on in memory!" their Kurdish commander, dressed in green camouflage and wearing a pistol on her belt, declares as the scores of uniformed female militants stand at attention.
Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), they have fought the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the ground for more than a year.
They are fighting and bleeding on the front lines of the battle to keep the terror group out of Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Syria -- and to keep this Kurdish movement's ideology, which was founded partly on a pillar of gender equality, intact.
"We as women defend and protect our people," said Hadiye Yusuf, the female co-president of the largest of the three Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria, in an address at the memorial ceremony.
"We carry weapons to protect our homes and avoid becoming slaves of ISIS," she added.
The fiercely secular YPG stands in sharp contrast to its bitter enemy, which has kidnapped thousands of women and hid them from public life in the areas that they control -- a chilling reminder of what could await Kurdish women if the war against ISIS is lost.
Assistance from the U.S.
It was only recently that the YPG started to receive help from the United States in the form of weapons drops and airstrikes designed to blunt the advance of ISIS, which now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The much-needed aid was a surprising turn of events for the YPG -- a group that includes many fighters who have long battled Turkey, a key partner in the American-led NATO alliance.
But it wasn't until jihadist militants mounted a relentless siege of Kobani, the Syrian border town within sight of international television cameras, that much of the world realized ethnic Kurds were an effective fighting force within Syria.
'Statelets' within a country
As much of the rest of Syria ripped itself apart in a vicious civil war, Syria's Kurdish minority spent three years quietly building a series of mini-states in the north of the country.
They refer to these three enclaves as Rojava. Until recently, some outside observers saw them as something of a success.
"They tried to run them as pretty autonomous statelets that were actually rather admirable in some ways. They included many different ethnic groups, faith groups, and they tried to be inclusive," said Hugh Pope, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict mediation organization.
Bulletins pasted on walls on the streets of one Kurdish-controlled town urge business owners to post signs in the three official languages of Rojava: Kurdish, Arabic, and Syriac -- an ancient Christian language spoken in the Middle East for nearly 2,000 years.
"The municipality will help in preparation and translation," said the bulletins, printed by the municipality of Derik. "Our language is our identity, our history, our existence and our dignity."

TIME: Apologize to teachers

I just want to say that I am very unhappy with the recent attacks made on educators!  I am an educator and I feel very unhappy about how the Koch brothers and Teach For America are spending millions of dollars trying to undermine the accomplishments of public education and public school educators.  I just want to give a real special shout out to all of my fellow educators! We are responsible for future! Take your jobs seriously and represent! We know what it is that we do and how good we are at it! Show and prove people!

Here is proof:

Time magazine's latest cover blames teachers for the problems in America’s schools.
This outrageous cover doesn’t even reflect Time's own reporting. While the cover article looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of the wealthy sponsors of anti-tenure lawsuits.

The articles inside the magazine present more balanced view of the issues. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and a misleading attack on teachers. Our educators deserve better treatment.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Within black families, hard truths told to sons amid Ferguson unrest By Michael Martinez, Stephanie Elam and Erica Henry,

CNN) -- From parent to son, uncle to nephew, grandparent to grandson, there's a raw, private conversation being re-energized in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
It's an intimate lecture that most Americans won't know, but parents like Kelli Knox of Southern California know it too well because it begins the loss of their children's innocence and exposes them to a painful national truth that's increasingly become a matter of life or death.
As challenging as parenting is, black families in particular are assuming more burdens: At kitchen tables and in living rooms, they hold honest talks with their boys about how life can be different for them and what they ought -- and ought not -- to do in public, especially near police.
Think twice about wearing a hoodie. Pull up your pants. Shut your mouth around police. Swallow your pride. Don't drive with more than three friends. And keep your hands where they can be seen.
These are just a few examples of the rules that parents tell their young black sons -- and sometimes daughters -- about how to stay safe. Though stark and blunt, the admonishments follow a trend of violence that touches upon the most fiery issue in America: race.
The 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the 2013 police shooting of a North Carolina man who was apparently seeking only help and this week's riots against Ferguson police -- these sensational cases all involve shooting victims who were unarmed, young black men.
"I've had this conversation with my son since middle school on how to behave," said Knox, 46, of Inglewood, California. "When the police come, this is what you do. This is how you speak to them. Do not get into a power struggle. Listen to them. If they are trying to give you a ticket, get the ticket. Because it's not worth it. It's just not worth it."
A 'sad' day and time
Whether at reunions, picnics, or the mall, families and friends make it a point to apprise sons, nephews or grandsons of what Knox calls "the rules of engagement" for young black men when they encounter police or other figures of authorities.
Robert Spicer tells his eldest child, Crishawn, 15, to be aware of even how he dresses.
"I stress to him his appearance is important, the way he conducts himself, the way he talks to people," said Spicer, 44, a tow truck driver who lives Los Angeles.
His wife, Lashon, 42, said the California couple worry about their four children every day.
"You don't know what's going to happen between dropping them off and them coming home," she said.
To read more, click on the following link:

How the Common Core Lost Teacher Support Huffington Post Article

Let's think back to May of 2013. Personally, I'm a fine example of what teachers were like at that point. I didn't know a lot about the Core, and what I did know didn't sound all that bad. As far as I'd heard, a bunch of important people had called together a bunch of teachers to write some standards that could be used across the country to bring a little coherence to the higgledy-piggledy crazy-quilt that is US education. I'm not really a fan of national standards, but as long as they came from educational experts and were largely voluntary, it couldn't hurt to look at them. Heck, if you had asked me in May of 2013 if I supported the Common Core standards, I might very well have said yes. And though there were teachers out there who had already caught on, there were plenty of teachers like me who were perfectly willing to give the whole business a shot.
So how did the reformsters lose all those hearts and minds?
I think it's a measure of how detailed and painstaking and inch-by-inch this massive debate has been that it's easy to lose track of the big picture, the many massively boneheaded things that CCSS supporters did along the way. Let's reminisce about how so many teachers were turned off.
The lying.
Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they've stopped saying that? Because it's not true, and at this point, most everybody knows it's not true. The "significant" teacher input, the basis in solid research -- all false. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn't and they have to switch to, "Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor's office" -- it just reduces your faith in the product.
The involuntariness
In many places, it took a while for it to sink in -- "You mean we're not actually allowed to change ANY of it, and we can only add 15%??!!"
It quickly became clear -- this was not a reform where we would all sit around a table at our own schools and decide how to best to adapt and implement to suit our own students. Session by session, we were sent off to trainings where some combination of state bureaucrats and hired consultants would tell us how it was going to be. We were not being sent off to discuss or contribute our own professional expertise; we were being sent to get our marching orders, which very often even our own administratorswere not "important" enough to give us (or understand).
Shut up.
Particularly in the latter half of 2013, we all heard this a lot. Phrased in diplomatic language, of course, but on the state and federal level we were told repeatedly that this was not a discussion, that our input was neither needed nor wanted, and that if were going to raise any sorts of questions, we should just forget about it.
This was particularly true for public schools. After all, the narrative went, public schools were failing and covering it up by lying to students and their parents about how well they were doing. It became increasingly clear that the Common Core were not meant to help us, but to rescue America's children from us. "Just shut up and sit down," said CCSS boosters with a sneer. "You've done enough damage already."
The slander.

Arne Duncan told newspaper editors to paint core opponents as misguided and misinformed. Then he portrayed objectors as whiny white suburban moms. Opposition to CCSS was repeatedly portrayed as coming strictly from the tin hat wing of the Tea Party. If you opened your mouth to say something bad about the Core, you were immediately tagged a right-wing crank. There was no recognition that any complaint about any portion of the Core could possibly be legitimate. It had to be politically motivated or the result of ignorance.

To read more, click on the following link:

Keep Trying to Perfect This! (circuit training)

My wife and I have been working on this circuit for two weeks now.  We are getting better at it each time we do it.  We are up to three sets with a minute rest in between each set.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fast Fuel Pre-Workout Supplement

Preworkout Supplement:

Fast Fuel: RSP Nutrition
This is the Pre-workout supplement that I have been using since June of 2014.  I know that I have reviewed other products on my blog regarding pre-workout mixes but I will admit that this is the one that I will stick with.  I must admit, I did like the Mike Change Afterburn pre-workout mix but I did not like the price. The GNC brand that I was using was also good but not in comparison to Fast Fuel.  The advantages of this mix are clear.  The price is excellent!  The product has been very effective in how my body has changed.  I have lost weight and gained a nice lean physique.  I attribute the change to the Fast Fuel mix as well as the Isopure protein powder and change in diet.  In short, my structure has changed dramatically.  I will speak to the diet and workout changes in a new post.
Yours in training,

·         Designed to build lean muscle and promote a lean athletic physique.*
·         Contains Agmatine Sulfate, Arginie AKG and Arginie HCL for maximum Nitric Oxide production.*
·         The only concentrated pre-workout supplement with a full BCAA profile, Beta Alanine and Glutamine.*
·         Intense Energy and Focus with no crash.*
·         Great taste and solubility

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

American Ancestry

Teachers And Education Reform, On A Need To Know Basis Posted by Matthew Di Carlo

A couple of weeks ago, the website published an article entitled, “11 facts about U.S. teachers and schools that put the education reform debate in context.” The article, in the wake of the Vergara decision, is supposed to provide readers with the “basic facts” about the current education reform environment, with a particular emphasis on teachers. Most of the 11 facts are based on descriptive statistics.
Vox advertises itself as a source of accessible, essential, summary information — what you “need to know” — for people interested in a topic but not necessarily well-versed in it. Right off the bat, let me say that this is an extraordinarily difficult task, and in constructing lists such as this one, there’s no way to please everyone (I’ve read a couple of Vox’s education articles and they were okay).
That said, someone sent me this particular list, and it’s pretty good overall, especially since it does not reflect overt advocacy for given policy positions, as so many of these types of lists do. But I was compelled to comment on it. I want to say that I did this to make some lofty point about the strengths and weaknesses of data and statistics packaged for consumption by the general public. It would, however, be more accurate to say that I started doing it and just couldn’t stop. In any case, here’s a little supplemental discussion of each of the 11 items:
1.     Teachers earn a bit more than the average American. This fact presents a simple comparison, using BLS data, of median elementary and secondary school (public and private) teacher earnings with those of the median U.S. household. There are a few issues here (most are mentioned in the article). First, I have no idea why, but this is comparing an occupation-level figure (for teachers) with a household-level figure. Second, it is comparing teachers’ earnings with those of all workers (households), rather than workers with similar education and experience. Third, the comparison omits non-salary compensation (i.e., benefits), which are an important part of this picture. These caveats, the first two in particular, make for a less-than-meaningful contrast. Overall, this illustrates how seemingly basic comparisons, such as earnings between occupations, can be painfully complicated - even using more sophisticated methods, it depends on how compensation is measured and the choice of comparison groups. It also bears mentioning that, for some advocates, the big issue in education today is as much about how teachers are paid as about how much they are paid.
2.     Americans say teaching is a prestigious career. This item uses polling data to compare how people perceive the prestige of the teaching profession (quite highly) with that of a selection of other occupations. I think this is a good one, especially given all the heated rhetoric (from both sides, ironically) about “reprofessionalizing” or “deprofessionalizing” teaching, or about how young people avoid teaching due to its reputation. In reality, most people hold the profession in high regard. Also, as a side note, if you go to theoriginal report from Harris Interactive (the data source link in the article seems to be incorrect), it’s very interesting to see that the proportion of respondents saying teaching has “very great prestige” almost doubled between 1977 and 2009 (from 29 to 51 percent).
3.     Elite students tend to avoid teaching. Using data from a widely-cited McKinsey report, this one points out that incoming teachers’ SAT/ACT scores are lower than those of graduates who pursue other careers (in terms of the common “top/bottom third” figures, which we discuss here), and that this is not the case in a few other nations that receive attention for their high test scores. On the substance, as is discussed in the post linked above, SAT/ACT scores are among the only measurable pre-service characteristics that has a record of being associated with value-added scores once graduates start teaching (which is, of course, just one measure of effectiveness), but the association is not particularly strong. Overall, predicting who will be a good teacher before they enter the classroom remains remarkably elusive, and I think that generalization, while not a “fact” in the same sense as are descriptive statistics, is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when talking about attracting the “best candidates” to the profession.
4.     Absolute teacher salaries are high. Here, based on OECD data, we see that teacher salaries throughout their careers (the graph shows salaries after 10 years on the job) are a bit lower than they are in other OECD nations. As was the case with the U.S. figures, this comparison fails to account for differences in the cost of health and pension benefits, but that’s just a quibble (and tough to compare between nations). Note, though, that the evidence that salaries have an impact on the quality of candidates or whether they remain is not entirely consistent – it varies by context and other factors (see the papers cited in this post).
5.     Relative teacher salaries are low in the U.S. This compares teacher salaries to OECD nations as a proportion of college graduates’ salaries. I like the idea of at least trying to compare teachers with similarly-educated workers (which was not done in #1), although I would reiterate that the role of salary in who pursues and remains in teaching, at least in the U.S., is not as clear as one might think. 
6.     Some teachers are much more effective than others. The flagship piece of evidence here is a graph from a published article by economist Eric Hanushek, one that is based on a rough, illustrative calculation that expresses teacher effects in terms of classroom-level lifetime earnings (thus making for huge numbers as one moves toward the right of the [unlabeled] class size horizontal axis). In my view, there are better ways to express this important finding about the variation in teacher effects that also would have been accessible to people not accustomed to thinking in terms of standard deviations. That said, this is probably the most important point among the 11 presented in this article, if for no other reason than the sheer magnitude of its impact on the debate and policymaking.
7.     Class sizes have fallen substantially. This item presents declining student/teachers ratios alongside the number of teachers in the U.S. since 1960, using NCES data. These ratios are a crude measure of class size (more teachers per student doesn’t translate directly into smaller classes, particularly given the sharp increase in special education teachers that occurred within this time period). The size and scope of the trend, however, are sufficient to make the point that class sizes have decreased over the long-term, even if the decline may be more moderate than is suggested by the graph. This is an important point in the context of contemporary education reform in the U.S. (but it might have been helpful to discuss briefly some of the research on this topic).
8.     The teaching workforce is disproportionately unionized. Here, BLS data are used to show that unionization rates for the occupational group “Education, library and training workers” are higher than the rates for local government, public sector workers , and private sector workers. As the article notes, the BLS website does not offer teacher-specific unionization rates, but there are reputable resources that produce such estimates (using BLS data). They show that between 45-55 percent of teachers are union members and/or covered by a contract. Note, however, that these figures, like the category-wide statistic presented in the article (Education, library and training workers), include both public and private schools teachers (and thus understate unionization rates, since the latter group is largely non-union). Still, all of these sources make roughly the same point– teachers are more heavily unionized than most other U.S. occupations, particularly those in the private sector. Of course, the big issue in education is not really whether teachers are unionized, but rather whether unions, and collective bargaining in particular, have a large impact on school performance. This issue is (predictably) complicated and largely unresolved
9.     Per pupil funding varies widely. A simple color-coded U.S. map is used to illustrate funding disparities between states. As was the case with the class size, I think this (i.e., funding) is an important general topic, even if raw per pupil figures, though easy to understand, aren’t necessarily the best measure in this context, given that student characteristics vary quite widely between states, and they play a major role in determining funding at the federal, state and local levels. Perhaps including a funding fairness or similar measure, or at least mentioning them, would have been better. Nevertheless, funding does matter, and the article’s point — that it varies between states — is certainly important.
10.   Dropout rates are falling. The chart in the article shows dropout rates falling since 1970 for different student subgroups. Again, this is a tough outcome to measure nationally. More importantly, it seems redundant with #11.

11.   Students are broadly doing better. This is a simple graph of trends in Long-Term NAEP scale scores by age and subject (math/reading) since 1971. The scores are clearly increasing. This is an important point to make in any list of this type, and these are good data with which to make it. The only thing I would add — and it’s no less important — is that the degree to which these trends are due to improvements in schooling, to say nothing of teacher quality, rather than the dozens of other factors that affect testing performance (including change in the sample of test takers), is unclear. No question, though – this one is “need to know.”

To read more, click on the following link:

NEA Calls for Secretary Duncan's Resignation By Liana Heitin and Stephen Sawchuk

Delegates to the National Education Association's annual convention passed a new business item July 4 calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign.
The surprising move comes on the heels of union anger over moves across the United States to revise due-process protections, tenure, and seniority—some of which have been supported by Democrats, including the Obama administration.
Proposed by the union's powerful California affiliate, the item cites "the Department's failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores" as its rationale for demanding the secretary's resignation. 
Similarly themed items were introduced at the 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 meetings, but have never before passed. (The union did, in 2011, approve an NBI severely chastising Duncan.)
In addition, the California Teachers Association has had an ax to grind with the secretary since he commented on the Vergara v. California ruling, which found that the state's tenure law violated student rights.
Duncan seemed to support the decision, though his statement on it was not a hearty endorsement. Instead, he said that the groups should work together to rewrite the laws. After backlash from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the secretary went out of his way to flesh out his opinion on Vergara in a blog post. 
UPDATE: Dean Vogel, the president of the CTA, said in an interview that his members have made clear their opposition to the Department of Education's support for expanding charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. "Vergara was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said. "The Secretary's response to the Vergara verdict—it was just shameful. And it underscored his lack of understanding."
NEA has had a tense relationship with the Obama administration, and it's unclear how exactly this aggressive move will affect the union.
For years, as Education Week has reported, the NEA has vented its frustration with President Obama by essentially redirecting it towards Duncan. This strategy has allowed the union to criticize the administration without looking foolish, especially during the 2012 re-election season—after all, the union has never once endorsed a Republican presidential candidate, and had no choice but to throw its weight behind Obama.
But it's also important to note that California is one of the most populous of the state affiliates, and each year submits a large number of the NBIs that are debated. Last year, sources say, the CTA submitted 36 of the 92 total NBIs.
NEA put out its official response to the California item yesterday. President Dennis Van Roekel stated: "NEA members are understandably frustrated with Secretary Duncan and many of the Department of Education's policies in recent years. We will continue to push the Department of Education to drive student-centered policy changes that are influenced by those who know best—educators working in our classrooms and in our schools—rather than profiteers." 
UPDATE: When asked whether the AFT joined the NEA in calling for Duncan's resignation, Weingarten said, "I understand the sentiment." She pointed to the letter she sent to the Secretary immediately after his commentary on the Vergara decision.
Dorie Nolt, press secretary for the Department of Education, wrote in an email, "Secretary Duncan looks forward to continuing to work with NEA and its new leadership."

Tea Party should divorce the Republicans: Why America needs more political parties by Micheal Lind

The biggest problem with American democracy is one that hardly gets any attention. The United States doesn’t have enough political parties. Two is not enough.
Most modern democracies are multiparty systems. They use fair electoral methods like proportional representation (for multimember legislative districts) or ranked choice voting, sometimes called the alternative vote (for single-member districts) to ensure that the full spectrum of political opinion in the society is represented among elected representatives.
The U.S. does not. Along with Britain and some of its former colonies, including India, the U.S. is stuck with single-member districts in state legislature and the House of Representatives and an archaic voting system called “plurality voting.” This means that the candidate who wins the most votes — even if the number falls short of a majority of 50 percent — wins the race.
The candidate with the most votes wins — that’s fair, isn’t it? But plurality voting can lead to perverse results. In a race among three candidates, a candidate opposed by a majority of voters can win, because the majority splits its vote among two other candidates.
This is why countries like the U.S. with plurality voting tend to have two dominant parties. If you vote for a third party, you may end up electing the one of the two main parties you like the least. Progressives who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 took away votes from Al Gore and may have helped to elect George W. Bush.
But what if your society is not naturally divided into two parties? If your country has plurality voting rules, you will still tend to get two national parties; but they will be incoherent coalitions of what, in a system with other electoral rules, would be independent parties.
Under a different, more fair electoral system, the Tea Party would be a real political party. It would not be stuck in a loveless marriage bickering about “crony capitalism” with Wall Street kleptocrats.

If the U.S. had a fair voting system, the Democratic Party might fission into more independent caucuses or even different parties. Why should upscale environmentalists who want to eliminate hydropower dams, nuclear power plants, natural gas pipelines and automobiles be in the same party as unionized workers who want to build all of these things? In a fair voting system, they wouldn’t be.
To read more, click on the following link:

Friday, June 20, 2014

D.C. Dumping Test Scores From Its Teacher Evaluations | By BEN NUCKOLS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The District of Columbia public school system, one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced Thursday that it would suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards.
Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the decision, saying officials are concerned it wouldn't be fair to use the new tests until a baseline is established and any complications are worked out.
The District has fired hundreds of teachers under the system, which was put in place by Henderson's predecessor, Michelle Rhee. Test scores make up 35 percent of evaluations for those who teach students in the tested grades and subjects.
Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the two largest teachers' unions in calling for a temporary halt to evaluating teachers based on Common Core tests. The foundation has spent more than $200 million implementing the Common Core standards nationwide.
The U.S. Education Department has not backed the idea of a moratorium, which is also being considered in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill on Thursday that would remove test scores from teacher evaluations for two years, and a handful of states have delayed using test scores to make personnel decisions. But no state that already includes test scores in evaluations has committed to pausing the practice.
"Although we applaud District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for their continued commitment to rigorous evaluation and support for their teachers, we know there are many who looked to DCPS as a pacesetter who will be disappointed with their desire to slow down," Raymonde Charles, an Education Department spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.
President Barack Obama's administration has offered incentives to states to develop more meaningful teacher evaluation systems and to adopt college- and career-ready standards such as Common Core. That's meant that both have rolled out around the same time, creating conflict. Teachers have expressed concern about being judged on their students' performance as they are learning to teach under the new standards and the new assessments are rolled out.Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Henderson's move and said she was troubled by the Education Department's response, particularly given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has lauded District schools for their reform policies.
"The federal Department of Education should be applauding this, not thwarting it," Weingarten said. "When they're thwarting it, you wonder, 'What is that about? Is that about learning or is it about measurement for measurement's sake, or testing for testing's sake?'"
A study published last month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis raised questions about whether evaluating teachers and making personnel decisions based on test scores had any effect on teacher quality. Some critics also believe that such high-stakes testing incentives cheating, and the District is one of several jurisdictions that have weathered cheating scandals.
Henderson said she remains committed in the long term to assessing teacher performance based in part on test scores, as the District has done since 2009. More than half of the states have incorporated test scores into evaluations, although the nation's capital has been more aggressive in firing poorly rated teachers — as well as rewarding the top performers with pay raises and bonuses.
"I don't think there's a problem with our evaluation system. I believe it does what we want it to do," Henderson said. "Our teachers have increasingly more and more faith in it. I want them to continue to have faith in it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oregon shooting: 'This is becoming the norm.' But will anything change? By Ed Payne and Dana Ford

(CNN) -- The scenes are becoming depressingly familiar.
A gunman opens fire on an American campus. Students, teachers and administrators duck for cover. Parents anxiously wait for their kids to check in, praying for the phone to ring.
It played out again Tuesday at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, a city of 16,400 people 12 miles east of Portland.
Photos: Shooting at Oregon high school
A student at the school shot and killed another student before apparently taking his own life.
The shooter had an AR-15 rifle and a brown paper bag filled with more than 20 fully-loaded magazines, as well as knives, a law enforcement source told CNN.

The victim was a 14-year-old freshman, Emilio Hoffman. Police haven't yet disclosed the shooter's identity - or, more importantly, what compelled him to carry out such a horrifying act.
The shooting, the second in a week, is the latest in a long string. An attack at Seattle Pacific University last week killed one person and wounded two others.

Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama said the nation should be ashamed of its inability to get tougher gun restrictions through Congress in the aftermath of mass shootings that he said have become commonplace in America.
"Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There's no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this," he said.

The shooting
The shooting happened just as classes were about to get under way at Reynolds High School.
When it started, student Hannah League ducked into a classroom, where she and others huddled in a corner with no lights.
"I heard these pops and I thought they were firecrackers, but then I saw a teacher run out with his side kind of bloody," League told CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."
According to multiple law enforcement officials, the shooter was a student at the school. He entered the building that houses the school gym.
He shot and killed Hoffman in a locker room then apparently took his own life. His body was found in a restroom.

The debate
So, what now? Will this latest instance of gun violence compel Congress to act?

The President isn't optimistic.

To read more, click on the following link:

Blog Finance Blogs » Retirement » Should union pensions be cut?

Congress is expected soon to consider the recommendations of a coalition of unions, pension administrators and employers supporting tough measures to save its pensions. The National Coordinating Committee on Multiemployer Plans, or NCCMP, offers several solutions to the problem of pension underfunding in its report, "Solutions not bailouts."
One of its solutions calls for drastic cuts to the benefits of current as well as future recipients.
"Find a better solution," says Karen Ferguson, director of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center. She calls the suggested cuts "draconian. ... They are saying to older people with no other resources -- many barely making it already -- 'We’re going to break the promise that you would have a secure lifetime income.' It's unconscionable."
Multiemployer pension plans require companies that employ union workers in a particular industry to contribute to the retirement plans at levels negotiated through union bargaining. When employees retire, they receive benefits from the pooled contributions. Many of the 1,510 active multiemployer old-fashioned, defined benefit pension plans covering about 10 million participants are in good shape. But some of them -- notably, some of the largest -- are deeply troubled. The Pension Rights Center estimates that 150 to 200 plans covering 1.5 million workers could run out of money in the next 20 years, according to information from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, the quasi-government organization that guarantees private pensions.
One pension fund facing eventual bankruptcy
The Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund is one of the largest multiemployer plans -- and one of the least solvent. The plan covers 212,000 retirees and about 65,000 current workers, and it reportedly has liabilities that are nearly double its assets. If nothing is done, Central States' Executive Director Tom Nyhan told Congress in 2010 that the fund will be bankrupt in "10 to 15 years," a retirement planningdisaster.

One solution crafted by NCCMP would cut average current pensions by at least two-thirds, Ferguson says. Her organization has posted two online calculators, and she is urging union members and their families to plug in what they currently are receiving or expect in pension benefits and see what the proposal would do to that number. A second calculator shows what would happen if the PBGC took over. Note that the PBGC guarantees multiemployer pensions at a much lower level than it guarantees single-employer pension plans.
Ferguson's organization supports other changes to the plans to improve their financial stability, including thoroughly analyzing each plan to evaluate exactly how insolvent it is and what can be done to fix that plan specifically. She's in favor of allowing more mergers among plans to cut administrative costs, and also advocates getting rid of the "13th" bonus check, an extra check that retirees get at the end of a year if the pension fund performed better than expected. They date from the time when these plans were overfunded and in some cases are still mandated.
The Pension Rights Center also suggests finding new ways to raise money, including increasing the PBGC's employer premiums and, perhaps, spending tax dollars. In its report, the center writes: "Plans are facing funding stresses in large measure because of the actions of financial institutions that caused the recession. Our country infused money into those institutions. Should consideration be given to assisting troubled pension plans that are facing problems not of their own making?"
Says Ferguson, "These are problems that can be solved over the long term. There are lots of ways to go, but cutting benefits to the already retired shouldn't be one of them."
What do you think? Is it fair to cut pensioners' benefits after they've already begun receiving them?
Read more about multiemployer plans.

The Battle to Retake Our Privacy Can Be Won By Trevor Timm

After months of inaction – and worries that real change at the National Security Agency was indefinitely stalled – there was a flurry of action in Congress this week on the most promising NSA reform bill, as  the USA Freedom Act unanimously passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and then, surprisingly, out of the Intelligence Committee, too. Only its movement came at a price: the bill is now much weaker than it was before.
What would the legislation actually do? Well, for one, it would take the giant phone records database out of the NSA's hands and put it into those of the telecom companies, and force judicial review. Importantly, it doesn't categorically make anything worse – like the House Intel bill pushed by Rep Mike Rogers would have – and it would at least end the phone records program as it exists today, while making things a little bit better for transparency.
However, anytime Rogers calls a bill "a great improvement," anyone who values privacy should be worried. The transparency section of the bill doesn't require nearly as much disclosure as it did previously, and there's no longer a full-time privacy advocate for the Fisa court in there – only the chance for outsiders to submit legal briefs. Plus, the "mandatory" declassification of Fisa court opinions now only "encourages" the executive branch to be forthcoming – a policy which the ace surveillance-law analyst Marcy Wheeler  described as follows: "it only releases opinions if Edward Snowden comes along and leaks them."
Reactions to the new bill from NSA reform supporters have been mixed. Both the  Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and  American Civil Liberties Union called it a positive step, but emphasized how much still needs to be fixed. Wheeler  was more cynical in her analysis, suggesting it may be just as bad as the Intel bill that was so universally  panned by national security watchers. But Kevin Bankston, the longtime surveillance reform crusader and policy director at the Open Tech Institute, explained the predicament well:

Some say, "How good can it be if the intel committee passed it?" I say, "This is what victory looks like." They had no choice. We beat them.
— Kevin Bankston (@KevinBankston)  May 8, 2014
The bill is also far from a done deal; it can still get improved on the floor. If tech companies are serious about forcing NSA reform, then now is the time for them to step up lobbying efforts and prove that their public comments about changing surveillance laws amount to something more than  a well orchestrated PR campaign.
But the battle to retake our privacy can't be won in the halls of Congress alone. Even the original version of the USA Freedom Act didn't do anything about the NSA's subversion of common encryption. It didn't address the stockpiling of zero-day vulnerabilities that puts internet security at risk. It didn't offer any privacy protections to 95% of the world that doesn't live in the United States. And given the NSA's unique talent for distorting the plain meaning of the English language (in fact, they seem to have created  an entirely secret, bizarro dictionary of its own), it's always possible the agency will find a way to subvert the will of the people it allegedly serves.
This is the primary reason why a host of public-interest groups  launched something called Reset the Net last week. The campaign calls for major websites and the general public to widely adopt end-to-end encryption tools to stem the ability of the NSA – or any other intelligence agency – to conduct mass surveillance, regardless of what our laws look like. The campaign will culminate on 5 June – the one-year anniversary of the Snowden disclosures – with a giant online push to get ordinary internet users signed up and using the tools that are so critical to keeping our information private online.