Monthly Archives: April 2013

When a Religious Sect Took Over the Public Schools

by Diane Ravitch, 4/27/13

There is good reason for separation of church and state.

America was founded by religious dissidents. Our Founding Fathers wrote into the First Amendment that Congress was not permitted to establish a religion. They wanted all people of all faiths–or none–to live in peace.

Some states had an established religion for a time, but religious diversity made established religion untenable.

One of the great things about public school is that it is separate from religious practice. Everyone, regardless of the religion they hold dear, may learn together.

But what happens when the town itself is controlled by a single religious group? What happens when that sect controls the public schools while its own children attend religious schools? What happens to the public schools?

Here is what happens. It is not a pretty story: They gut them.

From the story:

“Midway through her junior year, something seemed to give way. The school’s deans, who had handled discipline, had been laid off, and many students started arriving at school very late or skipping it entirely. The security staff was also cut, and so fights became more frequent, and students often stayed shut in their classrooms until the halls cleared. Clubs were eliminated, as well as sports teams and the drama program, until the communal life of the schools dis­appeared and it seemed to Olivia Castor, another Spring Valley High School student, that the school board’s vision of education consisted of little more than “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

“Then those were cut, too. Last year, the kindergarten school day was reduced by half. AP classes and ESL programs fell by the wayside. In the high schools, so many teachers have been laid off that students can’t fill their schedules: Some have five lunch periods and study halls in an eight-period day. This year, the district floated a proposal to eliminate kindergarten altogether and shorten the school day for everyone else. Jean Fields, the principal of Ramapo High School, told me that if that measure were adopted, not a single student would qualify for the Advanced Regent’s Diploma, considered essential for getting into competitive colleges. Almost half of her 1,400 students would no longer be able to graduate in four years, because they simply will not be able to amass enough credits in time. Last week, the district pulled the most draconian cuts off the table, and suggested firing 50 additional teachers and staff members instead. Even this will mean more students who can’t fill their schedules with classes. “It’s not that we don’t care about graduating,” says Castor. “It’s that the tools for us to graduate are being taken away. We don’t have the classes that can give you a chance to compete.

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Filed under Education and schools, Religions

No Rich Child Left Behind

By SEAN F. REARDON, Opiniator, New York Times, 4/27/13

The Great Divide is a series about inequality.

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race….

continue reading at New York Times

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Filed under Education and schools

How Americans Became Exposed to Biohazards in the Greatest Uncontrolled Experiment Ever Launched

By David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, TruthOut, 4/29, from TomDispatch

A hidden epidemic is poisoning America. The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them. We can’t escape it in our cars. It’s in cities and suburbs. It afflicts rich and poor, young and old. And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name — and no antidote.

The culprit behind this silent killer is lead. And vinyl. And formaldehyde. And asbestos. And Bisphenol A. And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.

Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat. None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment. None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment — and so our bodies — could be. Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce….

continue reading and see links at TruthOut

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Filed under Environment, Energy, Science

The Senate breakdown on background checks

by Tom Buglio, West Chester Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence

I know all of you, including myself, were hugely disappointed that the Senate, with their arcane rules kowtowing to the will of the minority (i.e., the filibuster) voted 54 to 46 for the passage of the gun safety bill.

Yes, a majority voted for the bill, but they need 60 votes these days when men like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, etc., threaten a filibuster. The filibuster group have earned my permanent scorn, showing a callous disregard for public safety in an attempt to show how self- important they believe they are in standing up for the 2nd amendment, and the right of all Americans to continue to permit huge loopholes for criminals, mentally ill, domestic abusers and terrorist to continue to buy guns without impunity in our country.

My heart and spirit took a blow that day, and particularly when we saw how much government intervention was used to capture the terrorists of the Boston Marathon, in essence closing down an entire city to capture these two boys/men turned radicals.

The same people in the Senate and House who applaud the great use of government to capture terrorists, won’t lift a finger to use the power of government to help save lives in the areas of gun safety–a bizarre juxtaposition, showing the schizophrenic nature of our nation in regards to use of government for the public good. Maybe we should start to call Adam Lanza, James Holmes, etc., terrorists?

After dealing with the disappointment, my head tells me that there really is no way that the gun legislation would have passed in the House, which is run by the Republicans, and hugely conservative. I think we all can look at what happened up to now as the first round of a long process.

I do not believe, as some pundits do, that the best chance we had for national legislation was this time, right after Newtown, and that since it failed in the Senate, it will not come back. I don’t believe that, as strong laws have been passed in a number of states, and thousands of Americans, like our little group, have come together to push the agenda of gun safety until it bears fruit nationally. It is part of the national conversation, and people like Michael Bloomberg, Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, survivors of Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, and particularly the families at Sandy Hook, vow to keep going, as will we.

I am reminded that it took 7 years to get the Brady Bill passed, as well as the first assault weapons ban, and this was with two Republican Presidents in support: Ronald Regan and George Bush Sr. There is no doubt we will have to work to change the makeup of Congress, and boot out the people who will not vote the right way on gun issues… and make it clear that this issue is the one that can save the most American lives.

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Filed under Guns, violence, crime, US Senate